'Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness' - Mark Twain
Logbook: Ohio & Virginia to North Carolina
via the Intracoastal Waterway
After our travels in Canada in August, we flew to Cincinnati for a visit with Jan's family. From Ohio, we returned to Slip Away in Gloucester Point, Virginia, and spent several weeks working on boat projects. By early November, it was getting cold in Southern Virginia, so it was time for us to start heading south. We traveled the Intracoastal Waterway (the "scenic route") through Southern Virginia and North Carolina before heading offshore.
Cincinnati (8/30-9/14). We arrived in Cincinnati on a Thursday evening, and on Friday, we had just enough time to do laundry, pack the car and head down to the Schwab family river camp in Kentucky for the annual Labor Day weekend party. The weekend included the usual - visiting with friends, beer drinking, lots of good food (including cooking brats over the campfire late at night), games of "corn hole" (tossing corn filled beanbags at target boards and trying to land in the hole), water-skiing and swimming. We did a lot more swimming this year because it was hot, and a dip in the river was a great way to cool down. Cincinnati had a very hot and dry summer and was in the midst of its worst drought on record - all the lawns were brown and dried out and crunched when walked on, and the trees were not their usual vibrant green. Fortunately, there was rain upriver, so the river level was normal.
An annual Labor Day event in Cincinnati is their Riverfest celebration with a huge fireworks show. Thirty years ago, one of the local radio stations (WEBN) had a small fireworks show on a weeknight in early September to celebrate their tenth birthday. It was a big hit, and they did it the next year too. Over the next few years, it grew into a huge annual celebration, with parties on both sides of the river. 2007 was WEBN's 40th birthday, so this was a special year. Our friend Susie Coan has a houseboat (named Majority Rules), which she keeps in a marina close to downtown, and she invited us to join her on it to watch the fireworks. In order to get a good anchoring spot, we needed to get out on the river early, so on Sunday morning, we drove up to Susie's boat, and at 10 a.m., we left the dock and motored out on to the river. We found the designated anchorage, dropped our hook, and as the crowd grew, everyone rafted up to one another, and the party began. We've never seen such a huge raft-up of boats. The crowd was well behaved - with just a touch of mischief involving the revealing of body parts in order to get the free t-shirts that the radio-sponsored boat tossed out as they motored through the anchorage. That evening, the fireworks show, accompanied to music broadcast on WEBN, was spectacular, and we had a front row seat. Awesome!! After the show and mooring Majority Rules safely back in her slip, we returned to our river camp for the remainder of the weekend.
With our "vacation" behind us, it was time to focus on boat projects that we wanted and/or needed to complete before heading to the Caribbean for the winter. Over the next eight weeks, we crossed off some big items on our "to-do" list - we replaced all of our port and starboard stanchions, repaired the stanchion bases on the stern rail and ran new lifelines; painted the deck and varnished the cap rail; took care of several maintenance items on the generator; reinstalled our repaired wind generator twice (after putting it up the first time, we found a new problem with it, so we had to take it down, fix it ourselves, and put it up again); sent our mizzen sail off to Sailcare for cleaning and restoration and had a new mainsail built (by Hood Sailmakers); installed Sailcare's sail cradles on the main and mizzen and sewed new sailcovers for both of those sails; installed a new inverter; and several other miscellaneous jobs.
We worked hard on Slip Away, but we made time to spend with our friends Jay & Danica from Alkahest with whom we'd cruised in the Pacific and Caribbean and who were now residents of the York River Yacht Haven, the marina where we were moored. Jay had taken a job as manager of their boat yard, and he invited us to a couple of their employee parties, so we felt like part of the family. Also, our friends Debbie & Fred on Early Out showed up here for a few days. We met Debbie & Fred several years ago through a mutual friend in Cincinnati, and although we'd gotten together on a number of occasions, this was the first time we were together on our boats in the same location. It was fun to finally be "cruising" together, even though we didn't go anywhere.
In early October, we also took a long weekend and drove up to Maryland for a visit with Rich's sister Kathleen and family and took in the Annapolis Boat Show. We attended several seminars at the boat show and somehow managed to escape without spending too much money.
In early November, the York River Yacht Haven held a customer appreciation day with a big barbeque and party. We thought for sure we'd be gone by then, but we weren't. We didn't want to miss out on a free meal! Up to that point, the Fall weather had been beautiful and mild in Southern Virginia; however, that same weekend, Hurricane Noel passed by us (fortunately well off-shore), but after that the weather got cold with temps dipping down into the 30's. A few days later, we finally slipped the dock lines and started heading south.
Gloucester Point, VA, to Oriental, NC (11/8-11, 200 miles). On the morning of our departure from Gloucester Point, Danica from Alkahest came by and helped us cast off our dock lines. We'd spent a lot of time with Danica and Jay over the past few months, so we were sad to say good-bye, but we knew we'd see them again. It was very cold that morning, and Rich slipped on the deck as we were readying to leave. At first he thought he didn't put enough non-skid in the deck paint, but then he realized he slipped on the frost on our deck. It was definitely time to go!!
When we left Gloucester Point, our plan was to travel the ICW through southern Virginia and North Carolina, before making a couple of offshore passages to get down to Florida, which would be our departure point for the Caribbean. The ICW is a series of rivers, bays and lagoons connected by man-made canals to form a protected waterway, and it runs from Norfolk to Miami (over 1000 miles). Traveling the ICW would be a motor trip and take more time than going offshore, but we'd heard that the scenery was worth the time, so we wanted to check it out. Our average motoring speed is 6 to 6.5 knots, and we planned to stop and anchor each night. Since it was November and days were short, we anticipated making at most 50 miles each day. There are a number of good anchorages along the ICW, which is a good thing because traveling the ICW at night can be hazardous. It is narrow and shallow in many places, so it would be easy to run aground, and there are lots of crab-trap obstacles along the way, which could get snagged by our propeller (something that can happen easily enough in daylight.)
From Hospital Point, we would be traveling south through Norfolk and Portsmouth, and we needed to pass under a series of bridges. A couple of them would not open during rush hour, so we decided to get a very early start the next morning to get through them before they closed down at 6:30 a.m. We weighed anchor at 5:15 the next morning. It was still dark, but between the lights of the city and our chartplottter, we were able to get underway with no problem, and we made it through the restricted bridges before their rush hour closures. This was an interesting day with six bridge openings - not just bascule bridges, which we had previously seen in Florida, but also swing and lift bridges. We also transited the Great Bridge Lock, as we traveled the "Virginia Cut" section of the ICW. Just after the Great Bridge Lock, boat traffic started to increase - we definitely were not the last cruising boat heading south. Late in the morning, we passed the "Spirit of Nantucket", a small cruise ship that ran aground in the North Landing River. We later learned that they had hit something and were taking on water, and the captain ran it aground on purpose. All the passengers were evacuated safely. Shortly after we passed the grounded cruise ship, we crossed the border from Virginia into North Carolina.
Our plan for this day was to travel as long as we had daylight, and we expected to stop at one of the anchorages prior to reaching Albemarle Sound. Albemarle Sound is 14 miles across, and we were forewarned that it could be rough water in high winds. Our winds had been light all day, but higher winds were forecast for the next morning, which could make the crossing unpleasant. We were making better distance than expected and decided to increase our speed a bit so we could get across the Albemarle Sound around sunset. The "Little Alligator River" anchorage was just on the other side of the sound, and on the chart it looked wide open and easy to enter, so we felt we could safely anchor there without good light. We reached the opposite side of Albemarle Sound about a half hour after sunset. We were rapidly losing light as we made our way into the anchorage, but Rich stood on the bow with a flashlight as Jan drove the boat, and we safely dodged a couple of crab-traps. We set our anchor at about 6 p.m. It had been a long day - we traveled 72 nm in just under 13 hours - but the anchorage was calm and quiet, and we slept soundly.
The next morning, we got underway at a more reasonable hour (8:30 a.m.). After passing through the Alligator River Swing Bridge, we traveled down the river to the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal. The Alligator River was fairly wide, but as we entered the canal, it became very narrow. The canal is about 20 miles long, and just before we entered it, a barge exited from it. Given the width of this canal, we were really glad our paths did not cross in the middle of it! The winds had started to pick up just before we entered the canal, but this was a very protected body of water. Although we had to pay close attention and keep to the middle of the channel, we felt this was one of the prettiest spots along the ICW. Most of the previous scenery was swamp lowlands, and while we enjoyed it, the weather had been cold and gray, so it wasn't as pretty as it might have been with sun and blue skies. After 8 hours underway covering 49 nautical miles (a more reasonable travel day than the previous one), we anchored at Pungo Creek and had another calm and quiet night. We love the anchorages along the ICW - they are so peaceful.
Oriental, North Carolina (11/11-20). When we arrived in Oriental, we planned to stop for a few days, and our reasons for doing so were two-fold. First, our guidebook described it as an interesting town and worthwhile to visit. Second, Slip Away had a couple of issues that needed attention. As we motored along the ICW, when we ran the engine at higher speeds, we heard an awful clanking noise coming from the stern tube through which the propeller shaft passes. We were concerned that our new engine was out of alignment. Also at higher speeds, the stern of the boat squatted down in the water, and we had a leak coming in from the rudder post. Although it wasn't a lot of water, the first rule of boating is to keep the water on the outside, so we wanted to get that fixed. Oriental is considered the "Sailing Capital of North Carolina", and it has a couple of boatyards with excellent reputations, so we felt this was a good place to take care of these issues.
The folks at the SailCraft Boatyard were not only doing an efficient job on the repairs to Slip Away, but they were also a very nice group of people, and we were enjoying getting to know them. The owner Alan had gone on vacation, but he left a young guy named Phil in charge, and we were very impressed with him, as well as the others who worked on Slip Away. They fabricated a new gasket for the rudder post to stop the leak, re-aligned the engine, balanced the prop and installed a new prop shaft because our old one showed signs of wear and was possibly slightly bowed. Since Slip Away was out of the water, we also put an extra coat of bottom paint on the keel and rudder.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we were scheduled to go back in the water first thing in the morning. We were eager to get on our way because we were hoping to get to Wrightsville Beach, NC, to spend Thanksgiving with Jan's cousin Kathy. Jan walked over to the office to make sure everything was on schedule, but as she walked in the door, she received some unbelievable news. That morning, Phil was killed in an accident on his way to work. It was a foggy morning, he was on a motorcycle, and a car pulled out in front of him. He was 33 years old with a wife and two young daughters. Understandably, the folks in the boatyard were devastated, and we were in shock too because we had really come to like and respect Phil during our time here. We assured the boatyard that our schedule was unimportant, but they insisted they would still get us on our way. Slip Away was put back in the water in the late morning, and we pulled away from their dock shortly after noon. As we motored across the Neuse River, we no longer had the clanking noise in the stern tube. The rudder post was leaking less, but it was still leaking, so it needed additional attention. We called SailCraft on the radio and reluctantly turned around and went back. They made another new gasket for the rudder post and sent us on our way again a few hours later. This time, as we motored away, the rudder post stayed dry. We were happy that this repair worked, but the problem with our rudder post seemed so insignificant given the events of this day.
Oriental to Wrightsville Beach, NC (11/20-22, 95 miles). Since we got a late start leaving Oriental, we only traveled seven miles that day before stopping to anchor at Cedar Creek for the night. The next morning, we weighed anchor early and had some dolphins swimming along with us shortly after leaving the anchorage. We love seeing dolphins! Later in the morning, we passed through Beaufort, North Carolina, and saw some beautiful homes along the ICW. We traveled 50 nm to the Mile Hammock Anchorage, which is a spacious basin dredged out by the military at Camp Le Jeune, and we dropped our anchor for the night. The next day was Thanksgiving, and we still had 38 miles to Wrightsville Beach, so we were going to miss Thanksgiving dinner with Jan's cousin, but we would see her the day after.
Our arrival in Wrightsville Beach was one we'd rather forget. We read in our cruising guide that Wrightsville Beach was a great stop with an excellent anchorage. We checked the charts and looked at the narrow "Motts Channel" leading into the anchorage. We read that the depth in "Motts Channel" is 5½ feet at low tide but did not anticipate a problem because we only draw 5 feet. Further north along the ICW, there was very little tidal range, but we were getting into an area where tides were becoming more significant, and we didn't pay close enough attention to that. We arrived on a very low tide and as we turned the corner into the very narrow entrance of Motts Channel, we went aground. S&%$!! Fortunately, the tide was rising, but unfortunately, Slip Away was pointed toward and very close to a large power boat tied to a dock. We tried backing off, but Slip Away wasn't budging. We immediately radioed TowBoat U.S. (like AAA on the water - after our engine problems earlier in the year, we signed up for their "unlimited" towing package). TowBoat U.S. assured us they would be on the scene in about 20 minutes. While we were waiting for TowBoat U.S., we got a call on the radio from a local guy with some advice. The tide was rising, so he suggested that we try to back off again. We tried again and finally we got free. We were thrilled! They guy on the radio then told us there is a sandbar across the entrance to the channel and that we were too close to the red (port side) marker. He told us to try entering the channel again, but to stay close to the green (starboard side) marker. We did as he suggested, and we ran aground again. When he saw us run aground the second time, he said "Oh - sorry - I guess the tide is really low today." This time we were really hard aground and the wind was pushing us toward the shore, so pinning us on to the shoal (but at least we were further away from the large power boat at the dock).
When we left Wrightsville Beach, we continued about 20 miles further down the ICW to the Cape Fear Inlet. From there, we left the ICW behind and went offshore for an overnight passage to Charleston, South Carolina.