On Tuesday, we began our trek south to bring Curiosity to North Palm Beach. In previous years we have made the snow bird migration with the boat, cruising south in the fall and north in the spring. We decided, however, that this year we would keep her in Florida year round so that we could cruise to the Bahamas in the spring, explore the Florida Keys and possible cross to Florida’s west coast via Lake Okeechobee. So this will be our last trip down the ICW for the foreseeable future.
The plan was to start down in early October. But life intervened. One of my sisters needed surgery in mid-October, so I spent a week in Connecticut helping her out. It didn’t make any sense to start before her surgery because we’d end up somewhere in North Carolina where ground or air transportation to Connecticut would have been difficult. As it turns out, it was much better that we waited because Hurricane Matthew blew through around that time and had we been in North Carolina, we would have had to contend with finding a safe harbor for the boat and then all the terrible flooding that followed.
Our revised departure date was Tuesday, October 25. But before we could leave we had to have dinner with our daughter. She had the happy, although grueling, problem of having to finish her dissertation in record time this year. She’s been studying to get a PhD in Egyptology, not exactly an area with many job opportunities. But earlier this year, her professor suggested she apply for a two-year teaching position at Michigan. She did and was fortunate to get the job. But, the position required her to have her doctorate in hand before she started teaching. Prior to applying for this job, her plan had been to spend the next year finishing her research and writing her dissertation; she expected to finish in mid- to late-2017. By accepting the Michigan position she basically committed to doing all that work in the space of a few months. She did it and defended on October 5, which means she is officially done.
This called for a celebratory dinner in Annapolis. She is getting her doctorate from Hopkins, so Annapolis was an easy choice. We met her at Café Normandie on Monday, the 24th. We had a wonderful dinner with her. The food was good, well-prepared basic French bistro fare, but very tasty. She was relaxed and very excited about finishing her program and embarking on her career at Michigan. We were very happy and excited for her too.
Tuesday morning dawned clear and a bit breezy. NOAA called for northwest winds 10 to 15k, gusts between 25 and 30k and waves 2 to 3 feet. We left at first light for our destination of Deltaville, VA. Conditions on the Bay were actually better than NOAA predicted for most of the trip. We saw mostly 10 k winds just south of Annapolis to somewhere north of the Potomac River mouth. When we reached the mouth of the Potomac the winds kicked up along with the waves and it became more of a washing machine until we got south of that point. And then we were back to basically 10k winds with about a 2 foot chop.
We were staying the night at Dozier’s Regatta Point Marina, which we have been to several times before. It’s got lovely floating docks and friendly competent staff. There are two problems with it. The first is that the entrance channel is on the shallow side and it’s narrow, so if you stray a little too far to either side you run aground. We know! Of course we were entering close to low tide and of course the low tides for the past few days had been unusually low, probably because of the strong north winds blowing water out of the Bay. We had noticed this before we left the Annapolis Yacht Basin; we had to drop several feet from the fixed dock just to get onto Curiosity. That was fun.
We took our time coming in, dodging crab pots right in front of the entrance channel. Why not? We never saw less than 8.8 feet, which was plenty of depth for out 5-foot draft. We were tied up by 4:45 and happy to be in.
The other problem with Dozier’s is that it’s in the middle of nowhere. They have courtesy car, but it gets tucked in for the night at 5pm, so it’s not available for running to one of the local restaurants for dinner, some 5 or 6 miles away. We knew all this so we planned on having a simple meal on board, some Cajun rice with chicken and a salad.
As we were puttering around doing our boat chores before dinner, another Fleming pulled into the adjacent dock. We spent a fair amount of time chatting with the couple who owned it, trading stories of the snow bird migration along the ICW and exchanging information on the status of the waterways and marinas in North and South Carolina post Hurricane Matthew. Earlier in the day we had “met”, via VHF, another couple aboard a different Fleming heading to the Fishing Bay anchorage on the other side of Regatta Point. Both couples were eventually making their way to Florida. Meeting fellow boaters and trading stories with them is one of the highlights of cruising, and we look forward to meeting both again along the migration route.
The next day, Wednesday, we planned to be shorter because the next several days were going to be considerably longer. Our destination was Portsmouth, VA, which we had never been to before because we usually stay at the Norfolk Yacht Club to visit with Jim’s sister. Both Jim and his sister were born and raised in Norfolk, and Jim spent his childhood sailing in the waters around the Yacht Club. But this year we are trying to make the southbound trek a little shorter, so we opted to go a little farther along the route to Portsmouth.
Our transit from Deltaville to Portsmouth was uneventful for the most part until we got just north of the Thimble Shoal Channel that leads to Norfolk. A large helicopter with a long cable extending from its belly was flying in our direction and started hovering in a spot almost right in front of us. It then dropped the cable into the water and just stayed there, blowing water all over the place. Jim, who was driving at the time, wisely decided to give the helicopter a wide berth. We passed it and then noticed a second helicopter coming with a cable hanging from its belly. We have no idea what they were doing.
Shortly after that we entered the Thimble Shoal Channel and heard a broadcast from US Warship 7 that it was outbound from the Norfolk Naval Base via the same channel. We could see the ship, an aircraft carrier, looming off the port side on the other side of a breakwater, so we moved to the far red side of the channel to give him plenty of room and to not violate their security perimeter. Then we heard the carrier hailing a bunch of sailboats that were in the middle of the channel. They either didn’t have their radios on or weren’t paying attention but they just missed getting run over because the carrier could not stop on a dime or swerve to avoid them.
We encountered a similar situation this summer when we were on our way back from cruising to Nantucket. We were cruising through Sandy Hook and another warship announced that it was leaving the naval station in that area. Despite repeated announcements, the warship still had to hail several sailboats to tell them that he was right on their stern and they needed to get out of the way. Duh!
But that was the extent of the excitement for the day. We docked at Tidewater Marina and had a very nice dinner at Still, a small plates/craft beer/craft cocktail place in old Portsmouth within easy walking distance of the marina. We had a variety of dishes that were quite good, except the lamb belly with five spice powder. I liked it, but it just did not appeal to Jim’s taste buds. It was a little heavy on the five spice powder and had a little too much of the belly fat, which we both tried to avoid. Although I’m not sure why. Another dish was homemade tater tots wrapped in bacon with homemade ketchup. Sounds delish, but this was basically a dollop of creamy mashed potato, made creamy by unholy amounts of butter, cream or both, deep fried with a blanket of bacon. Does this spell heart attack on a plate to you? It did to us, so we decided to go all in and order their “cronut” for dessert. This was a cross between a croissant and a donut, deep fried of course, with salted caramel drizzle and vanilla ice cream. I did my part to clean out my arteries by ordering a glass of red wine. Jim had a cocktail, which was better than nothing, but not quite as good as red wine, at least according to the diet gurus.
Wednesday was another good weather day. Southeast winds were forecast to bring in warmer temperatures. When we arrived in Annapolis on Monday, we had to make a quick adjustment to northern fall temperatures. The low 80s that we were used to in Florida were replaced with 40s and 50s. Brrrrr! We especially felt the difference when we left in the mornings when the cold wind would be in our face as Jim got the lines and fenders in and I got us off the dock and on our way from the fly bridge, where we usually handle getting into and out of the dock. But Curiosity has a very nice and comfortable helm with plenty of heat for the cold weather and A/C for the hot weather. So we can’t complain too much.
In any event, we had 60s by Wednesday afternoon in Portsmouth and the forecast called for 70s by Thursday afternoon. Time for the flip flops and shorts!
Before we could get to flip flops and shorts, however, we had to get to Coinjock, NC, our destination for the night. And that meant getting through the Great Bridge Lock, the Great Bridge Bridge, the Centreville Turnpike Bridge and the North Landing Bridge. The lock and all the bridges require openings because the lock is a lock and the bridges all have very shallow air drafts. We’ve been through this before, and we know how long it takes us to time each opening with minimal waiting time. But every time we’ve done this in the past we’ve had at most five or six boats waiting with us for the lock or one of the bridges. On Thursday, though, we had a cast of thousands. There were about twenty or twenty-five boats trying to get into the lock and not all of them made it at the 9:30 opening. The lock only opens at 20 past the hour for southbound traffic, so any boat that was at the lock but didn’t get in would have to wait an hour for the next opening.
We were about the sixth boat in line and chose to tie up on the port side, which is not protected with fenders along the wall (we put out our own), but this meant that we were going to be the first or second boat out of the lock and therefore in a much better position to make all the bridge openings. It was a bit chaotic in the lock with so many boats and it took more than 30 minutes to get everyone in, adjust the water level and then open the lock.
That huge group of boats then proceeded down the ICW toward the bridges and again not all of them made it for the next scheduled openings. There was some annoyance in the middle and rear of the queue with boats getting frustrated with the slow speed of some of the boats ahead of them. Boats were trying to pass and throwing more wake than other people thought appropriate. We heard it all on the VHF.
The rest of the trip had the usual ICW shoaling issues. Hurricane Matthew added the prospect of deadheads and other obstructions in the water, but fortunately we did not encounter anything terrible.
The biggest issue was just the sheer number of boats, especially sailboats, in the southbound migration. We have never passed so many sailboats in a row. We think the issue is that many boaters delayed their departures because of Hurricane Matthew and the ensuing flooding in the Carolinas. So a lot more boats started out at roughly the same time and have gotten bunched up, especially at the beginning part of the ICW where the lock and bridges tend to cause congestion anyway.
Eventually we reached Coinjock at around 2:15. It was the usual Coinjock tie-up along their long face dock: boats just feet from each other so that bows overhung sterns by several feet. The dockhands at Coinjock have been tying boats up like this forever, so they’re very efficient and quick about it.
After we settled in we had a pleasant surprise. A fellow AYC boat, the sailing boat Panache, pulled in in the late afternoon with friends Chuck, Ginny and Tom aboard. We actually saw them as we were leaving Portsmouth and they were pulling out of Top Rack Marina and angling to get into the migration queue. Not knowing that it was the Panache from the yacht club, we hailed them and asked if we could go ahead of them since we’d pass them eventually. As we passed them, Jim saw a woman who looked like Ginny, but Panache was not her boat. He was confused. Then Panache tied up behind us in the lock and Chuck was manning their bow line while I was holding our stern line. Waiting for the rest of the boats to tie up in the lock provided a perfect opportunity to catch up and so we got the full story. Tom, the captain of Panache, had convinced Chuck and Ginny to help him run Panache down to the Keys where Tom’s wife and their winter home were. This was the first time any of them had done the southbound ICW trip. We hoped they would be going to Coinjock, but they said they couldn’t get a reservation and they’d probably anchor out. So it was a pleasant surprise when we got an email from Chuck saying that they were in fact at Coinjock Marina at the south end of the dock.
They had made plans to dine on board and we had plans to eat at the Coinjock Restaurant, but they invited us for drinks aboard Panache. We had a great time catching up some more and trading boating stories. But eventually fried chicken and shrimp called us away and we said good bye, hoping that we’d cross paths again.
We made an early evening of it because our next destination, Bellhaven, NC, was 9 hours away. So it would be an early morning with our departure at first light.