Friday, August 16, 2019

The End of The Voyage

It's over.

The Voyage has come to its end at Strong's Yacht Center on Mattituck Creek on the north shore of Long Island. Intermezzo and I sailed 13,400 nautical miles since leaving San Francisco in October 2015.

It feels like a lot, sometimes too much. I can hardly distinguish individual memories of all that passed, it's more like kaleidoscope of experiences that are now a part of who I am, experiences that will influence who I will be.

So much of this Voyage felt like I was going uphill. So much time enduring, soldiering along, wrestling with thoughts and feelings, as winds and waves seemed to be telling me to go back, to give up. But I wouldn't. I couldn't, even if meant I was moving away from people and places that I love. I gave up much to gain much.

Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of peace, happiness and beauty along the way that I will never forget and for which I will always be grateful. I now know the ocean intimately, as a place in which I humbly belong. Sunrises, sunsets, dolphins, birds, the motion of Intermezzo in the water, all sorts of weather. The richness of all that was can't be described in words, though I've tried mightily.

I'm to end The Voyage without fanfare as it allows me to honor the entire journey rather than focus on celebrating its completion. I'm glad Renee was with me to finish together what we started together. She's been soldiering on against winds and waves of a different nature for a long time now and the last few weeks were a nice break for her.

I'll be living aboard Intermezzo for the next month, getting the boat ready for a long period of storage on the hard.  I'm sure more thoughts and memories about The Voyage will come up as I do so. I'll continue to share them here.

An intermezzo is a light performance between the main acts of a play. The previous act seems far behind me now. I have only just started conceiving the next act, the set still needs to be built, the curtain isn't ready to rise yet. But my sailing intermezzo is over.

Mattituck Creek, Intermezzo's home for a while

The End of The Voyage, Intermezzo docked at Strong's Yacht Center. A great boat that has taken good care of us.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hell's Gate Into Long Island Sound

August 12
Long Island Sound

Yesterday morning we sailed goodbye to Christina, Nate and Maddie and hello to my sister Alison and nephew Griffin, then cast off to sail up the East River and into Long Island Sound.

It was a bumpy start, with wakes from heavy marine traffic bounced us, reflected off the seawalls on each side of the river, to come back and bounce us again, and then the reflections reflecting to hit us again, all while new wakes were being generated. It was a relief to enter a wider portion of the river with much less traffic north of the Williamsburg Bridge.

The day was unusually cool for August, sunny with puff ball clouds and variable winds. The river was blue-green, much cleaner than I remember it being when I was a kid. People now jet ski in the East River; when I was young I think you might have dissolved if you fell into it and if that didn’t happen, struck a multitude of horrible looking floating objects. I am so grateful for the Clean Water Act, now a generation old. The waters all along the US coast have been remarkably clean, very little trash, lots of fish and wildlife, the wetlands looking healthy, even if they are still being encroached upon. The implementation of that law has been a remarkable environmental success that I have witnessed firsthand. We should never forget that or allow it to be compromised in the name of “de-regulation”. It has made our part of the world healthier and more beautiful, and set an example for other countries.

As we sailed north, pushed along by a fair current, the tall congestion of buildings of Manhattan’s Battery gave way to plain, brown nondescript mid-rise apartments. The Brooklyn shore shifted from gentrified residential neighborhoods to old industrial areas that are just beginning to gentrify.  It’s time to accept that manufacturing is not coming back to Brooklyn for those that hope that protective tariffs will drive such a renaissance.

To get to the Long Island Sound, we needed to pass through Hell’s Gate, where the East River narrows just pass its junction with the Harlem River at Wards Island. Hell’s Gate. On par with Dismal Swamp as a place name in my book, but offering potentially even more moral drama. As we approached our entry portal to Hell, we were shaken by a deep, growling rumble from the Triborough Bridge above, an ominous warning of what lay ahead. Hell’s gate was a swirling maelstrom of strong currents, whirlpools and tidal waves. Well, strong currents and some eddies, at least. Then our noses were assaulted by the putrid odor of rotting souls, which might have actually been the septic odor of an upwind sewage treatment plant. As we exited the gate of Hell, which should be a relief to those who have been taught it’s a one-way trip, we breathed a sigh of relief and some welcome fresh air as we left the sewage treatment plant downwind behind us.

The wind started to build as the East River opened up into the Long Island Sound and we soon had the sails up. There were several other sail boats near us, which to me is the definition of sailing race. I was soon hopping about the boat, checking sail trim, winching in sheets, tweaking the traveler, considering tactics as my crew and passengers looked on in admiration and amazement at my sailing prowess. I beat every boat that I raced, whether they knew they were racing me or not. I figured there might be a trophy waiting for me at the Port Washington Yacht Club as I turned into Manhasset Bay.

We dropped anchor just outside the mooring field off of Port Washington and took the dingy to the town dock. Alison treated us to a nice dinner and then we walked with her and Griffin the the train station where they caught a train back to Manhattan where there car was parked, to drive back home to Connecticut on the other side of the Sound.

Another great day with family on the water, a chance to share a tiny bit of The Voyage with them before it comes to an end soon.

We’re now heading to Setauket, about halfway to our final destination. We’ll anchor there and probably stay through tomorrow as bad weather, rain and thunderstorms, is in the forecast.

Old Brooklyn industry, new Brooklyn residence 
I like that they preserved these old Brooklyn dockside cranes and painted them such a nice color

Hell's Gate! 
Still water in the morning, Manhasset Bay

Execution Rock on Long Island Sound.  Not far from Hell's Gate.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Family Days in NYC

We are enjoying family visitors here in Brooklyn since arriving in New York Harbor at 10 a.m.

Friday morning. Renee's daughter, Christina, her husband, Nate, and daughter Maddie arrived by train from the Washington DC area on Friday night and have been staying on the boat. Three year old Maddie has told me many times that she "really likes this boat" and I think it's true. She has explored every nook and cranny, jumped on the trampoline, been lowered down hatches, and pretended to drive the boat from the helm seat. I'm enjoying her enthusiasm with an eye towards a future crew member for my geriatric sailing days.

Yesterday, my daughter Hannah, who resides here in Brooklyn,  her friend Westin, visiting from California, and my Dad, from Long Island, joined the boat for a daysail around the Statue of Liberty and under the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a beautiful day, sunny, cool, and breezy, marred only by me gouging the port bow on the dock after forgetting we had a rare port stern attached to the boat when I tried to leave the slip. My pride suffered more than the boat, but I have added gel coat repair to the top of Intermezzo's to-do list. Everyone enjoyed the scenic cruise. From me at the helm, it was a bit frenetic with lots of boat traffic, security zones to avoid around landmarks, shallow water and all the while the din of sightseeing helicopters overhead.

Our passage from Cape May to New York Harbor was glorious. We sailed almost the whole way, mostly downwind with gentle following seas in beautiful weather, day and night. I felt like I had paid the price of admission to this beautiful time under sail, after so many miles, so many hours of bashing upwind against waves, the engines droning on as they burned up diesel fuel.

My previous post covered the beginning of the passage, weighing anchor and motoring in the early morning to enter the Atlantic Ocean and round Cape May. The wind was fluky until around noon, we raised and lowered sails in various combinations in the morning until finally catching a light breeze to barely sail under the Code 0 dead downwind. The day was sunny, with a bright blue sea, Intermezzo rising and falling on the long swells coming from the southeast as we headed north.

Later in the afternoon, the wind gained strength, we rolled up the Code 0 to hoist the main and unfurl the jib to sail wing-on-wing on a deep reach, making good speed.  The ocean was now speckled with white foam, the swells distinctly rippled by the wind. A cool breeze blew in through the salon door from astern, the sun shining with puffy cumulus clouds along the shoreline and ahead.

Renee caught a big sierra (Spanish mackerel), the first fish landed on Intermezzo on the Atlantic. We had it cleaned and chilling the freezer quickly. Renee was very happy and we enjoyed eating the front half of the fish for dinner that night and the back half for lunch with family yesterday.

The wind was blowing 20+ knots, so we put a second reef in the main before sunset, doing so while sailing downwind rather than turning upwind as is usually done. We hauled mainsheet in to get the sail clear of the shroud. We took turns, Renee easing the halyard a foot at a time, then me cranking in the reefing line to bring down the clew the same distance. Step by step, we lowered the sail until I could secure the reefing cringle at the tack and then we tightened everything up, eased the main sheet and were back to easy sailing. Sweet!

During the night the wind shifted to the west and we hauled the sheets in to sail on a close reach. Having two reefs in the main seemed to really help us point and reduced the leeway we usually suffer from when sailing upwind. I'm going to try sailing this way again, see if I've discovered a better way to sail the boat.

At midnight, the wind died and we had to start an engine. But only until 0200, when the wind picked up again and we were back to sailing nicely along. Just before sunrise, we had to drop the sails and start the engines to have the maneuverability required to navigate upwind through the narrow channel and heavy ship traffic into New York Harbor.

As we approached New York City, the lights of the Verrazzano Narrow's Bridge and Manhattan skyline shining in the distance, I felt an upwelling of emotion, feelings of elation and accomplishment. I did it! I sailed my boat from San Francisco to New York. All those miles bashing upwind, the mechanical problems and boat repairs, the challenges of relationships, dealing with my own personal struggles and weaknesses- it felt like a lot. A lot of miles, a lot of days, a lot of problem solving, a lot of perseverance...with some fun and enjoyment mixed in! I felt grateful to Renee, Jeanne, Marc, Marci, Hannah, Luther, Roy, Pete, John, Kim, Josh, Christine, Lisa, Katherine, Forrest and Amy, the people who sailed on Intermezzo and helped get me and the boat this far. It was a powerful moment of acknowledgment. A simple, pure pride of completing something. A complex, melange of feelings from the memories of ups and downs of the journey.

Our entrance into New York Harbor was delightful, a brilliant morning sun, a fresh cool breeze. There was quite a bit of traffic- ships, tugs and barges, ferries, water taxis, pleasure craft- it didn't pose any problem. We were surrounded by the iconic landmarks of New York City- the tall, serrated city skyline,  the inspiring, precious Statue of Liberty, the elegant Brooklyn Bridge, pumpkin-orange Staten Island ferries.

We docked at the One 15 Brooklyn Marina, the most expensive marina on The Voyage. The location is great, in the nice Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, alongside the Brooklyn Greenway Park, a beautiful view of Manhattan. The marina itself is bare minimum, thought. Just slips in a basin with frequent surges from East River traffic- no restrooms, no showers, no laundry...nothing. Across the river is the heliport for sightseeing helicopters, half a dozen or more buzzing in the sky, their noise reminding me of soundtracks to Vietnam War movies.  Despite the hardships, we're enjoying the view, the convenient location and we're comfortable on the boat.

This afternoon, Christina and family depart and my sister Alison and nephew Griffin arrive to sail with us up the East River and into Long Island Sound. We'll anchor in Manhasset Bay off of the town of Port Washington this evening.

Night passage along the Delaware & Chesapeake Canal (described in previous post)

Delightful sailing deep downwind, wing-on-wing

Renee kills her first Atlantic fish, a delicious sierra, big enough for two meals

My last ocean night watch of The Voyage

Surreal sunrise illumination of the New York City skyline

The Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. I watched this bridge being built as a very young child. I believe it was part of what inspired me to become an engineer.

Intermezzo docked in Brooklyn 

Nighttime scenery from the back of the boat

Maddie playing with boat safety gear

Pre-sail family lunch featuring the back half of Renee's sierra

Daysail around the Statue of Liberty

Hannah enjoying a sail in her home town

Christina, Maddie and Nate lounging forward on Intermezzo

Washington Roebling's Brooklyn Bridge. Do you know his wife Emily oversaw the construction of the bridge when he fell ill?

New York Harbor panorama

Thursday, August 8, 2019

On Our Way to New York City

August 8
Rounding Cape May

We're on the ocean, on our way to New York City.

We weighed anchor early this morning, very cool out after the cold front that passed through last night. The sky above was clear, the deck of the boat wet from rain and dew.

As I hauled up the anchor, I noted that this will be the last ocean passage of The Voyage. The philosopher/scientist Sam Harris teaches a lesson about last times. There is a last time for everything. There will be a last time you do something. Pausing to note this often reveals significance, poignancy and brings up feelings one might not experience in a lesser state of awareness. This morning I am reminded of my love for the ocean, that it is my place for solitude, being present in the moment, living life fully.

We are motoring on one engine with the mainsail up in light winds, a very gentle swell from the southeast. It's a swell, not wind chop, and it's not on the nose. I'm so happy. We'll follow the coastline about five miles offshore to the entry to New York Harbor. Winds are expected to pick up this afternoon and it looks like good sailing conditions for most of our passage. I hope so.

Yesterday was a long day. We left the city dock at midnight, timing our departure to catch favorable currents and arrive at our anchorage at the mouth of Delaware Bay before the high winds and thunderstorms forecasted for the afternoon.

The night air was cool and moist, but warm enough to wear just shorts and a T-shirt. We headed east on the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, lights on each bank, light streetlights, showing the way. I piloted the boat solo so Renee could get some sleep. I had checked the vertical clearances of all the bridges, power lines, even an overhead pipeline crossing the canal and though double the height of Intermezzo's mast, the optical illusion of impending collision of mast top and structure looking up was even more pronounced at night, alone at the helm. We went fast, over 8 knots on one engine with a strong current pushing us along.

Conditions changed as we exited the canal and entered the Delaware River around 0200. Lots of lighted buoys, lights, shoreline, shoals. Radar helped a lot to make sense of it all and fix our position. Now we had wind on the nose (as usual) and a foul 2 knot current against us. The night sky was partly cloudy with lightning flashes from a thunderstorm offshore to the east.

It was a bouncy night. Renee came on watch at 0400. It was her first overnight passage since joining the boat, she's still "got it" in terms of being in charge of the boat on her watch, but had difficulty sleeping so was a bit tired. I slept well despite the bouncing, a skill from plenty of practice.

We arrived at Lewes, Delaware around 1100 and dropped anchor a few hundred yards off the beach, just outside a sailing race course set up for kids who were earnestly sailing a mix of small boats. Lewes is located on the eastern shore of the Delaware Bay mouth, on Cape Henlopen, to the southwest and opposite Cape May, New Jersey. It is a small town with a long beachfront on the bay and a canal running through it, accessible from the bay through an inlet.

Early in the afternoon, we heard cries for help and saw a mom and son on paddle boards who were caught in strong wind and current and couldn't get back to shore. We launched the dinghy and "rescued" them. Good deed done for the day, I poured myself a dram of rum. Later, after a much needed nap, I had a nice run on the beach.

Around 1800, the storm we had been waiting for arrived. It was a powerful one, very cool air, strong winds from the north putting us on a lee shore. Our trusty Rocna anchor held without any problem, but we were beam on to the seas, causing violent rolling of the boat, enough that I had to empty a cabinet that couldn't seem to hold its contents. Lightning strikes threatened, but nothing came close to us. The weather service issued a warning for waterspouts, too! That would have been interesting. Renee was a bit spooked, not used to East Coast squalls like this. I was concerned, mostly about being on a lee shore with little room to get out of trouble if the anchor dragged, but it seemed like things could be a lot worse. The evening sky turned really dark and rained really hard, the rain flattening the waves, which gave some relief to the rolling. By 2100 it was all over, the winds blowing gently from the south, the seas calm, the air cool and refreshing. Time to go to bed for this morning's early wake up.

Our passage to the NY harbor entrance should take us a little over 24 hours. Then we'll proceed through The Narrows and up the East River where we will take a slip in a fancy marina in Brooklyn, near the Brooklyn Bridge. Renee's daughter and family will be visiting us and I expect a visit from my own daughter, who lives in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Sassafras River, Chesapeake & Delaware Canal

Intermezzo is lying at the free city dock in Chesapeake City along the Chesapeake & Delaware canal. We'll be here until about midnight tonight when we'll leave to transit the canal, enter Delaware Bay and head to Cape May and the entrance to the Atlantic Ocean. Our departure is timed to avoid strong opposing currents in the canal and bay and reach our anchorage near Cape May before strong forecasted southerly winds start blowing on Wednesday afternoon.

We spent last night at a peaceful anchorage near the mouth of the Sasafrass River. Along the way there we crossed under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the largest bridge since heading out under the Golden Gate in San Francisco. The geology and topology of the shoreline changed as we moved northward. Flat beaches changed to steep cliffs, sandy shores giving way to soft sandstone. The bay looks more like a lake here to me.

Small resorts lined the shores at the mouth of the Sassafras, little beaches with umbrellas and lounge chairs.  It was overcast with no wind, the water flat calmed as we entered the river. It felt a bit like the calm before the storm, though no storm ever materialized.

After dropping anchor close in along in a secluded area along river's south bank, we did some birdwatching, which included sighting a couple of bald eagles, and had a light session of yoga on the front deck.

The night was cool and peaceful, the boat perfectly still in flat calm waters.

This morning we continued north to the entrance of the C&D Canal, encountering a fair amount of barge traffic. We spotted a couple more bald eagles along the way. It's warm, thunderclouds are brewing all around us.

We'll relax here, walk around town, have dinner at the nearby Chesapeake Inn and then slip our docklines around midnight. I hope the weather forecasts are accurate this time. If we encounter strong southerlies in the Delaware Bay with an ebb current, we will be in for a slow, bumpy, bashing ride south.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge, largest bridge Intermezzo has passed under since the Golden Gate

Shoreline of the northern Chesapeake Bay, near the Sassafrass River

Waterfowl convening at a fish pen. I counted ten ospreys here.

Entrance to the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal

Monday, August 5, 2019

Rest Stop in Oxford, Maryland

August 5
Chesapeake Bay

We left Oxford early this morning after a nice rest stop anchored in Town Creek in the middle of this pleasant, boat-centric little town.

We left the dock on Tangier Island early Saturday morning, dodging crab pots in the dark as we headed into Chesapeake Bay with a cool, fresh breeze and a north-east-south semicircle of cumulus clouds in the distance threatening thunderstorms later in the day.

We never encountered any thunderstorms, nor any significant wind, so the 10 hour motor trip to Oxford was uneventful, relaxing, but not boring. After dropping the anchor in less than eight feet of water in shallow Town Creek, we scooted over to the town dinghy dock and walked to dinner at Pope's Tavern. There we enjoyed a dinner featuring soft shell crabs and a nice wine list. Raw oysters and soft shell crabs have been frequent items of my diet since arriving in South Carolina. I like both, but the oysters take first place.

Oxford is a small town of nice homes on tree-lined streets. Judging from the real estate prices and demographics, these are mostly second homes or homes for retirees. There are probably twice as many more boats in the marinas and boat yards than the 600 permanent residents of the town. The boatyards have been around for a long time, 50 years or more and include the yard of The Hinckley Company, builders of fine classic sail and motor craft and Cutts and Case Shipyard, who specialize in wooden boats, which by the passage of time and technology, can all be considered classics.  At Cutts and Case, we talked with one of the owners who was busy laminating a new wood frame member to be spliced into one that had rotted on a 60 year old boat being restored.

I enjoyed roaming around these yards, which reminded me of the old boatyards I used to visit when I was a kid on Long Island, Tooker's on the Carmen River, Swan Creek in East Patchogue, Frank M. Week's yard on the Patchogue River. I used to look at the boats and dream of having a boat that I could go cruising on. A dream that came true.

We took the opportunity of our rest day on Sunday to visit the fuel dock to top up on diesel and then to change engine oil and filters back at anchor. It was HOT in the sun working in the engine compartments and I'm always frustrated by the clean up of spillage from the horizontally mounted oil filters takes far longer than the oil change itself. Especially frustrating when hot and sweaty. I missed Roy. I noticed a bit of water in the starboard sail drive lubricant and lubricant leaking from the top of the port sail drive. I'll deal with that when we haul out next month.

We cooked dinner and Sunday was over. Amazing how a day can pass so quickly sometimes.

This morning was another pre-dawn departure, of which we are getting into the routine. Up at 0500, engines on by 0530, up anchor before 0600 and we are on our way for a 10-12 hour day of sailing. The early morning was cool and calm, but the air felt humid and heavy, a line of rain clouds to the south, the horizon a bit hazy. I had to dodge a labyrinth of trot lines marked by flagged buoys at either end, much like they are in Mexico and Central America, but with more organized color-coding.

We're now approaching the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and it is still cool, the rain clouds have dissolved and there is a light breeze from the northeast...on our nose, again.

It's hard to believe that we will be in New York City in only four days. I've been checking the weather for our ocean passage there from Cape May, NJ and it might be a nice sleigh ride in 20 knots of southwest wind. That would be a nice last ocean passage for The Voyage assuming no rain or thunderstorms.

Church in Oxford, Maryland

Intermezzo's track since leaving La Paz, Mexico on January 6th. We've covered a lot of miles. Not many more to go on this Voyage.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Just Pictures: Dismal Swamp, Chesapeake Bay

Leaving Elizabeth City, NC

Pasquotank River

Green carpet along the banks of the Pasquotank

Intermezzo plowing furrows through the green carpet

Coca Cola water

Approaching the south entrance to the Dismal Swamp

Aerial view of the Amazon?

Locking up into the Dismal Swamp Canal

Dismal Swamp canal

Glimenton railroad bascule bridge and highway lift bridge

Industry, not five miles from north end of Dismal Swamp

Vintage lift bridge

Early morning passing dry dock at Norfolk naval shipyard

Aircraft carriers in Norfolk, two of seven

Hooper Island Light on the Chesapeake Bay, about 20 nm north of Maryland-Virginia state line

St. Paul's church in Oxford, MD

Sunset dinghy tour, Town Creek, Oxford MD

Engine repair shed, Hinkley Company yard, Oxford MD

Cutts and Case Shipyard, specializing in wooden boats, Oxford MD

Inside the Cutts and Case shed

Old-fashioned travelift at Cutts and Case Shipyard

Friday, August 2, 2019

Through the not-Dismal Swamp

August 2
Entering Chesapeake Bay

Intermezzo has now entered the Chesapeake Bay and is heading north to Tangier Island, our next port of call. Yesterday we sailed from Elizabeth City, NC through the Dismal Swamp to Portsmouth VA.

We left our dock in Elizabeth City yesterday morning and continued up the Panquotank River with a cool breeze blowing, wispy light clouds above us, a line of cumulus ahead of is the distance. The air felt refreshing after heavy rain during the night. Trees grow right out of the water on the banks of the river, which sparkled in the morning light. The river winds in sinuous curves, reminding me of our river trip to Pedregal in Panama. Here the river is the color of Coca Cola from all the woodland tannins.

Shortly upriver from Elizabeth City, we passed through our first railroad swing bridge, the type of bridge that pivots about a vertical axis and rotates horizontally to open up a passage. The gap between the bridge and its abutment was barely wide enough for Intermezzo to pass through.

Being a slow moving boat on a scenic river has the advantage of being able to notice things that you wouldn't if traveling faster. The edges of the river are carpeted with tiny, delicate, bright green water plants floating on the surface. Tendrils of these plants extend into the river channel like spray from an airbrush. Stretches of the river are covered by the thin layer of floating plants from bank to bank. Intermezzo's hulls leave two furrows as we pass through the floating green carpet. Looking down closely at the undisturbed green surface from the deck, you see thin meanders and small pools of clear water amongst the green, it looks like the Amazon jungle would from 20,000 feet in the air.

We left the Panquotank, turning into Turner's Cut, a manmade straight shot to the Dismal Swamp Canal. The cut is very narrow, the upper limbs of the trees on its banks encroaching into the canal's airspace overhead. Three dimensional piloting required here and later in the narrow sections of the Dismal Swamp, dodging tree limbs above that could tangle with the mast and logs and stumps below which could wallop the hulls or bang a prop. The forest squeezing in from each side gives off a sweet herbal odor, basil, bay leaves, oregano, from baking in the hot sun.

We locked up into the Dismal Swam Canal at South Mills, an eight foot lift up in a small lock operated by a taciturn lock keeper. A miniature version of locking up in the Panama Canal, the last time Intermezzo was confined by slimy concrete walls. This time, only one line handler, Renee, rather than the four required by the Panama Canal Authority. And not much handling required, either, as the boat slowly rises in the almost placid waters of the lock. After the lock comes a bascule bridge. The lock keeper hops in his car and drives the short distance to open the bridge by the time the boat gets there.

There is nothing dismal about the Dismal Swamp, except the highway that runs alongside the canal for a third of its length. The noise from the traffic barely hidden by the trees on the bank seems so out of place with the natural beauty of the woodland on the other side. Once we left the highway behind us and entered the National Wilderness Area, we enjoyed dense, mostly deciduous forest on both sides, interspersed with fragrant pine trees. The Dismal Swamp isn't actually a swamp, it's a high wetland, hence all the trees. (I don't think my wetland terminology is correct, but I don't remember the proper technical designation. I know someone who does and who will no doubt correct me.)

The green carpet of water plants disappeared, I'm guessing because the water changed from brackish to fresh as we ventured up the canal, away from the locks. The surface of the water is black and reflects the trees on each bank, the reflection of the sky between the trees creating a silver blue road for Intermezzo to follow.

At the end of the canal we passed through another bascule bridge and then locked down at Big Creek, this time the lock operated by a talkative and knowledgable Robert Peek, who described himself as the local historian for the Corps of Engineers. He recited a well-practiced summary of the history of the canal during the twenty minutes it took for the water to lower in the lock, this time a 13 foot drop. He also recommended where we should dock for the night in Portsmouth, where we should eat and where we should go for entertainment. A very nice and informative man who enjoys his job.

Just a few miles beyond our exit from the swamp, we were surrounded by infrastructure and industry. Highways, bridges, oil tanks, wharves, warehouses, tall heaps of aggregate, chemical smells, noise, trains, cars, airplanes, ships; such a sudden and crazy transition from green abundant nature.

We had to wait about 45 minutes for a coal train to pass over a railroad bridge so it could open for us, which in turn allowed the Gilmenton highway lift bridge to be raised for us to pass under. Our one little boat caused hundreds of vehicles in heavy rush hour traffic to be brought to a standstill high up on the approaches to the bridge, so we moved along at full throttle to minimize our impact.

We passed by the some of the docks for the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, part of a sprawling complex of naval facilities surrounding these sheltered waters at the confluence of the James Nansmond and Elizabeth Rivers and the Hampton Flats, collectively referred to as Hampton Roads.

Mr. Peek recommended by dock at the city of Portsmouth's free docks, but there was a free open air concert taking place there and the docks were all occupied by spectators. So we tied up to the face dock of nearby Ocean Yacht Marina. The marina office was closed, so we were sort of squatting on the dock, but were assured by an adjacent slip owner that we were not taking any other boat's space. We walked into town, had a nice seafood dinner, enjoyed the last few songs of the funk music concert, washed that down with a local brew, and then strolled around the historic downtown in the warm, dark night. Downtown Portsmouth is really nice, a nice commercial area of mainly historic buildings and churches, elegant vintage homes, small nicely landscaped parks and quiet streets with wide, tree lined sidewalks. The rugged, imposing naval industry surrounding the town is all but hidden away.

After a wee dram of rum upon our return to Intermezzo, it was time to get some sleep in preparation for a dawn departure for the Chesapeake Bay.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Elizabeth City, Onward Into the Dismal Swamp

August 1
Elizabeth City, NC

We started yesterday in Manteo with a short dinghy ride up a beautiful little creek through the marsh across from the town's waterfront. Sitting so low in a dinghy while passing through a marsh is really nice. The grasses are at eye level, which provides opportunity to appreciate minute detail, a change from the broad vistas we see from the deck of Intermezzo when out at sea.

We raised anchor mid-morning, washing the foul smelling mud off the chain, something I'm getting used to doing in these waters. We left motored in calm conditions out of Roanoke Sound and into the broad Albemarle Sound. There were clouds in the sky as the weather was changing from a stable high pressure to an incoming low pressure trough, with rain and thunderstorms in the forecast.  The water of the sound was grey-blue in the distance, olive green next to the boat. A light, warm, humid breeze blew across the boat from the East.

We had to dodge hundreds of crab pots, the most dense array I've ever encountered. Navigating these waters at night would be very difficult; we saw another catamaran the other night with big headlights on its bow. They looked ridiculous but I now understand their purpose.  With all the crab pots we've passed by, it's a wonder there are any crabs left to catch.

While crossing the Albemarle (which I pronounce in Spanish "al-bay-mar-lay", as I think it sounds better that way),  I made telephone calls to secure docking in New York City. We scored a berth at One 15 Marina in Brooklyn, located right across from southern tip of Manhattan, with a beautiful view of the city skyline. It will be a major waypoint for Intermezzo, an opportunity to visit family and take on additional crew.

Once across the Albemarle ('al-beh-marl", yuck), we entered the Pasquotank River. The wind piped up to 10 knots, direct downwind, so we unfurled the Code 0 gennaker and started sailing. The wind grew stronger, 13, 15, then 17 knots, and we enjoyed a gliding sleigh ride on the small following wind wavelets.  We rolled in the Code 0 at 19 knots with some difficulty and switched to the jib for the rest of the trip up the Pasquotank to Elizabeth City.

Trees line the shores of the river, which is fronted by homes, a blimp-port (!) and a Coast Guard air station.  The water is brown, like a weak coffee to which a little skim milk has been added, the wind blowing streaks of flimsy cappuccino foam across its surface. Thunder clouds were brewing behind us. The air smelled moist, earthy.

Intermezzo was descended upon by hundreds of dainty flies which covered the surface of the boat, just sitting there, alive but not moving.  Maybe they were blown too far from shore and need an island to rest on? I don't know, but they were annoying to have all over the place and I inhaled more than one. I'm glad they didn't bite or buzz around us. That would have been hell.

We entered Elizabeth City through a draw bridge, our first since passing through the D Street Bridge in Petaluma almost four years ago. The city has multiple free docks to encourage visitors. We tied Intermezzo up at a nice dock fronting the Mid-Atlantic Christian University.

The town is pretty beat up compared to the more prosperous tourist/second home/retirement towns further south, but it's a nice enough place. You can tell by the solid masonry buildings that the town was once prosperous, with classic 1950 era downtown streets and shops, an all-American Southern town charm in its heyday, I imagine.

We enjoyed a nice Thai curry dinner on board Intermezzo, but put up the screens too late. I had to eradicate hundreds of the "dainty flies" that had come inside while Renee washed the dishes.

Today we continue up the Pasqotank to reach the south lock of the Dismal Swamp Canal. I am practicing groaning like Lurch from the Addams Family for our trip through the dark, depressing, heart-rending, dispiriting, disheartening, discouraging, demoralizing, Dismal Swamp.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Manteo, Roanoke Island

July 31
Manteo, NC

We are enjoying a brief stop at the small town of Manteo, anchored off the town dock in Shallowbag Bay.

We left Ocracoke Island at sunrise to head up the Pamlico Sound along the inside of the Outer Banks. We motored in calm weather on a flat blue sea surrounded by a powder blue horizon with hints of land to our east and west, hovering like a mirage just above the water. There was no wind, but the headway of the boat created a gentle breeze through the forward hatches of the salon.

We worked out the details of our journey on the salon table as the trusty Yanmar hummed, reeling off nearly six miles each hour. Outside on deck the sun was very bright, the temperature very warm, but not hot. We managed an hour of sailing downwind under the Code 0 until the width of deep-enough water became too narrow to risk the limited maneuverability of sailing.

We passed by infamous Cape Hatteras, the site of many of shipwreck on its outer ocean side but benign on its inside of shallow waters and sandbar islands. Thirty more miles north and we entered Roanoke Sound, shallow water bounded to the west by Roanoke Island and separated from the Atlantic by Bodie Island to the east. We passed by many islets fringed with green vegetation and thin white sand beaches, shrubs and small trees growing on their interiors. Pelicans dived for fish, egrets waded hunting for theirs. A very pretty, natural area. Man's encroachments consist mainly of hundreds of silent duck blinds that dot the waterscape and big, loud, fast sport fishing boats that generate tremendous wakes, artificial surf that breaks on the islands' shores and violently rocks slow-moving Intermezzo.

We passed under the Washington Baum Bridge, another tight fit for the mast and turned into aptly named Shallowbag Bay, negotiating a very narrow but well-bouyed channel into Manteo's town anchorage. We took the dinghy to shore and took a walk, the highlight being a stretch of boardwalk through a marsh in Roanoke Island Festival Park, beautiful in the low angle sunlight of evening and the mosquito's sparing us despite it being their normal dinner hour. The town itself is very pleasant, dominated by its long waterfront, made nicely walkable by well maintained wooden boardwalks.

We're going to go back into town this morning for coffee and a last look around, then head off to Elizabeth City, the gateway to the Dismal Swamp.
Islet on Roanoke Sound
Roanoke Island marsh

Manteo house and boardwalk

Best selection of ice cream cones, ever, in Manteo

Manteo waterfront