Sunday, April 14, 2019

Crewing to Annapolis: Morehead City to Annapolis on the ICW

I'm going to tell most of this story with photos. But first a little background.

Morehead City has been my preferred stop on the route north and south since I started making the trips from Sarasota to Hingham and back (circa 2014 to 2018). Why you ask? The answer is simple. Morehead City is the last navigable port before Cape Hatteras and Virginia Beach, which as readers of this blog know is the most dangerous stretch of water on the eastern seaboard.

The stretch between Morehead City / Beaufort NC and Virginia Beach VA, which sits at the mouth of the Chesapeake, is 180 NM of open sea with no usable ports or harbors of refuge. Adding to the potential risk is the fact that you have to go out over 10 NM from shore to get around the impassable Diamond Shoal. However, due to Pamlico Sound and the thin barrier islands you are, in fact, closer to 30 NMs offshore as you round the shoal at R2.

The weather forecast as of Monday Morning (April 1) for this stretch was dismal with a prediction of winds out of the northeast of 25 to 30 knots with gust as high as 55 knots. Seas of 5 to 8 foot  building to 9 to 14 feet were forecasted.

Thunderstorms approaching from the southwest

Self explanatory and DISMAL

DISMAL through Wednesday

Orange represents big seas - more DISMAL
Easy decision? Well not quite. The ICW route also comes with its own set of challenges. This includes:
  • The Alligator River Swing Bridge, which will not open if winds exceed 30 knots.
  • Middle Ground, just north of the Alligator River Bridge which is tricky due to shallow water.
  • Currituck Sound, just north of Coinjock, which is even more tricky due to a narrow channel (which maybe as narrow as 100 feet in places) and the fact that high winds from the east push the water out of the channel.
  • The bridges approaching Norfolk which have restricted openings along with the lock at Great Bridge.
Refueling at Morehead City (1038 gallons) was completed on two hours and 14 minutes at 10:14 AM (the record is 1 hour and 45 minutes).  Having completed fueling we headed north on the ICW bound for Norfolk.

We reached Pamlico Sound at 12:40 PM, The canal connecting Pamlico Sound to the Alligator River at 3:04 PM and the Alligator River / Pungo Canal at the Wilkerson Bridge at 6:36 PM.

A large sunken vessel to starboard

Another sunken vessel

We pass a tow heading south

Approaching the Alligator River / Pungo River Canal at 5:00 PM on Monday
Decision Time. The question as we approached the Alligator River Pungo River Canal (above) at 6:36 PM was whether to anchor before the canal or run the canal at night. Sunset on Monday evening was scheduled for approximately 7:29 PM or about 1 hour after we entered the canal, which runs for 19 nautical miles. At 8.4 knots, our optimum cruise speed, the trip through the canal would take over two hours and require us to run in the dark for at least 1 hour. Additionally, once we exited the canal we would need to find a safe anchorage.

We approach the Wilkerson Bridge at 6:36 PM

Nautical twilight approaches at 7:46 PM
Screens: Left: Chartplotter, Center: Night vision, Right: Depth
The decision to run the canal was easy due to our night vision. The photos above show the view of the Garmin screens before and as nautical twilight approaches (at approximately 7:46 PM). Interestingly, the last time I traversed the canal was in 2014 when we brought the 63 north for the first time. Since we did not have night vision at that time, the canal presented an obstacle and required us to stop in the Belhaven area.

We exited the canal at 8:57 PM in pitch blackness and anchored in safe water just north east of the canal. We had covered 89 NM since departing Morehead City and out total distance covered was 1045 NM. Average speed today was 8.1 knots.

On Tuesday morning at 6:41 AM we hauled anchor and proceeded north reaching the Alligator River Swing Bridge at 8:29. Owing to the early morning, winds were below 30 knots (actually northeast at 22 kts). Another obstacle cleared.

Approaching the Alligator River Swing Bridge

The bridge is opening
We breezed through Middle Ground. Notice the shallow water just to the northeast of R8A. Miss that mark and you run aground.

Middle Ground. Notice the AIS return of a boat behind us (a tug)
Then, at noon we passed Coinjock (a great spot for cheap fuel) and 16 minutes later entered Currituck Sound. Our timing could not have been worse. Winds were east northeast at 30 knots. Additionally, we had moderate rain showers and reduced visibility (1/2 mile in fog).

Rain showers overtaking us from the southwest

Screens: Left: Approaching Coinjock. Center: Showers overtake us, Right: 6 feet of water under the boat

Passing the Coinjock Marina with gas dock and restaurant
Some stats as we approach Currituck Sound.

Left Screen: Avg speed is 8.3 NMPH, Distance traveled 49.3 NM since hauling anchor
Total distance is 1095.7 NMs
Right Screen: Winds are ENE as 30.6 knots, the temperature is 46.7 degrees and the barometric pressure is falling
We enter the narrow channel in Currituck Sound
Notice the shallow water and spoil area to starboard
We overtake the tug Justin in the narrow channel
We cleared Currituck Sound at 2:15 PM. Now, just south of Norfolk we encountered a set of bridges and locks that are guaranteed to slow you down. We missed the 3:00 PM opening of the North Landing Bridge and had to wait until 3:30 PM. Then at 4:00 PM we narrowly made the Centerville Turnpike Bridge. Had we been late, we would have had to wait until 6;00 PM for the next opening.

The next "obstacle" (or shall I say obstacles) was the Great Bridge Bridge (funny name) and The Great Bridge Lock. We reached the bridge at 4:32 PM. It opens on the HOUR - real convenient. We cleared the bridge at 5:00 PM and immediately entered the lock, which we cleared at 5:32 PM. IMPORTANT: The lock closes at 7:00 PM. Had we missed the 4:00 PM opening of the Centerville Turnpike Bridge we would have missed the Great Bridge Bridge / Lock and would have had to wait until the following morning.

Great Bridge Bridge opening. We are following two tugs.

Approaching the Great Bridge Lock.
We reached outskirts of Norfolk at 6:00 PM. We had traveled 1130 NMs at that point.  At 8:25 PM we finally entered the Chesapeake Bay. Now in open water we experienced seas around 4 to 6 feet

Norfolk area. notice the shipyard to starboard

Passing downtown norfolk

Naval ships

Deep low pressure to the southeast of the entrance to the Chesapeake

Sea conditions of the coast. Seas of 10 feet and greater.
The turbulence subsided as we cruised up the Chesapeake bound for Annapolis, which we reached at 1:30 PM on Wednesday afternoon. We had traveled 225 NM since hauling anchor on Monday morning and, surprisingly, had averaged 7.3 knots (despite all the obstacles). The total distance since Sarasota was 1,271 nautical miles.

Guided Discovery on the T-dock at Chesapeake Harbor marina



View of Guided Discovery as we leave the marina
Wayne's wife, Catherine, joined us and together with the "crew" we cleaned up the boat, inside and out.

Side story: We did have a bit of a challenge securing the boat. It turns out that the T-dock did not have cleats so we had to secure the boat to the pilings. This turned out to be a challenge due to the wind that was pushing the boat off the dock. Initially, we had set up the lines with the loops on the boat's cleats. Thus the bitter end needed to be secured to the piling. This proved to be difficult due to the winds. No big deal. We secured the loop to the piling and controlled the tension with the bitter end on the boat's cleat. This required the cooperation of the dock hands and took a bit of time.

I spent the evening with Wayne and Catherine at their home.

Another Side Story: Catherine and I played a game of scrabble at the end of the evening. I lost. That said, I had the worst set of tiles I've ever had in any game. On the other hand, Catherine was a strong player. Note: to date I have played 4,920 games and have only lost 203 for a 95% win ratio.

Written by Les







1 comment:

  1. You sold the boat ?? Are you buying another one or going back to a land base?
    It's been an enjoyable and informative blog.

    ReplyDelete