Monday, October 26, 2009

2nd Year: Southbound Norfolk to Charleston 2009

  Monday, October 26, 2009

Love the firepower around Norfolk!
Pulled out of the Norfolk Naval Marina early making that turn to ICW Mile Marker 0, the start of the journey really south.  The ICW starts here and for our purposes, ends at Key West at Mile Marker 1240 where we plan to spend a couple of months.  For the short term, we are headed to Charleston for a month at Ashley Marina, Mile Marker 468.  Ouch, payback time.  We fueled up at Ocean Marina, taking on 500.3 gallons of diesel for $1,225.23 ($2.45 gal) - putting in 214 in the port tank and 232 on the starboard side.  We topped off the aft tank with 50 gals.

We love the beauty of the primeval Dismal Swamp route, narrow, autumn trees in nearly full color lining the banks; dark brown tannic water and lots of birds, so we turned sharp right rather than head the route through Coinjack, NC.  However, this year, even with water levels higher than in years, we kept bumping and bumping -- like logs banging under our hull, not running aground.  The banging slamming quickly got on our nerves and we've sworn -- 'no more'. 
Southbound in the Dismal Swamp

The infamous Ray Marine Chart Plotter malfunctioned today yet again.  Here we go again with a lousy piece of equipment that is absolutely driving me crazy.

Pulling into the Dismal Swamp Welcome Station for the night after locking through the first of two locks today.  The place was crowded with boats, so we rafted up to a 36' Monk with new boaters aboard....Dean & Renee have just begun their new adventure and are headed south for the winter to begin their new life style.

Settling in for the evening with 4 rows of boats rafted 3 across each, I kept wondering who in the world out there was still running a generator at 11 PM; at midnight and on and on.  The sound was softer so I thought it was a sailboat generator. At 2:00 AM Andy jumped out of bed, running to the cockpit flashlight in hand.  Ugh, the noise was us!  Seems we had a pump going all night -- did not sound like any pump noise I'd ever heard.... A short time of banging around in the lazarette and the problem was solved, but only after Andy bumped into the high water alarm down in there setting it off into it's screeching and beeping.  I do hope we did not wake anyone!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 & Wednesday, October 28
In only a few minutes the approximately 12 boats untied from each other and the dock wall and all of us made the 8:30 lock opening.  Being big and on the outside of the rafting group, we made it to Elizabeth City ahead of the masses and for the first time were able to secure a spot on the wall (got there about 2:30).  We  were invited at least 4 times to the 4:30 wine and cheese party hosted by the City for the boaters.  A nice time, with a warm welcome speech and an overview of what to see/do in Eliz City.  
Downtown Elizabeth City is charming
Firefly store was an old pharmacy in years past.

Original pharmacy labels on drawers are still in existence!

Beautiful old buildings in Eliz City

With crummy weather on the way that will toss up Albemarle Sound, we stayed put another day, as did all the other boaters.  Again, a nice two days and evenings meeting other boaters & seeing some old friends.  We again attended the RoseBud Ladies wine and cheese, a tradition that has been going on for years.  A very friendly city for sure.

Thursday, October 29, 2009
Pulled out of Eliz City at first light (7:15 am) with a fleet of 10-11 boats, moving southward  - reminding me of the birds flocking together flying south.  We are traveling w Adios again and with the Monk 36 "Prime Time" we rafted up to the other night.  Dreary, cold day underway.
Heading south!

Just south of Eliz City is a blimp factory!!
 Today, I counted and wrote it down.  In the first 30 minutes the RayMarine Chart Plotter went off twice.  By 9:30 AM it had shut down/malfunctioned 11 times.  At the end of the day, it had malfunctioned 19 times, leaving us with - among other things - no depth sounder in these shallow waters that are fraught with shoals, etc.  Our group of 3 boats pulled into Alligator River Marina  at noon - not a bad place - it is actually a truck stop on the highway, with water behind it!  We had the 'cocktail' party aboard Finally Fun with Adios and Prime Time -- lots of great conversations and laughs.

Friday, October 30, 2009
Pulled out of Alligator River Marina at 8:00 am, in a line of boats again with weather clearing.  Today, not only is the Chart Plotter still going off, but the auto pilot is screwy, so I kept the boat underway manually.  I think the boat behind me thought we must be drinking and piloting -- even called me on the radio to ask if something was wrong with the Chart Plotter again.....weaving and weaving til I turned it to Manual Mode.   Me, I prefer that  anyway to using auto or Nav, just like I don't use much in the way of cruise control...preferring to just drive the car.  I think it is a control thing!  Andy says Nav is a little screwy today, going off in the opposite direction.  What is this all about?????

Love the sunsets at anchor!
Dropped hook in Pungo Creek just south of Belhaven at a lovely anchorage, Adios & Prime Time settling into their spots around us for the evening.

Saturday, October 31, 2009 & Sunday, November 1, 2009
Sharon & Karen w a 'rock star' at a NPC launch meeting in 2007
Happy Halloween!  On our way to Beaufort, NC, where we will meet a former work colleague & friends, Karen & Donna,  who will stay aboard til Monday AM.  Arrived at 3:00 ish, staying at Beaufort Docks, right in the heart of the tiny city.  With nice weather, we walked the quaint, charming town, having a great dinner at the Beaufort Grocery Company.  Sunday was not so nice, but we still were able to shop, wander about and even drive to Morehead City to look around.  This marina is packed with boats headed south - so always make a reservation prior to arrival here!  See the link to photos of our weekend in Beaufort, NC.

Monday, November 2, 2009
Donna & Karen were jolted awake by the large boat docked next to us - hitting us on their way out.  They said it was quite a bump at the bow.  Inspecting closely, we could find no damage, so let the issue go.  Bummer boat - hit and run.  I see that all too often.

Pulled out after a great breakfast on board and goodbyes to Karen & Donna with cold gray weather still.  Uneventful day on the ICW, with careful attention paid to the charts and markers as shoaling is everywhere.  A jerk in a go fast boat waked us, throwing our stuff around all over below.  Andy yelled at him on the VHF and we heard via VHF other boats down the line doing the same.  What is the matter with these jerks?
Entering Camp Lejune via the ICW - See warning about live firing!

A major mess and a nightmare trying to anchor in Hammock Basin on the USMC Camp Lejune basin, where we've anchored in the past with no issues.  My goodness, we dropped the hook 6 times, dragging out each time.  The anchor would  come out of the water with the shackle bent at a right angle & we finally figured out that it was not able to roll, turn or do it's thing underwater to grab bottom because of the angle.  Andy would try to fix it, hammering it with the boat hook as we hauled it up over and over.  At one point, we hauled it onto the deck to try to work it loose and it slammed into the boat, creating some damage at the anchor pulpit.  By that time, we had dropped anchor, pulled anchor, circled all over trying to find a new spot where we might have better luck til I know every boater in the basin (and there were at least 20!) was wondering how unskilled and what idiots we were!!!

Finally, I figured out  that no matter where we put the boat, the anchor was not going to do its job because the shackle would go sideways when it touched bottom and was freezing up at an angle, not allowing the anchor to set at all.   It finally froze up so tightly that there was no way we could get it straight - so there  we were, with the anchor at a right angle to the chain.

Our friend, John, aboard Adios, was in the basin and dinked over to help.  Long story short with no easy fix in sight, we finally, with lots of difficulty,  dropped our second anchor by hand with it's 20 feet of chain and then the long line.   John & Andy then  proceeded to take the seized up shackle OFF and replace it with one from John's stash of tools (boat jewels he calls them).  We then pulled up the first anchor and all that line - again by hand - and successfully dropped the Rocnar anchor.  The deck was covered with mud and water, as were John & Andy!

This is the second shackle we've had on it because we had the same problems and here we go again with another freaking repair that did not work and for which we paid good money.  This frustrating exercise took almost 2.5 hours to resolve!  John stayed for a beer and went back for Ellie and we had a nice visit while my blood pressure came down and so did Andy's.  Thank God for John - I don't know what we would have done without his help!  There is no way I could have launched that second anchor by hand nor gotten it pulled up, even with the help of the winch - which we used but with difficulty.  Then - with no extra shackle on board and only that second anchor set with line, Andy & I would probably have taken shifts during the night to be certain we didn't drag - GPS set too.

By the way - there is no other place to go for miles -- this is the only place to stop so we were really 'stuck' here, like it or not!!!!  Later, thinking about it, Andy said he would have rafted up to John - John liking it or NOT!

We also ended up selecting one of the few remaining spots which happened to be in front of "Aquila" a sailboat from Chalfort, PA.  First time we dropped the hook the woman on board (that was no lady)  stood on the bow screeching that she had 150 feet of line out and that we needed to move.  We ended up, at the end of our circling, dropping, cursing afternoon trying to fix and set the anchor by her once more with no place else to go.

One more time, she's up screeching she has 120 feet of line out.  Lady, make up your mind and get your story straight - is it 120 or 150 feet?  And besides that - - you, lady, are irresponsible, laying out that much line in a crowded anchorage with no storm coming.  She kept screeching that she "didn't want that boat by her" and then her husband came out and loudly tried to tell me how to set a hook.  As I interrupted  to explain that we knew how to set a hook & that we had a mechanical problem, he said, "Shut up & listen to me".  What an ass.  By then I was livid at them and shouting,  let them know we had a mechanical problem, etc. and if they had an issue, they should say it to us and not loudly to the 'world'.  She continued to bitch and moan.  I hope I can cross paths with her on land or somewhere close by.  She is an attitude that gives (a) women and (b) boaters a bad name and he's not much better.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Ah, slept somewhat peacefully, swaying quite a bit at the anchorage, but worried about dragging.  Perfect night, did not budge an inch.  This daylight savings time is getting to me - feel like a baby with days and nights mixed up...preferring to sleep in, which I did til 7:00.  We pulled out at 7:15, with most all the other boats already out and underway.

There are a series of three bridges to traverse today, with careful scheduling to make it work.  The first one, Surf City Bridge, opens on the HOUR only; the second 8 miles away, Figure 8 Bridge, opens on the 1/2 and the hour  and the last, Wrightsville Beach Bridge only 5 miles further down, opens only on the you can see, calculating speed and distance is crucial or one ends up circling in tight little circles, basically treading water til the bridge opens.

This morning, 25 boats went through the first bridge --- like an armada!  What a crowded place to be!  Sailboats and trawlers jockeying for space and position and if one was not tight in the pack, the bridge tender was threatening to shut the bridge!  We spent much of the morning passing sailboats and slower trawlers and we successfully traveled the 3 bridges with no 'down time'.  By afternoon, we were way ahead of the others with no issues.  Even passed the screechy woman aboard the sailboat, Aquila, who waved at us as did her husband.  Hhrump -grumpy hold a grudge me did not wave back.  She certainly did  irritate me no end....and a missed opportunity,  I had practiced mentally all sorts of retorts should she speak to us on the radio......she never did.

I think I need to get some sleep and wake up with a smile......or a boat that works better would make the difference in my sense of humor - or lack thereof.
Love the color along the way!

Ah, on to finer things.  The sections from here on southward are so beautiful.  Much of today was spent with the Atlantic Ocean peeking out from sand dunes on our left and low country marshes and barrier islands on our left and right, with birds of all types everywhere.  It is so peaceful through here EXCEPT one must pay close attention....the current can grab at you without warning and the inlets cutting in from the ocean, while scenic, create shoaling and the currents push you out of the channel if you get distracted for a second.

Note the large giraffe in the yard!
Wrightsville Beach & Topsail Island have the majority of beautiful homes and larger homes for much of the ICW til you get way further south - one is never bored cruising through here.....but REMEMBER one must pay ATTENTION to the water and not the houses....As this is now our third time cruising the ICW - we have become (a) more skilled and (b) remember where the trouble spots are.  We are now 'old hat' -- but one second of being complacent will certainly get us in some trouble somewhere along the line.....

We are at the St. James Marina, just below Southport, NC, for the evening -- there is no anchorage anywhere in this area so we stay here each time we traverse.  A nice spot, in the middle of an upscale residential community with its own marina.   I think they pick up a little extra cash by renting to transients for $1.00 a foot - a GREAT rate!  We enjoyed a lot of conversations with fellow boaters & a beer at the outdoor pub right at the docks. 

We think we can make Charleston by Thursday afternoon.....

Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Entering the Rock Pile - coquina everywhere
Up and out of the slip by 7:00 AM headed to Thoroughfare Creek in the absolutely drop dead gorgeous Waccamaw River - 74 miles.  We successfully traversed what is called the "Rock Pile" (MM 347-355) a 26 mile stretch of waterway lined with coquina rock ledges where boaters "routinely go aground on the rocks".    Some places are so narrow and twisting curves that tugs and boaters should announce their passage via VHF -- " a heads up, here we come, ready or not!"  call to all who are within range.  This year, while still carefully watching our chart and depth sounder, at least we could turn the steering wheel.....last year our palms were so sweaty it was difficult to hold the wheel!  We are more confident -- and that does NOT translate into over confident nor are we complacent!  Those two traits could get one into serious trouble on the water.....

Pontoon Bridge with new bridge being built to replace it
We also traveled through the last remaining swing bridge on a pontoon that floats the bridge back and forth - Sunset Beach Pontoon Bridge near Shallotte Inlet, at Mile Marker 338.  It looks as though this little quaint bridge will be no more by next year as a 65 foot mega bridge is being built right next to it.  Ah, progress comes at a price - while bridges such as this do slow one's progress a tiny bit, they are so charming and the bridge tenders so helpful -- they will be missed.

We arrived at about 4:00 ish, dropping the hook way up Thoroughfare Creek behind another trawler.  An uneventful day - which means a great day! This anchorage is one of my favorite - birds sing loudly, an owl or two hooting in the evening and the full moon & sky full of stars this evening was a plus!

Thursday, November 5, 2009
Pulled anchor just before 7:00 AM on a sunny, very cold morning with what I believe are wild pigs squealing on shore somewhere in the marsh and tree line area -- either that or there is a pig farm here which I seriously doubt!  Being a hiker and backpacker, a wild pig is NOT what I ever want to come across - they are meaner than mean and generally aggressive.  Good thing they don't have any inclination to swim to attack!
Cold Andy & this is the SOUTH

It is so cold this morning Andy put on his ski gloves so he could hold the metal steering wheel and I'm in my usual morning designer outfit of wool socks, fleece & wool bedroom slippers, fleece pants and a fleece shirt topped with a fleece jacket.  I'm the Southerner and it is too slow getting to warmer climates!  By afternoon, we've peeled to shorts and t-shirts and bare feet for me.  Go figure.......

Ah, I love cruising into the southern waters with the marshlands, trees, dolphin coming to play in our wakes on a fairly continual basis and the sun warming us through the bimini Isenglass windows.  It is so scenic & peaceful as one cruises the ICW past small fishing 'villages' with shrimping trawlers everywhere either at dock or viewed across the marsh as they ply their nets.  However, one cannot get mesmerized watching the view as there are so many little inlets coming in from the ocean side that GRAB your boat as you cruise by, pointing you in a direction you had not planned to take, forcing you to madly turn the wheel in the opposite direction to get back on track.
Cruise ship in Charleston Harbor

City Marina in Charleston
Whew!  Traversed into the very busy Charleston Harbor this afternoon, successfully navigating through confusing markers and rushing currents into Ashley Marina where we will stay for a month before heading further south.  Getting into and out of this Marina (or any marina in this harbor) is tricky, tough and scary.  We made it into our slip and settled in to play with grandchildren, RobertE and Riley, and daughter, Leslie, for the month.   A great respite to spend time with family and wander about our most favorite city, Charleston, with all its history and beauty.  We will drive to Jacksonville and Clearwater from here to visit Mom, sister and youngest daughter, Lindsay, baby Pickett and son in law, Walker.  Then, on to Jacksonville via Finally Fun to spend approx Dec. 10 thru Jan. 6...Plans are always subject to change with this lifestyle....we are hearing noises about some regulations from the State of FL that if you are in FL waters more than 90 days, you we will check that out and if the case, will stay here in SC the extra month, spending our $$$ here rather than FL.   FL seems to hate boaters; taking away the ability to anchor outside of many cities; tries to tax you for everything, including your boat, etc. etc.  Always looking for the dime --

The blog will be very sporadic while at dock here at Ashley Marina - if one of our friends reading this needs to reach us, use email: and you will get a prompt response.

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