November 11, 2008
One of the welcome sights in Hampton, VA, was the first brown pelicans that we had seen for months. This is about the northern limit of their non-summer range so we finally started to feel as though we were reaching "The South". So far it seemed that our autumnal southward journey had not been as rich in wildlife as our summer route northbound so it was a particular pleasure to have something other than seagulls to observe. Marine mammals had been absent for weeks or, at least we had not seen them, so we were all the more glad that we had been so lucky in our observations earlier in the year.
Although the morning of Friday (Nov 7th) started off cloudy and cool, by the afternoon the sun was shining and finally things were calmer, warmer, and we and the boat were beginning to dry out. We had a good cruise through the busy city of Norfolk, weaving between many Navy, commercial, and cruising vessels, and the VHF radio was abuzz with the routine warnings, requests, and other ship-to-ship communications of the Navy and commercial traffic. Once we had entered the ICW and were waiting for the various bridge openings and passage through the one lock at Great Bridge, it soon became apparent that we were not the only cruisers heading south.
In fact, the ICW was such a parade of boats going in the same direction that it was hard not to feel that one was part of a cult being drawn by some force towards a common place…but then I suppose that actually sums up the fall migration of snow-birds and full-time cruisers pretty well. Everyone was trying to get south to warmer climes without getting caught in the tail-end of hurricane season. If you had deviated from the ICW channel, you had to wait your turn to merge back into the stream of boats going south. Soon they will need to issue tickets to reserve a place in line… The radio was also alive with captains of large powerboats warning slower boats that they were about to pass on the port or starboard side, or someone warning of a dead-head (submerged log) in the channel. Generally, everyone seemed to be very civil and few were rushing along causing problems with their wakes. The desire to get to a suitable marina or anchorage before they filled up, resulted in most boats (especially the slower sailboats) setting off around dawn (6 am) and pulling into the night’s stop-over site between about 3 and 4 pm (sunset being at 5 pm). Most people appeared to have made the trip before or were following the same cruising guide, so some of the anchorages were very popular.
We had been along this route twice before but both times in June, which is late in the boating migration season, and the first time (when we were delivering this boat to Florida) we were going against the normal direction of travel. So we did have a good idea of where to stop and how long each passage should take but we were not at all used to the shorter days and the density of traffic. Suddenly, our cruising life which had seemed rather bold and unusual when we were further north looked a bit more common and mundane! And the prospect became more apparent of the Bahamas seeming very crowded in January. However, if you explore away from the main ports, the Bahamas are large and spread-out with plenty of room for anchoring, and we had to remember that the ICW was concentrating nearly all the southbound boats into a narrow channel during a few weeks in November. If the weather was cooperative, sailing out at sea south of Beaufort, NC, was starting to look even more appealing!
We made our first stop on the ICW early on Friday afternoon at the marina at Great Bridge just 12 miles south of Norfolk. It was our first marina stop in three weeks and a good opportunity to do laundry, refuel, get a pump-out, top-up with water, and have an excellent sushi dinner as Randall’s delayed birthday meal. It was lucky that we arrived early as the marina was soon full. Saturday night was spent at anchor on the north side of Buck Island (Mile Marker 59) and Sunday at Tuckahoe Point (MM 104) both sites we knew from our June passage. The skies were clear and the early sunsets were beautiful.
With the fall colors in full display the scenery along the northern part of the ICW was gorgeous. This was fortunate because the paucity of wildlife compared to our summer passages continued. It was now obvious that outside nesting season, the ospreys and bald eagles that we had seen so frequently in June were much less active or were busy elsewhere.
On Monday afternoon we anchored in the bay at Belhaven and rowed ashore to revisit the location of our enforced sojourn on the way north (when we had problems with the starter motor). When we walked into the grocery store, we saw that there was a nurse providing ‘flu and pneumonia vaccinations. Although we have been remarkably healthy throughout our shake-down cruise, it occurred to us that it would be a good idea to be protected for when we visited Gainesville and the university campus in December (a notorious time for virus exchanges after students return from traveling over Thanksgiving). The convenience was an added incentive so there we were at the end of the cookie aisle in the Belhaven Food Lion getting shots! A dawn start and a following wind on Tuesday allowed us to get to Deaton Yacht Service in Oriental by lunch time and even though the work order was set for Wednesday, Jorge and Acer were working on the boat by 2 pm. That was efficiency!