Entering the Alligator-Pungo from the Alligator river side. 23 miles of mostly straight canal. It was the last canal finished to complete the ICW in the 1920’s.
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.
So our last cruise before departure, we wanted shake down and we got it! Departed Annapolis Saturday morning, possibly en route to Point Lookout Marina just outside of St. Marys River, which is up the Potomac a bit, and from there to Virgina then home. Not so fast, matey. We didn’t depart until about 8 am, so were outside of the Solomons around 2 pm, did some distance plotting and figured about 30 more miles by water (about 4 by land) to get to Pt Lookout with dark arrival into unfamiliar creek. Instead we ducked into a creek across from Solomons Saturday night. We had dinner out with friends. After a long motor with South winds in our face at 15 knots, day one was marked as so far so good. . Day two, motor to Smith Creek outside of Point Lookout, anchor in a creek, was nice. Furthest South we have been on our boat, and first time in Potomac. The bay is SUPER wide here, btw! Water really salty and a pretty clear green. Lots of pelicans dive bombing the fish. Monday dawns. Weather is forecast to be thunderstormy, so we decide to hunker in where we are, very sheltered. Very isolated. Two boats went by all day. Was our first all rainy day on the hook. Kept busy with using the oven – 1.5 hours to bake potatoes and chicken took about 300 units of one of our two CNG gas tanks with 2500 units each, so that was a big learning curve, better cook that stuff on the propane grill, or be near a source of CNG, of which we know of two, one in Annapolis and one in Florida or we’ll only have coffee for about 2 weeks on the cruise. Did some fishing, caught nothing as ususal, practiced knot tying, reading, Kevin fixed various things, I went rowing in the dinghy for exercise and got caught in a monsoon. Pretty stir crazy by Tuesday morning, weather just predicted to be rainy and windy, not thunderstormy and we wanted to get back to Annapolis by Thursday, so off we go back to the Solomons. Well. Motor sailing around Point No Point and Point Lookout lighthouses, wind of course 20 knots from the N, again in our faces, but significant fetch once we got out into the bay. How does the wind know where we are going and blow right in our faces all the time, we ask ourselves? Really big waves. Many annoying boats riding all this south, having wonderful smug sails with half a sail up and going smooth. So given the shoaling, we decide we need to go further off shore, and while in middle of bay engine coughs and dies. Not a crisis given 20 knots of wind, and we could have just turned around, but MacGyver announces he is going to change the engine filters, and I should watch out for ships and sail the boat in the wrong direction (i.e., south to keep it smooth) with the 20 knot winds. No problem. Then it starts pelting rain. Get the white “Bacons North” foul weather pants out (Bacons is a store in Annapolis that sells second hand sails and sailing equipment. Bacons North is used to describe all the second hand equipment we beg, borrowed, and acquired from Ed and Nancy). Discover my jacket is not weather proof and get the matching Bacon North jacket out. Must have been Dads because there is a wrapper from a Hershey bar with almonds in pocket. Then Kevin says, try the engine, and miracle of God, it starts (apparently all the bouncing stirred up stuff in the gas tank and clogged the filters.) Don’t want to actually use the engine though, saving it for getting into Solomon’s Harbor, so have a 3 hour tack tack tack sail in driving rain into Solomons. Fingers and feet entirely pruned. Was warm rain, so boots and gloves just not appealing. Need to figure out waterproof not thermal kind of gloves. Get into Solomons, and just when sailing is too much of a pain in the ass, get our fold up bikes out in the dinghy, biking around, dry, go to West Marine and get more filters and Roy Rogers for a roast beef sandwich, and all is magical again. Love those bikes, mom and dad!! Back to boat on “front porch”, a/k/a bow, Kevin playing guitar, drinking rum, another couple comes by in a dinghy, seem nice, invite them aboard for a drink, they are from mid-west, going south, and are reasonably new to sailing. We swap stories and plans for our respective adventures. Gave them our Radiance business card. Feel like professional sailors. Wednesday dawns, I somehow have a raging cold with my sinuses feeling like someone put concrete up my nose and fits of coughing. The forecast is for 5 to 10 knot winds from the North, of course, and we decide to head home to work on the ever expanding list of stuff to get ready and because I don’t feel great. Leave Solomons Harbor, down Patuxent, la di da. Into bay, wind obligingly more from East, not a lot of fetch, cue music, this is why we sail. Then, the Gods decide we haven’t been shaken down enough. Wind whipping down Little Choptank, now from mostly North, huge waves, and we’ve learned our lesson about motor sailing in big chop. So we tack and tack and tack. I have never been across the bay so many times in one day in my life. Poplar Island goes forever. It seemed like we made about 10 feet of way North with each tack and landed right by the same cliffs we left from. I hate those cliffs. Worked out the shifts that I would take the North tack, and beat up as far as possible, and Kevin the East, and he did all the sail switching. Did I mention the constant armada of ships, tugs and barges coming up and down the bay in the fog as we crossed the bay a million times? With our trusty AIS, Kevin could tell us how long it would be before we collided unless we came about right away, ruining any headway on the tack. Plus, he could give us fun facts about the name, tonnage and length of the boats, which I might have gotten a little testy about while waiting to hear how long it would be before we collided with the ship we knew the name, tonnage and length of.
Anyway, mother nature decided we were shaken up enough around 5 pm when we were outside of Herrington Harbor. At this point I could see the Bay Bridge so I was going home if we had to put the dinghy in the water and tow ourselves with the dinghy engine. Kevin changed the big filter. We gingerly put the engine on and it sounded good for about 5 minutes and died. So did the wind. Sadness. Kevin went to change the other two filters again and realized he forgot to turn the gas valve on after changing the first filter. Engine starts. Happiness. Motor back to a beautiful sunset, we love sailing again, in our little slip right around dark, order a big pizza, pick up Clyde, and I am in bed by 830.
Back to work today and working on the list.
We’re at a less than 40 day count down, which sounds sort of Biblical, after all Noah built the Arc in a similar time frame and all we have to do is load her up and go. Turns out going is pretty complicated with winding down from jobs, getting the house prepped, arranging endless paperwork…. We started a list on a long motor back from the Little Choptank to Annapolis. As satisfying it is to cross things off, we just as often turn the page and add more to the bottom line. It is exciting though, and we actively ponder what is going to be completely different than what we envision and what we will miss the most. The boat definitely feels like home now though and my perspective when shopping or being out runs to “could I wear that on the boat” or “do we need another of that on the boat” or “is a $50 frying pan Debra recommends for the boat really worth it given my cooking ‘skills'”, versus that would be good for a client meeting or court, or the dining room would look fresher with this or that. We celebrate little accomplishments like figuring out how to winch the dingy onto the foredeck (I do the winching, quite a work out) and having Kevin point out that this is what I need to do if he falls overboard and incapacitated to the point that he can’t climb the ladder and I have to winch him back aboard. (Really going to try to avoid putting that in practice.)
At the beach now immersed in family and the dog, enjoying the noise and having everyone around me. Going to miss that I know. Looking forward to meeting new friends on the Rally and the waterway.