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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Twenty-Five

Our first stop after leaving Washington, DC was Mount Vernon. It took us two hours to motor/sail down the Potomac to the visitor's pier. We anchored for the night and at 0900 the next morning, we tied up at the pier, paid our fee and began our five-hour visit to this most important American shrine. Our respect and admiration for George Washington increased exponentially during our visit. Mr. Washington was indeed an incredible individual, who ranked right up there with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in the breath and depth of his interests and abilities. His clever architectural designs are every bit as novel as those Jefferson employed at Monticello. One example is the 16 sided (nearly round) barn he invented so horses could be led in a circle over wheat stalks on the second floor, separating the chaff from the wheat kernels, which then fell through slots in the floor to the lower level. The wheat kernels could then be gathered efficiently without waste. The old process of winnowing outside in the open air often resulted in significant losses of grain if sudden rains or winds appeared. Washington's invention represented a quantum leap in technology for the 18th century. He was obviously a deep thinker and an extremely well organized man. Who else could devote 8 years to the revolution and 8 more years to the Presidency while at the same time directing, by letter and infrequent visits, the efficient operation of five farms extending over 10,000 acres? And in addition to farming, his ten miles of Potomac River waterfront afforded him the opportunity for another cash crop. Over a million fish per season were netted, salted and sold throughout the colonies and overseas. The man had few equals. It seems he excelled at whatever he set his mind to, be it architecture, farming, surveying, business, military or politics. Washington was also deeply involved in initiating meetings between the colonies, after the revolution, that eventually lead to the drafting of the Constitution and the creation of a new nation. We shall not soon forget our visit to Washington, D.C.

On the way down the Potomac, just North of Colonial Beach, we were contacted by a Coast Guard Range Control boat and asked to follow a specific course close to the Maryland side of the river. It seemed the Navy was practice firing a five-inch gun downriver. The river at this point is about a half mile wide. During the ten miles of the prescribed course we would periodically hear a heavy boom followed by a water spout on the Virginia side of the river that would surge up an estimated 200 feet high and 50 feet in diameter. We were very impressed with the power of a five-inch diameter projectile. Our inconvenience was minimal compared to the people on the Virginia side of the river, who could not venture out at all. The practice firing lasted about three hours. It seemed very odd to us that practice firing would be held on the Potomac, but with all the military reservations in the area, I suppose they have been doing it for years and have established a precedent that supersedes the convenience of more recent arrivals. The Coast Guard Range Control individuals were very courteous and we had no difficulty following their instructions.

We anchored for the night in the Yeocomico River. The weather was clear and cool with calm winds and no bugs. It was just delightful. The next day, there was still no wind, so we motored to Deltaville and spent the night at the marina after purchasing fuel and filling our fresh water tanks. Retracing the steps we had taken when traveling North was interesting in that we were not forced to study the charts in such detail. This time, we knew the way. After Deltaville, we continued on toward Norfolk. We had the current with us and for most of the time the tide also, so this leg of the trip was much faster than going the opposite direction. We needed a part for the boat and intended to obtain it at a marine supply store in Hampton, but upon arriving in Hampton, which is just across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk, we discovered that some sort of festival was going on and the harbor was absolutely packed with motor and sail vessels rafted to each other. Every group of boats seemed to be the headquarters for a local party. The weather was gorgeous, loud music was everywhere and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. A Marine Police patrol boat was in evidence, no doubt maintaining some degree of decorum. The harbor was so crowded, we were sorry we entered, as there was barely room to get in, turn around and get out. We went on to Norfolk, where we arrived at the Waterside Marina at 1700. Since we were only going to be tied up for a short time, to visit a marine supply store, the dockmaster did not charge us while we retrieved the part we needed.

We left Norfolk early the next morning, the 10th of September and continued South. Again, we were amazed at the incredible number of U.S. Navy ships moored along the Elizabeth River. Because of our early start; we were alone on the river until we reached the Great Bridge lock on the Albemarle and Chesapeake canal. We hardly saw a reason for the lock in that we were lowered only about eight inches. But the lockmaster was very polite and even gave us a guidebook for the Intracoastal Waterway all the way to Florida. We motored in the canal all day and anchored for the night in the upper reaches of Albemarle Sound, which was really the North River. Winds were light and variable and the sky was clear. This, plus a very moderate 75-degree temperature made for a lovely evening on the water. As usual, within an hour of our anchoring, two additional boats anchored within a quarter of a mile of us. It's not real easy to obtain isolation on the Intracoastal Waterway.

The next morning a fresh breeze piped up from the East, which was perfect for our sail South, so without aid of the engines, we weighed anchor and headed southbound. We were able to sail most of the day. The wind finally dissipated around sundown, but by that time we were across Albemarle Sound. With the exception of dodging crab trap floats, it was an enjoyable sail. I am sure the crabbers try to keep their traps out of clearly marked channels but sometimes they fail miserably. We have also noticed that in some states the channels are kept clearer than in other states. I suppose it all depends upon state interest and funding. The U.S. Coast Guard is so strapped for funds due to Administration cutbacks that they are barely able to respond to emergencies without spending manpower policing crabbers. So it goes.

Our next stop was the little town of Belhaven, which is a popular spot for Intracoastal Waterway travelers to stop and fill water and or fuel tanks as well as go ashore for groceries or a restaurant visit. We had planned a short stay, but the morning brought thick fog and we didn't get away until after 1000. The next stop was Oriental, which like Belhaven is a good re-provisioning stop. However, Oriental has a free city pier for transients, which was too good to pass up, so we stopped for the night. It is a very nice little town, with very pretty tree lined streets. We met some nice people in other boats and some towns-people, who seem to hang around the waterfront to talk to visitors. One couple, who were former sailors even offered to take us to the local grocery store. Once again, we were impressed with small towns off the beaten path. Little towns depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings may be gone forever, but some come mighty close. We enjoyed our stay very much.

The next day, we sailed to New Bern, which is about 15 miles up the Neuse River. New Bern was founded in 1710 and at one time was the capital of North Carolina. The waterfront has been extensively modernized and is beautiful. The city's main claim to fame is the Tryon Palace, which was built in 1770 and rebuilt from the original plans in 1950. It is like a miniature Williamsburg in that the tour guides and craftspeople who work there all wear period costumes and actually work the various equipment on the estate. The kitchen is in operation and sample bread and cookies are offered to tourists. We even sampled "hoe cakes," which are cornbread pancakes cooked on the flat metal of a garden or weeding hoe positioned over an open fire. We're not talking garden store hoes here, but rather large heavy metal "spades" made to slip off the back end of the handle, much as a pickaxe does. Spinning wheels were also demonstrated, where cotton is twisted into thread and in turn woven into fabric on a loom. Very complex patterns can be achieved on a simple loom. The cloth is then used to make items such as shirts, tablecloths and quilts. The entire process can be observed from start to finish. It is fascinating to watch in that the crafts people are very pleasant and readily stop what they are doing to answer questions. We spent two nights in New Bern and could have stayed longer.

Our next stop was Beaufort, where we had an interesting experience. We were anchored in Taylor Creek, which is the waterfront for the town. Shortly after midnight, I heard someone rattling our anchor chain. I turned on our deck lights, steaming light, navigation lights, grabbed a flashlight and went on deck. It seemed that our anchor chain was lying across a local fisherman's net line that crossed from one side of the river to the other. During the day, the line is submerged, but at night, when all the river traffic has stopped, this fisherman raises his net to trap fish and shrimp moving up or down river with the tide. Our chain and anchor prevented his doing this and he was trying to lift our chain off his line. We helped him accomplish this by relocating Sojourner. After being up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night, we slept in and got a late start to our next destination, which was Swansboro. We had been keeping a wary eye on hurricane George and thought a stop at Swansboro, would be a prudent thing to do. Stay tuned.

Dates: ,
Locations: Mount Vernon, Norfolk, Belhaven, New Bern, Beaufort

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.