Post #52: BEARD OIL – Day 373, May 9, 2015. On board: Jack Kelly; Tom Thurston (partial); Jessie Koningisor (partial); Naoko Yamaguchi Schneider (partial)
Beaufort was hosting a boat building contest on Saturday, so we were able to watch part of it before we cast off the lines and headed out. During the 4 hour time limit, each team built a boat that met certain required specifications; judges chose the best results to be awarded prizes:
This boat came in for the festivities:
My friend Jack Kelly flew into North Carolina and joined us early Saturday afternoon. Soon after he arrived we cast off the lines on a somewhat windy day for a 25 mile run to Oriental, North Carolina. A small 12-block town on the edge of the wide Neuse River, Oriental has half a dozen restaurants, a few commercial establishments, and some 19th century, well-kept homes. Here are some pictures:
Our next stop was Belhaven, N. C. after a 50 mile run in the wide, open waters of the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers. Notorious for steep, closely-spaced waves, we wanted a relatively calm day, and we got it after several days of fairly strong winds. Belhaven is a small, sleepy town that seems to be struggling economically. The town was first settled in 1868 and grew by producing lumber products in several mills. When a rail line was built to Norfolk, the town became an important transportation artery for the distribution of goods throughout eastern North Carolina due to its location on Pamlico Sound. Belhaven calls itself “the birthplace of the ICW” because the last remaining link – the Alligator River/Pungo River Canal – was completed and opened in 1928. The celebration in Belhaven for the opening was attended by 20,000 people and included two Navy seaplanes, several Coast Guard cutters, and an Army blimp. Today, local businesses primarily serve local farming communities and local residents. There are some very attractive buildings in the small, downtown area, but there are a number of vacant storefronts,and within blocks of Main Street, vacant, derelict buildings are frequent. Here are two of the prominent historic buildings in town:
This is a tidbit of information that I picked up in Belhaven that you probably didn’t know….
The next day’s run started with a 22 mile run through the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal, followed by a 21 mile run on the open waters of the Alligator River. Fortunately, we had another day of light winds, so it was a pleasant run. We stayed at the Alligator River Marina due to its location rather than its amenities – it basically consists of a Shell gas station along a highway with docks behind it – perhaps the least attractive stop of our trip (we’ve stayed at other rural, sometimes somewhat derelict marinas, but each seemed to have some redeeming feature that provided character…). The Alligator River was our rendezvous point where, unfortunately, Tom Thurston left the trip to go back to real life; fortunately, however, my daughter Jessie and her friend Naoko from Japan joined us. Here are some pictures:
We left the next morning for Elizabeth City, crossing the notorious Albemarle Sound – it’s shallow water, frequent winds, and geographic orientation has made it legendary for unpleasant passages. We left fairly early to try to get across before the wind picked up, which turned out to be wise – we were entering the more protected Pasquotank River as the winds began to build. A few pictures from the run:
Elizabeth City grew in colonial days due to its location on the Pasquotank River, its abundance of lumber, and the opening of the Dismal Swamp Canal in 1805. Today, the city has many historical buildings and a wonderful waterfront, which it leverages by providing free overnight dockage, restrooms, and showers available to transient boaters. It also boasts a surprisingly large and comprehensive museum in a beautiful, new building, and the historic district is significant. The City does seem to be struggling a bit economically, however, as evidenced by a number of vacant storefronts in the downtown area.
Here are a few pictures:
So two of Jessie’s Law School friends whom I count among my friends as well, Lou and Brandon, have apparently been experimenting with various concoctions, one of which is beard oil. Having seen my beard on the blog, they thought this would be a good opportunity to do some market research so they sent a bottle with Jessie for me to try. Now I didn’t even know there was such a thing as “beard oil”, so I didn’t really have much to compare to. I do know that my beard frequently (always?) looks frazzled and perhaps rather silly, so I was certainly willing to try it out. However, I didn’t know what to do with it, so I asked Jessie to inquire about some instructions. The reply came back: “(1) Rise early (2) Rub on beard (3) Seek adventure”. Not quite as detailed as I had hoped. I then inquired whether it was flammable or not. The reply came back: “Oh, we didn’t test for that – we’re not engineers…”. Not one to be deterred, with Jessie’s help, I tried it out:
I think it’s a lost cause….
Leaving Elizabeth City, there is an 18 mile run up the narrowing Pasquotank River to a lock which marks the beginning of the Dismal Swamp Canal. The lock only opens at specific times several hours apart, so we cast off the lines at 6:30 AM to make the 8:30 lock opening. This part of the river is one of the most scenic rivers on the Great Loop. Here are some images:
The name “Great Dismal Swamp” is a misnomer – it is not dismal at all. The name is a carryover from the maps of early explorers, who often labeled swamps as “dismals” because they had no economic value at that time and were an impediment to exploration and transportation. For some reason, the label “dismal” stuck to this particular swamp and became its name. In 1763, none other than George Washington proposed digging a canal to connect the waters of Albemarle Sound to Chesapeake Bay. He became president of the privately-held Dismal Swamp Land Company, and directed the surveying and digging of the first 5 miles of the canal. However, by 1796, Washington became disappointed in the management of the project, and contracted to sell his share to “Lighthorse” Harry Lee – father of Robert E. Lee. Lee was unable to come up with the money, however, and Washington’s interest remained part of his estate when he died in 1799.
The canal took 12 1/2 years to build, and was dug by hand by slave labor. It opened in 1805, and is the oldest continually operated man-made canal in North America. During the Civil War, the Canal and the swamp took on two important roles in American history. First, the Union Army tried but failed to blow up the locks at South Mills in an attempt to cut off the Dismal Swamp as a route for the Confederate Army to supply Norfolk and the surrounding area. They later did take control of the canal. Second, many run-away slaves hid in the swamp, even forming small, hidden settlements, where they lived throughout the war. The swamp also became part of a route to the north for slaves seeking freedom.
Today, there is no commercial traffic on the canal – it is used only be recreational vessels, and serves as one of two optional routes of the ICW. The canal is narrow and full of “deadheads” – submerged logs – so many if not most boats transiting the ICW choose the alternate “Virginia Cut” route. We chose the Dismal Canal route due to its beauty and uniqueness. Here are some pictures:
Within 5 miles of exiting the Great Dismal Swamp at the northern end of the canal, the landscape changes abruptly as one enters the southern end of Norfolk Harbor. Norfolk boasts that it has the largest natural harbor in the world. Pristine landscapes abruptly change to massive industrial uses; the massive industrial uses then abruptly change to massive military uses. There are more military personnel within 15 miles of Norfolk that at anyplace else in the world. The presence of the Navy quickly becomes obvious:
The Navy presence is weaved into the fabric of the city throughout. With its strategic location in the middle of the Atlantic coast and its large, protected harbor, Norfolk quickly became a Navy shipbuilding center after the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. As the growing nation lurched from periods of war to periods of peace, the economy of Norfolk lurched accordingly – employment soared during periods of military build-up, and waned during periods of drawdown. The relationship between the Navy and the city has not always been easy. Between 1917 and the end of World War II, the relationship faced two basic problems. The first was entertainment for the sailors stationed in Norfolk, whose racous behavior sometimes irritated the local people – one humorist dubbed the city “the Hong Kong of the Albemarle”. The other problem involved the provision of city services such as water, electricity, and transportation, which the city could not always provide.
Today, the city, along with its sister city of Portsmouth across the Elizabeth River, is active and vibrant, and its Naval history is on display throughout. Here are some pictures from our stay in Norfolk:
General MacArthur lived part of his life in Norfolk, so there is an extensive memorial to his life and achievements. While celebrating his remarkable record in World War II and the Korean War, the memorial also deals with the controversy surrounding his outspoken nature and his ultimate dismissal by President Truman. While the MacArthur/Truman relationship is well know, less publicized is the enigmatic relationship between MacArthur and President Roosevelt. Roosevelt once called MacArthur “the most dangerous man in America”, while MacArthur once described Roosevelt as “a man who never told the truth if a lie would suffice.” The MacArthur Memorial is well worth a visit:
One last picture from our stay:
Norfolk is Mile 0 on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, so our journey now heads north into the relatively open waters Chesapeake Bay. More to come!