Saturday, May 4, 2013
Posted by Sean
We are at the Top Rack marina, in Chesapeake, Virginia. One night's dockage, power included, is complimentary here if you spend $75 in their restaurant, which is supposed to be very nice. We needed a very nice restaurant tonight (more on that in a moment), so it was a perfect stop. We are just eight miles, and one bridge opening, from the northern end of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and our destination, Town Point in Norfolk.
Yesterday we had a very long trip, one of our longest days yet on the water. We shoved off from Midway fairly early, to get a jump on the wind, but it caught up with us big time in Currituck Sound, where we crabbed the whole way, listing heavily to port as the stabilizers did their best to try to get us level. At one point we heard a mighty crash, and each of us in turn scrambled around the boat trying to find out what it was, to no avail. Eventually Louise figured out that it was the hatch over the aft stairs, which slammed closed from a combination of the port list, 20-knot crosswinds, and a bit of a roll.
I ended up hand steering a good part of the trip, as the winds were a bit much for the autopilot in the narrow channels. But the trip was otherwise uneventful, and we ended up making excellent time, on account of some good luck with bridge timing. This last item had us testing the upper ranges of our engine RPM, though, as we scrambled to make one of the bridges.
A quick note of explanation is in order here. These are, of course, drawbridges of one sort or another, most of them carrying roadways but a handful carry railroads or, in rare cases, both. Railroad bridges are often open all the time unless and until a train needs to cross, whereas automotive bridges are generally closed until a boat needs to pass. Some bridges open any time on request, but many or perhaps most bridges operate on a schedule, to keep highway traffic from backing up. Many do not open at all during rush hour, and most open either hourly or every half hour throughout the business day and sometimes on weekends.
The first bridge, at North Landing, was coming up much sooner than we had expected. Rough seas in Currituck Sound had me increasing RPMs, because the boat tracked and steered much better that way in the crosswinds. So as we crossed Pungo Ferry on the North Landing River, we realized we'd need to either speed up, or slow down considerably. I first tried slowing down, but boat handling became so difficult that I could see myself being worn out in an hour's time as I cranked the helm around endlessly. We did some quick math and figured out we could make the 11am opening if we wicked it up just slightly, and even though snaking through the snag-laden river at that speed was a bit nerve-wracking, it was easier than either running at just above steerage speed, or else having to station-keep at the bridge.
We made the 11am opening by the skin of our teeth, all by ourselves. So far, so good, but the next bridge, for the Centerville Turnpike, was exactly five miles away -- too far to go in a half hour. So we dropped back to a speed just barely enough to maintain steerage and I resigned myself to a lot of hand-steering for the next hour.
The canal between these bridges makes one small bend, not far beyond the North Landing bridge, and otherwise is ruler-straight for a full four-plus miles all the way to Centerville Turnpike. We putt-putted around that one bend, and we could see the next bridge in the distance. What we could also see, though, was a conga line of fully six other boats, strung out for nearly half a mile ahead of the bridge waiting on the opening.
There was no way I could make five miles in a half hour, but four and a half, which would get us to the back of the line, was just within reach. After a brief consultation we decided to try for it, and I ran the revs up to 2,150 RPM. That's actually the boat's "published" cruising RPM, with 2,600 being flank speed, but we usually run between 1,500 and 1,700 RPM for the best compromise of efficiency and handling. Other than on the sea trial, this is the fastest we've ever gone -- 8.2 knots, or about 9.4 statute MPH.
Not only did we make the bridge, but I had to slow down to avoid running into the last sailboat in the lineup. The last three boats ahead of us took their sweet time getting through the bridge, too -- I'm not sure they all grokked the concept of closing the gaps before a bridge opening. So there we were, with just three miles to go to the Great Bridge Bridge (really), which opens only on the hour.
Even though it was well past 11:30 by the time we cleared the fenders of Centerville Turnpike bridge, all seven boats, ourselves included, made the noon opening at Great Bridge. Six of those boats continued on into the lock, while we and another trawler that had left Coinjock a little after us, passing us in the sound, tied up to the free docks on the south side of the canal.
This dock, really just a set of pilings against the canal wall, is one of the best deals on the ICW. There is room for maybe a half dozen boats, first come, first served, and it is a short walk to perhaps five or six restaurants, a supermarket, and a dollar store. We stayed only one night, but we have heard that three or four nights is not uncommon. We were tied up by half past noon, with help from several other cruisers including Ted and Sally of the DeFever 44 Amici, the other trawler just ahead of us.
Ted and Sally gave us some pointers about the area, and we ended up walking over to El Toro Loco on their recommendation for dinner, getting our head start on Cinco de Mayo. I was going to walk to the grocery store this morning, but it was cold and rainy so I decided to skip it. We shoved off a little ahead of the 11am locking.
There is but a single lock on this route, matching the ever-changing water levels on each side with a lift or lowering of anywhere from an inch to three feet. Today we had to be lifted maybe eight inches, so we had a very easy time for our first-ever locking on our own. A pair of sportfishers locked through with us; the bridge tender had to admonish them to slow down as they approached the bridge, and they passed us immediately after the lock, to very little end.
It's 2.5 miles from the lock to the next bridge, the Dominion Steel bridge, which, like the lock, only opens on the hour. So no matter how fast a boat you have, you will average 2.5 mph between the two, and the whole distance is a no-wake zone anyway. We putt-putted along at idle speed the whole way, and we still ended up sitting at the bridge, behind the two sport fishers, for a good fifteen minutes.
As soon as we cleared the Steel bridge, we turned off the waterway to Top Rack, where I had a bit of a tricky docking in high winds. I had to declare two missed approaches before making it on the third shot, but we made it without incident. Other than the dry-stack operation, there is only one other boat here with us, the Krogen 44 The Good Life. We spent some time chatting with owners Mark and Mary, who are spending a few days waiting for a weather window to cross the Chesapeake.
The Krogen 44 is one of my favorite boats, and really the only Krogen that met all our checklist items. I would love to have had one -- its a few feet shorter than Vector, and, more importantly, has less draft and a lot less windage. But there were never any used ones on the market the whole time we were shopping (or maybe ever?), as it is a much newer addition to the Kady-Krogen lineup, and a new one was well out of our price range, more than twice what we spent on Vector.
This was my first opportunity to see a KK44 and Vector next to one another, and I was struck by the similarities and the differences. Standing on our taller flybridge we seem to dwarf them, yet from the front, the pilothouse windows are the same height and the Krogen has a larger pilothouse. Our saloon and thus our boat deck are considerably higher off the waterline, which accounts for much of the extra windage. We have a more comfortable guest stateroom and more room overall, but I do still love the KK44 and admit to a twinge of boat envy sitting here next to one.
In a short while we will head over to the Amber Lantern for a nice dinner. Today is our tenth wedding anniversary, and we are celebrating. I can never remember what the correct gift material is for all the different anniversaries, so I have decided that Louise will be getting new dock lines this year. It's what she's always wanted ...