Thursday, June 17, 2010

We Made It Through The Wilderness....

Great Bridge, VA
36 43.2N 76 14.3W

We actually made it through the inside route on the ICW, it was stressful, miraculous and we hope to never do it again!

We left Beaufort on Monday with no idea if we could or couldn't make it, I had removed all the aerials, wind indicators and lights from the top of the mast but we still had 64' 9" above us and the 65' bridge clearance is renowned to be touch and go. Plus there is the Wilkerson Bridge at 64' feet an anomaly and a frustrating one, we would need low water levels to make it as there is no real tide there.

Day 1 sees us cover the 66 miles north into Pamlico Sound and then through another cut into the the Pungo River. The first part takes us back up to Core Creek where the boat stayed for the year and then under our first 65' bridge of the day, as we approach I am too focussed on the ridge so we end up losing the channel momentarily and the depth sounder rapidly drops to 8', I try and turn into the channel but she won't respond, has the steering failed again, no I have just not turned off the autopilot (Skipper a bit rusty after a year away!) soon fixed and we are back in the channel with only the lightest touch on the mud!

We crawl under the bridge with Linda on the bow, there are still good tides here so we pass under with maybe 18" spare - one down 6 to go.

The day sees us pass up channels and man made cuts passing hundreds of channel markers, all with a resident Osprey it seems.

Twenty years ago there
were hardly any left but environmental laws and hunting bans
have seen them rebound, but what they lived on before channel markers I have no idea!

The second bridge is in a less tidal area and we still pass beneath with plenty to spare, the water levels do seem low which bodes well for us to get under the Wilkerson tomorrow. We drop anchor just out of the channel in sight of the Wilkerson bridge and settle down for the night, what does tomorrow hold?

We can't sleep and are up and ready to leave at 6am, if we get under we are well on our way north if not we have another longer route we can try but will have big issues with water depth, or we can head back the 66 miles to Beaufort and get Matsu ready for the Hatteras route.

We head at snails pace towards the bridge, the height board says just under 65', now there's a
coincidence, and we edge towards it hearts in mouths.

I have put a dowel rod on the front of the mast as an early warning indicator, there is a nice loud crack as it hits the bridge and snaps and sure enough we touch the bridge and are going nowhere. Linda estimates we need 2" more to get under. We return to the anchorage to assess our plans.

The local wisdom from Tow Boat US and the marina is that the water level will rise today, there is no tide here and winds mean rising water. It is obvious from the banks and the pilings that the water level is low and so we are not all optimistic as we tie a piece of string to a piling to give us a clear indication of water levels.

We decide we will have to try the Roanoake Island route instead another 100 miles and then we may well be turned back by shallow water. It is very frustrating it's a bridge, 2 lanes wide and if it were 2" higher we would be 70 miles nearer Chesapeake Bay rather than 70 miles further away!

In view of our longer trip we decide to bend on the main sail, it takes over an hour so we decide to revisit our string, it's dangling 2.5" clear of the water, the level has fallen. We both say yes let's give it a go and get the anchor up in record time for a second attempt and to see how good Linda's estimation of 2" is! We approach the bridge again at snails pace, Linda is looking like she will be sick at any moment as we approach the first span.

From the helm I can see nothing except Linda's face the top of the mast obscured by the bimini, suddenly I hear the shout we are under the first span, we are crawling through, it seems to take an hour as Linda calls out each span, and suddenly "CLEAR" we are through, the adrenalin hit is unbelievable we shout and scream and hug each other we are on our way no back tracking required. In Linda's opinion we had a razor blade or two of spare room!

As the Wilkerson Bridge recedes in our wake we motor up the Pungo canal in a state of near delirium, neither of us can believe we made it,
how did the water drop that much, that quickly, wow wow wow!!!

It's now well past 10am and we have a long day ahead of us, up this canal, up the long boring Alligator River and then out into Albermarle Sound and across to our anchorage in North River. It's long and boring not much to see and the engine chugs along, but we are still over th
e moon that we are on our way and have no need to back track.

Day 3 should be easy, three 65' bridges and a few opening ones, the first bridge comes early and we are through with plenty to spare, we motor on to the Pungo Ferry Bridge blissfully unaware of the stress that lies ahead. We pass under the bridge with probably 2" spare, there is current with us in a non tidal part of the ICW and water levels have obviously risen dramatically. The rest of the day is stressful we motor another 40 miles through swamps and canals with nowhere to stop pushed by this current knowing that every hour that passes the clearance under the final fixed bridge is getting less and less.

We stop just short of the bridge and buy fuel and water to get us as low as possible and then nudge slowly under the bridge, it's very tight, I can tell from Linda's face, but we are through, we have arrived in Great Bridge, VA no more 65' bridges, we are in the Chesapeake.

We tie up to the dock and reflect on the miracle of the 64' bridge, and the fact that once we have Matsu back in full sailing trim how it will need to be a very bad night round Hatteras before we would have a more stressful time. The other thing that surprised us was how little there was to see, we had expected more houses and people but too much of it is in 6' deep 5 mile wide sounds.
We did it, we are pleased we did it but we won't be doing it again on Matsu, as you can see from the photo boats with our mast don't do it very often!!

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