Thursday, August 6, 2009

North on the ICW

(Post had been modified from when Kristen originally put it up)

Kristen here - today is Tuesday 8/6/09. Yesterday we left Bellhaven and the River Forest Marina to head for the Alligator River Marina. It was hot and sunny the whole day. I sat up top in my bathing suit and watched the sweat drip. It was awesome. I would live inside an oven if I could because I just love to sit and bake!

Yesterday was spent navigating from buoy to buoy. Sometimes we are in a channel that stretches through a wide open body of water and other times the channel is dug through heavy forest and swamp. Yesterday while going through a forest area we were watching the birds flying between the treetops. Hmm...white head, brown body, white tail and quite huge. That looks like the bald eagle we saw at the Charleston aquarium. Hay! It IS a bald eagle! I called the kids over and everyone got a clear glimpse of it. What a treat!

[Chris's addendum - We had heard about submerged logs on the Pungo-Alligator River Canal and had meant to look out for them. Unfortunately, we found one. It was about 1.5ft-2ft in diameter and reached all the way to the bottom of the canal (about 12-15ft). Why do I say unfortunately? Well, we only saw it after we heard a huge thump, felt the whole boat vibrate and then saw it pop up behind us. I ran down below to make sure we didn't put a hole in the hull and we looked fine. It doesn't seem like it hit our prop either - it's nice to have it protected so close to the keel. We lucked out. From then on, we were much more careful with keeping a lookout and we saw two other large logs right in center channel, but we could avoid them.

Why does the wind always have to come from one of two directions and one of two speeds? Either it's directly in front of us or directly behind us, and it's either 5kts or 20kts??? Our trip up the Alligator River was in 5-20kts with the wind directly behind us. Without a pole to hold our genoa out, the sail likes to collapse and/or gybe a lot, so we had to run the whole length of the river under engine power. If we didn't have to stick to a channel I could have zig-zagged up, but you can't really do that on most of the ICW. So... back to being a powerboat. We had following seas, so Pelican kind of surfed along up the river.]

After passing through the Alligator River bridge, a swing bridge, we made a sharp left for the marina. I felt like we were in the Bahamas again because there were no channel markers until you came to the breakwall for the marina. Depths on the GPS and charts were 10-12 feet so we weren't too worried.

As we approached the breakwall entry we spotted some sort of animal swimming right in the middle, exactly where we had to go! Is it an alligator? A dog? A cat? As we got closer and closer we finally guessed that it looked most like a cat. But, what was a cat doing swimming across the channel? Chris swerved to avoid it just as it stopped and turned back to the shore it came from. "Don't turn!" I yelled to Chris. He turned back and we missed the cat. As we passed it, it was climbing up the rocks of the breakwall to the right of us. It looked like a cat, but it was three times the size of any cat I'd ever seen. It also was spotted like a leopard.

As we pulled up to the dock, we asked the lady helping us in what it could have been. She said that there are bobcats in these parts. We looked up pictures of bobcats on the internet and they definitely matched what we saw. I turned our sighting into a short science lesson via Wikapedia on the habits of the bobcat.

[Chris again... After we went past the swing bridge, we had to turn hard left, so we were taking the waves on our side, causing us to roll a lot. They weren't big, but they were very short period, so we kept getting hit in a machine gun like fashion. Entering the marina was interesting since the entrance was fairly narrow. I had to point Pelican's nose close to 45 degrees off course just to keep us moving forward straight. THEN we had the bobcat swim out right in front of us! Trying to avoid the bobcat while making sure we didn't crash into the rocks was a real treat, but we made it through. Once we entered the marina proper, the waves and wind pretty much retreated so docking was fairly easy. The choice was to either back Pelican into a slip with a short finger pier or to tie up to a long face dock. The woman yelled - "The face dock is more expensive!" I decided I didn't care - Pelican doesn't back up very well, and I had no interest in adding another large gash into her side.]

The Alligator River Marina is basically a dock set up behind a Shell gas station. There was another building off to the side that housed bathrooms and a TV room. The gas station had a small store that sold souvenirs, ice scream, food items and even alligator bites. We were not feeling adventurous enough to try the alligator.

For dinner we had stuffed clams, which I burnt on the grill, and soup. Since all of us have put on a few pounds since coming back t0 the US, we are trying to eat lighter. We'll see how that goes. Life was much easier when your choices were limited to potatoes, lettuce, tomato (maybe even a red one) and peppers if you're lucky. When there is soooooo.... much new, interesting, and good food around you, it is very hard to resist.

[Chris here... is Kristen saying I'm chubby????]

This morning we left the Alligator River Marina at about 9:30. There are storms reported to hit this afternoon, so it was a difficult decision. The storms are supposed to start at 2:00 PM and we are due to hit Coinjock at 2:15 PM. Keep your fingers crossed!

[Chris here... We had a real tough time deciding whether or not to leave this morning. The forecast called for severe thunderstorms in the afternoon, but only a 50% chance. They were predicting that they wouldn't arrive until 2pm, and while my brain said we should stay at the marina for another night, my gut was telling me to go. Apparently, I have a bad case of "get-there-itis", and I wanted to be in Norfolk by the weekend so we could have the opportunity to check it out. The last time through we didn't stop. It was December, and we just wanted to get south into warm weather. This time, even though we're in a bit of a hurry to get to Albany, we want to take a breather and see some of the cool things Norfolk has to offer. Soooooo... another boat at the marina that has a slightly deeper draft was leaving, and I quick yelled to Kristen - "Let's get out of here RIGHT NOW!". I figured that we could follow the boat with the deeper draft through a shoaled area at the mouth of the Alligator River, and if they didn't ground, we wouldn't ground. I'm nice like that.]

Ok, so now we're safe and sound at Coinjock Marina, home of the famous 32 oz. prime rib. I don't think everyone crossed their fingers hard enough! We were about 2 miles away when the storm hit us. We had been getting hints of cool air for a while, but then all of a sudden the wind turned cold and stayed that way.

We told the kids to go below and we got our foul weather gear out. The wind picked up from 7 to 25 knots in just a few seconds. We watched the rain heading towards us in the distance. "Here comes the rain." I said to Chris. As usual Pelican handled it all like a pro. I wasn't worried about the wind or rain, I knew we could handle that. The thing that did worry me was that we might not be able to see the channel markers. Once the rain hit we realized that we still had enough visibility to see the markers and I was quite relieved. The only scary time was when lightning hit quite close behind us. I'll never get used to the loud crack of close lightening.

[Chris here... The temperature drop from an oncoming storm is amazing. As Kristen mentioned, we had a few degrees of temperature shift as the storm approached, but when it was about 120 seconds away the temperature dropped about 10 degrees in a few seconds! It's an amazing and scary feeling when that happens, because you know it's here. The only other two times we've felt a drop like today were when we got hit by the big storm in Florida and the other one in the Bahamas. Both of those were packing 40kt+ winds (>50mph). Once I felt that temperature drop I was completely on edge. The forecast had said that the squalls could contain 30kt-50kt winds, and I wasn't really in the mood to be in a narrow channel, surrounded by shallow water, with no visibility and lightning striking all around us. Fortunately, as Kristen said, the wind never really got too high - perhaps about 30kts - and the visibility was OK. Kristen was at the wheel (and doing an admirable job - I love open water like the ocean, and she loves channels like the ICW) and I kept asking her if she wanted her foul weather gear. She told me over and over again that it was too bulky and uncomfortable. I reminded her of how cold she gets when she gets rained on, but she refused the jacket. Then it started raining, and ten seconds later, per her newest demand, I was diving below to get her gear.

We were watching the Sirius satellite weather, and it looked like we basically snuck between two REALLY bad cells of the storm. We did have lightning hit approximately 1000ft off of our stern, but all of our electronics stayed on this time. When we contacted the marina, they said that we may have to wait until the storm was done before tying up. I told them not to worry about coming out in the rain - we'd take care of it. I found out later that they didn't care about the rain. Apparently, lightning struck a building directly across from the marina and they were concerned the storm was going to get even worse from an electrical perspective. Fortunately, it didn't and the wind had lessened by the time we reached the marina, so docking was an anti-climactic event (I was wondering if I was going to be pulling up to the dock in 30-40mph winds, which I wouldn't have done - but if I had to wait, hovering in a tight channel with winds like that is not easy at all).]

We arrived at the marina at 2:15 and it then promptly stopped raining. Figgures!! We considered going another 20 miles to an anchorage, but only for a millisecond. Once tied to the dock, another few storms came though so we made the right decision. Now we are heading off to sample that famous 32 oz prime rib!

[Chris here.. we had the prime rib and between the two of us only ate a quarter of it. It was goooood! Steak sandwiches tomorrow! Yippeee!]

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