|Norfolk Yacht and Country Club, March 1, 2018
Really, we must be crazy. Who in their right minds leaves Norfolk, Virginia, in the winter time to transit south on the east coast of the United States? Well, you know…we had wanted to be home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, New Years, Birthdays and then still have time to cruise the Caribbean before hurricane season. Who says we can’t have it all?
After arriving back to Rutea’s holiday home in Cobb’s Marina next to Little Creek Navy Sub Base in early February, the first thing we needed to make sure was working was the heater! Icy winds blew in off of the Chesapeake as we readied Rutea to launch back into the water. Living on the hard is hard, but living on the hard in the winter time is even harder! Remember, you can’t use the head on the hard and in freezing temps the climb down the 14 foot ladder and trek across the boat yard in the middle of the night is a long and arduous journey!
Of course we were watching the weather the entire launch process and knowing that March comes in like a lion we were prepared to watch some heavy weather pass by. What we didn’t know is that this year March not only came in like a lion, it would go out like a lion as well. We were ready to go, tired of being in a marina, tired of provisioning, tired of the ‘to do’ list, even more tired of the ‘to buy’ list so we had the bright idea of departing even in not-so-perfect weather, avoid Cape Hatteras and the Atlantic and head south down the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW).
As we were anchoring in the Lafayette River outside of the Norfolk Yacht Club our first night out, we heard the Coast Guard calling freighters one by one, name by name. We thought that very unusual as we had never heard the likes of that before so we decided to ‘lurk’ or follow one of the conversations on the VHF radio. We were shocked to hear the Coast Guard telling each freighter one by one, that they were ORDERED by the Commandant of the Coast Guard to deploy storm-rated anchoring tackle as there was a major storm system approaching. Now we knew that there was heavy weather approaching and we were in a well protected anchorage but we looked at each other and asked, ‘do we have storm-rated anchoring equipment’? Neal decided to call the Dock Master at the Yacht Club and render his opinion about the holding in the anchorage and after talking with him, he told us he would prefer it if we came into the yacht club until the storm passed and he would offer us a port of refuge for hazardous conditions. Bless his heart! It turned out to be a near perfect storm, a real nor’easter which turned into a weather bomb for D.C., New York, Boston and the New England coast. Rutea took waves over the bow at the dock and after two days of winds up to 40 knots was completely encrusted in salt.
|Great Lock on the Virginia Cut
Leaving a day or two after the blow and heading out past mile marker 1 on the ICW what we realized after reading about it in the guide, is what ‘wind-driven tides, depths and currents’ means. The ICW is notoriously shallow. It is perfect for power boats, shallow draft sail boats and kayaks! The center of the waterway is supposed to be dredged to ten feet but there is constant silting and the Army Core of Engineers has run out of money to continue to dredge every shoaling spot. On top of this, that infamous nor’easter blew, literally blew water OUT of some places in the water way and INTO other places. For example, the locks on the Dismal Swamp route (inviting, eh?) were closed because of water levels too high. On our Virginia Cut route the lock was only operating at low tide or until enough water ebbed out and when we arrived and called to the Locktender, he told us to just anchor somewhere because he didn’t know how long it would be (Hours? Days?) until the lock would reopen. Upon transiting the Great Lock, the Locktender told us that the drop was five feet higher than usual and he didn’t know how long it would take to get back to normal.
Surprise, surprise! On the south side of the lock wind had blown water further south and all depths were more shallow than charted. That meant hand steering and watching every ripple in the water, wondering if it was a shoal, a stump, or a rock. It also meant it was super challenging to find a place to anchor our 6.5 ft. draft boat that was not in the center of the waterway which you cannot anchor in even at night because there is tug boat traffic. Next challenge- Currituck Sound. Sounds are wide open, shallow, swampy areas. Beautiful, remote and wild even in the best of conditions a boater does not want to wander outside of the water way or even pass another large vessel going the opposite direction for fear of running aground in very soft, sticky mud. But who knew that a nor’easter could literally blow water out of the Sound and make it even more shallow and that the water could take months to return or at least not return before a southerly wind would push it back in!
|Frost on the Cap Rail
Miles of meandering waterways took days and days to transit. Of course having to time lift bridges, swing bridges, and bascule bridges made the going even slower and by the time we got to Georgetown, South Carolina, we had covered 410 miles and it had taken us eighteen days. Okay, so that’s 410 miles, 3 lift bridges, 7 bascule bridges, 9 swing bridges, 1 lock, 1 hard grounding (we don’t want to talk about it) and 28 fixed bridges (many of which are only 65 feet tall and Rutea’s mast is 62 ft.). All in all, it was a fantastic but intense experience. An experience we are glad we had but probably would not want to repeat- at least in a deep draft boat. The surprising part is that inland waterway traveling could be as challenging as any of the other sailing we have done! The interesting part is that we still learn something new every day. Fortunately, even after 18 days in the ICW, Rutea does not wear the brown beard on the bow and water line that stains most ICW boats due to the muddy water but she earned an even better stripe which was once again getting us safely to another port in another new (to us) part of the world, through unknown waters.
|Georgetown, South Carolina