Solomons, MD to the Albemarle Sound, NC

We left Calvert Marina in Solomons, MD on October 13th around 8:30 am. The weather looked gloomy with very low hanging clouds. After we got further underway, we realized we were heading into fog, which is something we had not tried our hand at just yet. Another learning experience! We had pretty good visibility, and with our running lights on and all of our navigational electronics working, we proceeded cautiously.

Heading out of Back Creek into the Patuxent River
Cruising south on the Chesapeake Bay

The fog lifted after a couple of hours, and we actually had a nice cruise down to our next anchorage. We went south on the Bay, then hung a right on the Potomac. Very quickly we made another right onto St. Mary’s river, and cruised up to the Horseshoe anchorage, winding our way for a few miles before dropping anchor in a lovely, protected and deep cove. After getting the anchor set, we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and another spectacular sunset. The water was calm, and this area, although having homes along the shore, seemed remote and quiet.

Heading up Saint Mary’s River to anchorage
Sunset at our anchorage just off Saint Mary’s City

The next morning we launched the dinghy and took a water tour of the environs before heading over to St. Mary’s College and Historic St. Marys City. St. Mary’s College has a great history in its own right, and they have a world-class collegiate sailing team. It is a public, liberal arts honor college established in 1840, originally known as St. Mary’s Female Seminar. The campus was quiet (Covid), but so very pretty to walk through. We then toured the remains of St. Mary’s City – the first colony and the first capital of Maryland. Originally established by Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore of England, it was an experiment in religious tolerance (A Protestant King allowed Calvert to have a colony that would not persecute followers of other religions than the Church of England, most notably Catholics). This mandate was unprecedented at the time, as England had been wracked by religious conflict for centuries.

The town was thriving but small in the 1600’s to early 1700’s, but when the capital was moved to Annapolis, there was no more need for the town – it wasn’t a big agricultural spot and it basically existed to conduct state business.  Several years ago, a restoration/archeological dig began and it is now an 800 acre living history museum – kinda like Williamsburg, but less commercial and quieter.  There is a replica of the ship that brought the original settlers to the area in the harbor.  As there were not many people here, we had the pleasure of having basically private tours around the area and the Dove, the ship replica.  We discovered during our tour that the boat we had seen being built at the Marine Museum in St. Michaels is being constructed to replace the current Dove that we were standing on!  The new replica will more closely follow the original Dove designs and will have modern updates to protect from worm rot and other problems.  The original Dove was lost at sea during its return to England, so assumptions are being made on the actual structure, helped by archeological studies that have uncovered drawings and plans of similar boats of the time. We were both in awe of the intrepid nature of the colonists – these ships are not large and they would journey for several months, without really knowing how their journey would end, or how they might survive.  These colonists had great leaders, with contacts with the local native tribes.  So instead of making huge blunders and getting slaughtered, they did live peacefully with each other for many years.  Of course, eventually, that ended, but at least they started well.  

Touring St Mary’s College
Reconstructed State House of 1676 in Historic St. Mary’s City
View of St Mary’s River from Historic St Mary’s City

Other than Neil’s back still nagging him, it was a perfect day – beautiful, fun and full of history – something we both love. After observing an oyster nursery in the college’s marina, we returned to our boat, securing the dinghy and preparing to depart early the next morning.

Oct 15th: Our next leg signaled our return to Virginia. After leaving the Potomac and cruising south, we turned into the Piankatank River, navigating a bridge and a winding waterway to anchor at Berkley Island, a shallow but protected spot.  The winds were coming up and we were expecting a storm, so we were happy to have a well protected anchorage.  

Berkley Island is a natural spot, hosting a church summer camp, but quiet now.  We saw a lot of fishermen, and quickly realized that Saturday, October 17th was the opening day of hunting season – that or there were gun crazed folks shooting off rifles in the early morning…  Although the water was too cool now to swim in, we did enjoy milder days as we moved south.  We took a couple of days here to rest and relax and just enjoy the wilderness around us as Fall brought crisper mornings and changing leaves.

Cruising down the Potomac and into the Bay
Anchorage next to Berkley Island on the Piankatank River
Another beautiful sunset at the Berkley Island anchorage

As we got ready to raise anchor on the morning of October 18th, we were treated to the magical appearance of morning mists on the water. That coupled with literally no wind created a quiet smooth exit for us as we began our cruise down the Chesapeake Bay to Bluewater Yachting Center Marina in Hampton, VA.

Mist on water surrounding our only neighbor in anchorage
Approaching Route 3 Bridge on exiting Berkley Island anchorage on the Piankatank River
Kathleen taking us out the Piankatank River into the Bay

Although we felt a bit like we were returning to an area we “knew”, we had actually only seen Hampton, VA from land (when we toured around in July while staying at Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth). It was much different coming in from the Bay. The winds were 10-15 knots but with lots of cross currents. By the time we were rounding Old Point Comfort, the wind was very “brisk” with a lot of smaller sailboats criss-crossing in front of us. We approached the Hampton River entrance to the marina and could not reach the harbormaster with our VHF radio. Kathleen called on her cellphone to get our slip assignment and directions to pump out.

We overshot the pump out station, and Neil pulled a u-turn in the middle of busy Sunset Creek in front of the marina. Once we got turned around and to the pump out dock, we got permission to dock at a slip close to where we were at that time, which was really great. We did need to tie up stern in, and with the breeze proved challenging, but we did it. Kathleen even secured a bow line onto a piling with no mishaps and no boat scrapes, so success all around.

Granuaile at her slip in Bluewater Yachting Center Marina, Hampton VA

While getting settled in – hooking up power, adjusting lines, etc, we caught up with another couple that we had known briefly back at Grand Harbor Marina in Vero, Travis and Kathy. It was great to see familiar faces and to hear about their summer. Neil got us secured with the harbor master and we relaxed for the evening.

We ventured forth the next day to replenish our groceries, rolling tote in hand. On the walk back, we gratefully accepted a ride from Travis who was passing by. Boat people are the best.

We left two days later (Oct 20) around 9:00. Once we exited the Hampton River and started south into the Elizabeth River, we were quickly shrouded by HEAVY fog – less than .25 miles visibility. Adding to the excitement, we were going to be crossing a major shipping channel. We relied on AIS, radar and VHF to help us across, along with running lights, and a couple of trips to the Portuguese bridge by Kathleen to scan the water with binoculars and listen while Neil steered us across.

As we were almost across, Kathleen heard either a helicopter or a freighter – thankfully, it was a helicopter and we were nearing the huge Naval Station Norfolk shipyard. Just as we approached, the fog started lifting, so we were treated to cruising by FIVE aircraft carriers and many other Navy ships. A tug/barge had slipped in behind us, so we were observant of where that captain was going. To add to the “fun”, a freighter was coming towards us. Thankfully, the waterway there is necessarily deep and wide. The freighter seemed close to us, but he probably hardly noticed us as he confidently piloted his vessel to a pier for lading. Once past this area, we cruised by Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth, where we had spent July. Moving beyond it, we turned onto the Elizabeth River, and the myriad of bridges that we needed to pass through. There were MANY more cruisers and sailors on the ICW this time than when we had come up in June. It was odd to be part of this annual migration to warmer climes, but mostly we spent our time adjusting to the various speeds and sizes of vessels on the water, while navigating the narrow and curvy waterway.

Exiting the fog with view of aircraft carrier row
Freighter passing by us on the Elizabeth River
Ahead, the first of many bridges to pass through on our way south on the Elizabeth River

As we neared the Atlantic Yacht Basin (AYB) marina, we once again traveled through a lock, the Great Bridge Lock. We were stopped and waiting for the on-coming traffic to exit the lock first – that on-coming traffic was another tug and barge, with the captain very skillfully steering both through a narrow passage as boaters did their best to pull as far off to the banks as possible without grounding their vessels. To give some perspective, imagine a tractor trailer driving down the center of a two lane rural road with various size vehicles on either side.

Northbound tug and barge exiting the Great Bridge Lock with line of boats including us waiting to enter
Entering the Great Bridge Lock

Once through the lock, we needed to pass under a bascule (draw) bridge. Suddenly the boats in front of us slowed way down, leaving us in the precarious position of directly under the (open) bridge – which needed to close. Neil carefully edged to the left of the traffic jam, about 8 boats long. Unfortunately, coming the other way was ANOTHER tug and barge. Luckily there was enough room for the barge to pass us without any problems.

AYB marina is right on the ICW, with facing docks for transients like us. Kathleen was again having problems hailing the marina on our VHF radios, so we once again used the cell phone. We were given a facing dock slip assignment, but there were no dock hands available. So teamwork again prevailed as Neil edged the boat into our spot and Kathleen got on the dock and secured lines. About 10 minutes after we were docked, and feeling pretty good for having done it “solo”, the dock hands arrived and moved us closer to the boat in front of us, they really pack boats in on this dock especially at this time of year as so many people are moving south.

Kathleen was bummed that we were back in hot and humid weather – she had really been enjoying those cooler days and not sweating.

Tied up at Atlantic Yacht Basin (AYB) marina in Chesapeake, VA
Night falls at Atlantic Yacht Basin marina

The next morning (Oct 21) we cast off from the dock at 9:00, trying to get ahead of the masses coming down the ICW behind us. Our next destination was the Coinjock Marina where we had docked on our journey north five months ago. There was traffic, bridges and barges, as well as winding waterways and still problems with our VHF radios. Kathleen added to the “fun” when she had a complete brain-fart and lapsed into thinking a day marker that was supposed to be on port should actually be on our starboard. Luckily Neil (and Kathleen) noticed this lapse before grounding our girl, and we were able to rapidly stop and go into reverse while getting back INTO the ICW. Did we mention that this happened as a larger cruiser was asking to pass us? Good times. Count on Kathleen to add excitement to a day’s cruising…. Neil had “fun” trying to navigate ANOTHER tug/barge coming towards us in Coinjock Bay. We had ONE FOOT of water under our keel while passing – the tug captain relayed he had the same. We kinda think it might be time to dredge this section of the ICW…

Kathleen keeping the green day marker to PORT
Classic yacht cruising past us while docked at Coinjock Marina

We noticed that the 12V alternator on the main engine was not charging our house battery bank. This meant the battery bank state of charge was dropping as the hours passed by during our cruise. When we got to Coinjock, our VHF radios again were on the fritz, so we used our handheld radios to communicate with the marina. Again, Neil had to pull a u-turn to get on the facing dock, and we had several professional hands helping us get tied up. Once secured, Kathleen did some research on the VHF radio problem, and learned that being able to hear others (which we were) but unable to send clear messages (which was also us) was usually caused by power problems – like a DC voltage drop due to an alternator not charging our house batteries while we were underway. We confirmed this by checking the radio with a neighbor once we had shore power on – and the radio worked fine.

The next morning (Oct 22) we cast off again, knowing that in the worst case scenario, we could run our generator to power the electronics and charge the batteries – and we had cell phones and handheld radios as back ups. The alternator was again functioning correctly and the VHF radios were working like a charm. Should be fun troubleshooting this intermittent alternator issue!
There was fog when we first departed, but it lifted very quickly. Kathleen marveled at the beauty of the spiderwebs built overnight on the dock, heavy with dew and glistening in the morning light. Luckily, she did not spy any spiders….

Passing under bridge just south of Coinjock Marina

We followed south many of the same boats we had been with for the last two days, both sailboats and powerboats. Neil drove us down the ICW, dealing with hairpin turns with local fishermen in dinghies close to day markers and again, boats of various speeds and abilities on very narrow water. Once we got onto the Albemarle Sound, we turned to the west, leaving the migration hoards to continue their journey south.

Cruising west on the wide open Albemarle Sound, NC
Kathleen taking us to Albemarle Plantation Marina, dodging crab pot buoys along the way

The sound is beautiful – very large and shallow. We had gorgeous weather, with no wind and cool temperatures. Our only hassle was a lot of crab pot buoys, but even these were relatively easy to negotiate, as they were strung with a lot of room in between them and in the calm water were easy-ish to see. We both also felt that we were feeling a little more comfortable due to our cruising experience over the past year. Neil negotiated us into the Yeopim River, a VERY shallow waterway that has a VERY narrow channel leading to the marina. Neil had called ahead to the dockmaster to confirm channel depth and was comforted by the fact another Nordhavn, a 62 with deeper draft than ours, had made it through. Adding to the fun were several crab pot buoys lining (and some actually in) the channel. Neil steered us through and we had our slip assignment, so we proceeded carefully.

Our slip does fit our boat, with about one foot on either side. We docked with help from J.E. the harbor master and really great guy, plus another helper from a nearby boat. Once we got secured, including a stern line tied to a piling behind us, we went exploring the Albermarle Plantation development where we were staying. Interestingly, there is not now, nor was there ever a plantation here; the developer just liked the images of a large agricultural area that the word plantation evoked for him. There’s no agriculture here, but it is very pretty, with lots of trees draped with Spanish moss. We took our rented golf cart for a spin, and were amazed at the friendliness of the residents and the beautiful grounds. We stopped at the Clubhouse and had a cocktail on the back patio, looking out over the Sound and a perfect setting sun.

We were going to sit in the cockpit that evening to watch the stars. Kathleen was seated and all set to find Polaris, when Neil came out and asked if she knew what the buzzing sound was. Kathleen had assumed it was a nearby boat’s outdoor lanterns. Neil looked around the corner back up to the dock and said, “Get inside – quickly!” It was hoards of flying bugs. We had heard about the bug swarms in South Carolina and were vigilant on our journey north earlier this summer, but we had not encountered anything like this. We hunkered down inside, lights out, realizing that maybe this place wasn’t as perfect as we had first thought. As Fall had not really arrived here yet, the bugs were still around, and sticking to our boat.

Our slip at the Albemarle Plantation marina
Nordhavn 62 “Gray Matter” docked behind us. Mark and Christine are world cruisers, having cruised to the South Pacific.
View of the Albemarle Sound from our slip
Our transportation, handy for cruising around the rather large Albemarle Plantation development
Beautiful view of the Albemarle Sound from the clubhouse

The next morning dawned with heavy fog, that lifted in a short while. It turned out that the next several mornings would be socked in, but it was really cozy to experience. Even going for a walk was an adventure, with oaks and Spanish moss gradually appearing through the mist. Once the sun was out, we spent the morning and early afternoon busily scrubbing our Granuaile inside and out (the bugs washed off pretty easily, and we learned that we would probably have to wash the boat off every day when it was warm), doing laundry and cleaning up the guest room as two of our favorite people were coming to visit – Kevin and Peggy Maher! This couple is amazing fun that we have known for years from our Colorado days. We also noted that the last time we had been with them was exactly one year ago when they hosted us at the LSU – Auburn game in Baton Rouge. That weekend was the kickoff of our retirement, and we had a fantastic time both with Kevin and Peggy as well on our own down in New Orleans. They were also the first “non-family” visitors to our boat, and we were so excited to see them and to have them experience a bit of this life.

Spanish moss covered trees, path out to the marina
Typical morning fog blanketing the marina
Enjoying visit with Peggy and Kevin

The first evening we had cocktails on the dock at a very pretty picnic table. The gods had dialed in picture-perfect weather – gently breeze, warm sun, calm waters – it was like being in a commercial advertising this place. We were going to have dinner up at the Clubhouse, but belatedly found out that it had closed at 2:00, and the marina grill was also closed. Kathleen whipped up some shrimp scampi with linguine, and as Kevin and Peggy are about the easiest guests imaginable, they were good with it!

Much conversation (and wine consumption) occurred that evening. The next day we got up, had omelets for everyone, and then ventured out to the town of Edenton in Kevin and Peggy’s rental car. Edenton is another historical colonial town, largely unscathed through the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars. There are many historic colonial buildings, along with a rather busy small town (Kathleen was FINALLY able to get new sneakers – her old pair had almost worn through…) The four of us had a thoroughly enjoyable time walking around the town and reading about the various homes and sites (Kathleen and Peggy also discovered a pecan tree that was handily dropping nuts as they walked by – score!).

After a couple of hours, we stopped at 309 Bistro and Spirits for a hearty lunch. Again, incredibly welcoming people and great lunch! We capped off the day with (another) grocery shopping trip (whenever there is a car available, we gladly make use of it!). Once home and unpacked, we relaxed on the boat deck in the late afternoon light. Once the sun went down, we went back inside (avoiding the bugs again) and just had a great evening talking about, well, everything. Friends like these are treasures, and we are so grateful that they made the journey to see us.

Roanoke River Lighthouse at Edenton, NC. Moved to Edenton after it was decommissioned in 1941.
Walking tour of historic homes in Edenton
Enjoying a refreshment and the evening view

Sadly Sunday morning they headed back to Norfolk to catch their plane home. Peggy did share that this was her first time ever sleeping on a boat (Kathleen was amazed at this as both she and Kevin are global travelers), and that she really enjoyed it! We think we may have gotten them a step closer to realizing their retirement dreams – not living on a boat, but great adventures.

We had originally planned to leave this marina on Sunday. However, a hurricane was building in the Gulf, planning to slam New Orleans, which meant rougher weather here later in the week. Additionally, before that happened, we had really rough weather predictions for Thursday and Friday. We had plans to cruise east in the Albemarle Sound to the Outer Banks and stay at a marina in Manteo, NC and check out a couple anchorages but with the risk of really bad weather on the Sound we decided to stay here. Sunday was Neil’s birthday, so we celebrated by dining at the Dockside Cafe, the restaurant at the marina. We had a nice dinner and evening. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent going for walks and enjoying the nice calm before the storm.

The storm came crashing in around 11:00 am and was very rough, we positioned fenders to protect the port side from a piling, and had help from other samaritans (J.E. leading the way) to tie the boat up closer to the starboard dock (no small feat with 35-40 tons of boat being blown the opposite direction). Boat people are the best – always willing to help others out, and it was also a bonus that it was not cold or raining – just super high winds (35-40 knots at one point).

Sunrise on the Albemarle Sound. Calm before the storm.
Wind was from the south so waves built up across the sound and came crashing directly into the marina without break. Unfortunately the catamaran next to us sustained some damage from repeatedly bouncing into the dock.

After the storm blew through, we were talking with another Nordhavn owner docked here (Mark and Christine, owners of Gray Matter), who were actually directly behind us in the marina. Mark and Kathleen had the same thought – it was time for some wine, even if it wasn’t yet 5:00. They invited us over to their boat (62 foot Nordhavn, a true world cruiser) for a tour and a visit. We really love meeting new people, especially Nordhavn owners, as it is fun to learn people’s back stories and lives that lead them to this lifestyle. And we always seem to make really good friends.

Friday was an easier day. As Mark had graciously taken us to the grocery store on Wednesday, we were set provision-wise. Kathleen made a batch of butternut squash soup and guacamole, while Neil updated Wheelhouse maintenance checklist items. The marina has an annual tradition of lighting boats on the evening of October 30th, and people walk around visiting. The winds had been blowing on Friday, but by 4:00 it was fine and we used our Christmas lights to festively decorate our stern and saloon windows. Once dark, we walked over to a neighboring dock and visited with other boaters. Apparently the event had actually been called off due to winds (something we didn’t know) but was ok as at least ten other boats had also decorated their boats. We didn’t stay out long, but it was fun to get a bit into the Halloween spirit.

Granuaile decorated for the marina’s Halloween celebration

Halloween day was beautiful. We went for a long walk around the development and then Kathleen got to work out while Neil mapped out our next course. Mark and Christine came by for a glass of wine and some good conversation, then we settled in for our Halloween tradition of watching the classic movie, Young Frankenstein. Neil may have been a tad less enthusiastic than Kathleen (really, when you can pretty much recite the lines from the ENTIRE movie, it does take away from the tradition aspect). But it was fun, and connected us to our previous life, that had involved children, costumes, carved pumpkins, roasted seeds, candy, doorbells, decorations and this movie.

Sunday (Nov 1st) dawned deceptively nice, with just the beginnings of wind. We took advantage of the relatively calm weather to move the boat over to the fuel dock for a holding tank pump out. It was also good practice for everything from getting out of a tight slip (Kathleen using an extension pole to get the starboard stern line off the piling), to tying up to a facing dock in wind for the pump out, to finally getting back into the dock, this time with both port and starboard stern lines affixed to pilings, and using the time to really secure the boat for another anticipated blow, this time from the north.

After taking showers, the wind picked up, with the rain shortly following. Although rocky, our plans for securing the boat did their job. Kathleen worked on this blog and sewing our rather tattered US flag. Neil worked on mail and other more-mundane boat life items as we kept a sharp eye (and ear) out for any wind related mishaps.

Storm blowing in from the north

St Michaels part 2, to Solomons MD

We left the Tred Avon on Sept 28th, cruising 17 miles to San Domingo Creek, on the back side of St. Michaels. Getting here was a little tricky. We had heard about this “must see” anchorage from the same friend who recommended reading “Chesapeake”, so we really wanted to check it out. We were not disappointed. We anchored in one of the fingers off of the creek, with beautiful homes scattered around the shores.

Neil piloting us into San Domingo Creek near St Michaels
Dropping anchor in San Domingo Creek
Beautiful homes along San Domingo Creek
Anchor alarm on the IPad to alert us if the anchor drags

We lowered the dinghy and cruised up to the public dinghy dock, and walked the quarter mile back into St. Michaels. As it was later in the day, we just strolled around, stopping in the small local market for important items like chips and beer. We went back to the dinghy, noticing the beautiful colonial homes lining the areas away from the main street. People take great pride in their homes and yards, and the neighborhoods are welcoming. One home had an out-of-this-world garden, where strangers were encouraged to visit. It was funky and fun and beautiful, and Kathleen could not imagine how much time and effort went into creating and keeping up this treasure. We got back to the boat with time to spare to enjoy a cocktail on the rear deck enjoying the view. Oh, and there were eagles again!

Dinghy dock a short walk from St Michaels
St Michaels neighborhood near dinghy dock
To the boat deck to enjoy a cocktail and the view

The next day we came back, armed with bags and cart to go grocery shopping. We had another lovely trail to walk along for most of the way, but had to be careful while walking on a busy road for a bit – however, we needed to get food and some other items for the boat, so needs will out, as they say.

Grocery shopping haul, heading back to the dinghy dock

After putting the groceries away, we decided to try our hand at crabbing again, still with our original net. This time, we did have some luck in netting quite a few crabs, but they were all too small to keep. No matter though, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon and we now had groceries, so no fear of running out of sustenance… The sunset that night was spectacular – more so than usual – so, of course, we have pictures…

Sunset over San Domingo Creek anchorage

On our last day here, we went to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Intending to spend at most 90 minutes visiting, it was 3.5 hours later that we finally decided we had to stop – and there was still more to see. It is an amazing place with so much information and artifacts to see. It was definitely a highlight of our visit to St. Michaels.

Shipwrights at work at museum boatyard. They are building a replacement Maryland Dove re-creation for Historic St. Mary’s City, to be completed by the end of 2021. The Dove of 1634 was part of original expedition to Maryland.
Old Point, a crab dredger, built in 1909. At the museum yard for maintenance
One of the few remaining Skipjacks on the Bay. Used for dredging oysters. The skipjack is the State Boat of Maryland

After grabbing some lunch, we returned to the dinghy and headed back to the boat. Neil decided to try the hookah (no, not that kind, a dive system that uses an electric air pump, 50’ of hose, and a regulator to allow one to dive without tanks). He geared up in a snazzy wetsuit (initially bought to avoid jellyfish, but never used for such as the water had been too warm to wear), swim mask, fins and flashlight, and jumped in to check out our zincs on the hull. (Zincs are sacrificial anodes affixed to the hull, shafts, thrusters, etc to reduce corrosion, and have to be replaced from time to time). Although the hookah worked as planned, Neil couldn’t see six inches in front of his face as the brackish water was too murky. So, after a short test/play in the water, we called it quits on this venture, and decided to hire a diver to check out the zincs and clean the hull in Solomon’s Island, a later intended stop.

Zinc anode affixed to one end of stern thruster shaft

Oct 2nd:
When Neil told Kathleen that the next port was Cambridge, she seriously wondered if the colonists had no imagination whatsoever or were just extremely homesick for England. Either way, we cruised four hours from San Domingo to Cambridge on a day that started out cold and rainy and ended up beautiful and sunny. The watermen were out in full force as it was the second day of Oyster season. It was amazing to watch them work. All were standing on the edge of their boats and were using very long “tongs”, 10-15 foot long scissor arms that open and close a rake-like device to scoop up oysters from the bottom of the river. The muck and oysters were hauled into the boat where both muck and too-small oysters were manually sorted out and thrown back in.

At one time, oysters were so prevalent here in the bay that they created oyster reefs that reached high off the bottom and close to the surface, dangerous to unwitting boats plying the waters. Once harvesting began as demand for the delicacy rose, “keeper” oysters were greater than SIX INCHES or more across, anything smaller was thrown back in to grow some more. “Tonging” was the traditional way of harvesting oysters, and there was a ban on motorized boats initially. However, industry and demand ran roughshod and in a very short span the once dangerous oyster reefs were decimated. Along with a huge increase in pollution from upstream runoff and from the air, the oyster population was nearly wiped out.

Conservation efforts to Save the Bay have been on-going for decades, and make modest headway. Oystering, crabbing, fishing and eeling are still major industries here; hopefully ecologists and marine biologists can continue to work on ways to heal the bay and recover its health.

Waterman using tongs to scoop oysters from the bottom of Broad Creek

Back to our journey… once we arrived at the marina in Cambridge, we initially tied up to the fuel dock to pump out the holding tank. While undertaking this job, we were hailed by some familiar voices on the dock and saw Frank and Beeb, boating friends we had met in Vero Beach! It was a terrific surprise to be at the same marina, and spent the afternoon with them catching up. After leaving them, we went for a relaxed dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Granuaile at the dock in the Cambridge Yacht Basin marina

Following what was now becoming a familiar pattern, we downloaded a walking tour of Cambridge and indulged in that for the morning. Cambridge’s most famous resident was Harriet Tubman. There are many buildings that are tangential to her and her work, both positive and negative. It was disturbing to walk across the area where humans were once sold as chattel, today just a quiet space in front of the court house. Amazingly, the building served the same purpose then as it does today, a courthouse. It was also incredible to see places where the underground railroad operated – often very near institutions that upheld slavery. The courage and grit of these past warriors was humbling, as well as intriguing.

Mural on the side of the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge, MD

The town has a lot of interesting history from every decade, much like the other towns we visited, but each distinct in their own ways. Cambridge is a bit quieter, not quite as touristy as Oxford and St. Michaels.

The rest of the day we spent on Granuaile – Kathleen doing yoga, Neil figuring out our next cruise route and catching up on some reading. There are worse ways to spend one’s time.

Oct 4th:
Sunday we were underway by 8:00 am. As we move closer to winter, sunrises are noticeably later, and sunsets frustratingly earlier. Our plan was to travel back to the west coast of the Bay, docking at Calvert Marina in Solomons, MD. The last time we had been here was 30 years ago, visiting a friend stationed at Naval Air Station Pax River. We were looking forward to returning.

About an hour into a mostly uneventful cruise, the navigation electronics, autopilot, chartplotters and displays, started posting error messages and/or went offline. After three attempts at rebooting the entire system, we determined that the problem was not going to be resolved with a simple hard reboot. We continued the cruise to Solomons with autopilot inactivated, manually steering via the helm wheel and wind speed/direction instrument inoperative.

We entered the harbor to Solomons with Neil at the helm. It was a bit tricky as there are several marinas here and a confusing array of navigational buoys/day markers (i.e. when Kathleen contacted the Calvert Marina harbormaster to request directions to our slip, he asked where we were. She responded, “we just passed marker Red 4.” His response was, “Well there are a couple of Red 4’s, but ok). We got to where we needed to be, and were once more on a facing dock, this time between two other boats. Neil turned the boat 90 degrees, and moving astern basically parallel parked our 50 foot boat while Kathleen called out directions, closing distances and speed for him. Teamwork!

Granuaile docked at Calvert Marina in Solomons, MD
Sunset with geese flying overhead

This visit was meant to be a work on the boat stay. Neil had ordered a new fuel injection pump for the generator to be delivered to a yard nearby and picked it up the next morning. This was to address a fuel leak issue discussed in an earlier blog post. While Neil worked on installing the pump (no small task for a rookie so took most of the day), Kathleen washed and scrubbed the dinghy top and bottom, and washed the boat decks and starboard hull. We were both pretty sore after that day.

Generator with faulty fuel injection pump removed
Neil wrapping up install of new fuel injection pump on generator

The next morning, we spent several hours waxing and polishing the transom and starboard hull. It is hard, straining work. After we were done, we arranged a car ride with a local resident at the marina to a nearby Giant grocery store and SERIOUSLY restocked. We are not often near a large grocery store AND have transportation, so we take advantage of it when we can.

Once all of our groceries were stowed, Kathleen tried her hand at rockfish (which is delicious!) while Neil worked on diagnosing our electronics problems. Suffice it to say that Kathleen had more success.

Kathleen waxing the transom

Wednesday was intended to be a rest day, meaning a break from physical labor. Neil spent the entire day working on the electronics issue, with the help of our electronics expert on call in Florida who guided Neil through troubleshooting steps. It was very frustrating and he didn’t make any breakthroughs. Kathleen made a batch of butternut squash soup, and then got knocked low by a wicked headache, so she was out for the day. Definitely not one of our finer days on the boat.

Multiple error messages displayed on the autopilot display

Thursday was much, much better. It started with more frustrations for Neil, as no yards in the area had any time or technicians available to help us diagnose the electronics problem. So we had no choice but to continue working it on our own. After a morning of checking each device one by one, Neil confirmed that the dome radar was causing communication errors on our boat’s electronics system bus leading to other devices such as the autopilot computer and the wind instrument to fail. The root cause appeared to be a slightly unseated cable connector from the dome radar to the system bus. A couple days of testing at the dock was successful but we needed a few days of cruising to know for certain. (As of 10/22, all is good!!)

In the middle of this, the previous evening we had difficulty starting the generator (the one Neil had just installed a new fuel pump on). Neil had been starting the generator twice a day even though we were at the dock with shore power, to confirm no further problems before we continued our cruise south. Hoping it was just air in the line, he bled the fuel system again and the generator started fine. Problem seemed to be fixed. Unfortunately in the light of morning, the problem was still lingering, so he had this issue to diagnose and fix also. Turned out that during the fuel injection pump install, Neil had dislodged a connector to the preheat glow plug relay. Quick fix and success, generator now reliably starts.

Kathleen spent the time getting caught up on trip log entries and writing this blog. Around 1:00pm, she went up to the marina office to see if our mail had arrived (we had it forwarded here from our postal service in Florida) and was so excited to find her absentee ballot in the mix. After carefully completing it, we walked into town to the post office, about 3 miles away. Kathleen felt unusually proud and excited for being able to vote, and was silently praying that 3.5 weeks would be enough time for it to be delivered. Fingers crossed. Life on a boat, huh?

We had a nice snack at a local restaurant on the water directly across the creek from our boat, and then Uber’d back – we were both too tired to contemplate another 3+ miles back, and we would have probably run out of daylight anyhow!

Granuaile docked at Calvert Marina (red arrow), directly across Back Creek from where we were enjoying a snack at Anglers Seafood restaurant

The Wye River to Oxford, MD

Sept 21: From St. Michael’s, we headed to the Wye River, about two hours away. It LOOKED a lot closer than that, but the route was very winding and called for slower speeds and at least two pairs of eyes – but it was well worth it. The Wye is what we had envisioned the wilder side of the Chesapeake to be. Quiet, beautiful, unspoiled. We dropped anchor in the Wye East River in a pretty cove called Wye Heights.

Anchored at Wye Heights in the Wye East River
Undeveloped river banks and few other boats in the anchorage
Next morning, fog covered the anchorage

Anxious to try out our crabbing skills, we “MacGyver’d” a net from leftover bug screen material and an unbent (extra) fly swatter. Between Kathleen’s “crack” sewing skills (yeah, right) and Neil’s judicious use of hose clamps, we thought we were all set, and dropped baited lines off the stern. We got a few nibbles and slowly reeled them in, but were unable to seal the deal – just kept missing with the net as the crabs scurried away.

Crabbing off the swim platform

The next morning dawned calm and cool, with a misting of fog – perfect for the first official day of Fall. After that burned off, we had a bluebird sky day with calm water – perfect for another shot at crabbing. We launched the dinghy, intent on having steamed crab for dinner. Although we exerted tremendous effort (see pictures), we once again could not net the crabs. After several hours of “diligent work”, we went back to the boat and settled for a chicken dinner (Kathleen had wisely taken it out of the freezer on the “off chance” that we were less than successful in our endeavours…).

Bright and early the following morning, Neil discovered that only crab lining was allowed on Wednesdays, no professional boatmen – and this was a Wednesday! We ventured up to the local marina (and this is very local…). Neil bought some more chicken necks and we rented one of their crab nets, larger and sturdier than our homebuilt one. We were assured that there had been tons of crabs “just a couple of weeks ago” in shallow waters, and with our luck in at least catching the crabs eating off of our lines, we went out with renewed spirits.

At our second spot we had our first luck. Kathleen caught a beautiful big Maryland blue crab. “Do you want to hold it up for a picture?” Neil asked. Kathleen privately thought him crazy, and declined. He then bravely picked it up from behind while Kathleen snapped pictures – apparently one too many as the crab was able to bend his claw around to Neil’s thumb and draw blood. We went back to the boat to bandage the wound, one crab in the bucket.

Key to catching a crab … must be very quiet
Kathleen determined to haul in a large Maryland Blue crab
Success!!

Over the course of the day, we succeeded in catching four more crabs. Kathleen has a difficult time not anthropomorphizing almost any animal, and was beginning to feel sorry for them, even the one that had clipped Neil. However, when the last caught crab was dumped into the bucket with one other crab, they started fighting – ending rather abruptly when the first crab ripped off the claw and arm of the second. It didn’t phase either crustacean. They went back to being dinner for Kathleen after that.

After a google search for steamed Maryland blue crab recipes, Kathleen got a boil going on the stove and the instant pot while Neil humanely dispatched the crabs (again, thank you google). We had a true feast that evening, up on the boat deck, a nice bottle of wine and a million dollar view. Absolutely perfect end to a fantastic day. And now, we knew we wouldn’t starve – once we buy a good net, that is.

Delicious!! From river to table
Dinner up on the boat deck
Perfect end to a perfect day

Sept 24: We left the anchorage to one closer to the entrance to the Wye for the night. It was cloudy, cool and rainy, so not much to do, but did have a crab salad from the last two crabs for a snack.

Winding our way back down the Wye East River
Shaw Bay anchorage near the entrance to the Wye East River

We left the Wye on the 25th and headed to the Tred Avon River. The six hour run was again very calm, with our greatest challenge being “let’s play dodging the crab pots”.

The Tred has a long history – apparently the original name of the river was (possibly) Thread Haven, as all types of threads and lines were made and sold here. It hosts Oxford, a wonderful colonial town that was once a trading hub for the Chesapeake. We anchored in the Trippe Creek off of the Tred Avon.

Town of Oxford on the Tred Avon River

After lowering the dinghy the next day (we’re getting rather proficient at this), we cruised up to Easton, about five miles away. Along the ride, we saw the house we had visited with Kerry when we were in St. Michael’s – different view from the water, but just as beautiful.
There were many professional waterman out crabbing, and we once again admired the hard work they do. We had intended to dock our dinghy at Easton and walk into town to a grocery store, but there was not a dinghy dock in sight. While we were buy some gas for the dinghy, we asked if there was any area where we could tie up for a few hours and got no help whatsoever. This was definitely a waterman’s dock, not meant for tourists like us. So we ventured back out and went to Oxford, where there was a free dinghy dock at the end of Market Street.

Dinghy dock at the end of Market St in Oxford
Path from dinghy dock into town

We had a fun time walking around, shopping at a very small market in the town, and discovering the Scottish Highland Creamery where Neil indulged in the first ice cream since God knows when. We walked passed the Hinckley Yacht Yard where several of their magnificent yachts were on display and the Cutts and Case Shipyard, a historical yard that still repairs and builds wooden yachts. Both showed beautiful craftsmanship and it was so much fun to wander around.

Enjoying a cocktail at river side restaurant

We came back the next day to do a walking tour. Every town we hit, it seems, is a part of our fascinating American history. We’ve come to the conclusion that Michener truly did take bits and pieces of stories from these towns to create his fictional place in Chesapeake. We love history and being here brings it to life, making the struggles and the mistakes, as well as successes and unlikely wins all the more relevant in today’s world.

Walking the historic sites in Oxford

We could definitely tell that the weather was changing, as we no longer used air conditioning at all and have added an extra blanket to the bed at night. Maryland was made for Autumn. The crisp smell of sharp skies, the sun still warming during the day, leaves seemingly bursting overnight into arrays of fall colors. It’s quieter now too as there are fewer boaters on the water. We wear socks nearly every day, and Neil has even been spotted a time or two wearing jeans (something he has steadfastly not done since January). Enjoying a hot cup of coffee or tea in the brisk morning and while watching spectacular sunsets remind us once again why we decided to make this move to this life. And we still have no regrets, whatsoever.

St Michaels, MD

Sept 18th: We raised anchor from the Comegy’s Bight anchorage on the Chester River at 7:00 am and made our way south to the town of St. Michaels.  Crossing under the Bay Bridge one more time, we passed navy training boats from Annapolis.  It was a cloudy, choppy sea kind of day on the Bay, which made the steel gray of the boats blend in with the surroundings.

Kathleen at the helm
Navy training vessels (we think) out of Annapolis
Approaching the Bay Bridge from the north
Passing freighters anchored south of the Bay Bridge that are waiting for passage to Baltimore

The wind and current ran with us and against us on this trip as we wove our way into the Higgin’s Yacht Yard marina at St. Michaels. This is a fun, beautiful touristy town, with a lot of history. We docked stern in, with a stiff wind blowing, which is always a little “unplanned aerobic exercise” for both of us, but the dock hand was wonderful, and to our very happy surprise, we were in a slip next to some folks we had known back in Vero Beach at our marina. Dale and Karen have a lovely boat (Karen Marie, a Viking Sportfisher), as Dale is big into sport fishing. After catching up with them, we quickly cleaned up and got ready for Kerry, who was coming to visit again!

Granuaile at the dock in Higgins Yacht Yard Marina
St Michaels harbor

We had a lovely time here. Lots of shops and restaurants and friendly people. Kerry drove us around to see different spots, and we walked to a local farmer’s market where we got some great veggies, jam and kombucha. Kerry took us to the penultimate breakfast spot, Carpenter Street Saloon, which was conveniently located at the end of the street from our marina – best corned beef hash EVER. He even drove us out to Lowes Wharf to “meet” his true love…

Breakfast at Carpenter Street Salon in St Michaels
Proper social distancing practices were in place while visiting with Kerry’s girlfriend at Lowes Wharf Marina Inn
Tasting the local brews at Eastern Shore Brewing, St Michaels

We got to see a home of one of his friends (Tristan and Melanie) who have a vacation place on the beautiful Tred Avon river. We noted on our charts where their house is located as we planned to anchor on the Tred Avon in a couple weeks. We toured around, stopping for a wonderful lunch along the way (on reading this back, it seems that all we do is eat, tour, and eat – not entirely true, but close…). Kerry left us Sunday morning after breakfast, and we puttered around until the afternoon, when we took a walk around the town, picking up a pamphlet for a walking tour towards the end of our stroll. We both like (well, probably Kathleen a bit more than Neil) to go through old cemeteries. It is fascinating to read the headstones from so long ago, how old people were when they died (amazing life span for some folks into their 90’s and some only months back in the 1700’s-1800’s), and any information on them (there is often an information pamphlet available with historical references to some of the grounds inhabitants). On St. Michaels as in many of the smaller towns we have visited, the cemeteries are right on the church grounds.

After walking a few miles to just explore the town, we headed back to our boat, intermittently reading about a historical structure or home here and there. Walking back to our slip, we stopped suddenly when we noticed a great heron standing directly in front of us on the dock. These birds stand AT LEAST three feet tall, and although they have the most raspy honk of any bird, they are beautiful and majestic. We waited for him (her?) to finish wandering the dock, watching her slow, low flight away.

Heron walking the docks at Higgins marina

After we had settled in for the evening, and the sun had set, we heard a large splash and a woman call for help. Neil ran out to help – one of our dock neighbors had misjudged the distance from his boat to the dock and had fallen into the water. Normally this is not a big thing, but it was dark and the boats were moving with the waves. Fortunately, he had extricated himself from the drink no worse for wear, except maybe for his pride.

As we were getting ready to leave the next day, Dale came by with a gift – crab line gear, complete with chicken necks for bait and seasoning for our (hopeful) soon-to-be bounty. It was really nice of him, but he waved off our thanks, saying he couldn’t believe we hadn’t been crabbing yet and he felt called to remedy that. They left before we did, so we saw them off, looking forward to seeing them again in Vero in December.

Neil worked on another boat repair “opportunity” as he discovered a minor fuel leak at the generator’s fuel injection pump. His technical guru contact at Northern Lights advised that the gaskets were failing and the pump should be replaced but not urgent.
Added to the top of the list of items to address when we visit marina in Solomons, MD in early Oct.

Generator fuel injection pump. Red dyed diesel fuel visible in lower right – not good

We timed our departure for about noon based on weather and tides. There was more to be seen at St. Michaels – but we knew we had plans to be back in a week or so, anchoring on the back side of the town on the San Domingo Creek. So, once ready, we cast off and worked our way out of the harbor for a short trip across to an anchorage on the Wye East River.

Kathleen putting away the lines after leaving St Michaels

Exploring the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake

Before we had left Vero Beach, a friend had recommended reading James Michener’s Chesapeake while we cruised the area this summer. It was a wonderful suggestion, and we have both read the saga. As Michener is an amazing writer, capable of bringing to life areas in all of his stories, we were excited to see firsthand the landscape and areas from his book. As most of it takes place on a fictional island on the Chesapeake Bay eastern shore, we couldn’t help but look for comparisons between reality and storytelling. We agree with Michener’s recounting – the wilderness of the eastern shore inspires musings of what it must have been like 100, 200, 400 years ago and more.

Sept 14:
We left the Worton Creek anchorage and cruised down the Chesapeake to the Chester River. The estates along this river (and most of the rivers along the Chesapeake) are breathtaking. We had an additional trivia moment when we anchored in the Corsica River in a small bay in front of an old Russian government vacation dacha located on 45 acres – one of the compounds that was “reclaimed” by the US as part of the 2016 dispute over Russian interference in the US election, and we were told that, sadly, it sits empty gathering dust. There obviously is a lot of history – both centuries old and more recent – in this area.

Entering the Chester River, MD
Choppy seas

The cruise was surprisingly comfortable as there was a small craft advisory for the Bay, with 15-20 knot winds. Kathleen noticed that it makes a HUGE difference in comfort if you are cruising WITH the wind as opposed to INTO the wind (as well as giving us a bit of a speed boost). As we rode with both current and wind, with only 1-2 foot swells, the ride was smooth, and we even saw a whopping 10 knots at times!

Unfortunately, along with a return to brackish water, we were back into jellyfish territory, so no swimming at the Corsica River anchorage. Weighing anchor the next morning, we used the wing engine. It is an auxiliary engine (27HP, 3 cylinder Yanmar diesel) coupled to its own shaft with a folding prop, and is used in case there is a main engine and/or drivetrain failure. It is mounted off the centerline, port side, and can propel the boat 3-4 knots. However there is a persistent starboard steer. It’s really important to run the Yanmar to to keep it in good operating condition. We have heard too many stories where the wing engine will not run when really needed (during an emergency or a boat purchase survey) due to lack of use. This is what Neil has told Kathleen many times, and she keeps repeating to herself under her breath while being frustrated trying to drive our girl at such a low speed and challenging steerage…

Circled in above photo – The auxiliary engine shaft and folding propeller located on port side of hull
Close up view of auxiliary propeller in folded position
Auxiliary engine throttle cable sticks and won’t hold the full throttle position. Clipboard acts as low tech cruise control until we fix the issue, most likely replace the throttle cable that snakes all the way from pilothouse down to the engine room. On the fix list when we visit Zimmerman Marine in North Carolina early in November.

We anchored 11 miles further up the river, just outside of Chestertown, a wonderful colonial town on the Chester River (maybe not the most creative town name, but it works). After anchoring, we lowered the dinghy, and drove up to the harbor. We docked, intending to get some gas for the dinghy, but as seemed to happen often for us, that particular day the marina and fuel dock were closed. Not to be deterred, we explored the area, enjoying the historical architecture and using an app for a self-guided walking tour for a bit of the neighborhood. We capped the afternoon off with a light meal at the marina grille before heading back to our anchorage and our home. All day, the sun was hazed over, but we couldn’t see clouds. It was the smoke from the west coast fires, up in the atmosphere. It didn’t affect us at all that we could tell, but it was eerie and incredibly sad that so much had burned that it had covered our skies so far away.

At anchorage near Chestertown
Hazy due to smoke from west coast wildfires
Schooner SULTANA at dock in Chestertown harbor. It is a replica of a 1768 British revenue cutter and used as a schoolship for educating students on the Chesapeake Bay
Seeing the historic sites of Chestertown
Chestertown’s historic downtown
A well deserved break for a refreshment
River Packet cruise ship passing us at our Chester River anchorage

One of the more mundane tasks that we easily do and for the most part, without a lot of forethought while on land, is grocery shopping. We no longer have a car, and in these pandemic days, it makes the logistics a bit more tricky, as Uber and Lyft are few and far between in marina areas. We set out with totes and a rolling cart (always a good look) and had a pretty walk to a grocer, through historic Chestertown, a large portion through a tree lined, shady walk, with leaves just beginning to flutter down around us, another reminder of the changing seasons. Once we loaded up as much as we could – backpacks, totes, rolling cart – we headed over to the nearby CVS pharmacy for a flu shot and then headed back to the marina to load up our dinghy, realizing how glad we were that it was as big as it is. Oh, and Neil filled up the dinghy gas container at the marina.

Hiking a couple miles to the nearest grocery store

After a great dinner, we partook of one of our favorite activities – stargazing. We watched the stars in the evenings here – less light pollution – and were greatly rewarded with Jupiter, Saturn, gorgeous moon, Mars, Big and Little Dippers, Polaris, and our new favorite, Cygnus (cuz it’s easy to find). We wouldn’t feel comfortable tossing the radar and navigating by the stars (props to those who do), but it beats Netflix every time.

The next day, September 17th, we cruised back out to the entrance to the river, across from our original anchorage so we could have an early start the next morning, with fewer miles to travel. It was a bit of a rest day, as we caught up on boat chores and chatting with family.

Leisurely cruise back down the Chester River

Chesapeake Cruising Continues as Summer Melts into Autumn

Aug 30th:
Our time in Annapolis continued to be amazing. Kathleen’s friend and roommate, who we hadn’t seen for 27 years, drove down from her home in Arlington to meet us for a visit and catch up time. It was so fantastic to see her and it felt like it had been days, not decades, since we had talked and laughed together. This boating life has afforded us the opportunity to see friends that we haven’t been able to visit for a long time, as well as the fun of making new friends everywhere.

Kathleen and Victoria enjoying catching up after too many years

We cruised around Spa Creek, admiring the houses, and even took a walk through a local neighborhood (there are dinghy docks at the end of every street). We stopped to visit with Clark and Michelle Haley, owners of Roam a Nordhavn 55 that was on a mooring ball in Spa Creek. It’s amazing how friendly boating people are, especially fellow Nordhavn owners.

Relaxing in garden behind the Brown Mustache Coffee shop in Annapolis
On a grocery store run, crossing College Creek, Annapolis
Spa Creek, Annapolis
Visiting Clark and Michelle on Nordhavn 55 Roam
Granuaile on mooring ball in Spa Creek, Annapolis
Lifting the dinghy onto the boat deck. Getting ready to leave Annapolis

On September 2nd, we untied from the mooring ball, sad to leave this beautiful town, but excited to continue our adventures. We left about 10:15 in the morning (kind of a late start, but we didn’t have far to go), and headed north. One of the major highlights of this cruise was going under the Bay Bridge, a huge structure, that is actually two bridges. As Neil carefully navigated our girl under the girders, Kathleen went a little crazy taking pictures.

Heading north up the Chesapeake, Bay Bridge ahead
Cruising under the Bay Bridge

We actually arrived at the entrance to the Magothy River early. We wanted to run the watermaker a little longer to refill the tanks so we circled around just outside the entrance, admiring the Baltimore lighthouse and environs. We then cruised into the Magothy River, passing by Gibson Island to anchor just off of Dobbins Island.

Baltimore Harbor Light near the entrance to the Magothy River. For nearly 100 yrs it has guided northbound vessels to the Port of Baltimore.
Gibsons Island at the entrance to the Magothy River

Gibson Island is a jaw-droppingly beautiful place – entirely private, as in no one can go on the island unless you are a resident or an invited guest. As we were neither, we contented ourselves with touring around in the dinghy. We anchored here until the morning of September 8. There were a few (very few) jellyfish sightings, but the water was wonderful, and we had a lot of fun diving/jumping off the swim platform, paddleboarding, scrubbing the waterline clean, and taking several dinghy excursions to explore the area.

Touring Magothy River near Dobbins Island
Kathleen out for a morning paddleboard cruise around Dobbins Island in the Magothy River
Neil scrubbing the waterline
Sunrise while anchored at Dobbins Island on Magothy River. Geese on their daily morning swim across the river.
Sunset at Dobbins Island

The area’s beauty and nearby beach, are also its drawback – it is very popular, especially for the last official weekend of Summer. When we initially arrived, we were the only boat anchored in this sheltered spot. Throughout the next several days, however, the party crowds came in to enjoy the sun, water and just celebrate. It was fun to watch families, college kids, people of all ages playing with abandon and frivolity. However, by Monday afternoon, we were both ready for some quieter environs. Which was perfect, as we had planned to leave the next day all along.

Labor Day weekend hangout at Dobbins Island. Counted over 40 boats during the day, only a handful of us stayed overnight
A refreshing swim in the Magothy

Tuesday morning we raised anchor and cruised further up the Magothy to a marina to take on fresh water and pump out the holding tank. Due to a pump-out equipment snafu, this took a bit longer than expected, but before too long, we were headed back out onto the Chesapeake on a beautiful calm early September morning with very little traffic.

Pit stop at Magothy Marina for a holding tank pump out

As we traveled north, homes became more spread out and the beauty of the northern Chesapeake unveiled itself. The myriad of trees jostling for position along both banks along with an array of birds was incredible. After about 40 nautical miles, we turned into an anchorage, Turner Creek Bend, on the Sassafras River, hitting fresh water for the first time since we moved onto our boat. It was sunny, calm and 80 degrees, with the water invitingly just less than that temperature, so of course we went for a swim. In case anyone wonders, humans definitely float easier in salt water than in fresh… but we had fun swimming around the boat with not a jellyfish in sight…

Anchored in Turner Creek on the Sassafras River
Stunning sunset on the Sassafras River

The next morning we awoke to cloudy skies and cooler temperatures, but we lowered the dinghy and cruised around, visiting the Fredericktown/Georgetown area about five miles north. Our biggest surprise was the bald eagles – it was fantastic to see so many of them – calling out from the trees as well as when they were crisscrossing the skies together. We think we may have been lucky enough to have been in their migration flyway, which just made this experience even better.

While taking the dinghy around the various marinas, we noticed MUCH less human activity than we had seen just a few days ago on the Magothy. It seems that Labor Day TRULY is the end of Summer here. It started raining, so we headed back to our boat for a quiet evening after we dried off.

Heron walking the docks at marina on the Sassafras River

Thursday was another day of exploring. We came across the Mt. Harmon plantation/museum which is a sprawling estate that has been rejuvenated and turned into a living museum. Unfortunately, with Covid restrictions, it was closed, but it was fun to cruise around its property from the water.

Mt. Harmon plantation/museum on Back Creek, off the Sassafras River

There were a lot of watermen working the river, both with hanging net fishing as well as crab pots. As annoying as crab pots are to us, we can’t help but admire the dedication and incredible hard work that goes into this life. Professional crabbing involves extreme temperature tolerance, ability to work in any seas, and apparently a back and shoulders of steel. They definitely earn their money.

On Friday Sept 12th, we moved up to Skipjack Marina. After navigating a tetris-like entrance to our assigned slip and attempting a stern-in docking, we very quickly determined that the space was too narrow for our boat. (Guess how we figured THAT out…). No damage done to boat, pylons or dock, but suffice it to say we got another assignment on the marina’s outside facing dock. Neil maneuvered back out of the maze and we tied up ten minutes later in the only rain of the day – good times.

Granuaile at Skipjack Marina on the Sassafras River, Fredericktown MD

Once the rain stopped, it was lovely weather, and we made dinner reservations at Kitty Knight House. This house has an interesting history tied to the war of 1812 and British arson-happy invaders. After hailing a water taxi via vhf radio to ferry us across the harbor to Georgetown, we relaxed outside, social distancing, watching the sun set while we enjoyed excellent seafood. After a short walk, and again, getting hit with unexpected rain, we took the water taxi back to our dock.

Water Taxi ride over to Georgetown for dinner
Enjoying dinner at Kitty Knight with a beautiful view of Sassafras River
Georgetown harbor. Waiting for water taxi to return to Granuaile.

Sept 13th:
The next morning we motored over to a nearby marina’s fuel dock and took on 950+ gallons of diesel. At $1.89/gallon, it was a relative bargain compared to our previous fuel purchases in Florida earlier this year. Thank you Clark (N55 Roam) for alerting us to the favorable fuel pricing on the Sassafras River.
We had last filled the tanks in late January. Granuaile holds 1320 gallons, so we weren’t in danger of running out, but we definitely noticed a change in how we sat in the water after adding almost 3.5 tons of fuel. The stern thruster was well submerged!
Neil’s hands got a serious workout, as it took nearly two hours to load that much into all four tanks while standing on the swim platform. Not the most convenient placement of the fuel fills!
We also pumped out the holding tank and added water, so once we completed our tasks, we were set to hit the river once again.

Ready to depart Skipjack Marina. Beautiful weather for cruising

We cruised out of the Sassafras River into the Chesapeake Bay and south to an anchorage at Worton Creek just a couple of hours away. The plan was to stay here just for a night then next morning head onwards to the Chester River.

Sunset while at anchor in Worton Creek

Old Friends and New – the Perks of Cruising

We FINALLY left Zimmerman Marine on August 13th, for a short ride to New Point Comfort, at the entrance to Mobjack Bay from the Chesapeake. It was only a few miles, but we turned it into a longer cruise, as a weather front was passing and would go over exactly where we wanted to anchor. So we wandered around the river for about an hour watching nature play across the skies and waters to our east.

Staying clear of an afternoon thunderstorm on Mobjack Bay

After the storm had passed, we anchored for the evening at New Point Comfort, Mobjack Bay. There was a picturesque abandoned lighthouse, a natural beach, and a semi-protected cove that we anchored in. And there were dolphins. A whole pod of dolphins – like twelve – adults and babies – all swimming around our boat, fishing and playing. They were mesmerizing.

Dolphins hanging out with us while at anchor in Mobjack Bay

The stars were out in the evening putting on their usual show for free. It was wonderful to have an easy cruise and anchorage to continue our voyage north.

The next morning, we raised anchor to cruise north up the Chesapeake. Although the morning started calmly, the weather on the Bay caused much rougher seas to develop, with 3-4 ft waves with very short periods. Kathleen drove for the first two hours, and immediately upon leaving the captain’s chair started feeling sick. It did not go well. Neil had to drive for the next four hours, as Kathleen tried to get on top of the upheavals going on inside her. Luckily, with some meds and some rest, she was ok when we reached the anchorage in Corrotoman River, and was an able hand for anchoring.

Granuaile in rough seas on the Chesapeake. Photo taken by Steve Zimmerman as he cruised past us at the mouth to the Rappahannock River
Cruising under the Robert Dixon Bridge on the Rappahannock River

Corrotoman is beautiful, a lot like the East River. It also has TONS of jellyfish, so absolutely no swimming. We stayed at two anchorages on the bay (with a pump out in between 😉 ). We launched the dinghy and explored the area, marvelling, again, at the beauty of this part of the country. We saw bald eagles, ospreys, herons, terns, ducks – you name it. Lots of well-needed peace and beauty.
Funny story: At one of the anchorages we were a couple hundred yards off a mansion that had a for sale sign on the dock. Shortly after we dropped anchor a man came walking out on the dock and yelled at us, initially we ignored him thinking that he probably was unhappy we were squatting on his riverfront. He was rather persistent, twice coming down to the dock to yell in our direction. So Neil responded and took down his phone number so we could stop yelling at each other. He was a very pleasant fellow who liked that our boat’s home port was Lafayette, CO as one of his sons lives next door in the town of Louisville. We had a pleasant conversation about Colorado, family and the East River; he asked that we call him if we needed anything during our stay.

Anchored on the Corrotoman River
The morning coffee ritual
Heading to Yankee Point Marina on the Corrotoman River to pump out our holding tank
Kathleen whipping up a shrimp dinner
Out for a cruise on the Corrotoman River
Returning to Granuaile after a morning cruise. The “For sale” mansion in the background.
Sunset on the Corrotoman River
A swarm of jellyfish!!!

We left Corrotoman early on the 19th to cruise north to the Patuxent River.

Neil starting up electronics so we are ready to pull up anchor at sunrise
Departing anchorage to a beautiful sunrise
Kathleen taking us out of the Corrotoman River
Entering the Rappahannock River, Robert Norris Bridge in the distance
The Chesapeake was much calmer during our cruise north from the Rappahannock River to the Patuxent River

We anchored off of the Naval Air Station there. It has been over 30 years since we’ve been there (lots of fun memories with our friend Dan who lived there!), and it’s more beautiful than we remembered. Kathleen did MUCH better on the Bay this time (and also remembered to apply her patch the night before leaving to ensure a calm passage!). We watched sailboats chase each other around in the late evening.

The next morning, we weighed anchor to cruise up to Shady Side, MD. It was a relatively short run, but there was a lot more traffic, so the trip kept us on our toes.

Staying clear of the main channel busy with freighter traffic heading to Baltimore

Coming in to the Chesapeake Yacht Club was tricky, as the West River channel leading in was very windy, with lots of crab pots to dodge. Apparently the watermen here do not abide by the rule requiring crab traps to be placed outside the marked channel. The slip was a bit narrow, but we tied up successfully and set to work cleaning our boat – she was very salty and dirty from her travels!

Granuaile docked a the Chesapeake Yacht Club, Shady Side MD

On Friday (the next day) Aug 21st, we got to welcome Kerry Blockley, Neil’s cousin, and the person who introduced us to each other over 30 years ago in DC. It is always wonderful to have people visit, but family is special. Kerry is an amazing person that we feel grateful to have shared time with. His friends, Al and Lisa Feldt live in Shady Side, and came by to visit. Al and Lisa very kindly offered us the use of one of their cars while we were here, which was amazing.

With Kerry as our tour guide, we explored the area, stopping for food and beverages and purchasing some fresh seafood.

Neil and Kerry enjoying a beverage and oysters at Dockside Restaurant in Deale MD

We got to visit Al and Lisa at their beautiful home that backs up to the West River, just a mile paddle from our slip at the Chesapeake Yacht Club. On Sunday we took a long kayak ride around the river environs, experiencing the sites from the water. We stopped for brunch at a dockside restaurant and then paddled back to their place. All too soon, we bid Kerry farewell, with promises to see each other again in a few weeks when we visit St. Michael’s on the east side of the Bay.

Brunch break during our kayak paddle around the West River. In background (red arrow) Granuaile at slip

We did have some repair work done while at this marina; a charger for the main engine/bow thruster battery bank needed to be replaced and the work was completed ably by a local service yard on Tuesday morning. We did a serious re-provisioning for food, replenished water, returned Al and Lisa’s car, got pumped out Wednesday morning, and then departed for a short run up to Annapolis.

Although it was less than two hours to cruise to Annapolis, it was a little tricky both getting out of Shady Side (crab pots and boats) and entering Annapolis (same reasons!). We had never picked up a mooring ball before, but after reviewing a Youtube video or two and talking it through, we were willing to give it a try.

The Annapolis Spa Creek mooring field is large and was mostly empty when we arrived in the early afternoon, which gave us plenty of mooring balls to choose from. We found it was fairly easy to pick up the mooring ball pennant as we went in slowly and had good communication. The location is perfect – just off of the main street area, and directly across from the Naval Academy.

Granuaile’s first mooring ball stay. Naval Academy in the background.
Sunrise at mooring in Spa Creek Annapolis.

We both love the colonial towns for their history and wonderful architecture, and Annapolis did not disappoint. First things first, however – we launched the dinghy and went to Pusser’s Caribbean Grille, which is a waterfront eatery and bar famous for its drink, the “painkiller”. Luckily Kathleen only had one and we had lots of areas to explore to walk it off!

First stop in Annapolis was Pusser’s Caribbean Grille

The last bastions of summer heat coincided with this trip, which made walking around the area with masks on very tiring – 90-100 degree heat, 80% humidity – UGH. After one walking tour and lunch at an amazing diner, we cruised around in the dinghy, checking out Spa Creek, with more mooring fields and anchorages, as well as beautiful homes with docks all along the waterfront. Annapolis has a great amenity – any street that ends at the water has a dinghy dock – which is wonderful for boaters, but made us wonder what happens to a car driver who might not be aware that the road ends in the water!

Maryland State House
Looking down from the top of Main St, Annapolis. Can see Granuaile in mooring field (red arrow)

Evenings are spent being entertained on the deck by passing boats. Sailboaters seem to thrill in weaving between the mooring lanes VERY close to tied boats. It is interesting how very closely people cruise to each other here – something we are not used to, but seems to be the norm. No collisions witnessed – yet! This is the most touristy area we have yet stayed, and it is a lot of fun.

Sailboats speeding and weaving through the mooring field
Up on the boat deck taking in the evening boating activities on Spa Creek
Annapolis harbor front at sunset

Portsmouth VA to East River, Mobjack Bay VA

We left Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth on July 27th around 8:30, and headed up past the Norfolk Navy Yard. It was amazing to see all the ships and submarines that are docked and/or being working on as we cruised past. We passed a Destroyer coming home with flag flying and sailors on the deck. We saw three aircraft carriers, including the USS Gerald Ford, which has not been deployed yet. It was dramatic and humbling to cruise by these giants.

Granuaile at slip in Tidewater Marina, Portsmouth VA
Heading north up the Elizabeth River. Idle cruise ships docked on left, Norfolk Naval Base on the right
We passed USS Paul Ignatius (DDG-117) on the Elizabeth River
Cruising past the aircraft carrier base

The rest of the trip to Mobjack Bay, which is on the west side of the Chesapeake was smooth and uneventful. The Chesapeake is HUGE – we could not see across it. The day was beautiful; humid and hot as we were still in the midst of a “heat dome” covering the country, but it was wonderful to be out on the water again. And we saw dolphins!

We turned off the Chesapeake into Mobjack Bay, on the western shore. From there, we entered the East River, which is a BEAUTIFUL quiet off-shoot of Mobjack, with picturesque homes, private docks, winding “fingers” ripe for exploring on the paddle boards and even a (now-defunct) tidal mill. The biggest noise makers were the great blue herons, with the ospreys running a close second. We explored an anchorage at “Put In Creek”, but we decided to keep looking as the crab pots were too close and the water depth uncertain.

Consulting our chart, we went to the next suggested anchorage and declared it good. Turning the boat into the wind, we dropped anchor and secured ourselves.

Anchorage on the East River off Mobjack Bay

A few things made this day less than perfect. Neil had injured his back (not exactly sure how), which left him tired and hurting. The river water temperature was hovering around 90 degrees, not exactly refreshing. And jellyfish – everywhere. We did manage to jump in and out a few times (OK, maybe Neil didn’t jump, but he did get in and out as quickly as he could) and we avoided being stung. We stayed at this anchorage for a few days, during which Kathleen was able to inflate the paddleboard and go exploring a bit. The peaceful scenery harkened back to another time and another era. Kathleen was reading Michener’s “Chesapeake” and may have been “slightly” influenced by his beautiful prose and artful storytelling. Still, it’s a rare gem to visit, with egrets, herons, bald eagles, ospreys, ducks on the land, in the trees and the sky, and fish of every ilk bubbling around the board, occasionally leaping out of the water. And yes, the jellyfish pulsing by, hauntingly pretty, but scary.

Kath returning from a morning paddle around our new neighborhood
Morning coffee on the foredeck. Looks like Neil needs a second cup
Threatening clouds while at anchorage on the East River

Our air conditioning unit for the saloon started displaying a high pressure warning, and tripping off.  The most often cause for this failure is a sea water line restriction in the ac compressor, or as Kathleen likes to call it, “gunk in the line”.  We tried flushing it out with our on-board fresh water hose, but didn’t have any success.  So, on Friday the 31st, Neil contacted Zimmerman Marine, which was less than a mile away.  Zimmerman is a service yard with some dockage, not meant to host transient boaters.  We were told to come on in, soon if we could as the water depth is too shallow for our 5ft 8in draft except around high tide.  We hauled anchor in record time (seriously, the fastest EVER for us) and cruised down to the buoy to turn into the channel to the marina.

Although it was a little nerve-wracking with so little clearance, we made it to the dock with no mishaps, and tied up, unfortunately on our port side, the side WITHOUT a full passageway or an exit door.  We met Max who is the manager here, and the epitome of a gentleman with charm and hospitality.  He offered any help that he or his crew could give, and told us we could stay as long as we needed, no charge. We connected to their water but unfortunately were still unable to remove the blockage. Neil broke out the Barnacle Buster to flush out the sea water line, worked in no time flat.  The plan was to flush all four of the compressors to ensure all was working well (this should be done at least annually to remove marine growth).  As it was in the 90’s with 60-85% humidity, aircon was crucial.

When Neil started to walk up the dock to go purchase additional Barnacle Buster, he very quickly returned to a confused Kathleen.  He enlightened her by pointing out the very long snake that was currently sunning itself on the dock.  After quick research and comparison of pictures to the snake (using binoculars), it was with relief that we realized the offending reptile was a non-venomous water snake – it could bite if provoked, but it’s worst attribute apparently was that it could emit a foul odor from its mouth as a defense.  Not to be bested by a snake, Neil put on his thick rain boots and grabbed the hose.  As he approached the snake, he encouraged it off the dock with some water spray.  No harm, no foul, Neil 1, snake 0.

Neil going to battle a snake blocking the dock at Zimmerman Marine yard

Once he returned to the boat with his bounty, he asked Kathleen to help remove the boots as his back was still very painful. As Kathleen tried to leverage the boot off without hurting herself, she realized that Neil did not have any socks on. 90 degrees. 80% humidity. Bare feet in nearly-knee high rubber boots. Good times. Another lesson learned.

Max advised that we were welcome to stay the weekend at the dock so Neil could complete the ac compressor flushing work. We’d all been watching a slowly approaching hurricane/tropical storm (Isaias) working its way up the eastern seaboard. Max also told us we were welcome to stay to ride out the storm if it looked like it was going to hit.

Center of Isaias’ forecast track cone was right over us (blue dot in above pic is us!!)

We spent the weekend calmly, for the most part. Neil supervised and taught Kathleen how to change the oil, oil filter and fuel filter on the generator. We went for a short walk, and mostly we tried to get Neil’s back to calm down. We met some really nice folks, Deb and Louie, who have their catamaran, 360°, hauled out for some repairs, maintenance and bottom painting. Louie loaned Neil his inversion boots, and offered to go to the grocery store for us. We have a lot of paying it forward to do after our stay here.

Kathleen strung Neil up from the dinghy davit to relieve his nagging back pain. Or so she said …

As Monday arrived, it appeared that Isaias was going to be more than just a dust up and was heading right for us. Max confirmed that we were welcome to stay. We spent Monday preparing the boat for the storm, bringing in anything that might blow off, securing our lines, putting out fender boards with the fenders. About 4:30, Steve Zimmerman founder of the yard, dropped by to say hello. Neil had previously met Steve at the 2019 Stuart FL Trawlerfest show. He had taught a diesel engine course. Steve gently suggested that we move our boat over to the slip next to ours so that we would be pushed off the dock, not onto it by the storm. This advice was gratefully heeded, as in addition to protecting our girl, we now would be tied up with our starboard side access door to the dock – MUCH easier to get on and off the boat. We walked through our plans to move the boat, having to wait until the tide came in as at low tide we sat on the bottom. There was a heavy thunderstorm at 6:30 that seemed too early for Isaias’ arrival, and was probably just the outer bands of the storm, but the intensity was ominous.

We got Granuaile moved and secured, and we waited. Going to bed was easy; sleep proved elusive. Both of us got up throughout the night to check on things. At about 5:30 in the morning, the winds were picking up and the water started rising. By 8:00 the winds were around 40-45 kts and the tide was still rising. We had a brief discussion about leaving the boat and seeking shelter in the marina bathroom until the storm blew over, but decided to stay on board. High tide was not for another two hours or more and was to rise by another 1.5-2 feet. The water was inches from the top of the dock.

Winds from the SE pushing water into the small bay where we are docked
Onboard camera monitoring dock as it is nearly submerged by the storm surge

Then the wind began to shift from southeast to northwest as the storm passed to the west of us. This did two things – decreased the wind, and the wind began pushing the water out. By 10:30, the rain had stopped and the sun was peeking through. Our first Tropical Storm was in the books and we did great.

Tropical storm passed and water levels dropped quickly
Skies all clear

After the rain stopped, we inspected the boat – all was well, just some minor debris to clear. We had lost shore power, as had everyone else in our vicinity, but our generator was working, so we were fine. Then power was restored, we shut off the generator and hooked up shore power – only to have our breaker trip. Even with no loads it would trip as soon as shore power was applied. Neil determined that the relatively new ELCI breaker that had been installed during our stay in Vero Beach had failed. He contacted Max to request some help from one of the electricians.

In the afternoon, Neil went to start the generator. It would not start. Feeling like we were under a cloud of failure, Neil reached out to Clayton, the previous owner of Granuaile, asking for his input. Clayton immediately got back to us, with a suggestion to check the connections to the breaker and fuse in the generator controller enclosure. And sure enough, two spade connectors to the resettable fuse had worked loose. A quick fix – and the generator started like a charm – one disaster averted.

Bob the electrician confirmed what Neil suspected, the ELCI breaker was defective. A replacement was ordered, but it needed to be shipped from the West Coast, and it was Friday – so more days here at the marina. We cleaned, walked, and rested; Neil’s back slowly recovered. We pulled the boat away from the dock (with Kathleen paddle boarding across the slip to the other dock with a line, and Neil pushing the boat off the dock) so we could launch the dinghy and see more of the environs.

We had two beautiful outings, so peaceful and picturesque – it was hard to believe that a storm had just come through a few days before.

Tide mill at Poplar Grove on the East River. John and Yoko had once owned the property

On Sunday evening, in anticipation of leaving on Monday afternoon if the ELCI breaker replacement went to plan, we loaded the dinghy back onto the boat. As Neil was putting the davit away (the crane that is used to raise and lower the dinghy to and from the boat deck), he stopped suddenly, noticing that a part inside the davit’s extension arm had come loose, interfered with a hydraulic line causing it to be pinched between the davit covers. We were beginning to feel like we were cursed. Neil went to work reaching out to the manufacturer and someone who had serviced the davit for us when we were in Florida.

Monday we awaited the arrival of the UPS truck. After sitting around for a few hours, we decided to hit the grocery store to replenish some food as well as some other errands. We ran into Max on the way out, and requested more help for the davit issue. We also had an unexpectedly amazing lunch at a restaurant called Olivia’s in Gloucester – highly recommended for food, service and price. Returning to the marina, we passed the UPS truck just leaving. Unfortunately, the part was miss-shipped to a retailer’s store in Annapolis – and wouldn’t be delivered until Tuesday.

We did have some good news. Neil spoke with the technician who had serviced the davit in Vero Beach and was told that the part that had slipped loose was not necessary, was apparently a fairly common failure point in this Steelhead davit model, and could just be removed, which we did.

34″ Rub strip removed from davit

Bob came over Tuesday morning to remove the damaged hydraulic line, and ordered a replacement to be delivered the next day.

In the meantime, lots of amazing wildlife continued to astound us. We saw so many great blue herons, egrets, ospreys, cardinals, and myriad other unnamed birds. Beautiful luna moths that look like large leaves are around us when we stop to notice.

Luna moth, has a 3-4 inch wingspan

A young box turtle was swimming near the boat and then pulled himself on the muddy bank for some sunning. The stars at night in all their grandeur took our breath away. And we had beautiful quiet paths to walk to stretch ourselves anytime we wanted. There are definitely worse places to be “stuck”.

Further Meandering and Musings…

6/27/2020

The next cruise route brought us further up the Pungo River, through the 20 mile Alligator – Pungo Canal, into the Alligator River to anchor for the evening.  We were deep in North Carolina country, with lush greenery all around us, and miles of undeveloped land on either side of the rivers and canal.  At least this time the Alligator River did not produce any dinosaurs for us, at least that we could see.

Alligator River – Pungo River Canal
Cruising north on the Alligator River

After navigating a swing bridge (which was actually pretty cool), we anchored off of the main channel, again limited by encroaching crab pots.  The water was a bit rougher, so it was a quick dip into the river off the stern, holding onto the swim ladder, but we did it.  We are nearing the end of our journey up to Virginia, and we are beginning to feel the tiredness from these past two weeks.  It is a wonderful way to travel, but it will be nice to be in a marina, tied up to a dock, for a while, and to walk on solid ground. Just a few more days.

The anchorage was a bit rolly that evening, but we still slept pretty well.  We got up in the morning to fog, which burned off before we weighed anchor.  Kathleen had to circle the anchorage four times to help Neil clean the mud/clay gunk off the anchor, but before long we were on our way…. Only to see a tug pushing a large barge through the S curves of the channel ahead of us.  After determining that it would not be smart to try to navigate these curves at the same time as this tug/barge, we turned around and slowly cruised back to our anchorage area, giving the tug/barge time to complete the curves and head into a straight away, where we were able to turn around again and head back up on our original track, passing them with greetings and plenty of room.

Tug and barge pass by on the Alligator River

It was another day of slow travel, punctuated with anxious moments of crab pots, tight turns, and a very large bay (Albemarle Sound) to cross. The bay is very wide, ~12nm and the fetch (distance the wind can blow across, unimpeded) is HUGE, so waves build and push.  We crossed the bay with no mishaps, and drove into the “backroads” of the river off of the bay to our final stop before reaching Virginia – Coinjock Marina, in Coinjock, NC

Coinjock Marina only has alongside dockage, a few hundred feet in length, beside the ICW. They do not waste an inch of space at this marina, with our anchor over the swim platform of the boat in front of us, and the anchor of the boat that came in behind us almost hanging over our transom.  

Tied up at Coinjock Marina, NC
No dockage wasted, boats lined up with no space between

We went to the marina bar/restaurant, and refreshed ourselves with beverages and sustenance (OK, slushie, beer, buffalo wings and calamari).  After we wandered to the marina store, picking up the requisite tee shirts and locally made marmalade (we are both proudly addicted to orange marmalade – no judgement please.)

We dropped off our purchases and went for a walk to a “park just up the road.”  It wasn’t far, but with no path off the road with a 55 mph speed limit, it was not quite a leisurely stroll.  We did notice that northern NC has the most AMAZING dragonflies everywhere – they are huge, and beautiful.  The “park” was actually a large boat ramp, so after walking along the water for a bit, we headed back to our boat to relax.

The marina restaurant had two amazing features:  wonderful reviews with outdoor dining, and a five minute walk from our boat.  We decided to treat ourselves and were not disappointed.  It is definitely a local spot (as Coinjock is not a booming metropolis for people to explore), the food was great and the evening very temperate.  Social distancing and facemasks were in force, and it was lovely to spend quiet time together enjoying someone else doing the cooking.

Coinjock Marina restaurant a short stumble to our boat

Our dockmates were a lively bunch, with good humor, lighted plastic palm trees and beach music.  It’s hard not to be in a great mood with such an environment.

We slept well, using the air conditioning at night for the first time in a while.

Monday June 29th dawned clear and quiet.  We aimed to push off the dock at 8:00 for our final day of cruising to our next destination, Portsmouth, VA.  After coffee and catching up on the news of the day, we started getting the boat ready for departure.  Kathleen made a quick trip to the marina bath house (and was disappointed by no TP), and hurried back to the boat to use our own facilities before we cast off.  Somehow between hurrying and not paying attention, Kath slipped getting onto the boat, one foot/leg falling between the dock and boat into the water, and the other foot crumpling into a sprained mess on the boat.  End result was a sprained ankle and fractured fourth toe (lots of purple, there).  She made it 8 months on the boat without any injury mishap, which, knowing Kathleen, is actually kind of remarkable.  The upside to being so “balanced challenged” is that we have a lot of orthopedic supplies on board, including ace bandages and an air cast.  It was, however, a less than auspicious beginning to this final leg of our journey.

Ouch!!!

We cast off from the dock (Kathleen was able to get the lines off and back on the boat, even with a significant hobble), with some dockmates ensuring that neither our bow or stern took any additional boating materials with us from the vessels in front and behind us.

The journey up was stressful, as there was a lot of shoaling most of the way, with cross winds and crab pots.  Neil drove 7 of the 8 hours, with Kathleen doing her best to keep an eye out (either with binoculars or just naked eye) for hazards, other boats, and directional day markers.

This cruise took us through very beautiful countryside, with a lot of undeveloped wilderness  The canal is narrow, and there were many boats of various speeds on the water this day.  We had a good time communicating with folks from all over (New Hampshire, Oregon, and Florida, to name just a few).  As we journeyed north, we couldn’t help but notice a prolific amount of bridges as we got closer to more populated areas.  

Line of boats timing the bridge openings on the Albermarle and Chesapeake Canal

At one point, we were slowed by bridge opening timing, which should not have been a big deal.  However, the next bridge opened only on the hour (many open on the hour and half hour), and we would have really liked to have made that opening.  Unfortunately, a sailboat in front of us was traveling slower than necessary, and we miscalculated speed needed to make the opening.  We got to the bridge moments too late and had to hang out for an hour.  The upside was we got to see Work Knot again – a Nordhavn 57 whose owners we had met in Vero Beach earlier this year.  Neil briefly chatted with them as they were docked at the Atlantic Yacht Basin, just south of the bridge.  Once through, we were excited to experience our first lock experience.  After communicating with the lock operator (and “quickly” moving fenders from starboard to port – “quickly” as this was Kathleen’s task), we tied bow and stern to the cleats and waited for the experience.  It was less than we had built it up to be – Kathleen didn’t even notice the boat rising (the water level only changes about a foot).  So much for early lessons for the Panama Canal some day…

Tied up in Great Bridge Lock

Once through, we were able to maintain our normal cruising speed of ~7-8kts (having passed the sailboat and waved to him on our way) and proceeded north on the Elizabeth River to Tidewater Yacht Marina.  It quickly became obvious that we were back in “civilization” with much commerce and marine business appearing on both shores.  

Heading north on the Elizabeth River

There were many bridges to pass under while cruising up the Elizabeth River. The railroad bridges close intermittently for passing trains, so cannot time them.

We barely passed through two of the three normally open railroad bridges, they closed as soon as we were through. (Truthfully, the second one, without warning, was a lift bridge that started coming down AS we were passing under it.  Luckily, we were faster cruising than it was descending). 

Railway bridge descending as we passed underneath!!

We are now in Navy land.  It’s easy to forget how huge naval vessels are – until you are cruising by them.  The shipyards are immense.  

Destroyer USS Jason Dunham at General Dynamics’ Norfolk shipyard on Elizabeth River

With Norfolk off to our starboard and Portsmouth on our port, we contacted the marina for gave directions to our slip.

Tidewater Marina is an easy-going, relaxed marina.  Our slip is MUCH narrower than the one we had in Vero, but we were able to get tied up without mishap.  It was definitely good to be back at a marina. Neil got us squared away with the marina office, and Kathleen filled some ice bags and went to our bed.  We have arrived.

Tied up at floating dock, city of Norfolk in background across the Elizabeth River
Historic district of Portsmouth behind us
Tidewater Yacht Marina, Portsmouth VA

It’s not ALWAYS sunny…

June 25th dawned partly sunny, and after some coffee, we got the boat ready to continue our journey north.  

Sunrise on Broad Creek, NC

Today’s plan was to cruise up the Neuse River, cross the Pamlico River and anchor on the Pungo River at Deep Point Anchorage.  The day rapidly became overcast, but that’s ok – it was also cooler.  

Pamlico River, NC
Pungo River, NC

The trip up was uneventful (which is also not a bad thing).  The landscape is much more remote, with groves of pine trees and large swatches of grasslands being much more common than signs of human habitation.  

RE Mayo is located on the ICW at Hobucken, NC. Sells fresh local caught seafood to cruisers

When we reached our intended destination to turn off of the ICW into our anchorage, we were foiled from traveling too far into the cove by hordes of crab pots.  These are the bane of most cruisers’ existence.  Crab pots are placed by local watermen, each marked by a color coded buoy floating on the surface.  They are not to be taken lightly, as the lines can foul a prop or get caught on a stabilizer fin necessitating a dive under the hull to free.

We ended up anchoring just off the main channel, again in deep silence.  Once the anchor was set and the engine stilled, we noticed that fog had settled around us, and a soft drizzle of rain was falling.  Not to be deterred, we still swam in the water (no jellies here!) and noticed how much less salt was in the water.  This makes sense, as we are now quite a distance from the ocean, but it’s been a long while since we’ve been in relatively fresh water, and it’s the first time since we’ve been on the boat.  The fog lifted, the rain stopped, and now we hear the terns and gulls calling to each other as the sun sets.  Being here calls to mind what it must have been like for the Native Americans and first European explorers. The vast stillness and beauty of this area can transport you to another time.  We never knew North Carolina had all this to offer.

Blogger at work
Chilling in the pilothouse while at anchor
Never tire of the beautiful sunsets
Deep Point Anchorage on the Pungo River, NC