Somewhere in the North Atlantic to Norfolk, Virginia
*This post is long overdue but I’d thought I’d better finish the story….
Norfolk was our first stop as it had a customs and border control office. I somewhat knew it would be a busy port after looking at charts the day before. The amount of buoys at the entrance was incredible. Full on lanes for commercial and private vessels. A highway. But I hadn’t fully understood why. My calculations showed us arriving after dark. Four hours after last light. Which was fine. Better than slogging it out another night at sea. By 6pm we were at the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay. The smells coming off the land were just breathtaking. You have to understand we hadn’t seen, heard or smelt anything except wide open ocean for seven days. A diverse palette of scents filled our nostrils. Likely it was just stinky civilization. But it smelled wonderful.
As we bucked the tide into the first of the entrances the pilot tower hailed us on the VHF; “Just a friendly reminder to stay in the auxiliary channel.” The centre was reserved for container ships. Massive container ships. The first of which rolled, or should I say blew by, at dusk. A few minutes later the wake would hit us nearly causing our 41′ catamaran to surf down the rollers. It got darker and it got more interesting. More buoys. More blinking lights. More freighters rolling by at 15+ knots. We were now half way into the harbour. Then past the freighter docking area. And then, past the Navy destroyers. The minutes ticked by as we slowly motored up into the heart of Norfolk – The biggest Naval shipyard in the United States. And they let us know they were watching us. Twice helicopters buzzed our boat. Once with a spotlight beaming down. The next they came by with all lights out. Intimidating to say the least.
At this point the charts weren’t cutting it. We were looking at rough outlines of the shoreline. Luckily my AT&T cell card still worked from Ft Lauderdale. A quick download of newer, better charts had us navigating by iPhone. Perfect! It all felt somewhat like walking blindly thru the night. Putting our hand out in front of our face. At one point we had to squeeze into some coal unloading dock – A tug and freighter were coming our way and there wasn’t any room left for us.
It is an amazing place to be after months in the remote Bahamian islands. It is the complete opposite; A massive bustling port. In the end, AIS saved our bacon. The tugs, freighters and navy destroyers could see us and we them. They’d hail us on the VHF. We’d do whatever they said. It was a well oiled system except for maybe that one 41′ catamaran with two rookie captains onboard. We tied up to the dock at 11:30pm, opened a bottle of wine and hit the sack minutes after.
It hit me like a pebble after leaving the Customs and Border control office the next day. We’ve done it. We’ve accomplished everything we’ve set out to do. Executed on a seven year plan; Saved, sold our house, bought a boat, cruised the Caribbean and finally completed an offshore passage. But the mission wasn’t complete until we had come full circle and cleared in. And it was the most easy clear-in we have ever encountered. Jovial border guards. Poking fun at each other. Poking fun at us.
Later on we go down for a nap not realizing how exhausted we really are after doing four hour shifts for six nights. Both of us get up after a few hours complaining about how rolly this marina is. We’re both experiencing big open ocean swell. Something we’ve come accustomed to over the past seven days. We’re dizzy. How is this even possible? We should be used to these conditions. We are used to these conditions. We get up on deck and lo and behold, this marina is so well protected there is not a ripple on the water. There are no waves. There is no swell. Our mind is playing tricks.