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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Let's Rally!

Once we finally finished transiting the Chesapeake, we landed in Hampton Virginia, where we met up with the group participating in the 2014 Sail Magazine Rally. Since Daeyten had been waiting around there for a few days, we hoped for some 'local knowledge' into a safe anchorage. Instead he greeted us with all the attitude you could expect of an 18 year old boy. A sign of fun times ahead. Since there were no sharks to feed him to, we made do, TO spite him.

We ended up on the docks at the city marina, and had our first mojito, to toast the pending adventures. After hanging around a few days, getting supplies, and equipping the boat as best as we could, with our limited knowledge, it was time for the rally briefing. We met our fellow rally participants, as well as leader Wally Moran, and his support staff Mark Doyle, and Tom Hale. Within a few minutes they were teaching us all we needed to know to survive the ICW. Mark Doyle also shared his On The Water Chart Guides, and we instantly bought the whole set. They are a highly recommended tool for traversing the ICW.

Next day, November 1, we headed out early, across the bay toward MM 0. We were in awe at the sight of the massive aircraft carriers, and other navy ships. As we came to our first lift bridge, and first fixed bridge, we were thankful we have a fellow rally boat, Silent Dream, leading the way. We continued down the Dismal Swamp route, where we got to know our rally friends a little better while waiting for the lock to grant us passage. It seems that we all got a little complacent in setting an anchor and ended up drifting while rafting together during the wait. Fortunately we all recognised the error, and vowed never to repeat it.

Upon entering into the Dismal Swamp Canal, the sense of history tingled my senses. It was everything I expected it to be and more. The beauty, the isolation... it spoke of a long forgotten past. It was if you could see ghost images of the water crafts that travelled these waters long, long ago. Even more overwhelming was the sense of misery and suffering that came with the construction of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.

After a long day's sail, we arrived at the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center. As the lead boat, I arrived at an already full dock of 3 boats. I was greeted immediately by one captain, who offered the option of tying off his vessel. I gratuitously accepted his invite, with the warning that there were more of us to come. Although he and the others expressed welcome, I'm not sure they knew just what they were in for. Within an hour, the rally fleet had all arrived, save Wally Moran, and we had managed to clog up the entire dock, and made the canal virtually impassible! 11 rally boats in total.

Two days later, after fully experiencing the Dismal Swamp experience, we continued onto Elizabeth City. We were welcome by the town, with a reception that evening. It seems they host such receptions every time four or more boats stop there for the night. We were also greeted with a free dock for the evening, as well as an offer of a ride to grocery and hardware stores from local towns people. The generosity was overwhelming to us.

Our next trip, across the Albemarle Sound offered two possible conclusions. Some boats chose to stop at an anchorage along the Alligator River. We chose to put in a longer day, to sail 80 NM, arriving at Dowry Creek Marina, near Belhaven, NC. For anyone travelling the ICW, you will not find nicer people, or a more beautiful spot than Dowry Creek Marina.

From there, we continued on with stops in Oriental, NC, Spooner's Creek near Beaufort, NC, and onto Mile Hammock Bay, near Camp Lejeune.

Our arrival into Mile Hammock was one of the first nice days we had encountered since leaving Hampton. We arrived late afternoon, and enjoyed a drink on deck while the other rally boats pulled in and set anchor. Given the nice weather, we invited fellow boat crews over for happy hour, and were delighted to get to know the crews of Scout, and Akula better. Camp Lejeune is a Marine training base, and we were treated to an air show just after dusk, as they practised night landings in the Marine Helicopters.

From there we jumped down to Carolina Beach, then onward to Southport. We were almost in 'the south', within a days sail of South Carolina. After another warm welcome by the town of Southport, we headed for Myrtle Beach. We stayed near the beach, at Barefoot Landing Marina for a few days rest, before continuing on to the quaint Osprey Marina for another briefing. From there we did a two hop trip onto Charleston. Being a very secluded stretch of the ICW, beyond Georgetown, our dogs truly came to understand what it was like to be 'at sea' for an extended period. They went 30 hours without having solid ground to 'unwind' on. They handled it like troopers, and took a REALLY long pause to 'unwind' on solid ground, when we landed in Charleston.

We spent two days in Charleston, and that time was needed to even get a partial sense of how much history there is to be witnessed. We walked along historic Murray Blvd, through the historic district, and of course, Historic Charleston City Market. Another place where history just seeps into your senses.

While we had planned to jump over to St. John's Yacht Harbor for a rally briefing, impending bad weather forced us all to make haste for Beaufort, SC, and a welcome party there. We left at zero dark thirty, and met fellow rally boats, departing St. John's YH, along the way. By now we had come to appreciate just how diligent Linda Reed, of Silent Dream, was at planning routes, bridges, tides, and trouble spots. So we were sure to fall in behind them as they entered the ICW.

Once in Beaufort, we took a mooring ball in the city marina, as 3 days of rain began. We were impressed by the loaner car offered by the marina. We were MUCH more impressed by a reception offered by the City, and local chapter of the Seven Seas Sailing Association.

First, we were all assigned hosts who offered to provide for our needs while visiting. Our hosts, Bobbi and David, took us for a tour of town, to Walmart, West Marine, and several other replenishing stops. As the weather got crusty, they even offered us their home to hide out in. They also extended the offer to our dogs, Auka and Miki. Bringing our two Alaskan Malamutes to someone's home... that was a burden we just couldn't hoist on anyone. We battened down the hatches and rode out the storm aboard Ryajen. As for the reception hosted by the town of Beaufort, it featured wine, beer, out of this world Shrimp and Grits, and pork tenderloin that melted in your mouth. It was all washed down with the musical accompaniment of some local talent. It was a spectacular evening. A memory not forgotten.

We hung around Beaufort, SC for US Thanksgiving celebrations, and were joined by relatives from Georgia. We'll tell you all about that, and the painful departure of a crew member, in the next chapter.
As I write this chapter, it is now March and I have soooo much to catch up on reporting. I apologize to anyone who is wondering how things are developing, but a LOT has happened in a short period of time.

Picking up where we left off, we signed up for the Sail Magazine Snowbird Rally, and found ourselves needing to make haste for Hampton, VA where the rally started November 1. Unfortunately we got pinned in by a weather front, which delayed us a few days. As we finally attempted to leave, miscommunication and poor planning got the best of us and we ping ponged off a few pilings, exchanged some choice words among crew, and decided we needed a day to calculate a better plan to combat the wind and current. ROOKIES!

 As we toiled around the dock, working on minor maintenance, and chores a miracle was sent from heaven, in the way of a visitor from a neighboring boat. Turns out they had the same boat as us, and just got new canvas. They offered us their old bimini and dodger. Given it was November, and we had NO dodger, this was an incredible gift to us! Words could not express our gratitude, and they would take nothing in return. In tears, we assembled the gift over the companionway.

Next day came, and we had a brief meeting to discuss strategy, before pulling off the dock near flawlessly. We headed out Back Creek, even stopping for fuel ALMOST like we knew what we were doing. As we turned southerly down the Chesapeake we quickly began to wonder if another day waiting might have been wise? We were greeted with a 10-15 kn south wind banging us on the nose. The result was 2-3 ft seas, bouncing us up and down, up and down. We hung with it for about 4 hours, thinking we were making some good time. Once we pulled into Ship Wreck Harbor and calculated distance made good, we weren't overly proud of the 17 NM we made. None the less, it was our first day on a new to us boat, and the beer was cold when we settled in.

Next morning we got an early start and headed south to Solomans Island. We made it about 29 NM further south. It was a calm day and the water was almost flat. We even managed to sail the light winds for a good portion of the day. Once in Back Creek we dropped anchor just off the Tiki Hut and settled in. Of course a round of drinks at said Tiki Hut was a MUST. Solomans Island is a highly recommended stop along the way. Quiet little town with people as friendly as they come.

Day 3 we headed out in spite of small craft warnings. I needed to catch a flight home for business reasons, and we had a lot of miles between us and Norfolk International. We were quickly reminded of the adage, 'never sail with a schedule'. We made it about 3 miles out, where we got tossed, bounced, and spun. We made the decision to come back in, and got tilted over pretty good, with a wave on the beam as we made our turn. With two days of rough weather on the forecast, and me having to catch a flight the next day, we checked into Calvert Marina to leave the boat and my crew, while I headed out. At this point, my son Daeyten decided he could no longer take the bounce of the Chesapeake, and decided to head to Norfolk with me, to stay with friends, until we arrived there. Hence, Leanne, and the dogs toughed it out alone in Solomans, through 20-25 kn winds.

Off to Toronto I went.