Saturday, August 8, 2009

Movin' On Up

We spent our last day in Norfolk, where else, but at the beach - we went to Croatan Beach which is the local's surf beach over by Virginia Beach. It's a little tough to find since there aren't any signs but we finally managed to sniff it out and it was worth it. It wasn't nearly as crowded or dingy as the rest of VA Beach we had seen a couple days earlier. While the waves weren't nearly as big as they had been in Hatteras or Wrightsville Beach, it didn't take us long to be in the waves happily boogie boarding away!!
Tammy and Doug Boogie Boarding (photo courtesy of September Song)
There were sections of the beach that were marked off for surfers and others for regular swimmers - we weren't quite sure where we fit into that schematic so we just went where the waves were and figured a life guard would yell at us if we were in the wrong place! We had a great afternoon riding the waves for all they were worth before a chance look to the sky which was turning rapidly dark - we could tell we were in for a major thunder boomer so we split the beach before the heavy stuff starting coming down.

On the way back to the boat we had to find a store to get chicken parts - no not for dinner, but so the boys could go crabbing once we got to the James River where we were headed. Carrying out new nets, wooden mallets for smacking the crabs and chix parts, we were loaded for bear - bring on the James and the crabs!! We left Norfolk the next day which was a little strange - Norfolk is the start or end of the ICW (depends of course on which way you are traveling and for us it was the end) and we had steamed all the way up from Palm Beach on it give or take a couple days that we went outside into the Atlantic. The Ditch as the ICW is often called has lots of pluses and minuses - on the plus side, it is much more protected than the ocean so you can usually travel it no matter the weather, the scenery is often breathtaking and there are many great anchorages; on the minuses side, there are tons of bridges many of which need to be opened before you can get through which is time consuming and annoying, it is often very shallow and there are tons of no wake zones which slow you down. On the whole though, we have thoroughly enjoyed our travels on the ICW and will miss it (at least until the next time).

We passed through Hampton Roads (which is like a major waterway intersection where the Atlantic, the ICW (or Elizabeth River) and the James River all meet) - it is a major heavy duty traffic area as it leads to major commercial ports, is home to the largest naval base in the US if not the world, and is home to several very large shipyards!! Can you say lots of tugs, barges, container ships, and huge gray naval warships??? That's usually what you see going through Hampton Roads, but the other morning it was reasonably quiet - a couple tugs and a few barges but all the warships seemed to be in port for the moment - whew!!!
Barge on the Hampton Roads
September Song Passing a Tanker in the Hampton Roads
Tug Passing Some Navy Ships Just Before Entering the Hampton Roads
Just as we were approaching Hampton Roads we heard the Coast Guard on the radio report a sunken ship in the Newport News shipping channel by the James River - you guessed it, right where we were headed!!! We continued along our route but kept a really sharp lookout for any boat parts sticking up out of the water and also got in touch with Sea Tow for any additional info they might have (they didn't but at least they relayed to us the last known lat/long position of the sunken ship - of course that was over 4 hours old so it had probably moved by the time we were traveling). Long story short, we made it through past the Northrop Grumman Shipyard (the old Newport News Shipyard) where our nephew Levi is in school, and passed under the James River Bridge without striking any underwater obstructions!!!
Captain Tammy Pilots Gypsies in the Palace Through Hampton Roads

The trip up the James River was beautiful - lots of osprey, hawks and even a few bald eagles to keep us company.
Osprey Carrying Away Its Prey
Osprey on Marker 54

We passed the old reserve fleet (also know as the mothball fleet - essentially it is a whole bunch of old military warships that have been decommissioned and just sit out to one side of the river - the first time I saw it made me think Virginia was planning on invading North Carolina!!) and then Kingsmill which is in Williamsburg (we will stop there on our way back up the James).
September Song Approaches the Reserve Fleet
We also passed Jamestown, sight of the first successful settlement in the new world in the early 1600's! Everything looks so different from the water!!
Jamestown Settlement from the Water
Replicas of the Ships that Brought the Settlers to Jamestown
Finally we reached our anchorage in the Chickahominy River - a beautiful little spot that we had heard much about from our nephews, Luke, Larkin and Levi, who live in that area and bomb around the "Chick" as they call it in Luke's little boat or on their jet ski. What a great place - we wiled away the afternoon relaxing and sticking our toes in the water!!
Our Anchorage in the Chickahominy River
Gypsies in the Palace in Her Chickahominy Anchorage
Doug tried to do a little crabbing but we were anchored in water that was a little too deep - with the current the chix parts on a string couldn't reach the bottom where all the crabs were - instead he kept bringing up little catfish who were nibbling on the chix leg. Bob on September Song had a lot more luck as he had anchored in about 7 feet of water - he pulled up about a dozen and a half which they had for dinner that night. Secretly I was kind of hoping Doug didn't catch any because the thought of having to cook those smelly things on the boat wasn't too appealing to me nor was the thought of the mess created by smacking them with a wooden mallet - great for a crab house where someone else cleans up but on Gypsies??? no thanks!! Oh well - moot point - at least until the next time Doug is feeling crabby!!

The next day we dropped our dinks and it was time to explore the Chick - what an amazing and largely undiscovered place - at least to the majority of cruisers!!!
Bob, Stephanie, Cassie and Godiva Explore in Half Note
We were surrounded by bald eagles and osprey as well as egrets and blue herons - the fish were darn near jumping into our dinghy they were so big and active!!
The Chickahominy River
Interesting Trees Along Water's Edge
The river itself was lined with lily pads that gave rise to marsh grasses and wild orchids that were bordered by pine and other wonderful trees - often the cypress trees would be out in the water among the lily pads!!!
Weird Tree in the Middle of the Chickahominy
Lily Pads Floating Along the Edge of the Water
The whole river was lit up by the reflection of the clouds in the glass-calm water - I love exploring on an overcast day when it's hard to tell where the sky ends and the river begins due to the reflections.
Trees Reflecting in the Water
We explored all 12 miles of the river until we hit a dam and could go no further - the water in this "little river" which is an offshoot of the James is plenty deep (even for Gypsies) and in places was well over 70 feet (there are certainly places with shoaling where the water is only a couple feet deep but those areas seem to be well marked). Some of the houses we passed where up on the top of cliffs with stairs that seemed to go to the sky - if they forget something on their way to their boats, bet they don't go back for it!!
Lots of Steps to the Boathouse
It was a magical ride - we stopped at a little marina River's Rest on the way home for burgers and beers and the chef even came out and gave us a plate of crawfish that he had been cooking!
Rivers Rest Marina
Lunch at Rivers Rest Marina
The marina/restaurant/motel appears to be a family affair and is a great alternative to someone wanting a marina for a night - although I can't imagine not wanting to anchor in this river as there are so many wonderfully protected and scenic spots!!

That afternoon as we were enjoying the calm before the party (SS had invited us over for a mahi dinner - the last of their Bahamas caught mahi!!!!) and were getting ready to go pick up Doug's sister Dale by dinghy, who should pull into our quiet little anchorage but Shenanigans, a 44 foot DeFever with Trudy and Steen, fellow DeFeverites that we had last seen at the Rendezvous in February!!! Cruising can indeed be a small world! Anyways, Dale, Doug and I headed over to September Song for an amazing mahi/corn on the cob dinner - thank you so much guys as always!!
Dinner on September Song
and then Trudy and Steen and their friends Norman and Betsy who were traveling with them on their Monk 36, Peggy Sue, showed up just in time for desert - an oreo cookie pie I had made that afternoon. Armed with wine and other adult libations we proceeded to catch up and we shared the pie Bahamian style - everyone gets a fork and the pie gets passed around!!!
Bob Takes His turn at The Oreo Cookie Pie
As it turned out we had met the other couple before as well on our way down the ICW in the Fall in Belhaven - it took us a while to figure out where it had been, but we finally got there!!! What a great evening of friendship, laughter and good food - it was great for Dale to be a part of it with us as this is truly what cruising is all about!! You never know who you are going to run into or when or where, but when you do, you catch up and pick up where you last left off - that is the great thing about cruising friendships. In the area of "It's a small world", turns out that Betsy, Dale and Doug went to the same high school in Virginia, just a few years apart. Can't wait to run into those guys again - we are all heading up towards Richmond so you just never know - we may pull into some tiny little anchorage or port somewhere and see Shenanigans or Peggy Sue and we know we'll be among friends!!!
Dale, Trudy, Steen and Norman
Norman, Betsy and Doug

Yesterday we headed out around 8:00 am waving and blowing our horns at Shenanigans and Peggy Sue as we motored by for our trip further up the James River towards Richmond. Not too many cruising boats head this far up the James River and let me tell you, they are really missing a wonderful treat!!! Most of the time the best places we've been are the ones off the beaten path - you just have to look for an opportunity and then be willing to take a chance!!
The William Henry Harrison Bridge to Hopewell, VA
The upper James River is an uncrowded waterway with plenty of water and scenery to die for - you pass many of the old southern plantations along the river's edge, homes that were built in the 1700's and are still owned by the same families even today. Many of them have glorious lawns and gardens that flow majestically down into the river.
A Cliff Along the James Rover
One of the plantations we passed is called Sherwood Forest and has been the home to two US presidents - William Henry Harrison and John Tyler - their descendants still live on the property today!!
Shirley Plantation
Evelynton Plantation
Westover Plantation
September Song Approaches the Dock of their New Plantation Home

We had gotten used to having the waterway to ourselves and were enjoying the peace and calm of a great day on the water when suddenly two very military-like craft bombed by us doing at least 150 mph (OK well maybe not quite but when you are only going about 7-8 knots it sure can feel that way!!!) - never had any idea who or what they were, but it made for great pictures!!
Military Attack Vessels???

It was a ton of fun having Dale on the boat with us for the ride up the James River - this is her and Doug's old stomping grounds and Dale still lives in this area so I think it was fun for her to see all the places she knew from the water which gives such a different perspective.
Dale Checks Out One of the Homes Along the Way
Things which by land may take you 5 minutes to drive to, appear much farther apart when you are traveling slowly upstream and also the view is different - normally by land you see the fronts of buildings, often on the water you are seeing the back (other than those very smart individuals that realize the better view is out to the water and face their homes that way - lots of the plantations are like this!) She also got to see a slice of what our life onboard is like and now has a better understanding I think of why we love it so much!
An Osprey on Marker 110

We finally got to our planned anchorage at Hatcher Island and to our surprise there were stakes across the entrance to the little pond - guess we weren't anchoring there after all!! Think the guidebook needs to be updated - but then again, when you explore off the beaten path, sometimes all is not as you expect!!! We cruisers always have a back up plan so we just turned around and headed back to Jones Neck Island where we pulled in to the loop around the island and dropped anchor in a really cute, protected offshoot of the river!! What a bonus - sometimes even a blind squirrel finds a nut - we just lucked into a great little anchorage. Yesterday afternoon we sat on the boat munching on burgers enjoying a coldie or two and watching the blue herons and egrets wander the mud flats in search of food along the side of the river until it was time to drop the dink and bring Dale ashore. Another great afternoon on the water!!
Blue Heron
Blue Heron Takes Flight as Gypsies in the Palace Goes By

Today our nephew Levi is hopping on his jet ski and meeting us at our anchorage - what took us all day yesterday to travel will take him less than an hour (the jet ski goes about 50-55 mph)!! While we enjoy the peace and serenity of traveling at 7-8 knots and all the opportunities it affords us to see the wildlife and surrounding scenery, he just enjoys speed (he's 19 for pete's sake). Guess there are tradeoffs in everything in life!! We can't wait to see him and may take him out exploring in our family car - we might not go 50 mph, but Hobos can kick up her heels, especially when she knows we have a day of exploring ahead of us!!!

Click here to see our anchorage near Jones Neck Island.

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