North Carolina to Annapolis via the ICW

Northbound AICW

October 12, 2019:

As we pulled away from the boatyard dock we wanted to open the champagne, have a party and just enjoy the beautiful sunny weather as we made our way out of the Bay River and up the ICW via Goose Creek. But the work was not over.

We were on our way north and only had 4 days and 292.64 nm to go before people started to land in Annapolis for Jon’s birthday. We were told by our friends of  M/V Sea Life that when traveling the AICW what takes an hour by car takes a day by boat.  So the 6 hour drive from NC to Annapolis would take approximately 6 days via the AICW. We are definitely pushing the limit here. 

With the help from our fellow boatyard friends we pushed off the dock at 10:30 am and waved good bye to friends who had become family, yet we were to happy to be out of there!

 We were heading towards the opening of the Alligator River Cut on the Pungo River roughly 40nm north. Debbie, Jon and I enjoyed the sunny warm calm water as we took turns steering through the winding markers, making sure we did not miss the next one and end up aground like so many boaters do. Our mission was to haul ass up the ICW making a minimum of 60nm a day without ever going around. 

While Debbie and I navigated Jon kept busy working on getting Prism ready to sail. At this point we pretty much piled everything on and into Prism as we HAD to start making northern progress. We have no sails up, ( not even really sure if our brand new sails will even fit!) the auto pilot is not hooked up, no pressure water, no hot water, we have piles of random bits and pieces everywhere and were constantly blowing apart the boat to simply put one thing away. 

We kept a 6.5 knt average speed and made it to our anchorage at the mouth of the cut before night fall and anchored just outside the ICW near Green “23”. After sharing a wonderful meal we all hit the hay knowing we needed to be up and underway at first light to make the next 60nm to North River.

Follow us on

Alligator River- Pungo River Canal

Well so much for moving at first light…. we were up and moving by 7:30am, only an hour late, oops. It was a beautiful morning and the entrance to the canal looked wide open, calm and welcoming. We had been told that the 20nm cut is boring and narrow at some points. But it was our first time, so the three of us were quite entertained and enjoyed the mellow motor through the “canal”. Although we kept a sharp eye out we did not see any black bears, but we did see some birds, turkeys and dears.

Alligator River and the Albemarle Sound

The winding path up the Alligator River was very smooth, we paid super close attention to the markers as we had heard this is one of the more common spots to run aground.  As we approached the Alligator Swing Bridge we hailed VHF CH13 to ask for an opening. If the wind is blowing over 30knts this bridge will no open, and a few months ago apparently it was down for a few weeks causing a bottle neck of cruising boats to get stuck there. We had the entire river to ourselves and the bridge opened for us right as we got there. As soon as we were through we took a hard turn to port to fuel up at the marina, get some ice cream then continue up and across the sound. 

The Albemarle sound is known for creating some nasty weather when the wind picks up. The entire sound is pretty shallow so the wind builds up some nasty square chop very quickly. We had perfect sailing weather, but had no sails set up. There was no way we were going to let that stop us. The large drifter was close at hand which did not take too long to hank on and hoist. 

Whoop for the first time in over 2 years WE ARE SAILING! Well motor sailing but still, we have a sail up and the wind is helping to carry us across the sound. All 3 of us could not help our smiling faces and also realized how the sound could become nasty in higher winds as we were already getting pushed around in the 10knts we had.

Once safely across the sound we made our way into the North River though the skinny channel. Making as much northern progress as we could before we ran out of daylight and before the rain hit us we dropped the hook out of the ICW just NW of Green “163”. We made it 60.92 nm in 9.5 hours.

We set the hook, retreated inside, cleaned up the messes made from the projects completed while underway, made some dinner and once again hit the hay. Little did we know none of us would sleep well at all.

Along with the rain, came some wind that was not in the forecast. We had no where to hide and only a few more hours till day light, so we just dealt with the bumpiness. The next morning as we were enjoying our cups of coffee we commented that the other sailboat must have moved in the middle of the night. HA nope, it was not them, WE had drugged. That is a first for us aboard Prism. I guess 5:1 was not enough to keep us in place in the soft silt. Good thing we had the entire North River, good depth and no one in our dragging path throughout the night. That could have been bad, we  got lucky this time around and took it as a learning experience. As we look back we both know that we anchored a little too quickly. Although we backed down and it seemed like we stuck, we didn’t check it again before going to bed when we should have. Lesson learned.

North River, The North Carolina cut and the Currituck Sound into Virgina

It was around 8:30am when we got up and moving out of the North River. No longer did we have the bright warm blue skies, it was now jacket, cold, overcast weather. BOO.

Our next stretch is  the North Carolina cut, sending us on a winding journey through the small town of Coinjock and up to the very shallow Currituck sound. We were very lucky and only had to share the channel with one barge going the other way.  He passed us at the widest point of the channel like we had planned it all along.

Motoring along up the Currituck sound was another stretch that we paid very close attention too. Apparently the channel is very skinny and the current can rip though the more narrow parts creating a thrilling passage. But like our entire trip north up the ICW we somehow always had the tide with us, never had a head wind, and did not have to deal with any strong currents. CRAZY ( this would not be the same for our passage south)

Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal to Great Bridge

After we were out of the sound we started another winding adventure north as we made our way to some of the first timed bridges and hopped we could make it through the Great Bridge Lock before dark. Only 3 bridges to go and a tight ” stay on the magenta line” passage through the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.

Luck was on our side as we made prefect timing to the bridges. At first I was a little nervous about the bridges, holding our ground if we had to wait and the possible heavy traffic, but it ended up going more smoothly than we ever thought it would have been. The narrow canal defiantly kept us pretty puckered up, as stumps and shallow water were just outside of the unmarked channel.

Our luck had to run out at some point and that point was at Great Bridge Bridge. We had another hour till the bridge would open, so we pulled onto the free dock to wait for our turn. While we were waiting, we looked into where to anchor for the night. It was during this time we learned the bridges would close down for rush hour traffic, causing a huge delay in our timing to make it to an anchorage before dark. Shit. Looks like we are staying here for the night, at least it is free and there was a spot!

I set up the sewing machine and got to work fixing up the stack pack, while Debbie and Jon worked on the inside.

 

Great Bridge, The Lock and onto Norfolk

6:00 am, the sound of the Great Bridge Bridge opening then closing wakes us all, shit. We wanted to use that one, oh well, we will just wait till the 7 am opening and just enjoy our coffee.

We are up, ready, cast off the dock, first light is just starting, we hail the bridge to state our intentions, nothing. We hail the bridge again, nothing. Um, hello?  It is now 7:05am, the bridge is late, then someone finally answers; ” Vessel calling Great Bridge, the Bridge is closed for rush hour traffic 7am through 9am M-F.”

WHAT IN THE ACTUAL F*CK!

Okay, well back to the dock we go. With the hours we had till the bridge would open again we set our minds and hands into more projects that needed to be completed.

9am first we have to let the south bound traffic through then we followed a north bound barge past the bridge and into the Great Bridge Lock. This was our first time ever going through a lock that was not part of the Panama Canal. Over thinking the entire process, we stressed ourselves out trying to get all the info of how the lock would work. Amazingly the lock master is very patient, kind and helpful. Once we were in, it was so much more simpler than we thought. 

The locked opened and revealed at least 25 southbound boats waiting for their turn in the locks. We were the only non- commercial traffic moving north.  You can imagine the looks we got, people kept saying to us ” You’re going the wrong way!”

 

After the lock, it is just 10nm to Norfolk. Like a said before, apparently our luck did run out and we got suck behind a very long train going across a bridge that is 99% of the time open. Comical.

We did a drive by of the 2 free docking spaces in Porstmouth before choosing to use the one at High Street Landing. Our plan was to get the boat ready to sail up the Chesapeake Bay.

It is now October 15th, that is just 2 days till family starts to arrive in Annapolis which is over 140 nm north of us AND there is heavy weather coming. We have about a 24 hour weather window before it starts to get really ugly. We go now or we will be stuck here for days.

Jon needed to go up the mast, we had to install the new mainsail, the stack pack  and run all the lines. It took a few hours but by 5:00 PM we were ready, enough.

Overnight Up the Chesapeake Bay

We motored our way past Norfolk, Hampton Roads and the heavy shoaling that guards the entrance at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Raising the sails, we watched as the sun went down, beating our way against the wind and waves while keeping a close eye on the incoming traffic that seemed to be baring down on us. As soon as there was enough water outside the shipping channel we made our turn north to enjoy the wind on our quarter as a huge blood moon rose over the Chesapeake Bridge.

Knowing we had to make up a lot of distance in order not to get completely swallowed by the heavy weather coming, Jon and I opted to motor sail our way up the bay. We also would be hand steering the entire way, which is something we have never had to do on a night passage or in general. WE LOVE OUR AUTO PILOT, but for some reason we thought it would not be that big of a deal to just hand steer this one time.

The wind was with us,good. We had a full moon, good. But we also only had one hand-held VHF, no AIS, no radar and were completely exhausted sailing in a body of water none of us has ever been on with heavy commercial traffic everywhere and crab pots littered the water so badly it was just a roll of the dice if we would snag one or not. So what do Jon and I decided to do? Pull and all nighter. 

I was, what you could call a little gun shy. It has been over 2 years sense Prism or us had been sailing and I was having a hard time remembering how to handle a night watch. Normally with the auto pilot steering the boat, it allows the person on watch to really study the navigation lights of other vessels, trim the sails and well just enjoy the night air and sky. But when hand steering in choppy seas, non of that was an option.

 

Jon and I took turns at the helm, while the other person was identifying other vessels, watching for crab pots and trimming the sails when needed. Once we were out of the shipping lanes , the traffic died down which allowed the person not at the helm to catch some z’s till the other person needed rest.

For pulling an all nighter the passage itself, minus the close call with a tree and playing cat and mouse with a military ship, it was pretty mellow and we were making good time. Once the sun was up I took the first watch and told Jon to get some sleep so he would be rested for when we pull into Annapolis just as the heavy weather would be arriving as well.

We must have done a good job and keeping quite and the boat comfortable because Debbie slept from 9pm till 10am. When she woke Jon was asleep inside on the settee and I was outside, in the poring rain. She popped her head out the companion way and said ” Hi sweetie! Do you want some coffee and breakfast?” I swear, I really hit the Mother-in-Law jack pot! 

Jon and I have a saying “Only one of us needs to get wet”. Throughout every squall we tend to take turns on who gets wet, normally it is Jon. I guess it was my turn this time. Oh and not to mention our foul weather gear no longer keeps the water out in any way or form. The weather had caught up to us, we had about 15 miles left to go when the rain drenched me from head to toe and the wind switched to our nose. We were defiantly heading in the right direction.

By the time we were closing in on Spa Creek Jon’s mom suggested that we get a slip for the night, as we all desperately needed a warm shower and it was going to get quite windy. Luckily and sadly for us the boat show had just finished so there were some spots open in a few of the marinas. We made arrangements to pull into the first marina on the North side of Back Creek, yet once we poked our nose into the extremely tight entrance we quickly changed our minds. There was no way in hell we were going to be able to maneuver into the assigned slip in this kind of weather. When we called and asked if there was another slip we could use the woman on the phone sounded quite puzzled and offered us this in response ” Oh well just use your bow thruster to whip on in and tie up to the 30′ Beneteau”

HA! that gave us quite the laugh, we responded with  ” Um mam’, we do not have a bow thruster, it is blowing 30 knts out here and poring down rain so hard we can barely see the bow of our 25,000 LBS boat. I don’t think the cleats on the small Beneteau will hold us.”

She then offered a different slip even further in the marina which we knew there was no way we could get to. So we called a different marina.

After a quick trip towards the back of Back Creek we pulled into a side tie at Port Annapolis Marina. The guys there were out in the rain ready to catch our lines and welcome us. As soon as the lines were tied Jon and I heard ” WHOO HOOO PRISM!!!” from C dock. Or friend Bill, remember he is the fellow HC33 owner who drove down to NC to help remove varnish on Prism, yep Bill was jumping up and down with excitement that we were in the same marina as he. I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but the Boat tour of Prism we did back in 2016 is the reason Bill bought his HC33, so this was a big deal for him, and us for that matter.

After we checked in and paid the ridiculous $120/night fee all 3 of us headed to the long lasting, unlimited HOT water showers. After the showers we spend some time hanging with Bill but then called it an early night. I made a big pot of warm yummy soup which Jon could not even stay awake for. To say that he was exhausted would be an understatement.

The winds were foretasted to blow like stink for the next 48 hours so we ended up staying at the dock for 2 nights. 

Now the real fun begins!

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