Norfolk, Virginia, is home to the largest US naval base in the world and is also a Strategic Command headquarters for NATO. This was very evident as we motored down the Elizabeth River into Norfolk in steadily deteriorating weather. Even through drizzly rain, we could see huge grey hulls of naval vessels of various kinds on both sides of the channel – in dry docks and in the water, all with floating apartment-like blocks next to them – presumably naval living quarters.
We docked at Waterside Marina at 3:30 pm – relieved to get of the inclement weather. We were very cold and wet. We had made arrangements for Lamy Marine, who had installed our (failed) Sea Frost fridge in November – to meet us at the Waterside Marina dock the next morning. We ate out at Joes Crab Shack in the Waterside Centre next to the boat – mainly so we could warm up, though that was only partially successful as the restaurant was chilly too.
The next day Mike arrived at the dock as planned at 9:00 am and spent the morning checking our Sea Frost compressors and system for leaks. He finally came to the conclusion that it was the sealed compressor unit itself that was the problem, so he called Cleave at Sea Frost who said he would ship a new one to his son in Annapolis, who would install it under warranty for us, if he did not find and fix the cause of the problem first. So we bought more ice from the marina, and repacked our stuff in the fridge. We are now so used to not having a fridge (the freezer has always worked well) that we would continue to do without, had we not paid good dollars for a new system in the fall.
The rain petered off and the sun came out in the afternoon, so we decided to push off and anchor in Willoughby Bay, in the mouth of St. James River where it empties into Chesapeake Bay. We felt it would give us a head start on a longer leg up the Chesapeake the next day. We were disappointed that we had seen nothing of Norfolk or Portsmouth at all – it had been another ‘repairs vs. sightseeing’ stop for us. There have been too many of these on this trip.
As the saying goes, cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic locations!
We motor-sailed for two hours passing naval vessels, commercial docks and more osprey nests, till we dropped the hook in the large anchorage in Willoughby Bay – only three other boats there, including our friend Paul on the tiny SV Darkest Africa. We are now officially out of the ICW – we passed mile zero on the way to Willoughby Bay having come 1170 miles in just over one month of ICW travel and stops.
The bay here is a naval training base too, so we watched helicopters practicing squats and hovering near us all evening. What started out as an interesting spectacle, ended up as annoying as a herd of giant mosquitoes, as more choppers joined the manouevre and they continued to buzz around us well past dark and into the night. So we were not disappointed to leave Willoughby Bay early the next morning to head up Chesapeake Bay.
The day was overcast, but turned sunnier as it progressed, and the wind picked up from behind, enabling a very pleasant wing-on-wing downwind sail for most of the day. Ten hours later we turned into the Great Wicomico River, and then into Mill Creek. The blustery 20 knot winds disappeared as we dropped the hook in a serene cove along pretty Mill Creek. A few boats, including the other Cabo Rico we had met in the dismal Swamp, were anchored in a bay further down the creek. But we were alone in our small cove – the water calm as a mill pond, the scenery rural and the sunset a brilliant burnished gold, the only sound the cries of a loon.
View our photo journal for Norfolk to Mill Creek.
View Tai Chi: Journey 2012 in a larger map