After our last two trips down to the Bahamas we were both hankering to do it again – just one more time. Acknowledging our advancing age, we felt we would be better off on a power boat this time – and wanted a catamaran with a shallow draft so that we would be able to visit many of the places and coves that our 6′ keel prevented us from seeing. After a lot of research and discussion, Garth decided that a PDQ Power Cat was the perfect boat for the job and through our friends Dick and Carol Tuschick and their daughter Beth we were lucky enough to find a really good one in July last year. Of course there was work to be done and Garth spent time upgrading and installing and cleaning and improving – as he does!
We left on October 19th – a day later than we had planned, but I was very grateful for that extra day! And still there were things I forgot – like pillows! I had Kate run by the house on her way down to say goodbye. How many groceries do you have to take with you on such a long trip – this many! It was quite a feat to get everything packed away but we did. There are still things I forgot, but fortunately the first part of the trip is down the waterway and there are grocery stores along the way. We will stop and re-provision at Stuart FL before we cross, so now it is list-making-time for the things that we overlooked.
Saying goodbye was so hard – how are we going to live without these two?
But we threw off the lines and left Back Creek on a very beautiful morning. The first day took us to Mill Creek, VA. The sunrise the next morning was a reminder about why we’re doing this – shedding the daily grind and getting in touch again with the simple things.
We stopped for the night in Hampton after that. There were so many boats!! We worried that the whole waterway was going to be this crowded, but I think a lot of them were boats staging in Norfolk to leave on an offshore rally that made it seem worse than it was. The first time we benefited from the change to a power cat was when we were able to make it under the low bridge in Hampton and anchor in lots of room on a perfectly calm night.
We left early again the next morning (that is our routine – get up at 6.00, tea and rusks, then head off by 7.00. After a long day we are tired, and with no TV reception it is easy to be in bed by 9.00 – we are both sleeping so well!!). The trip through the Norfolk Navy shipyards is always interesting – I love the flat lines of the radar deflecting ships and these are a different kind of Blue Crane (which is the national bird of South Africa I believe).
After going through the Navy yards, there are a number of low bridges which you have to get through to proceed. Because everyone generally starts out early, when the bridges are down there can be quite a lot of congestion! This one is a railway bridge – the horizontal section raises and lowers when a train is crossing. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it can back the waterway traffic up for miles! As it raises, everyone that is waiting jockeys to get back into line to get through – in case it closes again!
After that there are two choices: the Dismal Swamp route (what a name!) or the Virginia Cut route. Most people take the Virginia Cut as it is quicker and deeper, but we chose the Dismal Swamp. So glad we did. It is a long, straight canal with locks at each end so there is no tide and just beautiful scenery on each side. It has a lot of shallow bits, and a lot of bits with logs on the bottom, and for the second time we were pleased with our change to a power cat which only draws 2’6”! Gary and Mel (our good friends and boat buddies who have lived on their boat for five years and we have done this trip with them twice before) also wanted to do the swamp as there was a bridge that was being worked on on the Virginia Cut that they might not have been able to get through. So we had good company on the trip, although afterwards they told us that with their 6′ keel they were bumping the bottom in many places. Only three boats chose that route, so it was peaceful and scenic.
This was a Corps of Engineers boat that came buzzing past us in the canal. You can see how brown the water is – all the fallen leaves stain the water with tannin and it is almost black. His wake left a path of foam which slowly settled into the most beautiful patterns.
Once we were through the bridge we anchored for the night at Goat Island and set off the next morning for Belhaven NC. Our very favorite restaurant in the whole world (except for Eastport Kitchen!) is in Belhaven. Called Spoon River, it is run by a husband and wife – he’s a farmer and she’s a very talented chef – and they cook what is local and in season. The restaurant is eclectic – if you look closely at the lights they are made from books that have been folded or cut into shapes and opened around. This year didn’t disappoint – I had smoked pork chop with butternut risotto and Garth had rack of lamb. Both amazing! And because they had been very full and short staffed (we didn’t mind, we were just soaking it all up) she sent a double dessert on the house – tiramisu and a kind of cookie/bar with chewy bits and homemade ice cream; out of this world. A whole paragraph about one meal at one restaurant – but if anyone has the opportunity to go there, it’s a must!!!
From there we stopped at R.E Mayo the next day and picked up some seafood – frozen, but fresh off the boats. Flounder, speckled trout and shrimp. More lovely scenery and then we were in Oriental NC for the night. We managed to snag the municipal dock (power cat advantage #3!) and tied up next to this beautiful shrimp boat. Fortunately the wind was blowing in the right direction and we didn’t have to sleep with fishy smell all night! Another good meal ashore with Gary and Mel (why did I bother to buy all those groceries?) and we were on our way again in the morning.
The scenery you pass along the way is just beautiful. Lots of marshes and birds and the colors are spectacular. Of course you share the waterway with lots of different craft. And you pass amazing homes – I have been snapping pics of the beauties and also the “what were they thinking?” – I might put them all together in a separate blog – much like the winners and losers at the Oscar fashion awards!!
Into the Waccamaw River which is one of my favorite stretches. More of the black tannin water and a beautiful winding river with trees lining the edges. This is where I saw an alligator on our first trip – looked hard this time, but all I got was turtles. Very cute turtles! And an osprey.
Charleston was the next stop – I’ll end here and start a new chapter there. I’m sorry that it has taken so long to get this blog posted. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep more up to date moving forward – but I can’t promise!