This Is “It”: The ICW, Day One

An exercise in patience and humility.

Day 24, November 7, 2018

In reality, “it” is a seven-to-eight month adventure cruise down the eastern seaboard to Key West, and back up again, maybe including a side-trip to the Bahamas.  But in many ways “it” is defined as a trip down (and up) the “AICW”, or Atlantic IntraCoastal Waterway.  The official start of the “ICW” (for short) is mile zero at “R36” just near the Tidewater Yacht Marina we stayed in.

Everyone says to start your day early, so we did!  Our destination was Coinjock, North Carolina, which had Bruce salivating for prime rib.  So many people have told him “You have to get the prime rib!” that it had become an essential stop on our journey.

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The Norfolk skyline at 5:30 a.m.

We were out walking the dogs at 5:30.  We like to make certain they get some good exercise before a long day on the road.  The waterfront walk was an excellent resource for this, just as it was for the numerous early morning runners who greeted us.  The Norfolk skyline sparkled across the water.  A moderate northerly was blowing.  The temperature was a coolish 55 degrees.  The sky was clear and starlit.

We returned to the boat refreshed and ready to go.  Lights had come on at several of the other boats nearby, all getting ready to start the same trek we were embarking on.  Our target departure time was 0700 hrs, but we were ready at 0620 so with no reason to wait, we slipped the lines and headed out into the Elizabeth River.

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Sunrise on the Elizabeth River.

The first few miles of the ICW are lined with shipyards and shipbuilding.  At that early hour, pre-sunrise with dawn just breaking, tugs and ferries were already hard at work.  We were the only pleasure craft out.  I was on alert, as this was our first day having to focus on shallow, winding ICW piloting, along with numerous bridges and our first lock.

Of the two possible routes, we had chosen the Virgina Cut which passes through Great Bridge, the Virginia Cut, the North Landing River and Currituck Sound, ending in Coinjock.  The alternative is the Dismal Swamp Canal to Elizabeth City, which we hope to do on the return trip in the spring.

img_0690We were alone on the river for about 12 miles.  It was glassy calm, the kind of conditions we had been hallucinating about as we bashed our way through Long Island Sound and the Chesapeake.  Once out of the commercial stretch, we were in lovely marshy lowlands.  Fall colors were in full display.  Gradually, we relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.

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The lock at Great Bridge.

All bridges were open for us to pass, so there was no waiting until we reached the Great Bridge Lock, our first lock ever (*big cheer!*).  We just missed an opening and had to loiter in the river for half an hour.  As we waited in the windless morning sunshine our pals from the night before aboard Sabrina and C’Est la Vie pulled in behind us, along with another boat named Floating Condo.  This boat proved to be less than genteel during the day: the name was an early warning.

The lock process was easy, the lock tenders were very cheerful, and we were in-and-out quickly.  Our little flotilla proceeded, but was held up at the Great Bridge Highway Bridge.  The flotilla grew.  We were held up again at the Centerville Turnpike Bridge.  The flotilla grew further.

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Esmeralde sprints down the Virginia Cut to make the North Landing Bridge opening.

The North Landing Bridge was next, five miles down the pike.  We had half an hour to make the next opening, which meant a ten-knot sprint.  Floating Condo had worked her way into the lead and we were right behind her.  Both of us had plenty of power to make it, but the others had to push max throttle to have any hope.  About half of us made it.  Sailboats did not.

During this little stretch of the lock and bridges we were schooled in ICW etiquette.  As a friend put it, it’s like converging on Route 95 at rush hour in DC when you’ve been putting along on a winding rural road.  We learned that negotiating the waterway required interacting with the many different types and styles of boats and the many contrasting personalities in their command.  This required patience. And more patience.  And finally a good sense of humor.  All of this promises to be an excellent life lesson.  Love thy fellow man and all that.

We also began to perfect “the slow pass” as both the pass-er and pass-ee. We will be excellent at it in a day or two.  Given the congestion of boats and the fact that everyone goes their own speed, this will be essential.

In the end, it was a lovely day and a pleasant ride.  Most of it was through beautiful rivers and canals that featured bucolic scenery and blissfully flat water.  It was such a relief to be traveling at trawler speeds: six to eight knots.  The boat was quiet and the dogs were relaxed.

When we passed into the the wide-open Currituck Sound, the breeze kicked up a surface chop.  We tolerated it for a bit at slow speed, then looked at each other and said “what are we waiting for?”  It was four miles to the next sheltered waterway.  We pushed the throttle down and it was over in about 15 minutes.  Easy peasy.

The shallows were at times nerve-wracking.  We saw one small trawler that appeared to be aground outside the channel, a reminder that vigilance is key.  It does become tiresome at times, and depth becomes your friend.

We were one of the first boats in at the Coinjock Marina.  Although virtually empty, they expected a full complement by dinner time.  The staff was efficient and friendly.  The Prime Rib was in the oven.  This is the pattern of life on the waterway.  We enjoyed our first day of it, learned a bunch of lessons, and expect a lot more to come.

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We enjoyed our first true FlyBridge Evening of the trip at Coinjock Marina

Our friends aboard Sabrina and C’Est la Vie  pulled in about an hour after we did.  We all enjoyed the activity along the dock, watched new arrivals, and soaked in the warm late afternoon sunshine.  For us, it was the first true FlyBridge Evening of our trip.  We look forward to many more in the weeks and months ahead.

The day was topped off with supper at the Coinjock Marina Restaurant, which we shared with Kitty an Kenny from Sabrina.  Bruce took on the famous Prime Rib, which was a spectacle to behold.  He was a happy boy.  Fortunately he managed to save much of it to share with the pups and to turn into another meal later on.  Dessert?  No thank you!

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4 thoughts on “This Is “It”: The ICW, Day One”

  1. We never made the Coinjock trip,preferring the Dismal Swamp but last winter it wasn’t open from hurricane damage, hopefully you can make it on the way back. Hope you get the slow pass perfected ,at least for the sailboats you come across on the way. Patience is certainly a virtue.
    Love the blog…just like being there.
    Dean and Kathy

    Liked by 2 people

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