Last time through the ICW
We left York River Yacht Haven on Saturday 9th November, which turned out to be a good day to transit through the busy Norfolk shipyards. There were the usual freighters and Coast Guard boats, but no naval ships moving around, and relatively few recreational boats. It was chilly, 32F when we left York River, but warmed up a bit as we moved south during the day.
We anticipated being delayed at the Gilmerton Bridge which has held us up every time we do this section of the Intracoastal Waterway. The road bridge has a clearance of 35 feet, and at a lowish tide we might just slide under, but the railway bridge seems to always be down, which prevents any boat from passing. Fortunately there is enough room for us all to spin slow circles, with relatively little current. By the time the bridges finally allowed us to pass there were 8 boats that filed through.
Soon after the bridges we hailed Top Rack Marina, where Ted had identified the cheapest fuel prices for diesel. Another boat had beaten us to the fuel dock so again we spun circles until the marina could accommodate us. Southern Star slurped up over 1200 gallons of diesel, but at a good price, and we were offered a complimentary slip for the night.
The next morning we left for the short trip down to the Great Bridge lock, but somehow mistimed our trip and had to wait 30 minutes, spinning circles again. Finally moved into the lock, tied up and passed out, through the bridge and past the Atlantic Yacht Basin, where we have tied up a number of times previously.
There are two other bridges on this section, one of which was in the open position for maintenance, and one which we had to wait a short time for. Then we transit into Currituck Sound, my least favourite section of this ICW trip, as it is shallow in parts, and there always seems to be a stream of large sportfish boats that pass with no warning, or no slowing down, and create huge wakes in narrow and shallow channel. These boats are all heading to Coinjock Marina which is well known for its prime rib. However, our itinerary doesn’t work if we stop there, as it makes the following day too long for us especially in the shorter days at the end of November. So we continue to North River where there is good depth and space for us to anchor. A number of boats stopped there the same night to stage for an early crossing of Albemarle Sound which can be choppy in certain conditions.
The next day was uneventful, and we did the Sound, then the long stretch down the Alligator River and through the gorgeous Pungo canal. Due to forecast conditions, we anchored slightly further along from our usual spot, on the southern side of the Pungo River just out of Belhaven. As predicted, the wind picked up the next morning, and we moved into Belhaven Marina to duck out of strong winds predicted for the next couple of days. By the time we were docking the wind was probably already at 15-20knots at the marina and Ted did an amazing job of squeezing Southern Star in between two boats to tie up.
Temperatures had also started to drop and out came winter clothes that we hadn’t used since last fall. The weather front was quick, but we had strong winds and freezing temperatures. We walked around Belhaven but it was mostly closed up. The next morning, while getting off the boat, Ted slipped on the icy dock and went down on his hip, a massive bruise and a lot of stiffness for a few days but thankfully nothing more. We joked that if it had been me, a broken arm would no doubt be the result.
We had dinner at a local bar and on leaving met a lady from Wellington NZ, who had moved to the area with her US husband. It was a very random place to meet another kiwi.
The next day we continued south, and found a new anchorage at South River, opposite Oriental in North Carolina. Another front was predicted and we spent one night there before moving to Morehead City Yacht Basin where we would wait for a good window to go offshore.
This was the sixth time we have done this four day passage through the North Carolina ICW. Each time we have looked at going outside, around Cape Hatteras, and each time the weather has presented us with a choice to either wait several days, or to continue moving on the inside. Ironically, the actual distance on the inside is shorter, but of course we stop each night, so it takes four days. If we were to go outside, we could do the same trip in around 30 hours.
The front that passed over us this time however was a nasty one, and we waited four days at Morehead City before we felt comfortable moving on. Even tied up at the marina we had winds of over 30knots hitting us side on. The upside of this delay was that we were able to catch up with Jerry on N68 Grace of Tides, who was hauled out at Jarrett Bay Boatyard close by. Unfortunately we had missed Dee by a week as she had already returned to Houston, but we had a lovely evening as always with Jerry, who provided dinner – a delicious pasta sauce from Dee, with gluten free spaghetti which was surprisingly good.
We waited an extra day to allow the seas to subside and actually had very comfortable conditions for our first day out of Morehead City. The first night however we struck the usual confused waters off Frying Pan Shoals and this continued through the next morning as we approached Winyah Bay in South Carolina. During the day conditions improved and by the second night we were enjoying beautiful calm seas and little wind. Our approach into Brunswick was flat and we arrived at close to our expected time on departure from MCYB.
We had some good speed entering into Brunswick River, as the currents helped us. We were surprised to see an overturned car carrier in the channel as we entered.
This was also likely to be our last visit to Brunswick Landing Marina, where we have stopped regularly over the past three seasons. Our good friends Rob and Becky on Manatee were there, having spent summer there, with Rob working on most boats at the marina. Our first night we crashed early, both tired from the two day passage. On the Friday we went to the usual happy hour at the clubhouse, and on Saturday arranged to meet on Manatee for drinks before going to a bar in the village.
When we got on board Manatee that evening there was much yelping and as I climbed down the companionway I saw that it wasn’t their dog Chico, but another dog that looked a lot like Penny from Kya. As I remarked on this, out popped Katie and Michael – they had driven up from Florida earlier that day. What a great surprise and our time at Brunswick turned into such a treat, spending time with great friends.
Michael and Katie collected us on Sunday and took us out to Jekyll Island where they were staying. While we were at the very upscale hotel having breakfast, there was a guy sitting at an adjacent table wearing a Trump 2020 sweatshirt. We were stunned as person after person came up to him and talked about their support of Trump. As three non-US citizens and one nonresident US, it showed that while we may share an international view of America’s current president, support for him is strong or stronger than ever amongst his base which includes wealthy individuals from around the country.
Our next weather window occurred immediately after the weekend, and we left Brunswick Landing Marina, also for probably the last time, for the 50 hour passage along the Florida coastline to West Palm Beach. We had a strong current pushing us along, and as I looked out the pilothouse door I saw what looked like the bow of a boat upturned. I pointed it out to Ted, and then saw a plastic cooler floating in the current away from the boat. I got the binoculars out but couldn’t see anything in the water which was too shallow for us to get to. I called Coastguard on the phone to report it and as I was talking to them another workboat was over next to the upturned vessel. I then heard them hail Coastguard on channel 16 to say there were bodies in the water. Coastguard dispatched a boat, but we learned later than one person died in the water that day.
We had flat, calm conditions for our entire journey. One night I was outside the pilothouse and could see individual stars reflected in the flat glassy water. Sleeping off watch was easy – hardly any motion or noise as Southern Star glided through the water towards her final US port of call before departing the US for the last time.
We arrived at Lake Worth inlet early in the morning. We contacted Mel off of Istaboa to see if the marina at the Bluffs had room for us. We were lucky and they did, and we headed past Riviera Beach, up the ICW to Jupiter and to the Bluffs.