"We're actually leaving the dock!"

ICW: First Leg (March 31 - April 17, 2000)
We slip our lines and head down the Intercoastal Waterway.

Friday, March 31, 2000: Annapolis, MD to Little Choptank River, MD

Theresa and I checked out of the hotel this morning, and loaded the last of our stuff onto the boat. I drove out to BWI to meet my dad, Ernie, and Jean. We stopped by Home Depot on the way back, then bought ice to keep stuff cold if the refrigerator doesn't work.

Once we got back to the boat, we started the engine for the first time since the winterizing, and it ran beautifully. We loaded everybody's stuff aboard, and dad and I returned the rental car while Ernie topped off the water tanks. Dad and I caught a cab back to the boat, and we decided it was time to go. We dropped the lines from our slip in Annapolis, and headed out into the Chesapeake!

We departed Annapolis around 2:00pm, and we had planned to spend the night in Herring Harbor, just a little bit to the south. The wind was from the west, so we set the sails, and enjoyed a glorious reach down the Bay. As an added bonus, the autopilot decided to work for a change, so we got to play with it for the first time.

We made considerably better time than we expected, so we decided in the early afternoon to go farther south and all the way across the Bay to the Little Choptank River instead. As it turns out, this was a little too ambitious, and we arrived a half hour after sunset. The wind died completely, and we didn't want to navigate the entrance to Hooper Cove in the dark, so we anchored over near the southeast shore.

Saturday, April 1, 2000: Little Choptank River, MD to Deltaville, VA

During the night, the wind shifted to the southwest, blowing straight in from the Bay, and developing an uncomfortable swell. Theresa and I were sleeping in the master cabin in the bow of the boat, but the rocking and noise didn't allow us much rest. Ernie and dad got up at dawn, waking us when they started the engine at 6:00am. Ugggh! I never get up this early!

We motored out of the Little Choptank river, then set sail for another nice reach down the Bay. The wind died around noon, so we fired up the engine and motored on. Theresa and I got lots of good experience reading charts, spotting marks, and setting courses. We even paused for a photo opportunity near one of the old lighthouses:

Later in the afternoon, the wind came up again, so we set the sails again for a close reach down the Bay. The wind continued to clock to the south and build, so by late afternoon we were sailing close to the wind on our course south.

Around 4:30pm, we took a tack to clear Windmill Point, intending to sail directly into the Piankatank River for the evening. The wind was blowing almost 25 knots by then, and suddenly, the jib sagged and started dropping toward the deck! Dad and Jean rushed forward to catch it and lash it down, while I started the engine. It was clear that the jib halyard had failed somehow, so we motored on to the harbor.

Unlike yesterday evening, we arrived with some daylight remaining, and it was a good thing, because the Deltaville harbor is really tricky to get into: You have to drive to the right side, almost straight up onto the beach, then turn 90 degrees left and head back across the harbor entrance to get into the deep water beyond! We couldn't have done it in the dark without a heavy dose of blind luck. The harbor is worth the effort though: flat calm, even with the wind blowing 25 knots outside.

Once we were anchored, we examined the genoa more closely, and found that a strap of webbing at the head of the sail had completely ripped apart. On the plus side, this meant that the end of the halyard probably hadn't fallen down into the mast, though it also meant that the sail itself needed repair. Over dinner, we talked about our plan of action for the morning, and decided to (1) go up the mast first thing to retrieve the halyard, and (2) buy diesel fuel. We tried to find a sailmaker to repair the genoa, but no one was open, and it didn't seem likely that anyone would be open until Monday.

Sunday, April 2, 2000: Deltaville, VA to Portsmouth, VA (Mile 0)

Once again, Dad and Ernie were up at dawn, though technically it was an hour later than yesterday because we went on Daylight Savings Time. (Every spring, I curse Ben Franklin for that idea!) They were walking around on the bow (right above our cabin), so I got up to make the trip up the mast.

I had purchased a bosun's chair, and we decided to hoist me up the mast using the topping lift for the boom -- which was led quite conveniently back to the electric winch. The harbor was completely calm, so the operation went smoothly. Once at the masthead, I attached a line to the head of the furler, and Ernie pulled it to the deck. I then had him send my digital camera up the mast for a few quick photos:

Dad, Ernie, and Theresa eased me back down the mast, and the job was done! Now all we have to do is fix the genoa itself.

We motored over to the fuel dock at precisely 8:00am (opening time), and bought fuel (25 gallons, engine hours 823). We considered stopping for showers at the marina, but the threat of bad weather in the evening gave us a sense of urgency, so we decided to forego the showers and high-tail it for Norfolk. This turned out to be a very good decision...

With the genoa out of commission, we were forced to motor the whole way, but the wind was 25 knots almost directly out of the south, so we probably wouldn't have sailed anyway. We made good time, reaching Wolf Trap Light at 10:40am, and Thimble Shoal Light around 1:45pm. As we turned into the mouth of the harbor, though, we ran headlong into a nasty current of several knots rushing out of the harbor. To make matters worse, the wind started gusting as high as 28 knots, still from almost directly ahead. I had the throttle up to 2750 RPM's, and we were making almost 8.5 knots through the water, but only 4 knots over the ground, so it took forever to make it into the harbor!

Once inside, the wind was still quite strong, with gusts up to 26 knots, though the seas were considerably calmer. We motored by the lines of Navy ships, and got some great photos.

We continued all the way south to the Tidewater Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, at Mile 0 on the Intracoastal Waterway. We called for a slip (a first for me) and a pumpout. The marina is tricky to get into, with a wooden wall all the way around, and a narrow doorway in. Once inside, I had to dock our 44' boat sideways against a wooden wall almost 8' high. Given how little experience I have with such a big boat, and given the tight quarters in the marina, that was really challenging, but I managed to pull it off OK (without hitting anything or otherwise making a fool of myself).

We pumped out the holding tanks (another first for me, and not nearly as onerous a task as I had imagined) and bought fuel again (12.3 gallons, engine hours 830.9). We had used 12.3 gallons in 8 hours -- not very good fuel economy, but due, I hope, to the hour at high RPM's trying to get into Norfolk's harbor against wind and current.

We moved the boat to our slip for the evening, and secured the lines. Once Chip arrived, Ernie and Jean bid us farewell. We enjoyed having them aboard, and we'll miss Ernie's guidance for the rest of the trip.

Someone (Ernie or Dad) suggested that we might be able to affect a temporary repair of the genoa by attaching some heavy-duty webbing to the head of the sail with stainless steel pop rivets. This sounded like a good idea to me, so Dad and I tried to get a cab in time to make it to Home Depot before it closed. Unfortunately, the cab never showed, so we went back and showered, then Theresa, Dad, and I went to dinner at the marina's restaurant, which was quite good. (Or maybe we were just thrilled to be clean and to eat out?)

We went to bed warm, comfortable, well-fed, secure, and happy. My only gripe was that we ran all day with the bimini down, so my face was sunburned and windburned.

Monday, April 3, 2000: Portsmouth, VA to Broad Creek, NC (Mile 62)

First thing this morning, Dad and I called another cab, and made a trip to Home Depot to buy a drill and a pop-rivet gun. Despite the lousy cab service in Portsmouth, we made it back to the boat with our purchases by 9:00am.

This was our first day on the Intracoastal Waterway, and it was also our first day with just three of us aboard. Two miles down the waterway, we also had to deal with our first bridge -- the Jordan Highway Bridge. We hailed the tender on 9, 13, and 16, but to no avail. We used the horn, then called again on 13. This got the tender's attention, so we requested an opening, and voila -- the bridge opened! It was kind of magical, really. Passing under the bridge was a bit scary -- it was hard to tell if we were actually going to make it, but we did, and with plenty of room to spare.

We passed several more bridges in short order, and then entered the Great Bridge Lock. We had to wait almost 20 minutes for it to pass us through, so we ate lunch in the meantime. After lunch, we passed through the lock, then through the Great Bridge bridge just beyond. At Mile 20, we waited again for the North Landing Hwy Bridge, but after that we were home free -- the next opening bridge isn't for 60 miles.

We drove on down the canal for hours. It was pretty boring, really, until we got to Currituck Sound, and the wind picked up to almost 25 knots, with gusts up to 32 knots. It was a rough ride, but our boat did beautifully, and we made it to the calm waters in Coinjock safely, though the autopilot decided to stop working again. We didn't stay in Coinjock, though, but headed on south, intending to anchor somewhere in the headwaters of the North Landing River, perhaps behind Buck Island.

The wind was still blowing strongly when we reached Buck Island, though, and we found that the anchorage offered little (if any) protection from the wind and seas. Our guide book suggested that Broad Creek was a better anchorage, so we decided to make for it, despite the fact that this meant crossing the wider area of the lower North Landing River in high winds with limited daylight. This was really pretty scary, and more so once we noticed crab pots, and realized that if we snagged one of those on the prop, we'd be stuck in the middle of the North Landing River at night in rough weather with few options.

Fortunately, though, Theresa plotted a true compass course to the mouth of Broad Creek (Mile 62), and I managed to steer the course correctly despite the conditions. We found the mouth of the creek, and eased our way up into it, then dropped the anchor. Though the wind was still howling up above, the trees along the banks of the creek offered ample shelter from the southwest winds and the rolling seas. After the conditions we'd just endured, the creek seemed almost idyllic!

Over dinner, we listened to the weather forecast, which predicted increasing winds with gale warnings and scattered thunderstorms for the following day. Our guide book said that "many a prudent skipper has waited on the shores of the Albemarle Sound for days to avoid crossing in bad weather", so we decided to wait out tomorrow in our snug little anchorage, and use the time to make repairs.

Tuesday, April 4, 2000: Layover in Broad Creek, NC

We slept late this morning for a change, though the winds were howling all night with a racket like a freight train coming through, so we didn't sleep as well as we might. Dad and I started working on the genoa after breakfast, and we managed to get a double layer of webbing rivetted firmly onto the head of the sail. I then sewed the two layers together, with a third layer inside to provide additional chafe protection. When I was done, it looked plenty strong to me. We took advantage of a break in the rain to haul the genoa back out on deck, then hoist it up the track in the furler. I even scrubbed some of the green slime off of the luff of the sail as we hoisted it. We furled the genoa up, even as it started to rain again.

I noticed while we were hoisting the genoa that the boat wasn't sitting with its head to the wind as expected, and it didn't take us long to realize that we'd dragged a little in the night, and that the keel was stuck in the mud. With the genoa safely back in its place (and out of the cabin), we decided to break for lunch before dealing with this new problem. I couldn't resist washing out the cockpit and scrubbing some spots off the deck while I had the cleaning supplies out.

After lunch, we attempted to pull the boat out of the mud with the windlass, but to no avail. I fired up the engine, though, and powered out of the mud fairly easily. We reset the anchor farther west, closer to the shore -- too close, really, to keep us off the bank if the wind shifts to the east, but the wind has been from the south or southwest for two days now, and the forecast calls for it to shift to the west, so we should be OK. Otherwise, we'll end up in the mud again.

Next, we tackled the autopilot, trying to determine why it worked only intermittently. We took everything out of the stern locker, then disconnected the autopilot CPU and examined the connections. Dad discovered that one of the main power leads was just sitting in the connector, not really attached at all. We reconnected it and presto! The autopilot worked perfectly.

Since we were on such a roll, we decided to put the transducer for the knotmeter in its place. The previous owners had pulled it out for some reason (maybe to keep marine growth out of it), and we had thus far been obliged to track our speeds via the GPS. This was fine for speed over ground (SOG), but it didn't give us speed through the water, and the difference was quite noticeable and important in places like the mouth of Norfolk's harbor. We expected to have a small geyser in the main cabin when we pulled the safety plug out, but the transducer housing was designed with a little valve that minimized the geyser effect, and the exchange was pretty simple and straightforward. We'll see how it works tomorrow.

The only major item left to fix was the TV, which hadn't worked for the whole trip for some odd reason. Dad soon discovered that it had simply been unplugged, though this wasn't exactly obvious because the power cable was buried in one of the lockers.

With everything fixed, I settled down to update these logs -- a task that has now taken me over five hours. So much has been going on, and I'm tired now, so I'm going to sleep. The wind's picking up again, and howling like a banshee, so I hope the boat doesn't drag.

Wednesday, April 5, 2000: Broad Creek, NC to Bellhaven, NC (Mile 132)

The winds shifted around to the northwest during the early evening, and howled down our little creek all night. I kept hearing loud bangs, and got up twice to make sure we weren't aground or dragging. One time, it was the anchor rhode shifting suddenly in the bowchock, and the second time, it was the boom shifting suddenly.

We got up early, and checked the weather. The winds were down a bit today, so we decided to leave our cozy little cove and strike out down the ICW. We encountered about 20 knots of wind as we came out of Broad Creek, and the winds picked up to 25, with gusts to 32 knots as we started across Albemarle Sound. Since the wind was on our stern quarter, we put up some sail (heavily reefed) to steady the boat, and tore across the Sound at close to 9 knots. Dad's Magellan found our marks quite effectively, but the swells gave us an ugly pounding, and the wind was freezing. We were all bundled up tightly, though Theresa looked like she was trying out for a part in some BBC production for pre-schoolers.

We entered the Alligator River, and were fortunate that the winds weren't too high for the bridge to open. The wind and waves didn't let up much on the Alligator River, so we persevered on, and finally made it to the Alligator River Pungo Canal, where we found some shelter. We were truly relieved to be out of the wind and waves.

We followed the Canal south to the Fairfield Swing Bridge, which has timed openings, so we had to wait. While circling, I ran into a submerged stump with a loud bang. Dad checked for water coming into the boat, but there was none. I hope I didn't cause any major damage.

Once passed the bridge, we continued on to the headwaters of the Pungo River, right before Bellhaven, and stayed at a charming little marina named Dowry Creek Marina (Mile 132). Everyone was really friendly, though the channel into the marina was a bit hard to find, and we bumped ground on the way in. We topped off with fuel (19.6 gallons, engine hours 851, net 20 hours). The marina had a courtesy car available, so we drove into town for a much-welcomed dinner at the Helmsman Restaurant.

Thursday, April 6, 2000: Bellhaven, NC to Beaufort, NC (Mile 198)

We got up a little later than usual, and checked the weather. All these forecasts sound the same! Sunny, with winds 15-20. We left the marina, and headed down the Pungo River, motorsailing when the winds allowed. We crossed the Pamlico River, then entered Goose Creek, which led up into another canal.

The canal dumped us into the Bay River, which we followed out to the junction with the Neuse River. We planned to try the Neuse River, and if the going got too rough, flee into Broad Creek (a different Broad Creek from the one we left the morning prior).

We rounded westward into the main run of the Neuse River, and started pounding our way upwind into 4-6 foot swells. We were soon cold, wet, and miserable, so we decided to bail, and flee into our hideaway. Dad plotted us a course into the mouth of Broad Creek, and we soon reached the creek's entry marker, where we promptly ran aground. We managed to power off of the sandbar, and entered the creek.

We continued upriver, and soon became aware that the entire river was mined with crabpots. We eventually found a spot that afforded some protection from the wind, and dropped anchor. It didn't take us long to realize that the anchor was dragging, though, and that we were in danger of becoming tangled in some crabpots to leeward. We hauled the anchor up with considerable difficulty, and moved further upriver. We saw what looked like a nice anchorage further upriver, but we couldn't figure out how to get to it. As we got closer, the keel started dragging through mud, and we were obliged to turn around.

Given our inability to find a safe place to anchor, we made the difficult decision to leave Broad Creek entirely, and forge our way on up the Neuse River under worsening conditions to Oriental, NC. Oriental has a reputation as the "sailing capital of North Carolina", so we expected to find a safe anchorage there. The tide had been going out, though, and we had a even more difficult time navigating the crab pots. When we reached the second mark on entry channel, we ran aground again, and the waves and wind pushed us hard onto the bank. I rocked the boat under full throttle, but couldn't get free. After a few frantic minutes of effort, I spun the boat into the wind, and we managed to power off of the sandbar and back out into the Neuse River.

The sail west was long and arduous. The wind was blowing 28-32 knots directly off the bow, so to avoid pounding the hull to smithereens, I was obliged to dodge in and out of the 5-6 foot swells. About every 10 seconds, the entire boat was drenched in spray as the boat crashed through a roller. We were cold, wet, tired, and scared, and it was getting late.

Finally, we reached Oriental, and entered its city harbor, which was nicely protected behind a breakwall. We called the harbormaster on the VHF, and he told us that the winds had sucked all of the water out of the harbor, and that it lacked sufficient depth for us. Another boat told us that there had been a collision in the harbor, and that conditions there were dangerous. We asked the harbormaster about alternatives, and he suggested Whitaker Creek Marina, but it was on the other side of a 45' fixed bridge, so we couldn't get in there. Once again, we headed out across the Neuse River.

We were either getting used to the pounding, or just growing numb to it. We crossed the Neuse River for the last time, and entered the mouth of Adams Creek. We intended to stay at Adams Creek Marina, but they didn't answer hails on the VHF. It was after 5:00, so they had probably already gone home. With no instructions on how to find the marina, we decided to continue up the ICW into the canal. Unfortunately, it was nearing sunset as we entered the canal, and we still didn't know where to stop for the night.

A short way up the canal, we saw a little marina on the right, and we attempted to hail it on the VHF. The marina didn't answer, but Sea-Tow did, and the guy informed us that the narrow entry canal for the marina had about 6 feet of water, and that we could safely tie up at the fuel dock for the evening. I turned the boat around, and we made our way slowly into the entry canal as night fell. Just halfway through the canal, the keel touched bottom, and I gave it a little more power to get on through to the harbor. Unfortunately, this only served to drive us hard aground.

We were in big trouble. Our 44' sailboat was aground in a shallow channel 50' wide, with rocks on either side. And it was now dark. I attempted to back out, but the rudder just dug into the mud, swinging the bow around. Dad fended off the rocks at the bow with a boathook, while Theresa attempted to fend off the rocks at the stern with her feet. I soon realized that the only way for us to get out was to make a U-turn in the middle of this little channel. I really don't know how I did this without running the boat up onto the rocks at one side or the other, but we did manage to get her turned around. Dad attributes this to a well-balanced boat that spun easily on the keel. In any case, we powered out of the channel, shooting back into the ICW like a wounded puppy.

There was no moon out, so it was now pitch black, and we were on unfamiliar waters, with probable barge traffic imminent. We had spotlights, so Theresa and Dad used them to light the shorelines and the numerous docks sticking out from them. About a mile further down the ICW, we encountered Core Creek Bridge, and I nearly freaked out. It had bunches of funky lights, and the canal turned somewhere just beyond it, so I couldn't figure out which way I was supposed to go. I was sure we were going to run up on the bank somewhere.

Fortunately, we made it under the bridge without incident, and continued down the ICW until we reached Jarrett Bay Boatworks (Mile 198). They didn't answer the VHF either, but that didn't really surprise us, since it was the dead of night. We couldn't figure out where to dock, so I asked Theresa to see if there was another marina further up. She consulted the guide book and the charts, then recommended that we figure out how to dock at Jarrett Bay at all costs.

I pulled an about-face in the dark (nearly running us aground), and we then made a slow pass by the fuel dock to see what it looked like. The current was running 1.5 knots downriver, so I was able to hold position right in front of the marina until we had our fenders and lines ready. When everything was ready, I gunned the boat toward the dock, and we actually made a very nice landing by the fuel dock, right behind a big tugboat and in front of a big sport fishing boat.

Once we were safely tied up at the dock, we all sat down and heaved a sigh of relief. The wind was still blowing about 20-25 knots, but we were finally safe for the night, with no obvious damage to the boat or its crew. The skylights seemed to have leaked pretty badly on the crossing, but one of them was leaking already, so that's not such a big deal. Theresa went directly to the showers, and Dad consulted the charts while I just sat in shock. Eventually, we all showered and had a bite for dinner, then fell fast asleep around 11:00pm.

Friday, April 7, 2000: Beaufort, NC to Sneads Ferry, NC (Mile 246)

After sunrise, we topped off the fuel tanks (15 gallons, engine hours 864, net 13 hours), then headed out again. We saw our first wildlife other than osprey and seagulls -- Dad saw an otter and some herons. Maybe we're finally getting down into some warmer weather. We made the important decision that going forward, we would take shorter days, and try to stay at a marina each night. (Stop the madness!)

We entered the Newport River, past Beaufort and Morehead City. There were three tugs pushing a huge military ship up the channel, and Dad got some good footage of them docking the ship in Morehead City's turning basin.

Beyond the turning basin, we entered a long, straight channel down the north side of Bogue Sound, directly into the wind. Traffic picked up alot, both as sport fishers and northbound cruisers. The wind blew a steady 15-20 knots.

Once through Bogue Sound, we passed through the Camp Lajuene firing range, which, of course, wasn't in use. The Marines maintain and operate the Onslow Beach Swing Bridge in the middle of the base, and the marine running the bridge was a card. Our guide book said that the bridge opened on demand, but they had a sign up that said it opened on the half hour. I called on the VHF, and he told me, "If you'd been monitoring 13, you'd hear me advertising that I only open on the half hour!" Well, excuse me. "Roger that" was all I said. When he finally started to open the bridge, I started to approach, and he told me, "Stand back, Captain!" Once the bridge was open, he yelled, "Hurry on through sailors, or I'll shut the bridge on you!" It was kind of funny, really. We all thanked him for the opening, and he wished us a safe trip.

We soon reached Swan Point Marina (Mile 246) in Sneads Ferry, NC. We docked on the end of their jetty, and we all took hot showers. We borrowed the courtesy car (an old, beat-up Pontiac with sagging ceiling fabric) and followed the dockmaster back to her house, where she gave us several yards of green string to repair our bimini. We then drove on to the Green Turtle Restaurant, where we had a delicious seafood dinner.

We got lost on the way back from the restaurant, but it was somehow less stressful being lost at night in a car than it was being lost the night before in our boat. We eventually made it back and went to sleep.

Saturday, April 8, 2000: Snead's Ferry, NC to Wrightsville Beach, NC (Mile 284)

Saturday was a long drive down the ICW, with little happenings of interest other than the bridges. The Figure Eight Island Swing Bridge threatened not to open due to "high winds" (only 20 knots, at which we scoffed), but we prevailed on him to open on time. The next bridge (Wrightsville Beach) only opened on the hour, and we missed it by about 10 minutes.

The weather forecast called for strong winds in the late afternoon, followed by thunder storms, so we decided to stop early at the Seapath Yacht Club (Mile 284) in Wrightsville Beach. Theresa called the marina on the cellphone, and made sure that they could accomodate our draft. We called again on the VHF as we entered the channel, and asked for directions. I was just passing Red #24 with a good, wide berth, as he responded with "Stay well clear of Red #24!" Before I knew it, we were aground again, right in the apparent middle of the channel.

I tried to rock the boat off like I'd done before, but we were badly stuck this time, with the wind and current pinning us against the bank of the small channel, and with the tide going out quickly. Within seconds, a TowBoatUS guy showed up to offer a tow at his "standard rate": $110/hour, with a one-hour minimum, plus $5/foot. What a blood-sucking leech! I can't help but think that he was just waiting there, at the poorly marked channel, for some sucker to ground himself so he could make a quick buck. He asked what level of towing coverage I had through Boat US, and I told him that I had only standard coverage. I told him we'd try to get the boat off ourselves. After a few more minutes of struggling, he offered to "help us out", and he told us that we'd "work something out" with regard to the payment. Without any apparent options, we grudgingly accepted.

The TowBoatUS guy towed us way over to the right side of the channel, almost up to the grass, and we floated free. He cut us loose, and said that he'd join us over at the dock once we got settled there.

Theresa called the marina again on the VHF, and said, "We've now been towed free of the sandbar, and are awaiting further instructions on how to approach your marina. Please advise. OVER." The dockmaster gave us more detailed instructions, and we executed a nice docking at their fuel dock despite a strong cross-current and 25-knot wind shoving us into the dock.

We bought fuel (12.55 gallons, engine hours 878, net 14 hours), and attempted to pump out the holding tanks, but the pumpout didn't draw anything out. This means either that the pumpout station/hose was broken, or that we've been inadvertantly flushing our waste directly overboard. We examined the Y-valves, and still aren't sure.

The wind was picking up, and the bimini was looking pretty ragged, so we took it down for planned repairs. The TowBoatUS guy showed up, and we cut a deal that was acceptable to all. Black clouds were forming on the horizon, so we all showered quickly and started a load of laundry. As I returned to the boat, the rain started, with wind gusts up to 35 knots. I was very glad for the time we'd taken to get the dock lines and fenders set perfectly. The rain did a good job washing away all the salt from our Neuse River experience. I spent several hours sewing the zippers back into the bimini, then went to sleep. It was a windy night, but we slept well, securely tied to the dock.

Sunday, April 9, 2000: Wrightsville Beach, NC to Ocean Isle Beach, NC (Mile 335)

It was clear and cold when Dad woke at dawn, with the wind still blowing 15-20 knots. We began freeing docklines around 8:15am, but the wind and current made this a lot trickier than it at first seemed. The wind was attempting to grab the bow and throw it all the way around, so we had to rig some lines to control it from the boat. In the end, though, we managed to get free of the dock without hitting anything or leaving anyone or anything behind. We made it safely out of the channel, hugging the grass on the left side, and we were once again southbound on the ICW.

Just south of Wrightsville Beach (in Grove Sound), we saw our first dolphins, several of which played briefly in our wake, surfacing right next to the cockpit. We could have reached out and touched them if they hadn't vanished as quickly as they appeared. With little else to do, I went below and finished my work on the bimini.

We passed Carolina Beach, and entered the Cape Fear River. Dad was at the helm, and was faced immediately with a big container ship on one side and shoals on the other. We passed without incident, then put up the genoa for a nice motorsail down the River. We passed SouthPort (Richard and Judy recently bought a lot here), then furled the genoa and re-entered the ICW behind Oak Island, Long Beach, and Holden Beach.

We passed Shallotte River and Ocean Isle Beach, then arrived at Pelican Point Marina (Mile 335), where we found dockage yet again at the fuel dock. This dock had a floating plastic walkway along the front that acts as a permanent fender of sorts. It made the docking process tricky, though, since we couldn't reach the pilings from the boat. Dad jumped down to the floating plastic walkway, and scampered up a ladder onto the dock to secure our springline. I managed to throw a loop over a piling from the stern, and Theresa threw Dad a line from the bow. We spent several minutes adjusting fenders, and were all secure by 4:30pm, with two full hours of daylight left.

No one from Pelican Point Marina came out to welcome us or help us with our lines, and when we went in to pay for the dockage, we learned that they had no showers. Their sign says, "Transients Welcome", but it should stipulate that this is only on their fuel dock, and only during off-hours. I guess we're happy to be docked securely for the night, though. Dad and I put the bimini back up, and it looks as good as new (almost).

Monday, April 10, 2000: Ocean Isle Beach, NC to Pawley's Island, SC (Mile 394)

It was just about low tide when we left the dock, and the keel was sitting in the mud. I gave it a little power, and we pulled free into the middle of the channel.

Just two and a half miles down the canal, we encountered our first bridge of the day: the Sunset Beach Bridge. This is the last remaining pontoon bridge over the ICW, with a charted clearance of exactly zero ... meaning that everyone has to wait for an opening. The bridge was supposed to open on the hour, but the water was so low that the tender had to wait for the tide to come in a little. This worked well for us, because we otherwise would have just missed the opening, and would have had to wait an entire hour.

A few miles past the bridge, we started up Little River, eventually reaching the long canal at its head that passes behind Myrtle Beach. Miles 347-365 of this canal are known unofficially as "The Rockpile" because the canal is very narrow, with steep, rough-hewn rock walls on either side and various uncharted rocks along the bottom. Our guide book admonished us to stay in the middle. I had intended to drive through this area, but we were halfway through the worst section of Rockpile before we realized we were even in it. Theresa drove us through this really treacherous part without incident. I took the helm shortly after, and managed a tight but very cordial passing with a motoryacht named "Brimfull" -- probably the most considerate motoryacht captain we've ever encountered. Fortunately, we didn't encounter any barge traffic, maybe because of the extreme low tide.

The unofficial end of the Rockpile is at the Highway 501 fixed bridge, though the canal had become steadily less treacherous as we headed south, and there really wasn't any marked difference after we passed under the bridge. Five and a half miles south, we reached the Socastee Highway Bridge, and we had to wait 20 minutes for it to open. The current was running with us, so I had to do circles -- a somewhat tricky maneuver in shallow water and a narrow channel. We passed through it without incident.

Farther south, we entered the headwaters of the Waccamaw River. Though our guide book had labelled other stretches of the ICW as "the most beautiful", we thought that the Waccamaw River took the prize hands-down. The Waccamaw River is deep, and runs through vast stretches of uninhabited cypress forests. Osprey and eagles had nests at every turn, and we got some great photos of these birds both in their nests and in flight.

We stopped for the evening at the lovely Heritage Plantation Marina (Mile 394). We had hot showers, then mixed some margaritas and watched the sunset from the observation platform atop their marina house.

Tuesday, April 11, 2000: Pawley's Island, SC to Isle of Palms, SC (Mile 456)

We enjoyed the last of the Waccamaw River, then entered the upper Winyah Bay, where the Waccamaw, Great Pee Dee, and Sampit Rivers combine (right at Georgetown). Though I had studied the chart and was prepared for the marks to reverse, I still got confused, and cut the corner on Red #40. Fortunately, I had 10' of water there, so we didn't run aground. Another sailor saw me out of the channel, and notified me on the VHF. While I appreciated his effort, his warning came way too late to have been of any help.

Once out of Winyah Bay, the ICW cuts inland through various canals and meandering rivers. The land is almost entirely salt marsh, and struck me as fairly desolate. The wind finally subsided to 12 knots or so, and this made it easy for large, green-headed flies to swarm the cockpit. Fortunately, it was still cold enough for us to be wearing our foul weather gear, so the flies didn't have any exposed skin to bite. We did, however, see our first two gators -- smaller fellows hanging out along the edge of the canal at its north end.

We continued on past McClellanville, and on through more marshland. It got pretty boring, really. We were all glad to reach our marina at Isle of Palms (Mile 456). We topped off the fuel tank ($38.92, unknown quantity, engine hours 902, net 24 hours), and pumped out the holding tanks again. This time, we got stuff out of each of the tanks, so we think we have the Y-valves set correctly.

We moved to the face dock, then showered and caught a shuttle to the yacht club's restaurant, called Edgar's. We had only been seated for 15 minutes, right next to the stage, when a local entertainer started his gig. At first, this was really disturbing, but the guy did a good job engaging the crowd, and we soon began to enjoy the show. He even dragged Theresa up on the stage twice to perform with him! (Dad and I wish he'd had the video camera for that.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2000: Isle of Palms, SC to Charleston, SC (Mile 469)

We had a short day on the water today. We caught the first opening of the Ben Sawyer Memorial Swing Bridge, then crossed through Charleston Harbor and up the Ashley River to the Charleston City Marina (Mile 469), where we tied up for the day. We showered, then Dad bid us farewell, and caught a cab to the bus station, where he then caught a bus back to Charlotte. (He called that evening to tell us that this all went as planned.)

Theresa and I found ourselves for the first time ever alone on our boat someplace other than Jabin's Marina in Annapolis. It was a little startling. We both realized that tomorrow we would take our boat out for the first time alone. It was a little scary, but we felt like we were ready for it.

We did some cleaning, then caught a cab over to Patriot's Point to see the military ships on display there. This exhibit included the aircraft carrier Yorktown, the submarine Clamagore, the destroyer Laffey, and the Coast Guard cutter Ingham. We toured all but the Coast Guard cutter. The Yorktown is just huge. There are 8 separate tours from the main hangar, ranging from 15-30 minutes each. We did several of them, but soon gave up on seeing everything, and saw the other two ships instead. All three are amazing pieces of engineering, and significant pieces of history. Intriguing.

We then caught a cab back into Charleston itself, and toured the Aiken-Rhett house. The house had been "preserved" rather than "restored" -- an interesting approach that emphasized the age of the house and grounds. I can't help but think that certain elements of the house (e.g. - the roof, walls, and floors) ought to be "restored" rather than "preserved". But I'm no historian, so what do I know?

After leaving the house, we walked down to the Battery to look at some of the old houses along Charleston's historic waterfront. It was getting late, though, and the gnats were getting ferocious, so we caught a cab back to the marina. We watched "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" on the VCR, ate a light dinner, and went to sleep.

Thursday, April 13, 2000: Charleston, SC to Beaufort, SC (Mile 536)

We woke to an overcast and cold day. As we were preparing to cast off, one of the dockhands rode up on her bicycle to help us with the lines, making things very easy for us. I think Charleston City Marina is the biggest, nicest marina we've stayed in, though others (Dowry Creek and Heritage Plantation) have been cozier. We high-tailed it across the Ashley River and under the fixed bridge at the mouth of Wapoo Creek, making it to the Wapoo Creek Bascule Bridge in time to catch its first opening at 9:00am.

From there, it was a long drive up the Stono River, down the Wadmalaw River, up the Dawho River, through Watts Cut, down the South Edisto River, through Fenwick Cut (where we ran aground briefly), up a piece of the Ashepoo River, through the Ashepoo Coosaw Cutoff, up the Coosaw River, and down the Beaufort River to Beaufort, SC.

Aside from our daily grounding, the only notes of interest involved barges. We encountered our first barge in one of the many narrow channels as we approached a turn to port around a green mark. I figured that the barge would swing wide around the mark, so I aimed for the inside of the turn, intending to pass close to the mark and leave the barge to starboard. As we drew closer, though, the space between that mark and the barge began to look thinner and thinner, and Theresa suggested that I talk to the guy. I called the barge on VHF 13 and explained my intentions. He responded right away: "Negative! I need to cut that mark close in order to make the next red!" I responded equally as fast "Roger that! I'll take the outside!" I threw the helm hard over to the right, and headed across the barge's bow, even as the barge captain radioed us some assurances: "You should have plenty of room over there -- the water's plenty deep." We crossed the barge's bow with lots of room to spare, and with plenty of depth, but we were all really glad we'd talked.

We saw our second barge as we entered the Coosaw River, and it quickly became apparent that this barge was heading south down the ICW just as we were. We gained on it steadily as we sailed up the Coosaw, and finally caught up to it at Brickyard Point. It was nearing 4:00, and we knew that the bridge at Beaufort didn't open for pleasure boaters between 4:00 and 6:00, so we had expected a long wait to get under the bridge. It occurred to me, though, that the bridges always open on demand for commercial traffic, so we might be able to tailgate through behind this barge. I called the barge captain, and asked him if he intended to pass under the Ladies Island bridge, and he confirmed that he did, so I settled in behind him, and followed him all the way down the river to Beaufort. Sure enough, we got a custom opening at 5:00, and made it in to Beaufort City Marina (Mile 536) just as it started to drizzle.

The Beaufort City Marina had nice docks, and the service was good, but the bathrooms were the most disgusting we've ever seen. I mean that in a very broad sense, encompassing all bathrooms I've experienced in my lifetime, including countless gas-station facilities. The building was literally falling apart, and it looked like the owners had simply given up on cleaning it, figuring, perhaps, that they'd just bull-doze it soon and start over. The floors were littered with garbage, and the walls were covered with mildew and slime. There were cigarette butts on top of the walls separating the shower stalls, and the drywall/plaster had cracked and crumbled, forming gaping holes in the walls. I was desperate for a hot shower, and I figured that the floor of the shower stall itself had probably seen enough soap to leave it reasonably clean, so I went ahead and showered. As I was drying off, I noticed what looked like a two long hairs protruding from a hole in the drywall of my shower stall. With sudden revulsion, I realized that these were the antennae of a very large cockroach behind the drywall! I quickly fled, returning to the safety, comfort, and cleanliness of our boat.

We had intended to go to dinner, but it was still raining off and on, so we ordered pizza instead, and went to bed early.

Friday, April 14, 2000: Beaufort, SC to Isle of Hope, GA (Mile 590)

When we woke in the morning, the weather was awful. It had stopped raining, but it was cold (again!), and banks of fog were billowing across the water, limiting visibility to a quarter mile at best. The weather forecast called for several more days of the same. As we left the dock, the dockhand commented that we must either be "gluttons for punishment, or on a schedule". A little of both, perhaps, but I figured that if the weather in Beafort was going to be bad for days, maybe we'd be better off going someplace different -- someplace farther south, closer to sunny Florida, and with nicer bathrooms.

Unfortunately, the weather never really improved, though the fog eased up a little during the middle of the day. It was still cold, and with 100% humidity, the cold chilled us to the bone.

We made our way slowly down the Beaufort River, finding our marks mostly by dead reckoning. (Curiously, none of them were lighted. I guess the lights only work at night, and not in fog.) We crossed the Port Royal Sound in this fog, with boats appearing and disappearing eerily in the haze. We crossed through some little creeks behind Hilton Head, emerging into Calibogue Sound, where visibility improved enough for us to find our marks. We rounded up the Cooper River, then passed through Ramshorn Creek to the New River. We passed through Watts Cut to the Wright River, then through Fields Cut (where we ran aground briefly) to the Savannah River. We crossed almost straight over the Savannah River to Elba Island Cut, and then made our way up the Wilmington River to Thunderbolt, GA. From there, we went down some other river and then up the Skidaway River to the Isle of Hope Marina (Mile 590), where we stopped for the night.

The folks at the Isle of Hope Marina were nice, though it took them a while to get someone out to the dock to help us with the lines. Once again, it started raining as we secured the boat. The single shower was clean (and looked brand new). We both took long showers to dispell the day's chill. We had intended to go out to dinner, and joined another gentleman out in front of the marina at 7:30pm to catch the marina's courtesy shuttle out to the restaurant. We talked with him for half an hour, but the shuttle never arrived. He called a cab, and we waited for another 20 minutes, but the cab never arrived either, so we gave up and returned to our respective boats for soup. We hooked up our shore power, and ran the heat for the first time since leaving Annapolis. It felt great.

Saturday, April 15, 2000: Isle of Hope, GA to New Teakettle Creek, GA (Mile 646)

The weather didn't look a whole lot better when we got up at 8:00am. It was still foggy and overcast, and the weather forecast still sounded equally gloomy. It had stopped raining, though, so I decided to top off the fuel tanks (18.7 gallons, engine hours 919, net 17 hours). I also checked the oil and added 3/4 quart, then cleaned the scum out of the salt-water filter. Theresa told the owner of the Isle of Hope Marina how we'd waited in vain for his courtesy shuttle, and he was very apologetic. He gave us a discount on the diesel bill.

From the Isle of Hope, we made our way down Skidaway Narrows to the Burnside River, and then into the Vernon River, where we put up some sail and had a brief romp down the river at a whopping 10.2 knots (with the current)! We furled the sail and passed through Hell Gate to the Ogeechee River, where we plodded our way back upriver at 5 knots, against both the current and the wind.

We entered the Florida Passage, which dumped us into the headwaters of the Bear River. Again we put up some sail, and made good time all the way across St. Catherine Sound and up the North Newport River. We furled the sail and entered Johnson Creek, which was narrow, shallow, and long, all of which combined to make it incredibly tedious. This finally dumped us into the South Newport River, which we followed down to the Sapello River. The clouds finally started to disappear as we slogged upwind against the Sapello, and it was downright sunny by the time we reached the Front River (more of a creek, really) and Creighton Narrows. Here we met another barge, and I retreated back a quarter mile to the Front River to wait for it to pass.

We made it through to the Old Teakettle Creek, and followed this down to its juncture with the New Teakettle Creek (Mile 646), where we anchored out for the evening. We were soon joined by three other yachts, all of which anchored farther up the river than we did. The creek is kind of narrow, and we're anchored in the middle, in 19 feet of water. The current reverses every six hours, and runs over a knot in each direction, so we've already flip-flopped once as I write this. I hope the anchor holds!

Sunday, April 16, 2000: New Teakettle Creek, GA to Brunswick, GA (Mile 686)

The fog set in again overnight, and when we woke just after dawn, it was as thick as the proverbial pea soup. We had planned a short day today anyway, so we fixed breakfast and enjoyed the morning before getting underway. The other three boats all left before we did.

We drove down the rest of the Old Teakettle, up the North River, down the Little Mud River, across the Altamaha River, up the Buttermilk Sound, down the Mackay River, and out into St. Simons Sound, where we finally got some sail up and motor-sailed around to the Sydney Lanier Bridge at Brunswick.

We arrived at the bridge at exactly 2:30pm, so I only had to furl the genoa and slow down a little to make the opening. Just as I threw the boat into forward again though, the prop made a clanking sound like it was loose. The boat moved on forward under the bridge, and then the sound vanished, and we resumed full speed. It was a lift bridge, and I didn't pass under it until the operator signalled me anyway, so I don't think that I caught on any submerged cables. I'm really worried that I may have damaged something under the boat during one of our many groundings.

We found our slip in Brunswick without any problem, and spent over an hour securing the lines, hooking up the shore power, filling the water tanks, and cleaning the boat. We took showers, did three loads of laundry, and ate all the leftovers. We'll rent a car tomorrow and go back home for a little to pay bills and check on our cat.

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