After over a month in a marina and getting some work done on the boat (that’s a whole other post), we were afflicted with wanderlust again and so we are taking a couple weeks to cruise The Albemarle Loop. All the stops are historic, or quaint, known for nature on display, or a combination of these. Added bonus is that in order to promote local businesses in these small towns, the town marinas are FREE! In the boating world, that’s a big bonus. We figured it would be a good way to keep from getting too rusty while we continue to wait out and keep a close eye on hurricane season.
Day 1: After a weekend of getting everything ready and provisioned, we left late morning on Monday for a short transit to a small marina on the Elizabeth River to stage for the Great Dismal Swamp. Embarassingly, we cast off the lines without disconnecting the shore power. Fortunately, some fellow boaters noticed and unplugged it and yelled before we had actually started moving. That would have been pretty ugly, either destroying our shore power line that retracts into the boat, or else pulling the whole power pedestal off the dock like something out of a Chevy Chase Vacation movie. Ironically, we’ve had at least three occasions when we were the ones on the dock yelling at boaters more experienced that they were still connected, so it must be one of those things that everyone has to do in their career. Like I said, you do get rusty. The good news is that nothing bad happened, and that’s one mistake that I don’t think we’ll make again — at least not for a very long time.
Following that we had an uneventful transit into the Elizabeth River from Virginia Beach. We passed the familiar sights from both our past lives living there and more recently from this summer: Norfolk Naval, Nauticus, Waterside, the Portsmouth marina where we spent June, and the industrial areas of the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. The marina we were staying in is mostly a boatel (a giant warehouse to rack and stack smaller boats), but they had about a dozen slips for transient boaters — and we were the only ones in the whole place! The gates were locked when the last worker left about 6pm, so we were sort of trapped – not that we had anywhere to go. It was a little creepy, but otherwise nice and new docks and facilities. Plus we could walk Roxy around the large property and she could roll in the well-maintained grass to her heart’s content. and we sat on deck and watched the sunset glow on the water.
Day 2 & 3: The Great Dismal Swamp Gotta love the name. This canal has historical roots going back to George Washington, who with a group of other Virginia and North Carolina landowners saw the value of having an alternative way to move goods that was a more protected inland waterway. Historical placards note that it was built by slaves ‘hired’ from local plantations. Now that’s a whopper of an oxymoron. I guess ‘hired’ means paying a rich guy money to force other people to dig a 22 mile long canal by hand under inhumane conditions on top of those that already exist by virtue of being slaves.
As the country’s oldest continuously operating (except for a hurricane or two that took it down for a few months) man-made canal, it is now part of the ICW. There is a lock and bridge at either end, which was fun for us, and the water in between is brackish and stagnant. It’s only about 50’ wide and dredged to 5’ deep, so it’s straight, shallow and narrow. Both banks are crowded with trees and dense growth, and you feel like you’re deep on some remote jungle cruise—until you hear the distinctive sound of a UPS truck go by on the road 100 ft from the canal. It is a navigational challenge because of deadheads (logs) that can lurk beneath the surface of the deep brown water and potentially damage your boat. But it’s something that you just have to do because it’s beautiful and serene and historic and unique. I spent most of the two days riding on the bow, watching for things to avoid and pointing Dave in the direction to avoid them while marveling at the scenery. We did have a couple small ‘bumps’ each day, which is typical, but no evidence of any damage, aided by the fact that we were creeping along at about 5 mph.
We docked overnight just after passing into North Carolina at the Visitor Center. Particular to the Dismal Swamp is this species of large yellow biting flies that are vicious. They liked me for some reason, and could drew blood with their bite. The nice folks at the Center let us sit with Roxy in their air conditioned building to escape the heat and the dang flies. We left early the next morning to catch the first opening of the South Mills lock and passed into the wider and clearer Pasquotank River to arrive in Elizabeth City by noon. We are glad we successfully did the Dismal Swamp and can check that box, but not worth risking a bent prop to do it again
We had a couple hours to explore Elizabeth City by foot before a passing band of rain and wind came through and we had to hunker down in the boat. This confined us to the immediate waterfront area, which looked like it was trying hard (and making progress) to re-invent itself to attract tourists and boaters, but still a bit run down. We did come across a cool little alley that was pretty unique. We enjoyed our walk, and people passing through the park were very friendly and stopped to admire the boat and chat before the rain started. Noted is that for the third night in a row we’re the only boat at the dock and we’re starting to get a bit of a complex about that.
Day 4 – 6: Albemarle Plantation We left shortly after sunrise because there was a potential for thunderstorms in the afternoon, and the Albemarle Sound is famous for extreme and sudden changes in conditions. The river was glassy, and once we picked our way through a minefield of a million crab pots at the mouth, we had pretty much perfect conditions out on the Sound. Considering our previous experience here when we were coming north from Florida (see previous blog Leisure vs.Leisurely) we felt we had really lucked out.
Our next stop for a few days was Albemarle Plantation, a large planned golf and boating community. I haven’t been able to find anything about its past history, so maybe it was at one time a plantation. If so, it was huge. Now it’s a beautiful gated residential area surrounded by a golf course. We were greeted at the dock by Jim, who gave us the rundown, said we’re pretty much welcome to use any of their amenities. Too bad Dave and I don’t play golf. He even had a golf cart parked right at our dock that was for us to use during our stay to get around! It’s quite a hoof just to get off the docks, and everyone seems to have one parked by their boat. It’s how we get Roxy to shore for her walks and potty breaks, which is why we call it a land dinghy. There’s not really anything outside of the gates, but there are a couple restaurants of which we’ve partaken. The waterside by the marina is filled with cypress trees with their ‘knees’ and Spanish moss. Everyone is super friendly, waving at us even though they have no idea we are.
The highlight was a long dinghy ride (the boat dinghy, not the land dinghy) up the Yeopim Creek. It is lined with Cypress and pine trees, smooth waters, gentle turns, and many herons and other water fowl. Honestly, I think we liked it more than the Dismal Swamp Canal. At one point, we just turned off the engine and drifted slowly down the creek. Despite the GPS persistently telling us we were driving the dinghy over land for some reason (maybe time to update the software???), it was actually surprisingly deep for being called a creek at 7-10 ft and got deeper the further up the creek we went. I finally gave up taking pictures because I just couldn’t do it justice, but you can get a taste below. I just wish you could also feel the breeze and hear the sounds of the water.
Of course, we couldn’t be back in NC without having bugs. Those damn midges are back. We’ve discovered the technique of vacuuming them off the ceiling and walls and windows, . because if you swat them they leave a stain, and if you ignore them they leave a green midge poop stain. So far our little Dust Buster seems to do the trick .
Next up, we will start off Week 2 by heading west in the Sound to Edenton. Everyone keeps raving about this little town, so we’re looking forward to it.