Alligator River to Campbell Creek – November 5, 2012

Traveling on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) route has been quite the experience. The canals are like water highways and have been crowded with lines of sail and motor boats traveling south. As Brian commented, it is like a great migration. Between the canals in rivers, such as the Alligator, boats keep to the ICW marked channel to avoid any shoaling and/or debris – marked as a magenta line on the charts with courses noted. As Brian also shared there may be debris right in the channel, we’ve dodged stumps and bumped sticks. We’ve strayed from the “magenta line mentality” during our sailing opportunities when charts tell us we have plenty of water. We seem to be the only boat willing to take this risk but we sure do enjoy the open water!

All day long boats are hailing one another on the VHF. Channel 16 is often misused, but typically boats hail and then switch to a pleasure channel immediately. Boats are requesting to pass one another in the channels. For motor boats this is helpful because they will slow and allow you to get into their wake before speeding onward. It is amusing to listen to the constant chatter, especially during sail to sail passings where there seems to be plenty of room. “I’d like to pass on your starboard, Captain…” “Roger that, go ahead Sir we’ll slow…” “Thank you, Captain, have a nice day.” I had fun with this and hailed Serendipity. Once on a pleasure channel I asked, “Pardon me, do you have any grey poupon?” We had a laugh and hopefully any eavesdroppers (I know I’m constantly switching channels to listen-in) had a good sense of humor. Boats also hail one another or the group to inform of obstructions, ask about bridge heights, ask where one another are headed for the night, etc. Good communication on the waterway! This has helped us to become very comfortable using the VHF.

We hauled anchor on Monday morning and headed directly into the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), Cypress Swamp canal. The Cypress Swamp was significantly wider than the Dismal Swamp. There were several boats traveling along with us this morning.

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Motoring, motoring…we maintained 5.5 – 6 knots and kept near the center of the channel. When boats wanted to pass we hugged the starboard side but tried not to get uncomfortably close. We scanned the North Carolina scenery for alligators.

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Our first of two bridges today.

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Recently dredged obstructions.

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We took turns relaxing in our newly discovered lounge.

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We were making good time for today’s intended route. The fleet of boats to our stern were gaining, we held our speed and course keeping enough passing room as comfortable for us. One by one boats began passing. There was a catamaran that opted to come through the middle of the passing lanes. From our view he was a bit too close for comfort to Serendipity; they must have felt the same because they turned just a pinch to starboard…and then STOPPED. “Uh, oh we’ve got to slow up,” I said to Brian who was diligently blogging down below. I shifted into neutral and Brian peeked up to see what the fuss was about. Serendipity wasn’t moving. Jess hailed us on the radio and confirmed they were aground. “Ok, we’re on the way.” Brian took the helm and waited for an opportunity to turn between the line of passing boats. Meanwhile the catamaran came up the middle just beside us. The captain of the catamaran, Moxie Cat, asked if Serendipity was ok. “No they’re in the mud, we’re heading back.” The captain asked our draft and since he had a shallower draft he turned as well to aid the rescue. I busied myself below grabbing a line; we planned to dinghy a line (via kayak) to Serendipity so to not put ourselves in jeopardy of also running aground. Just as Brian rounded our turn in the middle of the canal…THUNK! I poked my head up, “What the…!?” Our stern was about 1-foot up in the air thanks to a pile of shoaled mud. For goodness sake, some rescue squad we are! And for goodness sake, in the MIDDLE!? Brian rowed the tiller to wiggle our stern back and forth while I checked the bilge. Rode Trip wiggled her way forward and pushed through the mud.

While we were getting ourselves out of a jam Moxie Cat had made his way to Serendipity. Matt threw a line to the catamaran. We were free and I had camera in hand documenting the event. Within what seemed like seconds, Moxie Cat pulled Serendipity free. Hooray!! Moxie Cat was from Maine and was the only boat in the line-up that asked if either of us needed a hand. You can always count on a New Englander to reach out when you’re in need! Now that we were all floating again I came back down to put the navigation station and engine room doors/bilge back together. While putting everything away I found the camera card still in the card reader from Brian’s blogging. DOH! Serendipity’s grounding and rescue were not photo-documented. Back up in the cockpit Brian was working the mud off our hull. It must have been caked because it was causing enough drag to pull us to starboard. A few hard weaves in forward and reverse shook it off!

Onto the final bridge of the Cypress Swamp.

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We entered the Pungo River and there was a good breeze blowing at 20-25 knots. We set the genoa and sailed toward our stopover at Dowry Marina in Upper Dowry Creek where we would take on fuel and water.

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The wind treated us to a happy ending today. Back in the Pungo River we sailed downwind with gusts of 30 knots. We did quite a bit of jibing, once again stepping off that magenta line. But heck, if we can run aground mid-channel in a canal our changes of leaving the boundaries must be pretty good! I had a lesson in jibing in strong winds; when jibing to port the main slipped right out of my hands, THROMP! Lucky I was wearing my gloves because the sheet burned the non-skid patches right off my glove palm and fingertips. Brian centered the traveler which had been set too far to the starboard side making this a trickier jibe.

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We were able to sail all the way to our anchorage, coming along downwind under just the main as we entered Goose Creek. Serendipity had selected an anchorage just off Goose Creek in Campbell Creek. We had the entire creek to ourselves! I was ready for learning today and Brian took the helm to continue sailing under the main all the way to our anchoring point. With a few instructions I went forward to drop the anchor. I counted hand over hand until the anchor touched bottom, and then repeated my count to let out appropriate scope. Brian came forward to teach me the rolling hitch knot used for the snubber line. Anchor down, scope out, snubber attached, I joined Brian back at the boom to take down the main sail. Then we turned on the engine to back down on the anchor just so that we’d both sleep soundly tonight.

After dinner it was movie night on Serendipity; tonight’s flick, Wind. We’re loving our evenings with friends! Wind revved our adrenaline and we hoped we could set out the whomper tomorrow!