We’ve done (note I avoid the term mastered) locks, bridges and canals.
We’ve docked in mostly rural marina kind of places, much more user friendly than the long fairway, wind, lots of watchers, cluster we experience in more urban marinas.
We have waited for showers behind homeless people doing their laundry at municipal marinas and watched bald eagles catch fish at sunrise heading to our next spot. There have been numerous cocktails but the two beer before lunch limit, yes, has slowed down quite a bit as most days in new waters are just too challenging for alcohol before settling in for the evening.
At night, we go over the charts and cruising guides to get a handle on the next days journey. The night before doing the 23 mile (that’s about 4 hours at 6 knots for us) canal excavated in the 1920s connecting the Pongo and Alligator Rivers, our cruising guide contained the following passage describing the author’s experience with the canal: “Another time we headed slowly into the canal as the fog lifted, and there we found another sailor who had dropped his hook due to the zero visibility. Unfortunately, the anchor snagged on something on the bottom, and it took two of us running lines across the cockpit to pull the anchor up using the sheet winches. Slowly an enourmous stump emerged from the tea brown water and then at the last minute tipped over, releasing the anchor, which came flying straight at the boat and us, like it had been attached with a giant rubber band. We ducked and the anchor richocheted off the boat. Don’t anchor in the canal if you can help it.”
We were damn straight not going to anchor in the canal. In fact, we did not mostly because Kevin went snorkeling in the Pongo Alligator River canal while I circled our boat in the canal, and I realized I pretty much had never actually dropped our anchor on this boat with the electric windlass and all, and thus anchoring not an option. The swim was intentional with Kevin trying to untangle the dinghy painter from another boat in our group that had run aground and when backing off, wrapped the painter around the propeller shaft. That was all pretty interesting, as things go with Kevin rowing in our dinghy to the grounded boat with me radioing each of the huge Florida bound go fast fishing yachts going at least 40 miles an hour in the very polite language used on the hailing chanel of the marine radio (polite and curt and monitored like a hawk by the coast guard), “motor vessel approaching red sailing vessel in canal at high rate of speed, please switch to 69”. (an allowed more chatty channel) at 69, “Captain we have a vessel aground and someone in the water assisting” and then the Captain slowing down pretty much 2 seconds before ramming us congregated to help in the canal. It was made even more interesting by the law of “no good deed goes unpunished” … one of the other helper boats wrapped a tow line around its prop shaft (all the while I am circling, circling) and then had to anchor to wait for Tow Boat US to come. Apparently Kevin wasn’t up for prop diving under the 44 foot yacht. Two other boats from our rally did anchor to help though, and everyone made it to the marina, some under own power and one boat under tow. One of the group is a real diver with tanks and is going to try and cut the line in the marina today. We’ll see.
Our group had a wine and cheese gathering at the marina, and apparently the half of the group that had come here the day before was listening to all the drama on the radio all day, so it was a fun gathering, filling everyone in on all the events. We are really glad to be part of a rally group, crap happens to everyone and the support is really comforting.
Today, Kevin and I are going to a creek off Belhaven where I will learn to drop and set the anchor myself. He apparently already feels comfortable circling the boat.
There are faster boats and slower boats on the ICW and the ICW in most areas is quite narrow. This means boats of both types are in close proximity when the faster boats overtake the slower boats. There is a protocol for handling this procedure. Typically this begins with some discussion on the VHF radio. Boats typically hail each other on Channel 16 and then move to another channel for a more involved discussion. Vessels approaching from the stern will hail the slower forward vessel and indicate they would like to pass on either the port or starboard side. The slower forward vessel will acknowledge and re-state the procedure and confirm that they will support the effort. The slower vessel typically travelling at 6 knots or so will slow down even further. The faster vessel approaches quickly from behind and cuts their speed at the last minute to reduce their wake. Once past, the faster vessel returns to their normal traveling speed – often 10 -20 knots or more.
Executed artfully this procedure minimizes the impact on both vessels. I have observed that 95% of the time the Captains of both vessels work hard to cooperate.
The subject of the slow pass and how artfully (or not) and with what degree of expertise and consideration that a Captain manages the maneuver is the single biggest subject of discussion on the VHF radio. “The slower vessel did not slow down enough..”. “You are aware it is called a slow pass, right?” “I am reporting you to the Coast Guard.” ” I will see to it that you will never get another job as a delivery Captain.” “Thanks for the wake Captain.. you just spilled juice all over my kids.” “That was excellent, Captain.” “Captain, I am sorry that was not my best work.” These are just a few of the transmissions I have heard.
There is love, waterway rage, admiration, respect, tension, resolution, and friendship. It is like listening to spoken word poetry at times.
My personal favorite came when observing a white cabin cruiser motor boat named INTERMEZZO approach a beautiful trawler named MUSIC. INTERMEZZO (from New York by the way) clearly had very little experience and was attempting pass in a no wake zone and under a bridge as well. A double foul. The Captain and crew looked every bit like characters from the Godfather movie. The Captain of MUSIC tried repeatedly to hail INTERMEZZO as had several previous boats. Finally the INTERMEZZO responded with a classic –
“You Talking To Me?” They are probably already in Miami.
Mile Marker 10 – just past Great Bridges Lock.
Today we left Hampton, Virginia heading South on the IntraCoastal Waterway. We we were sent off by an almost full moon on 16 October and a beautiful sunrise on the morning of the 17th. Sunrise and sunset are just two limiting factors for travelling on the ICW – at leasr for us newbies. It is simply too narrow and too unknown to risk travelling in the dark. Night travel is reserved for barges and tugs – ships with Captains of unparalled knowledge, experience and navigational skill.
Crossing the mouth of the James River includes avoiding shoals (shallow water), Navy Ship traffic – which they refer to as warships on the radio, and tugs and tanker traffic. The initial views are quite industrial with unloading and loading tankers, refitting Navy ships, and the general waterfront economy. Within a few miles this gave way almost instantaneously to a more rural setting of marshes and woods. The traffic going South is full of sail boats such as ours, trawlers on long adventures, and a few “day trippers” out on the water while playing hookie from work. It is Monday afterall. There is far less boat traffic headed North and this is dominated by Tugs in a hurry to their next job and barges carrying grain and such to the masses in the North East.
The width of the channel is quite narrow from the perspective of one used to the Chesapeake.
We have transitioned from our trusty Chesapeake Chart books and cruising guides to one suited for the ICW. It is like a “trip tick” map that AAA (triple A) was noted for prior to the invention of GPS for the consumer. Perhas AAA still produces these. I am not sure.
On the water this book serves as a noteworthy measure of the rhythm of a days travel…. what mile marker did we just pass? What page are we on? When does the next bridge or lock open? In some ways it is quit similar to a long car trip without the ability to stop for coffee but the ability to make it while we are underway!
There are tides, currents, meeting friends, bridge closure times provisons and availability of basics like laundry, water for the boat, fuel, and holding tank pump outs.
A week and a half later the lingering primary effects of Matthew in Va. are much higher water levels on the ICW. We expect to see more Impact as we enter the Carolinas.
So saying au revoir to the beautiful, beloved Cheaspeake today with a 20 knots wind – in a rare stroke of luck it is behind us – thank you God. We are departing from lovely Eastern River in Mobjak Bay for intimidating Hampton, Virginia. The big seas (apropos of hammock game from my youth with my brothers involving swinging one us to tippy tippy vertical but not quite over chanting loudly – always loudly- rough seas!) stayed with us all the way down required focused steering and wrestling the wheel. We again acknowledged Roger Hewson and the Sabre designers and builders in Maine for the thoughtful design details like curvy seat aft pefectly balanced for heeling over, and just enough space to brace feet and yell at husband, get your butt down! Hampton Va. is lovely, I think all of Virginia is, to be honest , but the entrance is a little scary. 20 knot winds on our stern and big waves from fetch all the way down the Bay) pushing in an entrance that goes from deep bay depth to 15 feet quickly, escalating the waves at the mouth of the river, then rolling you in over the bridge tunnel with the Navy war ships sharing the channel with you. La la la. Saw a dolphin off our bow on the way down, obviously the Jolly Mon greeting us on our journey. Won’t discuss tawdry details of docking in the marina, will just say no bow thrusters, big wind, very narrow channel and lots of gawkers. If you’ve been there, you get it. In marina very fun vibe with folks on much larger boats prepping to go south on the Salty Dog Rally that leaves here and goes directly to the BVI’s in 10 days, folks in our rally we are looking forward to getting to know better, and laundry. Never so happy to do laundy in all my born days – stuff gets exponentially more gross on a sailboat, not sure why. Looking forward to on shore day tomorrow getting bikes out to re provision (one pair of shorts for this trip, debra and christi where was the packing supervision?), dinghy to farmers market in morning.
We ran around like crazy people on Monday, attending a cruising seminar at the Maritime Museum in Eastport for a half day, sadly learning our anchor is not the new whiz bang thing being hawked by one of the speakers, and left before the segment on Cruising as a Couple because if we didn’t get ice on the beer on board, there would be no “couple” on the cruise. Checked things off list, hemorrhaged more money, said goodbye to the dog and kids (all quite sad) and set sail at 7 am Tuesday morning for the Solomons. Did some motor sailing, tide with us, and landed in beloved Solomons around 3 pm and were first to anchor in our little spot by Horn Point Lab. Took the dinghy ashore using non-winch new method (thanks Dad!) to insert into water and went in search of West Marine and grocery store for a couple of forgotten items of course more spare parts. Sadly, grocery store closed and stuck my head in gas station geedunk and bought pretzels. Had a little sanity check and reminded myself that boat is actually better stocked than most grocery stores, (and liquor stores), fought gathering instinct, and went back to boat with Kevin. Discovered we were now one of 7 boats in our little anchoring area, with more arriving by the minute, truly an exodous south from the boat show. Who knew?
Left Solomons (i.e., I wake up at 5 am itchy to go. Kevin snoring away, I make coffee, prep oatmeal, get oars and gear off dinghy and generally bang around enough (we only have 38 feet so it doesn’t take much) and we drag dinghy on deck, winch up dinghy motor to store on stern pulpit etc.) Apparently all sailors are early risers as there were at least 10 boats leaving at same time, running from a wall of fog. A big, billowing, black out wall of fog. The Fog might still be there but we managed to stay just ahead of it.
Re-lived all the land or water marks for this very pleasant motor sail with following winds and seas and sunny skies – this is to say that it was on these same waters that I wanted to vomit on shake down cruise, this is where I was sailing into oblivion (i.e., across the Bay and it is so wide you can’t see the other side here) while Kevin was changing filters below while we had 20 knots of wind. Sadly, no one struggling north as we had been, so no “smug wave” opportunities for us demonstrate. We will save that for another day. Followed some nice folks in our rally, ended up crossing Potomac and Rappahannock, and currently anchored in Fishing Bay in Piankatank. From now on we are officially going the same place every day, “Someplace we’ve never been before.” Watch out world!!!
Time to contemplate our sponsors today on the trip down and want to thank them. Mom and D ad for the fold upbikes, grill, and all dad’s technical assistance with Kevin’s projects. The kids and Cathleen for that fabulous yeti cooler (we narrate what she says about her abilities for entertainment); the G/P for the great soup and chili – they were the perfect lunches for day one and two underway, Debra for all the vacuum packed food and cheese and pots and pans; Nancy and Tom for our gloves and of course beef jerky – and likely lots of others. We look around the boat and feel your love and good wishes, and thank you and miss you all.