November 6 – 7, 2016 – New Smyrna Beach to Vero Beach, FL

Sunday morning, we took our time getting up.  Our run to Titusville was only 28 nm and would take us less than 4 hours.  Our original plan had been to run an additional 17 nm to Cocoa Village Marina, but there was no room in the inn.  The marina had been hard hit by Hurricane Matthew, and while they were open, they only had limited space for transients.  Alas we were out of luck.  So off to Titusville we went.

We pulled out of New Smyrna Beach just before 9am.  As we journeyed south, you could see the effects of Hurricane Matthew – damaged docks, sunken boats, stranded boats in the shallows, even a dock house that had fallen on a motorboat, with both listing in the water.

One disappointment of the trip so far had been the lack of dolphins.  We were used to schools of dolphins playing in our wake.  While we had seen a small number of dolphins, we were not seeing large schools and only 3 wanted to play.  What we did see as we journeyed south were large numbers of manatees – far more than we have ever seen before.  We slowed to a crawl in several places where manatees were swimming in the middle of the channel.

As we approached Titusville, the wind began to pick up.  Naturally, we were about to dock.  We turned into the Titusville Municipal Marina and despite the wind, we were able to tie relatively easily on a long concrete face dock.  It was 12:41pm.

As we had lunch, the wind continued to pick up and was soon howling.  Our American flag was sticking straight out.  It seems it was a good thing that we were not able to continue on to Cocoa Village.

After lunch, we watched the NFL while Adrienne worked on the blog.  I then walked in what is described as Historic Titusville.  Unfortunately, the cutback in NASA spending and the recession has hit Titusville hard.  There were few shops and the only happening places were Burger King and KFC.  It was like a ghost town.

In the evening, we ate our leftovers from our dinner at the Garlic and prepared for our trip to Vero Beach.

Monday morning we were up and out of Titusville by 6:50am.  The wind was a lot calmer and we hoped it would remain so for the rest of the day.  Vero Beach is about 58 nm south of Titusville and we hoped to arrive mid-afternoon.  We wanted to fuel up there because they have some of the cheapest diesel in South Florida.  We also desperately needed a pump out, which we had wanted in New Smyrna Beach but couldn’t get and thought we would get in Titusville but their pump was down.  But the Loggerhead Marina at Vero Beach said they had an operational pump on their fuel dock, so we hoped to take care of fuel and holding tanks at the same time when we got in.

Our trip down the Indian River was uneventful until around noon when a miracle occurred.  The dolphins showed up.  We had a small family of dolphins cavorting in our wake.  Adrienne was finally happy.

By 1:45pm, we were turning into Loggerhead Marina in Vero Beach and were soon tied up at the fuel dock.  We filled out tanks and proceeded to pump out our waste tank.  Usually, it takes a long time to fuel and a short time to pump out.  This time it was reversed.  It seemed to take forever to pump out our waste tank.

Finally, we were done, and by 3:15, we were tied up in our slip.  Then it was time for boat chores – washing the boat and doing an engine check.  We also spent some time talking to another Fleming 55 owner who was moored several slips down from us.  Before we knew it, it was time for a quick shower and dinner.

We took an Uber into Vero Beach and had dinner at the Citrus Grillhouse.  It was a great choice – good food and reasonable prices.  We both had the fixe prix menu.  Adrienne ordered a mesclun salad, seared scallops and chocolate cake dessert; I had a romaine salad, tomato taglioni with rock shrimp, and key lime pie.  Excellent all around!

We took an Uber back to the boat.  As we were waiting, we were literally getting blown away by the wind, which was blowing at about 25ks.  The restaurant is located right on the beach, so we were getting the full force of the wind off the ocean.  We only had to wait a few minutes for the Uber and soon we were back aboard Curiosity.  We prepared for our last day of cruising and took it easy.  Tomorrow we return to our home port in North Palm Beach.

November 2 -3, 2016 – Bald Head Island, NC to New Smyrna Beach, FL

We were up at 3:15am on Wednesday and made a 4:00am departure from Bald Head Island.  This was a little ahead of our original schedule of a 4:30AM.  At 4:00 we were going to have about 2ks of current running across the exit from the marina, whereas by 4:30 the current was going to running closer to 3kts.  We didn’t think we’d have too much trouble getting out.  After all, we have two 500hp engines to push across that current before we turned south.

We checked the radar and AIS to make sure no other vessels were out in the Cape Fear River.  We had the FLIR camera going so we could easily see the path out and we had our spotlight on the water about a 1000ft in front of us. We were ready.  As soon as I got close to the channel exit, I upped the rpms and we were out in the Cape Fear River.  The current was ebbing so I turned us south and let the current pull us around and we were on our way. A lot of worry and preparation for what turned out to be an easy exit.

The mouth of the Cape Fear River is wide and well-marked, and we had an easy transit down the river and into the ocean.  Sunrise was not until after 7AM, so we had about three hours of darkness to get through.  But the forecast was for northeast winds 10 to 15 ks with waves 2 to 3 feet about every 9 seconds.  Great conditions!  And so it was.  The cruise to Charleston proved to be uneventful and calm.  The day was warm and when the sun came up, blissfully sunny.  The view from the flybridge was fantastic.  The big excitement was about 4:30pm when a pod of dolphins started to play in our wake a bit.  But I guess we weren’t that intriguing because they were off for better prospects after a few minutes.

We arrived in Charleston at the City Marina’s Megadock just after 5PM.  The current, as we planned, was running at about a half knot.  In no time we were tied up with plenty of room in front and back of us.

It was a very long day and we were tired.  We organized the boat, had a simple dinner on board and called it an early evening.

The weather forecast looked bad for any ocean voyage for the next five or six days, and we were not excited about picking our way through the shallows of the ICW.  Normally we would spend one or two nights in Charleston and then head to Hilton Head and then to either Brunswick, GA or St. Simon Island, GA.  From there we would cruise to Fernandina Beach, FL, and then down the ICW to our home port in North Palm Beach.  Unfortunately, Hurricane Matthew made landfall right around Hilton Head and all the marinas there, in Georgia as well as northern Florida were hit hard.  They were either closed for repairs or, if operational, had so many local boats, they had no room for transients. There were anchorages we could have used, but many of them were far inland and others had 7-foot tide swings, which were okay but would increase the chances of our anchor dragging.  Our only option seemed to be an overnight run to St. Augustine, but when we looked on Wednesday the sea conditions just didn’t look good for days.  I was not excited about any overnight run, I hate not being able to see the water, but I was even more concerned about an overnight passage if the seas were not going to be near perfect.  Thus, our plan was to spend 5-6 days in Charleston and hope the weather broke soon, while we try and figure out what to do.  At least we would have a lot of good food in Chalreston.

We slept in Thursday, had a leisurely breakfast, rinsed the boat and started to fill our water tanks.  All while doing this we were discussing how we were going to get to Florida.

So we stewed around about our options as we puttered around the boat that Thursday morning.  By about 11:15AM we were finished with our chores.  We looked outside and it was a beautiful calm day.  Jim did a quick check of the ocean forecast for that night using an experimental NOAA program that allows you to plot a sea route and see the wave heights you would encounter over time.  Lo and behold, the forecast was for conditions similar to what we had during our cruise from Bald Head Island, and the conditions would be good through Friday afternoon off the Florida coast.  “What if we left now,” he asked, “and we run all night to St. Augustine?”  Okay!  It looked like the best option we had.  We quickly readied to the boat to leave, called the Megadock dock office to let them know we were leaving and we were off by noon. Seemed a crazy, off the cuff decision, not like our usual neurotic planning, but it also seemed like the right decision.

Once underway, we checked with Camachee Cove Marina in St. Augustine to see if they could take us.  They were full.  Jim then tried the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, which had been damaged by Hurricane Matthew but was partially opened.  They could take us but only for one night.  We wanted two so we could have a day to recuperate.  We made the reservation anyway and figured we could push on Saturday if we had to.  Jim started looking at other options beside St. Augustine, one because the St. Augustine inlet is not without issues (some of the channel markers were still off station from the hurricane); and two because there would be considerable current that we’d have to contend with at the municipal marina at the time we were probably going to arrive on Friday.  If we could make it to New Smyrna Beach farther south we would avoid all of those problems and a lot of the ICW in Florida.  We called New Smyrna Beach Marina, and they could take us for two nights.  Yeah!  Jim plotted a course to New Smyrna Beach and we were on our way.

The seas and winds were calm for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening as the sun slipped below the horizon.  We decided on a 3-hour shift with the first shift running from 9PM to midnight.  That was my shift.  It was completely uneventful except for some false alarms from the radar.  Jim had set up some perimeter alarms that would sound if a target penetrated these perimeters.  This happened a few times, but there was nothing there, probably birds.  We had a few commercial vessels to avoid, but they were clearly visible on the radar and AIS and so were easily dealt with.  When I had my second shift, however, things got more interesting.  There was a half hour period when the perimeter alarms went off every few seconds.  I could see a line of targets right in front of us.  I changed course to avoid them, but they persisted and kept setting off the alarms.  I tried to acquire some of them to get more information, but the radar couldn’t lock onto any of them.  It was nerve wracking.  Finally it was over, and I was very happy to hand the helm off to Jim.

Morning finally arrived. As we continued down the Florida coast, the weather continued to be perfect.  We had gentle rolling seas and winds under 10ks. We welcomed the sun and pushed on to New Smyrna Beach.

Our only issue with New Smyrna Beach was its inlet.  We’d never used it before and it was not a major shipping channel.  It was used primarily by pleasure craft and fishing boats. We called SeaTow and Boat US for some local knowledge about the inlet and both mentioned that some of the entrance markers were missing, but that we should have no problems if we came in close to the north jetty and followed the channel markers around for the south channel.  That would lead us straight to the ICW and the marina would be a short distance beyond on the west shore.

We followed those directions and had no issues.  At around 2pm we entered the inlet. There was a low spot as we were approaching the jetty, but we never saw less than 15 feet.  Once we proceeded along the jetty we had 18 to 20 feet and this continued as we made our way around to the south channel and into the ICW.  By 2:30pm we were tied up along a face dock at the New Smyrna Marina.

What could have been a rash and impulsive decision seemed in retrospect to have been a brilliant move.  We were finally in Florida, and we had had an easy, if long, voyage.

Tired though we were, we rinsed the boat, finished filling our water tanks (we had interrupted that process in Charleston so we could leave) and then proceeded to take it easy.  We both tackled the Friday New York Times crossword and were pleased to find that our brains were not so fried by the overnight cruise that we couldn’t finish the puzzle.  It was another early night dinner, this time at the marina’s restaurant, which was hopping even at 5:45.  We tucked into some ridiculously sinful nachos with pulled pork and some kind of highly fatty cheese sauce.  But it tasted good.  Jim opted for fried shrimp (cause he didn’t get enough fat from those nachos) and I went for the angelic fish tacos with grilled mahi mahi.   The food was good, not great, but tasty and required only the effort of lifting our forks to our mouths.  That was about all we could handle. We made a valiant effort to stay up to 9, but just barely made it.  We crashed and slept soundly until Saturday morning.

Saturday was an easy day.  We took our time getting up and having breakfast.  We were running low on a few supplies, so we took an Uber cab over to the local Publix supermarket and did some shopping.  The afternoon was spent doing engine checks, planning our route home (we expected to be in our home port, Old Port Cove, by Tuesday, Monday if we pushed it) and watching some college football, something we didn’t have much time for until that day.

For dinner, we decided to take in the culinary delights of New Smyrna Beach outside of the marina.  So it was once again in an Uber cab with our destination The Garlic, an Italian restaurant that was reputed to be the  best that New Smyrna Beach had to offer (this from the dock hands, which are not typically authorities on food, but we were willing to go for it).  The Garlic took no reservations and when we arrived at about 6PM, the place was already packed.  We waited for about 20 minutes for a table.  Not too bad.

The restaurant made its reputation by being over the top.  We were given enough food to feed 4 people with leftovers.  They started us out with a baguette and two whole heads of roasted garlic, which our waiter smashed with a fork and then drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  We ordered roasted shrimp in garlic oil as an appetizer, which we split.  This was good with lots of flavor.  We were then informed that someone in the kitchen had knocked over our salads so there would be a wait.  To tide us over the waiter presented us with a cup of cream of potato, and with what else but garlic, soup.  This was very rich and totally unnecessary.  We took only a few spoonfuls, knowing that our salads and entrees were on their way.  The salads were the usual and about twice as big as they needed to be.  Then the entrees came.  I ordered grilled salmon on a cedar plank with roasted vegetables and Jim ordered a lasagne made with ground filet mignon.  Sound decadent and it was, and it was huge.  Jim thought it was very good, but lacking in some spice that would have made it excellent.  My salmon was blessedly simple and refreshing, but also huge.  Needless to say we took home the leftovers and planned to have them for dinner Sunday night because we expected to be in Titusville by then where we have been before.  Let us just say that Titusville may have some NASA space history to boast of, but it will never be known as a culinary destination.

October 28 – November 1, 2016 – Coinjock, NC to Bald Head Island, NC

We have failed miserably in keeping the blog up to date on this voyage.  It may be because we have made this trip several times before and there is not a lot new to say or it may be that we have made this trip faster than others and there has not been enough time to do it.  More likely, however, it is because we have been lazy.  So in this post we will try and hit the high (or low) points of the last week.

We were up early Friday morning for the 74 nm trip to Belhaven, NC.  Our plan was to leave at first light around 6:45AM.  However, we were packed between two boats with the bow of a large trawler (Waypoint) sticking over our stern and our bow only a few feet off the stern of Mad Hatteras, the trawler in front of us.  With the swift current at Coinjock Marina, it would have been difficult to get off the dock until one of the other boats moved.  The Captain of Mad Hatteras had told me the night before that he would also be leaving at first light, but at 6:45 AM there were no lights on in either Waypoint or Mad Hatteras.  So Adrienne and I “serenely” walked the docks waiting for someone to get up!

Finally there were lights in both boats, and by 7:20, Mad Hatteras pulled out with us right behind her, cruising up the North Landing River on our way to an otherwise uneventful trip to Belhaven.  The Albemarle Sound, a perennial issue, was only moderately choppy and with far fewer crab pots than normal.  The Alligator River was relatively calm, and there was only one or two logs in the Pungo-Alligator Canal.  By 4:30 PM, we were tied up at River Forest Marina and ready for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Spoon River.

Spoon River did not disappoint.  We started with some lettuce wrapped grilled scallops and sliced cucumbers with a delicious aioli.  There were at least six scallops on a beautifully decorated plate.  The only drawback to the dish was that the scallops could have been grilled a little longer, but nonetheless they were delicious.  For a main course, Adrienne had blackened chicken with a chipotle sauce, mashed sweet potatoes and local vegetables.  The dish was both delicious and huge, providing leftovers for several days.  I had Spoon River’s take on shrimp and grits.  The plating of the dish was spectacular and the taste matched the plating.  There must have been at least ¾ of shrimp on the plate providing me with fantastic lunch later in the trip.  Adrienne enjoyed an excellent glass of Chardonnay and I had my traditional Spoon River wasabi martini.  Then there was dessert – a decadent salted caramel brownie with vanilla ice cream.  No leftovers here.

Wasabi martini with shrimp and grits

Wasabi martini with shrimp and grits

Early Saturday morning by 7:15, we were off to Morehead City, N.C. – 60nm trip.  Other than a large log in the middle of Adams Creek, our trip went smoothly and by 2 PM we were tied up at Morehead Yacht Basin.  The Yacht Basin has a courtesy vehicle that you can rent for $10 for two hours; I went and got the van so that we could go grocery shopping.  As I was walking back to the boat, lo and behold, there was Panache with Ginny, Chuck and Tom on board.  I couldn’t believe it.  Since they needed supplies as well, Tom and Ginny joined Adrienne and me on our grocery trip.

Returning to the marina, we made plans to meet up for dinner.  As Adrienne and I were getting cleaned up, we got a text from Chuck to join them on another boat for an impromptu Annapolis Yacht Club rendezvous.  Apparently, there were at least five boats in the marina from the Yacht Club.  After enjoying cocktails and boating stories, Tom, Chuck, Ginny, Adrienne and I walked over to Floyd’s 1921 Restaurant.  Again, we had a good meal but not close to the level of Spoon River.  Adrienne had their version of shrimp and cheesy grits, and I had their triggerfish and shrimp special.  Both dishes were good.

Sunday morning, our plan was to leave Morehead City for Bald Head Island at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.  At 7 AM, we headed out of the marina and down the ICW to the Beaufort Inlet and out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunrise at Morehead City

Sunrise at Morehead City

This should have been a simple passage, except that there many large sport fishing boats heading out the inlet at the same time we were.  These considerate boats would zoom past us throwing a tremendous wake rocking us left and right and turning the inlet into a washing machine as the numerous wakes clashed against each other and the jetties.  It also didn’t help that there was a large dredge sticking into the channel and blocking part of the passage.  Nonetheless, we persevered and soon were out in the Atlantic heading south.  The seas were somewhat choppy with 2-3 ft  waves at a 2 second period and the occasional 3-4 footer.  Not what NOAA had predicted but still manageable.  As the morning progressed, the seas quieted and the Atlantic voyage became quite pleasant.

Once in the ocean, we had two choices on how to get to Bald Head Island:  one was to stay in the ocean, go around a large shoal called Frying Pan Shoal, and enter the Cape Fear River to get to Bald Head Island, which sits at the mouth of the river; the other was to cruise down to Masonboro Inlet, north of Bald Head Island, and take the inlet to the ICW, which would lead to the Cape Fear River.  The first route would take us about 11 hours because of the shoal, but it would avoid ICW problems.  The second route would be much faster but would entail going through an inlet that we did not know and dealing with some shoaling on the ICW.  After chatting with TowBoatUS about the inlet, we opted for the second route.

By 2:30PM, we turned into Masonboro Inlet.  The inlet turned out to be wide and well-marked, and soon we were carefully entering the ICW.  Being Sunday afternoon, the ICW was packed with many small local boats and we had to pick our way around them.  Fortunately, we made it through the traditional shoaling spots and were soon at Snow’s Cut, which leads to the Cape Fear River.  Adrienne was driving and we were carefully monitoring all the Active Captain reports on potential issues in the cut.  Just as Adrienne entered the cut, I noticed one report stating that there was severe shoaling just ahead.  We have several devices on board with Active Captain, but for some reason, only one device had this report and the report simply referred to an Army Corps of Engineer survey.  I quickly pulled up the survey and tried to make sense of where this shoaling was.  Finally, I figured it out, only to look up and realize that we were already past the shoaling.  Wherever it was, we missed us.  Whew!

Soon we were in the Cape Fear River, heading down to Bald Head Island.  The marina has a narrow entry channel, which sets crosswise to the current, which was running at 2kts.  I was concerned about getting into the marina, but fortunately, it turned out to be relatively straightforward, even if the currents were squirrelly.  By 5:20pm, we were tied up – a 92nm 10-hour trip.

After traveling for 6 days, we were ready for a break.  We had never been to Bald head Island, so we planned to spend three nights here to relax and explore.

Monday morning, we lounged in bed for a while and did some boat chores – washing the exterior and cleaning up the interior.  After lunch it was time to explore, so we rented a golf cart and set off.  The island is full of vacation homes.  Some of the homes look out on tidal marshes, some are settled among a thick forest area, and some overlook the Atlantic Ocean and Frying Pan Shoal.  We started by taking the middle road down the island to a small shopping area.  Being November and a weekday, the island was largely deserted; there are only a couple hundred persons who live here off season (some 7,000 who visit during the summer. Yikes!).  The shopping center had a nice grocery store but everything else was closed.

The island has numerous nature paths both through the marshland and the forest.  We opted to explore one of the marshland paths.  The absence of tourists and the lateness of the season had resulted in the paths beginning to be overgrown.  Since I had shorts on, my legs were constantly being attacked by sharp blades of marsh grass and by who know what sort of insects.  After about fifteen minutes, I had had enough and we headed back to the cart.  We drove down to the end of the island and walked out to the beach.  The beach here was beautiful – a wide expanse of sand leading down to the shoals.  The wind was whipping across the shoals and it didn’t take much imagination to realize how dangerous the shoals are to boats.  At this point, we decided to head back to the boat.  After a quick snack, I changed into jeans and we headed back out to explore the nature trails in the woods.  This time we had a pleasant walk, though we occasionally had to climb over trees knocked down by Hurricane Matthew.  White-tail deer occasionally scampered through the trees.  We emerged from the woods a mile or two later and walked back down the main road to the cart.

There weren’t many dinner choices on the island.  There are two private clubs and two public restaurants.  We ate at Mojo’s, one of the restaurants, the first night and it was okay.  Monday night, we decided to try Delphina’s.  We did not have high hopes but dinner turned out to be quite fine.  Adrienne had a chicken quesadilla and I had a Mexican pot roast burrito bowls.  Both were quite tasty.

Tuesday, we decided to go exploring on foot.  We walked over to “Old Baldy,” the Bald Head Island lighthouse.  You can walk up the lighthouse to get a view of the Atlantic but we opted not to stress out Adrienne’s knees.  We have seen the Atlantic before.  There was a lovely chapel next to the lighthouse where services are held every Sunday. It was open and we were treated to a very simple but elegant house of worship.

Old Baldy

Old Baldy

In front of Old Baldy

In front of Old Baldy

Village Chapel

Village Chapel

Inside the village Chapel

Inside the village Chapel

That night we ate on board and made Thai Chicken Curry.  This sounds wonderful, but it was actually just okay because it was a frozen dinner.  Not long on taste, but very short on preparation and clean up.  We wanted a fast and easy dinner because we needed to prepare for a very early departure for Charleston the next day.  That was going to be a 13-hour cruise.  We wanted to arrive in Charleston between 5 and 5:30PM because that was when the current would be slack and the docking easier.  But that also meant we’d have to leave by 4:30 at the latest.  So it was an early bedtime for us.

Annapolis to Coinjock, NC  – October 25 -28, 2016 

On Tuesday, we began our trek south to bring Curiosity to North Palm Beach.  In previous years we have made the snow bird migration with the boat, cruising south in the fall and north in the spring.  We decided, however, that this year we would keep her in Florida year round so that we could cruise to the Bahamas in the spring, explore the Florida Keys and possible cross to Florida’s west coast via Lake Okeechobee. So this will be our last trip down the ICW for the foreseeable future.

The plan was to start down in early October.  But life intervened.  One of my sisters needed surgery in mid-October, so I spent a week in Connecticut helping her out.  It didn’t make any sense to start before her surgery because we’d end up somewhere in North Carolina where ground or air transportation to Connecticut would have been difficult.  As it turns out, it was much better that we waited because Hurricane Matthew blew through around that time and had we been in North Carolina, we would have had to contend with finding a safe harbor for the boat and then all the terrible flooding that followed.

Our revised departure date was Tuesday, October 25.  But before we could leave we had to have dinner with our daughter.  She had the happy, although grueling, problem of having to finish her dissertation in record time this year.  She’s been studying to get a PhD in Egyptology, not exactly an area with many job opportunities.  But earlier this year, her professor suggested she apply for a two-year teaching position at Michigan.  She did and was fortunate to get the job.  But, the position required her to have her doctorate in hand before she started teaching.  Prior to applying for this job, her plan had been to spend the next year finishing her research and writing her dissertation; she expected to finish in mid- to late-2017.  By accepting the Michigan position she basically committed to doing all that work in the space of a few months.  She did it and defended on October 5, which means she is officially done.

This called for a celebratory dinner in Annapolis.  She is getting her doctorate from Hopkins, so Annapolis was an easy choice.  We met her at Café Normandie on Monday, the 24th.  We had a wonderful dinner with her.  The food was good, well-prepared basic French bistro fare, but very tasty.  She was relaxed and very excited about finishing her program and embarking on her career at Michigan.  We were very happy and excited for her too.

Tuesday morning dawned clear and a bit breezy.  NOAA called for northwest winds 10 to 15k, gusts between 25 and 30k and waves 2 to 3 feet. We left at first light for our destination of Deltaville, VA.  Conditions on the Bay were actually better than NOAA predicted for most of the trip.  We saw mostly 10 k winds just south of Annapolis to somewhere north of the Potomac River mouth.  When we reached the mouth of the Potomac the winds kicked up along with the waves and it became more of a washing machine until we got south of that point.  And then we were back to basically 10k winds with about a 2 foot chop.

We were staying the night at Dozier’s Regatta Point Marina, which we have been to several times before.  It’s got lovely floating docks and friendly competent staff.  There are two problems with it.  The first is that the entrance channel is on the shallow side and it’s narrow, so if you stray a little too far to either side you run aground.  We know! Of course we were entering close to low tide and of course the low tides for the past few days had been unusually low, probably because of the strong north winds blowing water out of the Bay.  We had noticed this before we left the Annapolis Yacht Basin; we had to drop several feet from the fixed dock just to get onto Curiosity.  That was fun.

We took our time coming in, dodging crab pots right in front of the entrance channel.  Why not?  We never saw less than 8.8 feet, which was plenty of depth for out 5-foot draft.  We were tied up by 4:45 and happy to be in.

The other problem with Dozier’s is that it’s in the middle of nowhere.  They have courtesy car, but it gets tucked in for the night at 5pm, so it’s not available for running to one of the local restaurants for dinner, some 5 or 6 miles away.  We knew all this so we planned on having a simple meal on board, some Cajun rice with chicken and a salad.

As we were puttering around doing our boat chores before dinner, another Fleming pulled into the adjacent dock. We spent a fair amount of time chatting with the couple who owned it, trading stories of the snow bird migration along the ICW and exchanging information on the status of the waterways and marinas in North and South Carolina post Hurricane Matthew.  Earlier in the day we had “met”, via VHF, another couple aboard a different Fleming heading to the Fishing Bay anchorage on the other side of Regatta Point.  Both couples were eventually making their way to Florida.  Meeting fellow boaters and trading stories with them is one of the highlights of cruising, and we look forward to meeting both again along the migration route.

The next day, Wednesday, we planned to be shorter because the next several days were going to be considerably longer.  Our destination was Portsmouth, VA, which we had never been to before because we usually stay at the Norfolk Yacht Club to visit with Jim’s sister.  Both Jim and his sister were born and raised in Norfolk, and Jim spent his childhood sailing in the waters around the Yacht Club.  But this year we are trying to make the southbound trek a little shorter, so we opted to go a little farther along the route to Portsmouth.

Our transit from Deltaville to Portsmouth was uneventful for the most part until we got just north of the Thimble Shoal Channel that leads to Norfolk.  A large helicopter with a long cable extending from its belly was flying in our direction and started hovering in a spot almost right in front of us.  It then dropped the cable into the water and just stayed there, blowing water all over the place.  Jim, who was driving at the time, wisely decided to give the helicopter a wide berth.  We passed it and then noticed a second helicopter coming with a cable hanging from its belly.  We have no idea what they were doing.

Shortly after that we entered the Thimble Shoal Channel and heard a broadcast from US Warship 7 that it was outbound from the Norfolk Naval Base via the same channel.  We could see the ship, an aircraft carrier, looming off the port side on the other side of a breakwater, so we moved to the far red side of the channel to give him plenty of room and to not violate their security perimeter.  Then we heard the carrier hailing a bunch of sailboats that were in the middle of the channel.  They either didn’t have their radios on or weren’t paying attention but they just missed getting run over because the carrier could not stop on a dime or swerve to avoid them.

Warship 7

Warship 7

We encountered a similar situation this summer when we were on our way back from cruising to Nantucket.  We were cruising through Sandy Hook and another warship announced that it was leaving the naval station in that area.  Despite repeated announcements, the warship still had to hail several sailboats to tell them that he was right on their stern and they needed to get out of the way.  Duh!

But that was the extent of the excitement for the day.  We docked at Tidewater Marina and had a very nice dinner at Still, a small plates/craft beer/craft cocktail place in old Portsmouth within easy walking distance of the marina.  We had a variety of dishes that were quite good, except the lamb belly with five spice powder.  I liked it, but it just did not appeal to Jim’s taste buds.  It was a little heavy on the five spice powder and had a little too much of the belly fat, which we both tried to avoid.  Although I’m not sure why.  Another dish was homemade tater tots wrapped in bacon with homemade ketchup.  Sounds delish, but this was basically a dollop of creamy mashed potato, made creamy by unholy amounts of butter, cream or both, deep fried with a blanket of bacon.  Does this spell heart attack on a plate to you? It did to us, so we decided to go all in and order their “cronut” for dessert.  This was a cross between a croissant and a donut, deep fried of course, with salted caramel drizzle and vanilla ice cream.  I did my part to clean out my arteries by ordering a glass of red wine.  Jim had a cocktail, which was better than nothing, but not quite as good as red wine, at least according to the diet gurus.

Wednesday was another good weather day.  Southeast winds were forecast to bring in warmer temperatures.   When we arrived in Annapolis on Monday, we had to make a quick adjustment to northern fall temperatures.  The low 80s that we were used to in Florida were replaced with 40s and 50s.  Brrrrr!  We especially felt the difference when we left in the mornings when the cold wind would be in our face as Jim got the lines and fenders in and I got us off the dock and on our way from the fly bridge, where we usually handle getting into and out of the dock.  But Curiosity has a very nice and comfortable helm with plenty of heat for the cold weather and A/C for the hot weather.  So we can’t complain too much.

In any event, we had 60s by Wednesday afternoon in Portsmouth and the forecast called for 70s by Thursday afternoon.  Time for the flip flops and shorts!

Before we could get to flip flops and shorts, however, we had to get to Coinjock, NC, our destination for the night.  And that meant getting through the Great Bridge Lock, the Great Bridge Bridge, the Centreville Turnpike Bridge and the North Landing Bridge.  The lock and all the bridges require openings because the lock is a lock and the bridges all have very shallow air drafts.  We’ve been through this before, and we know how long it takes us to time each opening with minimal waiting time.  But every time we’ve done this in the past we’ve had at most five or six boats waiting with us for the lock or one of the bridges.  On Thursday, though, we had a cast of thousands.  There were about twenty or twenty-five boats trying to get into the lock and not all of them made it at the 9:30 opening.  The lock only opens at 20 past the hour for southbound traffic, so any boat that was at the lock but didn’t get in would have to wait an hour for the next opening.

We were about the sixth boat in line and chose to tie up on the port side, which is not protected with fenders along the wall (we put out our own), but this meant that we were going to be the first or second boat out of the lock and therefore in a much better position to make all the bridge openings.  It was a bit chaotic in the lock with so many boats and it took more than 30 minutes to get everyone in, adjust the water level and then open the lock.

That huge group of boats then proceeded down the ICW toward the bridges and again not all of them made it for the next scheduled openings.  There was some annoyance in the middle and rear of the queue with boats getting frustrated with the slow speed of some of the boats ahead of them.  Boats were trying to pass and throwing more wake than other people thought appropriate.  We heard it all on the VHF.

The rest of the trip had the usual ICW shoaling issues.  Hurricane Matthew added the prospect of deadheads and other obstructions in the water, but fortunately we did not encounter anything terrible.

The biggest issue was just the sheer number of boats, especially sailboats, in the southbound migration.  We have never passed so many sailboats in a row.  We think the issue is that many boaters delayed their departures because of Hurricane Matthew and the ensuing flooding in the Carolinas.   So a lot more boats started out at roughly the same time and have gotten bunched up, especially at the beginning part of the ICW where the lock and bridges tend to cause congestion anyway.

Eventually we reached Coinjock at around 2:15.  It was the usual Coinjock tie-up along their long face dock: boats just feet from each other so that bows overhung sterns by several feet.  The dockhands at Coinjock have been tying boats up like this forever, so they’re very efficient and quick about it.

After we settled in we had a pleasant surprise.  A fellow AYC boat, the sailing boat Panache, pulled in in the late afternoon with friends Chuck, Ginny and Tom aboard.  We actually saw them as we were leaving Portsmouth and they were pulling out of Top Rack Marina and angling to get into the migration queue.  Not knowing that it was the Panache from the yacht club, we hailed them and asked if we could go ahead of them since we’d pass them eventually.  As we passed them, Jim saw a woman who looked like Ginny, but Panache was not her boat.  He was confused.  Then Panache tied up behind us in the lock and Chuck was manning their bow line while I was holding our stern line.  Waiting for the rest of the boats to tie up in the lock provided a perfect opportunity to catch up and so we got the full story. Tom, the captain of Panache, had convinced Chuck and Ginny to help him run Panache down to the Keys where Tom’s wife and their winter home were.  This was the first time any of them had done the southbound ICW trip.  We hoped they would be going to Coinjock, but they said they couldn’t get a reservation and they’d probably anchor out.  So it was a pleasant surprise when we got an email from Chuck saying that they were in fact at Coinjock Marina at the south end of the dock.

They had made plans to dine on board and we had plans to eat at the Coinjock Restaurant, but they invited us for drinks aboard Panache.  We had a great time catching up some more and trading boating stories. But eventually fried chicken and shrimp called us away and we said good bye, hoping that we’d cross paths again.

We made an early evening of it because our next destination, Bellhaven, NC, was 9 hours away.  So it would be an early morning with our departure at first light.