Warning: this is a very long post!
Safely we sit at the Waterside Marina in Norfolk, VA and we are enjoying the absolutely beautiful weather here (at least for now). It is 80 degrees, no clouds in the sky, and a breeze constantly blowing; what a refreshing change from NC.
Saturday (5/2/15): We stayed in Coinjock, NC for another day as the wind continued to blow like crazy and it was cold (45 degrees). We both had lots of work to do, so it proved to be a good opportunity to sit tight and take advantage of a great internet connection. And what a very fun day it became, especially when the weather started to clear and it warmed up into the 70’s.
In the morning, several boats left the marina to make the trip north and since most of the other boats had cleared out the previous day it was pretty vacant. Left tied up to the 1200’ dock was our boat at the very northern end, and a Canadian-registered sailboat named (Papa Jovial) was near the very southern end. There was no one else in between.
Around mid-morning we took a break to walk the dock and get some exercise, as well as take a few pictures of the Veterans Park south and across the canal from our marina. We stopped at Papa Jovial to talk to the woman in the cockpit and Mark was saying that their boat looked familiar. Mind you by this time have repeatedly passed several boats and we recognize them, but can’t remember where we know them from (which passage). Some are “loopers”, some are not. As we were talking to the woman, the man pokes his head out of the cabin and Mark recognizes him as the “Frenchman” from our marina in Merritt Island (Harbor town). What a small world and what a wonderful surprise. We listened to his stories about traveling all around the world in this particular boat, clocking over 70,000 miles over 6 years, including traveling from Australia to Cape Town, South Africa. He lost all his electronics in a lightening hit off the coast of Martinique and navigated through the Bahamas without a depth-sounder (can you imagine?), GPS, or any of them working. He was quite a character as you can probably imagine.
Around lunch time, boats started to come in one by one and before 5 pm the dock was full. None of these boats were small, in fact we were probably the smallest boat. Also, as we were at the top of the dock and were blocked by the next (big) boat and could not see all of them that had come in. It was only when we took a break and started talking to the people in the next boat that we saw all the boats that had come into the dock. These boats included several sport fishing boats (Viking, Hatteras, Carver), a large catamaran motor vessel, two Flemings (a boat we considered several years back) and another 75 foot Hatteras (not a sport fishing configuration) – as well as others. But the most amazing boat was a 125 foot custom yacht named “Aspen Alternative”. It had a full crew of at least 4 and more than one guest aboard. It looked like an otherwise typical day in Ft. Lauderdale, but we were in Coinjock, NC.
So there we were minding our own business and enjoying a cocktail and the nice weather (finally) in the stern of our boat when 3 guys who were walking the dock came by. They had obviously been drinking a bit and were in ‘good spirits’. They asked about our boat and we started chatting it up and eventually invited them to come aboard. Come to find out one of them (Brian) owns a marina in New York along the Hudson River and invited us to come stay in it when we are there. Brian has the 75’ Hatteras motor yacht and it is parked at the extreme southern end of the dock behind Papa Jovial. We have a fun time talking to them for about an hour and then they left to go to dinner.
As Mark and I had eaten at the restaurant the night before (great seafood and homemade potato chips!) we decided to cook on the boat. While we are eating dinner we watch a helicopter come in and land in this tiny little spot behind the restaurant; 3 people got out and head to dinner. This is obviously the place to be on a Saturday spring night in this part of NC. It is prom season and the restaurant was hosting many couples as well as all the cruisers that had just come in. In addition they had a guitarist playing on the patio which would have attracted more crowds had it been warmer. While the winds and rain had dissipated, it was still only in the 50’s.
After we had eaten, we decide to go check out all the big boats (including Brian’s) and see what else was going on in the marina. We walk past “Aspen Alternative” and two of the fishing boats (one from Key West) and down to Brian’s boat (“Corporate Approved”). They are still there and invite us aboard for the tour. What a boat! His “main salon” is bigger than our living room at home and he has 3 levels; 4 bathrooms (including one with a Jacuzzi tub). He was the most gracious host and was really down a down-to-earth, likable guy. His two buddies were also just as fun and warming. Who would have known that one was a NYC attorney and one was a former entertainment host (think MTV/VH1). Come to find out Brian’s Marina is one of the vendor-sponsors of the AGLCA event we are attending in Norfolk, so we knew we would see him there.
On Sunday morning we watched almost all the boats pull out, one-by-one. Finally at 7:00 am we untied the dock lines and made our way north. It was a beautiful day to be on the water with temperatures cool at first and then warming so as not too hot to require the air conditioner yet.
On our journey north, we have two bridges and a lock to pass that will require opening for us to get through. All of these have restrictions as to their opening times. The second bridge opening is coordinated with the lock opening and occurs only on the hour; it is a short ¼ mile between the two. The first (swing) bridge opens on the half-hour and the hour. We knew if we timed it right we could get through all three in a row and watched are speed and time carefully. That is until some (self-centered) motor boater barged in front of us at the bridge, took his time getting through, and delayed our passage. This caused us to miss the 2nd bridge opening….by < 5 minutes. Despite our pleadings, the bridge tender would not hold the opening for us. So we tied up to the docks they provide for such occurrences and waited the 55 minutes for the next opening. Did I mention that this same motor-boater followed us the entire way from Coinjock and was right on our stern (dangerous) and in our wake (for his smoother ride)? We gave him plenty of opportunity to pass before the bridge, which he did not take.
But this very small setback proved to be an adventure (aren’t they always?). When we tied up to the dock waiting on the opening of the second bridge, we met fellow “loopers” (Sno Daz) who were from Englewood, FL. They were very friendly and offered suggestions on the route north as they had traversed the bridge/locks heading southbound in the fall.
We also met a guy by the name of Jim who lives on his boat in the marina where the tie-up docks are. He has a lobster-type boat and he has been boating all his life. He was from upstate Maine and was familiar with the Back Cove boats (made in Rockland, ME), complementing us on our choice of a “good boat”. He was so interesting to talk to and we loved that he helped us off the dock when it came time to go through the bridge/locks.
As the wind had mostly died down the lock was a relatively non-event. They take you up only 2 -3 feet, so the water pouring in is pretty mild (kind of like the locks at Port Canaveral) and it was easy to hold the boat steady. The lock master and tenders were so friendly and helpful. You can tell we are still in the South.
Here are some pictures of the approach and us in the locks:
On our way into Norfolk we stopped to get fuel at a marina called Top Rack and paid the cheapest rate yet at $2.38 per gallon. What a nice surprise. Cheap fuel means more nights in a marinaJ.
Coming into Norfolk is quite an experience on the water.
In addition to being a huge military (mostly Navy) shipyard, it is also a large commercial seaport. Military & police vessels, container ships, freighters, car carriers and tugs pulling/pushing barges is a constant. Throw in the tourist clipper ships, water taxis and day-sailors and you have what looks like 1-4 traffic at rush hour on the water….all the time. Navigating the channel and motoring through all the traffic was a bit nerve wracking for Denise, but she handled it well. Coming into the very crowded marina right off all of this and docking the boat (stern in) was a job professional, and Mark handled it perfectly. Thank goodness for bow and stern thrusters for making those 360 degree turns.
Every picture or movie you have seen about military ships, especially air craft carriers just does not tell the story about how large they really are. We are not a small boat, but next to these things we are like flies on an elephant. There were destroyers, air craft carriers, and even a sub in the shipyards being worked on, and they are massive. It easy to be intimidated by them and this is why our military just needs to patrol the waters off the coast of Africa to keep our ships registry vessels safe from pirates.
The marina we are staying at in Norfolk is very different than any we have stayed at on this trip so far. First of all, it is located right on the major waterways, and is in the heart of downtown Norfolk. It is noisy and the boat moves with each passing ship or barge. It has a river-walk area and park nearby, and it is adjacent to what used to be a major shopping & dining complex (sort of like Jacksonville Landing). However, all the shops and restaurants are closed as the whole place is undergoing renovation. The marina bathrooms are located in a small part of this complex as is the laundry facility. None of these is in great shape and really is way overdue for a renovation. There is no cable TV, and the internet is not great, making streaming even the news or weather a bit of a challenge; certainly no video. On the other hand, the dockhands are terrific and very professional. They know what they are doing and will bend over backwards to help you. There is one guy with red-orange hair that reminds us of the comedian Carrot Top.
After getting the boat docked and situated we got showers and met a few of the other “loopers” who were walking around the docks. We found a local microbrewery a few blocks from the marina where we went for dinner before turning in for the night. Come to find out we had just missed a wine festival they were having in the park next door, and it was Virginia-only wines they were serving. Too bad we missed it as it would have been fun to attend.
Denise started the day with a 3.5 mile run around the river walk area, which was really needed as she hadn’t run in over a week. The path to the west took her past a memorial, a museum, the tourist boats area, and into a residential condominium section that has a community park. This was not your typical community park; it was all Japanese themed and had the most beautiful flowering trees and shrubs. There was a pagoda in the middle that is a café of sorts (it wasn’t open) and a beautiful fountain and pond. You find the nicest surprises on a run!
As the AGLCA Rendezvous did not start until the afternoon, we had the morning to get some work done. While Denise had a client conference call, Mark met with a canvas person to get an estimate for a dinghy cover. We then did a little work on the boat and then after lunch headed to the opening sessions at the event. The first was an overall high-level presentation about the most popular loop route that included some very spectacular pictures and reaffirmed our decision to do this.
There are over 200 participants and about 50% are people who have already completed one or more “loops”, or are in the process of “looping” today (that includes us). The other 50% are people who are interested or are planning to do it. While most of the people we meet are retired and “older”, we had the chance to meet several couples who are our age (or younger) and are close to retiring or trying to figure out a way to do the loop while still working. We have met one other couple (so far) who are actually working while looping like us, and we met a couple from Anchorage Alaska that flew down from this event as they are considering looping in 2 years. During the “In Process Loopers” introduction there was a guy who got up and talked about his first loop. He did it in a speedboat and it took him 7 weeks. He rushed everything just to get it done, and is now doing it again, albeit slower. He was hilarious and was the hit of the afternoon events.
The people we meet are from all walks of life and some have never even driven a boat. The hardest part will be trying to remember everyone’s names, even though we have their boat cards.
The next few days are packed with all-day session and events, including a Boat Crawl each afternoon which we have signed up for. It allows people to come on your boat and show off your set up, as each looper is different and people do it in all kinds of boats. Very fun and very educational at the same time.
The day started with our first boat issue – we ran out of water…or so we thought. As the showers facilities at this marina are few and are pretty gross, we opted to use our boat shower. It is really fine for me, but kind of small for Mark. However, we had not put any water on the boat since Morehead City and we were not really paying attention to it. Well, when Mark was showering we could hear the water pump laboring and so he ended his shower quickly. When he got out he began putting water on the boat, but it took only a few minutes before the fill up was overflowing. Since he was using hot water from the hot water tank, we now think that maybe it was not that the tanks were empty, but that the outflow of water from the tanks could not keep up with the feed to the shower. Or it is possible that pump just lost the prime and couldn’t feed water through the system. After the fill, Denise took her shower and there were no problems.
Then we had internet connectivity issues. The Wi-Fi antennae for this marina is inside the marina office and not very high. They keep moving it to give the strongest signal (probably to the boater who complains the most) which knocks people off the connection all the time. All the boaters are complaining about it. So we could not get on the internet to do email (or send out this blog post as originally planned). Finally we gave up as we had to go to the Rendezvous.
Our events start at 8:30 with the morning briefing and then move right into the first session. After two sessions in the morning, we break for lunch in the ballroom, then back into two sessions in the afternoon. Then today began the boat crawl, then there is the pre-dinner cash bar cocktail hour, and then the dinner. During the dinner they have different presenters and they give away door prizes from the Rendezvous sponsors. It makes for a very long day and we didn’t get back to our boat on Monday until 9:00. So, today we attended the morning sessions (The Chesapeake & the Delaware Bay to the Eerie Canal), had lunch and then attended the afternoon session (NY Canals). At the afternoon break Denise made the decision to go back to the boat while Mark attended one of the vendor presentations (The Waterway Guide) and then joined her.
We worked on the internet connection and got it going again, then attended the Boat Crawl to see how a few other boats. In addition to seeing a nicely outfitted Grand Banks (“Patriot”) we also saw a sailboat (“Heron”) that had rebuilt the entire inside and put a secret fort under the main salon settee for when the grandkids were aboard.
Elizabeth made all the pink flamingo curtains for her boat and although it is old, it is really cute. We also toured a big boxy 36’ motor-cruiser (“Zendo”) owned by a couple from Ponte Vedra Beach – who are relocating back to Miami. We have a good friendship brewing with this couple and hope to see them along the way in this adventure. It is fun to see how other people are living aboard their boats and what they have on it. We definitely have a minimalist approach compared to most, but it is not our permanent home. We still like our boat best! Tomorrow it will be in the crab crawl and they get to see how we live.
After the crawl it was time for the cocktail hour and dinner. We had been invited back to our friend Brian’s boat (“Corporate Approved” – 75 foot Hatteras from Coinjock) as they were having a Cinco de Mayo celebration for the loopers, so we went there instead. They were handing out t-shirts for the marina in NY and we got to meet Brian’s daughter (Laura) who just ended her first year at University of South Carolina and was joining him for the boat ride home. We (again) had a lot of fun but had to leave for dinner and bid them good-bye. They are leaving tomorrow to start the journey home and we promised to come to their marina when in Albany.
By the way: the Rendezvous is great! The presentations are fantastic with lots of great pictures and highlights. We are shown how to enter certain harbors, points of interests, places to avoid and why, and things to do. It is so well done and we are really impressed with the quality of the presentations and the information that is shared. It just gets us all excited about the upcoming adventures.
We will be very busy with the Rendezvous and leaving on Friday, so we probably will not make a posting again until Saturday or Sunday. Our next stop is probably going to be Yorktown so we can try to connect with nieces Christen and Shannon and their families. No matter what, we will be somewhere on the Chesapeake in Virginia.
Other Pictures of interest from the last few days: