Oriental to Albemarle Plantation Marina

On March 13, we left our winter home at Northwest Creek Marina near New Bern, NC and moved the boat 23 miles down the Neuse River to Zimmermans Marine in Oriental, NC. Zimmermans was to put in a new generator for us. They told us it would take a couple of weeks, but since I’ve always heard that boat yards always take way longer, I mentally penciled in three week.

Amazingly, the generator was in and running just 6 work days after they started on it. That was wonderful, but we really didn’t want to get on our way quite so quickly. Our first scheduled event, the AGLCA Spring Rendezvous, is in Norfolk, Virginia on May 5.

Norfolk is five or six easy days travel from Oriental. How were we going to take a month plus to do a five or six day trip? Read on to find out.

This blog post covers our first four boat movements after our generator work was done. From Oriental, NC to Albermarle Plantation Marina.

We found out we needed to put some hours on the generator before we left the Oriental area so Zimmermans could make sure everything was running well. They let us stay at the boat yard for that entire week, taking us up to Easter, March 31.

It was a lot of fun being in a working boatyard. We were docked adjacent to the travel lift so we saw many very nice boats come and go. Zimmermans does good work and they keep busy.

Old generator coming out of the boat. There is an arm on the travel lift. They drove the travel lift near our boat, extended the arm, hooked it on, and away it went.
Our new generator. We took this picture as we were heading out for a sight-seeing road trip. By the time we returned that afternoon, it was already sitting in the boat. We missed seeing it go in!
They had to do a short haul to make sure the intake for the generator looked good. It did.

While at the boatyard, we still had our car. A couple from church, John and Vonne, had picked us up in Oriental and had run us up to Northwest Creek Marina to get our car. Since we had the car, we did some sightseeing around Oriental and further afield.

One day we went to Bath, NC which is one of the oldest towns in the state. Blackbeard the pirate plied those waters. It is almost impossible to see the creeks which branch off the main Pamlico River until you are right upon them. The creeks were deep enough for the pirate ships and made good hidey holes.

Town dock in Bath, on a creek where Blackbeard used to hang out.
We found this water tank on the south side of the Pamlico. The local high school’s mascot is the Seahawks. Since we are Seattle Seahawks fans, we had to get a picture.

Another day we went back to New Bern and visited Tryon Palace, a reconstruction of the colonial palace that King George III had built when trying to establish colonial government in North Carolina. The building, exhibits and grounds were well worth the price of admission.

Barbara, our tour guide at Tryon Palace, was very entertaining as she told us about history, clothes, and other things of interest.

We drove to South Carolina to leave our car at Brenda’s brother’s place for the next year while we are doing the complete loop. Another couple from church, Rob and Judy, gave us a ride to Oriental from the rental car lot in New Bern. It is over a half hour drive from New Bern to Oriental, so these new friends really went out of their way to help us. We are very thankful for them.

Dinner with Byron and Holly in South Carolina

One of the reasons we wanted to stay in Oriental through Easter was to attend the community sunrise service at the park. We have enjoyed many sunrise services over the years and did not want to miss this one. Since we were carless at that point, we walked the .7 miles in the dark, with Lance carrying the lawn chairs.

Community Easter sunrise service in the park next to the Neuse River

After the sunrise service, the weather was perfect to get back out on the Neuse and get around to some more protected waters. When we came through that section last fall, the waves were bigger than we expected, so we were looking for a good weather window to get started on our official loop.

We will “cross our wake” when we get back around to the Neuse River, hopefully next spring.

We had some anchorages picked out south of the Pamlico River, but we saw that winds were coming in a couple of days. Instead of anchoring, we went to the RE Mayo dock, a journey of 25 miles.

RE Mayo is a seafood processing place that welcomes pleasure boaters to stay on their dock when there is space. They charge $.40/ft and ammenities include a restroom (no showers) when the office is open, a couple of 30 amp power hook-ups, fuel, and freshly frozen seafood in their store. They also have an extensive supply of things that boats need, mechanically, to service the shrimp boats that dock there. At $17.40 per night, it was a no-brainer to stay there. You could barely run your generator for that while anchored.

We stayed there five days through the strong winds. Another Looper boat, Mendocino, from Canada, pulled in the day after we arrived and also waited out those winds.

We took advantage of the inexpensive dockage at RE Mayo. We also bought some shrimp and had a delicious scampi dinner.
Our section of the dock at RE Mayo. The pirate ship seems to be a permanent resident.
Blessings Flow on the RE Mayo dock. Picture was taken by a fellow Looper passing by.
We were surprised to look out the window and see this cruise ship passing by. American Glory. The internet had her in Norfolk during this time period, so I’m not sure why she was down in Hobucken.

From RE Mayo in Hobucken, NC, our next stop was to be the Belhaven area of the Pungo River, some 23 miles up the way. You cross the Pamlico River on the way to the Pungo. The Pamlico is one of those that runs the direction of the prevailing winds and can get sporty if the wind has a long distance to build up the waves (it’s called “fetch” in boating terms).

We waited for a good day to cross the Pamlico. We had picked out a couple of anchorages near Belhaven and had also stopped on one of our road trips to check out the free dock in town, the “town dock”, and Belhaven Marina. We wanted, if possible, to be in Belhaven on a Saturday night so we could attend church there on Sunday. We had attended there on our way south and thought it would be fun to go again.

Well, the wind picked up again, the crossing was rolly on our beam, and the anchorages didn’t look very protected, so we decided to go into Belhaven Marina for a couple of nights. The free dock, when we saw it a couple weeks earlier, had abandoned sailboats in two of the slips and a dinghy tied across a third. With the way the wind was blowing, we didn’t want to back into the potential remaining slip. That free dock is also a really long walk to town.

Belhaven Marina

We knew the Belhaven Marina was a face dock, which is easier to dock at in wind, so we went there. Belhaven Marina is $1.89/ft plus electricity, but with free laundry. All three commercial Belhaven area marinas are right at that same price point and all three have free laundry. We stayed at Dowry Creek, one of the Belhaven area marinas, last fall and enjoyed our time there.

There is a town dock in Belhaven that costs only $1/ft, but does not come with any amenities. You pull into it to do your pumpout before heading over to Belhaven Marina. The basin the town dock is in seemed quite shallow for a boat of our size.

Sunset in Belhaven
Belhaven, NC. Found a mural. Had to take a selfie.
Belhaven Marina had a courtesy golf cart to get us to the grocery store. (Please disregard the wind-blown hair!)

After church on Sunday, we headed up the Pungo River and into the canal/cut which connects it to the Alligator River. I don’t know if it was because we left later in the day or if it is just early in the season, but we only saw one other boat on the 28 mile canal. Last fall, we were passed by fast boat after fast boat, and we ourselves passed a number of sailboats. It was a very pleasant 34 mile trip up to our anchorage where the canal comes to the Alligator River.

We arrived in good time to get the anchor set before dinner. After setting the anchor, we stay at the helm for a half-hour or more just to make sure we are not moving, that the anchor is not dragging. Lance sets an anchor alarm on his phone in the Aquamaps app and I set Navionics to record a track. If the anchor does not drag over night, the recorded track should look like a smile or a half-circle or a full-circle, depending on what the current and wind do.

A happy smile. The track from our overnight anchoring.

We got up very early the next morning to take advantage of several hours of no wind. We had to travel on the Albemarle Sound that day and the Albemarle is notorious for kicking up waves whenever the wind picks up.

Lance bringing up the anchor by headlamp. He will use the battery operated pressure washer to wash the mud from the anchor chain and rode before the rode goes down into the anchor locker.
Early morning start for a sailboat anchored near us
Bud, our autopilot, helps us drive in long, straight situations.
We had to wait for a swing bridge opening across the Alligator River. The pelicans like to sit on the bastion.

You remember how things had moved more quickly with the generator install and we were concerned because we had a long time to cover a relatively short distance? Well, once again we find that God is smarter than we are and knows the big picture, timing-wise.

Brenda’s mom needs some surgery, so Brenda is taking some time to fly home to help out.

We reached out to a couple of marinas to see if they could accomodate us while Brenda is gone and Lance stays with the boat. Albemarle Plantation Marina came back with a very reasonable weekly rate and the ability to get us to a rental car in Elizabeth City to get Brenda to the Norfolk airport.

We had a week or so before we needed to be at Albemarle Plantation, so we wrote out a plan of visiting two other towns on the Albemarle Sound before making our way to Albemarle Plantation (AP). But, you guessed it, the weather forecast didn’t play along. There were some very, very big winds forecast that would make it problematic to get to AP when we needed to be there. So rather than chancing it, straight to Albemarle Plantation Marina we went. 51 miles. The Albemarle was wonderful the day we were on it.

The very, very strong winds DID materialize later that week and that is a subject for another post.

Plans, written in sand…or at least with dry erase marker.

Winter 2023/24

Our winter hiatus has been both busy and restful.

To summarize, we arrived at Northwest Creek Marina, New Bern, NC on November 15. We met with several tradesmen and mechanics in the three weeks following, got services lined up and then headed out on our cross country road trip on December 6, 2023.

The road trip was epic. Home and back was around 9,000 miles. To get from NC to Washington, we took the southern route to Arizona before heading north. The trip back to the boat was the reverse.

Two oil changes and a brake job, enroute!

The epic-ness of the trip was the number of people we were able to see along the route: friends from many circles, relatives that we see only every decade or so, almost all our siblings. It was great. We were able to deliver Brenda’s mom to her So Cal winter home.

We ended up staying four weeks at our daughter and son-in-law’s house and had some precious time with the grand-kids. They are at a cute age. It was nice to see them all as well as our son.

We arrived back in New Bern on January 31. February has been restful, doing boat chores at a slower pace, spending time on hobbies, joining activities at church. We’ve taken a few trips exploring the area.

Winter work done on the B.O.A.T. (bring.out.another.thousand), subtitle, “We’re spending our children’s inheritance”!

New canvas enclosure: We met with David of Custom Canvas Inc, New Bern before heading out on the trip. David had some good ideas on functionality of the windows. We decided on black as the color and we had screens sewn into the new windows on the aft deck. He was about 90% done with the job when we got back and he finished it up shortly thereafter. We think it looks great!

New refrigerator: Our previous refrigerator was 25 years old and only worked on AC, that is, it only worked while we were plugged in to shore power. It was supposed to work on both AC and DC, but would not work while we were motoring or anchored. We ferried refrigerables back and forth between a portable camping fridge and the boat fridge when not on a dock. We had a local tradesman in to look at it while we were gone. He determined that the board was bad on the 12 volt supply side and a new board would cost about 2/3 of what a new refrigerator would cost. We decided not to repair, but to replace. We worked with a local RV dealer to buy and install the updated version of the fridge that fit perfectly into the allotted space. Lance had to remove some trim around the door to the deck, but the old fridge was able to be removed and the new fridge brought in with less trouble than was anticipated. The RV guys don’t like to work on boats because it is never straightforward to do what you want to do. They were pleasantly surprised this time.

Brand new Norcold refrigerator. Bonus: the doors are metal and our magnetic picture frames work on it.

New dinghy: We started the trip last year with an inflatable dinghy from Costco and a 3 hp motor that would usually work. While in Canada, we got a bit of dinghy envy watching other people zip around to explore places. “We need to take care of the dinghy situation before we come back next year”, was our thought. We ended up buying a 10′ Highfield aluminum/inflatable with electric start and a steering wheel and a 20 hp motor. It is lovely. We can picture taking it back to Washington when we’re done and playing around on lakes with the grandkids.

New generator: The diesel mechanic we’ve worked with this winter, Darryl of Foster’s Mobile Marine, got the generator to start but felt that it wasn’t running correctly. The oil, when he changed it, was a pinky-grayish mixture that showed it clearly had water in it and perhaps coolant as well. After continued delays from a company that was going to come out to run some diagnostics on it, Darryl put us in touch with a local boatyard that could get us in to get a new generator in May. They had us send them pictures of the muffler and the generator. It turns out that the way the generator had been installed, water from outside would push its way into the generator while underway. Time for a new one. To sell the boat when we’re done, it will need a working generator. The timeline moved from May to Mid-March which sounded just right to us. So early next week, we will move the boat to Oriental, NC to Zimmerman’s boat yard for a new generator. They expect it will take a couple of weeks, give or take, to get it installed. We will start heading north once the generator install is done.

The cost of all this? I don’t wanna’ talk about it! Let’s just focus on the fact we are very excited with the thought of heading out on our trip with a working generator, a working refrigerator, a dinghy that will get up and go, and screens to keep bugs out!

Stats of our 2023 trip – including costs

Now that we’ve finished cruising for 2023, here are some stats and some learnings for our loop next year.

We left Washburn, Wisconsin on June 21, 2023 and arrived at Northwest Creek Marina, New Bern, NC on November 15, 2023.

148 days. 2492.5 miles.

The route was across Lake Superior, through the Soo locks, the North Channel, Georgian Bay, the Trent-Severn Waterway, Lake Ontario, Oswego Canal, Erie Canal, Hudson River, Atlantic Ocean, Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Dismal Swamp, and Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to mile 185.

In those 148 days, 73 were “underway” and 75 were “lay” days.

Of the 73 places we stayed, 32 were marinas and 41 were anchorages, locks, free docks, or mooring balls. The significance of these numbers is that marinas cost more than the others. Anchorages are free, free docks are free, locks may have a small fee for electricity, and mooring balls usually have a flat fee which is significantly lower than the nearby marina. To manage your budget, you want to have more free/low cost stays than paid stays.

While Canada lock walls are technically not free, we bought the moorage pass so many months earlier when it was on an “early bird special” that it seemed like a no-cost situation while we were there.

However, although we stayed at more free/low cost PLACES, when it comes to actual nights staying in a place, we ended up staying more NIGHTS at marinas. We stayed 94 nights in a marina versus 54 nights at a free/low cost place.

The boat was in a marina in Orillia, Ontario for three weeks while we went home to Brenda’s dad’s memorial service. While we sincerely hope we won’t have another such reason for a trip, being realistic, we will want to make a trip or two home during our loop. *LEARNING* Be sure to figure the cost of having the boat at a marina into the cost of the trip home.

Orillia Marina was full of loopers when we arrived in early August, but was quite empty three weeks later.

We also had some marina days while we moved our car from/to points A, B, C, & D. Probably about 10 days were at marinas for that purpose. We hope to leave our car in one spot during our loop, so we should not have those 10 marina days.

Most of the rest of the excess marina days were because of weather. Sometimes, the bad weather was a couple of days away, but there wouldn’t be time to get to another marina before it came. Some of the places we stayed more than two nights because of upcoming weather include: Sault Saint Marie, Ontario; Britt, Ontario; Midland, Ontario; Cape May, NJ; Delaware City, DE; Solomons Island, MD; Lottsville, VA; Belhaven, NC. *LEARNING* Expect to have to pay for a marina because of weather,.

Often, it is nice to spend a couple of days at a marina in order to get laundry done and to do some sightseeing. And then there are the BIG ONES. Those places that are so cool that you just have to stay a few days. One big, spendy stay was Washington, DC. We stayed four nights there and it was so worth it!

Staying in downtown Washington DC was extra special

We didn’t stop in NYC on our way south, but hope to on our way north next spring. That will be another spendy stop.

Our total spend on marinas for the 94 nights we used them was $7,135.

Generally, the cost of marinas in the Great Lakes was less than what we saw in on the eastern seabord. The Canadian exchange rate helped our USD payments.

For our 43′ boat, we didn’t hit the >$100 mark for the night until we hit the Hudson River.

The highest we paid for a night was $176 at Half-Moon Bay on the Hudson just north of NYC. That might be worth it if you need a place to get to NYC, but for just an overnight the value for money was not there. On the Hudson, we stayed in marinas because we weren’t sure of the anchorages. However, after having scoped them out as we travelled by, we see there are some fine anchorages on the Hudson that we’ll use next year.

In regards to picking anchorages, we started placing a pin in Navionics at places we see experienced boater friends anchoring on the Nebo app.

Fuel: We started from Wisconsin with a tank full of diesel and our last fill up was at mile 2415 at Dowry Creek in Belhaven, NC. In those 2415 miles we burned 999 gallons of fuel at a cost of $4,575. That translates to 2.42 mpg. In those 2415 miles we put 307.4 hours on our engines. That translates to 3.25 gallons per hour. (These are actually pretty good mileage numbers.) Diesel prices have been mostly in the $4/gallon range. $4.99 when we started and $4.30 recently.

We have twin Cummins 6BTA 5.9 M 270 motors (for those who know about such things), and we run at between 8 – 9.5 miles per hour. When we go slower, we get a bit better mileage, as you would expect.

Winter Harbor on the Erie had the least expensive diesel on the trip. It was the only place under $4 per gallon that we saw the entire trip.

Maintenance and repair: We spent some before we left Washburn Marina on things like electronics and new batteries, but once underway, there have been no big repair expenses. The little things have added up, though! It looks like about $3500 on things like a new tablet for navigation, dock lines, oil, coolant, seal for toilet, new stripper for windlass, two power washers, subscriptions for a couple of apps, seatow insurance, and the like.

We do have some bigger repairs we’ve saved for this winter. We are having the canvas and eisenglass replaced on the boat. We’re having the generator looked at…we did this trip without a working generator because the last place that looked at it couldn’t fit us in for a few months and we would have lost the whole season. The fridge only works on AC, not on DC, so we’re having that repaired.

Cruising Kitty : This budget category is for things like tips, laundry, ice, ice cream, museum fees, uber rides. For budget purposes, we consider it “spent” when we withdraw it from the bank and put the cash in our wallets. We’ve averaged ~$200 per month. More when we were in Washington, DC. It will probably go up this next year as we started the trip with a large pile of $5 bills which we had been collecting from rolling coins over the past several years. That pile is now gone.

Food and Entertainment: For the past 15 years, we’ve used the Dave Ramsey method of budgeting, which is to give each dollar a name before the month begins. “Tell your money where to go or you will wonder where it went.” So for 15 years, we’ve been very diligent about where each dollar goes. It is what has allowed us to save up for this boat and this trip.

For the last 15 years, we’ve used the cash envelope system for groceries and entertainment. Our food budget has been $120 per week and our entertainment budget $20 per week. We put the cash into envelopes and used that to pay for food and restaurants. You can easily tell how much money is left when it is cash in an envelope. That has not been possible on this trip. We’ve mostly used credit/debit cards for groceries. You have to when you do any kind of ordering online for pick-up or delivery. It is not as easy to keep track of the spend with cards. End result, our grocery spending has gone from ~$500/month to between $550 and $650. The fact that we don’t have our normal low-cost grocery store handy could account for some of the increase.

Fresh veggies in a specialty store in Canada 🇨🇦

We have not eaten out much, and the entertainment costs have averaged around $140 per month, which is up a bit from $80 – $100 per month previously. We may be more tempted to eat out next year when we have a lot of other loopers in port with us. One thing we’ve learned, the restaurants nearest the water are among the most expensive! When you have no car, your dining-out options are limited (especially if you are trying to be budget conscious.)

On this trip, we have not always been able to tell our money where to go, which is kind of hard for a budget nerd like me (Brenda). We cannot control the weather days that we need to pay for a marina. We cannot control when something breaks. We can only control what we can control. We just do the best we can. And enjoy the ride.

Almost to our Winter Home!

After leaving the Dismal Swamp, Elizabeth City, NC was the next town. Elizabeth City is known for its free docks which allow people to stay for free, with the expectation that the boaters will spend money in town.

Elizabeth City, the City of Hospitality (picture from last May when we stopped by)

There are three sets of free docks and, depending on which way you enter Elizabeth City, some are more convenient than others.

From Elizabeth City to New Bern, NC

There is a draw bridge that must be opened for most boats of cruising size. One set of free docks is on the southerly side and two sets on the northerly side. (I say southerly and northerly because the river twists and turns and I’m not exactly sure what the orientation is there.)

We were coming from the north, down the Pasquotank River from the Dismal Swamp so we decided to stay at Mid-Atlantic Christian University (MACU). There is a face dock there that will accomodate about three cruising size boats. There are also slips, but they have boats permanently in them, generally.

We walked over by the other two sets of docks. One is at a seafood processing place on the northerly side of the bridge. It is a face dock with room for a couple of boats. It has a “dock and dine” sign on it. If you dock there, you are expected to eat in one of the city’s restaurants, preferrably one that sells the seafood that runs through the business.

The other set of docks are slips on the southerly side of the bridge. These docks are run by the city and are slips running perpendicular to the city park. The finger piers there are very, very short, so people have to get out over their bows. Not an easy thing to do on our boat. (Perhaps you can stern in, but I don’t get the impression people do that much.)

The MACU docks we stayed at are run by a non-profit, Maritime Ministries. My vague understanding is that the docks were put in at some point by a grant…maybe by the city. Maritime Ministries and MACU have an arrangement where several of the ministry’s boats are docked at the university in exchange for things like offering sailing classes to university students and managing the transients who use the docks.

Dock at Mid-Atlantic Christian University. Looking toward Elizabeth City. The boats at the end of the dock are Maritime Ministries boats.

The docks are first come, first served. Fortunately, as we came around the corner, we saw the dock had just one boat on it, so there was room for us. We were met at the dock by Aaron. Elizabeth City has a tradition of giving a rose to arriving boaters, and sure enough, Aaron handed us a small sweet rose. The welcome packet had information about what to do in the city as well as a small gospel of John.

Blessings Flow on the MACU dock. The sailboat behind us is the Canadian family that we shared a dock with at the Dismal Swamp visitors center the previous night. .

I had communicated with the manager of Maritime Ministries several times regarding some ministry things, so I was very glad we were able to dock there. Dan, the manager, was not there, but Aaron and his wife Laura took good care of us. That night, they built a bonfire in the MACU fire pit and we sat around on porch swings and talked.

Aaron and Laura and family

We heard about their dreams for using their boat for ministry purposes. They are fitting out a ketch. He is a musician/songwriter and she is an artist. They have three children and a heart for helping youth and those in ministry. One potential use for the ketch is having respite sailing trips for ministers who need some time away and could never get a chance for a trip on a boat. Other plans involve youth.

We were able to pray with and for each other around the fire and it was a very sweet time. We stayed the allowed two days before heading out towards the Albermarle Sound.

Gazebo style fire pit with porch swings

The Albermarle Sound is a large body of water with several rivers running into it. Up many of these rivers is a historic town, such as Elizabeth City, with a waterfront that welcomes cruisers for up to two nights for free. The “Albemarle Loop” involves visiting each of these towns around the sound.

We had intended to do the Albemarle Loop on our way to New Bern, but we started looking at the upcoming weather and decided we needed to push on. The Albemarle can get quite rough and we didn’t want to be stuck in one place for a week waiting for it to calm down. We hope to do the Albemarle Loop next spring as we head north.

The Albemarle Sound was “OK” as we crossed. Not super calm, but not bad. The waves were from the rear quarter, which is a direction that our autopilot doesn’t like. It won’t hold a heading in those waves, so Lance had to hand steer. Not a bad thing, but it gets tiring.

Once across the Albemarle, we entered Alligator River. There is a draw bridge near the beginning of the river that we had to wait 10 or 15 minutes for, but it was not bad and there were not many boats jockeying for position.

On a boat, especially on a river with current or wind, you cannot just “park” the boat and wait. The boat doesn’t stay in one place. You have to be going forwards, backwards, etc. to keep the boat where you want it. Every one of the boats is doing that, so depending on the width of the channel, it can require a lot of attention.

The rivers around here are very wide, but the navigable channel is not. We have a route in our Navionics software and we had red/green markers to follow with our eyes. The water in the channel is probably 12-13 feet deep and the water outside the channel is significantly shallower, so you want to keep in the channel.

The Alligator River runs north/south and at the south end a canal has been cut that goes to the head of the Pungo River. Right before the entrance to the canal, the Alligator River turns west and narrows. The canal continues southerly. Where the river turns is a good place to anchor. There are several 6-8 foot spots and some 4-6 foot spots. We went past the entrance to the canal and carefully picked our way past 4 foot depths to a 6 foot pool. We left the 8 foot spots for the sailboats who would be coming in right up until dark.

It was a nice night on anchor. The land is very low. The elevation is probably not more than two or three feet with marsh grasses and some trees. When you are anchored in such a spot, you still get wind, but the land keeps the waves from getting big. It is a wildlife refuge, so the land is pretty wild and not developed. We got there around 2pm, so we had three hours or so to enjoy the sights around us before dark.

The next morning, we headed out down the Pungo-Alligator canal. You have to keep an eye out for floating logs, as always, and trees that may have recently fallen, but the canal was wide and deep enough to be able to avoid them. Boats go fast through here, so it is not unusual to get a big wake when someone doesn’t slow down.

Pungo-Alligator canal

The canal gave way to the Pungo River where the wild land gave way to home sites with docks.

Not far after the end of the canal, we stopped for the night at Dowry Creek Marina. Actually, we looked at the weather and the price of a week vs a night and we decided to pay for a week. If we stayed at least 5 nights, which was probable given the weather forecast, we would break even.

Dowry Creek Marina was a really great place to stay. They have free laundry and the bathroom/showers are individual bathrooms, like you would have at home. They even provide towels in the bathrooms for your shower! They have a courtesy car to get into nearby Belhaven for provisioning.

Dowry Creek Marina. There is quite a community of liveaboards here.
The land is low, but the houses are high! This is a new house on a lot across the road from the Pungo River. They can get a few feet of storm surge here, so they build for it.

It was Lance’s birthday the day we arrived, so we visited the Salty Crab, the restaurant on site, to celebrate both our birthdays. I finally got a good hamburger and Lance had a huge piece of flounder. We had an appetizer of cheese curds which were very, very tasty and which we ordered a couple more times for take-out during our stay.

There was a sign for the local Global Methodist Church on the bulletin board at the marina. We called the number and asked if there was someone who could give us a ride. It turns out the dockhand who was working there every day lived nearby and was the sound technician at the church, so he and his wife gave us a ride. It was a friendly and lively service. Unfortunately, we were not there for their “Fifth Sunday” potluck, as we heard there is shrimp and other low-country fare! Sorry to miss that!

We ended up staying at Dowry Creek five nights. When we left, we broke a long travel day into two short ones on the way to New Bern. We headed down the toward the mouth of the Pungo River, across the Pamlico River into Goose Creek and were soon in another cut/canal. This cut led us past a shrimp processing plant, R.E.Mayo, that sells fuel to the public and allows pleasure boats to tie up if there is room beside the shrimp boats. We didn’t stop then, but drove back in the car a few days later to buy some shrimp and take a look at things. After crossing the Bay River, we anchored in Bonner Bay.

Shrimp boats at RE Mayo company.

It is a wide looking bay, but quite shallow. The marsh lands around the Chesapeake and this area have duck blinds. Some are small structures on stilts, but the ones here just look like taller marsh grass.

Can you spot the duck blind camouflaged as tall marsh grass?

The next morning we woke to find three duck hunting boats sitting, with decoys, where we needed to traverse. We had to go right in the middle of them in order to stay in deep enough water. We went super slow so as to not mess up the dozens of decoys floating around their boats.

Duck hunting boat camouflaged as trees on the skyline

New Bern is up the Neuse River. The mouth of the Neuse, where it flows into Pamlico Sound is big water and we ran into some waves that were bigger than we like. It was that way until we turned a corner and were protected from the wind, about two-thirds through our day.

We were very happy to pull in to Northwest Creek Marina, a few miles downriver, south, from New Bern.

The docking was a bit tricky as it was stern in (backing into the slip) and you tie mostly to pilings, rather than a dock alongside, and it was in a stiff wind. Jeremy, the manager here at Northwest Creek Marina was there to catch our lines and he hopped aboard to tie to the pilings on both sides of the bow.

We were glad he was here, as we would not have known how to do the tie-ups in the front. Usually the eye of the line goes through the cleat on our boat, but in this case, he made a large loop to go over the piling and tied the bitter end to our cleat. It is going to take some doing whenever we leave for good, as we’ll have to get those loops back off the piling. But that’s a problem for another day. I imagine it will involve a boat hook.

Safely in our slip. If we look tired it is because we are!

We are home!

The Dismal Swamp!

The name itself conjurs up images of the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride, along with ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size). The Dismal Swamp is a little scary, but because of things that go “bump” against your boat in the canal, and the snakes and chiggers and critters like that in the forest.

Dismal Swamp Canal – Most of the pictures look just like this. Long narrow waterway with beautiful reflections of sky and trees.

The “Dismals” was an old term used to describe swampy areas where the water stood. The Great Dismal Swamp is in a swampy area covering parts of the coastal plain of southern Virginia and northern North Carolina. The swampy area used to be much larger, but over the years has been drained and put into agriculture. Much of what remains has been conserved in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife refuge. There are miles of trails and inaccessible areas of the wildlilfe refuge. There is also a historical canal running along the edge of it.

A road runs along the edge of some of the canal and, on the Norfolk end, there are homes and subdivisions.

There were many canals used to drain and log the swamp, and this remaining through-canal is one that opened up the area to commerce back in 1805. Today it is used by recreational boaters. It has a depth of 5 or 6 feet, which is on the shallow side for boats.

This canal is one of the highlights of America’s Great Loop and one that caught our imagination early on. We had looked forward to it.

We left Norfolk on my birthday in time to make the 11am opening of the Deep Creek lock and bridge at the north end of the canal. One of the highway drawbridges across the river (before the turn off to the swamp) was malfunctioning and cut down the number of openings it did. We fit under the bridge, no problem, but there were about a dozen sailboats stuck on the Norfolk side of it until noon. Because of that, there were no sailboats with us in the lock, just one other power boat.

The power boat let us go by them as they stopped to get some groceries just after the lock, but eventually they caught up to us and passed us. We let them get a half mile or so in front of us so that any debris (old waterlogged logs) they kicked up would have time to settle. You often hear of people incurring damage to their props or other underwater gear on the canal, so you need to take it real slow.

We inched along, at idle speed. The canal is a long straight stretch, then a slight corner and another long straight stretch. It’s about 22 miles, all told. The north lock is at mile 10 and the south lock at mile 32. There is a visitors center with a dock about 18 miles in at mile marker 28 where we hoped to spend the night.

The water in the canal is dark with tannin which creates a mirror effect in the water. It is beautiful and photogenic and it also means you cannot see what lurks beneath.

At about mile 15, five miles into the canal, we felt a big thump that vibrated for a second and then was gone. That was the worst of the thumps, but there were a couple others.

We put the boat in neutral and coasted past where it looked like there might be underwater problems because of trees lying partway across the canal, but the thumps were all in places where there was no indication of anything underneath.

There were plenty of things to look at along the way. Ducks, old canals, mile posts, more ducks, the beautiful reflections. And the whole way I’m hoping that it will be a charmed day with no damage because it is my birthday!

Turtle 🐢 sunning itself on a log
Mallards 🦆 taking flight as we pass
We crossed from Virginia into North Carolina on the first day

This time of year, the visitor center dock is often full, requiring that boats raft off each other. But as we pulled up, we found it entirely vacant…yay! I think it must have been the malfunctioning draw bridge upstream that kept the traffic down.

All alone at the visitors center dock
Rest area side of the view

The visitor center is a highway rest area that has a dock. My understanding is that it is the only highway rest area in the country that also services a waterway.

There is a swinging foot bridge at the visitors center which goes across the canal to the state Dismal Swamp interpretive center. The trails through the swamp also start there. The interpretive center had a nice poster on the various snakes in the area and how to tell venomous from non-venomous ones. It involved looking closely at their eyes or at the scales under their tails! We had seen a big black snake when we had visited here last May on a road trip, so we did not partake in the trails.

From interpretive center look back over foot bridge and rest area
George Washington had a hand in the project

About dusk one other boat, a sailboat, pulled up to the dock. They were a family from Montreal. They said there had been one other boat with them in the lock but that boat had stopped at a dock a ways back.

Family from Montreal

The next morning we heard that the remaining 4 miles of the canal were worse for things that go bump, so we took about an hour and a quarter to cover that four miles. We alternated between idle (in gear) and neutral and we did not have any thumps.

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) maintains the canal and pulls out the downed trees. The lockmaster explained that it is hard for them to get their work done during the months boaters are coming through since the USACE just gets their cables out to move a tree or deadhead when they have to put it away to let a boat go through. There is going to be a time this winter (January-March 2024) when the canal will be entirely shut down for work on a lock. This is will also give the Corps time to get some of the debris picked up.

After the South Mills lock at the southern end of the canal, you enter another canal, Turners Cut. We were afraid it was going to be more of the same, in terms of underwater dangers, but that section is about 13 feet deep. Any big logs on the bottom are way down there and not a danger.

Turners Cut flows into the Pasquotank River. This is still swampy area and really looks like what we would expect of a place named Dismal Swamp.

Trees growing right in the water. Very swampy.

The boat seems to be running well. We will have a diver come sometime this winter to see if everything under the boat looks OK.

UPDATE: A diver came and said no damage!!! Yay!!! Some paint scraped from the keel, but no action needed at this point.

Here is the video he took.

No dings and no barnacles

Chesapeake – Part 2

After waiting out the winds and freezing temperatures in the lower Potomac, we were in a mood to get south before the next front of winds came through.

We made two long days travelling to Norfolk, passing by many interesting places like Yorktown and Jamestown without stopping. Maybe we’ll do a road trip to see them this winter. They are only a few hours from our winter marina.

We anchored in the Deltaville area between our two travel days. It was up a creek in a neighborhood. It is a little wierd anchoring next to someone’s front yard, but as long as you don’t attempt to go ashore, it is very accepted.

Anchored in a cove surrounded by homes
Bringing up the anchor the next morning
Cold night + no electricity at anchor = chilly boat. But the sun warms it all up, eventually.

In our navigational softward, Navionics, there are anchorages marked. I also keep an eye in Nebo on people we know, to see where they have anchored. When I see them in an anchorage, I will drop an anchor “pin” into Navionics so we can find that place again when we need it.

Round gold anchor “pin” showing our target destination

You know, you can see where we are by clicking this link from Nebo.

The seas were much better on these legs of the Chesapeake compared to when we came from Annapolis to Solomons Island. We saw a few dolphin and a lot of big ships.

Beautiful day on the water. If you zoom in you can see lots of ships on the horizon. These were anchored next to the channel. I guess it is a good parking zone. Water depth is 25 – 30 feet.
Unknown ship passing nearby

Since the weather was so good, there were a LOT of boats making the move at the same time.

As we pulled into Norfolk, it was a bit intimidating to go by all the Navy ships, but very exciting.

We stayed one night at Tidewater marina which is in Portsmouth, VA, across the river from downtown Norfolk.

We had a Walmart grocery delivery scheduled and had to plan our day to arrive in time. It all worked out beautifully. We are fairly new to having groceries delivered and it seems like a very wonderful thing.

At Tidewater Marina – The people on a boat across the dock from us were from our home town. Small world!
Trekking back to the boat after meeting the Walmart delivery driver in the parking lot
Big cargo ship passing the marina
October 15 – November 4, 2023. Chesapeake Bay travels.

Side Trip – Washington DC

Washington DC is 104 miles up the Potomac River from the Chesapeake Bay. That’s two long travel days at our speed.

This side trip has been on our wish list forever and we consider it a real blessing that we were able to do it. Brenda has been numerous times to DC, mostly for work, and Lance accompanied here there on one of her work trips. We wanted to do some of the tourist things together.

We waited in Solomons Island several days for the weather to clear and once it did we headed out. Solomons Island is in the next river north of the Potomac, so it required heading south on the Chesapeake for a couple of hours before making the turn west and north into the Potomac.

The Potomac reminded us of Puget Sound, in terms of size…both distance across and distance to our destination. It is huge. There are places where you cannot clearly see land across the river.

We saw a surprising number of bald eagles on the Potomac

We anchored out mid-way-ish, both going up and coming down. Both were very pleasant rural anchorages up creeks that flow into the Potomac. We had to dodge a jillion crab pots once we left the shipping channel and started towards the creeks. But no snagged crab pots, so that is a win.

Early morning departure from anchorage

We passed Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home, as we were getting close to Washington. It was very exciting to see it come into view. We considered stopping by the Mt Vernon dock on the way downstream, but by the time we were actually in a position to do so we found we were quite museumed out and needed to make time to get to our destination before dark.

Mt. Vernon from the water

In Washington DC, we stayed at the Capital Yacht Club which is in an area known as the Wharf. It is in a prime location very close to the National Mall and the memorials. It has recently (in the past few years) been redeveloped and is full of pedestrian friendly walks and piers and trendy, spendy restaurants and hotels.

View out the back of our boat in DC. Public pier, mega yacht, and sunrise.

The yacht club was also spendy, but sometimes it is worth a splurge. When you think about it in terms of value for money, it was absolutely worth it.

The first night, there were fireworks just a block or two down the waterway. We had a wonderful front row seat for the entire show.

One of those moments that make great memories. Sitting on the bow of the boat in comfortable weather listening to and watching the fireworks.

The first full day in DC we made our way, via Connector bus, to the Lincoln Memorial, then walked (along with scads of middle school tour groups) along the Reflecting Pool to the World War II memorial. From there we walked past the Washington Monument to the Museum of American History. After a few hours in there, including a delicious lunch in the cafeteria, we made our way to the metro and took it to Arlington National Cemetery.

We keep running into Abe Lincoln. First at Gettysburg and now here. Go figure!
Reflecting pool. Nice day for a stroll. Before the day was done we had accumulated 18,000 steps.

We joined one of the hop-on-hop-off trolley tours within Arlington cemetery and went first to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where we watched the changing of the guard. Such precision! I wonder what is running through their heads to make them always exactly the right number of seconds to march from one end to the other.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Arlington National Cemetery

We hopped back on the trolley for the ride up to Arlington House, where we saw the home of George Washington’s grandson (?) whose daughter married Robert E. Lee. It is a lovely old house. Then, finding that the trolley was easier to hop-off of than to find one to hop-on, and finding that we were in the highest point in the cemetery, we walked back down to the entrance, stopping by the Eternal Flame at the John F. Kennendy gravesite.

The next day, we had tickets for a 9am tour of the Capitol Building. It’s a free tour, but tickets are required. We took a Lyft to get there as we weren’t sure if the busses would get us there in time. We were early, so walked over to the outside of the Supreme Court building to take some pictures.

Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) building

The tour of the Capitol was wonderful. The guide was very sharp, as DC young people tend to be. They handed out headsets to everyone so we could all hear what the guide was saying.

In the Capitol Rotunda. Tour guide in red.
The dome, way up there.
Close up of the fresco at top of dome. Apparently the artist had been working at the Sistine Chapel previously, thus George Washington seated as God.
Brand new name plate for new Speaker of the House. This was Friday after he was selected on Wednesday.

After the Capitol tour, we walked several blocks to the National Law Enforcement Memorial. This memorial lists names of law enforcement who have lost their lives in the course of duty. In 2022, one of our young friends, a friend of our son, who had attended youth group at our church, lost his life in a SWAT incident and his name is engraved in the memorial. It was very moving to see his name there, and quite sad to think of his life being cut short. We are very glad we went. A great-great-uncle of Brenda’s also had his name there, and amazingly, we found it just a couple of panels over from Dom’s.

Lance pointing out Dom’s name.
Dominique B Calata. An exceptional young man. I always thought he would end up in DC in congress, after having been an elected head of the sheriffs department.
Tipton M Simmons – brother of Brenda’s great-grandma. Killed in the line of duty.

From the National Law Enforcement Memorial we walked through an almost dead retail section of DC to a Walgreens to pick up a prescription. For our trip, we transferred our prescriptions to Walgreens, as they are available most anywhere around the loop. This was our first try using the Walgreens app to manage the pick-up and it was just moderately successful. On the app, they kept delaying pick-up, but when we actually showed up in person, they got right on it and filled it.

From Walgreens, we picked up a Lyft and spent a couple of hours at the Museum of the Bible. It is very well curated and has displays from antiquities to the history of Christianity in America to the impact of the Bible on society.

Ten Commandments (I presume) outside the museum of the Bible. (Although, now that I look at it, maybe it is the printing press from a Gutenberg Bible?)

That evening, a former colleague of Brenda’s picked us up and we went to a Nepalese restaurant across the river in Alexandria. It was wonderful to catch up with Eileen and the food was good, too.

Eileen with Brenda and Lance.
Very tasty Nepalese food

The next day, we took a free shuttle from The Wharf to L’Enfant Metro station where we took the orange line metro to the end of the line. Robin, another former colleague of Brenda’s, had us to brunch at her house. Again, it was wonderful to spend time with friends and the food was delicious.

Taking the metro
Brunch with Robin and her husband Alejandro

Besides a few boat chores and Amazon deliveries, that pretty much covers our time in DC. This trip was a definite highlight in our travels so far.

On the way back down the Potomac, prior to entering the Chesapeake we stayed for four nights at Olverson’s Lodge Creek Marina. It is the home port of one of the associations we belong to, so we get one free night a year there.

It is a very rural, family owned marina, which is a big contrast to the DC location. Both are totally appropriate for their settings. Olverson’s has a courtesy car that we took out a couple of times to do shopping, for Lance to get a haircut, and for some sightseeing.

Olversons Lodge Creek Marina
Cut-off socks 🧦 on the flags to stop the flapping in the high winds
Courtesy car which we used to do errands and sightseeing. The geography around here is interesting with all the creeks forming “necks” of land. What is just a few yard over water may take miles to drive around in the car.

Three of the nights were to wait out wind storms. The last night was because it was going to get close to freezing and we wanted to have electricity to be plugged in for heat. Sure enough there was frost on the boat and dock the next morning, so we waited for it to melt before heading off down the river. Walking around on a slick boat deck or dock is a disaster waiting to happen – slip, splash!

Chesapeake Bay – Part 1 – Baltimore, Annapolis, Solomons Island

The Chesapeake. Doesn’t the mention of it bring to mind sailing with the wind through your hair, watermen tending their crab pots, seagulls, beach grass and sunshine?

Our broadbrush plan had us cruising the Chesapeake in October, when the heat and humidity are gone and hurricane season is winding down. We ended up entering the Chesapeake on October 16, a little later than planned, due to spending time in other places on the way south, mostly due to weather.

We entered the Chesapeake via the C&D (Chesapeake & Delaware) Canal right where Maryland and Delaware come together at the north end of the bay. We left Delaware City, on one end of the canal, quite early in the morning and were through the canal and officially in the Chesapeake a couple of hours later.

And what was one of the first sights we saw? Seagulls flying close behind the boat in the sunshine. Just as imagined!

Chesapeake gulls looking for a handout
Continue reading “Chesapeake Bay – Part 1 – Baltimore, Annapolis, Solomons Island”

The Atlantic! (And Delaware Bay)

One of the lovely things about the Great Loop is that you are mostly in inland waters…lakes, rivers, canals, bays…and don’t have to go out onto the open ocean unless you want to. The exception is the section past New Jersey. There is no way to get past NJ without going into the Atlantic.

A glance at the map shows that there maybe could have been a way, by either punching a canal through from the Delaware River to the Hudson up past Trenton, or connecting the waterways behind the barrier islands, but those routes don’t exist. So out into the ocean it is.

Two days in the Atlantic
Continue reading “The Atlantic! (And Delaware Bay)”

The Hudson all the way to NYC!

The Hudson River was pretty amazing. So much history! We were gifted a small book called “The Hudson from Troy to the Battery” which gave history and interesting tidbits about the places we were passing. For instance, did you know that Anna Warner, who wrote the song “Jesus loves me this I know” grew up adjacent to West Point and, with her sister, taught Bible classes in the Cadet Chapel for decades?

The book really added a lot of dimension to the trip down river.

Continue reading “The Hudson all the way to NYC!”