Well, after three nights and two days in Georgetown, we sat down with the calendar and did some calculating. We had to be back in our slip at Herrington Harbor North (HHN) by 31 May – the day I had my pre-op appointment at the hospital – and we really wanted to give ourselves a day or two (or three) as a fudge factor for weather and other contingencies. Georgetown is at mile marker 402.5 along the ICW and Norfolk is MM Zero. It is another 140 miles from Norfolk to Deale, MD, which was our destination. At an average of 80 miles per day, it would take us just under seven days to travel the ~ 540 miles to Deale. So, we packed up everything, pointed the boat north and started the journey.
21 May: Georgetown to St. James Plantation
The first day was beautiful. The weather was great and the scenery indescribable. In places, the Waccamaw River, on which we were traveling, is several hundred feet wide and almost everywhere it is between 15 and 30 feet deep. There is no “ICW hunch” taking place here! Even the little creeks that feed the river are ten to fifteen feet deep. An enterprising cruiser could easily pull down one of those creeks, drop an anchor and a fishing line and while away an afternoon or two. Moreover, on the banks of the river are large cypress trees just beyond which are what the charts call “abandoned rice fields.” It is almost as if you went back in time. You can’t see any signs of civilization, just cypress trees, abandoned rice fields and nature. The one exception is that once in a while you come across a decent-sized marina. But these marinas seem to be in the middle of nowhere. I am sure there are towns nearby, but you can’t see any houses, businesses or roads from the Waterway. It is really idyllic. The next time we come through here we are definitely going to anchor a couple nights along the Waccamaw.
A little further north, we passed through Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. This part of the ICW is far more developed and touristy. There are some pretty nice housing areas along the Waterway and in one place they even have free overnight docking in the back of a shopping center. The catch is that you have to do some shopping while you are tied up. (I don’t think that would be a problem in our case.)
That night we stayed at St. James Plantation Marina at Mile Marker 314, just to the south of Southport, NC. If you want a little more action you can go to one of the marinas closer to the town of Southport. There are more restaurants, more bar-and-grills, and generally more nightlife than at St. James. But for the next several days we aren’t in a real party mood. We are in a pedal-to-the-metal, 80- miles per day mode. St. James is exactly what it was billed as: a nice, quiet marina. The last time we came through, our son Tim was with us and it was cold! How cold was it? Well, they have a small gift shop on the marina property and Ann only visited it for a few minutes! They also have a small restaurant and, since I was on crutches and didn’t really want to hobble to the facility, we ordered out. You know what, it wasn’t half bad. This time we ate on board and did nothing but prepare to leave early the next morning.
22 May: St. James to Mile Hammock Bay
There are three places along the ICW where the time-space relationship among the area bridges are especially poor. Just north of Southport, around Wrightsville Beach is one. The Wrightsville Beach Bridge, at MM 283.1 opens on the hour. Figure Eight Island Bridge, at MM 278.1 opens on the half-hour. By themselves, these aren’t too bad. Coming north, you could hit Wrightsville Beach on the hour, then go 10 MPH and hit Figure Eight on the half hour. If you don’t go 10 MPH, you can go 5 MPH and hit Figure Eight a half- hour later, on the hour. The real problem comes with the Surf City Bridge at MM 260.7; it only opens on the hour. It is about 18 miles between Figure Eight and Surf City bridges. If you are a ~10 MPH boat (like us), you have to cover the 18 miles in either 1.5 hours (averaging 12 MPH, or you have to go slow, averaging slightly over 7 MPH). At 12 MPH we burn WAY too much fuel and leave a large wake behind us. Moreover, when we have to average 12 MPH, we really don’t have time to slow down for sailboats or anybody else in our path. So, though we have done it once before, we won’t do it again. Going at 7MPH, on the other hand is going way to slow. Imagine going 30 on the Interstate. You feel like you are going way slow, burning daylight and wasting time. Anyway, we averaged probably 8 MPH, then got to the bridge and had to wait for it to open. And waiting for a bridge to open is like waiting for paint to dry: B-O-R-I-N-G!! Eventually, though, we made it under all the bridges and continued on our way.
Mile Marker 244.5 is in the middle of the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune. Decades ago the Marines dredged an area that is maybe ½ mile by ½ mile to a depth of ten feet. It is just off the ICW and was probably designed for some kind of amphibious training that they do not do any more, as the Marines have opened Mile Hammock Bay, as the area is known, as an anchorage for boaters. There is only one caveat – you cannot go ashore. We have stopped there three times now and this was the first time we saw anyone go ashore. One was a couple taking the dog ashore. They shouldn’t have done it but it is at least understandable. The other guy got in his kayak and toured the anchorage, stepping ashore whenever he wanted. Personally, I wish the Marines would have shot him, but no such luck. Maybe next time.
While we were anchored, we had a small boatful of locals come up and start chatting. It turns out they are from … Occoquan, VA – our hailing port (stenciled on the back of our boat). We talked to them for a while until they had to get going. About that time the entertainment began. Although the Marines don’t use Mile Hammock anymore, they use the area around it extensively. The last time we were here we saw the MV 22 Osprey. It is a strange looking, tilt-rotor bird, that can fly at speed with its rotors at right angles to the ground (so it looks like a regular airplane) or it can land and take-off vertically with its rotors parallel to the ground. We watched them fly in and fly out several times, presumably dropping off and picking up troops with each landing. The entertainment continued until about 10 PM making sure no one in the anchorage got too much sleep.
23 May: Mile Hammock Bay to Bonner Bay
We left Mile Hammock Bay at around 0700. By 0800 it was raining and raining hard. It continued raining all day long until, about 3:00, when it started letting up a little bit. We could still see the river, but it was not a particularly good day for boating. It wasn’t that good of a day for anchoring, either.
Some of you may think that anchorages are a dime a dozen on or near the ICW. That would be a mistake. Good anchorages have several characteristics. First, they must not be in a channel – the ICW or any of the local channels that boaters use to get to and from where they are going. Second, the bottom should have good holding. If the bottom is rock, for instance, the anchor can’t get a purchase and will just skip around on top of the rock. Similarly, if there is a solid bed of sea grass or a carpet of leaves on the bottom most anchors can’t take hold. Sand and certain kinds of mud/clay are best as they will generally hold the anchor pretty snug. Third, we generally want anchorages that block the wind and current; thus a place surrounded by hills, trees or even relatively flat land of any kind is better than one without a current/wind block. Fourth, you want an area where the water is deep enough but not too deep. We draw 4 ½ feet, so I want a depth of at least 7 feet when we anchor, though we can go to six if we have to. Conversely, I don’t like to drop the anchor in much more than about 25 feet, though we can if we have to. And finally, we want some swing room. The boat is going to be facing in the direction of the wind/current. As the wind and current changes, so will the direction in which the boat points. So, if you have out 100 feet of chain, you need to be able to swing a total of 200 feet. And of course, a nice view or access to shore can also be useful.
I went into this little dissertation on anchoring so you will know why we went to Bonner Bay to anchor. It is about 5 miles or so off Mile Marker 164 of the ICW, which, for us, of course is about 30 minutes from the Waterway; so we wasted about an hour or so getting to and from our anchorage. The problem was that there just wasn’t anyplace else to anchor. Anyhow, Bonner Bay wasn’t too bad as there were about five or six anchorages in the vicinity and there weren’t any boats in any of them.
There were, however, crab pots – the bane of the boater’s existence. It seems no matter where you go in the world, no matter how isolated, no matter how devoid of boats, no matter how empty of wildlife, there are crab pots. If you run over one, the line between the float and the pot can get wrapped around your propeller and then you can have all sorts of problems. And, oh by the way, I am not that big of a fan of crab. Anyway, we anchored in an area between two strings of pots. The closest was about ten feet off our swim platform and it worried me for the rest of the evening. I seriously thought about just picking it up and moving it so it would be out of our way. That was going to be my back-up position in case we got any closer. I needn’t have worried, though, because in the morning when we awoke, we were nearer the other line of crab pots. Great. Something else to be concerned with as we departed the area. Oh well, we got out and a half-hour later we were back on the ICW.
24 May: Bonner Bay to the Alligator River
The morning was relatively painless. We went from the Pungo River to the Alligator – Pungo Canal. The water was about 10 feet deep most of the way and it was relatively smooth-sailing. It wasn’t ‘til we reached the Alligator River itself that we realized this wasn’t going to be a typical afternoon. As soon as we left the canal we noted that it was definitely getting choppier and we saw one 30-foot sailboat anchoring and battening down the hatches. We thought we might have missed some weather warning or something so we turned on the NOAA weather broadcast and listened. There was nothing out of the ordinary so we continued on our merry way.
About ½ hour later we understood why the sailboat was anchoring. The seas were about 3-5 feet, which wasn’t THAT bad, but waves were head-on and the period between waves was maybe 4 seconds? Now we have been out in 4-6 foot seas before, but the period was six to eight seconds. For us, it wasn’t scary, it was just choppy – very choppy. For a couple of sailboats we heard on the radio, though, it was scary too. One had already turned back to the river’s entrance (maybe the sailboat we had seen anchoring?) and the other was in the process of turning around. I am telling you, it was not pleasant. Actually, I think it is fair to say that we had more water coming over the bow than we have ever had before – even out in the ocean. And our bilge pump (which pumps water out of the boat) was going off almost constantly. We know because we have a high-pitched alarm that goes off when the bilge pump pumps. Now THAT can be annoying. Anyhow, it was N-A-S-T-Y weather.
About half way across the Alligator River, there was an 85-foot yacht hanging around a small 26-foot sailboat. The yacht was trying to help the sailboat which had issued a mayday because one of its lines fell off the boat and wrapped around his propeller. Yikes! That meant that the sailboat captain had absolutely no control over his vessel. Periodically, the sailboat would turn broadside to the wind and waves and looked, once in a while, like it was going to capsize. You could tell that captain was – though not panicky – very concerned about his boat. He was on the radio to the Coast Guard trying to get some help. Now I have to say that normally I am a strong supporter of the Coast Guard. This time, though, they were on the radio asking questions so they could fill out the appropriate paperwork. Now I am a believer in paperwork as long as there is going to be a positive outcome at the end of the day. In this case, the only thing the Coast Guard was going to do was call one of the local TOW Boat US operators. In short, there wasn’t going to be any coast guard boat to the rescue, just another piece of paperwork filled out.
We waited until the sailboat skipper dropped his anchor then, since there wasn’t much more we could do, both we and the yacht continued down the river. (It had previously been difficult for him to get forward on his boat to drop the anchor. The seas were so bad that he was fearful that he would have gone overboard with the anchor. At some point the seas calmed down long enough for him to get forward and get the anchor down.) With the anchor down, his boat faced into the wind and waves and he was no longer in danger of capsizing.
Our next challenge was the Alligator River Swing Bridge. The river is about 2.8 miles long with a swing element (about 200 feet?) in the center and a vertical clearance of 14’. The problem is that when winds are too high (34 knots) the tender won’t open the bridge. So, what would happen to boats arriving at the bridge if he decided not to open the bridge because of high winds? I don’t know. We got out the charts and tried to find someplace we might be able to anchor on the south side of the bridge in case the tender wouldn’t let us through. All we really wanted was to get out of the wind and chop. We came up with a couple of (poor) candidate locations, but we REALLY hoped he would open the bridge for us. I won’t keep you in suspense; the tender opened the bridge right when we asked him to. Whew! That could have been a problem.
When we started the day we weren’t sure whether we would anchor or go to a marina for the night. In the event, we decided that after the chop that day, a little marina-action would be appropriate so we went to the Alligator River Marina – which was the only one for about 20 miles in any direction. We stayed there last year and I described the marina then. Let me see if I can do a better job this year. Imagine coming up the Alligator River and seeing a bridge. On the far side of that bridge, you see a Shell filling station. Now there is nothing special about this filling station except that there is a marina attached with about a dozen boats out the back door! No, No, no. How about this: Imagine driving down North Carolina Highway 64 when, off to your left, you see marina WITH A FILLING STATION attached! Okay, I am not going to be able to describe the vision that is the Alligator River Filling Station Marina. For those of you who were wondering – yes, this is the place that advertises “world famous hamburgers,” but then doesn’t have them on its menu.
25 May: Alligator River to Atlantic Yacht Basin
NOTE: After I wrote the following section I realized that not many of you care about the complexities of bridge openings on the ICW in Virginia. On the other hand, I suspect that some of my West Point classmates (among others) will really enjoy doing the linear program that yields the optimum strategy for passing through the bridges and locks. (I could list you guys here, but you know who you are.) Me? I ain’t no linear programmer. All I want is the solution.
If you will recall, earlier I told you there were three places along the ICW where the time-space relationship among bridges was askew. One was Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina. Another is the area around Great Bridge and Norfolk, VA. Although it used to be worse (they have raised the Gilmerton Bridge from 11 feet, which required an opening for just about everyone, to 35 feet, which requires an opening only for sailboats and huge powerboats), it is still problematic. When approaching from the south, the best solution is to hit the North Landing Bridge (At MM 20.2) on the hour. Then proceed at 10 MPH to arrive at the Centerville Turnpike Bridge (MM15.2) on the half-hour. If you do that, you have to proceed at an average speed of 6.4 MPH to hit the Great Bridge Bridge (MM 12) (yes, the location is called Great Bridge and the Bridge itself is Great Bridge Bridge) on the hour. That means you will be ready for the Great Bridge Lock immediately thereafter. But you are not finished.
After the lock, you have to deal with the Steel Bridge (aka the Dominion Blvd Bridge) at MM 8.8 that opens on the hour and is 2.7 miles from the Great Bridge Lock. Now, usually the Great Bridge Bridge and Great Bridge Lock take about a half-hour to traverse. If there are a lot of boats it can take longer; if you are the only boat, it can take shorter. The bottom line is that even if you go at the rip-roaring speed of 5.4 MPH after the lock, you will probably sit on your keester in your captain’s chair for up to 30 minutes burning daylight and waiting for the Steel Bridge to open. I know, I know. They could solve most of the problem by having the Steel Bridge open on request, but that would be too simple. Remember this is a Virginia Department of Transportation project. The same VDOT that brought you the traffic patterns of Northern Virginia – and, since we are from Northern VA, we could speak for hours on that topic.
26 May: Atlantic Yacht Basin to Little Bay, Rappahannock River
Okay, since this plan left us sitting on our butts for a long time, we decided to make an adjustment. After the Centerville Bridge and before the Great Bridge Bridge, there is a marina – the Atlantic Yacht Basin – whose rates are very reasonable and that is right behind a major shopping center. We figured that if we stayed at the AYB we could start early the next morning, catch the bridge and lock for their 0700 opening, then proceed up the ICW. It was a very good plan. There is, however, a little known provision to the Waterway Rules that says if a large hazardous material barge comes through, it gets priority. Moreover, no other boat can be in the lock at the same time. So, if you get up early so you can make the 0700 opening – and there is a hazardous materials barge coming through, you really can’t get through until about 0745. And them, because the lock opening and the Steel Bridge openings aren’t synchronized, you end up waiting at the Steel Bridge even longer. AARGH!
Passing through the area around Norfolk is always fun. There are Navy ships like aircraft carriers, various kinds of amphibious vessels, cruisers and a whole bunch of others. There are also huge civilian ships like cruise liners. After winding our way through Norfolk—at the “no wake” speed of 6 MPH – we finally made it to the Chesapeake Bay. We had been here before so we just wound around Point Comfort and headed north to a place called “Little Bay” near the mouth of the Rappahannock River. Because getting though Norfolk took longer than we had planned, we didn’t arrive at our anchorage until almost 1900. And when we got there, we discovered that Little Bay is a wonderful place for locals to anchor on – you guessed it – the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. I don’t know, but I am guessing there were 40 or 50 boats anchored. There was plenty of room for us – and the weather was such that we could have anchored just about anywhere in the Bay – but we tried to stay away from the revelers. You could tell, though, that they weren’t quite sure about us. We are a BIG powerboat whose captain and crew wanted nothing more than a good night’s sleep. All the locals, by contrast, knew one another and were taking advantage of the park and beaches on shore, oh and copious amounts of beer and other alcoholic beverages that seem to be in the area. We know that because the folks on the closest boat to us, about 300 feet away, stayed up until 3AM drinking and jabbering. I am not complainin’ mind you, I‘m just sayin’.
27 May: Arrival at Herrington Harbor North
The day we traveled from Little Bay to Herrington Harbor was one of those perfect boating days – a little chilly perhaps, but otherwise perfect. The seas were maybe six inches and the winds between five and ten knots. As we passed points where we had stayed before – the Great Wicomico, Lookout Point, Solomons Island – we reminisced, and kept heading north.
About 2:30 or so we pulled into Herrington Harbor North. As we were heading north our friends Dave and Joan Wolf had taken a look at the slip where they intended to send us. Dave called and pointed out that it was a good quarter-mile walk from the slip to the parking lot. And we knew that part of the time we would be in HHN I would be on crutches. Ann called the office and asked that we be moved to a more crutch-friendly location. And you know what? Linda Wells in the office did just about everything she could to get us a good slip. We ended up on Club Dock #10 which is maybe a hundred yards from the parking lot and quite close to the pool. Again, we were impressed with the customer focus of the folks at HHN.
Dave and Joan were there to help us into the slip. Although we had heard that some of our neighbors were a little upset that we were taking up a slip on their dock (yea, some of them are that kind of neighbors) for us, what they thought didn’t make that much difference. Between the IV and the crutches, I was going to spend most of my time on the boat and Ann was going to spend most of her time taking care of me.
So that was the story of our trip from Georgetown to Herington Harbor and the end of our journey for the summer. We arrived at HHN in May, I had my operation and hospital stay in June and, now that it is July, I am well on my way to recovery. This month we are having some work done on the boat – on which I will report later this month – then, in August, we are going to putz around the northern and middle Chesapeake for a few weeks, hitting some of the places we have visited in the past and, possibly, some new ones. In early September we’ll head to Deltaville so the boat can be bottom painted. While that’s being done, we’ll travel west to see our respective mothers. And then we’ll start south again.
ANN’S NOTES: I had to get my journal out and find the wildlife count before I started to type. It seems like a long time since Traveling Soul has had her engines running. Michael pretty much told you everything that happened on this leg of the trip. The weather at times was rather rough and it was a reminder that ‘weather’ can sneak up on you and that NOAA sometimes does not know what is happening out on the water. I did feel afraid for that small sailboat with his line wrapped around his rudder…that boat took some heavy hits of water and was on its side a few times…never rolled over but man it came really close. We could hear him on the VHF taking to the Coast Guard and the other yacht that stayed with him. He was a lot calmer than I would have been. The questions that the Coast Guard wanted answers to were dumb...ie…his Boat US membership number. This man is holding on for dear life and they want to know his membership number? GEEZ….come on guys… Anyway , the line came loose and we talked to him at the Alligator Marina…safe and sound. Actually…I am not so sure about the ‘sound’ part but he lived another day to go sailing.
I want to thank Dave and Joan for doing a recon of our slip choices and also Linda Wells for making this slip available to us. It is a perfect slip and we have enjoy being here very much.
OK…time for the Wild Life Count (I found my notes!!!)
Wednesday 22 May 2013 St James Marina NC to Mile Hammock Camp Lejeune NC
· Dolphins 1
· Dolphins Pod of 2
· 3 Dolphins playing in our wake
Thursday 23 May 2013 Mile Hammock NC to Bonner Bay NC
· Dolphins 1
· Dolphins Pod of 3