Toward A Great Date In Great Bridge December 1, 2003
By The Ithaka - Published December 01, 2003 - Viewed 1011 times
December 1, 2003
Great Bridge, Virginia
36º 43.238 N
076º 14.275 W
Toward A Great Date In Great Bridge
By Douglas Bernon
When we weighed anchor at the Isle of Hope, just shy of Savannah, Georgia, our ambition was to exit the Intracoastal Waterway, return to the deep waters of the Atlantic, grab our little piece of the Gulf Stream, and shoot north. We envisioned ourselves cantering along 50 to 75 miles offshore, blowing by the Carolinas all together, staying well east of the notoriously shallow and cantankerous waters off Cape Hatteras, and then entering the southern end of Chesapeake Bay at Cape Henry, north of Norfolk -- an easy trip of just over 500 miles. The weather predictions were all in our favor, the sky was clear, and while we felt wistful saying goodbye to friends in Georgia, we were ready to get offshore and make some tracks. But life, and weather, are always what get in the way of plans.
Throughout the Georgia marshlands were fishing boats and shrimpers going to and fro from their home ports.
Ithaka spent many peaceful nights securely anchored in mud along the banks of Georgia’s marshlands.
Once Ithaka passed the shipping buoy marking the entrance to the Savannah River and Tybee Island, we happily pulled the kill switch on the engine, rolled out our big 135% genoa, and headed east-northeast, watching Hilton Head island disappear to port. Once offshore we were immediately reminded of the impact the ice age had on this section of the east coast of North America. Glaciers totally leveled the terrain, so much so that from Savannah you have to head out more than 70 miles before the water gets any deeper than about 80 feet.
As we motorsailed along the waterway, we often had to line ourselves up with range markers such as these to make sure Ithaka stayed in the deeper channels as they cut across shallows.
The red sky of a waterway sunset.
Hatteras is famous for its beauty, its shallows, and for sudden, dramatic changes in its own personalized, idiosyncratic weather systems. Because the shoals off Hatteras run far into the Atlantic -- with the Gulf Stream close by -- and because there’s precious little to temper seas that have been building up and rolling in from 4,000 miles away, these are some of the globe’s more treacherous waters, and no one as fearful as I am wants to be close to land there if things are getting icky. You’re fine 150 miles offshore in deep water, but storms close in, where the water is shallower, can ruin your month very quickly.
All along the Intracoastal Waterway are swing bridges and bascule bridges manned by bridge tenders. They stop car traffic and open the bridges when you call them on the VHF and request clearance.
With sand-dune beaches to port and starboard, the entrance channel to Moorhead City and Beaufort runs between Bogue and Schackleford Banks. It’s a stunning entry through the sandy barrier islands, which on this sunny day were dotted with beachcombers exploring the dunes. Before we knew it, we were out of the ocean and back again in civilization. We’d stopped in Beaufort several years ago when we were heading south, and had been charmed by a town that takes its hospitality seriously. The local maritime museum has a car that it lends out for free to cruisers who want to run errands, and the post office has magnificent murals painted in the 1930s by artists sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. There are two well-protected anchorages, a nicely marked buoy system, a library within walking distance where you can check e-mail, and a generous attitude towards those from the sea.
The entrance to Pungo Creek
Glad to have the anchor well set, we poured some wine as the sun set, and began looking over the charts. We were searching for a sweet spot where we could just dig in and hang out for several days, waiting for the low to pass over us. Severe thunder and lightening, rain and wind, were predicted to begin within 24 hours.
We shared the protection of Pungo with this elegantly restored sailboat, and waited for the low to pass us all by.
Ducks waddle along the banks of the Great Bridge lock.
During our time there, even though the wind often blew with gale-force intensity, and the rain never seemed to let up, the marshland took the brunt of the blow, and the water around us stayed virtually flat — not the slightest hint of a roll. We read books, worked on essays, made popcorn, caught up on endless boat projects, and said our thanks for being tucked in. It was a reminder that sitting still is often the finest part of cruising, a reward for the worries and efforts of getting there in the first place. That’s how it felt at Pungo, where we re-established our little routines and relaxed. Three other boats came in, a beautiful old schooner that stayed just one night, a lovely cruising trawler, and on our last night a steel sloop. Pungo was long enough that we all had different nooks and crannies completely to ourselves.
Beautiful flowering trees line the waterway at the Great Bridge Lock.
When the skies became blue again, we hauled up Ithaka’s anchor, and motored out the creek and back into the waterway. About an hour ahead of us was the steel sloop. We puttered along at a little over five knots all morning, as motor yachts and power boats overtook us. All the while the steel sloop stayed just ahead, though over time the gap slowly closed between us. Douglas and I figured the other sailboat must have about the same size engine as Ithaka. On the ICW, no matter what kind of boat you have, you quickly find that it’s engine size that’s the great equalizer. Finally, in one of the larger bays of the waterway, Bernadette put out our genoa, and we ever-so-slowly overtook the modest steel sloop, sliding by them close enough to chat. We noticed that they had no bimini, only a small dodger, and that they flew an Italian flag.
Ithaka pokes her nose into the lock, and we tie alongside as the gates close and the water begins to drop
“Savannah,” we called back, happy to connect to a fellow cruiser. “What about you?”
“Patagonia,” he answered. Well, there you go. It appears engines aren’t the only equalizers on the waterway. We waved and wished them good luck on their cruise up the coast, and Ithaka pulled away. We had a rendezvous ahead, one to which we’d looked forward for months. At Great Bridge, Virginia, just before Norfolk, we were going to meet Pieter and Inge Van Kampen, who sail Baerne, a 60-foot steel sloop they built in their native Holland. After saying good-bye to them in Honduras more than a year ago, they were awaiting us, ahead.
Baerne’s cozy pilothouse, the object of our desires three years ago.
Inge and Bernadette
Pieter and Douglas
For Bernadette and me, the destinations of connecting and re-connecting with people are often the most compelling. Islands can be stunning, reefs spectacular, landfalls rewarding, and sunsets awesome, but at the end of the day, the prospect of being with people who touch your soul are the finest of all. We carried on toward Great Bridge with excitement.
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