This is the route (in yellow) that we followed from Norfolk, VA to Beaufort, NC. It's a portion of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).
Many cruisers follow this collection of streams, canals, rivers, and sounds up and down the east coast. We do this for two main reasons: First, it's a (mostly) calm, quiet stretch of water with many marinas and anchorages all along it's length. And secondly, we can avoid sailing the ocean route around Cape Hatteras. The waters around the Cape are notoriously hazardous. Not only are there shoals that reach pretty far offshore but there is usually a storm hanging around out there. That's because the cold Labrador current meets the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. That makes for a volatile mix and can result in sudden and severe storms.
We made it to Coinjock by 1430-hrs. That's usually a little early to call it a day. We could have gone on to anchor out in Broad Creek (another 11 miles (and 2 hrs) down the road) but we want to splurge on marina power tonight. It was forecast to be quite cold tonight. Heat is a good thing to have this time of year. On these cold November nights our little $14 K-Mart special electrical heater becomes one of our best investments. But without shore-power, all we have is cuddling under our down comforters. Wait a minute… Honey, Unplug that cord and get in here.
They really pack them in at Coinjock Marina. They have about 800 feet of bulkhead dock space and they want to use (i.e.: charge for) every foot of it. It costs only $1.50/ft and has been that price since we first stopped here in the spring of ‘03. They stack the boats up so tightly that bow anchors hang over swim platforms. Our bowsprit was up over the fantail of the powerboat ahead of us. That captain hit his head on it three times before he gave up and stayed inside. Getting out of these tight places is a challenge in the morning. Often one has to wait for the boat ahead or behind to leave first.
You can't pack a dock tighter that this
I found a very strong and free WiFi signal at the marina. So we checked mail and sent web site updates to Michelle. Of course being sailors, we also checked the weather.
The weather forecast for 13 November was South 5-10kts increasing to 10-15 in the afternoon. I planed on being at the Alligator River swing bridge by about noon so we would not have to worry about the higher winds while in the sound.
We bought a bottle of Australian wine for Jane and a six-pack of beer for me.
For dinner Jane made spaghetti with the last of the hot sausage (no refrigeration onboard and the ice was melting). We had a great evening. The other times we've been at Coinjock we've eaten at the restaurant. While the food is OK the prices are more than a little high. Trying to be a little more frugal this trip convinced us to eat aboard. After showers and watching a couple of CSI episodes on DVD (thanks, Tammy) we settled in for a good, warm, night's rest. Tomorrow we cross the Albemarle Sound and that can be as rough a piece of water as you might find on the ICW.
On the morning of 13 November we didn't have a lot of wind, but we did have a lot of fog. Thick, rolling, fog. But we didn't see the fog as we left the dock. It wasn't until we traveled the half-mile to the end of the canal that we ran smack into it. In the canal, you can usually deal with fog. The canal is straight, narrow, and the banks are within a hundred feet or so. But out in the rivers the banks may be a half-mile away. And the channel, marked with unlit day marks up to a mile apart is hard to follow. I said to Jane, “If this gets too bad we're going back to Coinjock.” When I saw how thick it was in the river I realized that going back may not an option. So I modified my plan to: “If I can't see the next mark from the current day mark, we'll move to the side of the channel, drop anchor, and just wait for the fog to lift." The fog rolled across the water in waves.
As we were exiting the canal, I heard a discussion on the VHF radio: A boat (s/v Clear Day) had gone hard aground at day mark 32. He said “I'm in the channel, but hard aground.” We always think we're in the channel, don't we? As we got closer we first made out his mast sticking up out of the fog. He was about 60-feet too far to port and clearly well out of the channel. We slowed down and asked if we could help. The skipper said “No, thanks. The tug and barge behind you will probably throw enough of a wake to bounce us off.” We motored away.
The tug was catching up to us quickly. I don't like a long-duration pass in these narrow channels and especial in fog. So after informing the tug of my intentions I did a U-turn and heading back north to quickly pass the tug port-to-port. After we had passed the tug I was about to turn around again and continue on my way when we heard s/v Clear Day saying he was still stuck. He was calling for TowBoatUS but was getting no answer. We were headed back toward him so we continued back to again offer assistance. This time he was happy to accept. I told him to secure a bow line and we would attempt to pull him free.
There was a lot of the usual chatter between us: “We just have to move about a boat length.” And “Don't endanger your vessel, Captain.” And “We sure appreciate this.” They said they were in 5 ½ feet and drew 6 ½ feet. Galena only draws 5-feet and that only at about half-way back from the stem. I knew I could nose up to them without much problem. In fact I never saw less than 8-feet of water during the maneuver. Jane went out on the 6-foot bowsprit and as I maneuvered Galena's bow toward Clear Day's bow she took a line from them and made it fast. As soon as Jane caught the line I started backing away. I didn't want to hit them or even get too close. Galena doesn't have much power in reverse. But what she does have a lot of is momentum. You get 20,000 pounds of boat moving at a couple knots and it can give quite a tug. As we backed Galena's prop-walk swung us clockwise. As the line came taut it caused Galena to swing bow-to, taking up some of the shock. That big, new, forty-something-foot sailboat just spun around and followed us. Even as we lost momentum, we continued to pull her smoothly out of the mud and into the channel.
Suddenly my concern switched from, “Will this work?” to, “Now we have to get out of the way!” Jane was already busy uncleating the line. She was having a bit of trouble because the tension had really tightened the line on the cleat. As we backed away and turned stern to port, Clear Day motored past us starboard to starboard. We cast her line off and, with Galena still hard astern, we swung out of the way. All in all it was a rather well executed maneuver. Jane handled the lines like the pro that she is and Galena used her momentum to show that big boat what a true ocean-going vessel can do. I was very proud of both.
Clear Day said, “We really owe you guys. We'll just follow you for a while, ok?” And they did for about an hour. Then, being much faster than us and frustrated by our plodding pace they motored around and said they would see us down the road. Nice guys. I felt very good about having helped them. We had a sailor come back to help us last year on the ICW. It really makes you feel indebted and also proud to be a member of such a helpful fraternity.
[Later Note: s/v Clear Day is a Hylas 46, skippered by Steve Rosenthal out of Becket MA. He'll be sailing down the East Coast again this year (Sep '08)]
We motorsailed down the Albemarle without much ado. This was Galena's fourth crossing of the Sound and only the first one was “exciting.” This time across we made over 6-kts most of the way. The weather was sunny and about 65°.
The route across the Albemarle and into the Alligator River is just about a straight line due south. But just north of the swing bridge at Statue Milepost 80 there's a couple of shallow areas that require a significant zigzag. We saw that the boats ahead of us were not doing the zigzag 'right' according to our updated charts (and the tracks we had from previous crossings). The older charts show a small zig to the West and then a zag to the East. But in reality Green “3” has been relocated about ½ mile west of where it is on older charts.
New ICW route at StM 80 showing the new placement of G "3" and our highlighted route
We noted that last year so the route we entered into our chart plotter directs us to the proper marks. But the current ICW chartbooks show the old ‘small' zigzag, not the new ‘big' zigzag. We saw several boats miss that Green “3” and go across the edge of the shoal. One boat was on the radio saying he was in 7-feet of water but his chart showed 15. When Miss Wanda of the Alligator River Marina replied with the sage advice of “follow the marks on the water, not the ones on the chart” the guy came back with “it's a little late for that.” He was stuck. Some people just don't pay attention. Actually, some people plot a route using outdated charts, enter that route into their GPS/Chartplotter, then sit back and close their eyes to what's happening around them.
As usual all day long everyone was passing us by. We were concerned that getting to the anchorage at the south end of the Sound after everyone else might make it difficult to find a good spot. As the anchorage came into view we were surprised to see there was no one here. We carefully sounded our way in to about 9 feet of water and dropped the anchor. Several boats stopped at the other anchorage listed in Skipper Bob's book. It's about a mile from here and pretty far off the channel. I've never stopped there but some people I've talked with say it's a fine place.
Our usual anchorage and the alternative one with our route hightlighted
Skipper Bob's book warns of the numerous snags on the bottom here. He recommends using a trip line on your anchor. (That's an additional line attached to the back end of the anchor. If the anchor gets caught on something you can lift it with this trip line essentially backing the anchor out.) I secured a line with a float to the anchor. On the second attempt at setting the hook, we were making about 1 knot astern and about to give up when the anchor hit something solid. Galena came to a sudden stop and we knew were well set, or at least hooked on something solid. Jane suggested that an Alligator River Gator had grabbed our anchor. She asked, “What will happen when he lets go or walks away with us?” I was just happy I had attached that trip line. I was sure that this would be the first time I ever needed one to get the hook up.
We had a very quiet night. But around sundown we were reminded of the other special feature of this anchorage: mosquitoes. So with Galena buttoned up as mosquito-proof as we could make her we hit the sack about 1800hrs. At the 2200hr anchor check I noted that there were a couple other boats sharing our little anchorage. At 0200 the bugs were still out there… waiting for us.
Morning at our Alligator River anchorage
(The boat on the left is anchored,
the one on the right is in the channel and making way)
There was some patchy fog in the morning of 14 November. Most of it wasn't thick enough to bother me. But there was one section that caused me to ask Jane to put on the navigation lights and to come topsides to help with the lookout.
The morning fog in the canal just south of the Alligator River
We were showing an anticipated arrival time at Belhaven of 1230hrs, way too early to stop for the day. I did some figuring and concluded that we could make it to an anchorage about 20 miles further south before nightfall. Then we could skip our stopover at Oriental and make Beaufort a day early. Jane said we should go for it. So we did.
We made it to the Bay River anchorage by about 1545hrs. It's shallow here! We exited the channel, slowed to about 1.5-kts, and sounded our way in. The depth quickly went from 15-ft to 7.5-feet and held that for a while. A few hundred feet later it hit 7-feet and we dropped the anchor. To the west we had m/v Little Mick (they were with us at the last anchorage, and waved as we settled in) and there were a couple of French/Canadian sailboats (Azule and Helos) to our east.
The Bay River anchorage at the big zigzag and our highlighted route
I almost always fly the US flag from Galena's backstay. Sometimes my military mind set comes to the fore and if feel the need to hear the proper bugle calls while raising and/or lowering the colors. This was one of those times (maybe the French flag on the neighboring boats helped). So at sundown I placed the speakers on deck, cranked up the stereo, and played ‘retreat' at considerable volume while Jane lowered the flag. The guys on m/v Little Mick came to attention and saluted as I lowered the colors; then they applauded. The guys on the French boat didn't know what to think.
Mosquitoes are here, too.
Jane woke up at 0500hrs. The propane heater wouldn't light for me. I gave up. But Jane made it work. With no wind and very little current we were drifting around the anchor; pointing this way and that. The water was glassy smooth. We left the anchorage about 0700hrs. We motored out to the Neuse River. We found some wind and sailed for about an hour; then the wind died and we slowed to about 2.5-kts. On the ocean with days to go before we make landfall we'll live with that speed, maybe. But here we have someplace to be before it gets dark. So on goes the engine and we motorsail. At the point where the ICW leaves the Neuse we saw s/v Azul apparently aground. It looked like they had missed the first red mark and sailed directly for the second. That's usually a very bad mistake. In the process they sailed right into a shoal that showed only 3 feet of water on the charts. They were way too far off the channel for us to help them. But shortly after we passed them a large motor yacht threw them a wake and that, together with their sails and engine was enough to bounce them free.