We were up early today for the run to Wrightsville Beach, 47 nm south of Swansboro. Originally we were only going to go to Surf Cit, in order to avoid having to dock in the swift current at Wrightsville Beach. However, the weather tomorrow is supposed to be somewhat nasty, so we wanted to shorten our trip to Southport, our next stop.
As we pulled out of Swansboro just before 7:20am, the weather seemed perfect. The winds were less than 5 kts and the ICW was calm. That was good because the trip from Swansboro to Wrightsville Beach is filled with bridges and areas of shoaling. Our goal was to avoid any drama. Boy did we fail!!
Our first bridge the Onslow Bridge was about 10 nautical miles away and only opened on the hour and half hour. If we ran at 9 – 10 kts, our usual cruising speed, we would just make the 8:30am opening. There were many boats on the ICW with the southern migration in full swing. Because of the bad shoaling we were all talking to each other – the boats further ahead relaying information back to those following. We were one of the faster boats, but not the fastest. We passed many sailboats but a number of faster cruisers passed us.
Our first real shoaling challenge came as we neared the Onslow Bridge. While the ICW appears to run in a fairly straight line, the channel does not. At one point the channel curves sharply to starboard and then back to port in an almost S-curve. It is marked but it looks like you are going to run aground because you are first heading straight at the shore and then turning with only 20 ft to go before you would hit the shoreline. Last year, going south, we had missed this turn completely and hit the bottom. Fortunately, this year we were ready and made the turn easily; we did have shallow water with only 7.5 ft of depth, but with our 5 ft draft we were fine.
As we neared the bridge we could see a few boats in front of us and many coming up behind us. Everyone jockeyed for position with the sailboats allowing the faster powerboats to move to the front of the line. We were there just in time and we passed through the bridge by 8:35 am.
Our next bridge was the Surf City Swing Bridge, which was about 18 miles ahead of us and opened only on the hour. Our goal was to be there for the 11am opening. We had one other major challenge before we reached the bridge – the New River Inlet, another area of major shoaling. We would be there on a rising tide and we had a pretty good idea of the best way to run across the inlet, which involves ignoring some of the channel markers and crossing the inlet on blind faith. We had done it before and knew it worked. Just as we neared the inlet, a large tug pushing a barge appeared right in front of us, blocking the channel. To get past the tug, we had to delay our turn beyond the point we wanted to turn but fortunately, once we did turn we had enough water to make. Again the lowest depth was about 7.5 ft, so we were fine.
Great. Now we were past all the major areas of concern and just needed to make the bridges on time. By 10am, we were running a little behind schedule because the current was against us, but we still thought we could make the 11am opening. We were nearing another area of shoaling but the key was to stay very close to the green marker but still in the channel. The wind was and current were pushing us toward the green side of the channel. Suddenly the channel started to get shallower and before we knew it the depth was only 4.2 ft. We were aground or sort off. We were still slowly pushing through the muck. Adrienne and I had a calm and rational discussion of where the hell we were and whether to go to port or starboard – of course we disagreed and things became a touch frantic. Adrienne said starboard and I said port, both of us conversing in a calm and dignified manner. Being the gentleman that I am, I acquiesced to her viewpoint. I used the thrusters to turn us to starboard and upped the throttle as she slowly steered us to starboard. We eased forward and suddenly we were free. She was right and I was perhaps mistaken It seemed like a lifetime but it was probably less than 2 minutes from start to finish.
Back on track, we were still able to make good time and were at the Surf City Bridge 15 minutes early.
Shortly after 11 am, we were through the bridge and on our way to the Figure 8 Bridge which opens every half hour. It was only a little over 15 miles away and if we went 10 kts, we would be there in time for the 12:30pm opening. That would make it easy to make the 1 pm opening of the Wrightsville Beach Bridge, our last bridge for the day. If we missed the 12:30pm opening, we would not be able to pass through the last bridge before 2pm.
Alas the gods still did not seem to like us. The current was against us and getting stronger. At one point we could only make about 7 kts. We would be lucky to make the 1pm opening of the Figure 8 Bridge. At this point there were not many boats around us; the faster powerboats had pushed ahead and the sailboats were far behind. However, we were being followed by a shrimp boat, going about the same speed as us. By 12:50pm we were nearing the Figure 8 Bridge, when the shrimp boat called the bridge requesting an opening. Because it was a commercial boat, the bridge opened for the shrimper on demand. By 12:54 pm we were through the Figure 8, headed for Wrightsville. I called the shrimp boat and asked if the Wrightsville Beach Bridge would also open for them early. They confirmed that it would. So we kept our pace up and by 1:15 we were at the Bridge. Instead of us having to wait for 45 minutes, the bridge magically opened and we were at our marina. Fantastic , but maybe not.
North of the Bridge there had been very little current. Suddenly south of the Bridge there was a strong current – not that I noticed. We wanted to be on the face dock but they had assigned us a slip, which required us to turn into the marina and then turn up current. I had to wait for a number of small boats to get out of my way and by the time I turned into the marina, I had drifted further down the ICW than I intended. Rather than go down stream and turn around, as I should have done, I went ahead and made the turn. The wind and the current were pushing us hard downstream; before I knew it I was rubbing the end of the dock. Adrienne was yelling (I mean, calmly instructing me) to move to port but the thrusters did not seem up to the task. Finally after rubbing along the dock, I was able to get us moving forward. We were now heading directly and swiftly toward a center console, about to cut it in half. I slowed us down and was able to turn upcurrent. Suddenly everything was under control and we were in the slip. It was 1:30 pm, and I was in need of a serious drink.
We inspected the boat and amazingly there was no damage. The rub rail had been just the right height to keep the gelcoat off the floating dock. We were good.
Now we just need to get out in the morning.