So Long, Old Friend

It's always with mixed feelings that we say so long to one of our favorite cruising destinations. There is sadness in knowing that we will miss some locations that time did not allow for. Sadness to say so long to our friends and family that we won't see again for many months. We will miss revisiting the many spectacular anchorages we enjoyed. But there is also a bit of joy in the anticipation of being underway again and transiting the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Even though we have done the ICW many times, each new cruise is different from the last. You just never get tired of it. At least we don't. There will be new towns to visit, favorite anchorages to enjoy and most important, meeting new friends and faces along the way. For us, that's the best part of cruising. For now, we just needed to finish getting down the Chesapeake. And the winds in the lower Bay were finally subsiding.

With the weather looking good for the next few days, we pulled up anchor in Solomons under clear skies and light winds. The Dockmaster at the Holiday Inn had told us we could pull up to one of the T-docks if no other boats were tied up, and fill our water tanks. We took him up on his offer and stopped for water before heading out of the harbor. The buoy reports were still showing winds at 10 to 12 knots on the open water, but the wind direction was out of the north. That put the wind on our stern and we were pretty confident that those numbers would drop as the day progressed. That's exactly what happened. This would be one of our longest days in quite some time, a total distance of 87 miles door to door. Or anchorage to anchorage. Sure enough, as the sun rose higher, the temperatures warmed up nicely and the Bay soon became smooth as glass. So far, this was proving to be our most enjoyable transit down the Bay that we could remember.

The entrance to Deltaville is well marked, but can be a bit daunting to the first timer. The channel winds around a couple of sand bars, and at a certain point, you can reach out and put one foot on the beach in front of someone's house. Staying between the markers will get you inside, but care should be taken to pass the very last red marker before making any turns toward the anchorages. Turning before that mark will put the boat hard aground. There are two options here - one is to turn to starboard after the last red marker and head up the creek toward the marina. The other option is to go straight once past the last red marker and go farther into Jackson Creek. Both areas are wide enough and deep enough to hold a number of boats, but it can get crowded during the migration season. The marina can provide some services and fuel. It's a long way into town from either anchorage. The west fork has a public dock on the north side that will hold a few boats. It's a fairly long walk to restaurants and a hardware store at the highway end of Lovers Lane. Our stay would be just overnight; we wanted to get into Hampton Roads early the next day.

By sunup the next morning, Beach House was once again underway. Our plan was to be in Norfolk by October 1, and we would only be a day late. That's pretty good for us. Once again, we had spectacular weather with a warm sunny day and smooth seas. It just doesn't get any better than this. From Deltaville to Hampton is only about 38 miles and we dropped anchor in the same spot as our last visit. This time, the anchor refused to set in the soft, muddy bottom. According to our chartplotter, we were at the exact same spot and we had no problem on our last visit. After two more tries, we relocated a short distance away and the anchor took hold. You just never know. The dinghy was soon in the water and we headed over to the dinghy dock at the Hampton Public Piers. We needed to take care of some business, but we also wanted to head into town and visit the local ice cream shop. After a peaceful evening, Beach House was off to Portsmouth to visit Mile Marker "0" to discuss carrying our Anchorage Books.

There are two locations in the Portsmouth, VA to tie your boat up at no charge. One is the North Landing docks near the Renaissance Hotel and the other at the foot of High Street. These are both in downtown Portsmouth. Mile Marker "0" is on High Street, so that is where we stopped. The store is only about six blocks from the waterfront. Bob McBride offers some unique services to boaters stopping in Portsmouth. Besides his well stocked marine supply store, Bob will do whatever it takes to find and fill any boater's needs. He will do propane tank exchanges, provide rides for shopping and groceries, deliver parts to the dock if needed, provides free Wifi and a nice courtyard at the store, and any other assistance you might need. And he now carries The Great Book Of Anchorages, both The Bahamas and Norfolk to Key West. He also carries NV Chartkits and other cruising guides. This is a first class store with outstanding customer service, the likes of which we have not seen for a long time.

We considered staying overnight but moved on once our business was concluded. Our printer had shipped our books to friends near Great Bridge, and since the previous press run had sold out, we needed to pick them up so we could fill orders. We also wanted to visit with our friends and see their new house. It had only been a few months since we last passed through. It's always an experience passing through Norfolk with the huge Navy presence and the constant heavy security. We try and stay just out of the ship channel on the opposite side of the Navy ships to stay out of the security zones. This way, we only get friendly waves from the security boats. The two locations we need to time are the Steel Bridge, which only opens on the hour, and the Great Bridge Lock, which opens on hour northbound after the Great Bridge bascule bridge. For some reason, we always manage to get to Steel Bridge too early and have to sit and wait. This is one of the only bridges we have transited that will not open for commercial traffic until the scheduled time. Once through the bridge, we easily made the Great Bridge Lock in time and locked through with a couple of other pleasure craft. By 3:00 pm, Beach House was tied to the wall between the lock and the bridge.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, and the next, visiting with friends and running errands. These visits are always too short, and 2 days later, we locked back through to the north, stopped at Top Rack Marina for fuel and water, and then turned off into the northern entrance to the Dismal Swamp Canal. The Deep Creek Lock is on a 8:30 am, 11:00 am, 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm schedule for southbound boats. A call to the Lockmaster on VHF Channel 13 is needed to let him know you will be locking through and to get the bridge open, since he handles both the bridge and the lock. The plan was to go through the lock and stop just on the other side at Elizabeth's Dock. The locking process took about 20 minutes and we locked through with a couple of other pleasure boats. It's also necessary to inform the Lockmaster if you plan to stop at the dock since it is before the bridge that he will have to drive to and open.

Elizabeth's Dock is a free dock constructed in the memory of his late wife Elizabeth by a gentleman named Bill Spaur. The dock adjoins the Deep Creek Lock public park and it is a short walk over the bridge to the small town of Deep Creek. There is a pharmacy, mini-mart, grocery store and other shops and stores within easy walking distance. There are power and water outlets on the dock, but none were working on our visit. When we arrived in the lock, we saw a blanket of green in the water and stringy green flecks that covered the lock walls and hung off the gates. Once we exited the lock, the water was totally covered with this green, which we found to be Duckweed. For boaters, this can be a real concern if the Duckweed clogs the water intakes and strainers and causes the engine to overheat. While transiting the canal under these conditions, it's very important to monitor the engine temperature gauges closely. Fortunately, we didn't have any problems and the next morning we moved down the canal 17 miles to the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center dock, which was free of Duckweed.

When we arrived at the Welcome Center, there were only a couple of boats at the dock. We tied up at the north end and later decided that might not have been the best idea. The wind blew a blanket of pine needles and leaves from adjacent trees onto the boat in no time. Within a couple of hours after each locking of the Deep Creek Lock, a few more boats would arrive and most decided to stop. By late afternoon, the boats were rafted 3 and 4 deep out into the canal and the count by the end of the day was 11 boats. Rafting up is required if you plan to stop at the Welcome Center. There were trawlers, sailboats and catamarans, all rafted together with lots of conversations going on from boat to boat and along the docks. Most of the boats, including us, took the time to clean the Duckweed out of our sea strainers. Some were very clogged and others just a little. It depended on how deep the water intake was from the surface, since the Duckweed floats on top for the most part. The weather turned ugly the day after we arrived, and gale force conditions with heavy rain was forecast for the waters along the coast and on the Albemarle Sound. The canal is very protected, so all we had to deal with was the rain. Hanging out at the Welcome Center dock for a few days seems to be the best choice. Then we will slowly move south and eventually stop to visit Elizabeth City once again.

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