Norfolk Virginia, USA
This instalment is coming to you from Norfolk, Virginia at the bottom of the Chesapeake and it is quite a cultural shock after the simplicity of the Bahamas. The Chesapeake here is wide and brown with lots of shipping activity as you approach and the world’s largest naval base, including 4 huge aircraft carriers lining the shore. There are also plenty of very expensive homes with their own pontoons and our first night was spent looking out at some of them from the elegant Norfolk Yacht and Country Club. We made that our first stop on US soil as it sounded comfortable as well as convenient and a good place for customs to come and check us in to the country. It turned out to be a great decision regarding check-in as the guy who came out to us on the boat could not have been more delightful and laid back. We had heard all sorts of dire warnings about strict searches, confiscation of food, even canned meats etc (admittedly more for Florida which has a particularly bad reputation for this). Our man chatted over a cold drink (we arrived in a heat wave) and merely asked us if we had any fresh fruit or veg on board. We had just stuffed ourselves with the last apples and bananas on the way in, so could be honest about that.
We had a relaxing evening at this fancy spot with its 3 swimming pools, a very large fitness centre, tennis courts and several restaurants. We were too tired to be energetic but did have a very enjoyable meal in the most modest of the restaurants looking out towards the huge cranes of the docks opposite. The next morning we moved the 5 miles up to our present mooring on the Elizabeth River in downtown Norfolk. We have been lent a free slip by the local port officers for the Ocean Cruising Club who live here in a “condo” on the water’s edge and offer their neighbours’ unused slips to visiting OCC members. Behind us are the high rise buildings of the commercial quarter but the immediate area is one of the historical neighbourhoods of the city with some lovely Victorian houses and cobbled streets (made from the old ships’ ballast stones apparently). We had a much needed long walk in the early sunshine yesterday morning and discovered more of the places of interest in the city. This included a waterside park which hosts a beer festival this weekend – good timing! We will be here for at least a week as we are waiting for various deliveries of boat parts, especially the new batteries skipper has been fretting about for so long. It won’t be a hardship to take a breather in such a good spot and sample some US hospitality and grub before we move on towards New Jersey and then New York.
Night view from the boat in Norfolk:
An aircraft carrier in downtown Norfolk, view from boat:
We took just over 4 days and nights to reach the Chesapeake and covered 631 miles, our third longest passage so far. The first 24 hours were the most satisfying as we sped along at over 7kts average but making over 9kts when the current kicked in. Later in the passage the Gulf Stream picked us up and propelled us forward at over 10 kts at times which was very welcome as we were goose-winged by then with lighter winds. On our second morning we were hit with a series of squalls and winds from all directions which made sailing impossible for a while. David, on deck and struggling to make sense of the conditions, was quickly soaked through in the very heavy rain, whilst first mate hid below. By lunchtime the sun had reappeared and we were both hiding below because it was so hot! Unfortunately by that afternoon the wind disappeared completely and we had to motor for the remaining 24 hours to our destination. The sea became flat and Tuesday turned out hotter than Trinidad at about 34C. I had been expecting to put on more clothes as we went north but instead we wilted in the airless heat with no shade, as we had taken down our bimini for the passage. We were thrilled however to have made it to the US before bad weather which would have delayed us for another week in the Bahamas. We experienced that weather here last night and this morning as very high winds and heavy rain came through and it was good to be safely in dock, albeit jerking violently on our lines. We gather that the good weather will return shortly and we can do some more exploring in between the boat maintenance and chores.
Being overtaken by 2 ships in the narrow Chesapeake channel:
On the subject of the Bahamas, we wanted to say that we felt much more comfortable there than in most of the smaller Caribbean islands. The Bahamians seemed a more relaxed and friendly lot and just easier to be amongst. We didn’t visit the more sophisticated parts of the islands, that is around Nassau and Freeport, so only saw the quieter side of life there. We would be happy to revisit this lovely little country of only 350,000 people but hundreds of islands spread over 600 miles of blue ocean. The only drawback are the shallow depths everywhere which make for some heart-in-mouth moments, but they are worth it!