We went very slowly up the Cape Fear River (current and wind were against us); very quickly through Snow Cut (current was with us); very slowly up to Wrightsville Beach.
A bit of a recap on ICW Planning 101: Every evening I look at where I am and optimistically plan where I want to be by nightfall the next day (no one runs the ICW at night except barges). Usually I look about 50 miles out and pick a spot where we can either anchor or pull into a marina. Sometimes there's nothing near that point on the ICW. Then I have to either look further down the ditch and plan on leaving very early in the morning (before sunrise) or I have to find a spot closer to my current position. That would mean I can sleep in a little, and being lazy, that's usually the way I swing it.
But today, I had planned on just going to somewhere around Cape Fear (maybe Southport Marina?). But the trusty GPS was indicating an arrival there at about 1500hrs. That's too early when you're trying to get home. So I plotted a route all the way to Wrightsville Beach. The GPS said something like 1800hrs for arrival. So that's then the new destination. Essentially cutting a full day of the trip home. Great! But the GPS makes those predictions based on the assumption that you're going to continue all the way there at your current speed. Did I say 'current?' Yep, that's the fly in the ointment. We were flying at 6 kts up the river past Southport. Then through Snow Cut at 8kts. Wow! Then we passed Carolina Inlet. The current that's pushing you along as you approach an inlet becomes an adverse current on the nose as you pass that inlet. We went from 7kts to 4kts in a few hundred feet. And it stayed that slow. And the estimated arrival time at Wrightsville Beach started to drift later and later. At 1800 we were indicating an arrival of 2000. Well after sunset. In fact, for the first time ever, we had to turn on our navigation lights while on the ICW. We arrived at Wrightsville Beach at 2010hrs. In the dark. But there was still a slight loom in the sky.
As if to add insult to injury, we hit bottom pretty hard on the way into this anchorage. I cut a curved portion of the channel too close to the inside. If you come in here swing wide between Green 19 and 21. Stay about 40 feet left of the marks. Otherwise, it's only about 4.2 feet deep. 30-ft to the left, in the channel, you'll find 12 feet. Big difference.
We had planned to leave early and do a long day all the way to Beaufort. We were up and getting ready to leave at about 0700hrs. Just as we were about ready to hoist the anchor a dense fog rolled in. We couldn't even see the boats around us in the anchorage. We decided that if we could get out by 0900 we would go. Otherwise we'd stay another day. At about 0830 the fog started to lift. We decided to go. As we turned on the radio, we heard the bridge tender (there's a bridge just north of Wrightsville Beach) say she was about to open. We were anchored 1.5 miles from the bridge. At 0849 we were underway. At 0900 we heard the bridge horn indicating it was going up and we were still about 0.5 miles away. I called her on the VHF and told here we were coming out of the side channel and would be there in just a couple of minutes. I asked if she would hold the bridge for us. If she didn't we would have to wait for the next opening a half hour later. She said she couldn't see us yet and she couldn't hold the bridge very long. At 0903 we came out of the side channel and into the ICW and into her line of sight. She said, "Galena, pour it on and you can make it." I was already at full throttle and had no more to give but she held it for us. (Many thanks to that tender bridge tender for holding the bridge.) We made it through at 0906hrs.
This marina is just south of the Camp Lejeune anchorage that we used on the way south. The water in the marina was very shallow (5.2 feet) and there's a nasty current running through it. As I entered I was thinking about how I'd get us out of here. I don't think I can actually back us out and may have to warp Galena around the pier and then out into the channel in the morning.
It's a small and yet friendly marina. They even had a loaner car. We used the loaner car and went to the store for some provisions. When we left the marina, driving down a small, two-lane road, I was amazed to see that I was only going 30 mph. I was gripping the wheel tightly and felt like we were racing along. When I sped up to the 35 mph speed limit, Jane look over and demanded, “How fast are you going?” We were both surprised at how adapted we had become to going 7 mph for all those months. The cars backed up behind us were not so amused.
Looks like wind on the nose tomorrow.
We left Swan Point Marina at 0730 hrs. First thing to go wrong was that I missed a turn in the ICW. I had turned left when the ICW turned right. We were in 7 feet of water and in a side channel (that I later learned headed up the Camp Lejeune marina). I was a few hundred yards down this side channel before I realized my mistake.
Then it was a tense ten minutes while I turned around and motored back to the ICW channel. Turning Galena around is sometimes exciting. To simple put the helm hard over will cause her to turn around. But she makes a circle about 60-ft across. That's usually wider than the 5-ft-deep part of a channel. In narrow places like this I have to do a variation on the pivot turn. I hit hard reverse and the prop-walk causes the bow to swing to the right. just before we stop I throw the helm over hard, turning the bow further right. As soon as we come to a stop the prop walk is the main mover. The rudder is still hard to starboard but is inefficient when backing at low speed. The stern is pushed further to port by the prop walk as we start to back up. As soon as the we start making enough stern way for the rudder to slow the turning motion to port, I go to hard forward thrust. The prop WASH then hits that big rudder and kicks the stern further to port, bringing the bow sharply to starboard while we start to move forward. With just this one iteration of reverse/forward I can usually turn Galena in 1-1/2 boat lengths. Provided there is not too much current or wind.
As soon as I was in the right place the depth went to 15 feet. Big difference.
While waiting for the bridge at ICW Mile 240.7 I went hard aground. This is a “restricted” bridge that only opens every half hour. So the boats follow each other around in race track circles while waiting. We were with about 5 other boats just idling around. The bridge was just starting to go up and everyone was getting lined up to go through. At that moment I was heading away from the bridge and had one more turn around to do. I swung too close to the southern shoreline and went hard aground in 4.2 feet of water. Everyone else is making for the bridge. But the captain of s/v Another Adventure looked back and radioed me asking if I was aground. I said 'Yes' and began to try to wiggle myself off the mud. He then did a most friendly thing. He turned back from the bridge and offered to pull me free. This while everyone else just motored by. That was one of the nicest things I'd had done for me. We both put our wives on the foredeck. He nosed slowly toward the bank and Galena's bow. His wife through Jane a line and Jane secured it quickly. He put it in reverse and effortlessly pulled us off a very muddy place. We were in some very shallow water. As he pulled us sideways, Galena heeled over about 10° as she slid into the deeper water of the channel. Then he's backing away, I'm motoring forward, the line is slack and the wives can not get the lines tied. A bit of frantic coordinated driving of boats (him backwards, me forwards) and they finally got everything undone and the lines out of the water.
Of course while all this was going on, the bridge closed. We went back to our circling. For the next half hour we circled again while I kept thanking him for his kindness. Once through the bridge his fast new sailboat quickly disappeared ahead of us and I didn't see him again.
Several times on this day I'd go softly aground, just bumping on the bottom but not coming to a halt. I hate that feeling. At times like this I wish for a much more powerful engine. Generally I don't have the ability to gun it and push through a shallow spot.
Left Oriental at 0700 and we went from a calm quiet anchorage to a very boisterous trip up the Neuse River. Wind was 15-kts on the nose and waves about 3 feet. It was pretty bad till we made the turn into the small canals.
This is a very nice marina. The slips are quite narrow. And the approach is a little tricky. But it's worth it. We walked into town. (We found out later we can use the marina's golf carts.) And had dinner at a local restaurant.
05 May 2005
Still at Belhaven.
There's a cold front coming through in a couple of days. We could make it to the next stop which will be at Deep Point (SM 102) just south of the Alligator River bridge. But then we'd be stuck at that little anchorage for a day. Staying here wastes a day. But I'd rather be here, in a nice marina with a nice little town that we can walk to, than at that anchorage or even at Alligator River Marina, which is in the middle of nowhere. That means we'll probably make it home on Thursday of next week. It's kind of nice being able to start to say which day we'll be home.
06 May 2005
Still at Belhaven, NC
The wind and rain started last night. We've had 30 kt winds all day with driving rain. This is certainly the place to be for this and Jane and I are happy with our decision to stay.
Now it's looking like the weather will not be gone tomorrow as I thought, and we may have to stay one more day, or do a really short leg. We'll see.
There was one boat here when we arrived at 1500; by nightfall there were six.
This is a quiet little spot. It's just out of the wind and just out of the waves that can be 5-feet tall in the wide, open area south of the Alligator River Swing Bridge. The weather is still predicted to be fine for a crossing of the Albemarle Sound.
I decided to change the oil. But after I had, I realized that I had not used the best oil. It was only marginally rated for diesel engines. So I figured I'd take it easy on the RPM's till I could put some really good oil in ( which I figured I could get at Coinjock Marina, tomorrow).
Crossing the Albemarle Sound was not fun, but it wasn't too bad. The winds were picking up a bit (20-25) and right on the stern. But the waves were only about 3-feet. And this time we weren't crashing into them like we were the first time we headed North across this sound. But still, it was not very comfortable.
Once we were tied up and checked in, we had a lovely prime rib dinner at the restaurant here (it was the Mother's Day Special) and I changed the oil; this time with the good stuff.
We didn't buy fuel; we figured we'll do that at Norfolk. That turned out to be a mistake. I think it was just laziness on my part.
We left Coinjock at 0730. We later found out that that was a bad idea when heading north. The bridges in Norfolk are restricted from about 1530 to 1730; they don't open during rush hours. So you have to leave Coinjock very early to make it through them all before 1530. We hadn't done that. Those bridges are also restricted to every half hour, with a couple only opening on the hour. More reasons to leave Coinjock early in the morning.
We had an uneventful run down the ICW to Norfolk. When we got to the last couple of bridges we realized how late it was and that we would probably be stuck at one of them till 1730. So we pushed hard for the last hour or so. Now, in Galena “pushing hard” just means almost keeping up with other sailboats in front of us. We got to the last bridge 20 minutes after they closed. The captain on s/v Mon Ami said to the bridge tender, “You have 5 sailboats heading north just about at your bridge.” And the tender just said, “OK, so there are 5 sailboats.” And nothing else. It was clear that Mon Ami didn't know about the restricted hours. So I got on the radio and said to the tender (at the Jordan Lift Bridge), “You're still closed from 1530 to 1730, right?” He said “Yes, but I have a commercial vessel scheduled at 1700, you can go through when he shows up.” Mon Ami came on the radio and said “So you're closed, sorry, didn't know that.”
We milled around and some of us went over to the side of the channel and dropped anchor for the wait. Bill and Bev on s/v Refugio, were about to drop anchor near us so I suggested they raft up since that would be easier and we're anchored well. They did. They invited us over for a beer/wine and we sat and swapped sea stories for an hour.
Then we saw a tug approach from the north and scrambled to get underway; as did everyone else.
What some of the captains didn't see was the real traffic. It was a tug pushing a barge northbound. They were all looking to the North at the bridge and this tug/barge was coming fast behind them. I figured we could go through the bridge before the tug and fell in at the end of the line of sailboats. S/v Refugio didn't see the tug. I called to him, and pointed south but I think he thought I was pointing out a sailboat close to him and he nodded his head saying, “I see it.” So we heading under the bridge; everyone navigating extremely close to the starboard fenders of the bridge. Everyone except Refugio, he went right down the middle, with a barge bearing down on him. He was just off my port bow, so I sounded my horn and got his attention, and emphatically pointed behind us. On Refugio, Bev turned around and grabbed Bill pointing frantically at the tug and barge bearing down on them. Instead of turning hard to starboard to get out of the way, Bill slowed down apparently intending to get in line behind me. I motioned for him to get over… now! He finally started to move to starboard and just missed being run over. The barge passed by about 50 feet from him. That's way too close to a barge moving at about 10 knots!
So, we were motoring along through Norfolk and I think, “Hey, why not go all the way home in one final leg?” We could do a Night-Day-Night run like the first time. The weather was supposed to be good till Wednesday then rain. We could miss all that by sailing straight through the night. But fuel then became a problem. I had planned on making one more fuel stop in Norfolk. I like to have enough to motor all the way, with a little in reserve. We had only 18 gallons and had 140 miles to go. We should make it, but it might be close. We could also stop at Solomon's Island for fuel if we have to.
Off we go, into the Chesapeake at dusk. Jane again expressed how much she didn't find this fun (sailing the Chesapeake at night) as she took the helm while I got some shut-eye. We had a fairly good night. It was cold and the wind was about 20 knots out of the south. So we were moving at about 6.5 knots most of the night. Then, just about dawn, the wind died and we had to motor sail.
At 1240 hrs Jane called me on deck. We were approaching the LNG dock just north of Solomons Island. behind us was an LNG tanker. The tanker was overtaking us and heading for that dock. I took some bearing and decided the tanker would cross our bow, but not with a wide margin. As I contemplated the situation it became clear that the security force shared Jane's apprehension. The helicopter and gunboat were heading our way. I decided to give way. We gibed around and headed south passing the LNG tanker at about a half mile. The gunboat stayed between us and the tanker. Once clear astern of the tanker we resumed our heading north.
That took about 10 minutes. The GPS said we would make it to the Kent Narrows Bridge at 1930 hrs. We might not have to anchor out tonight! About the same time, the trip odometer turned over 3,000 nm. We continued on, making very good time. As we turned northeast into eastern bay the wind was on our beam. We sped up even more. Maintaining over 7kts.
We hit the bridge at 1928 hrs just in time for the opening. We motored through and into the marina to the while our stereo played or new favorite song, “Into the Mystic.” By 1940 hrs we were securely moored in our slip. Jane and I went to Annie's for a drink and a sandwich.
We got back to Galena and called my sister Tammy and arranged for a pickup in a couple days. We have a lot of cleaning up to do and have to collect all of things to take home.
I checked the fuel: 7 gallons remained. Plenty to spare. The trip odometer read 3,055 nm. That's Kent Island. MD to Miami, FL to George Town, Exumas back to Florida and then home to Kent Island, MD.
We had a quiet night in our slip. That was followed by a nice day of cleaning, sorting, and relaxing.
Tammy arrived and brought us a surprise: our daughter Michelle. Michelle had flown out to Cleveland and then drove down to the marina with my sister Tammy. Since she lives in Kansas, this was the first time she's ever even seen Galena. She had seen all the pictures. She has read and commented on all the log entries. But she was still very surprise at how small Galena really is.
Mother and daughter reunited after a 7-month adventure.
Capt Ron (s/v Lastdance) and Carol arrived to welcome us home. They brought champagne and toasted our successful adventure. It was great to see Ron and Carol again. They were the ones who saw us off when we left, and then they were the ones to welcome us back. Made for a nice closure to the whole thing.
So here ends the (first) adventure. Now we have to get ready for the next trip. This time we'll go to the British Virgin Islands, really we will. We started this last trip planning to sail to the British Virgin Islands. But when the weather turned against us, we decided not to wait. Rather, we changed our plans and went to the Bahamas, instead. This fall, we'll wait for a good weather window in Norfolk or Beaufort for however long it takes. This fall we are definitely going to the BVI.