Sunday, December 2, 2007

Motorboatin'

Portsmouth marked mile 'zero' on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), an often narrow sequence of rivers, canals, and sounds. Motoring has been essential for much of the distance we've made along the waterway thus far, and it's been great having a reliable 50hp engine. At times we must call ahead and wait for bridges to lift for us to pass under.

Our first stop was my friend Ben's place, just north of the Great Bridge Locks. Ben and his wife Brigid (and l'il Bud!) were so welcoming and provided us with every comfort. A cosy home to have showers, do laundry, wonderful dinners, bottomless glasses, a car to run errands, and a cosy bed for a couple nights reprieve from a damp chilly boat. The two short days we spent there ended too soon, and Ben was there to cast off our lines after we made a call to the Great Bridge Locks to inform them of our intent to catch the next lock opening.

There has naturally been more boat traffic in the ICW than out in the open ocean and many passing boats have been offering an ego boost for the boat, with their thumbs up and hollers of 'SUCH a pretty boat!!'. Justine and I are becoming very proud and are really enjoying the attention. We have more incentive everyday to make as many improvements as we can. Painting and tying on the baggy wrinkles have been at the top of the list. The weather is gradually getting warmer, and is helping to make all these tasks more pleasure than chore.

Navigating down the narrow waterway is proving to be challenging and a bit stressful. We're somewhat dependant on random advice from passing boats, such as the gentleman at the dock one day who said 'Look out for the second red mark at the mouth of the Alligator River after mile marker 80, stay to the green... even if you're in the middle of the channel, you will go aground. The dredge hasn't made it out to re-dredge the channel". If it wasn't for such incidences, then we surely would have been aground more times than we already have. Oh yes, our record is 5 in one day I do believe, for times run aground. Some groundings are worse than others, in terms of how stuck we are, and for how long, but so far we've managed to use the engine to power ourselves off the mud banks. It is all mud in this area, so running aground is not as serious as it may sound, it just has the potential to create a great inconvenience if we were to become stuck for long periods of time. We were under sail the other day, well within our marks, when we found ourselves hard aground for about 1o minutes, though it felt like much longer. It's impossible to know the depths for sure with the current technology aboard (though a friendly couple at the flea market yesterday in Oriental donated a proper lead line for sounding the depths and we can now retire the rock on a string we've been using until now). Even with an electronic depth sounder, it's generally too late in such narrow channels if you're on top of a shifted river bank.

About an hour after this grounding, we got up the courage again to set all the sails, as the Goose River opened up into Pamlico Sound and we had more sea room to play with. We approached Oriental a couple of hours before sunset, and motored in around the anchorage and docks looking for a good spot. Without a dingy, of course, ideally, we're looking for free docks so we don't have to swim ashore, and Oriental does have a transient dock. On our way to the dock, we realized we had stopped moving. There were boats everywhere, so I just assumed there would be enough water, but apparently they draw less water than us. We were good and stuck there too for a while. A little later, we were able to continue to the dock, and it was full when we arrived. A very friendly Brit named Mark tried very hard to accommodate us by moving his boat 'Jem' as much as he could to make room on the small wharf, but there was not enough water, and again, we were aground. Once we pushed ourselves out of there, we tried the other side of the wharf. We tried to tuck in by the concrete wall, as the locals said, 'Well, there's not much water there, but there MIGHT be', and, well... you know. What I won't do for a free parking place!

We gave up and went out to the anchorage. It was crowded with other cruisers, and I found a narrow spot between an American boat and a Danish boat. I snugged a bit closer to the Danish boat, and then... aground. Stuck. Teeter-tottering on her keel. Justine threw the anchor over for looks, we went below and made dinner and went to sleep!

In the morning Mark called us on the VHF to let us know he was leaving the town dock, so we could sneak in for 48hrs of free mooring. We will be visible on the webcam for the next 18hrs at least, www.towndock.net. I would recommend Oriental as a destination to any sailor, there's an interesting myriad of characters in this town, and so many people here are so interesting and helpful on all accounts, especially with our dingy search. We may just stay here a while, it seems as good a place as any to find a new tender.