We left Hampton, VA on November 4th in very light winds. Motoring across Hampton Roads on a Sunday was incredibly quiet. Just a few other pleasure boats about, one large container ship, and a couple small tug & barge combinations.
It was such an easy passage that we decided to carry on past Hospital Point; the beginning of the Intracoastal Waterway, referred to as ICW. We were surprised we made such good time and were soon directed into the Dismal Swamp Deep Creek lock just before 2:30.
There were 4 other boats in the lock with us. The lock master was real nice and provided lots of information about the canal and options of places to stay.
We stopped for the night directly after the Deep Creek bridge around 4PM. It now gets dark around 5PM, since the time change today!
This bulkhead tie-up was our first non-anchoring or sailing night since leaving home. We do not often dock as our vessel is a trimaran and too wide (22′ 6″) for most slips. We vastly prefer the freedom and peace of mind of being at anchor versus tied to a dock. However, the canal was quite still and narrow. There is certainly no room to swing at anchor. Street noise was loud, but not bothersome and subsided before bedtime. Tom made a quick run to a local Food Lion for fresh food as this was a very good supply stop and a short walk away.
The next morning, we started at 7:00AM to continue motoring through the Dismal Swamp. We wanted to catch the Mill Creek Lock for the 11:00 AM opening. This part of the man-made canal is straight and often runs right beside a highway. When the road curves away it is so quiet and the only sound is nature. The overhanging trees although contributing to this beauty are also a hazard to navigation when they fall in the canal or when a mast rubs against a low hanging branch and it rains pinecones, leaves and nuts all over the deck. We heard a few bumps from sunken debris as well, truly not a good feeling. The weather was warm and overcast with occasional drizzle or a brief downpour. We were very thankful for our enclosed cockpit. We caught up with two other sail boats around 10:30AM; it was perplexing as they often slowed or stopped. Finally discovered via VHF that they were not sure of the height of the fixed bridge ahead. Six boats arrived at the lock almost a half-hour late. Luckily, the lock master still let us through the lock and the bridge. The lead boat was a catamaran, they were directly ahead of us in the lock when eight feet of water was rushing out of the lock. They managed to get a mooring line jammed under a cleat and had to cut it. Scary to see the boat scrape along the lock wall and suddenly drop three feet. Lessons learned: handle your lines continuously and have a knife handy.
Very shortly after the lock, we heard another thunk under the boat. Anita quickly put the engine in neutral and saw a large submerged log under and moving with Lone Star. We hooked it. After a half minute of drifting Tom suggested trying the engine. It made a loud noise and stalled. We then drifted to the side of the canal and the trees rained down on us. We shouted to the boats following us to pass us as we were disabled. The last boat, Jade East was very kind and threw us a floating line to tow our bow to the center of the canal while we dealt with the 30′ tree. Tom managed to tow it to the side of the canal with our dinghy once it was free. Thankfully the engine did start after that and we were able to get on our way once again. We noted that our speed was slower at the same RPM and the steering was off center, but still responsive. There were no leaks inside the boat and no vibration of the propeller so we continued on with Jade East following. We decided to anchor before the Elizabeth City opening bridge due to the South winds predicted; more protected on the North side of the peninsula. Glad those two motoring days of hand steering in close quarters are over!
A look in the water with the GoPro the next morning revealed blackness; the fresh river water is the color of iced tea due to the tannin from the trees and roots. Tom would need to dive over the side to check if we have any damage from the submerged log. He used his wetsuit and dive tank so it took a while to setup. In the meantime, Anita continued to sweep the debris off the deck. You guessed it! Tom couldn’t see under the brown water either. He felt around and removed small twigs and debris from the rudder and discovered the tips of all three propeller blades were missing. Tom did not feel any dings or dents in the hull or rudder and we are not taking on water anywhere, yeah! The rudder is now back to normal.
We moved through the Elizabeth City opening bridge and anchored off Pelican Marina. We looked at the sea walls that offer free dockage and didn’t like the current wind conditions that would push the boat against the dock.
Pelican has a dinghy dock and let us do laundry and take showers. We also walked to town and had a very delicious lunch at Hoppin’ Johnz; smoked meats with southern barbecue flavors.
We have ordered a new propeller and some spare parts and they will be delivered to a Marina on Roanoke Island about 50 miles south of here. We are scheduled for a short haul next Wednesday morning. We continue to work on our project list. Tom finished the installation of the ham radio and has listened to the waterway and weather nets, but has not transmitted yet. He also installed the EPIRB bracket, the radar reflector, and tidied up some loose wires.
We plan to sail about 40 miles south to Manteo on Roanoke Island tomorrow. Yes, sail! Across Albemarle Sound, a nice stretch of open water.