11 November, 2014
November 6, warm, rainy morning in Portsmouth, and the ferry ride across the river is short. Nauticus opens at 1000, and we’re waiting at the door. This is a center that houses an extensive museum covering the gamut from war history, port history, commercial shipping, NOAA and etc. The Wisconsin, an Iowa Class battleship is also part of the Nauticus complex. We start the day with 2 guided tours of the Wisconsin. The first is the “Main Street” tour, taking us down below decks, exploring a variety of accommodation spaces. The second is the deck tour, which covers the deck, and spaces within the superstructure rising above the main deck. The tours are led by ex-Navy guys who are very knowledgeable about the ship, and are enthusiastic about their (volunteer) jobs. Every dollar that is paid for the tours goes directly back into the ship for more renovations and upkeep-cool. The Wisconsin was commissioned just before the end of WWII, and participated in the attacks on Iwo Jima and the shelling of islands in Japan. After the war, she was mothballed several times, but saw duty in Korea, Viet Nam, and Iraq 1. In fact, the video clips that we all watched on television of the nighttime cruise missile launches in the initial salvo of the attack on Iraq were taken from the deck of the Wisconsin. After our 3 ½ hour tour, we headed to Freemason Abbey restaurant for lunch. Back at the museum, 1700 closing time came way too quickly-could have spent a few more hours easily. The night brought gale force winds as a cold front moved through, and Friday morning dawned clear and crisp, with a full moon setting. At 0900, we were off up the Elizabeth river, heading to the northern entrance of The Dismal Swamp Canal. This canal was conceptualized by George Washington in the 1760’s, and hand dug by slaves from 1793-1805. Cost overruns halted construction in 1796 for a few years, but the project was eventually completed. The Canal allowed the Swamp, which was rich in White Cedar, and other commercially viable tree species to be harvested and shipped out economically. We opt to traverse this route instead of the Virginia Cut, because of its wilderness beauty, and its’ historical importance. We pass through Deep Basin Lock at 1100, and are entertained by Bob, the lockmaster, who regales us with tales, and completes our transit by playing “When the Saints Come Marching in” on a conch shell. I have to break out our conch horn, and give him a few toots-he confides to the Admiral that I need to work on my tongue rolling (I’m not even going there). The D.S. Canal is just a straight, 22 mile long, 6’ deep, tree-lined ditch, through beautiful wilderness. The depth is pretty consistent, but there are many submerged logs and branches, providing numerous bumps and bangs along the way. We were forewarned, so after the first few, it’s no thing. Just over the state line, the North Carolina Welcome Center has a seawall that’ll be our stop for the night. There’s plenty of room at the wall, but Changing Course and The Girl raft up to make room for the boats that we know are behind us. The Welcome Center is associated with a state park, so we get a little hike time in before dark. The rest of the boats in the canal are in right around dark-they’re all sailboats, and raft up three deep at the other end of the wall. I make the rounds with the contents of our icemaker, as most of the sailors don’t have that luxury. Pun intended, this gesture is always a good icebreaker. The sailboats decide that we all need to be off the wall by 0700, so we agree, as we want to be ahead of them on the waterway (they’re generally slower, and passing in a narrow channel can be dicey). At 0630, it’s cold enough to “freeze the balls off a brass monkey”. Hold on, let me explain. Back in the day, cannon balls needed to be stored in stacks on deck. Since they are round, they tend to roll around if not restrained. To accomplish this, square trays were formed with sixteen concave depressions. The balls were placed on these depressions and stacked in a pyramid, 16 on the bottom row, then 9 on the second, 4 on the third, then 1 on top. Since the cannon balls were made of iron, they would naturally rust, so the trays (monkeys) were made of brass, to keep the balls from adhering when they rusted. In extremely cold weather, the iron and brass contract at different rates, allowing the cannon balls to escape and roll around the deck-hence “Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”. Anyway, it was so dang cold that there was ice (I’m not talkin’ frost) on deck. We had to take our shoes off to keep from sliding around. It was another sunny, clear day though, and the canopy of trees was in its’ full autumnal splendor. When we arrived at South Mills Lock, “Two by Two”, a Nova Scotian 47’ (That we first met in the Saguenay Fiord off the St. Lawrence) was tied to the approach wall. Three trawlers and four sailboats locked through, and we were on our way to Elizabeth City, NC on the Pasquotank River. I have to say that this is a town that has the boater economy thing figured out. They have free tie ups on several city seawalls, as well as free internet. They only ask that you patronize local businesses during your stay. What a contrast with Anse St. Jean QC, where they charged you $10 to tie up your dinghy (and we said “To heck with that”, and ate on the boat, foregoing probably spending $100 at the bakery and restaurant in town). Elizabeth City, which seems to be a town kind of down on their luck did have a beautiful, state-funded Museum of the Albemarle, and an art gallery for local artists, both of which we visited. We then proceeded to do our part for the local economy-drugstore, bookstore, and the Cypress Restaurant, which turned out to be a delightful, nouveau cuisine place with many of seafood selections. Back on the Girl, the Admirals’ (and Captains) meeting mapped out our course for the next few days. Tomorrow, Sunday, we’ll head across the Albemarle Sound to Alligator River, and anchor in its’ southern end, about a 50 mile trip. Lisa has furnace envy-when the heat kicks on, she has to whine just a little bit, although I’m pretty sure it’s just for Bill’s benefit. After they split for their little ship, I can’t find a CBS station that’s carrying the Spartan game, so after finding out that the Wolverines have squeaked out a 10-9 victory over Northwestern, I hit the rack.