Saturday, November 16, 2013

Great Bridge

We are tied up at the free wall between the Great Bridge lock and the Great Bridge bridge (map).  We stayed more or less in this same spot when we came through in the other direction six months ago.  It's a great stop, because there are several restaurants and shops within easy walking distance; tonight we wandered over to the same Mexican restaurant that we enjoyed so much on our last stop.

Today was a short day mileage-wise, with only ten nautical miles under our keel, but I spent nearly four hours at the helm.  Mostly, that was due to the current situation with the lock, which today had it closed to traffic until past noon.

We shoved off this morning at 9am, backing out into the channel just behind a pair of very high-end yachts hailing from the New Jersey shore.  Several more boats were not far behind them, putting us in the thick of the southbound push.  We respected the 6-kt speed limit in the river, and in short order we were at the back of the pack and dropping rapidly.  I gathered most of the boats were trying to make the 11am opening of the Steel Bridge for a possible 11:30 lock-through at Great Bridge.

In the fullness of time we caught back up to the pack as they were waiting for the bridge, and ended up going around the last four boats to get to the fuel dock at Top Rack Marina, which is close to the bridge. I tried hailing the last boat, who was hogging the channel, on both 13 and 16 with no response, and we could see him getting testy when we went around, as if we were trying to take his place in line.  Of course, if he had answered his radio he would know we were not waiting for the bridge, but going elsewhere.

We tied up at Top Rack around 10:30 or so and started our bunkering process (a fancy nautical term for taking on fuel).  I had mentally budgeted over three hours for bunkering, because many diesel dispensers can only manage five gallons per minute or so.  The ones at Top Rack, it turns out, crank out over five times that flow rate.  Consequently, it took less than an hour to put on 1,000 gallons of fuel.

Our center tank took a little over 400 gallons, which means the other 600 gallons, 4,300 pounds worth, is split between the wing tanks, which are both aft of center.  We are now riding decidedly nose-up, but we should level out somewhere in Georgia.  We now have somewhere around 1,400 gallons aboard, which is enough for the longest leg of a transatlantic crossing, so this is a good test for the boat.

We cast off from Top Rack just in time for the noon opening of the Steel Bridge, with a half dozen other boats.  We had figured these would be our lock-mates at Great Bridge for the 12:30 locking.  What we did not know, however, was that there was no 11:30 locking, as conditions were unfavorable.  So absolutely every boat that had passed us this morning, whether in the river or while we were at Top Rack, as well as anyone who did not get the memo about the lock and tried to get an early start, was stacked up in front of us waiting for the lock.  The string of boats extended for three quarters of a mile in front of us to the lock gates.

When the lock finally opened, all those boats filled up both walls, and we were the first boat to miss the locking.  Actually, they had us pull up to check first, but we were a good dozen feet longer than the space they had left, and I had to back out of the lock back into the channel.  The 40+ foot sailboat behind us also tried to fit but could not.  And so we, and perhaps a half dozen or so more boats behind us had to wait for another full cycle of the lock, and we sat there station-keeping just north of the lock for an hour.

We finally made it through and cleared the lock fenders around 2pm.  Two sailboats that had made the first locking were already here on the free wall, but there was plenty of room for us and for a Hatteras 48 LRC that locked through with us.  The Hatt 48 LRC was one of the boats we had seriously considered, and our broker had previewed this one when it was in Michigan and sent us photos.  I had a nice chat with the new owners, who've had it about three months.

Now that the lock is behind us, we can take a much more leisurely pace from here on.  The nature of the ICW and the outside route means there will inevitably be long days, just due to the separation of safe anchorages and harbors, but we have the luxury of waiting for favorable weather, or staying an extra day or two in a spot just because we like it, or to finish up a project.

Tomorrow morning we will continue south on the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal.  Our day will start with three draw bridges in succession, each on a schedule.  I expect we will be flanked by the same dozen or so boats we encountered today all the way to Coinjock, the next available stop on this route.  We won't leave the pack now until we are in the Albemarle.

The cats contemplate a flock of Canada geese, each of which probably outweighs Angel.

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