Friday, April 19, 2019
When I last updated the blog, we were in Georgetown, SC after another overnight offshore passage from Hilton Head. Since that post a little over two weeks ago we have covered about 550 nautical miles and finished the official Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway! We spent two nights in historic Georgetown waiting for weather. When we are in port and not sailing we try to take Willow for lots of long walks to make up for all of the time she’s spending stuck on board while we are underway. We explored the quaint little town. Georgetown harbor is an interesting scene. There are a few marinas and some boats anchored out in the harbor. We noticed many derelict boats and a few clusters of them where three boats were all tied together and anchored as one. We later learned that some of the local liveaboards have taken to rafting up several derelict vessels and making themselves more comfortable… It’s like adding on to your house. I completely understand the desire to live a life free of property taxes, rent, mortgage, power and gas bills, etc… But honestly, many of these people are essentially hobos in floating shanties. After seeing so much of this in various spots up and down the coast, I understand now why the term “liveaboard” has negative connotations.
Georgetown has a really interesting southern charm and we enjoyed our stay there but when it was time to move on we departed, as usual, just before sunrise. The plan was to motor up the ICW for a full day and anchor on the Calabash River just south of the North Carolina border but when we arrived at our planned anchorage we discovered that things were not as charted. Where I expected to find 8′ of water and lots of room to swing on the anchor, we discovered a sand bar… And where there actually was water deep enough for us to anchor in, we discovered that this was where the channel had been re-routed. Anchoring in a channel is a no-no and we saw lots of larger commercial fishing boats coming through there so we decided to press on into North Carolina where we found an awesome restaurant at Shallotte’s Inlet called the Inlet View Bar and Grill. This place had good food and excellent dockage. After filling our bellies we turned in for the night and were underway again the next morning at first light.
On our way south we had stopped in the Topsail, NC area at a place called the Harbour Village Marina. There, while walking Willow we met Penny who was out walking her dogs. Penny is a warm and funny woman from New Jersey and we quickly hit it off. The next day we had dinner with her and her husband Ken who turned out to be every bit as awesome as Penny was… We had planned to visit them on our way back North but didn’t realize we would be in their area so soon. By pushing into NC the day before it put us in perfect position to stop there for the night. We quickly got a hold of Penny and made plans to get dinner together that night… We had planned on going out with them but Penny instead prepared an amazing meal. You could taste the love in every bite. We enjoyed the company of our friends and talked about all sorts of things over dinner and drinks before it was time to say goodbye again. Penny and Ken are very cool people and we’re so glad to have met them.
After leaving Harbour Village, we continued motoring northbound on the ICW. Some foul weather was coming in and we wanted to make it to Morehead City, NC where we would get a slip. As the sun began to rise I realized there was quite a bit of patchy fog around… At times we found ourselves in less than 1/8 of a mile visibility. Even in the narrow channel of the ICW I could not see the shoreline much of the morning. For hours I would follow the course I had plotted on the GPS and strain my eyes looking forward until a navigational aid would appear out of the fog. No sooner would we pass it until I’d start looking for the next. This went on for hours until finally, the fog lifted and we had glorious sunshine… For about an hour. As the Southeast winds picked up, the fog started rolling in from the ocean. For the rest of the day we motored in this soup. We were in the middle of Bogue Sound and the winds were whipping up a steep chop. There was noplace safe to anchor and very bad weather was coming so we motored on. At one point I began hearing a large droning sound off our port quarter… Soon a US Army Landing craft appeared out of the fog and slowly overtook us. About an hour later another landing craft did the same. When we made it safely to Morehead City, I radioed the Morehead City Yacht Basin where we had a slip reserved. I was told to dock on their face dock behind the landing craft. It was nice to be tied to the dock again.
We had planned on two nights in Morehead City but decided to take off the next morning despite some pretty high winds in the forecast for the afternoon. The run from Morehead City up to Oriental was mostly in protected waters and only about 25 miles. In a few hours we found ourselves back in Oriental, NC where we had broken down on our trip south and spent three stressful weeks having our new engine installed. It was nice to be back in this friendly town that was familiar to us… And to Willow. While out for one of our long walks she started pulling and I realized she wanted to go to the beach she had enjoyed swimming at in the fall. It’s amazing what she seems to remember.
After two nights in Oriental I was pleased that Mavis roared to life when I turned the key. We left without any drama and sailed to Bellhaven, NC where again, we had planned on spending two nights due to weather. The next morning was every bit as windy and disgusting as it was forecast to be with a small craft advisory and a gale warning already issued… But we really wanted to keep moving. We had such great momentum established and I was very much looking forward to being done with the ICW and getting into the Chesapeake Bay. We decided to make a run for it despite the challenging weather. As soon as we pulled away from the dock in Bellhaven I wondered if I had made a mistake. Getting the boat to turn into the wind required almost full throttle and For the first hour or so of our run for the day we were headed directly South into a 30 knot wind. Very steep chop had formed on the Pungo River and the waves were smashing into our hulls and sometimes washing right over them. The windshield was covered in spray and the ride was pretty unpleasant but once we reached the canal things smoothed out completely. The Alligator River/Pungo Canal runs mostly East/West and the trees on the bank protected us from the winds. For a few hours we motored through the glassy canal oblivious to what was going on on open water… But as soon as we exited the canal into the lower Alligator River we again found ourselves in very steep chop and uncomfortable conditions. Fortunately the wind and seas were behind us now so we opened up our headsail just a bit and turned off the engine. We surfed at 7 knots northbound for hours on the brown waves of the Alligator River… They literally looked like chocolate milk. We needed to go through a swing bridge that would not open if winds were 35 knots or more. I had seen 38 knots in the lower river and I was very relieved when the tender opened the bridge for us. We immediately turned left to make our way into the Alligator River Marina. Now, with the winds and steep waves off our port side, Mavis’ bow was swinging wildly back and forth as I struggled to keep her lined up to enter the narrow inlet for the marina. The waves were about 3′ and very steep and as each one passed underneath us our bow would move 30 to 40 degrees back and forth. After our 5 minute approach I was exhausted from turning the wheel back and forth so many times… There were very daunting looking rock piles on either side of the entrance and I was relieved when we passed through them and found calm waters and protection from the winds inside the marina’s basin. After taking showers and enjoying a dinner of the marina’s famous fried chicken we were finishing up a glass of wine and about to turn in for the night when we heard the drone of very large engines and saw spotlights darting around the marina… Two US Army landing craft had entered the marina. One pulled in alongside us and amazingly shoehorned itself in between us and the boat behind us on the face dock. After the excitement of the Army invasion, we turned in for the night and found them gone when I got up at 5 to ready the boat for departure..
From the Alligator River marina it was only about 35 miles across the Albermarle Sound to Coinjock, NC. The Coinjock Marina is famous for it’s 12o0 foot dock which runs along the ICW and for it’s prime rib dinner. We didn’t stop in Coinjock on our way south because we had taken the alternate route through the Great Dismal Swamp. After getting set up on the dock, we took Willow for a walk. She got to play with one of the marina’s dogs… A young retriever. Both dogs had a ball chasing sticks and running around like crazy. For dinner, we hit the restaurant. The Captain’s Cut Prime Rib lived up to the hype.
The next morning… At dawn (of course) we departed Coinjock and sailed into busy Norfolk. We had to deal with several drawbridges and a canal lock but soon we were in Norfolk, passing lots of Navy ships, cargo ships, tugboats pushing barges and all sorts of other commercial traffic. Norfolk marks Mile 0 of the ICW and it felt good knowing we had conquered the ICW but it was not time to rest on our laurels just yet. We still had about 400 nautical miles ahead of us… The entire Chesapeake Bay, the C&D Canal, the infamous Delaware Bay and a 130 mile stretch of Atlantic Ocean before we would be back in the Great South Bay.
I had initially planned on sailing from Norfolk to Deltaville, VA which would have been a full day of travel but once out on the bay and underway I decided it would be better to continue overnight up the bay and go straight to Annapolis. Doing it this way, it would save us about 2 days. There are lots of ships transiting the bay overnight. We encountered several tankers, 4 container ships and a few passenger ships. The bay was choppy and the winds were strong but would change direction every few hours. I motored about half the time on this overnight but sailed whenever I could. Instead of stopping in Deltaville, Solomons and then Annapolis we arrived in Annapolis about an hour after sunrise and picked up a mooring ball about 400 feet away from the Naval Academy. We really love this city. It’s got history and charm and it’s a real sailing town. Tonight will be our third night here. The weather isn’t cooperating and it’s frustrating me. We are so close to home but are presently under a tornado watch and gale warnings… And it’s raining. Tomorrow isn’t expected to be great but there’s a chance we can finish up the Chesapeake and make it to the C&D Canal where we can anchor in Chesapeake City for the night… If not we will stay one more night here.
I’ve learned that while we were gone the Fire Island Inlet was dredged. They just finished and the Army Corps of Engineers completed their survey but the Coast Guard has not yet put the buoys that mark the inlet back in place. This inlet is tricky and I wouldn’t think of approaching it from sea without the buoys on station. I called the Coast Guard and they advised me that they need a day or two of good weather to get them put back in. I am hoping this happens in the next few days. If they’re not back in place before we leave Cape May, NJ we will have no choice but to sail 40nm further east on the ocean and enter the Shinecock Inlet. From there, we will have to travel back West 30 miles in a shallow channel that will require several drawbridge openings. Fingers crossed.
That’s it for now. Sorry for the long update. I’ve been busy keeping the boat moving. We are a few days away from home. We just need good weather and hopefully some buoys in the Fire Island inlet and we’ll be wrapping this cruise up. We’re looking forward to being home but I think it’s gonna take us a while to get accustomed to being dirt-dwellers again.
Thanks for coming along!
S/V Mavis #816