The end of the ICW!

Coinjock, NC (Tuesday, 4/30)
Way before the sunrise, Denise ran the marina/gas station parking lot and the gravel road leading up to white house on the point.  After 8 or so laps, she had only logged 2.5 miles and said “enough”. Talk about boring!

While the morning sunrise over the Alligator River started out spectacular, fog rolled in for a short while. However, by 7:00 a.m. it had lifted and most all the boats in the Alligator River Marina left.  We were among the earlier ones to leave because we knew the wind would pick up and we did not want to get caught in the chop on the Albemarle Sound.  It was 13 miles from the end of the Alligator River across the Albemarle to the North River; it should have only taken us between 30 – 45 minutes to cross.

But on a boat, things often do not happen as planned. We were out on the Albemarle making good progress and under acceptable conditions, cruising along at 20 knots when our “hot engine” alarm went off.  We slowed the boat and Mark did some investigation in the engine room, which requires us to lift the salon floor to obtain access. Denise was driving with the assistance of autopilot, but there were crab pots to dodge everywhere.  Eventually Mark deduced that the engine was being starved of fresh water which is used to cool it.  The usual culprit was the raw water strainer, but it was clean.  One quick test and we proved that insufficient water was getting to the strainer, meaning we had a partial blockage from the thru-hull to the strainer.  We were able to continue our path north, but we could only cruise around 5 knots; a turtle’s pace compared to the jack rabbit speed we were used to.

It took us an hour to get the rest of the way across the Albemarle Sound and the wind had already started to build.  Once in more protective waters, we decided it might be worth stopping and Mark could dive on the boat to get rid of whatever was causing the clog.  We chose to stop at Buck Island, the best anchorage around in this low-lying area of the ICW. Even though it was the best spot around to pull off, it was still a little bouncy with waves from the wind.

Buck Island Anchorage area

Buck Island Anchorage area

We had also devised another plan (now plan A) with Mark going in the water moved to plan B. The water here is colder than we are used to and it wouldn’t be fun. So we chose plan A, which involved getting into the dinghy and using our pole and a scrub brush to try and free whatever was causing the clog.  Mark had little success with this and we thought it was not too safe for him to go in the water now, so nix plan B.  Plan C involved getting to Coinjock and hiring a diver to check it out in better conditions.

While Mark was doing this, Denise called Coinjock Marina and made a reservation for the night.  This is the last place we wanted to stop again, but close enough for us to get to if we could only go 8 knots. She also requested the name of a diver that could meet us at Coinjock, and like all good marina’s they provided. And while all this was happening, the trawlers that left with us out of Alligator River Marina passed by us on their way north.

We put away the dinghy, pulled up the anchor and cruised without issue at 8 knots into Coinjock Marina. And just like last time, they put us at the southernmost end of the 1200 foot long dock, with our bow hanging off and a stump in the water 3 feet from the boat.  And just like before it was because they had a full dock scheduled for the night – which they did. Yachts, sailboats, sport fishing boats, and trawlers all sandwiched in like sardines in a can.

Coinjock dock

Coinjock dock

It was also a challenging work day for us.  As it was the end of a month, Mark had two clients calling with accounting-related software issues that needed immediate attention, and Denise had a client trying to close a software selection deal by midnight (which they did).  So both were on the phone several times for conference calls or web meetings. Thank goodness for our hotspot!  And once docked, we were attempting all of this while Mark washed the boat and Denise was trying to catalog pictures and write this blog.

At 3:00 p.m. Jeremy the diver showed up as promised.  Initially when he dove on the underside of the boat he found nothing.  So Mark requested he remove the screen on the thru-hull, and try to free up anything that could be clogged, but nothing really was found.  On a 3rd try and putting a pressure washer up into the thru-hull, he was able to wash out some type of muddy debris. However, there was low confidence that this was the culprit.  He did all he could do and once we paid him, he was on his way.

Diver Jeremy

Diver Jeremy

Given this, we devised a plan for the next day: if the pressure-washing worked we would continue on to Norfolk; if it didn’t work we would slowly cruise (at 7 kts) 30 miles north and stop at Atlantic Yacht Basin. There we could have a service person try to solve the issue, and as they are a working yard they could haul the boat if required.  Not a cheap option, but one that would work to keep us moving.

Meanwhile, Mark talked to Bob (“New Horizons”) – who was also at Coinjock – and they devised a possible test for us to do to see if it did indeed work. But the test would have to wait until morning as we were tired and hungry.  After we wrapped up the work day, got showers, and talked with family, we headed up to the Coinjock restaurant for a quick dinner.

A note about the cruising community:  We are so grateful for all the cruisers who helped us today.  We had several of them call us when they saw us slow on the Albemarle, at anchor, and even when we pulled into Coinjock.  We even had one who was willing to pull into the anchorage and help us out.  Bob (“New Horizons”) was especially helpful, willing to call his Cummins-engine friend and offering suggestions based on his years of boating experience. The kindness and sharing that takes place is really heart-warming and reinstalls our faith humankind.

Norfolk, VA (Tuesday, 5/1)
We started the day doing a few things recommended to deal with the engine water intake, including moving the valve back and forth while running the engine at different speeds.  When all looked good, we paid the marina bill and pushed away from Coinjock.  We were one of the last boats leaving today, so that meant we would have to pass all the slow trawlers and sailboats, if we could cruise at our normal 20 kt speed.

Our first few miles through the no-wake area allowed the engine to warm up.  Then we came to the Currituck Sound and we could finally increase our speed to 20 knots, which we did with no issues.  We watched the temperature like a hawk, but the issue appeared to be resolved.  Now on to regular cruising and slowing only to pass the trawlers and sailboats that left ahead of us.  As we left the Currituck Sound, we crossed into Virginia and left North Carolina in our wake.

Currituck Sound

Currituck Sound

We headed up the North Landing River and eventually came to the North Landing Bridge. This is the first of 3 road bridges and a lock that we had to negotiate today. There are also 3 train bridges that could potentially hold us up but they are only closed when a train is coming. Two of the road bridges only open on the half hour and the last one (Great Bridge Bridge) coordinates the opening with the lock and only opens on the hour.  The distance between these is not always favorable to hit the “next” opening, and it is not uncommon to have to wait.  We had less than 50 miles to go to Norfolk, but we knew from past experience that this still could be a very long day.

And the whole chain reaction is paced by the North Landing Bridge which we approached as the #2 boat in line, and with 5 minutes to go until the scheduled opening.  When it did not go up as scheduled, the bridge tender announced over the VHF that the bridge had broken.  Behind us the boats started to stack up like a major traffic jam on an interstate and all we could do was wait.  Soon the bridge tender announced that it was going to be a long wait and that we were free to anchor (not usually allowed in the ICW) until further status was known.

We set an anchor even though we could see the repair crews working on the bridge, but we also knew that this could be an all-day wait.  When we were on our way to Maine in 2017 we had to stay in Coinjock an extra day because of this very bridge breaking.  It is known for this and since there is no place to anchor or marinas to go to, boaters have to turn around and go back to Coinjock if it can’t be fixed that day. It is not permissible to anchor overnight in the ICW, and outside the channel it is either too shallow or full of tree stumps.

So we waited. And it got hot and buggy as morning turned to afternoon.  After lunch Mark suggested we put the generator on and crank up the AC.  Which is exactly what we attempted to do, but the generator would not stay on.  We have been here before; when we don’t run the generator often enough the impeller gets brittle and breaks.  Fortunately, Mark knows how to fix this, we had a spare onboard, and we had the time to do it.  Within 45 minutes he had it all successfully repaired, and we were cooling off with air conditioning.

Finally, at 2:00 the bridge tender said they would be opening only partially and that we were free to go through.  We got through this bridge and made the 2:30 opening for the next bridge, but missed the opening for the Great Bridge Bridge.  We ended up waiting 45 minutes for this and the Great Bridge Lock, motoring in place in front of Atlantic Yacht Basin. We were grateful that we did not have to pull in here for a repair, and while we waited all the other boats caught up to us and filled the lock.

Atlantic Yacht Basin

Atlantic Yacht Basin

2nd in line at Great Bridge Bridge

2nd in line at Great Bridge Bridge

Entering the Great Bridge Lock

Entering the Great Bridge Lock

At the Great Bridge Lock

At the Great Bridge Lock

Boats leaving Great Bridge Lock

Boats leaving Great Bridge Lock

Once through the lock, we were able to finally make some good time moving up the river on our way north.  Eventually we came up to Top Rack Marina where we stopped to fill up on diesel.  We always stop here as they have the best prices around for fuel.  They have a restaurant on site that is supposed to be really good, and they offer a free night’s stay at the marina if you eat here. We have never taken advantage of this because it is right on the ICW and many boaters do not honor the No Wake Zone; we don’t feel like getting slammed by the wakes. But, we know cruisers who have stayed and like it.  As we fueled we watched a few of the boaters cruise by and figured we would see them in Norfolk as many were staying at Waterside, like us.

Once again, we were on our way for the last 8 miles of our journey, only to get stopped again.  On the way into Norfolk there are several high road bridges which we can clear, and three train bridges. As luck would have it, we got stuck as one of the train bridges was down and a queue of boats was ahead of us waiting on the opening.  Thankfully, it was only a 15-minute wait and then we were off again, heading up the Elizabeth River to Norfolk where the ICW ends.

Last railway bridge

Last railway bridge

We were the fourth in a line of boats pulling into Waterside marina at the same time, so we hung out in the river until they were ready for us.

Approaching Waterside Marina

Approaching Waterside Marina

Mark backed the boat into its slip without incident and we were tied up in no time.  It was 5:20 pm and it took us over 9 hours to travel 50 miles!

IO at Waterside Marina

IO at Waterside Marina

After checking in with the dockmaster and taking with a few other cruisers, we went back to the boat for dinner onboard.  We are staying in Norfolk until Friday morning, but have an option to stay until Saturday morning if we chose.  After dinner we intended to plan our upcoming days, but we were just too tired; it would have to wait for morning.

Sometimes we see the funniest things while underway. Here are a few pictures from the last two days:

Ironing while underway on Sun Punch

Ironing while underway on Sun Punch

Runner on bridge - 90' up

Runner on bridge – 90′ up

Stay tuned for more of our adventures on Island Office.

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