Norfolk to Charleston

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Norfolk to Charleston

From  Norfolk, Elizabeth River, Virginia Cut, Blackwater Creek
22 December 2005

We finally left Ocean Marine Yacht Center Norfolk with our new engine installed on 22nd December. We have a little more power, a five year warranty and a great deal more knowledge of what goes on in the engine room.

It was a great feeling to be moving again. We headed out into the busy Elizabeth River and found our way through the mle of tugs, barges, workboats and bridges for a while until the ICW route splits just south of Norfolk. This is the only place on the ICW where there is a choice of route for about 80 miles. When we came north we chose the westerly, more challenging Great Dismal Swamp Canal route. Heading south, we elected to take the eastern route to Coinjock through Virginia Cut. As soon as we were in the Cut, we escaped the traffic of the river and were into much quieter more rural waters.

Great Bridge township, is located on the Virginia Cut. There is a lock to transit here and a very unique lifting bridge close together. The lock is enormous as it takes tug and barge traffic and has a drop of around 3 feet heading south. Virginia Cut becomes the North Carolina Cut at the state border.

We stopped for the night after only 25 miles due to our late start from Norfolk having selected Blackwater Creek as a suitable spot. It was quite tight for us as the creek was narrow and not very deep, situated in marshland, very remote, very quiet and very very cold.

Coinjock, Albermarle Sound, Alligator River
23 December

We awoke to ice on the inside of our cabin windows and hatches. Thick frost on deck and ice on the water in Blackwater Creek! Is this why it's called the IcyW?!!!

This was to be a long day, so we made an early start. Back out into the ICW south into a narrow dredged channel down the centre of the wide and winding North Landing River, through the popular stopping point of Coinjock where the waterfront is lined with restaurants and marine businesses. Then further down the Cut and out across the Albemarle Sound. This is a stretch of water to be treated with great respect. When we crossed it northbound in June, we had a howling wind and waves over the boat. Southbound was much quieter, but colder! Half way across we rejoined the other ICW route from the Great Dismal Swamp. The crossing is 17 miles, then into the Alligator River through a swing bridge. However, just before the bridge the deep channel becomes very narrow and the shoals change regularly. We followed exactly the reverse of the dog's leg route we had used safely when heading northbound, but on this occasion grounded on three attempts. Finally on the fourth attempt we found our way through. Luckily it is mostly a mud bottom so provided our reaction is quick enough and with the help of our powerful prop, we can usually extract ourselves.

We made good time for most of the day, but wanted to get out of the main, very wide Alligator River into a quiet anchorage at the head of the river. This necessitated arriving at the chosen anchorage until after sunset. Having studied the charts and a description of the anchorage, we decided to press on. We anchored safely and had a quiet night.

Alligator and Pungo Rivers Canal, Pungo River, Pimlico River, Goose Creek Canal, Bay River, Bonnet Bay
24 December 2005

Our overnight anchorage on 23rd was just outside the entry to the Alligator and Pungo Rivers Canal, which joins the two rivers. We had an easy run through through the canal seeing only tug and barge traffic en route.

The wide and tranquil Pungo River was a major contrast to the canal and this is true of the ICW. Every corner is a different vista. Every river is different from the last and each has its own eccentricities and character.

Once out of the Pungo River, we entered the wider Pamlico River which we crossed to enter Goose Creek, followed by Goose Creek Canal, out into Bay River and across to Bonnet Bay for our night's anchorage.

We spent a quiet Christmas Eve, with an amazing cheese fondue and copious wine. The night was quiet but still cold.

Bay River, Maw Point, Neuse River, Adam's Creek Canal, Core Creek, Beaufort
25 December 2005


A Christmas Day to remember. We intended to reach Beaufort, North Carolina so that we could phone family as our mobile does not work in the Carolinas. The day started with thick cloud and very low visibility. However, we had the route well planned so headed off. As soon as we reached Bay River it poured with rain, then we were hit by a thunder storm and visibility reduced dramatically. We turned back, then it cleared a little as the storm passed so we turned again. We had to round the treacherous shoal at Maw Point then out into and across the very exposed estuary of the Neuse River. This river also has a nasty reputation and it lived up to it that day.

We were happy to turn into Adam's Creek, then Adam's Creek Canal for shelter. At the end of this canal we entered the much wider and more difficult to navigate Core Creek which leads into Beaufort. Again it rained heavily and the visibility dropped so that we could barely see markers. Our GPS is excellent and we always know exactly where we are to a couple of metres and as we approached the main commercial channel into Beaufort, the sky cleared.

So we set our anchor in Taylor Creek which runs along the Beaufort water front. The creek is very tidal with limited space so we took time to set the anchor. We have also been using a small buoy tied to the anchor in these waters so that if the anchor gets caught behind and old log or some other debris we can pull it out via the buoy rope. We also have a practice of reversing the boat gently once the anchor is down to set it into the bottom. On this day we screwed up!

We reversed the boat without realising that the current had moved the boat forward over the anchor. While reversing, the propeller found the buoy rope and jammed totally, stopping the engine. So, the buoy is trapped around the prop, which has lifted the anchor sufficiently so that it is not holding and we are drifting without an engine! We launched the dinghy and set out our second anchor. Then back on board we hauled in on the anchor rode to set that anchor and pull us out of the channel.

Next, the drawing of straws to see who would dive and free the prop! Geoff drew the short straw. Water temperature 10C, 50F!!! Two wetsuits with a hot water bottle inside and still a very reluctant diver. The rope had to be cut away and luckily there was no other damage, so after five minutes in the water followed by a hot shower and cup of tea we were able to reset the main anchor and call it a day as it was already dark. Too late to phone family.

Morehead, Bogue Sound, Camp Le Jeune, Mile Hammock Bay
26 December 2005

Our Christmas phone calls were made before we left Beaufort. We then headed off out through the commercial port of Morehead City and down Bogue Sound. This is a very wide but very shallow sound between the coastal islands and mainland. We were in the narrow dredged channel of 15 feet with 1 foot depths either side. The wind rose to 36 knots making it a very cold and unpleasant part of the trip.

After we cleared Bogue Sound and entered a more sheltered part of the ICW channel, we passed by Camp Le Jeune, a very large military area used for marine training. From the water it appeared to be a marshy wildlife wilderness with the occasional firing range on the horizon. The military area includes the coastal island of Onslow Beach. There is a low swing bridge crossing the ICW connecting the two areas, which is operated by the marines.

We anchored that night in a dredged bay, Mile Hammock Bay on the southern edge of the military area. The bay had a ramp used by the marines for waterborne exercises. Fortunately none were planned while we were there.

Wrightsville, Carolina Beach
27 December

The ICW had changed. From Norfolk to Beaufort we were meandering inland, but after Beaufort we were running down between coastal sand dune islands and the mainland, hence the number of bridges along the way. Most are fixed bridges with a 65 foot clearance. (We need 60 feet for our mast). Many have to be opened. Some of these do not open during weekday morning and evening road traffic rush hours. Some open hourly, some every half hour and some on request. We contact the bridge on VHF radio when a mile out to confirm the opening. Most opening bridges are lifting, but some are swing bridges and one we encountered is the last remaining pontoon bridge. The whole pontoon swings out of the channel.

Our journey has to have all these well coordinated so that we do not just miss an opening or have to wait in the current too long for a scheduled opening time.

Our journey took us past Wrightsville, a very trendy yachting town with some very elegant houses along the bank. We saw several dolphins along the way, some swam beside the boat for a while.

The coastal islands and mainland come together at Carolina Beach. The ICW goes off west through Snow's Cut, a short deep man made channel and joins the Cape Fear River. Instead of taking the turn into Snow's Cut, we continued south into the cul-de-sac lake between Carolina Beach and the mainland and anchored for the night. 

Snow's Cut, Cape Fear River, Southport, Calabash, Little River, 'The Ditch', Barefoot Landing
28 December 2005

A very sunny day, but still with a cold wind. We left the Carolina Beach anchorage which was surrounded by holiday homes and jetties, north again for a mile then west through Snow's Cut. From there out into wide the Cape Fear River which leads inland to Wilmington, NC. We headed southeast towards the coast for 6 miles on very calm water, but with the ebb tide. Instead of our usual 7 knots, we were doing 11 knots.

The exciting part was to slow the boat down to make the 90 turn southwest from the Cape Fear into the next narrow ICW channel at the fishing town of Southport. This channel, called "The Ditch" is lined with houses with private docks and new large residential and marina developments.

Eventually, "The Ditch" becomes Calabash Creek, then the Little River. At Little River we crossed into South Carolina. Every time the ICW channel crosses or joins a river or creek, there is a sudden cross current that can easily take the boat off course into shallow water.

The ICW leaves the Little River again and continues as The Ditch where there is no space for anchoring. However, at a point called Barefoot Landing, close to a main road, and just through yet another swing bridge there is an very large area of shops, restaurants, entertainments and condominiums that has become a major area attraction. There is a free mooring dock for transient ICW boats, so we stopped there over night and explored.

 Waccamaw River, Georgetown
29 December 2005

From Barefoot Landing, continued down The Ditch for another 10 miles then came out into the beautiful Waccamaw River. With forests both sides, this river meanders its way towards the sea. Again we were travelling with the ebb tide, so were able to achieve 9 knots most of the way. The river widens as it closes on the coast and becomes Winyah Bay. We took a side trip off to the right into a historical town called Georgetown.

We anchored off the waterfront close to the fishing warf and went ashore to explore. The town is full of restaurants and antique shops, but in our view is no match for Chestertown, where Dream On spent the summer.

Georgetown also has massive paper and steel factories close by that are noisy and smelly 24 hours a day. Georgetown is not on our visit list next time around.

Winyah Bay, ICW Channel, McClellanville, Inlet Creek
30 December 2005

Out from Georgetown into Winyah Bay heading towards the coast for another 6 miles then right into the ICW channel, running through wide marshland areas separating the coastal islands from the mainland. There were occasional glimpses of the Atlantic through numerous creeks leading out to the sea. The tidal range increases as we go south and at low tide this area has a mixture of mud and shingle banks. There are vast expanses of marsh grass with shallow channels meandering though them.

It must be duck shooting season as we have seen hundreds of small camouflaged flatboats with camouflaged people with guns darting in and out of the marshland along the way.

We saw several dolphins again on this section.

We had hoped to make Charleston on this day, but had mis-read the opening times for the final bridge before Charleston Harbour, so had to find an anchorage for the night. We stopped in Inlet Creek, within sight of the bridge, again surrounded by marshland. We are not used to such tides as in these parts. The amount of anchor rode has to be judged to account for 5-7 foot fluctuations.

Charleston, South Carolina
31 December 2005

Finally, through the swing bridge and across the expanse of Charleston Harbour and into Charleston City Marina in time for She Crab soup at our favourite downtown restaurant.

Now the original plan was to have been here with Dream On by 17th October to be joined by Geoff's sister and husband, so we are only 2 and a half months late. That's cruising!

Charleston City Marina boasts a Mega-Dock. Yes it has fantastic facilities, and yes we were surrounded by wonderful boats, but it's a helluva long walk!

It's New Years Eve. We thought of all the great places we could go to in Charleston to celebrate New Year, but all would have either no space or waiting lists, and as there was just the two of us, we decided to celebrate on board with a good meal and a bottle of wine.

A very happy and peaceful 2006 to all.

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ICW Norfolk to Charleston - Photos












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