Finally Arriving On The Chesapeake!

July 2nd

The soft overnight winds again gave us a restful night and we were up and under way by 6:15. Our plan today was to run to the northern end of the Alligator River/Pungo River Canal (A&P Canal) and anchor off to one side after exiting the canal.

We went east on the Neuse River towards the Outer Banks, then the Intracoastal Waterway line out of the Neuse and into the A&P Canal. The canal is a 20 mile cut that, apart from a couple of houses early on, is devoid of any semblance of life – human, fish, land, or bird. The banks were lined with the stumps of trees that had long ago fallen and were sticking out like grisly sentinels waiting to catch the unwary captain. In fact I would vote it the best scenery for the next horror movie. It was hot, long and boring.

Now our opinion of the canal might also be clouded somewhat by the fact that we met a tug pushing a huge barge soon after we entered. It took up most of the channel. We moved to the right edge of the canal, being careful to stay away from the stumps while keeping a little headway to make sure we had steerage. As the barge got to us we watched our depth slowly creep down to very skinny territory, until finally we softly bumped aground. There was nothing we could do about it until the tug and barge had passed. After they passed we slowly put Sonas in reverse to take her back the way she came to the channel. Then our starboard prop hit the bottom and stalled the engine. We put her in neutral and restarted it, spun Sonas on her keel so that the stern was facing mid-channel and slowly backed out. We then got back on heading north up the canal.

Tug and barge in the A&P Canal

There was a loud cheer from the two on board when we finally exited the canal onto the broad Alligator River. We had planned on anchoring right there for the night but since it was only two o’clock we decided to carry on up the river to give us a shorter day tomorrow. We then caught up with the sister ship to the tug and barge we had trouble with earlier, but because the river was wide with plenty of water we had no issues passing her.

Crab pots galore!

When we were ready to anchor we turned to the east off the river and headed to Cypress Point. We then knew that we were getting closer to the Chesapeake because there were literally hundreds of crab pots in the water. We navigated these until we were within the shelter of the east bank, between two rows of pots, and dropped anchor. Now we only had a short 40 mile run to our stopping point tomorrow so we could have a relaxing start to the day and still get to tomorrow’s marina in time to watch England’s World Cup match against Colombia!

July 3rd

We actually sat and had conversation and coffee this morning rather than falling out of bed and making coffee on the way! However we were still away from the anchorage by 7:00! The light was more than sufficient to again navigate our way through the myriad of crab pots. As we raised the anchor a crabber can by in his boat working his pots. We wonder what he made of us, anchored right on the middle of them!

Looking at the boat anchored among his pots

We continued on north on the Alligator River and through the “Middle Grounds” separating the river from the Albemarle Sound. This is a major sound that runs West to East towards the outer banks. It can get rather nasty in heavy winds. However today it  laid down nicely. Along the way we passed quite a lot of duck blinds.

Duck blinds across the sound

We had also been noticing that nearly every marker had as Osprey nest on it! Most of these seemed to be the male guarding the female as she sat on the eggs. We Googled the hatching time and found that it was coming up in the next couple of weeks. We did see one nest with at least one chick in it.

Osprey nest

Just after entering the Albemarle Sound you have to decide on one of two routes to continue on the IntraCoastal Waterway. Route One, which we were taking, would take us through CoinJock, the Big Bridge Lock and up into Portsmouth and Norfolk. The second route takes you through Elizabeth City, and the Dismal Swamp into the Norfolk area.

We took the slight turn to starboard and turned into the North River towards Coinjock. We arrived at Coinjack Marina and Restaurant at 11:45. Our earliest stopping point on this trip. We had heard that Coinjack had the cheapest diesel prices in America! While I am not sure if they are or not, we did take the opportunity to top up our tanks at $3.07 tax included. We also topped up our water tanks.

Abandoned house at Coinjck

Paul then  disappeared to the bar to watch the England game. Sian was keeping an eye on the score via the internet and when she saw that it was going into extra time and potentially penalties, it was time to get to the bar – and see England win on penalties.  We went back later for dinner and of course had crab. Something we believe will be happening a lot over the next couple of months.

After dinner we walked to dock and chatted with some of the folks in the big yachts that had pulled in. We talked crab pots, bridge opening times and locks!

 July 4th

We thought, given that we only had 40 miles to go to Norfolk, that we would take our time getting going today. Surprisingly by the time we had a lazy cup of coffee and went up to prepare the fly bridge for departure we were the last boat out! The eight or nine other boats who had checked in the previous day had already gone!

So we begrudgingly cast off and followed. We had a few challenges today. First there were two low bridges that only opened on the hour and half hour. Then we had a bridge that only opened on the hour and coordinated with a lock just beyond it. We thought it was too complicated to try and work out what time to leave the marina to tie into the bridge so we decided to just go and make it up along the way!

The only concern traveling today was that we heard and felt light bumps against the hull twice. It felt like some floating wood had run down the hull, but when we looked back we could not see anything. We suspect they were floating just under the surface.

As we got near the first bridge, the North Landing Swing Bridge, we realized that we had timed it pretty well, more by accident than anything else. We got there about four minutes before it opened at 9:30. The next low bridge was only 4 miles away do we decided that we were geninuses and we would also be there right when it was ready to open. And that worked out as well, and we made the Centerville Bridge 10:00 opening! Boy we were good at this! We then checked the chart for the biggie – the hourly opening Great Bridge which was right before the Great Bridge Lock we had to go through, which opened at the same time as the bridge.

North Landing Swing Bridge

Oh oh, it was only 3 miles away. And we had just passed 10:00, meaning the next opening was not until 11:00. Sigh!

So we pulled Sonas back to idle and meandered towards the next bridge. We still got there 40 minutes early. So we turned and meandered back for a while then turned again for the bridge. We basically sat around for 40 minutes waiting for the opening. And finally got through at the 11:00 opening. We were not so smart after all!

Great Bridge

We entered the lock and tied to the bollards. The upper water level was not so far off the lower level so it was not long until they opened the lock again and moved us through.

Great Bridge Lock

We them motored the ten miles or so to Norfolk. As we passed through the naval shipyards and Norfolk Navy Base  a series of rain clouds passed through. We put on our wet weather gear and got the lines and fenders ready for out reserved slip.

IKE – Aircraft carrier Dwight D Eisenhower

Around 1:45 we pulled into Tidewater Marina, which is right at Mile Market 0 on the ICW and tied up. After checking in we went for a walk through the old Portsmouth downtown area. We had a beer at the Ron Brown bar (local boy who made good in the NFL), and returned to Sonas to get ready for dinner.

Mile Marker 0. With AICW Distances.

We had dinner at the marina restaurant – Fish and Slips. Then we got the chairs set up on Sonas’ boat deck to watch the fireworks over Hampton Roads right behind us. We had an awesome view of the fireworks from our vantage point at Mile 0.

Fireworks Over Hampton Roads

July 5th

Happy days! No coffee on the go, we are staying put today! First time in this trip we are staying two days in one place! The sightseeing plan was to tour the naval ship yards by boat (someone else driving and narrating), re provision fresh foods, check out the maritime museum, buy Mile Zero tee-shirts and eat out as it is our thirty eighth wedding anniversary.

So let us tell you how the day actually went.

Stopped in at the visitor center and were delighted to find there was indeed a narrated boat tour of the navy ship yards. With three times to choose from we didn’t book, figuring we would grocery shop then mosey over to the ferry with plenty of time.

To Food Lion we go, its early, not too hot, so we walked. And then it started raining. Thank goodness for our Helly Hansens (boat rain jackets). Never the less we were soaked by the time we got there and given the fierce air conditioning in Food Lion we feel pneumonia is only a few days away.

Excuse us while we knock on wood and up our vitamin C intake immediately.

It was still raining when we came out so treated ourselves to an Uber back to the boat. Stayed in until the rain stopped, got the exact change for the ferry and set off to Norfolk for the boat yard tour. An hour ahead of the tour time we were disappointed to find out it was sold out. Sigh.

Grand Alaskan 53 Nagari

We walked back along the waterway and a boat like ours caught Paul’s eye. In fact the more he looked at it the more he was sure he knew this boat. Turns out it is the Grand Alaskan, Nagari, which is the same model as ours. We first met this boat in the Exumas, when she was called Mint Julep under different ownership. We had previously had a few online chats with the new owners so popped over to say hello. They were out. We left a boat card and headed inside for a water break. Thought we would stroll back towards their boat see if they were back, they were not but we enjoyed a long chat with Walter and Jeanette on the Seline next door. The result of which was we missed the ferry. Sigh.

Caught the next ferry and headed to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyards Museum. Which is closed for repairs. Sigh.

As more storm clouds loomed we beat a retreat to Sonas just in the nick of time.

Oh, we did get our tee-shirts though so not all was lost! If our restaurant reservation doesn’t work out it will be another beans on toast night,

No, the day was not quite done with us yet. We showered and changed, I even wore a dress and jewelry and we walked into town for our fancy pants dinner. Only to arrive at the restaurant and find another sign, saying Restaurant Closed. The fates were really stacked against us today! Paul saw movement inside, banged on the door and when a gentleman opened it we complained. They need to update their website, their phone message system and Open Table who took AND CONFIRMED our reservation. He apologized, recommended somewhere down the street and beat a hasty retreat. I wrote a dissatisfied review on Trip Advisor , that’ll show them! They do have two other locations by the way.

We followed his recommendation and had what can only be described as a mediocre meal elsewhere.

Universe 1 – Lawrances 0. We went back to Sonas and drank wine!

July 6th

Our plan today was to cruise through the Norfolk Navy Base and turn the corner into Hampton River. We were targeting the anchorage right off Hampton Public Piers. We were tucked into a very tight dock in Tidewater Marina so it took a while to “wiggle and jiggle” our way off the dock so we could spin and head up the fairway. We got out of the marina around 7:30 and headed north on the Elizabeth River. We passed dozens of warships in the navy base, concluding with passing three huge Nimitz Class aircraft carriers – the Abraham Lincoln, The George H Bush and the Gerald Ford.

Battleship Wisconsin

As we exited the Elizabeth River we saw two naval ships, a supply ship and a destroyer coming up Hampton Roads. We increased speed and crossed to the north side of the Roads to get out of their ay. We entered the channel into the Hampton River and navigated out way up the CG designated anchorage right downtown Hampton.


We used the davit to launch the dinghy and went across to the dinghy dock by the public piers. They are very receptive to anchored boats. The dinghy dock is free, and they offer all the facilities like showers for $1 a day. They take your phone number and will watch your boat and call you if needed. They even had a herb and veggie plant garden for boaters!

Free plants!

We then called an Uber to take us over to Newport News and the Mariners Museum. This excellent museum took us through the building of the first Ironclads which faced off in the Civil War. The finding and recovery of the turret and artifacts from the Monitor, and the background to how the Virginia and Monitor came to face each other. We also walked through the history of shipbuilding, ships used in various wars – Civil, Revolutionary, 1812, Spanish, WWI, and WWII. There was a very interesting display on Horatio Nelson and his strategies, all the way to the boats used in America’s Cup racing.

America’s Cup winner Oracle

We caught an Uber back to Hampton and Sonas just as bad weather closed in. There was a pretty strong band of storm weather passing through, followed by rain off and on all night.

We were having an issue with the sump pumps on Sonas. These are the pumps that handle our shower water. Paul spent an hour trying to resolve the issue with no result. We will buy a new pump as soon as we can to make sure we don’t have a bad pump.

July 7th

We awoke this morning to the news that Tropical Depression 3 had formed just off the cost. We looked at the forecast and found high winds for the next couple of days. So we decided to stay put at our anchorage off downtown. Paul went ashore as soon as the hardware store opened and bought some things he needed to resolve the issue with our shower sump pumps. He disappeared into the showers and got the guest shower sump working as it should be. The master shower, however, requires a new switch that we need to get from a marine store.

At 10:00 it was time to watch the England Quarter final World Cup match against Sweden. Which they won 2-0. After the game we decided to go ashore for a walk. As we were preparing to get into the dinghy Paul passed through the pilothouse and noticed the little trawler anchored ahead of us was getting closer, and closer with each wind gust. She was dragging anchor down on top of us. Her dinghy was gone so her folks were ashore. We gave a couple of blast of the horn just in case someone was on board but no response. Sian started getting some fenders ready in case we had to fend her off.
We called the dockmaster. When we anchor and dinghy ashore they ask us to leave contact details in case they need to call us. We told him what was going on and asked him to check to see if he had contact details for these people, he did – but he tried multiple times with no answer so left messages. We took our snubber off and laid out more chain to back away from the boat. The dockmaster also called the Hampton police who responded both on land and by water. A rescue boat and a police patrol boat showed up. They grabbed the runaway and held her ahead of us. The owners finally showed up and lifted her dragging anchor. They apologized to us before taking off.

Getting closer
Held by the Hampton rescue boat
Owners back on board

We went ashore for dinner at Oyster Alley, then back on board for the evening.

July 8th.

It was cool enough due to the winds from the  tropical depression that we were able to turn off the AC and generator and sleep in relative quiet. Or so we thought. A few minutes after hopping into bed we head a thump against the hull. Then a minute later it happened again. We knew right away it was the crab pot float that had been hanging by the side of the boat all day! We weren’t going to be able to sleep with that so we got up to take a look. Fortunately it was at our stern and by taking in about fifteen feet of chain and reapplying the snubber, we were able to pull in front of it! After that a quiet and solid night’s sleep!

Today, Sunday, we looked at Google Maps to see where the nearest Catholic Church was. Coincidentally the church was only a mile from the West Marine store. We needed a new bilge pump float for the master shower sump pump so that would work out nicely. An Uber to the church, an hour’s spiriualizing, a 20 minute walk afterwards, and an Uber back to the boat. Perfect!

We got to the church in plenty of time to be handed the day’s service. Uh oh. It seems that we have chosen to attend the final mass being said by their departing pastor. One hour and thirty-five minutes later we emerged. There were speeches, tears, wailing and gnashing of teeth. We were stuck in the middle of a row so didn’t dare sneak away!

We did get to West Marine and the part we needed. Paul disappeared down below and emerged an hour later victorious.

The weather looks to be clearing  for tomorrow, so before dinner we lifted our tender back onto the boat deck. It is time to leave the safe anchorage of Hampton and make our way around to Yorktown tomorrow.

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