Friday, June 28, 2013

Off on our road trip - Blowing Rock

I know it seems to everyone that we are on a permanent holiday but to us this felt like our holiday as we set off on the 350+ mile drive from Portsmouth Virginia to our first destination of Blowing Rock, North Carolina.  The drive was quite dull but funny to be passing through or close to – Southampton, Suffolk, Oxford, Durham, Hillsborough, were we still in the US?  As we neared Blowing Rock we were able to deviate off the Interstate and enjoy what we had driven all this way for, we pulled off onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and meandered through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Here we are joining the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

Look at the views

The Cliff Dwellers Motel was just outside of the main village of Blowing Rock and we were met with a warm welcome and bombarded with tourist information, all we wanted was food and bed!

Next day we headed out walking, we drove along the Blue Ridge Parkways and joined one of the many trails which are well marked.  We walked for an hour through the undergrowth and over boulders.

Mark being spiderman

Yep that is were the path leads - it is so green
We didn't see anyone until we reached the top and this was only because there was much shorter walk that reached the same destination.  We were rewarded with some aching legs and great views.

Amanda with aching legs

In the distance is the viaduct where we started our walk
Mountains as far as you can see

Mark on top of the World
Funny that the day after doing this walk which took us through a place called Wilson Creek we were told by a local that "troublesome" black bears brought in from other States are released in this area - not a word about this when we picked up the map in the visitors centre!!

Later that afternoon there was more walking at Linville Falls, really beautiful but a bit busy as a popular tourist destination as you can get some good views without walking too far.

Linville Falls

Little friendly snake

The next day there was more walking but with the risk of rain we could not venture too far so visited the Moses Cone House and the amazing grounds.  Moses Cone was supposedly referred to as “Mr Denim” in the 1800s but also had an interest in roads and apples so his grounds are criss-crossed with horse & cart tracks and a large apple orchard along with a beautiful lake.  

Lake at Moses Cone Mansion
The mansion was used as a film set for the hospital scenes in The Green Mile

Look at the little ducks!

Finally reached the house and you can see the lake where we started in the distance
Squirrel, Chipmunk ..... neither, what is he? He liked having his photo taken

In the afternoon we dodged the thunder storms and visited the town, pretty with touristy shops.  We also visited Mast General Store which has been in this location since the 1800s, it had old fashion american games (made in china !), toys, coke in bottles and general touristy bit plus a separate store 2 minutes away which was a sweet/candy store with lots of old fashion sweets, we tried a few traditional america sweet like Salt Water Taffy and mostly did not like them!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Portsmouth and Norfolk - Awesome!

We are staying at Tidewater Water Yacht marina ( in Portsmouth, Virginia for over a month; on arrival we have a never ending list of Magnum maintenance! One of our first jobs is for Mark to take a look at the saildrive and propeller to see why we are struggling in reverse.  So on goes the wetsuit, the water is not very inviting firstly because it is in the marina which is never pleasant, it is also very dark and murky plus we have seen a number of jelly fish! But he bravely ventures in.

Initially Mark is not even able to locate the saildrive/propeller as visibility is so poor he doesn’t know which way is up and down but on his second dive  he appears with culprit, a piece of plastic sheeting was wrapped around the propeller, which is great news as we thought it was going to be an huge expense.

Propeller wrapping!
Mark has also had a trip up the mast to fit a new VHF antenna, good exercise for him and some superb views over the empty marina, the Elizabeth River and Norfolk.

It hasn't been all work and no play, we have explored Portsmouth, the town was established in 1752 by Colonel William Crawford who was an America Soldier but from Scottish/Irish decent.  The Gosport shipyard was built here in the 1700’s which was later renamed to Norfolk Naval dockyard, it has built many US navy ships and is the oldest facility belonging to the US Navy, Norfolk is actually America’s largest naval base.

The Portsmouth Lightship was built in 1915 although stationed in Virginia she was not in Portsmouth but now proudly is stands between 2 apartment blocks.

The historic district of the town is very pretty and contains lots of houses dating back to the 1800s which have been beautifully maintained.

Many properties have the stars and stripes flying, they are pretty patriotic.

We have also had a few visits across the Elizabeth River to Norfolk on the paddle steamer, unfortunately the paddle is just for show but it is a convenient and cheap way ($3 return) to cross the river.

Elizabeth River paddle steamer
With such a huge naval presence they have a great naval museum, “Nauticus” this is a naval museum but there is also other sea related exhibitions, we enjoyed being able to stroke a shark! It was only a small cat shark in a tank, he was a bit rough and squishy but weren't we brave!  You also have access to the Battleship Wisconsin which has seen active service in World War 2, the Korean War and more recently when it was updated to fire Tomahawk missiles in Dessert storm, it was an action packed day and we were a bit “navy ed” out by the end of the day. But look what fun we had!!

Mark is a sailor!

Amanda is a mermaid

On deck of the Wisconsin

Disappearing down the hatch

Mark standing to attention

How huge is the ship - 58,000 tonnes
We also love the mermaid theme in Norfolk, they are everywhere, this is 3 of many.

There always seems to be something going on in the area, Harbour Fest took place one weekend with entertainment both sides of the river, we spent Friday evening at an Arts centre listening to some local acoustic musicians, again very friendly we were given a special welcome! On the Saturday we visited Norfolk where there were Tall Ship, stalls, music and water demonstrations – we enjoyed the tug demonstration and some of the local musicians.

We have been so warmly welcomed in Portsmouth, the people have been exceptionally friendly and helpful, Patty and LT on the boat opposite have been kind enough to run us around to the supermarket and other place, they also invited us to cocktail night on the dock (every Thursday at 5!) when we meet lots of other friendly neighbours. We met Tom and Paula at one of these evenings and they have been kind enough to provide various cruising advice, as well as inviting us to a social on their boat to watch fireworks – our rum jelly shooters went down well.

There were many more
Another exceptionally nice couple are Neil and Dot who went out of their way to pick up information  on the countryside we were planning on visiting on the Blue Ridge mountains and provide lots of advice on where we might enjoying visiting as well as offering us a bed, very kind of people to go out of their way to make your stay enjoyable.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

ICW - Motoring, bridges and more wildlife

Day 3
After a day at anchor sheltering from the bitter cold northerly in Alligator River we were underway again, as we left at 7am it was pretty chilly, the oillies were on along with our thermals! This was a bit of a shock. We had 2 large open stretches of water to  transit, the first was  in the Alligator River and as the river opened up the wind was between 15-20 knots and really cold, the brown murky water looked particularly uninviting!

We had our first encounter with a bridge which we needed opened for us to pass through, we called the bridge operator and he kindly stopped the traffic on what looked like a busy road and opened the bridge for us.

Alligator River bridge

Opening Alligator Bridge

The cars cursing us for closing the bridge
We continued up the river, sounds easy but even through the river is wide here we had to stick within the dredged channel which is 90 yards wide and shallow outside this, the markers for the channel are around 1 mile apart so it can be difficult to get your bearings especially without a chart plotter.  At the north end of the river we entered  the Ablemarle Sound, which is wide and open and relatively deep, 4-5 meters, so we were able to get the sail out and motor sail for the next 20 miles to save some fuel. We still stuck within the channel although potentially in some places we could have sailed outside but there are a huge number of crab pots littering the sound even in some place within the channel.  We also dodged the seabirds which seemed content to sit in our path, it was nice to see Cormorants again, they always remind us of home.

Cormorants enjoying a rest
As we left the Sound and entered north river we manoeuvred out of the channel and into the maze of crab pots to anchor for the night.  Another 40 miles of motoring behind us.

Day 4

We were greeted in the morning by the sight of the nesting Osprey on the channel marker, they were a little concerned when we had to motor close to them.

The mist was rising over the river as the motor was on again for another day.

Beautiful morning

We had an early start but even at this time it was bank holiday and there were small boats whizzing past us, mainly on their way fishing.  The day continued as it had started and all along the North River into the North Landing River and then the Arblemarle and Cheasapeake canal with Osprey nesting on every available channel marker.

In addition to the Ospreys there we a number of other very large birds of prey and we also saw a terrapin sunning itself.

Terrapin enjoying the sunshine

As we reached the Currituck Sound the water was the shallowest we had experienced in the ICW and down to 2.1m, which is our depth, we were pretty slow and expect dragging Magnum’s keel through the mud.

As the day warmed up the river got busier and busier with boating traffic, after 3 days of very few boats they were passing from every direction all with a friendly wave. 

It was not long until the bridges began, we had 14 bridges and 1 lock over the course of the day, some of which we could pass under but many we had to wait to open.  They started small with the north landings bridge which opened on request.

Bridge in distance

The Great Bridge was bigger and only opened every half an hour, this was followed immediately by the lock, we even stopped for a cup of tea which waiting  - take a close look at Magnum’s bow and you can see the brown stain which had was now moving up her hull.

Magnum with her ICW moustache

Great Bridge opening and the tug we were to share the lock with

Amanda holding lines in the lock
The bridges increased in size as we entered the outskirts of Norfolk and the industrial activity. The novelty of the bridges soon wore off and as we neared the end of our journey any waiting around became frustrating especially when rail and road bridges seemed to struggle to co-ordinate open at the same time.

Approaching the Gilmerton Highway Bridge and preceding rail bridge

Road and rail at same time
Was quite scary as we were the last boat passing under the railbridge and the warning for it closing started to signal. It had been open 2 minutes maximum!

We were over joyed when we actually saw bridges that we open for boating traffic without request.

The final couple of bridges were a relief as one was high enough and the other was open, hurrah!  Particularly as we were now running very low on fuel!

Almost there!

Canal barge
Our final approach was painless but a little odd to us as we had not sailed into a large city for a long time.

Norfolk is a large naval city which was very apparent

Norfolk Waterside