A month ago now, we made a very rough passage from Yorktown to Deltaville, with waves slapping and bow pitching. Steve finessed the angle of bow to wave, while I wedged myself into my seat on three sides. A couple of times I asked, “Could that break something?” Destination: Zimmerman Marine, a well-respected boat yard in Deltaville, VA. On the never-ending list of repairs, we had prioritized the to-do list for August, while we returned to our non-boating life. We thought it prudent to escape the infamous August heat on the Chesapeake and had made plans to spend a week with our family, such gatherings having been suspended during the height of COVID-19.
And so, having spent a lovely week with our kids around the Finger Lakes of New York State, enjoying time in Goshen, and helping out for a week with our grandson in Maryland, we returned to Deltaville. Due to the constant of work delays, we actually drove home from Maryland for a few days before returning to Virginia, timing our arrival per the shipping of the davit motors from Tampa. But wouldn’t you know—as we neared Deltaville in our rental car, we learned that the motors had not been rebuilt with the care we had expected. They didn’t work! What meets the eye and what has been explained by the head mechanic at Zimmerman do not correlate at all with the work that the owner of the davit company and rebuilder claims he did on the crazy things. The ensuing conversation regarding the fix included terms that make my eyes glaze over, like “bearings,” “drive shaft,” and “uninsulated wiring,” while other terms like “jury rig” and “new motors” and “overnight shipping” I understand all too well.
Steve and I agreed to the new motors and then considered plans of action C, D, E and F. Plan C was crossed out due to high winds and chop on the Bay. We talked again about the pleasure-to-aggravation ratio, the community we are missing, how this dream has morphed to encompass a bigger chunk of life than we planned—and how more life than we could have known has been folded into this dream! It feels unwise to make any decision while in the middle of the “aggravation” side of the equation.
And so on a gorgeous fall Saturday morning, we are cruising to Urbanna, a little town up the Rappahannock River, which we had no intention of visiting two days ago. We had a lovely dinner in Irvington at Office Bistro last evening via the Deltaville courtesy car. We have seen the new davit motors and will return to Deltaville for their creative installation on Monday. Not aggravated today.
Our morning cruise took us past the Naval base again and then to Hampton, just across the mouth of the James River. We anchored, with plans to visit a history museum and the Virginia Air and Space Science Center—of “Hidden Figures” fame. The stop, however, didn’t go as planned, because I was still hung over from pain meds taken the evening before due to sharp pain in my new hip, and by the time I took a much-needed nap a deluge arrived, seemingly out of nowhere. Once weather sufficiently cleared and we dinghied across the inlet to town, it was nearly closing time. Our walk took us past the bronze plaque honoring hometown daughter Katherine Johnson, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor for her calculations of orbital mechanics at NASA which ensured many successful space flights. John Glenn specifically requested that she check the orbital equations that controlled the trajectory of the Friendship 7: “Get the girl. If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.” Dr. Johnson still resides in Hampton. We also admired the 1920-vintage Carousel, one of just 70 antique merry-go-rounds remaining. This gem has always been protected indoors and was recently restored masterfully. With no children clamoring to ride, I wondered what music it played as we walked away— but then guessed that the sound might be better in the memories of my own childhood. We enjoyed talking with the shop keeper of a zero-waste store, offering bars for shampoo, shaving, and laundry and bulk dispensers for filling one’s own bottles. The shop keeper pointed across the street to a large construction project—Hampton has plans for re-inventing itself, but they have a ways to go. None of the restaurants called out to us, so we ate a late dinner aboard.
After our Hampton fizzle, we got down to brass tacks in Yorktown, one of three towns known as the Historic Triangle, along with Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg. You may recall from American history that the Battle of Yorktown was the last battle of the Revolutionary War, after which Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington. Home of the splendid American Revolutionary Museum at Yorktown, we stayed until we could absorb no more from the array of films, live outdoor demonstrations, displays and exposés. That evening a crowd gathered on the green by the marina with babies and picnics in tow for a concert by Soul Sensation. We enjoyed the strains from the boat as we participated in a family Zoom call.
All public transit from Yorktown to the other sites having been discontinued for several years now—even pre-Covid—and discovering that there were no Uber cars available the next day, we finally located a Mercedes cab line to get to Jamestown Settlement…for a price! Jamestown Settlement, too, is an excellent exhibit in a beautiful venue. We learned that this colony was settled, not by the crown of England, but as a business enterprise of the Virginia Company. We knew a bit of the storied hardships there, but learned more about the bitter rivalry with the Powhatan Natives, and the helplessness of these adventurous souls in a novel setting which required the skills of hunting, trapping, fishing, and many other tasks for which the promise that the colony be fully provisioned from England left them unprepared.
Photos of signage snippets that hit us between the eyes:
Our visit to Williamsburg was less compelling, as the organization is still struggling back to its feet after the pandemic. We found small crowds, but also few docents, few tradespeople, and just one eatery—a bit underwhelming. Still, we are happy to have seen this renowned destination and to be reminded of the importance of Virginia’s legislative path in setting the course for our young nation. We saw a good theater production on stage at the brand new art museum and took a quick spin through the impressive galleries there. Finally as we visited the Courthouse at the end of our day, we were regaled by a fabulous, energetic docent who took us back to the historic beginnings of English-style courtrooms, in which the role of judges was to find justice and whose jury of “peers” included a few who truly knew and could vouch for the defendant. After the tour, Steve and I hung around for further conversation. I asked our docent when American courts stopped seeking justice, and winning became the goal. He referred back to the original judges whose unpaid responsibilities included serving time in court; “Thomas Jefferson would have sat at this table,” he had pointed. In answer to my question, he referred back to that and continued: once lawyers started receiving compensation for their service and defense in court, the game changed. Other take-aways from the three sites were that 1) from the very beginning, what is now the “United” States has always been divided by strong opinions and bitter dissension, between Native Americans and settlers, between patriots and loyalists, between slave holders and abolitionists…between students of science and conjurers of conspiracy; and 2) the founders of this nation were deeply conflicted about the ethics surrounding slavery and purposely left its cornerstone documents ambiguous, leaving these critical questions to be answered in another time.
Our day in Williamsburg ended with a spot-on dinner at Golden Ox, a farm to table restaurant. Its very casual vibe was ramped up by, not only excellent food preparations, but also the manager with a funny, waxed mustache who hovered and refolded our napkins to his specification every time one of us left the table—even when we folded it ourselves. 😂
We had left Red Pearl this Williamsburg morning rocking and rolling on big, wave-action from the northeast, the only direction in which this marina was unprotected. The rolling had only increased during the day and 1-2 foot rollers persisted through the night. We have never experienced such extreme and unrelenting rolling. Sunday morning I drank coffee (and spilled coffee) and blogged while Steve dinked with the lines and fenders and chatted with other boaters. The commercial tri-masted sailing vessel across the dock canceled its morning sail, and waves crashed over the dock at its stern. Our plan to return to the Yorktown museum for the afternoon was side-lined by a delightful invitation aboard a lovely, neighboring Grand Banks trawler. During the 3 1/2 hours in which we found invigorating connection, from boats to politics, while sipping wine, the wind finally shifted enough for the seas to lay down. Ah, we missed returning to the museum, but we learned much from Mary and Gene who own a boatyard in the American Virgin Islands, and we gained a friendship, as well.
THIS is the looping life: learn some, connect some, shrink our differences.
Leaving the Dismal Swamp was akin to exiting a movie theater on a hot summer afternoon: the contrasts were a bit of a jolt. Emerging from the quietude and closeness of the swamp at which uber-slow speeds of 4-5 mph might have a chance to minimize damage should (er, when) we hit something, we tried to give the engines their carbon-burning, high-rpm run. Reassured that we had no new vibrations after the 4 additional “clunks” the second day in the swamp, the props seem okay. But our ability to give those engines a good work out was limited, with congested areas, bridges, and river tows requiring the return to slow speeds and smaller wakes. Impressive container ships, with hundreds of semi trailers neatly stacked in rows and vertical columns were dwarfed by their surroundings. I counted twice: thirty crane arms on our port side were ready or working in, what we learned later, the Naval ship yard.
Norfolk, Virginia is where the Intracoastal Waterway begins—Mile marker 0. It continues south around Florida and north again on the Gulf side, across the panhandle and over to Brownsville, Texas, some 3000 miles. We celebrated the realization of our dream to reach the Chesapeake, the dream having stalled time and again for three years. And located exactly at Mile marker 0 was Waterside Marina, perfectly situated for our itinerary.
Norfolk being the largest naval base in the world, we hopped aboard a boat tour on the Elizabeth River. How does one describe the WOW of might, coupled with a sadness that the ingenuity of the human spirit expends so much of its creativity and monetary investment on machines and organizations of destruction? We sailed by at least 16 piers of destroyers of one description or another, with building costs ranging from $1 to $12.8b. As huge a force as was there in Norfolk, we tried to fathom that this still was just a sliver of the US show of force around the world.
In case you don’t know us well, a Hollenberg celebrates through his/her palate, and so we dressed for dinner in the city and walked up Granby Street to celebrate the attainment of our Chesapeake Bay goal. It began to rain as we readied to cross the street to our restaurant, when an (even) older man stopped us and boldly suggested we not go there. “Stay here,” he pointed. “The food is superb. Or go down to…” He turned and went into Leone’s, to which he had just pointed, and we stood wondering what bone he had to pick with the folks across the street or whether he was an investor in the restaurant where he entered. Finally ducking for cover from the rain, we took him at his word. We’ll never know whether we would have had a disappointing dinner across the street; but Leone’s was a treat, the flounder prepared with amore italiano, the chicken Marsala delicate and light, and the tiramisu everything a “pick me up” should have.
Intentionally contrasting ways in which the creative human spirit can be channeled, we visited the Chrysler Art Museum, where beauty—yes, often to excess, as well—takes center stage. Its 50 galleries create an attractive space for all ages and is home to the only glass studio of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region. Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.’s contribution of his 10,000-piece glass collection in 1971 has leant focus and stability to this lovely Norfolk gem. The glass galleries offer a unique prism through which to view history, from prehistoric cultures and on through the ages. Early blown glass, etching utilizing numerous techniques, cut and lead glass, the chemistry of colored glass, the advent of pressed glass, and so on. The contrasts of prestige and utility, the continual innovation of artists to stay ahead of mechanization, were fascinating! From glass, we visited the special exhibit of Alma W. Thomas (1891-1978), an African American artist, educator, and activist. Her life story inspired us—her unrelenting urge to create beauty, to encourage creativity in youth and to communicate. We fell in love with her acute sense of symmetry and color play, and we include photos of a few of our favorites—photo-taking and posting, encouraged by the museum.
I must also mention here our adventurous transport to the museum via Lime, the rental E-scooters that are all over Norfolk. With the high heat index, we thought a scooter might just be the ticket. Multiple lines of scooters, about 20 each, stood along Waterside Drive, and while scanning the QR code on the handlebars I accidentally knocked the scooter over. The domino effect proceeded to fell the entire line. Drivers passing on this major thoroughfare, must have had a chuckle at the gray-haired couple setting up the tangle of scooters. And then we had to figure out how to make the darn things go…! A few yards up the path both scooters stopped in their tracks. Was our quarter’s-worth already spent?! Ah!..my phone informed me that we had left the allowed scooter zone, and once we walked up to the next corner, we were off again. It was delightful to zip around on a scooter like kids. Our fun was diminished only slightly by the $18 sticker shock after parking them at the museum
There’s so much more to do in Norfolk, but we must continue north. We proceed, having come to the end of the magenta navigation line that we have followed all along the Intra Coastal Waterway. From here we create our own magenta line.
The “Great Dismal Swamp” a repulsed Colonel William Byrd called it, as his expedition party struggled through the dense undergrowth of forests of the seemingly-endless wetland in 1728. Conceived by Byrd as a connector between the Nansemond and Elizabeth Rivers to the Albemarle Sound in order to promote commerce, another 60 years passed before the canal became reality. Both George Washington and Patrick Henry were in favor of this investment in their young nation. The project ran slow and over-budget, as it was dug by hand utilizing enslaved workers hired from nearby landowners. Even though digging was initiated from both ends, complaints regarding the delays arose, and a road was constructed to connect the two ends as digging continued. Twelve years in the making, the resulting canal was only 6 feet deep, and use was limited to flat boats and log rafts manually poled or towed through. Deep disappointment in the design prevailed, and the canal eventually fell into disrepair. An unintentional consequence of the lengthy project was the extensive knowledge that workers gained of the swamp, and it became a haven for runaways. Landowners were loathe to chase a runaway into the swamp, and so colonies of “maroons” grew and developed their own commerce through barter and trade. While life in the swamp was not easy, at least it was autonomous. Today the Dismal Swamp Canal is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2004 it was added to the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. Its 111,000 protected acres are home to a rich diversity of wildlife, with its 350 black bears being the largest population on the Atlantic coast.
Our departure from the anchorage at Goat Island, was carefully timed. Threading through the narrow channel of the Dismal Swamp Canal, we were pleased to find more water depth than we expected— a generous 7 feet! Untamed, dense woods to the west, a 50-foot strip of trees and then a highway to our east, the two sides of the canal were incongruous. Towering pines presided, as cedars gave way to dense thickets of kudzu, slim sycamores and elegant mimosas with their frilly compound leaves and pink puffs abloom. Black, glassy water reflected the serenity in duplicate. Despite our careful tending to the skinny water, the props found connection with something significant. “KER-THONK!” We waited for the shimmy that results from unbalanced props, but as the ride seemed unaffected, we slowly relaxed. Locking was a small challenge in comparison, but with there being only 4 openings per day, and understanding that there is not much room to maneuver at the lock entrance, we watched the clock and our crawling 5mph speed carefully. Every locking system is different, but lock masters are often affable and helpful, and we appreciated his assistance with a boat hook, tying up with our own bow and stern lines. We were lifted 8 feet at South Mills Lock and lowered again at the other end at Deep Creek Lock the following day.
We have so looked forward to exploring this historic landmark that we dedicated two days in order to take in the Visitors Center at the Dismal Swamp State Park and enjoy a bike ride. We studied our materials regarding where to tie up and what to expect, and of course, since we are a couple of months behind other Loopers, we had the place to ourselves. It was Sunday, and the Welcome Center was not open until 1:00, so we unloaded our bikes and took off. We were puzzled by the barricade to the bike trail, but finally just rode around it and enjoyed the short ride, meeting a lot of other folks who had the same inclination. Still, we did not fully understand until we returned to the Welcome Center that the state park had closed for repairs in June. The Visitors Center, run by the state park, which we eagerly anticipated was therefore closed. (“Yur late!”) We deliberated over guacamole and chips, finally realizing that we were tied up right beside the “Welcome to North Carolina” rest stop on a 4-lane highway, and were once again in a fish bowl. The only boat. Waterway Guide reviews of this spot refer to a party atmosphere, with as many as 14 boats tied up, rafting onto each other and having a cook out and pot luck on the lawn. Somehow, our guacamole failed to capture the party spirit.
We researched a bit more and decided to move on to Arbuckle Landing, a more secluded dock. So secluded and so small was it, that we passed it at first. Spinning carefully back in our track, we easily caught the low pilings, challenged only by sticking out 10 feet on either end and by the protruding bolts which we strategically avoided as we placed our fenders. Anticipating a more extensive bike ride, we discovered that up the steps was still just a sun-drenched highway, albeit only 2 lanes at this point. We settled in for the night, and I was making soup in the Instant Pot, as three young men paid us a visit. What we were doing? Were we spending the night?… And suddenly our remoteness felt like vulnerability. Steve called the local police, and the operator helped us orient to landmarks which we could cite should we need to call for help. We awoke in the morning with relief that the guys were just curious and very direct.
We’ll appreciate being in high traffic areas next week as we visit Norfolk.
Beaufort was our last “must see” until the Dismal Swamp, but with 165 miles between the two, we chose three intermediary stops, towns which even North Carolinians may not have heard of, but which Loopers know well. We sadly parted ways with Beaufort’s Caribbean blue water and returned to the Coca Cola brown rivers as we headed north.
First was Belhaven, 60 miles from Beaufort. The dock master back at Lambs in Jacksonville, FL highly recommended this stop, telling us to tell Henry “hi” at River Forest Marina. Upon arrival, Henry took our lines.
“Ya loopin”? he asked.
“Yeah…” Steve replied.
Yes. We knew that.
“Why ya stayin’ two nahts? Ya lookin’ fur properdy? Tha’sa only reason anyone stays two nahts.”
😑 Sometimes you just need a day to catch up, but admittedly, the marina felt rather like a ghost town. We borrowed the marina golf cart and tooled along Water Street past a dozen immaculate turn-of-the-19th-century homes on the water front. We saw the AGLCA burgee on a trawler at the other marina—shoot! Just our luck to miss meeting another Looper. With staffing difficulties everywhere, the creative gourmet Spoon River, which we anticipated for a lovely dinner, was closed during our visit and is now only open Thursdays through the week end. But there was an outdoor pizza place, and it was good. The bugs must have posted an APB—they finally found us in Belhaven!
Next stop, Alligator River Marina, after a beautiful and uneventful 52 miles with light wind from the north on our nose. We traversed the Pungo River (“river of many fish,” the many fish pots requiring a sharp look-out and a quick hand on the wheel), and from there a 21-mile canal connecting it to the Alligator River, a short river only 47 miles long. The Alligator opens onto the Albermarle Sound. Only for lack of options did we stop at Alligator River Marina for the night. Oh, and good fuel price. In line for cheap fuel were fishing boats, with their requisite topsy-turvy stacks of baskets. As I watched the fuel pump,
I chatted with a young fisherman, and when I asked, he pulled a big basket off his boat to show off his gorgeous catch for the day. Such a beautiful dark sky blue are the legs of blue crabs, and so strong those claws! As we chatted, the young man seemed to be wondering why we would be staying there and tried to direct us to a more popular spot, but it was in the direction one takes when not going the swamp route. Other cruisers tied up on the wall for the night, joining a remoteness that eliminated any activity requiring a Verizon signal.
Elizabeth City, population 15,000, is the staging stop for entering the Dismal Swamp. One docks at the free docks right in town, convenient to the wonderful maritime museum and a few quaint shops and good eateries. With an increased proliferation of bugs on the short cruise to Elizabeth City, a good vacuuming was the first order of business after docking; there is no water for wash downs at free docks or at anchor. Once known for its friendliness when every sailor was greeted with a rose and an evening welcoming party, times have changed, town budgets and personal discretionary time being what they are. With our chores completed, we took a spin around town. First scoping out the beautiful maritime museum, we discovered that it would not be open at all over the week end, and we had 15 minutes to soak in what we could. (“Yur Late!”) A very kind manager approached us a few minutes past closing, engaging in conversation about the museum and the difficulty in hiring staff these days as she graciously escorted us to the door and invited us to come back another time. We found good food at Hoppin” Johnz in a vibrant atmosphere, with a gregarious server, and a fun, girly women’s room, decorated with a full-length mirror framed with pink boa and twinkle lights and fun signage. “Money can’t buy love, but it certainly can buy some cute shoes,” one read.
Our convenient spot on the wall in the center of town was a fishbowl, as folks with kids and dogs walked the water’s edge, attracted by the small, one-design sailboats zigzagging the waters, the farmers market, and our red-hulled boat. By Saturday at 1:00, we had had enough and moved another 8 miles up river. Anchoring for the night in a gorgeous remote bend by Goat Island, we are staged and eagerly anticipate the Dismal Swamp Canal.
Leaving Wilmington, a mix of natural North Carolina coastal scenery and development kept us on our toes. Salt marshes, their edges chiseled by water currents, opened to inviting sand bars and sugar beaches, the water changing from muddy-river brown to Caribbean aquamarine. Where there is beach, there are also boats and people, especially as the week end approaches. And homes, of course. Who does not long to watch the sunrise over the salt marsh from every window in their house for all the days of their life?
The 90-mile cruise to Beaufort at 8 mph is not a one-day leg. We caught the current and 11 mph flashed on the speedometer a time or two, but it’s still too much of a slog in our slow boat. We wish now that we had anchored at Topsail Beach, but for some reason it did not call to us at the time we made the itinerary. And we weren’t keen on the flyover shows at the other anchorage near Camp Lejeune, which many cruisers enjoy but characterize as “noisy.” We opted for the only other anchorage on the chart—Sloop Pointe, noted for “only light small boat traffic.” We have since added our notes to Waterway Guide, that the small boat traffic is heavy— even a tour boat came by—and further, cruisers were either in a big hurry or experienced sadistic pleasure in seeing a tall red boat at anchor rocking mightily in their wake. We should have moved, but we kept thinking traffic would die down. It did not—not until after dark, and it resumed before dawn, inciting us to hoist the anchor by first light.
The cruise to Beaufort (what a relief to pronounce it the French way, as opposed to the the South Carolinians’ pronunciation of their “Beaufort”) on a Saturday was entertaining, replete with fishermen, small center console week-enders, and even a commercial tow. Add these to the resulting wakes, slow residential areas, and inlets with channel marker changes—with “red” now to the starboard, and now back to the port again—all in a narrow channel surrounded by shoaling. Our timing was perfect—slack current. We thought. In Beaufort slack current arrives an hour after slack tide—the relationship of tides and currents, being specific to each place and changing every day. The dock hand on the radio told us the current was ripping through the marina. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “ Just cruise by and look for me waving by your slip and then turn around and come up into the wind.” As he was speaking we were watching small crafts being pushed sideways and helpless to land where they were aiming. Slow docking speed always our preference, a current requires speed to retain steerage. The crusty dock hand coached Steve (this one did know what he was talking about) telling him “more speed,” but our comfort mode being slow, Steve nailed the sweet spot beautifully. The saying that you’re only as good as your last docking made us feel brilliant in the moment.
Beaufort is a small, attractive town with eateries and nautical boutiques on the main drag. We checked out the shops in short order and found a good mid afternoon meal. The entertainment for the evening was watching other boats come in, also contending with the wind and current. The next afternoon we thoroughly enjoyed the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Only briefly referencing the whimsical lore in film and fiction of Edward Thatch (or Teach) aka “Blackbeard,” the museum displayed historical data and artifacts from the site believed to be of his sunken vessel, Queen Anne’s Revenge. Between 1716 and 1718 Blackbeard attacked 70 ships! A guy who develops this kind of notoriety in only 3 years will eventually get his due. And so this swell guy—ladies man and collector of seven wives—finally met his maker, his head mounted on a pike along with the Jolly Roger, as a warning to all. A Jolly Roger, the skull and crossbones flags, were flown by pirate ships particularly during the Golden Age of pirating, the decade of 1710s. Pirates generally had their unique flag, flown only when preparing to attack. Some sources attribute a particularly shudder-producing design to Blackbeard, while others state that he preferred plain flags, the black to signal attack and the red, warning of no mercy.
Learning about the North Carolina fishing industry at the museum and the development of various boats shaped for specific industries was fascinating, as well. Especially notable is the story of Menhaden, a forage fish with alternative aliases bony-fish, whitefish, fat-bat, mossbunker, and bug-head, to name a few. The Narragansett word for menhaden translates “that which fertilizes.” So plentiful were these fish that, when they were in season in the fall, N. Carolina, fishermen could collect them with a shovel. Commercial menhaden fishing boats, worked by black and white crewmen, hauled in such bountiful catches that in order to coordinate their heaving, they sang rhythmic chanteys, and this musical art form to this day sometimes takes the stage. We saw photos of men waist-deep in menhaden at processing plants, where the fish, high in Omega-3 fatty acids, were pressed for animal feed, fertilizer, and human food products. While not as plentiful as they once were and limits have been placed on a fishery’s allowable tonnage, they still are vital for these same uses, and we ingest them in such things as fish oil capsules, cooking oil, salad dressing, and lipstick. As a matter of fact, Menhaden may be a key to saving our planet, as they are vital to the food chain, filtering phytoplankton and zooplankton from the water they live in, and in turn are eaten by predatory gamefish like swordfish and tuna. So reach out and thank the Menhaden in your life today!
It turns out that, had we not planned an extra day in Beaufort, we would have stayed for weather, anyway. The courtesy car which we borrowed for provisioning competes for worst beater on the Loop, but we were grateful for its utility. We checked out the wooden boat-building exhibit and wandered into the historic area, staffed by enthusiastic volunteers in antebellum dress, but the return of threatening skies deterred much of a historic walk. One of the favorite stops on the walk includes the “spooky cool” cemetery in which some local lore is retained. One story goes like this:
Sarah Gibbs (d. 1792) & Jacob Shepard (d. 1773)—Sarah was married to Jacob Shepard, a seaman. Jacob’s ship went to sea, but never returned. He was presumed to be dead. Later, Sarah married Nathaniel Gibbs and had a child with him. After an absence of several years, the shipwrecked Jacob Shepard unexpectedly returned to Beaufort to find his wife married to another man. The two men agreed that Sarah would remain with Gibbs as long as she lived, but must spend eternity at the side of Jacob Shepard.
Locals encouraged us to visit Beaufort in October, after hurricane season and after tourists go home. Perhaps we’ll do just that.
Our intention to anchor near Southport was affected by that broken strainer, the generator being the source of power to the Air Conditioning at anchor, which is a necessity these days. And so we gained one more docking experience, as we were blown off the dock, barely able to approach the sandwiched-in space on the inner wall which we were assigned. The dock hands stood with lead feet until Steve just pointed the bow toward an open slip, and they met us there. We are finding, more often than not, that dock hands can put in a thimble what they know about docking; and as it turned out, one of these sweet kids had been handling lines for just 10 days. As a consequence, we are learning to be more directive: “ No, I’ll give you the bow line after you take this line first and secure it on that cleat.”
Southport is a sleepy Victorian wanna-be-resort town with plaques denoting cottage names and dates of construction, a few small boutiques, a way-over-priced gourmet market, a few antique stores (which were mostly closed), and some eateries. After our disappointment at LuLu’s, we were ready for a nice dinner, and Mr. P’s Bistro was the ticket. Wait staff was top notch, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner with a yummy low-country array of vegetable sides—braised cabbage and grilled pattypan squash to name just two. At the marina, we met Loopers on Sunset from Houston and just missed old looping friends Sue and Bud Hansen on Odyssey, who came in late and left early with a hired captain aboard—again with boat trouble! Bud and Sue have had way more boat trouble (counted in number of events, wait time, and cost) than anyone we know, and we hope we can meet up and cruise with them—sometime!
The Cape Fear River has had several names, but in 1733 this name stuck because of the constantly-shifting shoals at its mouth. We have often tried to envision how much more adventuresome this trip would be without electronic charts and appreciate the way some systems collect information from the sonar of each boat as it passes through, and update electronic charts accordingly. I have imagined cruising with a paper chart rolled out at all times, parallel rules, binoculars, and compass—regularly taking waypoints, which we learned in our early sailing days. Electronics charts are an amazing advance… perhaps Cape Fear should update its name, as well!
Fifteen miles up the Cape Fear River is the picturesque town of Wilmington. We passed under the iconic lift bridge and a small commercial area where container ships are loaded, the top exports of Wilmington being munitions and pork. Wilmington is also friendly to movie filming, and I ran across an online list of 64 Oscar- and Emmy-winning actors who have filmed here. Port City Marina is conveniently located near the historic district and has nice facilities, including a very good restaurant. The town is quaint with a vital boardwalk, maximizing waterfront enjoyment for jogging, dog walking, and sauntering.
While we enjoyed biking around town, we opted for an Uber across the interstate bridge to the WWII Battleship North Carolina on a hot, muggy afternoon. We easily fell down the rabbit hole, trying to imagine nearly 2400 men aboard that huge vessel with an area of 10 acres, over 700 feet long and 100 feet wide. A draft of over 33 feet provides at least 3 decks, maybe 4, below water level. This ship was assigned nine land bombardments, one of which was Iwo Jima. Each sailor had his specialty/job assignment, from piloting the Kingfisher (the small pontoon aircraft), which was catapulted into the air from the deck; to the cleaner of cannons (one guy actually serving as the ramrod, being pushed through the barrel and pulled out the other end by his legs), to cook and scullery, to post master and ship doctor, to navigator, to movie projectionist threading the same movies night after night, to soft serve ice cream server… My interest in the actual weaponry has limits, but it was intriguing to envision daily life cooped up for months at a time with all that raging testosterone.
Having read about the 1898 coup against the thriving Black middle class in Wilmington, we went searching for the memorial park commemorating this little-known piece of history. The first such insurrection after the Civil War, it was originally reported by the white press as a riot perpetrated by the black community. However, later study of the events came to characterize it as the only successful coup d’etat in American history, by a group of 2000 white supremacists to overthrow their duly elected biracial government. Killing an estimated 60-300 Blacks and Whites, destroying Black neighborhoods, and running off sympathizers into surrounding forests and swamps, the massacre ushered in an era of some of the most severe racial segregation and disenfranchisement in African American history.
On a thoroughly positive note: while not perfect, a huge shout out goes to the United States amazing mail and package delivery system! Our strainer arrived in two days from Washington State, and a marine mechanic was on board at 10:00 the next morning installing it. After a rainy afternoon, we took a spin through the collection of shops at the old Cotton Exchange. The post-rain walk to Rumcow, a quirky little gem which specializes in creative small plates, was the perfect finale to our visit in Wilmington.
With the Canadian border still closed to United States visitors, Loopers’ plans this season are all over the map. Some are hanging out near the Canada border; some are enjoying extended cruising on the Chesapeake; others are on the Great Lakes, having hired a captain to transit the Welland Locks which bypass Niagara Falls into L. Ontario; some are just staying south, poised to enjoy winter; and those who have dirt homes might be taking a hiatus from cruising. While we appreciate the lack of competition for slips and beautiful anchorages, we also are missing much of the social experience which is a delightful component of a normal looping season, one in which a “class” of Loopers “chases 80,” following the seasons, and gathering for docktails and perhaps a few tall tales at the end of the cruising day.
From Charleston, we anchored at Georgetown. Having such wonderful memories of our first visit there with friends, this time felt anticlimactic. Our dinner was mediocre, and our walk past the stately homes on shaded streets with Live Oak archways was humid and sticky. And a little lonely.
The next morning we cruised two hours to Wacca Wache Marina to wait out Tropical Storm Elsa. Apart from a dicey docking in torrential rain and the 5:30am tornado warning which rousted us out of bed, the experience was— just another tropical storm. We enjoyed reconnecting with dock masters Jason and Matt, who came to know our boat well when Red Pearl was there for 7 months in 2018.
Two days later under gorgeous blue skies, we left Wacca Wache, to date our destination furthest north on the eastern seaboard, and cruised into territory which we have not seen before! We read longingly about the side trip up the lush and scenic Waccamaw River, which we don’t have time for. Wildness morphed into development, with “No Wake” zones past miles and miles of homes with private piers as we approached Myrtle Beach. “Covens” of jet skies swarmed, zipping by and carving doughnuts in our wake. Arriving at Barefoot Marina, a favorite stop among Loopers, one of the dock hands offered us a ride to the grocery for provisioning, which we happily accepted. Greens, kale, a salad mix, celery, peaches, grapes, Rainer cherries, blueberries, avocados, a small ham, a tub of whole yogurt, a loaf of bread, and 18 eggs were repackaged and crammed into our 7cf fridge with a practiced hand.
The following day a short dinghy ride across the waterway took us to the Landing, crawling with families and kids in a carnival atmosphere. A carrousel, play grounds, lawn games, hammocks, and tantalizing junk food were the hub around which shops and restaurants bordered. We browsed the shops, more to escape the heat, but also purchased a few items which will enhance our cruising life. 🙄 Our choice for a low-key dinner at LuLu’s was disappointing; especially memorable was the men’s and women’s kickboxing shown on all four giant screens in unavoidable line of vision, which we found a distressing choice for family entertainment.
The Barefoot area being not quite to our personal taste, and the seasonal humidity having descended, we spent all day Sunday indoors FaceTiming with friends from home and planning our itinerary for the next two weeks. It also took a good bit of time locating a strainer for the generator, which perhaps was broken when the exhaust was replaced a few weeks ago. A marine mechanic helped us identify the part but could not get it for a few days—longer than we want to hang out here—so we have arranged for the part to meet us up the road…
“Arrangements,” of course, having loose connotation on the water….
We have been to Charleston before. We have done the Market and shopped the shops and eaten crab cakes. But it’s the holiday week end, and we are staying off the water to avoid the “crazies.” There is a lot to enjoy in Charleston.
Wanting to avoid the city marina, Red Pearl is docked at Harborage at Ashley River, in the furthest slip from the gate, a quarter-mile walk. While the marina is lovely, we are disappointed to discover that the downtown area is not bike-able, and an Uber is the go-to mode of transportation—usually $20 each way, but when demand is high, as much as $36. Chalk it up to the many details that are just difficult to anticipate.
On Saturday, we warmed up our visit with the Charleston Market. The African/Gullah art of sweetgrass basket-making sang to us again, and we finally succumbed and purchased one from William Rouse, a sweet man with a guarded smile, who was beginning a new basket coil as he sat in his booth. His mother taught him the art or gathering wild sweetgrass and bulrush and of coiling and sewing. A fourth-generation craftsman, he was eager for us to understand that originally these baskets served working purposes, such as for the winnowing of rice. Many of his baskets take 3-4 days’ labor, the larger ones up to 2 weeks.
From the Market, we visited the city home of Joseph Manigault, a lucky fellow who inherited several rice plantations and over 200 enslaved people from his grandfather. He married well-twice!-and ended up with seven rice plantations north of the city. Built in 1803, the Huguenot House was served by a separate kitchen and second-floor quarters for enslaved workers, the privy, the carriage house, the livery, and a flower garden, all within less than an acre. The house was not grand, but it was architecturally “smart,” and provided escape from mosquito infestations of the swampy rice plantations. It seemed incredulous that eight children were raised in three rooms on the third floor, following the tradition of children being kept far from adult company until they were 14 years of age. After changing hands several times before and around the time of the Civil War, during which fortunes collapsed, the dilapidated house was saved from razing for a gas station in the 1930s by the Preservation Society of Charleston. In the 40s it was used hard “as a USO post and Red Cross training facility. While at the Joseph Manigault House, soldiers attended dinners, parties, played games and wrote to their families.” Now restored, it is maintained by the Charleston Museum. Our early dinner at The Ordinary was anything but; the fish was delicious, but the “zucchini carpaccio” was a divine blend of simple and fresh flavors.
On Sunday we took a historic guided tour, during which many, many dates flew in one ear and out the other. The biggest take-aways were, first, the single house style, so common here, in which 2 rooms per floor were stacked, one floor atop another, and another. Second, “Charles Town” (pronounced very particularly by our guide) certainly has a lot of old churches! After the historic tour, we ferried to Fort Sumpter, where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. So much complexity surrounds the history of Fort Sumpter, and we found the political and military strategic background information a little depressing. Perhaps it was the previous barrage of dates; or perhaps our overlaying this history with the continued racial tensions of today was the cause. Our diversion was a delightful dinner at Magnolias on East Bay. Back at the marina, a nice display of fireworks from the aft deck of Red Pearl cheered us.
Monday was spent at Magnolia Plantation, now a for-profit Romantic Gardens owned and run by 13th-generation Drayton family members. Founded in 1676, its most colorful history encompasses ownership by an Episcopal minister who designed the gardens as a gift and distraction for his wife who pined for the Philadelphia city life of her girlhood. The reverend was destitute after the war, having donated heavily to the Confederate cause, and the plantation home having been burned to the ground—one of 35 which were torched by Union troops on order from General Sherman as they marched back north. To make ends meet, he sold off 1500 acres, and he opened the beautiful gardens to tourism. Another profitable endeavor was the mining of phosphate rock, but the damage which strip mining wreaked on the beautiful land and stately trees eventually was deemed too big a price, and mining was abandoned. A tour of the four remaining quarters for the enslaved workers (housing, also, for paid gardeners until 1990) by our unflinchingly-honest and emotional African American docent was thought-provoking and dispiriting. Back aboard Red Pearl, a taste of home was a balm, as we ate a simple green salad with quinoa and chick peas, processing the uncomfortable history which we encountered again and again this week end and overwhelmed by the failure of our culture to make the shifts that are so overdue.
Our itinerary for the week is dogged with the prospect of another named storm. As we bid Charleston farewell, Hurricane Elsa is on our minds.
From St. Simons Island we cruised toward Savannah, with a lovely and uneventful night on the hook at Wahoo River. The next morning, however, the race was on for reaching Savannah ahead of Tropical Storm Darius, headed straight for the Georgia coast.
A return visit to Thunderbolt, where we spent 3 weeks for repairs in 2019, felt like coming home, with a knock on our cabin from Rick, the past chief engineer of the now-defunct maker of our boat, Mainship, which stopped making boats in 2008. Rick is employed in the Thunderbolt boatyard now, and we had enjoyed chatting with him two years ago, he being eager to see how each of his “progeny” is weathering. It was sweet to be remembered, and having a red hull always helps. Light rain turned to an hour-long torrential downpour, accented with more thunder and lightening than we have ever experienced, it being our first brush with tropical storms. It passed in time for us to enjoy a walk along the water’s edge among some of Savannah’s beautiful Live Oaks and past Tubby’s, a Thunderbolt mainstay and watering hole.
The morning following the storm greeted us with beautiful blue skies strewn with white fluff, and we cruised without a care to Beaufort (pronounced Bew’ fort, not to be confused with Bo’ fort, NC). Beaufort had just regained their electricity after their more direct hit by Darius by the time we arrived, and we were assigned a slip between two boats on an inside wall. The skipper and I had time for only brief discussion as to whether there was sufficient length, and he felt up for the challenge. As we were passing the boat that would be behind us, the current began pushing us into it. Hats off to the facile dockhand, who leaped onto that boat to fend off even before I could get there. At our subsequent debriefing, we agreed to be more discerning and less adventuresome in future docking. It was also during this debriefing that we realized that, as we hyper- focused on docking, we forgot our dire need for a pump out of the black water holding tank before going to the slip. This would require our using the shore facilities for the next two days—not the end of the world, but an definite inconvenience, particularly in the middle of the night.
Beaufort is a charming town, holding a proud spot in southern history in both the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars. We wandered the main drag and, upon recommendation from a store clerk, snagged an early reservation at Old Bull Tavern. On a hot day, the watermelon salad jumped out at me and did not disappoint. The following day we rode our bikes down the “rails to trails” Spanish Moss Trail to Port Royal. We scoped out a tiny wetlands there, very popular with kids’ day camps, and at the end of the loop, ducked into a tiny cupcake shop to cool off. Brenda Finkenbinder, I thought of you as I savored my “Pluff Mud” cupcake, chocolate with bitter coffee filling and buttercream. (Pluff mud is the very sticky stuff specific to this area which yielded the precious “Carolina Gold” in the 19th c before the emancipation, making the Carolina states the world’s rice-producing capital, which, not incidentally, was only made possible with the brains and on the backs of enslaved people.) Our bike ride wound up back in Beaufort, as we enjoyed the antebellum homes on the water’s edge and stumbled upon the one which served as backdrop for the Meechams’ home in the movie “The Great Santini.” Pat Conroy, author of the book by the same name, was homegrown in Beaufort, and his eloquent descriptions of the South Carolina marshlands and the plots which he wove through them in his novels have had me hankering to experience them firsthand for years.
The following morning, an attentive dock hand assisted us in springing off the dock, a special technique using lines to hold in the bow and kick out the stern, in order to leave that tight docking space. He also cheerfully assisted us with our much-needed pump out. Aaaaahhhhh.