November 12, 2014 – Wrightsville Beach to Southport, N.C.

November 12, 2014

Well, I suppose it had to happen at some point, one or both of us coming down with a cold.  It’s me.  I woke up yesterday with my throat feeling a little raspy, but otherwise I felt fine.  This morning when I woke up I had that run down “cold” feeling and a croaking voice.  I’ve succumbed, but I’m hoping that plenty of water, vitamin C, the neti pot and some Echinacea tea will do the trick.  So far, Jim is fine.  I’m basically bathing in hand sanitizer in the hope that he will not get it too.

Despite my croaking voice we had a good cruising day today.  Our destination was Southport, NC, a mere 20 nautical miles from Wrightsville Beach.  We decided to take it easy in the morning and leave around 9am.  For most of our mornings we have started out and then made breakfast while we were underway.  Today, we made breakfast and actually sat down in our salon and ate it.

We thought we might need to wait until about 9:15 to leave because of the 9 am bridge opening.  But apparently no boats needed the opening, so we had the channel pretty much to ourselves.  We did have to contend with some current at the dock, which was flowing toward the bridge at the dock and in the opposite direction in the middle.  The current direction at the dock was good for us because we had a boat right behind us and space ahead of us.  That meant that I could just use the thrusters to move us off the dock and then gradually turn toward the center of the channel, make the 180 degree turn and then head for Southport.  The only issue was getting Jim to pay attention to casting us off.  He was gabbing away with the two guys who were on the boat behind us.  But we made it, gabbing and all.

The cruise to Southport was more of the same narrow channel with beach marshes on the ocean side and seaside development on the mainland side.  But even with the development, this area is really beautiful.  We had the occasional dolphin, but not the pods we saw yesterday and the day before.

Coastal Marsh

Coastal Marsh

Shoreline - ICW - South of Wrightsville Beach

Shoreline – ICW – South of Wrightsville Beach

Eventually we reached the man-made land cut, known as Snow’s Cut, that would take us over to the Cape Fear River.  This is a narrow passage with some rocks that encroach on the channel on one side and some serious shoaling on the other.  Plus, just to make things interesting there is a confusing set of marks where the cut exits the Cape Fear Peninsula and opens out to a channel through very low water that leads to the main shipping channel in the Cape Fear River.   We had looked at this area carefully on Active Captain the night before and heeded all the warnings as we were passing through and we had no problems.

Snow's Cut

Snow’s Cut

The Cape Fear River, which can be very unpleasant in high winds, was glassy calm.  Our only issue was the 2 knot current that was running against us.  But we did not have far to go down the river and just backed the throttle down and cruised comfortably until we reached the turnoff for Southport.  While still in the river, however, we put Curiosity on plane and ran her at full throttle (2600rpm) just to make sure we had sustained any damage from the “bump” we took yesterday north of the Onslow Bridge.  We hit 2600 rpms on both engine and did not notice any strange noises or vibrations.  We were all good.

Cape Fear River - Calm as Can Be

Cape Fear River – Calm as Can Be

We arrived in Southport shortly after noon.  Jim pulled us up to the dock perfectly and we were quickly tied up.  We rinsed and chamoised Curiosity and then decided to hike over to the “Fishy Fishy Café” for lunch, recommended by the Southport Marina staff.  We normally have lunch on the boat, but we decided that with my croaky throat we should opt for lunch off because I might end up eating soup and crackers for dinner.

Lunch was fried shrimp for Jim and a buffalo chicken soup with salad for me.  Jim’s shrimp were delicious.  My soup was spicy and a little on the gloppy side, but perfect for what ailed me.

We then decided to stroll over to the historic section of Southport.  Along the way we passed a number of “low country” houses that dated from the late 1800s.  I don’t know what the official definition of a “low country” house is, but I think of them as houses that were built for coastal living, with large porches and tin roofs.  Some are one-story and others are two-story, but they all look like they’re designed to take advantage of the coastal breezes.

Low Country Cottage, Southport

Low Country Cottage, Southport

River Pilot's House - Captain Thomas Mann Thompson - circa 1868

River Pilot’s House – Captain Thomas Mann Thompson – circa 1868

We wandered around downtown Southport, which like Swansboro is already decked out for Christmas.  The toy store had Christmas paraphenalia on the sidewalk and carols playing for the general public.  I, for one, am just not ready for this.  I’m not even thinking about Thanksgiving!

Stores in Southport

Stores in Southport

Monroe Street, Southport

Monroe Street, Southport

We tracked down the local health food store and purchased the Echinacea tea.  Who knows if it will do anything, but it makes me feel like I’m fighting the cold and not just succumbing. By this time, however, I was beginning to fade.  So we headed back to Curiosity to relax, do laundry, fill up the water tanks and prepare for our cruise tomorrow to Myrtle Beach.

Southport Marina

Southport Marina

Curiosity Bathed In the Setting Sunlight

Curiosity Bathed In the Setting Sunlight

November 11, 2014 – Swansboro to Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

We woke up to grey skies and steady rain.  Our plan was to head down the ICW to Wrightsville Beach; along the way there would be four bridges, two of which only opened on the hour and two of which opened every half-hour.  We would have to time our passage to coincide with the openings.

Our plan was to leave by 7:20am, so we would have time to make the 9am opening of the Onslow Bridge.   Right on time, Adrienne pulled us away from the dock and we followed Carinya down the ICW.  There were porpoises everywhere, some of which swam alongside us in Curiosity’s wake.  We thought we saw one porpoise swimming straight across the ICW; however, as we looked closer, we realized that it was a stag swimming from one bank to the other.  An unbelievable sight!

Stag Swimming Across the River

Stag Swimming Across the River

Stag Emerging From the Water

Stag Emerging From the Water

We soon realized that if we hurried, we could make the 8:30am opening of the Onslow Bridge, so both Carinya and we pushed forward.  At 8:15am, Carinya, who was in front, radioed back that she had just hit a sandbar but was able to push through.  We immediately slowed down to try to avoid the bar.  We eased to the right where there were two strange channel markers.  Just as we reached the markers, bang!  We had hit the sand bar too.  Fortunately, we plowed through with no apparent damage other than pride.  No sooner than we were through, did we realized that the two strange markers were designed to lead us around the bar.  Had we slowed to a stop and looked around and figured out what the markers were, we would not have hit the bar.  Had we been reading Active Captain, we would also have seen that we were supposed to go through the two markers.  Oh well.  Lesson learned.

Despite the setback, we made the 8:30am opening of the Onslow Bridge and headed for the Surf City Bridge, about 20 miles away.  The bridge opens only on the hour, so our plan was to make the 11am opening.  We had plenty of time, so we carefully proceeded down the ICW, reading Active Captain religiously and talking to the boats ahead of us about upcoming hazards.  By 11am, we were passing through the Surf City Bridge heading for the Figure Eight Bridge, 18 miles away.  We hoped to make the 12:30pm opening, which would allow us to make the 1pm opening of the last bridge.  Alas, it was not to be.  The south side of the Surf City Bridge was crowded with boats, no wake zones, and a Coast Guard cutter repairing channel markers.  It took us almost a half-hour to go only a mile. There was no way we were going to make the 12:30pm opening, so once again we took our time and transited the Figure 8 bridge at 1:00pm.

Passing Thru the Surf City Swing Bridge

Passing Thru the Surf City Swing Bridge

Coast Guard Cutter - Surf City

Coast Guard Cutter – Surf City

Easing Up to The Marker

Easing Up to The Marker

We had 5 miles to go to the last bridge, which unfortunately opened only on the hour.  So we proceeded down the ICW basically at idle speed.  It was excruciatingly slow, but unavoidable.

I Wouldn't Want to Clean This Dock

I Wouldn’t Want to Clean This Dock

We passed under the Wrightsville Beach Bridge, our last bridge and tied up at the Wrightsville Beach Marina.  The current was whipping but we were able to tie up without incident.  Adrienne and I were both exhausted – mentally and physically.

ICW - Wrightsville Beach

ICW – Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach Marina

Wrightsville Beach Marina

We walked about a mile to the local West Marine and Harris Teeter, stocked up on a few items and returned to the boat.  After a quick dinner at a nearby restaurant, we were ready to call it a night.

November 9 – 10, 2014 – Belhaven to Oriental to Swansboro, N.C.

November 9th was another gray morning on the southbound migration.   We’ve had a string of them, but at least the temperature was up a bit this morning from the low 40’s to about 50 degrees this morning at about 7:30.  Still, a good morning to be leaving the dock—at least the overcast skies eliminated the glare from the morning sun.

The winds were light as I pulled us out of Belhaven around 7:50.  We turned to the south and immediately fell in line with the rest of the flotilla.  Our fellow Fleming 55, Carinya, was at another marina closer to town, but we saw her enter the procession about a mile and a half ahead of us and expected to see her in Oriental, the day’s destination for both of us.

Our cruise to Oriental was calm and uneventful.  We had light winds all the way.  This was a blessing as we had to cruise along the Neuse River, which can kick up an unpleasant chop in windy conditions.  But today it was perfect for cruising.

Goose Creek on the Way to Oriental

Goose Creek on the Way to Oriental

Goose Creek, North Carolina

Goose Creek, North Carolina

We arrived in Oriental around 1pm and docked at the Oriental Marina and Inn.  Our docking was also uneventful, except for a last minute change by marina which required me to switch all of the lines from the port to the starboard side at the last second.  After that bit of confusion, Jim pulled us in and we were quickly tied up right next to Carinya.

We did our boat chores, rinsed Curiosity off, chatted with Carinya’s owners, and then headed to “town” to stretch our legs and explore a bit.  The cruising guides have a very complimentary description of Oriental as a lovely small town with shops and restaurants.  Let’s just say the town didn’t exactly live up to the image that these descriptions created in our minds.  The town was basically the dock area with one coffee shop, one art gallery, one marine store and one gift shop.   The art gallery actually had some very nice items, including some beautiful hand woven baskets and bowls.  But that was pretty much it, and our choices for dinner off the boat were the Oriental Marina and Inn and the Oriental Marina and Inn.  So we went to the restaurant at the Oriental Marina and Inn.

Shrimp Boats, Oriental, N.C.

Shrimp Boats, Oriental, N.C.

Art Gallery, Oriental, N.C.

Art Gallery, Oriental, N.C.

Oriental Marina and Inn

Oriental Marina and Inn

Tiki Bar Masot at Oriental Marina and Inn

Tiki Bar Mascots at Oriental Marina and Inn

Jim Relaxing in Oriental, N.C.

Jim Relaxing in Oriental, N.C.

The restaurant had several steak entrees, pork chops, chicken, etc. but they were also serving fresh local shrimp.  We figured we were in shrimp country (finally) so I had sautéed shrimp and Jim had Charleston-style shrimp and grits.  The shrimp were very good, but I think we’ll need to wait until we get to Charleston to have real Charleston shrimp and grits..

Our destination for Monday was Swansboro, NC.  Monday morning was overcast and a bit warmer than Sunday’s.  The forecast was calling for a warming trend through Wednesday, but with rain and a cold front pushing through on Thursday.  So despite the cloudy skies we were happy that for a short while we might actually see some 70 degree days before cold temps kick in again.  Yet another reminder about why we’re going south.

Oriental Yacht Club as We Depart

Oriental Yacht Club as We Depart

Oriental Harbor

Oriental Harbor

The ICW between Oriental and Swansboro is more typical than the stretch between Belhaven and Oriental.  The latter has lots of open water with good water depths outside the channel on main ICW route.  The former has narrow channels with depths of 1 to 3 feet outside the channel, and even some places where the depths are ¼ and ½ feet!

We cruised comfortably along the first leg, which was through Adams Creek with Carinya behind us all the way.

Heron on Mile Post 195

Heron on Mile Post 195

About mid-way to Swansboro we went through the Beaufort, NC/Morehead City area.  This is a busy commercial area with a channel leading to the Atlantic Ocean, which we were not taking. The ICW route turns to the west and then continues along the coast.  The only problem was that the ICW route was poorly marked through this area with a number of confusing markers, not just in real life as you’re looking out the helm windshield, but on the charts as well.  We didn’t help ourselves either by relying on a chart that one of Curiosity’s previous owners had plotted through the area to the ocean inlet, not past the inlet to the ICW route.  All was fine, however, after a bit of furious chart and marker checking.

Once through this area we entered Bogue Sound.  Bogue Sound is a straight shot for several miles along the coastline with a narrow channel that just fits two boats side by side.  If you look out the window as you’re crossing Bogue Sound you’re likely to see flocks of birds standing on the water, i.e., hanging out in less than 1 foot.  Fortunatelythe winds were light from the North, but even with this bit of wind we could see ourselves slowly getting pushed out of the channel.  I would not want to try this in heavy wind from either the North or South.

Devleopment Along Bogue Sound

Development Along Bogue Sound

Along Bogue Sound

Along Bogue Sound

On the other hand, Bogue Sound was the first place where we saw many dolphins.  They were jumping out of the water right off the port or starboard bow.  A number of them started to jump in our wake as we passed them by.  That was the highlight of the day.

Dolphins in Our Wake

Dolphins in Our Wake

Swansboro is located at the southwestern end of Bogue Sound, right on the ICW.  As we were approaching the sun came out and the day warmed up to near 70 degrees.  It looked like it might be a delightful day in Swansboro.  Jim pulled us up to Casper’s Marina’s face dock around 1pm and we were tied up in no time.

We did our usual boat chores and then hopped off for our usual tour of the town.  This was not our first visit to Swansboro.  We were here in May, 2011 when we were bringing Sea BLyS up from Florida.  The town hadn’t changed much from our recollection.  There are many older bungalow and beach-style homes here, dating from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.  There is also a real town, with shops (all ready for Christmas), local businesses and restaurants,funky cars, and a resident crop of ducks that seem to wander the streets at will.

Swansboro History Part 1

Swansboro History Part 1

Swansboro History Part 2

Swansboro History Part 2

Swansboro History Part 3

Swansboro History Part 3

Swansboro History Part 4

Swansboro History Part 4

Ready for a Night Out

Ready for a Night Out–Check Out the Eyelashes!

 

All Made Up Waiting for Her Date

All Made Up Waiting for Her Date!!

Adrienne Hanging With Elvis

Adrienne Hanging With Elvis in Swansboro

Russell's Olde Tyme Shoppe

Russell’s Olde Tyme Shoppe

Wandering Geese

Wandering Ducks

 

Owning the Road

Owning the Road

Swansboro Shops Selling Christmas Ornaments Alread!

Swansboro Shops Selling Christmas Ornaments Already!

Ready for Christmas

Ready for Christmas

Tucker Littleton House circa 1920 - Now the Visitor Center

Tucker Littleton House circa 1920 – Now the Visitor Center, also ready for Christmas

On our last visit we had dinner in the Riverside Seafood and Steak restaurant and had a surprisingly good meal.  We’ve got reservations for dinner there tonight and hope that it doesn’t disappoint.  We’re especially looking forward to their sweet potato muffins; they  are melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  When we were here last time, I tried to get the recipe, but they wouldn’t give it up.  We had to settle for buying a half dozen to eat back on board.  I expect that will be our fate tonight.

PS  Back from dinner.  The sweet potato muffins were as good as we remember.  We brought half a dozen back for us and another half dozen for Carinya.  Off to Wrightsville Beach tomorrow.

 

November 8, 2014 – Alligator River Swing Bridge to Belhaven, N.C.

Saturday morning was a gorgeous day, although a bit chilly to start.  The sun was shining brightly and winds were in the 5-9 kt range.  Last night, while waiting for our chicken order, we had talked with Andrew, the owner of the Fleming Carinya, and agreed that we would leave together in the morning around 8 am.  Promptly at 7:30, Andrew was at our door to make sure we were ready to go.

At 7:50 am, all lines were off and Adrienne took Curiosity out of the marina.  At the entrance to the marina, there was a bar of sand and muck with a depth of only 5.8 ft.  Fortunately with a 5 foot draft, we passed over easily even as our depth warning alarm went off.  The marina is located just north of the Alligator Swing Bridge, and as we neared the end of the marina channel, the bridge operator opened the bridge.  A sailboat that had been waiting, Carinya and Curiosity all passed through without delay.

The first part of our day was to cruise down the Alligator River, a broad river about 3 miles wide.  With plenty of depth and few crab pots, it was a generally uneventful cruise down the river for the flotilla.  As you cruise south, a camaraderie begins to develop among the cruisers as you see the same boats on consecutive days.  This is one of the very nice things about cruising the ICW.  As we neared the end of the Alligator River, for example, one of the boats in front us, LadyHawke, radioed back that there was a sunken log in the middle of the channel.  We radioed the report on back to the boats behind us and we were all able to steer around the log with no incidents.  Other boaters reported shallow depths or crab pots in the channel.  All of these little tidbits are helpful when trying to negotiate the sometimes narrow and shallow areas of the ICW.  It’s also fun to meet up with the folks you’ve been chatting with over the VHF when people pull into the marinas in the evening.

Near the southern end of the Alligator River, the Intracoastal Waterway leaves the river and enters the Alligator River – Pungo River Canal.  The canal is a 22 mile man-made land cut that connects the Alligator River with the Pungo River to the South.   Most of the canal is a narrow stretch of water with marsh land along the sides and numerous tree stumps lying in the shallow water on both sides.  The northern end of the canal is unsettled, but as you reach the southern end, you begin to see a few large houses with docks bordering the canal.  We were able to cruise along comfortably at 8 kts until we neared the end of the canal where a backlog of boats appeared.  A large barge being pushed by a tug was in the center of the canal and there was no room to pass.  So we all slowed down to 5 kts for the last few miles and waited for the barge to exit the canal.  As soon as she did, we all were able to pass by and continue to Belhaven.

Alligator River - Pungo River Canal

Alligator River – Pungo River Canal

Canal Banks

Canal Banks

LadyHawke Cruising Up the Canal

LadyHawke Cruising Up the Canal

Marsh Lands Along the Canal

Marsh Lands Along the Canal

Houses Along the Southern Portion of the Canal

Houses Along the Southern Portion of the Canal

Passing the Barge

Passing the Barge

Belhaven is only a few miles from the end of the Canal and we were soon turning up Upper Dowry Creek into the Dowry Creek Marina.  We topped up our tanks with 227 gallons of diesel, pumped out our holding tank, and settled in for the evening.  By 2:30 pm, we were fueled, pumped, tied up, and rinsed off.

Dowry Creek Marina is a lovely facility, with friendly owners, nice fixed docks, a boaters’ lounge with pool table and swimming pool, and a courtesy car.  Adrienne and I decided to borrow the car and drive into Belhaven to grab a late lunch and go to the grocery store. On our prior trip on SeaBlys four years ago, we had remembered Belhaven as a small town with a number of old nice homes but with a downtown that was facing hard times.  Unfortunately, the town did not appear to have rebounded over the last four years.  Many stores were still closed and we found nowhere to grab a quick lunch.  After driving around, we went to the grocery store, bought a few supplies and some pre-made sandwiches for lunch.  Back at the boat we wolfed the sandwiches down and relaxed.

Dowry Creek

Dowry Creek

Dowry Creek Marina

Dowry Creek Marina

The marina was hosting a happy hour, one of the many friendly aspects of this marina, in the early evening and we wandered over to talk with our fellow cruisers.  We spent about an hour there swapping sea stories before we headed back to Curiosity for dinner and bed.

Tomorrow, we head for Oriental, N.C.

November 7, 2014 – Coinjock, N.C. to Alligator River Swing Bridge, N.C.

Today was our passage across the Albemarle Sound and into the Alligator River.  The Albemarle Sound can be a lovely body of water to cross or it can be a miserable body of water to cross depending on the winds.  The forecast for today called for 10 -15 kt winds, which was okay for the trip.  With winds greater than 20 kts, the waters on the Sound can produce a nasty chop that makes for a very unpleasant cruise.

We left Coinjock Marina just before 8am with winds in the 5 to 9 knot range, but we were in a relatively protected area.  It was a chilly start to the day with temperatures in the 44 degree range.  A front had gone through the night before and brought lovely clear skies, but much colder temps, a brief reminder about why we were heading south in the first place.

Before entering the Sound we wove through some lowland areas that required close attention because of the skinny channel and shallow waters just outside the channel.  Jim and I have not been on the ICW since 2011 when we brought our first boat, Sea BLyS, up from Florida.  It took a few turns around the marks to again get used to the best cruising method for dealing with this type of route, remembering always to stay in the channel, look out for temporary marks, and above all else to not cut any corners.

By about 9:35 we were entering Albemarle Sound.  By this time the winds had picked up to steady 13 to 15 kts, with some very occasional gusts in the 20 kt range.  There was a short 2 to 3 foot chop with some random 4-footers thrown in to keep us attentive.  It was a rocky ride, but once again, we both were happy to be in Curiosity, which handled that bumpiness with no problems at all.

Our biggest problem in the crossing, however, was not the wind or the chop, but the crab pots.  With that much water action many of the pots were hidden by the swells until we were practically on top of them.  Our ability to spot the pots was not aided in the least by the NC crabmen’s penchant for black or dark green colored pots, which blended in perfectly with the water color, and the absence of flags.  As we neared the center of the Sound the chop started to lay down a bit which helped with crab pot spotting.  Until we reached the end of the ICW route across the Sound where we needed to make about a 90 degree turn in a narrow channel with shoaling hazards all around, that is.  Naturally, someone decided to put three pots right there in the middle of the channel.  It was fun and games, especially as we made the turn and started to face directly into the sun so we could barely see the channel markers, let alone crab pots.

By 11:15, we were done with Albemarle Sound and had entered the Alligator River heading for the Alligator River Bridge.  We were almost at our destination, the Alligator River Marina, which is on the northwest side of the bridge.  We had stayed here before, when we were bringing Sea BLyS north in 2011.  The marina is a nice waypoint if you’ve just crossed the Sound and don’t want to go another 50 miles to the next real stop in Belhaven.  It’s a small marina, which shares its location with a gas station owned by the same woman, Miss Wanda, a no fuss, no muss matron who could probably wrestle into submission any alligators that made the mistake of wandering into Miss Wanda’s territory.  There’s absolutely nothing around the marina except the bridge and the highway that crosses it.  The only game in town for dinner, other than one’s own galley, is the marina’s restaurant, which serves pretty good fried chicken.

So we pulled up and got tied up on the face dock without incident.  We did our boat chores, which did not include rinsing off Curiosity even though we took a lot of spray crossing the Sound.  The reason was that on our last visit we had done some laundry using the marina’s washing machine and our clothes came out orange.  Apparently they have quite a bit of rust, iron or something in the water.  We figured the wash could wait to the next day.  I think Jim might have had heart failure if we had rinsed Curiosity only to find that she had turned into a gigantic creamsicle.

Alligator River Marina

Alligator River Marina

The Fuel Dock

The Fuel Dock

Alligator River Lighthouse

Alligator River Lighthouse

Shortly after we docked, Carinya, the other Fleming 55, pulled in and docked right in front of us.  Both of us intended to head for Belhaven in the morning.

The Flemings - Carinya and Curiosity

The Flemings – Carinya and Curiosity

The likelihood of becoming roadkill from walking down the highway for a bit of exercise was even higher here than at Deltaville, so we opted instead for strolling along the docks.  Somehow we managed to get in about a mile of walking, or so the pedometers on our phones said.  The saving grace was that, although it was still quite windy, it was a lovely, sunny fall day with temps in the mid-60s.

Attractive Roadside Brush

Attractive Roadside Brush

Along with our receipt for the dockage fee, Jim received some printed messages from Miss Wanda about using the marina facilities, including the restaurant.  On one such sheet we read in bold black letters that restaurant’s grill was closed promptly at 6:30, no matter what.  All persons eating at the restaurant were advised to have their dinner orders in by 6 (on pain of starvation, no doubt).  The dock hand suggested getting to the restaurant between 5:30 and 5:45 if we wanted food that night.  So at 5:40 we tromped over to the restaurant.  I was in sweats and had elected not to put on anything more elaborate, like jeans, because I just didn’t think I was going to need to at Miss Wanda’s gas station restaurant.  I’m glad I didn’t bother because we entered the gas station convenience store (the way into the restaurant) and learned that the restaurant was closed.  Apparently the waitress didn’t show up.  Jim thinks that Miss Wanda didn’t want to open the restaurant for only 6 boats at the marina.  Who knows?  But while we couldn’t eat in the restaurant, the convenience store’s grill was open and we could order there and either eat in the store or go back to the boat.  We chose the boat and fried chicken.  The food was basic but good and we spent the night relaxing on board.

Moon Over Alligator River

Moon Over Alligator River

November 6, 2014 – Norfolk, Va. to Coinjock N.C.

Thursday morning brought gray, rainy skies and the threat of thunderstorms in the afternoon.   Our destination for the day was Coinjock, North Carolina – 50 miles down the Intracoastal Waterway and 55 miles from the Norfolk Yacht and County Club. We left the NYCC around 7 am, with the hope of reaching Dominion Bridge (aka the Steel Bridge) for the 9 am opening.  The bridge only opens on the hour and is closed from 7 – 9 am.

Adrienne eased us out of the Yacht Club and into the Elizabeth River and we headed toward the ICW. Even at 7 am, the Elizabeth River is a busy place with tugs moving barges and naval vessels around.   We were making good time down the river until we reached the beginning of the ICW where a 6 kts speed limit begins.  We figured we would have just enough time to make the 7 am opening but it would be close.

Elizabeth River - Norfolk

Elizabeth River – Norfolk

At the beginning of the ICW is the Tidewater Yacht Marina – a popular stopping point for boats prior to heading south.  As we passed, we could see a number of boats coming out including another Fleming 55.  Before long there was a whole flotilla of boats cruising down the ICW.  We cruised under a succession of railroad bridges and highway bridges, all of which were either open or high enough for us to pass under. Light rain was beginning to fall, and the sky looked threatening.

The Flotilla

The Flotilla

By 8:30, we were out of the 6 kts speed zone and could speed up as soon as we passed under the Gilmerton Highway Bridge.  Cruising at 9 kts with only 3 nautical miles to go, we reached the Steel Bridge by 8:50 – ten minutes to spare.  Several boats were ahead of us at the bridge and everyone was jockeying for position, trying to hold their position as the current and wind moved everyone around.  Right at 9 AM the bridge opened and we all moved through, heading for our next destination – the Great Bridge Lock.  The lockmaster knew that a whole flotilla of boats was heading south and the lock was ready for us when we arrived.  We only had to wait a few minutes before the lock opened.

The four boats ahead of us all took the starboard wall.  We immediately moved to port and went to the front of the port side.  This would allow us to be first out of the lock and thus not have to pass the slower sailboats on the starboard side.  It had been four years since Adrienne and I had negotiated a lock but we had no trouble – Adrienne secured a bow line and I grabbed the stern and we held the boat tight as the water level descended.  Of course the Great Bridge Lock is a tiny lock with a water level difference of only about 1 foot.  Nonetheless, everything went flawlessly.

We were out of the lock at about 9:50 and on our way to the Great Bridge Bridge, which is timed to open after the lock.  After a short wait, we were through.  Three miles later and another ten minute wait, we were through the Centerville Turnpike Bridge.  Our final bridge was another 5 miles and we had just enough time to make it – maybe.  Unfortunately, the wind and current were against us and we began to slow down.  It was getting close.  We called the bridge tender to tell him we were on our way; his response was: “If you are here at 11:00 great, otherwise you will wait to 11:30.”  With bad weather coming, we did not want to take a chance.  Adrienne and I both agreed it was time to put Curiosity to the test.  We opened the engines and were soon on plane doing 15 kts.  We rounded the bend and reached the bridge at 10:59.  As the bridge swung open, some of the other faster boats and the flotilla joined us as we cruised through the opening.  The light rain continued.

ICW

ICW

At this point it was after 11 am and Adrienne and I realized neither of us had eaten.  We had completely forgotten breakfast and we were famished.  While I drove, Adrienne went and got her breakfast.  The smell of her toast nearly drove me crazy.  I was ready to snatch it off her plate.  She ate quickly (probably out of self-defense) and then took over the helm.  Within minutes, I had eaten and was feeling much better.

It continued to rain off and on with winds up to 20 miles an hour.  We had made reservations at Coinjock Marina.  While we were dealing with locks and bridges, the marina had called to confirm we that were coming.  Apparently they were booked and wanted to make sure boats with reservations were actually going to show up.  We said we were most definitely coming.  Shortly afterwards we began to hear the other boats calling on the VHF radio to get reservations.  It wasn’t long before Coinjock was full and a number of boats were out of luck.

By 2 PM, we were at Coinjock and were quickly tied up with the help of incredibly competent dock hands.  They were busy all afternoon sliding boats into position on one long face dock – 1200 feet of continuous dock space.  Every boat was within 2 feet of another boat both in front and in back.

Coinjock Marina

Coinjock Marina

Curiosity Tied Up in Coinjock

Curiosity Tied Up in Coinjock

We were thrilled to be there.  We were also exhausted.  The Coinjock Marina is in the middle of nowhere – they have a ship store and a restaurant.  There is no town nearby and just a long rural road running alongside. Adrienne and I went for a walk along the road, walked down and introduced ourselves to the other Fleming owners and some of the other boaters, and relaxed on the boat until dinner time.

At 6 pm, we walked over to the Coinjock Restaurant for dinner.  There were a few town folks and a number of the mariners there but it was not very busy.  Adrienne had a crab cake that was so-so and I had a crab cake and fried shrimp.  The shrimp was excellent.

We headed back to the boat, watched the Big Bang Theory on TV, and went to bed.

Tomorrow, our goal is to cross Albemarle Sound and reach Alligator River Marina.  High winds are predicted for tomorrow and we will not know if we are going to go or not.  If the winds are above 20 mph, the Sound can be incredibly rough.  We will see.

November 4-5, 2014, Solomon’s Island, Maryland to Deltaville, Va. to Norfolk, Va.

We slipped out of Harbor Island Marina at about 7:30 in the morning on the 4th and headed south along with a number of other sail and power boats on the Florida migration.  When we left Solomon’s Island, the sun was shining and the winds were calm.  Our destination was Deltaville, VA.  Our passage was uneventful.  The seas were about 1 – 2 feet and the winds were about 6 – 10 knots out of the southwest.   There was some commercial traffic that we had to contend with but nothing that raised the blood pressure.  We arrived at Dozier’s Marina in Deltaville about 2pm.

Curiosity Resting At Dozier's Regatta Point

Curiosity Resting At Dozier’s Regatta Point

All was calm at the marina, and we had an entire floating dock to ourselves.   We rinsed off Curiosity and then proceeded to investigate dinner options.   We quickly found out that dinner off the boat was not going to work.  The marina is a minimum of 2 miles from the “town.”  And the “town” was basically a few scattered businesses along the main road, including a few restaurants.  We know this because we used one of the marina’s courtesy cars to check out the town and pick up a few things at the local grocery store.  Why not take the car to one of the restaurants for dinner, you might ask.  Well, good plan, but the car had to be back at the marina by 5pm.  The main road has no sidewalks and Jim and I didn’t feel like hiking a minimum of 2 miles into town and back for a questionable dinner and a high likelihood of ending up as road kill.  So we opted instead for dinner on the boat: fried chicken we picked up at the grocery, oven roasted potatoes and peas.  Pretty basic, but no fuss and no muss.

We were up and out of Deltaville the following morning about 8:30.  It was another calm morning, but a bit more overcast.  The weather forecast had a slight chance of rain in the late afternoon.  Our plan was to stop in at the Norfolk Yacht Club for the evening where Jim’s sister is a member.  We hoped to get in in the early afternoon and thus avoid any rain.

Again, the passage was uneventful except for some commercial traffic.  The water was a little rougher with a 2 – 3 foot chop and winds in the 10 – 15 knot range, but it was sooth riding in Curiosity.  We did see a few dolphins off the port bow.  Dolphins are always a happy sight.  I was hoping that they would decide to play in our wake, but I think they were too busy fishing.

We entered the Thimble Shoal Channel a little before 1pm and started to pick up more traffic, mostly sailboats.

Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads

Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads

Norfolk Naval Base

Norfolk Naval Base

As we turned into the Norfolk Harbor Channel, the commercial traffic picked up considerably, which we expected.   We cruised along with the Naval Base off our port side, complete with all manner of military vessels at dock and patrol boats ready to intercept anyone who strayed too close.

Barge in Norfolk Harbor

Barge in Norfolk Harbor

The channel ahead was straight for a bit but then turned to the left.  We were nearing the point where the channel made this turn to the left when we noticed a dredge off to the starboard side of the channel near the turn with a sailboat motoring toward it, a tug pushing another vessel to the left of the dredge but angling toward it, and a very large container ship being pushed along the horizontal portion of the channel before the turn to bring it straight at us.  We slowed down.  As we did so, the sailboat decided to cross the channel just as the container ship was being pushed into the channel to face both us and the sailboat.  For a few minutes it didn’t look good for the sailboat, but it was able to scoot across in front of the container ship without getting run over.  We continued ahead very slowly.  We couldn’t move to our starboard side to avoid getting too close to the container ship because the dredge and the tug pushing the other vessel were there.   We crept as close as we could and then watched as the tugs moving the container ship pushed it alongside us.  The thing was massive, but fortunately created hardly any wake.  Nothing like getting up close and personal with a couple of thousand tons of cargo vessel to make your day.

Threading the Needle Between the Container Ship and the Dredge

Threading the Needle Between the Container Ship and the Dredge

The Dredge

The Dredge

Up Close to a Container Ship

Up Close to a Container Ship

We slipped behind the container ship and continued on our way, making the turn to the left without incident.  We could see our turnoff into the Lafayette River where the Norfolk Yacht Club is located.  However, just as we were about 50 yards from the turnoff, another large vessel (some sort of Navy ship) being pushed by tugs entered the channel heading towards us and in front of our turnoff.  There was nothing to do but slow down and go behind it.

Naval Vessel

Naval Vessel

Cutting Behind the Kanawha

Cutting Behind the Kanawha

Finally, we entered the channel to the Yacht Club, only to find—what else?—crab pots right in front of the channel entrance!  Please tell me why crab fishermen do this when there is tons of water outside the channel.  Normally scooting around crab pots is not a big deal.  But it was a bit dicey for this particular channel because there was only about 4 feet of water outside the channel.  Jim threaded our way through and we were safely in the channel.  The winds had picked up to about 15 – 20 knots by this point, but we had no trouble pulling up to one of the Club’s floating docks.

We rinsed off Curiosity and then accepted delivery of two inflatable kayaks that we had bought at the Annapolis Boat Show.  The kayaks were supposed to have been at the show, but FedEx screwed up on the delivery and sent them to various other locations in the country and ultimately to Norfolk, where we were able to get them at the Yacht Club.

We finished our boat chores and then had Jim’s sister for drinks on the boat. We then headed to the club for dinner.  It was great to see Lois Gail and to relax over bacon-wrapped filets, broiled salmon, salad and sautéed spinach.

We made it an early night, however, because we planned to leave the next day at 7am.  The weather forecast for Thursday was scattered showers, possible thunderstorms in the afternoon and 10 – 15 knot winds. Our destination was Coinjock, NC, but we would be entering the Intracoastal Waterway.  We would have several bridge openings and the Great Bridge Lock to contend with.  Most importantly, we wanted to make the 9am opening of the Steel Bridge because it opens only on the hour and is closed between 7 and 9am. If we made it, we would likely make Coinjock in the early afternoon ahead of any thunderstorms.  So an early night it was.

Norfolk International Terminal Lighted Up at Night

Norfolk International Terminal Lighted Up at Night

November 3, 2014 – Annapolis to Solomon’s Island, Maryland

Monday morning, we awake to begin our journey south.  The sun is shining with light winds in Annapolis.  The air is quite brisk; a perfect day for cruising south. We are ready to go.  [Of course, if this were a movie, you would be hearing in the background the faint notes of a sinister minor chord, signifying that all was not as it seemed.]

We start the engines and immediately get a system check on the engine controls.  We had occasionally had this problem before, so we simply switch to the backup system and then back to the main system.  All seems fine.  [Now you can hear the background music playing a little louder.]

As we are preparing the boat for departure, the alarm goes off again.  Strange, but we reboot and all seems fine.  [The music swells.]

At 8AM, Adrienne takes the controls at the flybridge and eases Curiosity out of the slip as I handle the lines.  We are just out of the slip, in the crowded yacht basin with boats all around us, when Adrienne yells that she has no engine controls at all on the fly bridge. [The music soars.]

I dash to the pilothouse and turn on the backup controls.  The backup controls only work from the pilothouse.  So I take the helm, with Adrienne on the flybridge telling me what to do since I cannot see the stern of the boat or anything behind us.  We are able to get Curiosity out of the marina and headed into Annapolis Harbor. [The music dies to just a soft background murmur.]

Adrienne takes the helm and I call the cavalry. – i.e., Burr Yachts.  I talk to both Kevin and Pat and the consensus is that one of the controls has gone bad and needs to be removed.  Fortunately, Burr Yachts is only an hour south and the backup controls are working fine.  Pat tells us to head to Burr.  Slightly anxious, we leave Annapolis Harbor and head south. [The music is silent, or perhaps one just barely hears a new major chord.]

By 9:15AM, we are in the South River and approaching Burr Yachts.  At the end of the dock are Charlie and Craig awaiting our arrival. [The major chord swells; the cavalry has arrived.]  We dock without incident and within minutes Charlie and Mike are on board diagnosing the problem.  With a little sleuthing, it turns out that the problem is the flybridge controller.  They take the cockpit controller, which we have yet to use, and move it to the flybridge, so they can send the flybridge controller out for repair.  By 10:30Am, everything is working normally and we ease away from the dock, ready to resume our journey . [The major chords of a pastoral theme play softly in the background as we steer into the rising sun.]

***

OK, perhaps it was not quite this dire, but it was one heck of the way to start a two week voyage.  By comparison the rest of the trip was uneventful.  Our destination for the day was Harbor Island Marina, Solomon’s Island and by 3PM we were turning into the Paxutent River.  The dockmaster had told us no one would be there to help us, but docking Curiosity without dockhands is usually an easy affair.  We pulled up to our assigned space on a large T-dock, Adrienne jumped off and we were quickly tied up.  We had survived Day One.

Harbor Island Marina, Solomon's Island

Harbor Island Marina, Solomon’s Island

The rest of Day One was the usual.  Adrienne washed down Curiosity while I cleaned up the kitchen.  We met the sailor docked behind us on the T, an older gentleman from Portsmouth, NH who was heading down to Florida with his wife.  No doubt we’ll see more of them as we continue heading south.

We finished our boat chores and then took a walk into greater downtown Solomon’s, such as it is, to stretch our legs.  We have been here before but during the late spring when Solomon’s Island is much more active.  In the late afternoon on a sunny, but chilly November day there weren’t too many people around.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed our stroll along the water and checked out a few possibilities for dinner.

Solomon's Island Boardwalk

Solomon’s Island Boardwalk

Adrienne Enjoying the Boardwalk

Adrienne Enjoying the Boardwalk

Blue Heron Along the Boardwalk

Blue Heron Along the Boardwalk

We ended up at The CD Café where we had a nice dinner of beef tenderloin with pepper sauce (me) and grilled shrimp with tomatoes, onions and pancetta over risotto (Adrienne).  The air had cooled considerably by the time we finished dinner, so we hustled back to Curiosity to relax in warmth and get ready for whatever Day Two might throw at us.

 

Going South – But Not Today

Today we had intended to head south on Curiosity for the winter.  Our plan was to leave Annapolis this morning for Solomon’s Island, but Mother Nature had other plans.

The winds today are 20 to 25 knots, with gusts up to 35 knots.  The waves are expected to be 5 feet on the Chesapeake Bay.  And today is supposed to be the better day of the weekend.  Tomorrow, we are expecting gusts up to 40 knots with 7 foot waves.

Fortunately, Monday is supposed to be a much calmer day.  Tomorrow we will drive to Annapolis and hope to leave early Monday morning.