April 29 – May 4, 2019: Oriental, NC, to Great Wicomico River, VA

We finally made it out of Oriental! We were sad to leave all of our friends, but it was well past time to go.

On April 29, we left Oriental and travelled the ICW to Belhaven.  The winds were blowing 15-20 knots, and many people would not have found that comfortable.  However, being a heavy boat, Kestrel doesn’t really start responding until we get at least 15 knots, so it was great for us.  It was cool and overcast, but we were comfortable because our enclosure did a great job of keeping the wind and spray off of us.

We haven’t gone this way for three years, but nothing has changed.  We are seeing primarily power vessels rather than sailboats, but we think it’s because we’re a little early in the northward migration.  We anchored in Belhaven’s harbor inside their breakwater with two other boats.  This day was 9 hours for 41.9 nm/49 sm.

On April 30, we awoke to two unpleasant surprises.  The first was a thick, cloying fog that delayed our departure for an hour and a half.  The second was a blanket of some sort of midge or mosquito-looking bug on every surface of the boat.  The only bug-free spot was the cockpit because we left the enclosure screens in and the windows zipped.  They stuck with us all day, hitching a ride from Belhaven through the Pungo River-Alligator River Canal. 

Zillions and zillions of these things, everywhere. Barf.

We had intended to anchor in a spot called Jitka’s Corner that we used in 2016, but we reached it so early that we decided to keep on pushing.  We went under the Alligator River Bridge and anchored on the east side of the Alligator River right off of Cypress Island to escape winds from the south.  We had to thread our way through crab pots to get there, but it was worth it.  The holding was great, and it was a heavy clay bottom.  This day was 9.25 hours for 50.7 nm/59.3 sm.

On May 1, the fog and midges left us be, and we got our usual early start.  As we went along, we were suddenly beset by hordes of biting black flies.  The enclosure screens again came to our rescue.  When the occasional fly managed to sneak its way in, it was met with deadly force.  It probably says something awful about me, but smacking flies with the swatter can be a fun way to pass the time on the ICW.

We had a reservation at Coinjock Marina and arrived there in the early afternoon.  They were crazy busy because the North Landing Bridge up the ICW was having mechanical trouble and couldn’t open, so boats that had already passed the marina were coming back and looking for dockage.  Coinjock always packs us tightly on the long face dock, but this time, you couldn’t slide a piece of paper between boats.

When the bridge can’t open, and you can’t go any further or turn around, what does a tug captain do? Why, “anchor” the load by jamming it up into shore. It was so heavy that he still had his engine running to keep himself in place.

We refueled the boat, filled jerry jugs with diesel, and filled the water tanks.  The Captain scrubbed accumulated bug goo and strange green specks from the deck.  We took showers, had dinner on the boat, and then went to the marina’s bar for a drink.  Right as it got dark, a 200 foot cruise ship called the Grande Mariner docked right behind us.  It was quite dramatic, to say the least.  This day was 6 hours for 31.2 nm/35.9 sm.

This is when you reeeeeeeeally hope the other vessel’s captain is competent.

On May 2, the cruise ship left before we did, much to our relief.  That gave us room to walk the boat back a length or two down the dock so we could peel off without ramming the beautiful Fleming yacht in front of us.  The stretch between Coinjock and Norfolk has eight restricted opening bridges (meaning we cannot pass under them without them opening or lifting) and one lock.  Some of the bridges open on request, but most of them are on a schedule.  The trick is to go fast enough to make the scheduled openings but not so fast that you are waiting a long time for the next opening; while motor vessels can sort of “hover” in place using their bow thrusters, we have to circle, and many of the ICW channels are narrow and shoal-y.  And the real kick in the pants is that the last restricted opening bridge of any significance, Gilmerton Highway Bridge in Norfolk, does not open at all Monday-Friday from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM.  Translations:  haul ass up from Coinjock  to get to Gilmerton Highway Bridge no later than 3:15 PM.

Fortunately, we managed fine.  We made it to each of the bridges in our allotted time.  Only two other boats were going through the Great Bridge Lock, so there wasn’t any jockeying for position or cramming in.  The final icing on the cake was arriving at our anchorage at Hospital Point in Norfolk and finding that there were only a couple of other boats and no crab pots at all.  It was a freaking miracle.  Although this is a loud anchorage (helicopters, both military and civilian, the ferries, traffic, and sirens), we were so beat that we didn’t hear a thing.  This day was 9 hours for 43.5 nm/50 sm.

On May 3, we left Norfolk at first light to beat a foul current.  Once we cleared the city, the winds really picked up, and we were able to sail with the main and genoa only.  It was wonderfully peaceful.  As the day wore on, the winds clocked to the stern, we hit a foul current, and we had to begin motor sailing.  The black flies continued their fruitless assault, and for the first time we were also a ferry for tons of huge dragonflies.  That was really neat.

Thimble Shoal Light as we left Norfolk. It has a very interesting history.

We were going to stop at an anchorage in East River in Mobjack Bay, but like before, we would have hit it too early.  We decided to keep on going and skip to the next day’s planned anchorage in Fishing Bay, south of Deltaville, VA.  We were expecting some south winds, so we stayed in the same general area but switched our anchorage to Godfrey Bay (south of Fishing Bay).  It was pretty and open and very calm.  We were joined by two other boats, and we all spent a quiet night.  This day was 11 hours for 54.0 nm.

Today (May 4) we headed for an anchorage in Mill Creek in the Great Wicomico River.  There are thunderstorms forecast for tonight and tomorrow, and we needed an anchorage with protection from north and northwest winds.  We stayed here in 2016, and it is just as beautiful now as it was back then.  It doesn’t hurt that it was a short day (5.5 hours for 27.5 nm), because we are both tired from the pace we’ve been setting.

The plan is to wait out the storm tomorrow and then keep heading north on Sunday, May 6.