One More Gale and 25 Miles to Go

The end is near. At least for now.

Yesterday we completed a relatively short hop from Belhaven to Broad Creek on the Neuse River. Along the way we passed the first (but certainly not the last) shrimp boat of the trip and a small Coast Guard station near the Hobucken Bridge.

Shrimp boat at R.E. Mayo Seafood
USCG Station Hobucken

After getting tossed around a bit in Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River we pushed as far up Broad Creek as our draft would allow and found a snug spot close to shore to wait out another gale.

Anchored close to shore. Decks cleared and everything tied down. Wood smoke and owls.
Better in here than out there.

The winds and rain should start any time now and persist through tomorrow. Hopefully by Monday morning nice weather will return and we’ll set off towards Beaufort, NC and the final destination of this leg of our trip: Bock Marine. With 25 nm to go we should arrive at the yard shortly after lunch.

While waiting for the storm I’ve made some changes to the other pages on this site. Comments and suggestions for further improvement are welcome.

Three days on the ICW

Miles 0 to 136: Norfolk, VA to Belhaven, NC

The origin of the ICW in Norfolk is about as urban and industrial as a place can be. Tall buildings, commercial activities of all sorts, trains, planes, heavy industry and shipbuilding. By the afternoon on the first day we left all of that behind.

I couldn’t tell what they were working on. But clearly it required cranes.

That is a really big crane. With a little crane on top.
There were several patrol boats around this guy so I was hesitant to take a photo. Probably shouldn’t have worried — the former USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN 635) was retired from service in 1989. She was used for many years as a training ship for nuclear engineers in South Carolina and was recently towed back to Norfolk.

On the first day we passed through 13 bridges (auto and rail) and one lock. The bridges were all different. About half of the bridges required some sort of movement (lifting or swinging) to allow a tall sailboat to pass through. Some bridges operate on a fixed schedule, others open on request. Railroad bridges generally remain open and passable until a train approaches.

Odd as it may seem, I don’t actually know the height of Andante’s mast. I’ve measured and figured in several different ways but am only really confident to +/- 1 foot. My best guess is that the tip of the VHF antenna that sticks up above the masthead is 61 feet above the waterline. Most fixed-height ICW bridges have 65′ clearance above mean high water so we should be fine — but this can vary a bit with wind and extreme tides. Bridge pilings generally have markers that show the current air draft and based on these I know we’ve successfully passed through bridges as low as 63.5′ on this trip. That’s low enough for me.

Lift bridge for cars, bascule bridge for trains.

Shortly after leaving the Norfolk area boats have to choose whether to follow the (straighter, deeper) Virginia Cut or detour into the winding, shallow, more wild Dismal Swamp Canal. I’d like to seem them both at some point — but Andante’s draft is not a good match for the Swamp route.

The turn to the Dismal Swamp Canal

Just a little further along the route the Great Bridge Lock was an interesting experience. Once an hour about 10 boats are loaded into the lock chamber and secured to the walls. Then the gates are closed and the water level allowed to rise — on this day the change was only about a foot. Then everyone filters out and loiters while waiting for the adjacent bridge to open.

Entering the Great Bridge lock
Secured to the wall and ready to go.
Loitering while waiting for the bridge to open. Most (but not all) of the helmspeople were skilled at controlling their vessels in tight quarters with wind and current. By the end of the day everyone had accumulated several hours of experience.
Out of the lock and through the Great Bridge bridge.
Clearly we need a boat sticker

Soon after leaving the tidy little town of Great Bridge we settled into a landscape that was far less manicured and far more monotonous. Swampy land, scraggly trees, and ever-present stumps and submerged logs along the banks. We tried to stay in the center of the channel all the time to avoid bumping anything. Even with GPS I would not want to transit these narrow channels at night — too many barely-visible obstacles to be avoided.

Partially-submerged stumps and logs along the banks of the canal

The first night we found a spot to anchor just outside the channel in a bend south of the Pungo Ferry Bridge about two miles north of the NC border. Later that evening I checked Maps to see what was nearby: Lots of nature, not many people.

The second day out we pressed on through northern North Carolina crossing Albemarle Sound (under sail) and the Alligator River. We spent the night in a small cove just north of the Alligator River – Pungo River canal, near the 100 (statute) mile mark on the ICW.

Mile marker 100 near the southern extent of the Alligator River

The Alligator River – Pungo River canal was apparently the final piece of dredging required to complete the 1090 mile Atlantic ICW. While it may be a feat of civil engineering, it is not a particularly exciting or photogenic passage. It is long, straight, and mostly featureless for 20+ miles until reaching the Pungo River.

The AR-PR Canal. Reminded me of those never-ending long hallways in bad dreams.

Tonight we are anchored in Belhaven, NC near ICW mile marker 136. Its been a cold and wet and windy day and more stormy weather is anticipated. As always, tomorrow’s movement will depend on tomorrow’s weather. If it looks messy (and cold rain is forecast) we may just stay here for a while.

A faithful reader of this blog asked about how I stay warm. Andante does not have a heater. Perhaps a diesel heater will be a project for next year. For now I have warm clothes, a sleeping bag, and a limited supply of refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough and cinnamon rolls. The oven is a pretty effective cabin heater so I’ve taken to baking in the evenings to make the cabin more comfortable. The engine’s residual heat also helps. I don’t yet have a solution to cold mornings other than coffee and getting active as quickly as possible.

My solution to heating the cabin. Smells good too

Long sail to Mile Zero

It would be a shame to waste good wind. –Paula

I’ve never made hay, even on a sunny day. But I get it — when the conditions are just right you shouldn’t waste the opportunity to make meaningful progress.

On Sunday morning we set out from Galesville with a plan to sail from the West River to Solomons Island at the mouth of the Patuxent River. But once we reached the open Chesapeake the conditions were simply too perfect: A steady 15 kts from the NW, 1-2 ft seas, sunshine and temperature in the 60’s. We screamed along at better than 7 kts for several hours on a 3-sail broad reach arriving at the turn to Solomons just after lunchtime.

Andante was in great shape having had three days of maintenance. I was well-rested and well-fed. The weather forecast looked solid. So we decided to keep going. And going. All day long. All night long. All the way to Norfolk.

It was glorious.

Screaming 3-sail reach down the Chesapeake Bay

From start to finish we covered 136 nm over about 28 hours. The night sailing was invigorating with clear skies and lots of stars. The wind slackened in late evening and our speed dropped below 5 kts. But that was ok: There was no point getting there in the middle of the night as I did not want to navigate the busy shipping channels of Hampton Roads in the dark. We still arrived too early and drifted for a while in the anchorage just inside the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel waiting for sunrise.

Sunrise over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel from just east of the Thimble Shoals Light. After drifting for a couple of hours we started moving towards our final destination at first light.

The Norfolk/Hampton/Newport News area is a busy place with loads of commercial and military traffic. Some of it very large.

At 853 ft this was the largest tanker we’ve encountered so far. We passed by each other directly above the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (I-64). Neither of us needed to worry about our draft — the roadway is apparently 108 ft below sea level.
Not the best image quality but I believe the number on the tower is 75 — which the Google says is the Nimitz-class Harry S Truman.
In my Navy I wouldn’t keep the helpy ships right next to the hurty ships. But I guess we need both. That’s the Comfort, one of the hospital ships mobilized early in the pandemic.
And of course, coal. As long as people keep buying it by the shipload we’ll have to deal with the consequences to both the climate system and the Senate.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) officially begins at red buoy 36 on the Elizabeth River in downtown Norfolk. For whatever reason the Army Corps of Engineers designated that particular spot as Mile Zero on the 1000+ mile ICW. That was our general destination — but we actually ended up anchored right next to it.

We dropped the hook in Hospital Cove, adjacent to a gigantic Naval hospital and right across the river from the NOAA lab, the maritime museum and the waterfront hotels of downtown Norfolk. And off in the distance we got the first glimpse of the busy shipbuilding industry that we will sail through tomorrow.

Mile Zero on the Atlantic ICW: Red 36 on the Elizabeth River, Norfolk.
Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, formerly Norfolk Naval Hospital, is the Navy’s oldest. This is just one corner of the giant campus.
NOAA lab directly across the river from our anchorage
Tomorrow we head further up the river right through the heart of the naval shipbuilding industry. I’m not sure why these ships are wrapped in plastic. Perhaps they are brand new and still in their bubble wrap. Or maybe they are a Christmas gift.

I spent the rest of Monday reviewing navigation tips for the ICW and researching potential overnight stops. And then I got some sleep.

Time out

Enough with weather days. Time for a family day.

Andante rode out yet another gale, this time in Galesville on the West River. Lots of rain and wind didn’t bother her a bit. And the down day gave me time to change the oil and filter and transmission fluid. And do some laundry. Good times.

The following day was extra nice. Not only was it sunny and a bit warmer but my mom and sister and niece all visited Andante for the first time. I reconstituted Dinghy for the day to ferry people and the groceries that my sister brought (yay!). It was definitely a physical challenge for my mom but she did great. And it was actually a good thing we were on a mooring as the docks at the marina were underwater.

Mom found some creative and athletic new ways to get in and out of Dinghy. And she completely rocked the steep ladders f0r getting aboard and below on Andante. Good job mom!

After spending some time together aboard we all went out to lunch and ate oysters and mussels and rockfish and squid and a giant soft pretzel covered with crab dip. Not a bad day at all.

We enjoyed both the view and the food at Stan & Joes Riverside in Galesville.
Glassy calm after the storm. I took advantage of the conditions to wash Andante’s topsides and remove all the nasty brown scum that has been accumulating.
That’s a little better. Mom did great climbing up the little fender-ladder that we use for transferring people from Dinghy to Andante.

Sassafras Gale to Galesville

Secluded spots. Strong blows.

From Chesapeake City we travelled the last few miles of the C&D canal and then south into the Chesapeake Bay and the Sassafras River on Maryland’s eastern shore. We found a nice anchorage in a river bend protected from the strong northeast and northwest winds, set out almost 250 feet of chain, and hunkered down for a big blow. The Coast Guard was repeating gale warnings on the VHF every 20 minutes or so and advising small boats to take shelter. When it blew, it blew hard for about 36 hours with wind exceeding 42 kts. Andante rode it out well while I read a book, reorganized some lockers and drank a lot of coffee.

Editorial note: While I can write and sort photos anywhere, the software I’m using for this blog (WordPress) requires an internet connection to actually construct and publish the posts. The Sassafras River is remote with limited cell service and it wasn’t possible to upload photos and such. There will be days like that. Thanks for your patience.

We anchored as close to shore behind these hills as we could to get some protection from the wind. The water was pretty shallow outside the main river channel so we couldn’t get as close as I’d hoped.
Adjacent to our anchorage was a fish weir. This is a contraption made of sticks and nets formed into a maze that traps fish. It was marked with flashing yellow lights at night. This was a bit disconcerting as with this much wind I was on high alert for any evidence we were dragging our anchor. And its hard to judge distances at night from a flashing light.
Andante’s anchoring setup. We carry almost 300′ of 3/8″ BBB chain. Once the proper scope of chain is deployed for the water depth (3:1 for lunch, 5:1 for a nice sheltered anchorage, 10:1 or more for a storm like this) I attach a nylon snubber line with a rolling hitch and let out another 20-30 feet. The snubber acts as a shock absorber which makes a choppy anchorage more comfortable and reduces shock loading on the anchor. The almost-ancient Maxwell-Nilsson windlass is used to retrieve the anchor chain. Deployment is by manual free-fall. The folding handles on top of the windlass control a friction brake (like the drag on a fishing reel) to allow a slow and controlled deployment.
After the storm passed the wind really died and we enjoyed a nice quiet sunset. Quiet except for the crazy honking of hundreds of Canada Geese heading south. The boat in the photo is “The Nors” a catamaran we conversed with by radio during our trip through the shoals off of Cape May. They told me their plan was to follow us (and our 6.5′ draft) through the shoals knowing that then they’d be just fine. Glad to be of service.
There is no reason for this picture to be here. Just a cool angle I guess. I have been wondering if I need to tweak the starboard lowers just a little. Can’t tell if that’s really a slight bend at the lower spreaders or an optical illusion.

From the Sassafras we continued south Thursday towards the Bay Bridges and Annapolis. Yet another big storm was anticipated for Friday. We made good time and passed under the bridges shortly after noon.

The two spans connecting Maryland’s western and eastern shores just north of Annapolis. The only other bridge across the bay is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel 130 miles to the south in Norfolk/Hampton Roads where the Chesapeake opens to the Atlantic.

Although I had been looking forward to spending an evening in Annapolis I was NOT looking forward to being forced to sail in strong winds and driving rain the next day. We’re expecting some family to visit us at a marina about two hours south on Saturday. Getting stuck in Annapolis was not really an option. So we pressed on for another few hours to the little town of Galesville on the West River – where my parents had kept our family’s boats for many years when I lived in the area.

Thomas Point Light near the mouth of the South River is probably the most photographed object in the Chesapeake Bay. We passed close enough to get a few nice pictures of our own.
We fueled and watered before heading to our mooring. Hoping to head out again early Sunday when fuel docks will be closed.

We had just secured ourselves on our mooring when the wind started to pick up. Thursday night it was windy and a little rainy. Its now Friday evening as I’m writing this and its still blowing 25-35 kts and raining extremely hard. And last I checked the docks at the marina were all underwater — glad I opted for a mooring. Since there was nothing to be done outside I spent today changing the engine oil, oil filter and transmission fluid. Its easiest to do these sorts of jobs at a location (like this marina) that accepts waste oil. And has a laundry facility for afterwards. I guess that’s a job for tomorrow morning.

While the winds were not gale force this time, we got some good hard rain in Galesville on the West River

Radar suggests the rain will taper off soon and the forecast is for pleasant conditions tomorrow for family visits. While the laundry is sloshing I’ll give the boat a quick clean to make it presentable for guests. At least I don’t need to worry about rinsing the salt off the deck…