Dances with Barges – Northbound on the Virginia Cut

We left Oriental very early on Monday, April 18th, with Cutting Class, the day the winds were finally going to lay down. The next two days are one of my least favorite sections of the ICW, perhaps the very least favorite. We just wanted to get it done.

We awaken to another morning glow in the east. Over the Oriental breakwater.

We awaken to another morning glow in the east. Over the Oriental breakwater.

On our way with the sunrising ahead.

On our way with the sunrising ahead.

It's an easy morning on the Neuse so Al decided to use the time to clean the windshield, inside and out.

It’s an easy morning so Al decided to use the time to clean the windshield, inside and out.

It's fun to watch the variety of local fisherman and crabbers out on the water, doing their thing.

It’s fun to watch the variety of local fisherman and crabbers out on the water, doing their thing.

It’s winding day in and out of rivers and canals. From Oriental the ICW heads into the Neuse River for a short stretch, and then cuts “inland” westward past Hoboken.

The big fishing boats at RE Mayo. "Cape Potter" is getting his named re-painted.

The big fishing boats at RE Mayo in Hobucken. “Cape Potter” is getting his named re-painted.

Hmmmm........ a duck blind for hunting? Looks like it needs a dressing of fresh greenery.

Hmmmm…….. a duck blind for hunting? Looks like it needs a dressing of fresh greenery.

We cross the Pimlico River and turn into the Pungo River. The Pungo River heads north to Bellhaven (we stopped there on both of our previous trips through here) and then turns eastward. The Alligator River-Pungo River Canal is a long 21 miles stretch of straight water.

We cross the Pimlico River and turn into the Pungo River. The Pungo River heads north to Bellhaven (we stopped there on both of our previous trips through here) and then turns eastward. The Alligator River-Pungo River Canal, 21 miles long, connects the Pungo  River with the Alligator River to the east.

The Alligator River-Pungo River Canal is a long 25 miles stretch of straight water. It has some limited charm, but gets boring fairly quickly. You can see where fallen dead trees are pulled off to the side and piled up. Driftwood, anyone??

The Alligator River-Pungo River Canal has some limited charm, but gets boring fairly quickly. You can see where fallen dead trees are pulled off to the side and piled up. Driftwood, anyone??

Three little turtles sitting on a log. Oops! Our wake washes them right off. SO sorry, but there wasn't much we could do? Perhaps they think of it as a water park ride?

Three little turtles sitting on a log.
Oops! Our wake washes them right off. SO sorry, but there wasn’t much we could do? Perhaps they think of it as a water park ride? Hope so!

How nice to come out of the canal into very calm waters.

How nice to come out of the canal into very calm waters.

The original plan was to reach Deep Point, an anchorage on the Alligator River, north of the Alligator River -Pungo River Canal, stop there for the night, and then continue across the Albemarle Sound and on to Coinjock. But both boats decided to keep on going past the Alligator River Bridge and anchor at Sandy Point.

We watched this smoke billowing up for quite a distance as we came through he Alligator River . Never did find out the cause.

Smoke was billowing up in distance as we came through the Alligator River. The smell of burning carried on the wind to us. NPR news reported (listening to a podcast) that this wildfire in the Alligator National Wildlife Refuge was the largest of 3 wildfires in North Carolina, consuming a total of 17,000 acres. 

A very long day, but very worth it. The sun sets on our 85-mile, 11.5 hour day.

A very long day, but very worth it. The sun sets on our 85-mile, 11.5 hour day.

Tuesday, April 19th and we are up and going again, time to cross the Albemarle. Albemarle Sound can be quite rough in certain conditions. It is wide and shallow (15-20 feet at most so the wind can kick up the waves. Today was a good day. It is on the other side of the  Albemarle Sound, that cruisers must make a choice – Dismal Swamp route or Virginia Cut?? In the fall we had “done the Dismal” taking that route from Portsmouth, Virginia into North Carolina. We decided that the Virginia Cut was the way to go on our northbound travels.

We reached Coinjock Marina on the North River in the Virginia Cut by noon. The docks at Coinjock is a singular dock– one long face dock, 1200 feet long! The marina’s crew knows just how to place the boats and are right there to assist as you come alongside. Coinjock is in the middle of nowhere, but that nowhere location is just right for stopping if you are on the ICW between the Alligator River and Virginia border. There aren’t many other choices.

This photo was taken in the dim morning light as we left the next day. Cutting Class and Kindred Spirit were the last boats at the very far end.

This photo was taken in the dim morning light as we left the next day. Cutting Class and Kindred Spirit were the last boats at the very far end.

coinjock bush

The meaning of the word “coinjock” from the marina’s website.

It felt like a summer day in the 80’s, a little warm blip of a day in the midst of the cold days we have experienced. While Al changed the oil and washed the entire boat with fresh water, I did laundry and polished stainless steel.

Kindred Spirit and Cutting Class in Coinjock

Kindred Spirit and Cutting Class in Coinjock, North Carolina

Coinjock Marina has a famous restaurant, known for its prime rib dinners. How could we not try it?

Coinjock Marina has a famous restaurant, known for its prime rib dinners. How could we not try it? (Dim early morning light again)

prime rib

 

The four of us reserved our slabs of beef ahead of time, but showed some restraint – each couple shared a “Mate’s Cut”, the 14-16 ounce cut rather than the Captain’s 32 ounce piece. It was delicious.

 

prime rib dinner Coinjocks

The Coinjock folks have a sense of humor.

The Coinjock folks have a sense of humor.

We left the Coinjock dock before any of the dockhands arrived for the day.

We left the Coinjock dock before any of the dockhands arrived for the day.

It's a little chilly again.

It’s a little chilly again, but we prefer to be up on the flybridge.

 

IMG_5207

We cross the border of North Carolina and Virginia. Not much fanfare. No "Welcome to Virginia" Just a square green ICW 63. If you aren't reading the chart as you go, you wouldn't even notice.

We cross the border of North Carolina and Virginia. Not much fanfare. No “Welcome to Virginia” Just a square green ICW 63. If you aren’t reading the chart as you go, you wouldn’t even notice.

ICW markers are popular with birds for their waterfront homes. Seeing more than before, perhaps because this is our first trip heading north in the spring. Looks like the red marker fell over and a temporary floating buoy replaced it. Didn’t bother that bird at all.

ICW markers are popular with birds for their waterfront homes. It’s spring and everyone is nesting.     It looks like the red marker fell over and a temporary floating buoy replaced it. The closeness to the water didn’t bother this bird family at all.

The day began in a routine way, casting off and heading north, just like the many days that preceded it. After crossing the Pimlico River, the Alligator River, Albemarle Sound, and the North River (Coinjock), you would have thought we were done with potentially rough waters, but Currituck Sound and North Landing River gave us quite a ride! There was more “traffic” on the water than we had seen since beginning of this northbound trip three weeks ago. The bows of sailboats were splashing up and down in the strong winds and very choppy water in Currituck Sound. The top of our flybridge may be 18 feet above the water’s surface, but the water sprayed up and over our bow all over Kindred Spirit. Much to our surprise, and Al’s dismay after his hard work, the “spray” was sometime more like a wave of water. She was so clean….. and this river water is so brown.

Once we were into the narrower stretches of the ICW, the waters calmed and we settled into following the ICW route into Pungo Ferry. Well, things were calmer, and narrower, but there was also more boat traffic as well as barges and tugs.

I call this part of the trip “Dances with Barges.” The drama began with this sight coming around a bend —

"Time to Go", the trawler traveling ahead of us, rounds past a tug and barge that is off to the side of the ICW. This one was Aries, a tug-barge combo we would get to know rather well over the next few hours.

“Time to Go”, the trawler traveling ahead of us, rounds past a tug and barge that is off to the side of the ICW. This one was “Aries”, a tug-barge combo we would get to know rather well over the next few hours.

Aha! Aries was off to the side to let this southbound tug and barge pass by. Time to Go is caught in the middle.

Aha! Aries was off to the side to let this southbound tug and barge pass by. Time to Go is caught in the middle.

The ICW is narrow and winding here so the tugs and their barges aren’t visible until you round a bend. Fortunately, the VHF radios kept us in touch with each other. The barge captions were all patient.

Southbound John Parrish coming at us.

Southbound John Parrish coming at us.

Shortly after - southbound Kodiak coming at us.

Shortly after – southbound Kodiak coming at us.

Southbound Evelyn Doris coming at us.

Southbound Evelyn Doris coming at us.

We are all approaching the North Landing Bridge (a swing bridge) for its 10:30 am opening. Time to Go passes through, and then we pass through, noticing the damage recently caused by a barge.

We are all approaching the North Landing Bridge (a swing bridge) for its 10:30 am opening. Time to Go passes through, and then we pass through, noticing the damage recently caused by a barge.

Aries passes through behind us, with Asylum and Cutting Class steaming up as fast as they can while begging the bridge tender not to close before they get there. Marcia sweet-talked the bridge and Asylum flat out told him that if he began to close the bridge now both boats would be unable to stop in time. They got through!

Aries passes through behind us, with Asylum and Cutting Class steaming up as fast as they can while begging the bridge tender not to close before they get there. Marcia sweet-talked the bridge and Asylum flat out told him that if he began to close the bridge now both boats would be unable to stop in time. They got through!

Aries informs all of us that he will now move ahead and lead the pack to Great Bridge Bridge (not a typo, that’s the name) and then into the Great Bridge Lock. We are all aiming for the 12:00 bridge opening, because it only opens on the hour.

Aries pushes past us with its barge ahead.

Aries pushes past us with its barge ahead.

 Stumps, snags and deadheads line the shore. It is narrow here and no one wants to move over too close and get caught on them. The term “deadheads” does not relate to Grateful Dead fans at all.

Stumps, snags and deadheads line the shore’s edge. It is narrow here and not gets shallow quickly. No one wants to move over too close and get snagged on any sunken deadheads. The term “deadheads” does not relate to Grateful Dead fans at all.

Before we get to Great Bridge, we all had to get through the Centreville Turnpike Bridge's 11:30 am opening so that we could make the noon opening of Great Bridge Bridge. We have become quite a line-up of boats.

Before we get to Great Bridge, we all had to get through the Centreville Turnpike Bridge’s 11:30 am opening so that we could make the noon opening of Great Bridge Bridge. We have become quite a line-up of boats.

This caught my eye as we exited the Centerville Bridge - a Bahamas courtesy flag still flying on the mast.

This caught my eye as we exited the Centerville Bridge – a Bahamas courtesy flag still flying on the mast. Most of us take them down when we return to the U.S. I thought you had to take them down?

Great Bridge both sides

Aries leads the rest of us through.

Great Bridge Lock is coordinated with Great Bridge Bridge. On we all go……… One tug and barge followed by 9 “rec” boats as the commercial guys referred to us on the VHF radio. At least I assumed they mean “rec” for recreational boats and not “wreck.”

Into the lock – Aries with barge on the starboard side, and all of "rec" boats on portside

Into the lock – Aries with barge on the starboard side, and all of “rec” boats on portside

Ready and waiting for the lock to fill.

Ready and waiting for the lock to fill.

And out we go! Rec boats first.

And out we go! Rec boats first.

A few more bridges (open railroad bridges and the Gilmertin Bridge) and we are in Portsmouth. Whew. What a day! We will reconsider the Dismal Swamp route next time. It may be longer and a bit shallower, but it requires no dancing with barges and bridges.

Instead of anchoring at Hospital Point as we usually do, we decided to try the free docks in downtown Portsmouth, two small cut-out harbors.. This one, North Landing, seemed to be roomier and no one else was there at that hour. The only thing we had to contend with was the constant in and out of the ferry boat. But it’s a free dock for the night, so who cares about noise and some wakes???

Portmsouth free docks

Cutting Class and Kindred Spirit, at another dock.

Using our headsets (Christmas present to each other) to dock in Portsmouth. We don’t use them a lot, but when we do they really help. The distance from the flybridge down to the bow or stern makes it hard to hear each other over the engine. At first it felt like “cheating” because we never used anything like this on the sailboats, but it sure does make it easier in potentially tricky docking or anchoring.

A selfie with our bluetooth wireless headsets by Cruising Solutions, a Christmas present to each other.  We don’t use them a lot, but when we do they really help. The distance from the flybridge down to the bow or stern makes it hard to hear each other over the engine. At first it felt like “cheating” because we never used anything like this on the sailboats, but it sure does make it easier in potentially tricky docking or anchoring. We used them here in Portsmouth because there were no dock hands to assist at this free dock.

Kindred Spirit and Cutting Class in Portsmouth.

Kindred Spirit and Cutting Class in Portsmouth.

Not the most exciting segment of the journey, nor the prettiest for sure, but it was part of the journey and has been duly recorded. Done.

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