After the three very different towns that we stopped in around thee Albemarle Sound, we had a few more days left to get back to Hampton Roads. Officially, there were three stops we didn’t make. Two were just restaurants that had a dock and allowed boats to stay overnight if patronizing their place – which was just not what we were looking for. The third was Columbia, NC, a small town on the south side of the Sound. But it was questionable if the marina would be able to accommodate a boat our size and looking at future sea conditions we decided it wasn’t worth taking a chance on. So we decided to start our trip back to Norfolk with a stop in Manteo, a town catering more to tourists and seasonal residents than any of our previous stops.
Day 14-15: Manteo Located on Roanoke Island just west of the famed Outer Banks, Manteo was the sight of the first English settlement in America – actually 20 years before Jamestown. But three years later, all the colonists disappeared and there is no record of what happened to them, earning them the moniker of The Lost Colony. Manteo has done a good job of capitalizing on its historical fame for its economy. It is also an idyllic beach community, with about half of the homes used seasonally rather than permanent residential.
We had to cross the Sound heading southeast, and the wind created a bit of a bouncy ride. Nothing dangerous, just bumpy. But worse was the abundance of crabpots scattered over pretty much the entire 45+ miles! Those suckers were everywhere! For those unfamiliar, crab fishing involves dropping a baited cage to the bottom of the sound — about 10-20 feet depth is ideal. The cage isn’t a problem, but the small float attached by a rope so that it can be found a day or two later can be. Each crab fisherman uses his own unique colored floats so they can identify theirs, putting out dozens of cages, usually 50 or more yards apart and frequently in sort of a straight line. The floats are only about 10” long, so they can be difficult to see when there’s a lot of choppy waves, especially if they are a dark color. Run over one just right and the rope attaching gets wrapped around your prop, and from there you can get into all kinds of damage to prop and hull and engine. So you want to avoid them. It took two of us with binoculars being very vigilant to make it through, and Dave had to maneuver around what he saw himself and I called out.
Me: “Green one straight ahead, about 50 yards.”
Dave: “Got it,” and turns the boat to the right.
“Now you’re headed for a red one. There’s a whole line of red ones!”
Dave turns the boat back as the green one slides by to our port side.
“Now there’s a whole bunch of white ones 100 yards slightly off to starboard. Keep going straight and you’ll miss them.”
“I can’t go straight or I’ll run into a blue one.”
“Well turn left.”
“Can’t turn left until after I pass this black one.”
“What black one? I thought it was blue?”
“There’s a black one before the blue one. I’ll go between them. Are we past the white ones so I can turn right now?”
“A bunch of them just flew away.”
“They had wings. Pretty sure they were seagulls.”
“All of them, or just some of them?”
“I still see some white things. Not sure yet if they are actual floats or seagulls with a high degree of risk tolerance.”
“Well, HELLO! Where did that yellow one come from?”
And so it went for the better part of three hours. We finally rounded the northern tip of Roanoke Island, and the water calmed and no more crabpots because we were in the channel to the town. That was a relief. After getting settled at Shallowbag Bay Marina, we enjoyed dinner out at the restaurant only 50 ft from the boat, where we could watch people checking out the boat and hear Roxy barking at them as they walked by. And no, we did NOT have crabcakes.
Upon setting out on our walk with Roxy the next morning, we headed down the street to a Dunkin’ Donuts we saw on the map. But when we got there, their indoor area was closed and only the drive-thru was open. I was going to take a spot in the car queue on foot, but Dave didn’t think it was appropriate. I’m still not sure what was wrong with it. So we walked all the way back and found a small diner for breakfast. It was good, but the coffee is better at Dunkin’. Plus they didn’t have donuts, and even the best bacon and eggs cannot overcome unrequited donut anticipation.
In the afternoon we took the dinghy across to the town of Manteo. It’s full of shops and restaurants – almost all of which were closed on this Monday afternoon. This seemed to be a recurring theme during this trip; we seem to have a knack for being in places on whatever day things are closed. But it was a beautiful day to sit in the park and share a sandwich from the one place we had found open for business, then explore the lighthouse there. And the dinghy ride was fun. We had Roxy with us, and she really seemed to enjoy the cooler breeze in her face.
Day 16: long day transiting to Portsmouth. We originally planned to take two days to get back to Hampton Roads, but saw that some hurricane activity in the middle of the Atlantic was going to kick up the wind so we decided to do a long day and go the 70+ miles to get to Portsmouth a day early. We had to contend with a rigid bridge/lock schedule, so left first thing in the morning. I actually love early departures, watching the sunrise, the various shades of light and gold the water and landscape turns.
After a bumpy ride with more crabpot dodging that was pretty much a repeat of two days earlier, we finally entered the more protected waterway of the Virginia cut and things calmed down considerably to a lovely slow cruise through marshlands. We had our own personal welcoming committee at the first swing bridge we had to pass through! Dave had let his brother Chuck know our ETA, and since he lived just a few miles from the bridge he brought three of his grandkids and niece Shannon down to watch us go by.
Then between two of the bridge we hit a submerged log, or what’s called a deadhead. We were both sitting at the helm and neither of us saw it, but we certainly felt it. We were cruising along just fine and then THUNK on the port bow, followed shortly by a ker-THUMP further aft. I ran back to the cockpit and saw a log, about 6’ by 12” by my best guess, bob up to the surface and then settle back down underneath. We must have hit it and then it rolled underneath the hull and whacked something in back. We listened, but didn’t hear a change in the usual boat noises that might indicate something was amiss, like a damaged propeller. And no bilge alarm going off saying we were taking on water. That was a relief. So we continued through the next two bridges and the Deep Creek lock uneventfully.
Day 17-18: Portsmouth, VA revisited Compared to the deserted town we had noticed when we were here in June, it was much more lively and more people were out even on a Wednesday evening. It was good to see. In June it was kind of creepy. There was even an Erykah Badu concert that we could hear from the boat happening at an outdoor event center adjacent to the marina that had been deserted just a few months before. We had hoped to catch a movie at our favorite Commodore Theater were there, but of course they were playing that awful Clint Eastwood movie we had already seen in Edenton. One curious sight in town was a statue of Portsmouth’s founding father, John Craford. Someone had put several pair of sparkly children’s shoes on it. Not sure if was just an accident, trying to make some kind of statement, or modern art. But I liked the colorful sneakers and found myself wishing they came in my size. We also took the ferry across the river to Norfolk, and that also was busier than it had been before but not quite what I would call back to the bustle of a downtown area on a workday.
Day 19: Return to Little Creek We returned to the same marina in Norfolk we had left a little over two weeks earlier. We did hear a couple VHF radio calls as we passed by the Navy base that made us laugh. There was a destroyer leaving the base and heading out the channel to the Chesapeake Bay about a mile ahead of us. The first was from a sailboat near it heading the opposite direction.
“Navy Ship outbound at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, this is sailing vessel X.”
“Sailing vessel X this is Navy Warship Y.”
“Navy Warship Y we’re going to wait for you to pass us and then we’ll shoot across your stern.”
Yeah – probably not the best choice of words to tell a warship you’re going to ‘shoot’ anything.
The second was a few minutes later and involved the same Navy ship and was from another pleasure craft heading in at the Chesapeake Bay entrance as the Navy vessel was headed out.
“US Navy vessel this is motor vessel Z inbound at the Bay Bridge Tunnel. We’re going to stay off here and pass you on your port side.”
“Pleasure craft hailing the Navy Warship – do you see us off your port bow now?”
While he was probably just trying to identify which ship he was talking to, his choice of words made me want to respond “you’re a ginormous destroyer! They can probably see you from Maryland!”
We will be here in Little Creek for all of October, as hurricane season finishes up whatever it is going to do. Of course, now we have a new project: figuring out if there was any significant damage from hitting that deadhead, and if so getting it repaired. Judging from our previous track record and ongoing difficulties of getting people down to the boat, that might be a challenge. Plus we still need to finish the electronics upgrade install that was started last month – but that’s a story for another blog.