Yes we did finally leave, for those of your who have been following the "we're leaving soon" saga. We actually departed on Thursday October 18, about one week later than planned, after waiting for the weather to clear. No one was on the dock to see this event, except for one other couple who also departed but only for a weekend cruise. We ended up in the same harbor with them on our first night out, so it really is a small world out there.
Prior to departure we did more work on the boat, more provisioning, more entertaining and plenty of planning (most of which we have yet to implement). The entertaining in particular slowed us down; cruising is a very social existence so we met and spent time with more people in our first month on the boat than we had in the five years preceding our departure. Tristan and Maggie's half brothers and sisters even showed up!
Our first few days we spent in the Chesapeake Bay, south of our usual cruising grounds. We spent our first night in Solomon Island, after taking on 200 gallons of diesel. The boat holds 1,000 gallons but research had convinced us that fuel is far cheaper south of the Bay. This turns out to be true except we didn't hold our long enough; we fueled in Norfolk for $.96 per gallon and then heard fuel was $.87 in North Carolina. Live and learn.
Our first big challenge was Norfolk harbor itself; for those of you not in the know Norfolk is not only a very large commercial harbor but also home to the US Navy. We saw no less than two aircraft carriers , several battleships, multiple destroyers, countless support vessels and other craft. The key to this is seeing them before they see you; at 7 knots we can't outrun a rowboat.
We also had a close encounter with the Navy target range in the Bay. We, and presumably other southbound trawlers, were startled to hear "Southbound trawler near Buoy X, this is Naval Patrol Vessel # 2, please exit the firing range and remain outside the boundaries while we conduct naval exercises". Frantic study of the charts ensued and we were pleased to find that Duet, thank goodness, was already south of the range and couldn't possibly be the wayward trawler mentioned.
We stayed the next night in a marina in Portsmouth, which is quite a nice little town. Everyone stretched their legs, prior to taking on 800 gallons of fuel. Fueling took several hours since we have four tanks and fuel can only load down a small access pipe. We were thrilled with our success until we realized that Duet was now listing severely to port again, all our previous efforts to level her out negated by loading 5,000 pounds of diesel on the port side. We now had to start again on the leveling exercise. We did manage to tune it up with some creative storage in the guest head (bathroom) and are now almost level.
The journey south from Norfolk is truly the beginning of the IntraCoastal Waterway (ICW), which is our water highway. The ICW runs all the way to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Norfolk is considered Mile Zero; Fort Lauderdale is at Mile 1060. There are several key things to know about the ICW; first the bridge opening times since there are many, many bridges which span it and which are too low for us to fit under unless they open (we require about 32 feet of clearance); second is how to convert regular miles (which is how the ICW is posted) to nautical miles (which is how we figure out how fast we're going and how far we went), and third is to realize that there are a lot of people in every type of craft imaginable making the trip with you. Fall is the southbound rush and spring is the northbound rush; there isn't much traffic inbetween. We've been told that several thousand boats make this transit every year, thus based on the number we've seen that sounds about right. Many go only as far as Florida but some are starting multi year journeys.
We left Norfolk about 7:45AM, timing our departure to put us at the first lifting bridge after 8AM since it doesn't open between 6AM and 8AM. The theory is that if you catch the bridge right you can make all the others while maintaining a steady 7-8 nautical miles per hour, which is Duet's cruising speed. Like all theories, this one didn't cut it in practice. We'd expected traffic delays, engine problems, bridge breakdowns and even outright sinking but we hadn't anticipated the reality of fog. Apparently fog is common on the ICW in the fall but no one bothered to tell us. So the first hours of our adventure we chugged along at dead slow, even stop, while trying to figure out where we were, what was in front of us, who was behind us and when the fog was going to clear. We'd never run in fog before so this was a trial by fire; it actually isn't too hard with the radar and the principle "when in doubt slow down". This is our second principle of boating; the first is "when something larger than you is approaching get out of the way as quickly as possible; aka the RUN AWAY principle). My most memorable moment of that first morning is turning the boat in circles between two buoys while waiting for the traffic to clear; this is harder than it sounds with a 46 foot boat in a channel less than 100 feet wide with 10 feet of visibility. Fortunately Duet is very docile at slow speeds, particularly at her new svelte weight of just under 30 tons. Eventually the fog cleared and we became acquainted with the next reality of the ICW; traffic. Those of you who sit on the Beltway may now think of us sitting on the ICW waiting for the bridge to open. These bridges are engineering marvels; they lift, swing or otherwise clear for boats to go through many,many times a day. They are manned by bridgekeepers who in our experience are endlessly patient and understanding and manage to keep their laughter to a minimum while respectfully calling everyone :"Captain" (even when it is perfectly obvious to all concerned that this is a definite stretch) unless you happen to be female, in which case you are "Ma'am". We even went through a lock (our first) which resembled the Dulles Service Road Tolls on a Friday night.
We finally, after the fog, the bridges, the lock and the traffic, arrived in Coinjock NC, having crossed a state line in our first day!. On our first official day on the ICW we traveled 50 statue miles, which converts to approximately 44 nautical miles. It took us 10 hours for an average of 4.4. knots per hour and we burned about 24 gallons of diesel. The Coinjock marina restaurant is famous for it's prime rib; we figured we'd earned it so we went out to dinner.
Duet was tied up right in front of the restaurant so we sat in the window and watched the Labradors watch the people walking by. I'm not sure who enjoyed it more; Tristan and Maggie or the passersby, almost all of whom stopped to talk to them. Even more astounding,on the boat behind us that night was a 9 month old male Labrador the spitting image of Tristan; when I looked over and saw him I thought Tristan had abandoned ship for a better deal.
We departed Coinjock at the crack of dawn but immediately met our nemesis, the fog. We crossed the Albermarle Sound in a complete whiteout, using the radar and traveling very slowly. We even picked up a hitchhiker, who was even more lost than we were. The skies finally cleared at the Alligator river (there are supposed to be alligators in it but we didn't test that theory) and set a new daily record of 75 statute miles (65 nautical for those of you not mathematically inclined) in 11 hours.
We then anchored just north of New Bern, NC waiting for the weather to clear. This front allowed Ron to test our anchoring gear in wind of up to 28 knots, which has been great fun. We tried out combinations of most of our lines, hooks and even put out two anchors at once!.
We spent several days in this anchorage, which allowed us to do laundry, wash the boat, sleep in, do boat projects and generally enjoy a deserted anchorage.
We will next travel to Beaufort NC (pronounced "Bofert" unlike the Beaufort SC which is pronounced "Bewfert").