Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #53 Anything But Dismal

“Omigosh! It’s Wind-Borne!” I uttered with a combination of delight and dismay. Delight in spotting the boat of some old friends, dismay in missing the chance to visit as we passed by on our way out of Elizabeth City.

We first met Mac & Pat many years ago when we were mutual members of Lake Monroe Sailing Association in Bloomington, IN. Many a day we met up at the club as we set out for a weekend of lake sailing, not to mention the scores of board meetings and social gatherings we all attended. Several years before we purchased Caloosa Spirit for charter, Mac & Pat had moved their boat to Lake Michigan, and our contact diminished. We stayed in touch enough to know when they bought Wind-Borne, outfitted her for cruising, and finally headed south. In the two years that we’ve been cruising we’ve hoped to meet up with them in some harbor on the east coast or in the Bahamas. But even with tracking each other’s progress by e-mail and SSB, plans are always set in sand, so we couldn’t really foresee when our paths would cross. So when a long-anticipated reunion looked as if it would be delayed once more, we felt some disappointment even as we felt excited and relieved to once more be headed north.

The new alternator arrived on time, and Jim successfully got it installed and working—but not without some effort and exasperation over getting fittings and hardware to match up. Nothing’s ever easy. We timed our departure from Elizabeth City by the Elizabeth City Bridge and the South Mills Lock schedules for opening. As we approached the bridge for its 7:30 AM opening, we passed by Wind-Borne tied to the city docks. A hail on the radio got no response—understandable at that hour—and we assumed that Mac & Pat planned another day in town.

About an hour after leaving we made a horrific discovery—the alternator wasn’t working!! Could this really be happening?! What in our electrical system could possibly be killing alternators? Disgust, frustration, and an overwhelming urge to put Caloosa Spirit somewhere and walk away from her for a while set in. It was hard to enjoy the scenic beauty of the ever-narrowing Pasquotank River as it transformed into the Dismal Swamp Canal.

Being novices on the Dismal Swamp Canal (which is really far more beautiful than dismal), we miscalculated the time it would take us to get to the South Mills Lock. About half-way there we tried Wind-Borne again on the VHF and got the happy response that they too were headed for the 11:00 lock opening, having passed through the Elizabeth City Bridge at its 8:30 opening. Sure enough, we met up at the lock, although we arrived too early and had to anchor temporarily. Mac & Pat, along with the lock tender, graciously talked us through the locking procedure—relatively a piece of cake despite our apprehension. When we both pulled up to the dock at the Dismal Swamp Visitor Center—a roadside rest area alongside the ICW route—Mac & Pat and Jim & I spent the rest of day joyfully renewing our friendship of many years. A Farkle game capped off the evening.

Following WindBorne
Following Wind-Borne in the Dismal Swamp Canal

One of the brightest moments of the day occurred when Jim beamed a smile of success and relief. This afternoon he discovered that a fuse connecting the regulator to the alternator was loose. Once he tightened it the alternator began cranking out amps, and now seems to be working properly. A hardy North Carolina “Yee-Haw!” was in order!

It was definitely a day filled with many and varied emotions.

Started in 1795 and completed in 1805, the Dismal Swamp Canal is the oldest continually operating canal in the U.S., and as such is designated as a National Historic Landmark. The Dismal Swamp was named by its earliest known explorer, Colonel William Byrd II of Virginia, for being what he perceived as a “vast body of dirt and nastiness.” George Washington, on the other hand, saw in the Dismal Swamp a rich potential for lumber, and when a canal for commercial transport through the swamp was proposed, he lent his support to the project. The 22-mile canal was dug entirely by slave labor, one shovelful at a time—a monumental achievement by any standard. Over its 200-year history the canal has fallen on hard times during several different periods. Since its purchase by the U.S. government in 1929, it has been operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Today the commercial traffic for which the Dismal Swamp Canal was originally conceived is long gone, and only pleasure boaters get to bask in its natural beauty. As a result, federal funding has been scant in recent years, and the canal was due to close permanently last fall. Successful petitions and lobbies brought forth sufficient funding for this year, which is why we were eager to see the canal on this trip. While we were at the Visitor Center we signed a petition to keep the canal open for another year, but the funding continues to be a question mark. The lock/bridge tender at the Deep Creek Lock & Bridge at the northern end of the canal reported that personnel cuts have resulted in each of the locks with their attendant bridges being operated by only one person. Each of them was quite efficient and skillful, but we found locking through each lock taking about 45 minutes, in part because of the lock/bridge tender’s need to scurry by pick-up truck from lock to bridge and back.

Dismal Swamp
The beauty of the Dismal Swamp

Running the canal—straight as an arrow with only one slight turn in the middle of its 22 miles—was quite an experience. In some places the width was only about 30 feet, although 45-55 was more the norm. In either case, turning our boat around would have been a challenge. Tall trees with overhanging branches on both sides called for attention to the mast and rigging. An occasional unnerving thump on the hull told us that some log or other debris was lurking on the bottom, reducing the consistent 8-ft. depth in places. Long and tiresome it was, but we’re glad we didn’t miss the Dismal Swamp Canal.

Dismal Swamp Canal
The Dismal Swamp Canal

We are now anchored at Hospital Point between Portsmouth and Norfolk, VA. As we motored up the Elizabeth River to here, we found ourselves once more surrounded by civilization. Charleston, SC, was the last large city we’ve seen. We’ll do a little exploring tomorrow.

Over breakfast in the cockpit we watched a very sizable sailboat race get started just to the south of us. With only occasional slight puffs to tease the sails, we were reminded of similar windless races on Lake Monroe. On such days sailboat racing requires a modicum of patience, a hefty dose of optimism, and a pinch of insanity for the crew to feel successful, regardless of how they finish. The lack of wind elevated the difficulty faced by a southbound tug captain as his tug and barge approached the fleet. Shepherded by marine patrol and police boats, the barge made it safely through the mass of oncoming boats, but only after slowing almost to a stop mid-river. All things considered, we’ll stick to cruising, thanks.

Sailboat Race
Sailboat race on the Elizabeth River

This afternoon we dinghied across the river to Norfolk to do a little touring with Pat & Mac. Norfolk has long been known for its naval base, and the battleship Wisconsin is on display for tours. Walking around on the deck of such an enormous ship was a remarkable experience. From what we could see of the interior, however, the sailors had rather small cabins. Another ship we toured was the Danmark, a Danish training ship for young mariners, temporarily berthed in Norfolk. On that three-masted tall ship the trainees got to sleep in hammocks; only the permanent crew had bunks. In both cases I had trouble imagining going to sea with such spartan accommodations. Call me spoiled.

The battleship Wisconsin

This evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner of mahi-mahi on board Wind-Borne. Mac had actually caught the fish while in the Bahamas, and he and Pat were gracious enough to share the last of their catch with us and Bill & Laverne from Rocinante. Yummm!

We hadn’t originally planned to stay this long in Norfolk, but we chose to stay another day to attend Monument Methodist Church in Portsmouth with Pat & Mac. It was a very pleasant experience. The choir was excellent, and the congregation was very friendly. Going back another time is a definite consideration. Rain greeted us when we exited church, and it stayed around all afternoon. Sitting is better than sailing in such conditions.

In all our previous years of vacation cruising, despite all the glowing reports and articles about the awesome waters of Chesapeake Bay, we’ve never sailed there. So when we started this northward cruise from the Florida Keys last February, our goal was to reach the Chesapeake. We’ve finally met that goal. Yesterday we left Norfolk, passed through Hampton Roads, and entered the southern reaches of the bay. The sailing in the last two days is more than we’ve experienced since we made a couple of outside runs off Georgia. And there are no seas! True, the winds have been somewhat light, so for the most part we’ve had the engine on also. That’s mainly because we’ve wanted to make time to our chosen anchorages to check out possible haul-out yards. Too bad we didn’t take more time to enjoy the good sailing, but hopefully we can frolic in the winds this fall.

Chesapeake Bay
Our first view of the Chesapeake

Yesterday we stopped at Severn River Marina to look into their haul-out and bottom-painting possibilities. Mac & Pat had work done there last year and are staying there for several months this summer, so they highly recommended the marina to us. We were very impressed, but we also felt that we had to check out the marinas in Deltaville where we had originally been headed. So today we enjoyed another breezy day on the Chesapeake waters as we motor-sailed to Jackson Creek off Deltaville. This is a delightful and apparently popular anchorage, as there are ten boats here this evening. Tomorrow we hope to visit some of the local marinas to make our decision about haul-out.

Last evening at Severn River Marina we were invited aboard Goldie for home-made pizza. Scott & Kay are friends of Mac & Pat, and they also know our old friends Mike & Martha on Sandpiper. Another small-world experience.

Our plan had been to visit several of the marinas here in Deltaville today, but rain kept us on board. That modicum of patience, hefty dose of optimism, and pinch of insanity mentioned above aren’t reserved for just sailboat racers. They come in handy for cruising, as well.

The decision has finally been made. After looking around at several marinas, we like Deltaville Boatyard the best. After talking with Keith, the yard manager, we feel confident in his ability to diagnose the engine vibration that we’ve been concerned about for some time. Also, the air-conditioned lounge/TV room and swimming pool will help take our minds off not having air conditioning in the boat. The boatyard appears to be clean and relatively comfortable, and living aboard is allowed while the boat is out of the water. So here’s our plan. We’ll have an engine technician assess the engine some time next week, then have Caloosa Spirit hauled out to sit on the hard for a couple of months. We’ll storm-prep as best we can, then rent a car and drive to Indy for our annual visit of 4-6 weeks. How soon we do that will depend to some extent on the engine/driveshaft diagnosis and treatment. We plan to return to the boat for a few weeks with our van in late August or early September to work on cleaning and polishing, have the yard crew paint the bottom, and put the boat back in the water. We’ll then have to drive the van back to Indy, return to Deltaville a week or so later, and start cruising once more in October.

We feel relieved to finally have a definite base for Caloosa Spirit for the next few months, and we’re eager to reconnect with our friends and family in Indianapolis. But by now we’ve learned to expect delays, so we don’t yet have any specific dates set. Stay tuned.

Fair winds and a faithful wake until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford
s/v Caloosa Spirit

P. S. Don’t forget to look up Alice’s book, Reaching a Far Horizon, at www.lulu.com!

Posted Sunday July 3, 2005

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