It’s been just a year since Then Again was hauled out of the Columbia River at Rocky Pointe Marina in Portland, OR, to begin her Great Loop Journey, and just a year since we left our dirt home in Vancouver, WA, to take the I-90 canal to Watergate Marina in Minneapolis/St Paul, MN. This adventure has turned out to be a personalized, moving classroom, featuring new insights into America’s history, geography, society, economy, and the inherent kindness that most of us humans have when dealing with others.
We were finally able to leave Little River, SC, and the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club on May 7, 2019. We decided that we would plan a series of short days until we could determine that Lenny’s back was in decent shape. We passed the dredge on the way out of the marina and (surprise) turned left. Although this dredge was stationed at the entrance to the marina, we were pleased to see her. Dredging means that silt and mud that decrease the channel depth are being scooped up and removed, thereby reducing the chance of going aground.
We said “Buh-Bye” to South Carolina and “Howdy!” to North Carolina almost as soon as we made the left turn into the Atlantic Intracoastal Coastal Waterway. We planned a short day, just to make sure that Lenny had improved, and tied up at Southport Marina, NC, for the night. Even if we were doing longer days, we would have made a stop here because of Herb Pomeranz, a retired Navy meteorologist who gives a nightly briefing on weather heading North, particularly potential trouble spots, and a large list of resources. It was an hour well-spent and we left with a multi-page PowerPoint that we used for the next nine days. It looked pretty beat up by the time we were done.
Leaving Southport Marina on an excellent weather day.
On May 9th, we headed north, intending to do another short day. However, the weather was fantastic and Lenny was feeling really great, so we passed Wrightsville Beach, NC (another Weather Channel locale when it’s hurricane season), Hempstead, NC, and tied up at Sneads Ferry, NC, at New River Marina. Even though it was only about 2:30 pm, we decided to fuel and try to stay the night. Most of the time, we encounter friendly and helpful people at the marinas, but this was definitely not the case! We were told we had to come back at 4:30 pm to tie up, that they close at 5:00 pm, and that we needed to be out of there by 7:00 am. The marina dock hand literally shoved us off the pier and cursed us as we left. Simply amazing, and not in a good way.
So, now it was 3:00 pm and we had no place to stay for the night, since we are not going back there. Also, after consulting Herb’s PowerPoint, we realize we need to transit Camp Lejeune, NC, with a draw bridge that has a fixed schedule. No anchorages on the military base, either, not even to just row the boys ashore and back. However, we still had pleasant weather and another four hours or so of daylight, so we kept heading north.
We were blessed that the Church Street Dock in Swansboro, NC, was within reach. Louise called the City and they took our money over the phone, since they closed at 6:00 pm. They are in rebuilding mode because most of the docks and shore facilities were destroyed by Hurricane Florence in 2018. So, no water, no electricity, no toilets except a porta potty on the shore. And there is a nasty current that runs through the docks; however, having docked at Sundance Marina in Portland OR, with a 3-4 knot current constantly going through that berth, we at least knew what to expect. We were tired by the time we tied up but were able to walk about 50 yards to the Saltwater Grill restaurant. Lenny took the dogs for a walk downtown the next morning before we left, and he said it is just charming.
We had some exciting times getting out of that berth, but continued north to Morehead City, NC (also on the Weather Channel tour). Morehead City also took a direct hit from Hurricane Florence, and our marina choice was not available. To give you some idea of the magnitude of the damage, that marina is family owned and has 25 slips, with 10 for transients. They are already out of pocket over $300,000 and still can’t open, so they are losing a whole year’s worth of revenue. We stayed instead at Morehead City Yacht Basin and couldn’t have been more pleased. They were able to get most of their marina back up and going, but we still witnessed removal of pilings and sunken docks. Excellent facilities, courtesy car that was in pretty good shape, and a short walk to Floyds 1921 restaurant. We really enjoy eating local food wherever we stop.
Following Herb’s PowerPoint, we headed towards Belhaven, NC, on May 11th. The weather was deteriorating, and we decided to pull into Dowry Creek Marina, just north of Belhaven. The owners had bought a run-down marina and had been in the process of renovating it when Florence came to call. They are still recovering from hurricane damage. We liked the place very much and were excited to hear of their plans to open a restaurant this summer and to get their slips all fully functional. Due to weather, we ended up staying three days, instead of just overnight.
Along with several other boats, we left at sunrise on Tuesday May 14th. It was a tossup as to whether we would stop at Alligator River Marina in Alligator River, NC, or anchor out. We opted to stay at the marina, which is really a small set of piers administered by the gas station/restaurant at the end of the Alligator River Bridge. There was a big open space where the boys could run and play, something they had not been able to do in some time. Given that it got pretty windy towards evening, we were glad we stayed in a protected area.
On Wednesday May 15th we headed towards the Great Dismal Swamp. Although there is another route northward, honestly, who could NOT want to travel through the Great Dismal Swamp? To get there, we crossed the Albemarle Sound. Many Loopers get freaked out about this crossing, but to us, it was not as treacherous as parts of Puget Sound or Mobile Bay. Along the North Carolina route, we played peek a boo with the Atlantic Ocean as we transited several sounds. By the way, in this case, “sounds” are not noises but long, relatively wide bodies of water, larger than a channel, connecting larger bodies of water. We arrived at Elizabeth City, NC, and began the route to the entrance of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.
Some background, courtesy of Wikipedia:
By 1650, few American Indians remained in the Great Dismal Swamp area, and European settlers showed little interest in the swamp. In 1665, William Drummond, future governor of North Carolina, was the first European to explore the lake which now bears his name. William Byrd II led a surveying party into the swamp to draw a dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina in 1728. George Washington visited the swamp and called it a “glorious paradise.” He then formed the Dismal Swamp Land Company in 1763, which proceeded to drain and harvest timber from part of the area. A five-mile (8 km) ditch on the west side of the current refuge still bears his name. In 1805, the Dismal Swamp Canal began serving as a commercial highway for timber coming out of the swamp.
Before and during the American Civil War, the Great Dismal Swamp was a hideout for runaway slaves from the surrounding area. Recent research showed that thousands of Great Dismal Swamp maroons lived in the swamp between the 1600s and 1865. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp is based on them.
While all efforts to drain the swamp failed, logging of the swamp proved to be a successful commercial activity. Logging operations continued as late as 1976. The entire swamp has been logged at least once, and many areas have been burned by periodic wildfires. Agricultural, commercial, and residential development destroyed much of the swamp, so that the remaining portion within and around the refuge represents less than half of the original size of the swamp.
The Swamp channel is narrow and shallow, and you can only go about 5 miles per hour since it is a no-wake zone. We pretty much had the place to ourselves until we arrived at the Visitor’s Center in South Mill, NC. There were two other boats tied up at the free dock, which shares a parking lot with the vehicle rest stop. To us, the overnight stay at the Visitor’s Center didn’t live up to the “magical spot” that others have called it. The Visitor’s Center took us about 20 minutes to tour, and we were not eager to go out on the trails, because of reptiles.
When we left the next morning, we left the other two boats behind. We saw all sorts of plant and animal life along the way northward, including the turtle family out for their morning sun. It was so calm and peaceful; many of my other pictures from that trip are reflections of the land area into the water. The other boats caught up with us and a fourth boat to go through the lock on the schedule. Surprisingly, the lock master was impatient and not very pleasant to any of us. Others have said that it’s worth a stop to visit with him because of all his stories. Maybe that’s the Other Lock Master???
We were back to civilization as we headed into the Elizabeth River soon after exiting the lock. “Buh-bye” to North Carolina, “Howdy!” to Virginia. We planned for an extended stay at Tidewater Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA, in order to tour by car to visit sites in Portsmouth, VA, Newport News, VA, Yorktown, VA and Hampton, VA.
We’ll chronicle our Lower Chesapeake Bay area visits in our next blog post.
Our Trip So Far
As of Sunday June 2, 2019…
- Days: 351
- Locks Passed Through: 62
- Miles Sailed: 4690
- Engine Hours: 599
- Gallons of Diesel: 1939