Saturday morning is sad as Sheila and Katie depart for parts north and Spray heads out into a choppy Chesapeake, headed south towards Solomons MD and getting half way there to anchor in Dun Cove, just north of Tilghman Island. Sunday we make for Solomons and arrive at that busy boating hub (Spray's first stop on the west side of the Ches.) at 2 pm to anchor off a large marina. We are here to pick up good friend Dave Wyman, a neighbor from Castine and lifelong boating professional (Dave performed the survey of Spray before purchase). He meets me at the marina at 5 pm with his daughter and son-inlaw (who live nearby) and we all head to a Wal Mart to pick up some oil for Spray, then off to a great restaurant for dinner. Dave moves his gear onto Spray and sleeps aboard so we can get an early start Monday morning.
Our goal is to speed south (at 7 knots) to Norfolk VA where we will enter the ICW. Monday is a beautiful, warm, calm day and we bask on the Flying Bridge as we make about 45 miles, crossing into VA, to an inlet named Dividing Creek, which has a large beach for a walk and Riggs-play. Its a nice calm night but the next morning there was a gentle train of waves in the creek. Once we head back out into the bay we find their source: 3' waves on our beam that yield a very rocky ride south. We pull into the Back River about 10 miles above Norfolk, anchoring right off Langley AFB. It was a fairly windy night and Spray pitched some, but we were beat and slept well.
Today was a day of amazing variety and surprise. We got started early and headed out into a still choppy bay. Had a rocky ride for an hour or so before pulling into Hampton Roads where you enter Norfolk Harbor and where several rivers meet. I'm glad Dave was aboard and that he used to live nearby and so knows the area well. It was crazy with large shipping traffic to avoid, and the huge Navy facilities with all their activities including helicopters zipping overhead and patrol boats zooming by. Dave worked with the Navy for several years and was a good tour guide, identifying each ship type and how they work. We turned south into the Elizabeth River, next to downtown Norfolk and past ICW mile mark 0 at hospital point. We are in the ICW!
We passed through through two open bridges, wait at a RR drawbridge that ignores our radio request but does open after a horn toot, and then arrive at the Gilmerton drawbridges, a road bridge and parallel RR bridge. Two sailboats are waiting there and apparently the RR bridge is stuck down. We end up waiting 2 hours (with eventually 7 other boats and a tug&barge) for the #$%& RR bridge to open, which it finally does. Its only another mile or so before we (and the 2 sailboats just mentioned) turn right into Deep Creek, which shortly leads us to the lock that is the northern end of the Dismal Swamp Canal (first dug in the 1760's by slaves owned by G. Washington). We had hoped to be in time to drive most of the way down the canal but instead we make the last lock-through of the day (lifting Spray and contents by about 8 feet) and are now tied to a dock just past the lock. The fellow operating the lock was a hoot - very helpful and informative and nice enough to play us a tune on his conch shell while Riggs and another boater's dog played with his dog 'U-turn'.
This Dismal Swamp is interesting. The lock operator says the apparent isolation is a facade, that we are actually in the middle of the 2nd biggest population center in VA. Sure enough we can walk 1/4 mile to a very busy road, struggle across a couple intersections, and have dinner at a mexican restaurant (with the occupants of the 2 sailboats).
Tomorrow we'll have a leisurely morning as we can't proceed until a nearby drawbridge opens at 9 am. The we'll cruise at 5 knots max (which is fine with Spray) for 17 miles down the canal (mostly straight as an arrow) and at mid day we'll stop at the canal visitor center, just into NC. We may stay the night there, or continue south out of the canal (a lock will lower us by 8 feet) and head to Elizabeth City, which is reported to be the most welcoming stop on the ICW. Stay tuned to see how that goes.