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Bridges and locks – North River NC to Norfolk VA via the ICW

North River NC to Norfolk VA Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW)
Saturday, 4/19/08

Up at the crack of dawn – only to see the hatches and boat completely covered with mosquitoes. Literally thousands of them. Ugh. Neither of us wanted to step outside until we were absolutely ready to bring up the anchor. Weather reports were showing clear skies, warm weather and light winds. It seemed likely that we would make it to our destination for today – Norfolk VA. This final section of the ICW – would be filled with a combination 15 bridges to navigate under. These included three 65′ fixed bridges, and an array of swing bridges, drawbridges, lift bridges and one lock. Some of the “movable” bridges open “on-demand” — i.e. as soon as the bridge tender sees you — they open the bridge for you to come thru. Other bridges only open on the half-hour or the hour….thus you must wait if you get there too early. And of course, we would need to hope for low water going under the remaining fixed bridges.

As we approached the Coinjock Highway fixed bridge — we noticed a motor yacht coming up behind us. I hailed him on the VHF and requested for him to pass us prior to reaching the bridge — so that his wake wouldn’t elevate Cat Maudy under the bridge. He motored by, and after passing to the other side of the bridge – radioed back to us that the measuring stick (appears only on the southbound side) was showing 65 feet. OK…I’m guessing this guy was vision impaired. We got thru — but the clearance at the top of the mast was very small. When we got to the other side of the bridge, I looked back at that southbound measuring stick…it showed 64′. Aiii.

We now have the port rudder completely disengaged from the hydraulic steering. Steering is still a challenge….a major challenge. The port rudder just drags along – and the starboard rudder does all the work. Turning the wheel takes A LOT of effort. On top of that, Captain Pat had to steer thru numerous creeks in which the channel is at most 50 feet wide. Cat Maudy is nearly 30 feet wide…so any oncoming boat…or boat trying to pass us – makes for a real good time!

Here is a quick inventory of the growing list of challenges for Cat Maudy
1. Dingy engine is dead — cannot dinghy to shore from anchor in high winds
2. Windlass battery is kaput — can only raise/lower anchor when attached to house batteries
3. Autohelm is toast – no more magic electronic dude to steer your boat for you
4. Port rudder has a mind of its own
5. It’s nearly impossible to turn the wheel to steer the boat

Wow…it’s time to rock-n-roll and get Cat Maudy back to Baltimore before anything else goes wrong….

As we reached the North Landing Route 165 pivot bridge — boat traffic on the ICW heading north was increasing significantly! We became one of a chain of sailboats and motor yachts – accompanied by 2 sailboats hoisting a Canadian flag. We all had to wait approximately 10 minutes for the pivot bridge to open – which made for some interesting bonding with your fellow boaters. Small channel…very little space to maneuver in….currents, winds…and in the midst of all of this — try to hold your position and not hit any of the other boats. Sure glad Pat was at the helm.

Cat Maudy was the leader of the pack of sailboats…and within a short time we had made it to the next swing bridge – the Centerville Turnpike Bridge. The bridge tenders use VHF channel 13 to communicate with boat traffic. While this bridge was only supposto open on the half hour — the VERY NICE bridge tender man said he would open as soon as the 2 Canadian sailboats had caught up to us.

For some reason, the two Canadian boats seemed to be in their own world – and obviously not listening to VHF 13. They must have decided that they needed to wait for the half hour opening…so they slowed to a crawl nearly ½ mile away. The bridge tender hailed them repeatedly to come up and he would open the bridge….but noooooooooobody was listening on the Canadian boats.

Finally, I took things into my own hands. Positioned myself on the stern of Cat Maudy — and began waving my arms frantically for them to move closer! Come on!!! Pay attention back there….déplacer l’expédie!!!!! Finally, they noticed…and moved forward….and the bridgetender opened the bridge for us. I think I’m getting weary of ICW travels…and looking forward to getting back onto open waters. No more patience for slow motion!

As we approached the Great Bridge Highway Bridge — our final 65′ fixed bridge – we proceeded slowly, purposely losing all boat traffic north and southbound. No wakes allowed for this final fixed bridge. I searched the pilings and shoreline to determine if water levels appeared to be up or down. I wanted them to be down…watermarks looked to be higher than the current water line… The moment of truth….and…we cleared. Barely. Hallelujah — done with the fixed bridges!

It didn’t take long for us to catch up with the motorcade of northward bound boaters – and we sat in a new “queue” waiting on the Great Bridge Highway Bridge (round 2). Yes, this bridge is named the same as the fixed bridge that we just went thru. Guess they ran outta names for their bridges. This swing bridge was the most modern that I’ve seen on the ICW — as most of the bridges appear to be quite old and under-funded. Actually, the entire ICW is in dire need of funding…but hey, our government thinks it is more important to send out fighter jets to dive into pleasure boats on the Alligator River than spend money on ensuring boats can travel safely along the Atlantic coast…Ooops…I digress.

Great Bridge Lock. Yes, a 3rd structure in a row named Great Bridge. Definitely a lack of imagination here. However, going thru the lock was pretty cool. The Great Bridge Lock is a tidal guard — that lifts boats between tidal and non tidal waters. In our case — we would be entering INTO tidal waters. Southbound traffic would be entering into nontidal waters. You motor up to either the starboard or port side and tie up your boat to some very large pilings. The lock “lady” will help you get your lines around the big pilings. Basically, you then hold your boat when the front gates of the locks open. The water levels only change just over 2 ½ feet — so it is barely noticeable. You then untie your boat…and keep on motoring! About 10 more miles to go – and we will be in Norfolk.

The landscape was quickly changing now. Rural is OUT…heavy industrial and military are IN. As we approach downtown Norfolk – it is obvious that this is a serious commercial shipping port AND military port. This will be quite a change for us after spending the last few weeks in quaint towns or uninhabited anchorages.

We hailed the Waterside Marina for a dock slip for the night. The marina is located in the downtown tourist section of Norfolk. It is loaded with shopping, restaurants, harbor ferries, and an amazing amount of things to do! I take a few moments to get used to urban again. We have completed the second leg of our journey north — 200 miles on the ICW in 3 days. The final stretch will be 200 more miles north on the Chesapeake. For now, we’ll “Take Five”, enjoy some sushi for dinner – and leave travel strategies on a handicapped boat…for tomorrow.

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