Saturday, July 20, 2019

Summer 2019 Boat Trip! Day 2

Norfolk to Ocracoke
155 Nautical Miles
Departure from Norfolk 8:00 a.m.
Arrived in Ocracoke 4:45 p.m.
Weather:  Hot, windy, choppy seas in the afternoon

When boating, one must be flexible. I'm not talking about the ability to stretch your limbs further than others, although that probably helps - I'm talking about not being married to your plans. Because sometimes, things don't turn out the way you expected, and when you're boating, improvising is the norm. We were tested today.

The morning started out glorious. My companions, the two munchkins and their "uncle" Tony stayed out late at the concert at Waterside near our boat while yours truly wrote his blog and fell asleep before 11:00. Apparently they were out late partying because when I woke up at 5:00, they were all asleep. I went for a walk, filled up the water tanks, took out the garbage and recycling, cleaned up the boat, ate breakfast, and basically ran out of things to do. So, around 7:45, after going stir crazy, I woke up Tony and decided we would leave early, despite having promised everyone we could leave at 9:00 today.
Sababa, early morning right before departure
We set out, thinking we were leaving Norfolk behind, down the peaceful river, heading down mile 0 of the Intercoastal Waterway, otherwise known as the ICW. The world was at peace. I was so happy. It seemed like everything was under control. But it was not.
Leaving Norfolk and heading down the ICW
Tony was becoming useful. He learned how to coil lines (although sometimes they ended up with knots in them), and is good at putting away the fenders and getting the boat ready for our sail.

We saw amazing naval sites. Boats under repair, and even a few aircraft carriers.
The day seemed almost too perfect.

I had prepared. Charting out our course for each day, reserving slips at marinas, and practically memorizing the orders of the bridges that we would have to wait for. Bridge #5, which is less than 3 miles from downtown Norfolk was the first one. A railroad bridge that goes up and down, and which the guidebook said is almost always up.

As we approached Bridge #5, I noticed to my chagrin that it was down, and in fact there was a boat on the other side waiting to go North. I tried to raise the bridge tender on the radio, but got no answer. After about 10 minutes, a police boat approached me. I  leaned over the rail, and he yelled up at me. The content of his yell hit me pretty hard. One of those "uh oh" moments. He said that the bridge was down and broken and would be closed until Monday. (Today is Saturday, and I'm supposed to be in Charleston on Monday.) What?!?!?!
Bridge #5 was down, not up as I had hoped
I called up my trusty friend Captain Bob. Bob has delivered Sababa a couple of times and knows his way around the ICW better than anyone I know. He checked around and said there was no information about this bridge closure. Nonetheless, I was finally able to get the bridge on the radio, and it was confirmed that this bridge was closed until Monday, in effect shutting down the ICW for two days. No traffic was going to pass in either direction. Holy crap.

So, what to do. My first thought was that I was in big trouble. Not going to get to Charleston as planned. Maybe spend a couple of days in Norfolk? I didn't like the idea. Captain Bob suggested going around and taking the ocean route. I had considered that in my planning but decided that I did not like the possibility of rough seas, and the inlet I needed to take was unfamiliar to me and has a reputation of being treacherous. 

Bob walked me through what I needed to do, and I decided that it beat spending the next two days doing nothing in Norfolk. So, we headed out to sea. Backtracking towards Norfolk, we passed our marina from last night at 9:00 a.m., about an hour after we left, and at the original time I had promised everyone we would leave. At least I kept my end of the deal.

As we headed towards the inlet at Virginia Beach, I noticed that my depth sounder was not working. This would have been disastrous had we taken the ICW as planned. In the ocean, depth was not an issue, but still, you don't want to be on a boat trip without an accurate depth reading at all times. After some time on the phone with my mechanic and some fancy rebooting of my electronics, I was back in shape.
The depth sounder was not working this morning

With my depth perception back, I pointed us out to sea. We passed Cape Henry, and turned towards the open waters, spotting many dolphins. Too bad the girls were still asleep.

Cape Henry Lighthouse
Heading out to see, you can't quite see Europe
The ocean was relatively calm, and we took in the sight of Virginia Beach and all the waterfront hotels from the water. After a while, we saw nothing but coastline to our right and open ocean to our left. It's a surreal calm you feel when there is nothing but open water in front of you. I couldn't help but feel how much better off we were here than navigating the treacherous ICW with all it's shallow areas, tight curves, shoaling, slow boats who don't know how to drive, and numerous other disadvantages to the ICW. Although I wanted to give Tony and the girls the ICW canal experience, this sure was easier. Auto pilot engaged, radar on, and now kick back and relax. Well, at least for a little while.
As we approached Oregon Inlet, I started to feel nervous. I had read about the dangers of this inlet, and furthermore, I noticed that the markers in the channel and my chart did not match up. I assumed I should follow the markers rather than the chart, but it was an uneasy feeling to see myself heading towards 2 feet of water as marked on my chart. I raised a working dredge boat on channel 13 and asked, and he was very friendly and reassured me to take the markers and follow them in.

Aside from some pretty sharp turns and 2-3 feet of water all around the channel, there was a heavy current and over 20 knot winds, and the 3 miles of tight channel I had to navigate really frayed my nerves, something that was noticed by my crew and pointed out to me by my daughters. Well, I get very tense in these situations because the consequences of screwing up are pretty severe, and any way, I'm a worry wart.

We got through the channel and into Pamlico Sound. Oh man was it getting rough out. The waves  were 3-4 feet, the wind had to be over 20 knots, all pounding us from the front. All 3  of my crew  got pretty nauseous, and  I felt terrible about that, but there really was nowhere to stop. I had decided that rather than hit our original destination of Manteo, where we had picked out a great restaurant that we had been to on our Outer Banks trip last summer, Nags Head Pizza, instead we would continue South to Ocracoke, which would shave a couple of hours out of our day tomorrow and would avoid us having to go the wrong way for an hour today and then backtrack tomorrow.

As the boat was taking a beating, all our stuff was flying around. I noticed that one of the paddle boards that I had attached to our dinghy was breaking loose. I didn't want to lose the paddle board, and furthermore, if it fell out, the other one would no longer be tied down tightly, and we'd lose it too. Every time we took a big bump, I looked down, and it was further out. I stopped the boat and went to the platform to try to fix the paddle board. However, I hadn't realized how rough the water was, and we took a sharp wave that tilted the boat badly. I was holding on, but still it was scary to be standing on the swim platform in the back of the boat and get tilted like that so I hopped right back into the boat and closed the small door to the swim platform.

I was at a loss at this point. So, I had Elana drive the boat at about 6 knots straight into the waves. This way, we stayed in a stable position and didn't rock back and forth. I then climbed into the crew quarter and retrieved my boat hook. I was able to latch onto the coil connected to the paddleboard, and then I tied it to the boat. I knew that would hold for the next hour while we made our way through this junk to Ocracoke.

The total time in the rough stuff was about two hours, but it seemed a lot longer. I played with different speeds to try to relieve some of my crew's discomfort with little success. Finally I decided that going fast wasn't really worse than going slower, and it would end this more quickly, so I kept us at around 20 knots until we got to safety.

Navigating Ocracoke was a bit scary. It was very windy, and the current wanted to push me out of the channel. However, Sababa is great and handled beautifully, and we were never in any real danger. My biggest concern was that even in the harbor at Ocracoke, it was blowing over 20 knots, and I had to dock at a fixed pier to buy fuel. We had used up the same amount as on day 1.
The entrance to the harbor at Ocracoke. Was a lot rougher than it looks

The fuel dock at our marina was about 35 feet long. Sababa is 59 feet 10 inches long. Behind  and in  front of my boat, there were other boats and piers sticking out. A 20-25  knot wind was pushing me towards the dock, and the entire town seemed to be standing around watching my attempt to safely land my boat there. It was quite hairy, but I used every bit of my driving instruments and thruster to somehow manage a soft landing. Not since SpaceX landed a rocket on a boat have I been that excited about a safe landing. I don't think I would have tried this a couple of years ago.

Next, we had to get into a fixed pier slip with very short finger piers and the same wind I just mentioned. It was pretty scary, but with my awesome crew who were becoming more adept by the minute, we pulled it off. One of the dockhands joined us on the fuel doc, and we invaluable in getting us situated. All was good in the world. Well, not really. The power didn't work. I had several guys from the marina trying to help. They even worked on the main junction box and hooked me up to 4 different pedestals, but nothing. I was hungry and tired and frustrated, and eventually just gave up.

We went to dinner and had a really awesome meal and a good time, but I left early to go back to the boat and try to fix the electric. After removing an access panel in the crew quarter and crawling into a space that was just slightly smaller than me, I found some breakers, but they were not tripped. I reset them anyway. I then reset every possible breaker on the boat in the engine room and in the main cabin. Somehow this worked. So, now we have power, and we are safe and sound, docked in Ocracoke.
Tomorrow, we are traveling a route that I did not plan out in advance because I had no idea we would be in Ocracoke instead of Manteo. I just spent some time with my charting software, and we're all good. We'll run in Pamlico again for about 40 minutes. Hoping it's calmer than today, but probably won't be. Then we have a nice peaceful 40 minute canal ride. After that, back out to the ocean for around 4 hours. If it's really rough, we'll turn around and take the ICW for about 6 hours. I guess we'll play it by ear and will be flexible, because that's the boating life.