The Not So Dismal Swamp
While visiting Virginia in 2009, we took a side trip down to Kitty Hawk, NC. Along the way we stopped to walk along an interesting slough that trickled under overhanging oaks. What was this thing? Not a creek, or a river, perhaps an irrigation ditch?
Later, when we began to plan to move east and cruise down the coast, we learned about the Intracoastal and found that the ditch we’d walked beside was the Dismal Swamp Canal, part of the waterway. We could go through that little puddle in our boat? Cool!
Dismal Swamp History and Facts
Portsmouth and Norfolk straddle Mile 0 of the ICW. About eight miles south of there, the waterway branches into canals with separate sets of locks. The older of the two is the Dismal Swamp Canal. It passes through the Great Dismal Swamp, a place that you’ve probably never heard of, which figures in more history than you might think.
- George Washington first conceived the idea of draining the swamp for farm land. (Wait – in a completely undeveloped country they needed more farm land? How did modern planners miss that memo?)
- He surveyed the route of the canal
- Slaves dug the canal – and because they came to know it well …
- The canal became an important part of the underground railroad. Hah hah! Unintended consequences. Take that evil slave owners.
- The Union tried to blow up the locks and, in the battle of South Mills, the Confederacy stopped them, saving a vital transport line for troops, and a pleasant recreational route for modern boaters. Thanks Confederacy! (First time I ever said those words.)
- The novel and movie Show Boat, are based on a floating theater that used to ply the waters of the canal.
One more detail about the canal: it has a controlling depth of six feet. That means the Army Corps of Engineers regularly makes sure the center of the channel is at least six feet deep. Hmmm. Did they do that last week? Is it due to be done next week? Inquiring cruisers, with keels five feet deep, want to know.
Our depth sounder, set to let us know when we hit water shallower than ten feet, beeped at us incessantly for the 40 miles of the Dismal Swamp Canal. We learned to tune it out, but cringed at its intrusion in this quiet place. We kept hitting reset to shut off the alarm.
The morning we set out from Portsmouth was still and beautiful and the first thing we saw upon entering between the canal’s narrow banks was a turtle sunning on a half sunk log. Wildlife! Southern wildlife.
Entering the Dismal Swamp Canal on a not dismal day.
Root Beer colored bow wave
Deep Creek Lock opens for Sunshine
A very effective knot invented on the fly at the Deep Creek Lock. **
Locked in Deep Creek Lock
Chatting with the tender, Deep Creek Lock. He hadn’t seen many boats lately.
Deep Creek Bridge
Stayed that night at the Dismal Swamp Visitor’s Center. Which I’m willing to bet is the only rest area in the country that sits between two highways, one paved and one water. There’s a dock along the wall of the canal where boats can tie up for free for the night. A really nice arrangement.
Across a foot bridge is a nature center with boardwalks through the swamp and trails through the woods. We walked both. The trees and vegetation were all new and different and we lost track of time. The ranger had to come out and find us because it was time to raise the bridge for the night. Both she and the bridge tender had to stay late because of us. We cost the tax payers extra. Sorry.
North Carolina eats
The canal gets narrow
Sunshine at Dismal Swamp Visitor’s Center dock
Okay, A Little More Dismal
The next morning was drizzly and it continued all day long. So the swamp can sometimes be a little dismal. But it was still gorgeous. We were glad to see both sides. It wasn’t cold, but it was too wet to take decent pictures, so my first cypress swamp was not well chronicled.
We dried out in Elizabeth City and then, headed over to the Museum of the Albermarle. Unlike most local history museums, this one is huge, in fact we knew we were almost to E. City when we could see its green roof over the trees of the swamp. They’ve got some great artifacts, arranged by eras in an interesting and fun way.
Foggy yes, dismal not really
The water got very shallow at times
Trees along the Dismal Swamp Canal
The interesting docks at Elizabeth City
Tom called our friend Jason to chat. The conversation went like this: Hi Jason. Change your oil. But … Change your oil. Thought I’d wait until … Change your oil. So first thing in the morning we changed the oil. Jason is also our mechanic, and we don’t ever want to have to tell him we burned up the engine.
With oil out and filter off Tom found that our spare filter didn’t fit. The closest auto parts store was two miles away. Walking that would shoot the morning, so we couldn’t make the crossing of Albermarle Sound in the light breeze forecast for that day. As long as we had to take the walk, we decided to provision. Along the way we stopped at thrift stores looking for John D. MacDonald Travis McGee books (required reading for Florida bound cruisers) and ran across Recycled Reader, the best used bookstore I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying something.
After the oil change we motored over to Lamb’s Marina on the other side of the bridge to get fuel. On our return, a helpful fellow was on hand to catch our lines. He turned out to be quite a character. OMG the stories! He’d done everything but free the slaves and cure cancer. We finally got away by saying we had to go to the library before it closed. As we were walking across the parking lot a woman stopped us and warned us that that guy was just a bum who wanted tips. “He pries on boaters.” Still not sure whether her mispronunciation of preys was due to her southern accent or Archie Bunkeritis.
There may be a story in this disconnect. Elizabeth City is famous for The Rose Buddies, a group that welcomes boaters. In the summer they’re quite active, giving roses to visiting boats, hosting parties. But in the winter there was just this one guy, and one woman who didn’t like what he was doing.
Jibing Albermarle Sound
Sailed out of Elizabeth City with a forecast for 10 -15 mph winds in the area of Elizabeth City and 15 – 25 across Albermarle at Alligator River Bridge. Like the other big shallow bays north of it, Albermarle Sound was described as horrific when the wind is up and I was nervous.
The winds built and big waves were came at our stern. Then half way across the sound we got hit with a gust and a big wave at the same time and they spun us 180 degrees in an unplanned jibe. (A jibe is when the stern crosses a wind coming from behind the boat, as opposed to a tack, which is when the bow crosses the wind coming from in front of the boat.) Things fell off shelves and out of cupboards. I hate it when that happens. Tom reefed right away and we took down the jib. Another lesson in why we should reef early and often. We also began to suspect our wind gauge may not be as accurate as we’d like.
Once inside the arms of Alligator River the wind settled down. At the entrance to our next canal – the Alligator – Pungo Canal – we passed mile marker 100 and did a high five. At anchor behind red marker 46, we drank a toast to survival, then conked out at cruiser’s midnight – 9PM.
Beaufort Within Reach
Between the AP canal and our destination of Beaufort lay the towns of Belhaven and Oriental, along with the Pamlico and Neuse rivers, both of which, like Albermarle Sound, kick up rough in the wind. And we had wind. The run from Belhaven to Oriental was a challenge. Tom steered the entire time, convinced I was too much of a weenie to handle the wheel. He was worn out by the time we arrived. But the town made it all worthwhile. In friendly Oriental, we watched the Seahawks squeak by the 49ers. Sigh. Looked like we’d have to watch one more football game.
From Oriental we sailed into 20 knot winds and headed up the Neuse River quick as we could, seeking the shelter of Adams Creek Canal. In this very narrow channel with shallows at the edges we first saw the typical boat storage method of the region – lifts that hold boats above the water.
We arrived in Beaufort (boe fort), NC in stiff winds under sunny skies and anchored in Taylor Creek, right across from the public dinghy dock. With what appeared to be derelict boats all around, Sunshine looked better than she had in a month. Looking around at the motley assortment of boats, we began to wonder about the politics of anchoring and installing private moorings. The dockmaster didn’t want to engage on the topic. I imagine he’s caught in the middle of the town council fight between the gentrifiers who want less than pristine vessels banned from their expensive views, and those who champion the rights of the individual to anchor where they damn well please.
We had just enough daylight to walk around the waterfront. Beaufort is charming, and fits my idea of a southern town – verandahs everywhere. And the ceilings of most of those verandahs were fitted with fans. For a girl from temperate Washington state, where summer starts July 5th, ends Sept 5th and includes few days over 80 degrees, the concept of an outdoor fan was strange.
Beaufort – Almost Paradise
The next morning was warm enough to be outside in shirt sleeves. For a few minutes. The wind was blowing and was forecast to blow harder, as another cold front was moving in. But for one day we had 61 degrees, so we dinghied out to Carrot Island, part of the Rachel Carson Reserve, to see if we could find the wild horses.
There were great shells out on the seaward side of the island, gorgeous big clam shells that looked like pink and gray tartan, gnarled oysters, black oysters, cockles, scallops and horseshoe crabs. I walked barefoot in warm sand, put my toes in the ocean. Tom said it felt like a summer day at Washington’s Ocean Shores. The water was warmer, y’all.
Then we walked through a field of tiny cacti and I got their spines stuck in the soles of my flip flops and had to change to my boots. A little pissy about having to pluck thorns from my feet, in true explorer style, I dubbed the depression where they grew the Devil’s Cauldron.
Tom found the horses finally, when we were heading back toward the dinghy. Three of them were grazing on the bank of Taylor Creek. A guy pedaled by on a floating bike. Then a flock of pelicans flew by. A little while later I came up on deck and watched dolphins.
That night Tom put out a second anchor, Bahamanian style – one anchor upstream and one anchor downstream. This is the prescribed anchoring method in Taylor Creek because of the tight quarters and swift current. It’s our first time to use this arrangement and I slept like a baby, not feeling the current at all.
So here we were in Beaufort, far beyond our planned destination of Chesapeake, VA. but still short of our real goal of all flip flops, all the time. Would this be the place to stay for a while? Could we work on the boat here?
Another Attack of Winter
That night the storm arrived as predicted. More wind than we’ve had at anchor – 35 knots at least with gusts over 40. Sunshine sailed around her anchors all night. Sometime around 3 AM we found that the Fortress, our back up anchor, seemed to have dragged and threatened to tangle with the main anchor, which could cause both of them to foul and fail. So Tom wanted to pull it up. After considering methods, he opted for the lowest stress and went out in the dinghy, pulling himself along the anchor line. I held a tether and then pulled him back. The Rocna held with both wind and current headed in the same direction. I worried about what would happen when the tide changed and the two forces were opposed.
The boat closest to us broke loose and washed up on the shore of the island.
It was hard to sleep.
Just trying to stay warm.
Almost paradise indeed.
At noon the next day it was 40 degrees and we no longer felt like ill-fated polar explorers, so decided that that evening we’d go ashore and get social at Backstreet Pub, the locals and sailor’s dive bar we’d heard about. But when the time came the wind was still harsh, and we didn’t feel comfortable leaving the boat. But the next day the weather finally settled down and we were able to go grocery and propane shopping. I stayed home and worked on a few things while Tom went out on the island again and took pictures of the horses. He even found a foal.
But that was the end of reasonable weather. It snowed and sleeted and blew all the following night. We woke to extreme cold, lots of wind, a world covered in icy snow and … only one can of propane left to run our little heater. Started calling around looking for someplace that had propane. Stores were not open. Even the grocery store didn’t open all day. I worried about how that foal would do in the cold.
Wild horses with Beaufort
Wild horses, Rachel Carson Reserve
Wild foal, Rachel Carson Reserve
Ice draped boom
The streets of Beaufort were a sheet of ice. Only the Backstreet Pub was open. There there was a roaring fire and nice people to talk to, but one of us had to stay on the boat. With little propane left and no place to buy more, we gave up and headed for the dock. Which was easier said than done. We chipped an inch of ice off the wheel, engine controls and cleats in order to access them. The dock lines were frozen in coils and had to be massaged into workable shape. Jumping down to the ice coated dock was a dicey affair. I managed not to slide into the water.
When Ace and Piggly Wiggly finally opened a couple of days later Tom walked up there to get propane. I melted snow for wash water, pioneer style, as the spigots were shut off. The laundromat was open so I took advantage of the easy access and did a couple of loads.
And so we sat in Beaufort for days and days and days during this winter storm that had the entire Atlantic coast in irons. Beaufort is a great town in a beautiful, setting. But we were still intent on escaping winter, so once the ice melted we couldn’t wait to haul up that anchor and continue south.
But we had one more thing to do before leaving town. On the evening of February 3rd, we headed over to Backstreet Pub to eat bacon wrapped stuffed jalapenos (yowza!) and watch the Seahawks, our hometown team, beat the Broncos. The game was weird, but the food and company were great.
The next morning, weather and previously scheduled events out of the way, we hoisted anchor and headed for Charleston.
** EXTRA CREDIT
If anyone knows what the red knot I tied at the Deep Creek Lock is, please let me know. Otherwise I will christen it the Nancy Bartlett and submit it to animatedknots.com
Defining the Intracoastal Waterway
Depending on who you listen to, the Intracoastal Waterway might run from the Canadian Border to Miami, or from New York’s Hudson River to Texas, or from Norfolk, VA to the Florida Keys.
But however you describe its ends, the ICW is not a nice, straight canal, but a series of vaguely linked bodies of water, including large natural bays like The Gulf of Maine, and tiny, hand dug channels like Elliott Cut, just south of Charleston.
For our purposes, the ICW includes Cape Cod Bay, Long Island Sound and the New Jersey Coast. But with our aim of escaping harsh winter weather, it really started in earnest at Cape May Canal where it heads more inland into Delaware and Chesapeake Bays.
Delaware and Chesapeake Bays
December 28, 2013 to January 10, 2014
After years of boating in the Northwest, where the water is deep right up to the rocky shore, and in the Northeast, where rocks jut out of deep channels, the shallows, mud bottoms and marshy shores of Delaware and Chesapeake Bays were a culture shock for us.
Lighthouse or Bon Bon? Miah Maull Shoal Light
One ship all day. Delaware Bay.
Another Victorian Confection – Ship John Shoal Light
Entering the Cohansey River
Alone at another dock. Cohansey River
We took the Cape May Canal out to the bay, where we found the shallow water quite rough, with the wind blowing against us. But once we turned north, running along, but not in, the main shipping lane, the ride became much more comfortable.
The Delaware is another busy shipping route, but at this time of year we saw few vessels of any kind there or on the Chesapeake. Instead of dodging ships, we spent our days ogling small light houses that looked more like bon bons or chocolate truffles than hazard markers and looking for water deep enough for our keel.
The shallow marshy shores of these big bays meant marinas and anchorages were few and far between. We had to plan our short days carefully to find suitable places to stop before sunset. The first night we made it to Cohansey River, which winds four miles through the marsh to a tiny town that sits two miles from the edge of the bay. Yes, you read that right.
The next morning we left the river in gray, pre-dawn light, headed for the C and D canal, where the rain began to fall in earnest.
We entered the Chesapeake very excited to finally be on the body of water that we thought would be our cruising grounds for the next few months. We’d take a trip up the Potomac! We’d do Annapolis! We’d take a side trip inland to Tennessee to see our son!
The Shifting Realities of Cruising
I’d scoped out a potential anchorage for us at Bohemia River, just past where the canal empties into the Chesapeake. But the entry proved too shallow and we got to feel what it’s like to run Sunshine’s keel through the mud. Spooky. Tom turned around and got us out of there fast and we headed for the next possible anchorage – Sassafras River.
Just one barge on the C and D Canal
Sasafras River sunrise
Soft southern morning.
Unfortunately, before we made it there, fog fell on us. We couldn’t see an eighth of a mile. We had to use Navionics on my phone to locate the buoys that marked the shipping lane and the channel into the river. Once inside the half mile wide river we couldn’t see the banks but just trusted that the satellites would keep functioning and keep us off the shore until we could get to the anchorage. When the fog finally lifted an hour later we found we’d dropped the hook in a gorgeous spot. Plus the name – Sassafras – was so southern. We felt like we’d accomplished our main goal of getting “south.”
We sailed to Annapolis with a spanking wind pushing us at over eight knots. There’s no anchoring in the harbor so we took a mooring for the night. I talked to a guy on the city dock who suggested we have dinner at Davis’, a salty, sailor’s pub. That was good advice. Not only were the crab cakes yummy, but the next day we moved over to a dock on the recommendation of sailors we met at Davis’ and also visited a great marine consignment store, Bacon Sails and Marine Supplies which we learned about there.
Heading for Solomon’s Island, MD on a sunny New Year’s Day, Tom noticed the jib stay was fraying. He took down the jib and secured the broken end. We pulled in to a fuel dock and found no one working on the holiday. At the restaurant next door, Stoney’s Kingfisher, we asked about fueling hours and ended up being invited to stay at the restaurant’s dock. We thought it would only be for a day or two while we got the jib stay repaired. But as soon as Tom ordered the new stay from nearby Zahniser’s, winter storm Hercules moved in. Between ice storms and waiting for the repair, we were frozen to Stoney’s dock for eight days. This was not what we’d bargained for.
Another charming Victorian lighthouse Thomas Point Light near Annapolis
Sunshine at Stoney’s dock
Solomons Island ice
Attaching the new jib stay to the mast
Why the wetsuit Tom?
VItal stainless steel jib keeper thingy
After the ice was gone Tom picked up the new jib stay and set about installing it. I hauled him up the mast in 26 degrees to attach the upper end of the stay. He could barely move his opposable thumbs to use the necessary tools. Brought him down again and he went to install the lower end.
When using tools on deck I like to tie them to a cleat or stanchion, just in case. Likewise bits and pieces. Unfortunately, some bits and pieces don’t have a convenient tying point and you just have to keep a close eye on them. You can see where this is going, right? Long story short, a very important part went, bloop, over the side and into the murk beneath the pier.
The cursing and swearing make getting into the wetsuit much easier and raise the blood temperature enough that jumping into 41 degree water feels almost good. It took a bit, but the item was recovered, a good thing too, since ordering a new one would have kept us in Solomons for another week.
We got one more surprise while at Stoney’s. Starting out from New England we’d had two goals in mind:
1. To get to someplace warmer than Boston
2. To find a place where we could dock the boat for a couple of months and do some work on her
The original plan identified that place as Chesapeake, VA. at the southern end of the Chesapeake, where our son’s friend had a condo with an available slip. But now we got bad news. Nicole had learned from her HOA, that no one was allowed to sleep aboard a boat at the dock.
What now? All we knew for sure was that we’d stop in Portsmouth, where Jeremy and Tiffany had lived when they first moved from Seattle to VA. We’d visited them once and enjoyed the historic town and were looking forward to seeing it again.
Candid Camera in Portsmouth, Y’all
Tied up at Portsmouth’s public basin where you can stay a couple of days for free and walked up into town, rejoicing at being in the south and high-fiving for achieving our initial goal.
Portsmouth looked great, The Coffee Shoppe was still there and the economy appeared to be doing well.
Smith Point Light
Strangely human looking Point No Point light
Wolf Trap Lighthouse in the fog, on the way to Portsmouth, VA
Finally ER1, Marker for Elizabeth River, and our goal, comes out of the fog..
Always alone. Sunshine in Portsmouth Yacht Basin
Fresnel glass, Portsmouth, VA
Shipyard on the Elizabeth River, Portsmouth, VA
Looking for dinner, we stumbled on the Commodore Theater, which was showing Saving Mr. Banks. A couple passing said, “Have y’all been here before?” and told us it was a dinner theater, that the food was good.
Hearing that y’all, made us giddy. We bought tickets for $7 each and had dinner for less than we used to pay for popcorn and a soda in Hingham. Inside, the waiter greeted us with “Are y’all the folks off the boat?” We were mystified how he knew that, but we had a blast and didn’t give it another thought.
The next morning though, when we headed up to The Coffee Shoppe for caffeine, things got a little weird. A guy on a bike rode up to us, said “Morning. Do y’all know there’s a marine supply store just up the street?” and handed us a card for Mile Marker 0.
Moments later we walked into the Coffee Shoppe and an old fellow said hello and told us he had a picture for us. It turned out to be of the Thomas Lawson sailing into Hampton Roads, the opening from Chesapeake Bay to the Atlantic. That was the ship that brought Manjiro to New Bedford, a story I’d written for Tidal Life only a few weeks before. At this point I was beginning to hear the Twilight Zone theme music.
Somewhere above the public dock there must be a harbor cam. I resolved to be on my best behavior when on deck, and try not to do anything stupid.
Two Kinds of Football and a Tornado
Did a minimal cleaning, trying to dry the swampy conditions that result from winter on the Intracoastal Waterway. Leaving the salon hatch open a crack for ventilation, we headed out to find a place to watch soccer. We ended up at a great sports bar owned by former Green Bay Packer, Roger Brown. The sky outside got black, and the wind started to swirl and the rain started to dump. While a tornado threatened to fill our boat with water, Barcelona won, then the Patriots lost to the Broncos, teeing up Seattle for the Superbowl.
We couldn’t stop eating Roger Brown’s excellent food. The she crab soup was delicious, and the fried green tomatoes were spectacular. Tom had an oyster po’boy that, while not quite New Orleans, was very good and later an apple cobbler big enough to swallow New York City. By the time we left, at 8 or so, the place was completely packed. Though Portsmouth was not the place we were looking for long term, it was heartening to see a favorite town doing so well.
Winter sailing on the Atlantic Ocean. Atlantic City to Cape May, New Jersey.
We skedaddled from AC as soon as there was enough light. The morning was cold and I skated around the frozen dock as I cast us off.
For our third mid-winter day offshore we again enjoyed freezing temperatures, sunshine and big, soft rollers. The Atlantic was still treating us nice, but we knew the weather window couldn’t stay open forever. Our gloves and boots were already stuffed with Hot Hands packets and we were layered up in every piece of clothing we owned. We were anxious to get off the ocean and into the Chesapeake before winter descended for real.
We put up the jib and motor-sailed a little, but mostly just enjoyed a calm day along the Jersey Shore, (hah, had to get that phrase in for the keyword juice) hoping for dolphins, taking selfies, watching for ships and seeking the last marker of our Atlantic Ocean passage.
Never has a buoy been so eagerly awaited.
We’d been hearing “you have to get south of Cape May” for months. Sometimes in tones that suggested it would be pretty scary to do so. So when Red Nun 2CM, which marks the entrance to Cape May inlet, finally appeared on the horizon we were elated. It had been a long, cold (some would say strange) trip. When we finally rounded R 2CM I wanted to grab her and give her a big kiss. We didn’t get that close however, we rounded her properly. Another thing we’d heard about R 2CM is that, though she sits far out from shore and the chart shows depths of 20 feet or more, she lines you up for a safe entry into a channel that features some shoals and a couple of submerged jetties which have been known to wreck the unwary.
We headed into the channel about 2:30 and began the search for a place to secure Sunshine for the night. I was hoping for a marina, or at least a fuel dock. We’d been at anchor or docked at closed marinas since Westbrook, CT. We needed fuel, water and showers. We hadn’t done laundry since Point Judith, RI, seven days before. So we were in search of a marina that had more than Christmas lights shining.
Two days after Christmas is a tough time to find an open marina on the New Jersey coast. As we motored through the harbor the docks looked very, very empty.
If we didn’t find an open marina we would drop anchor in the harbor. There were a couple of boats stored there – minus their sails – and it was well protected. The next morning we’d find fuel somewhere. Somebody in town had to have it. We might have to wait until the fishing fleet had fueled up, but we’d get a few drops of diesel eventually.
I got on the phone and started calling the marinas listed in our outdated cruising guide. My fourth call, to South Jersey Marina, reached the dockmaster who told me they were open for another half an hour and gave me directions to get to their docks. The channel to the inner harbor is narrow, we’d already been stumped as to how to get in. The only way, he told us, was to go right up to the side of the large fishing boats and motor along their hulls.
South Jersey Marina – so good you can sleep in the laundry room
South Jersey Marina was exactly what we needed and more. The expansive docks greeted us like a southern promenade, complete with New Orleans style lamp posts and benches. And the weather enhanced the similarity. Inside the protected inner harbor there was no breeze. It was sunny and 50 degrees. Bright colored fishing boats lined the waterway and people were barbecuing on waterside verandahs. We even saw a guy in shorts. He was rushing the season a bit.
The best thing about the marina though was the restrooms and showers. They’d had a fire a year before and during repairs, decided to upgrade. Boy did they do a good job. Granite tiles, fancy schmancy massaging shower heads, velvet settees, gilded mirrors. This was the kind of decor I’d expected to find in Atlantic City casino restrooms.
The price was right too, $1.50 per foot and the friendly dockmaster gave us a ride to the grocery store. Too bad he didn’t stick around to give us a ride back, we needed everything – including cat litter – and loaded down as we were, that 1.5 miles was a killer. But after so many days on the water with no exercise, we welcomed the chance to get a good hike and work our arms.
The route back to the marina ran along historic Washington Street, which made the chore nicer, as it’s lined with gorgeous Victorian mansions. The town has a lot of charm and does itself up for the Christmas season.
For anyone not chasing a weather window, we recommend staying longer in Cape May and devoting a day to exploring the historic town. We feel like we missed something by staying only one night. Those who have a little more sense and sail during the summer should plan to spend a few days, the town is also ringed with beautiful beaches.
Everything we owned was damp, so after dinner I packed up all our wet clothes and the bedding and headed for the laundry room. Completely zonked, I fell asleep on the couch to the drone of the dryers.
Dried out, and filled up with food, fuel and fluids we were ready for the next leg of our Escape from New England. We retired our New Jersey chart book and for our bedtime story, brought out the new one that covered Delaware Bay, The C and D Canal and Chesapeake Bay.
Read previous posts about the Escape from New England
Warren RI to Point Judith RI
Long Island Sound
Christmas Cruise: Point Judith to Westbrook
Christmas Cruise: Westbrook to Stamford
Christmas Cruise: Stamford to Mamaroneck
Christmas Cruise: Mamaroneck, NY to Jersey City, NJ
New Jersey Coast
Christmas Cruise: Jersey City to Manasquan
Chutes and Ladders in Atlantic City
Foul Weather Football Fan
I’m a serious football fan, around the time of playoffs and the Superbowl. I’m especially serious when my hometown team, the Seattle Seahawks, are playing in either.
Though we’ve been nowhere near Seattle this football season, we’ve managed to watch the important games, all two of them so far. Tonight will be the third.
In Portsmouth, Virginia we hunkered down in a sports bar to wait out a tornado warning – talking of serious, that’s some serious rain. It just happened to be at Roger Brown’s, and the Patriots just happened to be playing the Broncos for a spot at the Superbowl. Truth be told, at that point I didn’t even know the playoffs were happening, and had no idea the Seahawks were involved.
Then, while waiting out some high winds in Belhaven, North Carolina, we headed up to The Shack and watched the Seahawks squeak by the 49ers. Throughout the evening, a couple of guys at the next table kept shouting “Go Eagles!”
Now in Beaufort, North Carolina, where we’ve been waiting out a week of arctic weather, we’ve become known as the people from Seattle. So we’re planning to head in to the Backstreet Pub where it’s standing room only even when the bar is empty, and enjoy being the only ones in the place with a home town team to root for. The locals do have a hometown favorite though in Seahawks Quarterback Russel Wilson who played for North Carolina State.
How to Identify a Seahawk
The “go eagles” cheer was just a joke, but here and there around the east coast we’ve been asked, “what’s a seahawk?” Folks seem confused because the northwest is known for the bald eagle, which eats fish, but is not a hawk, and the red tailed hawk which is a hawk, but doesn’t catch fish.
Confusing things further is Taima, the live hawk (as opposed to mascot hawk) that appears at Seahawks games. That’s an Augur Hawk or Buteo Hawk. A mountain and steppe species. Once again, not a sea hawk.
The Seahawks are actually named for the Osprey, a well known, and wide spread, fish eating raptor. There are lots of osprey in the Seattle area, but we’ve seen them in Boston, along the the ICW in the Great Dismal Swamp and here in North Carolina. Here’s one that sat on the wind indicator of a nearby sailboat in Quincy, Massachusetts.
From the Seahawks FAQ, Here’s how the team got the name Seahawks
Q:How did the team get the name Seahawks?
A: In June of 1975 a contest was held to name the team. After receiving more than 20,000 entries the name Seahawks was chosen.
Q: What is a Seahawk?
A: Seahawk is another name for an osprey. Ospreys are birds that live on rivers and sea coasts all over the world. They have a wing span of 4 to 6 feet, and body length of 22″ to 25″. Seahawks soar over the water to hunt for fish, and unlike eagles, ospreys often dive completely under water, using powerful talons to grab their prey.
And here’s a link to an explanation of the development of the Seahawks logo.
Hoping this is how the Seahawk receivers will look to the Broncos tonight – they’ll only see the back of them, flying across the goal line.
The day after Christmas, Atlantic City taunted us. The peak of a slant-roofed tower rose out of the sea soon after we left Manasquan. It continued to grow all day and was joined by other, smaller towers, but for hours they remained Atlantis-like, half-sunk in the ocean. It seemed they would never draw closer, we would never get there.
The experience of actually being in Atlantic City was very similar. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Another fine winter day on the New Jersey coast
The day was beautiful but cold. I spent the day in my red foul weather coveralls, a gift from my friend Candace. I might wear this next Halloween and go as a Transformer.
Soft rollers came from our seaward side, and the north-west wind blew from shore at about 10-15 knots, setting up a bit of chop. From a couple of miles out to sea the Jersey shore looked as inviting as it might in summer, but there was no one on the beach. We hoped for another visitation of dolphins, but they too stayed away.
Atlantic City begins to look real
After several hours we finally got close enough to Atlantic City that solid ground materialized for the sleek, gleaming buildings to sit upon, and seemingly moments after that we were sailing into the inlet past a battered section of boardwalk left over from Hurricane Sandy. At sunset we tied up at the state marina at Golden Nugget Casino, helped and advised by a friendly fellow live-aboard who keeps his own sailboat there.
I was really looking forward to checking out Atlantic City. It’s figured large in so many books and movies, and of course all the Donald Trump noise. And then there’s that famous boardwalk touched upon by Springsteen, 60′s boy bands, and last but not least, Hurricane Sandy. Best of all though, we wanted to walk the streets that were named for our favorite childhood board game – Monopoly!
Navigating Atlantic City – it’s a crap shoot
As darkness fell we cleaned up and headed ashore to find something to eat. First stop, The Golden Nugget which turned out to be a little too smoky, a little too brassy for our taste. The clientele all looked as if they worked in casinos and dive bars in other beleaguered cities. The floor would not stop moving underfoot, but that was my own problem. We started looking for the way out and found ourselves stymied at every turn. Which was our first clue – Atlantic City casinos do not want you to leave. There’s a Stephen King horror story lurking in that fact.
After asking a clerk in one of the shops, we learned that what we would have to go out the way we came in and get on a Jitney, a small bus that shuttles folks between casinos, because, surprise, you can’t walk from one to the other. They’re liked walled fortresses, cut off from one another by vast parking lots, winding freeways and tangled overpasses that appear to exist solely to funnel cars, and the credit cards inside them, into casinos.
Aboard the Jitney I asked other passengers where we might find some restaurants. I was hankering for Indian food – perhaps inspired by Trump’s Taj Mahal, which I’d seen from the ocean. I asked specifically for a place not in a casino. I got blank looks. All recommendations were for restos inside casinos, in particular The Borgata. I told them I wanted to walk because we’d been on a boat all day and wanted to stretch our legs and that I’d really like to walk to the Taj Mahal because I’d heard so much about it. A couple of young women shook their heads. They told me it was possible to walk between casinos down at the boardwalk, but advised against doing that. Not only was it cold, but it was sort of dangerous. That’s not a good place to be after dark was the way they put it. They directed us again toward Borgata. Hungry, we gave up and asked to be let off there.
While all this discussion was going on, the Jitney had circled the Golden Nugget parking lot, gone around the building and headed toward Borgata, which we’d seen was the next tower over. Now it took a series of freeway-style on ramps and off ramps, wound around some more, circled Borgata, drove through the hotel’s parking lot and wound between porticoes and outbuildings. No exaggeration – it took 20 minutes to drive from the Golden Nugget to the Borgata though they are located next to each other. We could have sailed there faster.
The Borgata was indeed much nicer. But in Atlantic City increments. It was similar in style to an mid-level tribal casino in our native Washington State. It was nothing – let me repeat that, nothing – once again, nothing like Vegas.
Sake to make everything shiny again
Thinking the buffet would be our best deal for dinner, we headed there first, to find the price was something like $39 per person. No buffet is worth that. We did a quick 180 on the heaving floor and headed to N.O.W. the Asian fusion noddle bar instead. We had a decent meal plus sake (I love sake) for less than half what the buffet would have cost for one. That must be one great buffet. Buffets are a problem for us anyway. We simply don’t need that much food, but once you’ve paid so much you want to make sure you get your money’s worth and end up over-eating. A bad business when sailing since we can’t get out and run around and work off the excess.
All in all it was a fun evening, but the next morning we got up early and headed back out to sea, happily leaving that wired and clanging Atlantis in our wake.
Someone please take us to task for our snap judgement and set us straight on the hidden charms of this iconic American town. We know we’ll need to give AC a bit more time when next we make a passage along the New Jersey shore. Which we’ll hope to do in warmer weather so that we can get outside and see it our way rather than from the canned, and managed perspective provided by the big hotels.
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