Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Portsmouth and Hampton, Virginia


Sorry for the delay in posting, but I’ve been waiting for internet tower all week.  It was VERY fun for me to see my new Followers! Thank you for your support!

After we left the Dismal Swamp lock we headed into Portsmouth for a few days.  As we made it to the junction where the ‘Virginia Cut’ met the “Dismal Swamp Cut’ you could tell we entered into a busy port.  It was evening and the sun was setting, but there were many barges and commercial traffic everywhere. 

This particular vessel was armed with two men on the bow loaded with machine guns and watching us carefully.  Below the ships there would be men in smaller boats traveling back and forth protecting it in the water.  We knew we were safe when the patrol boats would come in for their nightly pizza run and meet the delivery guy with a flash light signal. It was a quick grab as they scurried back to their post!  
The waterway was lined with tons of huge naval ships including aircraft carriers, destroyers, subs, etc. The kids had played ‘Battleship’ the game recently and were excited to see the real thing up close!  At one point we counted over 26 naval vessels in a was amazing! 
Can you imagine what the bridge tender has to do to get to work each day? Look at the control tower in the upper middle section and all the stairs leading to it.
 Our dock wall was next to the ferry that takes you over to Norfolk across the river.  
We left in the morning and headed over to the ferry.  It was nice to have someone else captaining the ride for once and fun to have the bikes so we were able to see more.  We went to the mall and around town in the art arcade and historic area then over to Harris Teeter grocery to provision over two miles away.  Jaxon took a nap at one point and it ended up being a long fun day.
We stayed right downtown at a free dock that had power.  We were protected from the constant traffic in the harbor and right next to the downtown area, museums and shops.

Hospital Point Park is at mile marker '0' on the Intercoastal Waterway.  As I stated before, Key West was mile 1,200 and our protected waterway ends here in Norfolk.  Next is the Chesapeake Bay. 

The kids loved playing on all of the structures.
Probably not intended to play on...but was fun!  We ended up finding a park shortly afterward in town and met a nice family from Seattle, Washington named Matt and Lee with their son, Trevelyn who was Jaxons age.  The kids had fun playing they came back to the boat later for a drink and fun adult conversation! 

We went to the Portsmouth Naval Museum. It had displays dating back from hundreds of years ago and the kids had many activities to keep them learning the local history.  Portsmouth had the first 'drydock' in the United States.  It has one of the largest naval yards and goes for miles! 

A 'Lightship' is a vessel (like the one pictured here) that is deployed and anchored in the ocean (for months on end) years ago in place of light houses.  This particular one served the Portsmouth area for many years (they always displayed the ports name on the side of the vessel).

The view of the bow shows the very large anchor. They would stay out there in ALL weather too and at times would break free.

I liked the Galley area. There were usually 6 people aboard plus a captain at all times. They would take shifts to make sure the light was lit during bad weather and others times would do ship duties to keep the boat in good condition. Some lightship keepers would be out for a very long time.  A tender would come each week to bring provisions needed. 

This is the captains quarters.  There was an interesting short film about Lightships at the museum and they told many stories. A sister ship to the Titanic collided into a Lightship off Nantucket Island years ago and killed 4 crewmen. 

We were traveling through the harbor and I said to Craig how I’d like to see one of these ships in motion. Sure enough not only did we see one come out, but they called us on the VHF to warn us of their intentions. In a very professional way they told us to stay clear of them as they maneuvered around close to shore doing drills. A few of our looper friends caught us with us later as they heard the call come through. 

Jaxon is growing so fast that he’s almost as big as Ryann. He's still her little buddy and she and Morgan dote on him constantly. He loves it!

We found a great anchorage in Hampton just past the Downtown City Pier Docks Marina and under the bridge.  We shared it with “Bay Coaster” which is a couple that we’ve been traveling with a lot over the past month and the last night with 6 other people, but plenty of room.  We were able to use the dinghy dock and all of the marina amenities for free. We met some really nice people and had a great time. 

The carousel downtown was one of around 200 antique ones left in the U.S.

Weather for this area has been a drastic 90 degrees one day, freezing 50’s and windy and cold for two days and then back up to 85 again after that.  This particular day we took the dinghy over to Fort Monroe. We bundled up and enjoyed the destination once we arrived.  Nothing like a slushy on a chilly day?
Exterior photo of Fort Monroe.  We just can't get enough of these forts!  There was another one across the harbor called Ft. Wool that doesn't open till the end of the month. This particular one might be closing in August due to funding and the state might take it over? 

People were much shorter years ago and the entrance ways were indicative of that.

The upper fort walls were lined with a pet cemetery and headstones around the perimeter. 

The inside casement museum was loaded with furniture and artifacts dating back from the War of 1812. This room was where Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, was imprisoned after the Civil War was won and the Union took over.

General Robert E. Lee was housed here for many years.

We had the pleasure of meeting an old family friend that we haven’t seen in years, Maureen Archer and her son Phil.  She is Paul and Alice Morrissey’s daughter and use to babysit me years ago.  Our parents are still neighbors and close friends today.  I haven’t seen her in a long time as she’s lived in Yorktown for almost 20 years.  We lived in Morrissey's home for over a month (after the RV trip) while they went to Alaska.  Craig actually house-sat for them before we were married.  They've always been like second parents to me. 

We actually went over to the Bass Pro Shop but had limited time as it was a very busy week for them. Maureen's husband and daughter were not able to join us.   
It didn't take long for the kids to hit it off! 

The BID bus was something new to the Hampton area. It allowed us to get a quick free bus ride to the downtown area which was about three miles away.  We waited in a cold windy day for about 45 minutes later than anticipated and was surprised to find out that we were a part of the ‘ceremonial loop’ with the mayor of the town on our particular ride!  It was a brand new bus and a great quick way to see the area. 

The Easter Bunny is always a big hit!

On particular Saturday nights they have a ‘block party’ where vendors and a live band take over the street. We enjoyed the festivities and met some great people in Hampton. "Tonic" was playing the night we were there.

There was a moment of panic as the kids realized we were at an anchorage this year and not tied to a dock for the Easter Bunny to pay us a visit.  We reassured them that this magical bunny will not miss our boat and will find a way to us. Sure enough he didn’t let us down and the girls woke us up at 6:00 am excited!   

We waited so long for our weather window to open in the bay, that unfortunately the best forecast was Easter morning. We left the harbor by 7:00 am with a dozen other boats and were pleased with our decision to move forward. With a southerly wind blowing 10-15 knots we were cruising at a mere 11.5 knots as we rounded the point and headed north up the Chesapeake Bay. Within the hour the tide turned and brought us down to 7.5 knots as we crested the following seas with an enjoyable extremely hot 90 degree ride north to Tangier Island.  We went a total of around 65 miles and made it to Parks Marina.     
Next posting is our stay on Tangier Island, Virginia! 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dismal Swamp

THANK YOU to those of you that took the time to become a "follower" on my blog! Loved seeing the new names and reading fun comments!  I love sharing our story and it's truly motivating for me when I see the response from all of YOU!

We endured the storms as the rest of the country this week and so glad to have it past us. Wind plays such a large role in the everyday life of a cruiser.  Even though we're on the ICW, weather is checked often daily by ALL cruisers and is taken pretty seriously.  Our forecast of over 40 knot winds was exceeded as we were tied safely to the dock in Elizabeth City.  Although I don't have any good photos of the actual storm I wanted to show this 27 foot boat that was docked next to us during it all. The captain and crew left the day before the storms hit and arrived back onboard two days later when it all died down. Craig on the other hand spent some time babysitting the vessel as lines were tied in strange ways that made for some serious chaffing and eventually sliced the lines free through it all. Morgan actually noticed the first broken line.
Notice in the photo that the sailboats propeller is actually out of the water as it bobbed feverishly the entire day.  See Craig's 'line of defense' fenders out just in case..

 We walked past a fabric store and Morgan found the perfect material for a pillowcase. She sewed these two in less than 45 minutes. Huge thanks to her two grandmas for their continued support of her love for sewing! One grandma bought her a machine with lessons and the other taught her how to make the pillowcases.
As we entered into the Dismal Swamp is was quite evident that we had never seen anything like this before. During this portion of the trip you can choose to go through the "Virginia Cut" or "Dismal Swamp" with a name like that, how could you not take the route! We started our day following two vessels down the twisty turns of the canal and it was amazing! 
 Notice the chair in the trees!  If you put a person on each side of your vessel you could just about touch branches on either side.
 This is the first of two locks we had to go through on our way north.  Six of us locked through together.  We were told that we are about 10 days in front of the mass group of people that travel the ICW this time of year.  Lucky for us dockage and anchorages are still available. 
 Hard to believe it's been 1,200 miles since we were in the keys. 
 Laying on the bow of the boat, looking up at the trees so close together.  Sailboats have to pay particular attention to some areas and the depths can get quite shallow too. 
 We stopped at the North Carolina Welcome Center which offered free docks and fresh water.  Pictured here with 'Midnight Sun' who are fellow loopers from Canada that we've traveled with at various times throughout our journey.  We originally met them in Rogersville, Alabama thousands of miles and months ago. How ironic to be traveling with them again. 

This is also a rest area for those traveling by land. Although the welcome center was closed there were many nice people that stopped to visit and the kids loved playing on the grass and riding their scooters in the parking lot of the state park that closes in the evening.
 Directly behind us was the Dismal Swamp State Park with a bridge that's drawn now to allow visitors to walk through.  The bridge opens four times daily as the vessels locking through can pass.  This is a barge bridge that actually floats.
 It was a great museum that offered a lot of detailed information about the swamp, wildlife, vegetation, etc. along with a video and history of it all.  The Dismal Swamp was actually owned by George Washington along with his partners. They planned to drain the swamp and mill the timber. There is so much to the story and an awesome place to visit. 
 This is one of the nations highest population of black bear.
 We enjoyed walking the trails.
 It's so hard to describe how narrow the canal really is. It would be difficult to turn around in such a tight area with limited depth.  Notice the "Welcome to Virginia" sign! 
 We left the next morning and made our way to the 'feeder ditch.'  Upon entering you can see this dam structure and then a waterway off to the left.  This is about 3 miles off of the ICW. We tied up the boat and took the dinghy to explore.
 The waterway on the left lead us to a conveyor belt which allowed us to continue on through the ditch into Drummond Lake. 
 We loaded the dinghy onto the trailer very easily...
 and then, Ryann pushed the button and held it down while the dinghy was lifted out of the water, over land, and back into the upper part of the ditch.  Notice Morgan on the left signing the guest book register and looking for our looper friends. 
 Once the pulley and track system had done it's job we hopped back onboard to continue our ride.
 It reads...Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
 Very picturesque as we entered Drummond Lake.
 As we looked back into the canal we came through it was hard to tell where we had been. Thanks to the sign there wasn't a problem returning.
 This is Drummond Lake. Imagine in the middle of the huge swamp is a lake so large and untouched. The same trees line the entire shoreline and not a boat, house, person, trash or anything in site.  We had a picnic lunch as we turned the engines off and enjoyed the peaceful serene setting of it all. You wonder what lives in was eerie being out in the middle of nowhere on an old dinghy?
 As we left the 'feeder ditch' once again, the kids had to touch the 'root beer float' looking substance from the water surface.
 Three peas-in-a-pod. They are best of friends and can make the most fun out of any adventure we encounter.
 The Negotiator safely along a 15 foot dock while we went out for some fun. She's a part of our family really, as many people on this trip value their vessel in so many ways. She's kept us safe through so much and has been a dependable asset to our journey.
 This is a farmers make-shift traveling slide bridge (next to it is the original pontoon bridge that has deteriorated).  He had permission from the government to deploy his bridge and move his cattle across the canal.  Very unique design and luckily was open when we passed through.
 As the sign reads: Superintendents place.
 Our last and final lock in the Dismal Swamp brought us to this cute hospitable grounds as "U-Turn" the dog welcomed us happily as we arrived (see dog on the right).  The landscaping was full of conch shells gathered after years of transiting people donated from their island excursions.  We did not have one to donate, but when the lockmaster heard we didn't have a queen conch of our own, he gladly shared one with Morgan that was perfectly cut off and ready to play! 
 Robert, the lockmaster, even showed us a few techniques and told many stories during our transit.  In the end Morgan gave him a little toy boat we found in Ft. Lauderdale and he gladly displayed it out front. She gave U-Turn a bowl of water and helped with lines the entire time. 
We made it to Portsmouth, Virginia that evening which is across the river from Norfolk.  Next posting will go into more detail.  Looking forward to 80+ degree weather this week and hoping for low winds!!