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Waterway Journey

November 30, 2001


In many ways the Intracoastal Waterway seems more like a neighborhood than a thoroughfare. The bays, rivers, and canals that all connect to form the waterway are used for work and fun, for convenient transit and livelihood. As we motored south from Norfolk, VA to Beaufort, NC we found ourselves in good company with other boats: tugs, barges, aircraft carriers, yachts, trawlers and others.

In Norfolk, which is home to one of the worlds largest Naval installations, there was a definite sense of heightened security. As we motored into the city center a line of huge gray navy ships loomed over us. The most impressive was certainly the aircraft carrier Enterprise. She just recently returned from the Middle East and was being prepared for an on board Garth Brooks concert the day we passed her. I was impressed with how close we were able to get, but there were definite security measures in place. Multiple police boats zipped around ready to take action at any moment. As we motored through the basin we were approached by a large inflatable with two men in army garb and a machine gun mounted in the bow. I slowed up as they came alongside to ask if we were taking pictures. We assured them we were not and they zipped away leaving us to go along our way.

Further down the waterway we encountered some fellow cruisers heading to Charleston. We struck up a conversation as we were tied with them inside the only lock we have had to transit. Locks connect two bodies of water that are at different levels, and while you wait tied up inside the water level is raised or lowered to match the level of the water you are headed into. We chatted with the guys on the other boat while the water spilled in calmly raising us a foot or two. We chatted about where we were headed, what we had all had for breakfast (Miranda had made some beautiful pancakes for us) and had time for a joke or two (found out there's life on Mars, but only on Saturday night).

Passing through the more rural parts of the waterway we waved to the families fishing along the banks, and the crabbers patrolling their pots. Into and out of the Alligator River we found ourselves in the company of a few other sailboats, all headed south. Like migrating birds the boats on the waterway head north and in the spring and south in the fall. Stopping at a marina for a refill of fuel, water and ice we struck up a conversation with the Dockmaster, and found we were on the tail end of this fall's migration. "Only about 5 boats a day around this time," he told us, so it was no problem for us to sit at the fuel dock for an hour or so while we made some phone calls and took showers. Then it was back on our way south.

With the short days and speeds of 5 knots we made about 50 miles a day motoring. At mile 155 we figured we only had one day left until we arrived in Beaufort, NC - our final destination before heading off shore. When we awoke at 7am to start our day's puttering towards Beaufort we found our anchorage socked in with fog. Visibility was down to a tenth of a mile. But, we were anxious to get into port and I figured the fog would burn off in a hour or two. We began inching our way from marker to marker, Sam at the bow looking for each one to appear out of the mist. We took plots on the chart from one mark to the next, and once we figured in the deviation error we managed to hit each one pretty well. The GPS was vital that day, and more than once I would say "the mark should be visible any minute," and suddenly there it was. We made it to Beaufort just before dark with only one minor incident in which we ran aground and got ourselves off within a minute or two. But, we hadn't quite made it because before we could get to the anchorage, eat dinner, and go to bed, we had to pass through the Beaufort Drawbridge. The bridge opens on the hour, and we managed to arrive at 5 past… So we hovered in one spot for 55 minutes, cleaning the boat up, reading and relaxing as we waited for the bridge tender to let us pass. Once through we found our way to the anchorage, picked a spot amongst the other cruising boats, and dropped the hook. Another delicious dinner was cooked up by Miranda and we went to bed pleased with our navigation skills through the fog that day, and excited to explore ashore the next.