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Norfolk, VA: Making Tracks

Cape May, NJ to Norfolk, VA //


By 8am on Sunday, November 11, we were back at the harbor entrance of Cape May, but this time made a starboard turn to the South. A few other vessels were making the passage to Norfolk, VA with us. Some were far ahead, some were just behind us. We had calculated it would take us a total of 30 hours, at 5 knots of speed, to get there. And so began our second biggest passage yet on this trip, we’d be crossing through 4 different states to our destination!

We sailed for about an hour shortly after leaving, but as we crossed the mouth of the Delaware Bay, the seas became very choppy, even when the winds were beginning to quiet down. We figured it was time to give Robo-sailor a go as we had given him (her? it?) new life the day before. And it worked beautifully! I was literally dancing and singing out of happiness behind what was now an unmanned wheel. Our hands were free to take care of other things while under way! It was just such a momentous occasion, we had been trying to make the autopilot work ever since leaving Boston. We thought for the longest time that the internal compass that guides the unit needed time to get situated, to somehow adjust its bearings to the boat as we hadn’t used it in over a year or more. Little did we know that the wires had come undone underneath the lazarette until Tom had gone in to put a different fixture next to it.

Tom’s hard work certainly paid off, Robo-sailor responded immediately to the turn of the compass and kept us on course for the remainder of the passage, pretty much until we could see Virginia Beach in the distance, about 28 hours or so later. Tom earned another level-up, this time in the electrical/wiring department. Having Robo-sailor up and running allowed us to sit behind the dodger on the cockpit during our late night and early morning shifts, protecting us from the light breeze. It was one of the coldest evenings we’ve experienced in this trip. We can't help but think how miserable we would have been had we had to physically remain at the wheel during the trip.

The whole passage was uneventful, which is always a really good thing. We did the same 3-hour shifts we had done on our last overnight, and kept a close watch for big barges and tugboats. The seas were very calm as we entered the night and remained so through the early morning. Around 6am on Monday we were near Cape Charles, VA beginning to round the land to head into the Chesapeake Bay. We went through the Thimble Shoal Channel, crossed the Chesapeake Bridge/Tunnel and headed to Tidewater Marina to fill up on diesel. Afterwards, we backtracked a little toward West Norfolk as we had found a much more affordable post for the evening at Virginia Boat and Yacht Services marina. Coming in to their slips, however, we put on quite the show. We have very little experience with the piling style slips (no dock on either side of the boat, the only dock is way forward and you need to perform certain acrobatic moves to get on/off the boat, especially if carrying laundry and shower bags...). Nevertheless, the marina/yard staff was super helpful and lent us their hands to help us get situated. Having observed our docking skills, they were probably surprised we had told them we’d own the boat for 10 years and were headed to the Caribbean... But I guess that’s what happens when you’ve been on the move for 34 hours. Soon after, we pretty much passed out until the next day when we got showers and did our laundry.

Back where we had gotten diesel at Tidewater Marina we noticed there was a nice anchorage area between the marina and the Naval Hospital on the opposite side. We figured we should save some money and try anchoring in the heart of it all, and so we moved. From our new location, we had access via dinghy to both Portsmouth and to Waterside District across the river. We ended up dinghying into a public dock on the Portsmouth side and got a chance to check out the charming historic district. We quickly met fellow cruiser, Turner, at The Bier Garden near Main Street, who treated us to beers and appetizers. We all then decided to pay a visit to the supermarket via Uber.

Once back with our groceries, we said goodbye to Turner, dropped our stuff off at Sparidae and continued on to Waterside District for dinner. The waterfront on the Norfolk side had recently been invested heavily in with the construction of a large public plaza, a marina, and a fancy market hall with all kinds of eateries to suit anyone’s cravings. There was even a ferry that ran every half hour taking folks from Portsmouth to Norfolk and vice versa across the river. With dinner out of the way, we came back to Sparidae and got her organized pretty quickly in an effort to get going early the next day. Next up was tackling the opening and closing schedules of lifting bridges as we continued our move south toward North Carolina along the Elizabeth River and its canals.

Sunrise near Cape Charles, VA after our second overnight sail

View down the Elizabeth River towards Norfolk, VA

Portsmouth Light Ship

Charming streets of Portsmouth, VA

The recently revitalized waterfront at Norfolk, VA, Waterside District

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