Everyone’s Welcome at the Dismal Swamp!

Once again, Brian and I decided to transit the Dismal Swamp Canal portion of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). This canal was the original ICW; now boaters may choose to transit via the Dismal Swamp Canal or the Virginia Cut. The Dismal Swamp Canal is beautiful, serene, and offers several free docks for transiting boats. During our October 2013 southbound transit, Brian and I spent three days in the canal exploring between the Deep Creek and South Mills locks. There is much history here, and abundant wildlife to enjoy. This year while transiting northbound we stopped once again at the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center’s dock.

The Dismal Swamp Welcome Center is located five miles north of the South Mills Lock. The 150′ dock has ample space and strong pilings on which to secure dock lines. Do visit the Welcome Center and sign-in. For our landlubbing friends, the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center provided a spectacular meeting place. By road, the Welcome Center is located on US Hwy 17N in South Mills, NC just three miles from the North Carolina/Virginia boarder. Free docking and plenty of parking! Visitors can walk across a foot bridge over the canal to visit the Dismal Swamp State Park on the opposite side. The State Park has a wonderful visitor’s center and many trails for hiking and biking.

The eb and flow of travelers through the Welcome Center offered wonderful opportunities to meet travelers. When we first arrived, there were two other sailboats docked. Both were southbound, running from the cold, and we were excited to share our experiences with one another. We also met a woman returning home by car. She walked the dock with her dog, and stopped to chat with us; we found common interests in boating and traveling. The next morning. We had a lovely conversation with a couple who shared our enthusiasm for travel, however, preferred reaching their destinations at a more reasonable (fast) pace and so traveled by car throughout the United States. Later that afternoon, we greeted Danielle, Russ, Ian, Willow, and to our surprise Girl Scout Troop 52.

The Scouts were visiting the Dismal Swamp State Park for an afternoon of orienteering. Brian and I welcomed the children aboard Rode Trip for a tour. They had so many wonderful questions! Since they were orienteering, we showed them our compass and explained how we use the compass to navigate on the water. Down on the cabin, I turned on the fish finder/depth sounder and we studied the screen for passing fish, checked the depth, and water temperature. I explained how we carry our own fresh water aboard wherever we go, how we shower, and yes even a quick tutorial on the composting toilet (to which one of the girls replied, “EEEWE!” I shared some of our beach treasures with them, sand dollars and sea biscuits. We even watched some of Rode Trip’s video clips of sea animals that we have encountered. Such fun!20140831-212712.jpg

Great Boats Travel Alike

Brian and I continued to wait out a blasting northeast wind before moving once again to cross the Albermarle Sound. We’d grown quite fond of our anchorage behind Durant Island; waking when the crabbers came ’round to check their traps, watching the local Ospreys hunt, fishing for our own fresh Blue Crabs for supper, and each night watching the sun fade away behind an untouched, North Carolinian wilderness. We tuned into local radio stations to get a good does of NPR news and stories, hip-hop, and country. We were well connected to the outside world with 4G which enabled us to check emails, chat with family and friends, and do some much needed researching pertaining to outfitting the new Alliage 41 awaiting us in France. We had been moving, moving, moving! In truth, for the moment, we were enjoying our solitude prior to our return to the hustle and bustle of land.

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Solitude is…well…it can become quite lonesome even when sharing it with your spouse (some may argue especially when sharing it with your spouse). And so, on this particular evening as we laid out our supper buffet style in the cockpit, we were quite surprised and excited to see a sailboat in the distance moving toward us. The sight of the sailboat ignited new conversation, “It’s coming straight at us,” “Well, it’s 5:30, must be coming over to anchor,” “We should invite them for drinks,” “What drinks!? We’ve got one beer left in the cupboard!” And so the anticipation for the new arrival built as the sailboat motored closer, and closer, and closer until Brian exclaimed, “That’s a Westsail!”

Sure enough, our new neighbor was another Westsail 32. Once within shouting range we heard a loud, “Helllllooooo Rode Trip! I’m SO excited you are here!” We waved and yelled back, “Hellllloooo! Welcome to our anchorage!” The Captain anchored his Westsail and without delay Brian hopped into our dinghy, which was already in the water, and dinghied over to pick up our new friend for a visit. We welcomed aboard Peter. He is also sailing northbound on s/v Onapua. Peter is just beginning his own adventures and sharing on his website: www.onapua.com

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We invited Peter to join us for dinner. As it turned out plain ‘ol black beans, corn, cheese, and homemade tortillas were a tasty meal after a hard day’s travel! We were honored to learn that Peter has followed our travels by reading our blog and that some of our decisions were helpful to him throughout his own sailing preparations. Brian, Peter, and I swapped sailing stories and talked technical about Westsails. Peter’s enthusiasm for his newfound sailing lifestyle reminded Brian and I why we too love this lifestyle. There is a connectedness here with fellow cruisers and an appreciation for the natural beauty that surrounds us.

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Hoppy Hitchhikers Hide & Seek

We’ve had all walks of life aboard Rode Trip, and I’m not just referring to single-handers. I’m referring to critters great and small who despite our home’s watery foundation manage to hop aboard and hitch a ride.  Some are in need of respite, such as birds with weary wings during a long journey.  Some are in need of rescue from the water, not their own natural habitat.  Some may simply be exploring.  Discoveries of these creatures are usually surprising, sometimes alarming, and almost always accompanied by a loud, “AAAHHHHHHH!!!! EEW EEW!!” followed by a long winded sigh from Brian.  Some critters are welcome guests, others are quickly tossed overboard.

Brian and I were motoring in the Intracoastal Waterway through the Alligator River – Pungo River Canal.  We’d stopped that evening at the end of the canal and dropped the hook about one-quarter mile from shore in the Alligator River.  Sometime during the night, our most recent hitchhikers hopped aboard.  The next morning, underway once again, we were bashing against choppy waves created by a strong north wind.  I came into the cockpit presenting breakfast, and as I sat on the port side I noticed something green butted up against the wall of the winch.  “Oh, a chrysalis!”  I leaned over for a closer look.IMG_9772

Hmmm, this was not a chrysalis.  Once again I’d confirmed to myself that I should really be wearing my glasses.  Upon even closer inspection, this was a frog!  A tiny, very green, soundly sleeping frog!IMG_9777

This was a most welcome hitchhiker.  How could I (meaning Brian at my command) toss overboard such a cute little fella?  “Let’s call him Toby,” I suggested.  “I think it’s a girl,” Brian replied.  Since the name Toby happened into my brain without much prompting I had to think for some time about a girl name for the frog.  By then, we’d stopped our trip because once we entered the open Abermarle Sound the 25 knots of north wind right on our nose was slowing our progress too much to continue.  We ducked behind the protection of Durant Island, just north of the Alligator River Wildlife Preserve.  Brian tied the tiller once we’d set the anchor.  He moved aside one of the cockpit cushions and out hopped a second frog!  “Ah, hah!  That one we’ll call Juliet,” I announced.  The second frog found itself a cozy nook in the crevice of the boomkin.

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We identified these as Green Tree Frogs.  Found in North Carolina along the Coastal Plain, Green Tree Frogs are quite abundant in wetland regions and swamps.  They are nocturnal; which explains their sound napping during choppy seas.  At night time they can be quite acrobatic while in search of flying insects to eat.  Just after sunset, Brian and I went to the cockpit with a flashlight to check on the hitchhikers.  Both Toby and Juliet had moved slightly from their previous positions.  While searching for Juliet, Brian found a third…fourth…fifth…Green Tree Frogs were hopping about the boomkin as if it were a jungle gym!  In total, we’d counted eight frogs!  But can they swim?  Had they hopped aboard from a floating log?

The next morning I went to the cockpit straightaway to check on the frogs.  They had all snuggled into nooks and crannies; the boomkin posts, the propane box, on top of the tiller.  I managed to find five of the eight.  The Green Tree Frogs were soundly sleeping, awaiting arrival at the next scheduled stop, Elizabeth City.  IMG_9785 IMG_9786 IMG_9788 IMG_9789 IMG_9792