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Wind tides – Beaufort NC to Hobucken NC via the ICW

Beaufort to Hobuken NC
Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW)

On Thursday, 4/17 – the weather reports were still calling for northerly winds — but much diminished from prior forecasts. It was time to start moving north – via the ICW. We were expecting coastal flooding to be back to normal water levels by Friday — which would be perfect for the leg of our journey that had us under the shortest fixed bridge – 64′.

There is no question, that Cat Maudy was loaded down. 400 gallons of water…and 90 gallons of diesel – is probably the heaviest she has ever been.. Combined with my stockpiles of rice (at least 100 pounds) — helped Cat Maudy to sit even lower in the water. Hey — my obsession with hoarding lots of rice on a boat turns out to have more than one use!

To better enable us to safely travel under the fixed bridges, we purchased a high-tech Stanley laser distance measuring device — so that we could accurately measure a) the true height of Cat Maudy off the water and b) the true height of fixed bridges as we maneuvered under them.

Unfortunately, we got a bit of a late start leaving Beaufort – so we had currents, winds, steering issues and a loaded down boat working against optimal speeds. At one point – with the diesel engines running full out — we were only making a whopping 3.5 knots. At this rate — we’ll only be able to make 35 miles (and we were hoping for 70) on the first day. The first 30 miles of the ICW from Beaufort NC (heading north) is affected by coastal tides and currents. After that — the water levels are only affected by wind tides.

With Stanley (our new good friend & digital laser measuring tool) there would be no more bridge height guesswork. We knew that the 64′ Wilkerson Highway fixed bridge on the Pungo River — would be dangerously close. After a few practice tries with Stanley – we determined that Cat Maudy rested at 62′ 10″ (down about 7″ from her “stated” height of 63′ 5inches above the water line). If the water levels are UP (due to wind tides) – then we may still have a problem getting under the 64′ bridge — but hopefully the bridge gods will be in our favor.

We practiced a few more times with Stanley — only to determine that you could not possibly see the itsy-bitsy laser dot sixty some feet away – in any mid-day sunlight. Hmmmm…. In order to be able to measure the bridges – I would have to position Stanley at the far tip of the bow….and shoot a random number of laser beams (without being able to actually see them) — until I got a hit on the bridge that registered somewhere between 60-62 feet. This would mean that I had measured the lowest point of the bridge. Followed up with a quick visual confirmation via binoculars – plus added positive vibes should do the trick. Wowie-zow – fixed bridge travel strategies have begun!

I quickly discovered that much of the ICW we were traveling through required careful navigation and close attention to the charts. The channels were very narrow and any deviation would put us into less than 1 foot of water. The waterway is incredibly shallow – and you can easily get tricked into thinking that it must be deep water. Through many sections, I was stationed in front of our navigation software — calling out headings and ensuring that Captain Pat was on course. Our shallow depth monitor was constantly going off! Even in the ICW channel — we could easily see 5 and 6 feet of water.

We motored approximately 50 miles on the ICW – and decided it was time to anchor in Eastham Creek — just prior to reaching the Pamlico River. We anchored in 5 feet of water. This is a first (in a while!) Normally we have to anchor where it is deep enough for a 6′ fluctuation of tide changes. The water level stayed at 5 feet all night long!

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