Monthly Archives: November 2010

Through the heart of the beast to the Great Dismal Swamp

In our ongoing quest for a warm beach, we have endured cold and rain, long days steering the boat without an autopilot, bad nights sleep for weeks on end, the New Jersey coast…in short we have faced trials and tribulations of many kinds. But today our journey towards the sun brought us to unknown land of the


And to get to the Great Dismal Swamp we had to pass through the gates of Norfolk. As mentioned in the last post,Norfolk is the center of the U.S. Naval Universe. Enormous warships loomed all around us, and a massive industrial complex was built up along the waterfront to service these giant steel monsters.


Seeing so many powerful ships up close is undoubtedly impressive, and we were treated to a view of the shipyards that I don’t think visitors passing through Norfolk in a car would get to see. But I couldn’t help being stunned at how much human energy, intelligence, and labor, natural resources, and money were being directed towards war and destruction. I love to imagine instead that we, as a culture, could put that energy, money and resources instead into creating a better world, into creating more beauty, into solving the immense problems that face us. I think that putting energy into these types of endeavors would have a greater effect on the freedom that the military is supposed to be “defending” for us.

Puttering along in our tiny sailing vessel, I felt like we were tiptoeing through the heart of the beast, hoping it wouldn’t awaken and devour us.

We made it through unscathed, but the next challenge lay before us….


What is the Great Dismal Swamp and why would we want to go there? In order to continue south from here, we could go around Virginia on the ocean, or take the Intracoastal Waterway, which is like a shortcut through Virginia to the North Carolina coast. Everyone that we have talked to, as well as numerous guidebooks, have advised us NOT to take the ocean portion of the Virginia coast, as it can be rough and dangerous and there are no harbors to duck into for safety if a storm comes up. So we are taking the Intracoastal Waterway, which is supposed to be safe and easy, and scenic…..but wait, it goes through the Great Dismal Swamp?!? That doesn’t sound appealing at all! What poor marketing team named that place? Well, as it turns out, it was named by Col. William Byrd in 1728, who explored the area with plans to make a canal to improve the shipping routes in the area, and declared it to be a dismal swamp. The canal was completed in 1802, and is the oldest canal in the U.S.
Today, the route is called “scenic”, and we were actually quite shocked to find that it was scenic, at least compared to the industry along the river in Norfolk. Trees decked in glorious fall colors line a narrow, straight canal, and the forest is thick and abundant with life.

Great Dismal Swamp Canal

Peak fall colors in the Dismal Swamp

But it does have the eerie, dark feeling of a swamp….the trees are close and dense, and you feel as if you could easily be lost like in the Blair Witch Project….
A sense of foreboding loomed….
Shortly after we entered the canal, we started to have engine problems. A that very moment, 6 vultures circled overhead. (at least they looked like vultures) The air was still. (no sailing here!) Would we be stuck for the night in the Great Dismal Swamp?

Once again our guardian angels stepped in and helped us out. After a little messing with the engine, but not really doing much to it, it started back up and kept going fine until we reached the North Carolina Welcome Center, where we are docked up very very closely next to about 6 other boats for the night. Oh, and as if on cue from the Dismal Powers that Be, the sky turned gray and it started to rain.

We made it to North Carolina, which we have held as our symbol of arriving in “the South”! Our goal now is within reach: the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a haven of long, endless beaches! But we are not out of the Great Dismal Swamp yet, and y’all will have to tune in tomorrow to our podcast that continues our dangerous journey through the perils of the swamp…..

Welcome to Norfolk

Norfolk is the base of US Naval operations on the Atlantic coast. It is the staging area for all ship deployments on the Atlantic. That means that all naval ships sent to Iraq, etc… come from Norfolk. We here are immersed in navy ships. Our humble vessel plods along slowly and traces a path of least interference through the unending wharfs and piers covered with warships.

US Navy Aircraft Carrier in Norfolk Virginia

Got to wear shorts and flip flops for a few hours today! The warmer weather is coming!


Warm Beach Wanted

We made it a little bit farther south today, but the wind was light and we didn’t want to motor all day long. The sun was out and we enjoyed a day of relaxing sailing. Being Saturday, lots of sailboats were out. We looked longingly at sandy beaches, but had to head for our planned destination. We decided not to run for Horn Harbor because the entrance channel sounds a bit sketchy. So we made a shorter run and pulled in to this lovely place. The water here is green. You can sense how we are getting closer to the gulf stream. Tomorrow our goal is to get to just north of Norfolk. There are two nice little anchorages just north of the entrance to the city at a place called Old Point Comfort. We did get a little beach time today, but the daylight was waning and the sun was low in the sky and the wind made us chilly. No swimsuits or sunbathing yet, but we sure hope soon! Best wishes to all our friends and family in the twin cities area getting hammered with the snow tonight. We’re listening to Prairie Home Companion right now and sympathizing…a little bit 😉

We went out for dinner at the only restaurant in town, and the waitress, a cute southern girl with brilliant white teeth and perfect makeup, asked us where we come from. We told her “Lake Champlain, up near Montreal” to which she replied, “Is that in Virginia?”


Podcast 11/10-11/12, 2010: Solomons Island to Fleets Bay, VIRGINIA

Yes, we made it to Virginia finally! Not the heart of Virginia, mind you, but we are just south of the border–just south of the Potomac river. Still, it is VIRGINIA. The trees here are still fall colored, although not too bright. The nights are in the 30’s or 40’s and the days are sunny and in the 50’s or 60’s. We lost our dinghy on the way here in rough seas, but we tucked into a heavenly calm and serene anchorage for last night. Check the map in the right-hand side bar to see where we are. It’s interactive. If you click on it, you can zoom in and explore it.

Here is the podcast.

Peaceful Pancakes!

For several weeks now, K. has been saying that he wants to make pancakes. Actually, he’s been feverishly wanting to bake, but alas, our boat is too wee to fit an oven on it, so no baking for us. He decided that pancakes are the next best thing to baking…..
So today is the day. I awake to K. flippin’ pancakes! He even made coffee and PREHEATED my mug so it would stay warm longer! I have a truly wonderful husband and traveling companion!
But where are our Canadian friends now that we need maple syrup? We don’t have any aboard, ZUT ALORS!

The other unusual thing about this morning is that we woke up feeling peaceful and rested! Our anchorage the night before last seemed peaceful when we dropped anchor, but in the middle of the night the wind shifted and sudden big waves rocked us awake for much of the night. And, for some time now, I’ve been dreaming every night that our boat is moving (which it is, as we sway back and forth on the anchor). But the dream involves the boat REALLY moving, like starting to set sail on it’s own without anyone steering it while we are in bed sleeping. And I get all stressed out in my dream that we need to wake up and go steer the boat before we crash into something. The dream always seems so real that I’ve woken K. up on numerous occasions to check with him if we are still actually anchored or not. It’s really not a restful way to sleep, and the dream is starting to get really annoying. Last night I declared I would NOT dream that stupid dream again, and thank God, I didn’t!!

The last few days have had some really stressful sailing moments. I, in particular, get white knuckled and panicked way too easily when the waves get big or we encounter a situation that feels beyond my comfort level. (which, given my sailing experience, is not an unusual occurrence). By the time the end of the day rolls around, I’m exhausted and desperately wanting to just relax. Last night we started playing REALLY calm music, and brainstormed ways to cultivate relaxation ALL DAY while sailing. Anyone have ideas on how to do that when you have to go adjust the mainsail lines, hanging onto the mast while the boat bucks like a bronco at crazy angles? Well, you say, if you want relaxation, what are you doing on a sailboat? People love sailing for the pure adrenalin rush of it! You should be lounging on a beach somewhere! THAT’S A GREAT IDEA! That is exactly what I want! Beach! My goal for the next week is to make it to a beach and HANG OUT AND RELAX on it!

Luckily, we are entering beach country. We crossed the imaginary line into Virginia yesterday, and the weather is getting a wee bit warmer. I have the strange impression of going back in seasonal time, as the trees are in a similar state of full color fall glory here as when we left Lake Champlain. The Canadian geese that were getting ready to fly south in the field next to our yurt in Saratoga Springs have been following us the whole way, and we still regularly see giant flocks of them, stopping for breaks in quiet bays just like we do. We’ve also seen lots of other migrating birds, many which I do not recognize. We are part of the giant migration!

11/8 – 11/10, 2010, Annapolis to Solomons Island.


Tucked into a peaceful, wide open, serene anchorage away from all towns and marinas for a gorgeous slow setting of the sun and rise of the new moon simultaneously. The sun was so warm that I decided to jump into the water. I got to check the Volvo’s prop for the first time since Plattsburgh. Then I got right out and dried off. It’ not *that* warm yet!

Practiced gybeing downwind instead of running before the wind on our way from there to Solomons Island today. Watched Navy helicopters practice low-level exercises/trainings within a mile of us over the water. Their spray made rainbows.

US Navy helicopter training over the Chesapeake

Everyone here at Solomons is overwhelmingly warm and nice. The place is immaculate and luxurious and all the needed stores are just a short walk away. Four sailboats (plus us) will be departing here tomorrow morning to head south to Norfolk Virginia and then to the ICW from there. Sweet!

Lighthouse near Solomons Island

They have the most wonderful lighthouses here. Lighthouses are like yurts in so many ways, but the ones here are most of all. They are octagonal and short–about two stories tall in all, and they are on a platform up above the surface too.

Lala weaving on the foredeck in some superb weather while underway

Lala was industrious and has woven curtains on her portable loom. She got the sewing machine out and hemmed them right here in the kitchen!

Lala hemming the newly woven curtains onboard while at anchor

Dont they look lovely! Note the delicate columns!

The cats are healthy and happy. They just sleep a lot and come out to play in the evenings when we are anchored. They are yummy!

The first swim!

This breaking news just in: K. has broken the cold barrier and gone for a swim! Granted he was only in the water for 60 seconds, but he did rip off clothes and jump into the Cheasapeake Bay during the heat wave we experienced today of 6o degrees.

I, however, remained wimpy in my two pairs of long johns and 3 other layers of clothing.

The highlight of my day was weaving on the deck of our sailboat in the sun! Today I finished weaving curtains for the V-berth of our boat! Photos are coming soon, so please stay tuned…..

glaring reflections

Yesterday in Annapolis K. and I both spent big bucks on new and improved sunglasses. The cheap pair I had been using were better than nothing, but every day I was experiencing severe eye fatigue and eyestrain that I believe was contributing to the frustrated and tired meltdowns I have often had at the end of a day on the water.
So I finally got a really good pair of sunglasses, the darkest available on the market, polarized and featuring other high tech optic technology to protect my precious eyes.
While I was enjoying them this morning while sailing for several hours straight into the glaring sun, I pondered how in the heck people sailed, boated, and fished for thousands of years without things like sunglasses. Forget not having a motor or a map or a depth sounder. They didn’t even have sunglasses! My respect for the hardiness of sailors from days gone by goes up daily.

While I’m at it, here are some other random reflections…..
Of all the places we have been so far on this first leg of our trip, the place I have found the most gorgeous is where we started: Lake Champlain. It is the primary place we have been that I would like to go back to and spend more time (although not right now because it is even colder up there!!!). One of our favorite spots on Lake Champlain was Chipman’s Point, which we mentioned in an earlier post. While we were there, we met another couple getting ready to go sailing on a boat the same size as ours. (they are literally the only other people we have met living aboard a sailboat that small, and they impressed us greatly by telling us they had spent 10 years living and sailing around the world on their 27 foot sailboat!)
Yesterday while we were walking down the street in Annapolis, we ran into the couple from Chipman’s Point! They recognized us and came over to chat. It was so fun to run into people we (sort of) knew! They are traveling without a cellphone (gasp!) and were telling us of their adventures trying to find a payphone. They had asked around to the locals and someone told them there was one down the street but that it was rumored that the phone company was going to take it out day now. They located it and made some calls, and then ran some errands and came back to make some more calls a few hours later only to find it had just been removed! Pay phones are becoming a thing of the past, and soon we will ponder how in the world people could ever manage sailing without a cellphone….

Sailboat City

Today we arrived in Sailboat City, “aka Annnapolis, Maryland”.

Annapolis boasts itself as the “Sailing Capital of America”.

Just a few of the thousands of sailboats in Annapolis

We read that in one of our guidebooks, and decided that maybe we should stop there for at least an afternoon to check it out. I, like many Midwesterners, barely knew anything about Annapolis, other than that it is the capital of Maryland. I never thought seriously about going there, or about what hidden beauties it might hold.
We headed into one of the numerous bays surrounding Annapolis in a perfect wind, heading us straight into the harbor at 6 knots. As we headed into the harbor from the Chesapeake Bay, we encountered a entire sailing team racing with their glorious, colorful spinnakers hoisted to the wind. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have seen on our entire trip thus far! An appropriate welcome to the city of sailors!

Entering Annapolis amongst racing spinnakers

We entered the crowded bay to find literally thousands of sailboats in the harbor. Gorgeous sailboats of every kind where everywhere around us. Not just a few sailboats among mostly powerboats or fishing boats. This is definitely the sailboating mecca of North America. The entire city is oriented around sailboats. Once we had anchored our boat among the sailboats crowding the harbor, we took our dinghy to one of the city docks, and walked easily into the historical center of Annapolis, which we learned has more remaining 18th century buildings than any other in America.
Who knew?!? Annapolis charmed us immediately. As soon as we saw the city reserved a dock smack dab in the middle of the hoppin’ historical district for dinghys, we were HOOKED on this adorable colonial town filled with wonderfully preserved buildings from the 1700’s. Shops, restaurants, art galleries, tiny alleyways, cobblestone streets, all centered around marinas featuring thousands of glorious SAILBOATS.
After a brief walking tour of the historical district which included the marvelous state capital surrounded by charming colonial streets, we decided to have a light dinner at Middleton’s Tavern, a tavern dating back to 1750. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin were all reported to have stayed here during the Revolution.
We enjoyed a “Seafood Tower”, a sampling of many of the local seafood delicacies from the Chesapeake Bay: Oysters, Crabs, and other seafood all presented on a 3 tiered towerer. Combine that with a few local brewed beers, and we were happy sailors indeed.

k. and the Tower of Seafood

Last night I said that tomorrow we were going enjoy a vacation on the Chesapeake, and enjoy we did! This has been a marvelous break from the intensity of traveling, trying to put on miles, navigational challenges, battling the storm in the COLD, COLD (did I mention cold?) wind and pushing, pushing, pushing south. We even enjoyed a LONG, HOT SHOWER at one of the many local marinas who sympathize with sailing cruisers.

Today has been a day to stop and smell the roses.

stop and smell the roses