Running the Rockpile
24 November 2011
The Rockpile is a much feared part of the intracoastal waterway which consists of a narrow shallow straight channel with rocks and ledges on both sides. We had originally planned to spend the night at a marina just before the Rockpile after leaving Southport, but our new friend Terry had advised us to take the Rockpile at low tide so that we would be able to see the rocks and ledges (so as not to hit them!) and this is what we decided to do. This meant that we would need to be in the "Rockpile" in the afternoon of our second day out of Wilmington, so that it would be low tide when going through this area. Another feature of the Rockpile which raises anxiety is that it is too narrow to permit the passage of a tug and barge and a pleasure boat going in the opposite direction. If you encounter a barge and tug in the Rockpile your only option is to turn around and flee in front of it. We learned that what you are suppose to do before entering the Rockpile is to announce on the radio that you are about to enter and request any vessels coming in the other direction to respond to your announcement.
In any event, we left early the next morning. There are a number of very shallow spots in the ICW between Southport and the Rockpile and strong currents at the inlets This makes navigation challenging. At one point we encountered water that was less than 5 feet deep but were able to steer back into deeper waters. At another point near an inlet we had a strong current against us, and at full speed we were going 3.2 knots. What all this means, at least for us, is that cruising the ICW is not fun. Merry sets up a navigation station on the cabin roof of the companion way - charts, ipad, binoculars, notes and calls off the buoy numbers and reminds Wiley to stay in the center of the channel as well to check our depth. Meanwhile Wiley is required to constantly stare at the depth finder moving the boat starboard or port to keep the boat in the channel. Nobody gets to be "off watch" like on the great lakes, where typically Fernando (our auto-helm) would steer the boat with one of us on watch as lookout and the other down below relaxing. On the ICW both of us are on watch all of the time and it can be exhausting. In any event in spite of current and shoals we were able to get through the day including an uneventful transit of the Rockpile, and waiting for the Little River Spring Bridge to open for us. We have posted photos of some of the rocks and ledges of the Rockpile with gratitude to Terry for his advice.
At the end of the day we tied up at Barefoot Marina and Resort in Myrtle Beach and were in South Carolina. We gave each other "high fives" over having put the dreaded "Rockpile" behind us. As additional treat we were able to watch the Chicago Bears turn the Detroit Lions into a "rockpile" at the marina restaurant! Life doesn't get better than this!:)