Dec 7, 2017 – The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway

Today is a cruise day with a goal of only 24 nautical miles. So we’re not pressured to make weigh early this morning, but we should prepare to shove off by 11 am at the latest. So after a few cups of coffee, I empty all the garbage cans and drop the rubbish in the dumpster. While I’m walking past the Dockmaster’s Office, I also drop off the key for the lavatories so that’s out of the way, then I return to Kailani and start to reverse all the dock lines and disconnect the city water supply in preparation for departure. After that’s done, I start the engines, then go back down on the dock and disconnect the power cords, roll them up and store them neatly in the cockpit. In the meantime, Tracy has been going thru the interior and preparing for travel. With me at the helm and Tracy on the dock lines we sound the prolonged blast of Kailani’s horn and leave the docks at 10:30 am. We travel at no-wake speed until we’re out of Hampton River, then we turn towards the area of the James River called Hampton Roads. This is the area we referred to earlier as the site of the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack. Notfold naval base mapAfter passing that area, we’re looking dead ahead to the other side of the James River and the Naval Base at Norfolk. At this point, I realize that perhaps we erred in planning to cruise past the largest Naval Base in the World on Pearl Harbor Day! Oh well, we’ll just have to take our chances. As it turns out, there’s a lot of helicopter traffic (don’t know if that’s normal or unusual), and a few Coast Guard vessels in the area, but nothing extraordinary. So we make excellent progress crossing the James River channel and moving towards Portsmouth and the Elizabeth River.

Today is our last full day in Virginia as tomorrow, we expect to continue on into North Carolina, so once again, we’ve changed Chartkits that we’re using at the helm and we also have our trusty new AICW Planning Guide open to the mile by mile data for bridges, locks and marinas. One thing we’ll have to stay on top of is that since the AICW is an inland waterway, all the mile markers reflect statute miles not nautical miles. As we approach the Portsmouth Hospital at Hospital Point, we are officially on the AICW, only 12 statute miles from today’s destination and ultimately, closer to our winter goal.

IMG_20171207_140158674_HDRThe planning for today shows us that we need to be ready for 5 railroad bridges and 1 lock. Also, we need to be cognizant of numerous no-wake zones and potential harm to docked vessels. So even though we only have 12 more statute miles to go today, it will take extra time.

As extreme luck would have it, all 5 railroad bridges were in their up position without any railroad traffic, however as we approached each one, we called the bridge tender on channel 13 to verify that there wasn’t a closing scheduled before we could get thru each one. We weren’t so lucky with the Great Bridge Lock. The lock is literally .4 miles before the Great Bridge Bridge (going south) and the bridge only opens once an hour at the top of the hour and the lock operates to coordinate with the bridge. So we got to the lock at 1:00 pm and waited with another boat already there until the lockmaster opened the gates at 1:15 pm. The vessel in front of us pulled up to the front of the lock wall on the starboard side and we filled in right behind him, then the lockmaster told us he would be keeping the gates open for 15 more minutes (to get us closer to the top of the hour). After about 13 minutes, we heard the lockmaster on VHF 13 calling to a vessel to our stern potentially looking for lockage. We didn’t hear the vessel respond, but he continued to approach the lock and the lockmaster kept the gates open for his approach. He came into the lock and secured his vessel behind us. This lock has either cleats or bollards on the top wall and each vessel must provide their own lines to attach to the cleat/bollard. The lockmaster assists each vessel with an extended boatpole and once you have a midship cleat and a stern cleat attached, he moves down to the next vessel. Tracy held the midship cleat and I held the stern cleat as the gates closed behind us and three feet of water rushed out of the lock. As Kailani slowly lowers, the strategy is to pare out line so Kailani stays close to the lock wall. Once the water is lowered to meet the lower elevation of water ahead of us, the forward gates start to open and the Great Bridge Bridge is in view directly ahead of us and it will be opening in fifteen minutes. Now protocol in locks is typically first in-first out with the lockmaster usually deciding whether the port wall goes first or the starboard wall goes first, however in this lock, all three vessels were on the starboard wall, so we would expect to leave in the order that we entered, making us second. However, as the gates were opening, the vessel behind us had already released his lines and as soon as the gates fully opened and the red light turned to green, that stern vessel shot out ahead of us and the first vessel! No warning, no signal and luckily, no incident. But certainly plenty of rudeness to say the least, especially since we were facing another 15 minute wait for the bridge to open.   The AICW is really a hare and tortoise situation, but that vessel will have to learn it in his own time.

While waiting for the bridge to open, we radioed the dockmaster at F55D4F11-2AAE-4593-A2CF-F9C4E15B73A6Atlantic Yacht Basin, told him we were just ready to come thru the bridge as soon as it opened, then we would be right at the marina, just on the other side of the bridge. He said to pull up on starboard side right behind a sailboat called Coral Seas. So at 2:05 pm the bridge started lifting, the three of us motored thru with the hare in the lead and Kailani bringing up the rear. Both vessels in front of us kept going and we turned to starboard to dock Kailani. We had her all tied up with water and power connected by the time the Doug, the dockmaster came down to make sure we were all set.

As it turned out he came by about an hour later to let us know that the marina had just turned the water off throughout the facility because the forecast was calling for a few nights around freezing coming up. Luckily our fresh water tank is fairly full. As we were completing our final tie up of the dock lines, we met the couple, Marc and Joy cruising on the the sailing vessel Coral Seas and Tracy invited them to dinner aboard Kailani.

At 5:30 pm Marc, Joy and their grandson Blayze came aboard for dinner. We shared cruising tales and upcoming plans. They are on their way to the Bahamas for the winter and as it turns out, we’ll both be staying at Coinjock Marina tomorrow evening, so we make plans to have dinner again there. After dinner, they invite us aboard Coral Seas and it’s a beautiful 34 year young Gulfstar 50 with beautiful teak everywhere and a nice three stateroom layout. Marc is a former electrician, diesel mechanic, pilot who likes to be prepared for anything that can happen aboard a vessel and yet, we could not see one tool! That boat has some serious storage space for sure.