13 May 2015 | Irvington, VA
It’s been an unusual, eventful period in this journey. Since late April Elaine has been suffering with back-related problems and has been off the boat. With Jeff as crew, we have moved DAWN from St. Augustine, FL, to Irvington, VA, through a period of difficult, variable spring weather.
We moved up the ICW from beautiful St. Augustine, FL, to industrial, Jacksonville, FL, where we were weathered in for a couple of days by brisk northerly winds. I didn’t realize the significance of the northerly wind direction after our first night moored in Jacksonville, so we got underway early in the morning, made our way out the inlet against fearsome tides, and began plunging north into steep, growing seas. I figured they’d settle enough so that we could continue toward Brunswick, GA, when we reached deeper water, so we powered on. There is no truly deep water inshore on the Florida coast, so my theory proved wrong, and it became quite clear that there was no hope of making progress against the steep building seas coming straight from our destination. We returned to a marina near the inlet and sat through another day/night of very strong tidal currents awaiting a change in weather.
The change came overnight and we reached Brunswick, Georgia, after an overnight sail without any trouble. The weather report called for a developing low-pressure system and more north to northeast winds, so we found a marina and settled in for another wait for weather. We found ourselves in a very nice marina with free laundry service, so I busily washed and dried everything on board, clothes, bedding, even the puff that I’d pulled out because nights were getting cold. The marina had good free bicycles, so we found grocery stores and other facilities miles and miles away from the boat as we waited for another weather window.
We arose one morning to find the weather report profoundly changed from the dismal one of previous night; all sources showed winds with no northly components for about thirty-six hours, so we dropped the lines and headed to sea. In just about a day and a half, we were alongside in Morehead City, NC. I was preparing myself mentally for three days more in the ICW. Advice we’d gathered various places strongly urged us to stay out of the Waterway in Georgia and South Carolina because it is poorly maintained in those states. DAWN’s six foot draft and my aversion to shallow water made that easy advice to take.
However, the North Carolina section around Cape Hatteras received good reviews, so we headed off with less regard for the weather reports to circumvent Cape Hatteras on the inside. The advice proved to be right on the money. There were a couple of places where we had to slow considerably and hunt for the “deeper” water to get through a stretch that was shoaling, but otherwise the three days were relatively easy save for one brief grounding.
In the Alligator River Canal, I lost the channel and saw the sickening results…the depth sounder began showing depths in the shrinking single digits quickly. I throttled back and turned toward what I thought was deeper water just as we came to a stop in the mud. I backed down…nothing. I tried to go forward…thunk, probably a stump… DAWN was hung. Here we were in the middle of the swamps of North Carolina, stuck. I began to think about taking an anchor out in the dinghy to try to kedge us off when a large powerboat loomed. Even during “slow passes” these boats throw large wakes, and we were very stuck, so I was hopeful that his wake would solve our problem. I throttled up just as his wake struck us…sure enough we floated off the obstruction and were on our way.
Sadly we passed the famous restaurant in Coinjock just after midway, so my memories of wonderful roast beef there forty years ago will have to continue to serve. As we approached Norfolk and Hampton Roads, heavy traffic picked up and timing bridge openings became the game. We would putter slowly from bridge to bridge to avoid having to stand in place for long periods in whatever currents and winds we’d find at the next bridge. We would often share the span with a tug/barge unit that was headed for the same ICW leg we’d just completed. The first meeting of a large tug and barge unit on a turn in a creek in the middle of an endless swamp is an eye-opening experience
It was refreshing to pass Thimble Shoals Light and turn north up the Chesapeake for Irvington. We made good time, so spent the last night of the leg anchored in a beautiful cove on the Piankatank River, just one river south of the Rappahannock and Carter’s Creek, home of Irvington. Morning found us sailing on light breezes up the Rappahannock and tied to the dock at Custom Yacht Services at noon.
In St. Augustine the trip changed for me from a journey to a delivery. With Elaine ashore the mission went from exploring and enjoying to getting DAWN safely home for the summer sailing season in Maine’s beautiful deep water and abundant shelter. Today I will return to Maine with Elaine as she seeks proper medical attention. DAWN now lies in Irvington where she will get some basic work done on her before a crew of us will return her to Rockland, more than 7,000 miles after her departure in September.