The day is exactly as forecast, the wind and rain blow sideways and whip the Alligator River up into 3-foot waves capped with crowns of white froth. The Albemarle Sound beyond it will be exponentially rougher and even if we thought we wanted to attempt to cross it, the boat is literally pinned to the dock, using every fender we have and still she groans against them much of the morning and afternoon.
Thankfully for us, Easy Wind has a VERY functional heating system and we make use of it off and on all day, with shades drawn to insulate as much of our glass surfaces as possible. There are two other boats here with us, both of which had intended to cross the Sound today, one catamaran from Virginia whose people are very familiar with the Sound and one Looper boat from Ontario. Both have made the same decision we have and are going to wait out the weather and cross in the morning when waves are projected to drop to 1-foot heights and the weather should also be nicer.
Today is our 16th wedding anniversary! The forecast had predicted calming winds, lessening waves and cooler temperatures for the morning and it was pretty accurate, which is nice.
The moon paints the docks with frost and it is COLD! Our thermometer reads 58 degrees
INSIDE the cabin but the heater quickly injects some warmth as we get ready to depart Alligator Marina. I am wearing leggings under my pants, a t-shirt, 2 long sleeve shirts, gloves, a buff, a down vest and jacket, which is pretty much all the warm clothing I brought. There is ice on the decks so extreme caution is used as we take care of the chores required to get off the dock. Cold without wind is a whole different beast than cold with wind and we are ready to go as the sun is coming up.
The river is glassy-smooth but the Sound is her usual self and so is uncooperative with the forecast, which called for 1’waves. We wallow and roll, trying to find the best attitude for the crossing through 2-3’ foot swells that are washtub directional and grant no clear course for comfort.
And what should have been an easy crossing feels more like a combination of surfing and sailing as we take small tacks to lessen the discomfort and minimize sloshing in our fuel tanks.
Finally, we enter the North River and after a while I get fenders and lines ready for docking in Coinjock, where we have reservations for tonight. I am on the top deck when Jerry yells, “Hey, there is something crossing the river ahead of us!” I grab my camera too late to film the bobcat who is swimming confidently across the river and up onto the shore as we pass him. Well, that’s unusual! We have had deer and beaver swim across our bow but never a bobcat!
We had hoped to be here yesterday and pulling out on our anniversary but the contrary weather interfered with our plans. We pull into Coinjock Marina not too long after we pass the swimming bobcat and within a short time, some of the boats that were with us in Alligator arrive. There is some general tale-swapping and notes-comparing and even with social distancing boat people continue to be boat people, connecting over shared experiences and learning from differing ones.
My Dad used to stop at Coinjock twice a year when he moved his boat from West Palm Beach to the Jersey Shore and back again and while I have heard the name and we passed by here on our Loop (it was SUPER-crowded with boats and people), this is the first time where the timing worked so that we were able to stop, stay and eat here and it does NOT disappoint!
Their prime rib is renowned to boaters who come through here and I totally enjoy the first red meat I have had in weeks while Jerry celebrates with a seafood platter after the obligatory champagne celebration drink to 16 years together!
We are pretty much done after a short walk after dinner and count today a memorable anniversary!
The Bonnie and Clyde of the ICW bid a fond farewell to Coinjock.
Currituck Sound is windy and creates following seas for Easy Wind to wallow in front of – she really doesn’t like following seas at 1700 rpm but we don’t really want to push her to where she would probably be more comfortable and easier to steer. The Sound isn’t too far and we easily leapfrog the three sailboats that beat us off the dock this morning. It’s pretty to see their white sails against the blue sky but we don’t want to be trapped behind them in the narrow waterway between the Sound and the lock and if possible we would like to be far enough ahead of them that we don’t need to deal with them in the lock at all.
The last time we went through Great Bridge Lock a sailboat followed us in, got sideways and came close to colliding with us. The lockmaster (the worst one on our entire journey) stood there on the wall screaming at them and the poor things didn’t even speak English! Finally the tug captain of the barge that was in the lock with us was able to hand signal to them what to do and we got it all sorted out but we try to avoid anything that approaches that kind of drama if at all possible!
This day is uneventful and we travel pretty much alone, passing a couple of down-bound tows and barges and taking in the scenery along the way which alternates between forest, grasslands and homes. Coming through Centerville swing bridge, a flock of Canada Geese land in the water right in front of us and begin a serious mating ritual with all kinds of honking and snaking necks until they are paired off into solid two’s.
We have noticed ribbons of ducks and geese in wavy V’s headed northwards as spring is arriving, though you wouldn’t really know it by our recent cold temperatures! Each place we have been, we have just missed the peak of azalea and dogwood blooms, though some flowers cling tenaciously, unwilling to give up their holds. This is the only part of living further north that I miss.
We manage to coordinate the opening of Great Bridge with a down-bound barge but it doesn’t really do us any good because the bridge opens on the half hour and hour and the lock, which is a stone’s throw away only opens on the hour. So, we tie off to the free dock that is on the north side of the bridge and wait. Lots of people stay here over night and I can see that it would be a convenient stopping place to spend a free night but we need to get to Portsmouth to meet up with Brian, who has allowed some spare parts we need to be mailed to him and who will also take us to Wal-Mart to get oil so that Jerry can do an oil change for Easy Wind. Brian’s dad, Mike has unfailingly checked in with us every day or two to see how we are and to update us on news from home and the fact that in our absence our boat is “filthy!” We are blessed to have the people we call friends in our lives and we don’t take that lightly.
The passage through the last lock is unbelievably smooth. This lock actually has built-in fenders on the port side so all you have to do is loop a line over a cleat at the top of the wall and the lock drops you only a foot – it actually seems like much ado about nothing and we are happy to be finished with locks for this trip.
Coming into Portsmouth and Norfolk is excruciating because it is a solid no-wake zone for miles and there are railroad bridges that have been known to be down for hours. We are coming up on one, showing a green light and are almost there when the announcement comes over our radio that Norfolk & Southern bridge #7 will be closing shortly. Jerry looks at me and back at the bridge and urges Easy Wind to move along, which she does and we pass under the bridge and through as the lights are turning red! Last time we hovered at this bridge forever so we are pleased to have made it through until we get to the next railroad bridge which is definitely down with a train approaching. We idle along watching and groan when the train stops completely for a while. Fortunately, it resumes speed and the bridge opens and we are in the heart of Norfolk and Portsmouth. Naval ships of all types surround us on every side, many patrolled with their own private security boats which have machine guns mounted on the bow. It’s an impressive harbor and we know from experience that as you move further north it becomes even more so.
We pass hospital hole, where we anchored one night prior to coming into the marina last time and tie up at Tidewater Yacht Marina. This marina is home to a lot of live-aboards and even has a swimming pool built into the floating dock system. We check in and HAVE to go stretch our legs. Inactivity takes a bit of a toll on active people after a while and a walk is much needed.
We have finally caught up to spring! The flowers are amazing and walking the brick sidewalks reminds us of how much we LOVE Portsmouth. The homes are charming and a little reminiscent of Charleston and Savannah.
We took a ferry over to Norfolk last time we were here and it has more of a city feel while Portsmouth has more of a homey feel and we much prefer it. The walk does us good physically and mentally and we come back to the boat and sit out on the back porch where we chat with Bob, the owner of the last sailboat we leapfrogged. He is trying to sell his sailboat for a little faster boat that is of more use in Maine and feels the Chesapeake area will be a better place than Cape Coral, Florida to sell her. He’s had the boat for 22 years and it is obvious that he loves her but life changes and what’s practical at one point becomes obsolete at another point.
The sunny warm evening ends with a change in the forecast but we are ready for it
Dang! Should have gotten the key to the laundry room last night. We want to get it done before the rain but the marina office doesn’t open until 8 and when it becomes reality, the hours have changed and they don’t open till 9.
By then we could have finished and been safely back aboard but now we slog through driving, cold rain and stay in the laundry room until our sheets are done. The gusts are around 48 mph, so we are glad that we planned this to be a dock day to get errands done.
Brian arrives and takes us to Wal-Mart where we get the oil so Jerry can give Easy Wind an oil change. We grab a great lunch at Fish and Ships and eat on the boat – fried oyster po-boys! YUM! Thanks, Brian!!!!
The sun comes out as soon as we have finished all the schlepping chores (of course) and we send Brian back to work – sorry! And Jerry gets down to changing the oil as the wind continues to howl around us.
He finishes up and we take a long walk, stretching our legs as the coming days may not present the opportunity. We have a fairly good weather window and will try to make as long a run as possible up the Chesapeake in the morning.
There is something about waking up surrounded by city after 4 weeks of pretty much waking up in small towns or peaceful anchorages. It is really beautiful but we have now been commissioned to deliver this boat up to Boston, rather than Baltimore and we feel the need to get moving.
A Navy security boat escorts us out of the Elizabeth River (separates Norfolk and Portsmouth) past HUGE aircraft carriers and destroyers.
We see the protective gates that Brian works to open and close to allow the ships to enter and exit the base. It is a crazy dangerous job when the water is rough but we think he likes the fact that no two days are the same. The Red Cross ship Comfort was here last time we were through but she has gone to New York as a hospital to help fight the C-19 in that hotspot. Maybe we will see her in a week or so as we pass through.
A container ship chases out into the Chesapeake but we turn north and he continues east so we never have a close encounter. The Chesapeake is home to LOTS of HUGE ships and we are grateful that visibility is good and we can see them a long time before our radar detects them.
The good news is that the current is strongly with us and it is sunny, so we are making good time. The bad news is that the predicted one footers are actually two’s and three’s which build through the day into 3’s and 5’s and it is 100% a following sea, which Easy Wind is not happy about. The waves sneak under her backside and throw her bow any which way they please. This creates a LONG day of manual steering and we take more frequent turns switching off helm duty, as it is exhausting.
We see one of the unmistakable Trumpy boats approaching. They are such gorgeous boats and we remember seeing Enticer (you can google this yacht if you are interested – I think she is a time share now) in Palm Beach, then again in Greenwich for the Town Party where Eric Clapton headlined and somewhere later in Long Island Sound. It’s pretty cool to be at a concert and have the best seat in the house on your own back deck. This is a smaller Trumpy and we are hailed by 61’ Adonia’s captain. Turns out this is the flagship yacht for the Waterway Guide and he is a super ambassador, wishing us safe travels and hopes for a smooth journey.
This is the Chesapeake Bay and there are crab pots everywhere, hidden by the increasing waves, which forces us to duck and weave and pray that one of the waves from behind doesn’t decide to throw us onto one that we have already steered to miss. Fortunately, we are able to steer clear of all of them, even the ones that some smart guy painted BLACK!!!!
We have to up our speed a little to keep the rudder responsive and we cover 110 very uncomfortable miles before we are able to tuck into the Patuxent River and anchor in a very sheltered cove near the Patuxent Naval Air Station. Other reviewers of this anchorage reported being rocked out of their berths by the jets taking off but our night is calm and quiet and there is no better sleeping than being rocked gently on quiet waters with minimal wind….so peaceful.
The day is gray and overcast when we pull anchor and leave the PAX NAS anchorage. The sky paints the water in shades of cobalt and azure that cry out to be photographed. A green beacon gives us the GO signal and we are quickly into the Chesapeake again.
It is fairly calm and over the course of a couple of hours the conditions settle into the predicted patterns, creating a situation where the current and winds are against us and we take the 1’s to 2’s bow-on, which makes Easy Wind and her crew MUCH happier! Tankers and cargo ships lurk in the morning gloom and we pass by the ice-cream cone-shaped lighthouses that abound in the Bay.
We cross from the west to the east side of the Bay, taking the most direct route and pass by St. Michaels, home of the best crab places in the world. This would be much more painful except that the crab houses are probably closed due to C-19 restrictions and the weather is cold and not conducive to sitting outside for a couple of hours picking crabs and drinking beer. Oh well, maybe another time.
We by-pass Baltimore, our original ending point for the trip and after 8 hours of driving head-on into the wind and waves we pull into the anchorage we have chosen for the night. The sun attempts to emerge and after an hour or so is successful. The winds should be out of the northwest at about 7 mph so it doesn’t really matter where we sit the night. Last time we were in Fairlee River and we don’t want to do that again as the approach to the marina/anchorage was harrowing. So we have chosen the aptly named Still Pond Anchorage as it will set us up to do the C&D Canal in the morning and should be fairly sheltered as well.
We get the anchor set and work on some planning for the coming days. We have another cold front moving in tomorrow with winds that dictate a marina and we need to figure out when we will get a weather window to move Easy Wind from Cape May to NYC via the Atlantic while minimizing our exposure to the hotspots that are NJ and NY. We have researched the NJ waterway and we feel that this boat draws too much to even attempt running her through there so we will need good weather to run outside.
We sit down to relax for a minute and its as if we have entered Nirvana. The wind dies, the air warms and we are in a private cove that is bordered on one side by cliff-perching homes cloaked in trees that are just starting to sport their spring regalia. The red bud is in riotous bloom with the dogwoods transitioning pale green flowers to showy white. The old hard wood trees wear pale green leaflets and it won’t be long before these houses are magnificently shaded from the summer sun.
The other side of the cove is wild with rushes and trees bordering pale sandy beaches and it isn’t too long before we see a trio of deer bound across the beach and into the brush. A pair of Bald Eagles school a recalcitrant offspring who appears to be afflicted with ADHD for all the attention he pays them and soon one of the adults shears off to harass an Osprey who has just caught his family’s fish dinner. The Osprey emerges victorious, after a lot of ducking and diving and sweeps away over the trees to feed his family. We can hear geese and a woodpecker, though we can’t see them and the peace in this lovely cove more than pays us back for the beating we took yesterday and today. You can’t buy these kinds of moments and we soak in the warm sunny air and admire the calm surroundings until the sun sets and utter stillness descends upon the cove.
Gale force winds are predicted for tonight as another cold front sweeps down and drops the temperatures into the low 40’s. We would like to be tied up for this and have chosen Delaware City as our arrival spot. It will make it a shorter day than we would like to put in but there are zero marinas in the Delaware and being in Delaware City will position us for the run down the Delaware River to Cape May the next day.
It is calm this morning and there are things hinting at being mountains off in the distance. The waterway here is edged by orange clay cliffs with homes teetering closer to the edge than they probably did when they were built. They range from a field of mobile homes to elegant mansions and everything in between. A little lighthouse shares the same type of precarious perch and I wonder how much longer it will stand.
It can be a little unnerving to see a fairly large boat coming toward you and then watch it stop and swing right, then left, turn around and head straight for you. This is the Army Corps of Engineers taking depth soundings and they apparently don’t care how close they come because we had one get frighteningly close yesterday. This guy thankfully zooms right by us this morning.
We see the green light and enter the Chesapeake and Delaware (C&D) Canal with the current behind us and slightly hazy conditions. The canal is easy and we encounter no ships, tugs or barges unlike our last trip where we saw a huge nose come around a bend over 100 feet up in the air and then the rest of the boat slowly emerged from there. When we passed abeam, there was no daylight on our boat, it was that massive. I don’t think the highest point on our boat even reached their anchor.
Today is an uneventful passage made brighter by the pink and white dogwoods, the redbuds and bridal bush that peek out from the near naked trees that tower leafless above them. In some spots it almost looks like autumn because the maples are covered in red whirly-gigs that look like fall colors from a distance and the sky is that flat gray that comes before storms.
The clouds are starting to roll and rain is advancing ahead of the front as we pull into the Delaware City Marina. They are SERIOUS here about the 14 day self-quarantine, which other marinas have announced but not enforced. We are instructed over the radio to make sure we arrive with face masks in place and we are not allowed off the dock except to take our trash to the dumpster! This would be a lot more disappointing if it weren’t raining and miserable outside by the time we finish getting the power and lines the way we want them.
Our heater has died, which might be a problem given what the weather is supposed to be like for the next couple of days. Jerry spends some time in the hold and we clean the strainers and he does everything he can think of to do. All he can think is that something may be plugging up the intake line and there’s no way I’m letting him get in the water to see. We have a space heater, so we will survive!
We weather terrific thunderstorms, driving rain and winds. Towards sunset there is a break in the bands and we sneak out, fully masked to walk a bit and boy, are we happy we did. This morning we had been talking about when the peak season for the DC cherry blossoms takes place and had decided that we had missed it this year.
Around the corner from taking the trash to the dumpster is main street of little Delaware City, DE and we hit the jackpot! The cherry trees here line both sides of the street and are in full blossom. The wind is whipping pink snow in every direction. We are stunned at the beauty of these trees and are so grateful to have been able to witness it, even if we had to bend the self-quarantine directive a tad.
Low tide tomorrow is at dawn, our usual departure time and as we walk the canal, we are seeing exposed mud flats at the entrance to the Delaware. We will need to let the tide come up a bit before risking departure. We think that will be perfect as a later departure will time it to where the tide will be turning a little less than halfway down the river and will be adding a few knots and lessening fuel consumption into Cape May, NJ (our 11th state and 2200 miles covered!). Waiting will also allow the 5’ waves that the gale force winds create tonight to calm down a bit as well, so we are resigned to a later start.
Back to the boat we go and tuck in as the next band arrives with high winds and dropping temperatures. We are in for the night!