Thursday, November 8, 2018


We are underway southbound on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, approaching Coinjock, NC. Navigating the ICW requires more attention than open water and I am only able to type sporadically. At the moment we are stuck in a very narrow channel behind a tug and barge going just 4.1 knots, which is more or less our minimum steerage speed.

We arrived at the free docks in Portsmouth right at 5pm Sunday, just before sunset. Unfortunately, the north ferry landing docks are now in such bad condition that the city has closed all but a few feet of them, with no room for Vector. Long-time readers may remember we rode out Hurricane Arthur at one of these docks.

The pointy end of battleship Wisconsin, BB-64, permanently moored in Norfolk as a museum.

Instead we proceeded to the High Street Landing docks. Unsurprisingly, with the north docks unusable, the High Street Basin was full. We entered the basin to read the signage on the one available spot, which appeared to indicate it was reserved for a schooner of some sort. Reluctantly we headed back out into the Elizabeth River to backtrack to the Hospital Point anchorage.

As we were rounding the turn back into the river, we noticed there was room for us on the river side of the bulkhead but still inside the park. There were no signs prohibiting it, and the bulkhead sported both pilings and cleats. With no one around to ask permission, we opted to ask forgiveness, if needed, instead, and tied to the bulkhead (map). It was comfortable and secure, and we did not have to deal with the issue of the inside docks being awash at high tide.

High Street Basin with docks awash. Vector is at top right, across the bulkhead.

The High Street landing is actually closer to downtown than the north landing, and we strolled to dinner at Cancun Fiesta. Our previous favorites in Portsmouth have all closed since our last stop here three years ago.

The weather Monday was absolutely perfect, warm and dry and a refreshing change from the cold we've been experiencing. The forecast for Tuesday was even nicer, right up until dinnertime when it would be raining. While we had only planned for two nights in Portsmouth, we decided to extend to three (the limit at the free dock) so we could have dinner at the Town Point Club across the river in Norfolk.

I spent Monday strolling Portsmouth. My first stop was the North Landing visitor center to "sign in" for our stay. The same volunteer that has checked us in for years is still there; I asked her if we were OK on the outside dock and she basically shrugged. By the end of the day there was plenty of room inside the basin, but with no one really caring, we just stayed where we were.

Today's view as I began typing. Four knots behind this scrap metal barge.

Downtown Portsmouth has been struggling to reinvent itself for as long as we've been stopping here. This visit was no different; the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame across the street from the Children's Museum has folded and left an empty building, and several restaurants have changed hands or closed altogether. High street, the main drag, is a disorganized mix of boarded-up storefronts and going concerns.

Toward the end of my walk I ran into Bruce and Dorsey, another couple southbound on a trawler, walking their two adorable dogs. I recognized them from recent posts on Facebook where we had exchanged comments about routes and conditions. We had a nice chat as we strolled and they gave me a quick tour of Esmeralde, their American Tug, which is a model we had seriously looked into when we were doing our research, even getting a tour of the factory near Anacortes.

At least one of our old stand-bys, the Bier Garden, is still in business, and we ended up there for dinner after more recent arrival Olde Towne Public House, while highly rated, proved both too noisy and too cold to be comfortable. German food is never my first choice, but it's good here and they have a nice selection of drafts.

I spotted this funky bike rack in Norfolk, made to look like Kryptonite bike locks.

Tuesday was positively balmy and I decided to head across the river to Norfolk early in the day to explore. A round-trip ticket on the ferry is $4, and a day pass is only $0.50 more. I was pleasantly surprised by the total makeover of the Waterside complex into an eclectic waterfront dining and cocktail venue, and the main downtown is much more vibrant than I remember it. There is even a new light rail system.

I walked as far as the spiffy MacArthur Center Mall, where I found nothing I needed but enjoyed strolling around. Afterward I walked through its namesake General Douglas MacArthur Memorial across the street, housed in the historic old City Hall and Courthouse building. The memorial and its exhibits are very well done.

Front of the MacArthur Memorial.

I stopped in to the whizzy new Hilton hotel with its soaring public spaces, and scoped out a mostly indoor route from the ferry dock to the Town Point Club in case it was pouring at dinner time. I ended by walking past the historic battleship Wisconsin and the bulk of Town Point Park. The Royal Princess cruise ship was docked at the cruise terminal all day, which accounted for heavier-than-normal crowds downtown, at the battleship, and at the MacArthur Memorial.

In the evening we returned to Norfolk and had our afternoon beer at the Starr Hill bar in the Waterside complex before strolling the town a bit. We had a nice dinner at the Town Point Club, a much nicer experience than we had in DC. Somehow we managed to escape the rain altogether, even though it had been pouring just before we left the boat to board the ferry.

Royal Princess and downtown Norfolk, as seen from the ferry.

One of the things I did in Portsmouth was to scan the fuel prices ahead of us. Traditionally the best prices have been in Chesapeake at the Top Rack marina, or a penny more at Atlantic Yacht Basin in Great Bridge. But on this trip I found a better price in Bellhaven, which is further south on the inside route. We typically don't go that way, preferring the Pamlico Sound route, but on this trip weather will keep us inside anyway.

When I called the fuel dock in Bellhaven they told me the pump was actually broken and should be fixed in the next day or two. When I told them I could not take the chance and would fuel in Chesapeake, they offered me another $0.05 per gallon discount, which amounts to $60 on our fill-up, and a full $130 less than Chesapeake. That was a fair offer, and it meant we would not need to stop in Chesapeake on our way out of Portsmouth.

Vector docked in front of High Street Landing in Portsmouth.

Yesterday we dropped lines at a very leisurely 10am for the short, ten-mile run to Great Bridge. There's really no good stop south of there anyway, and we reasoned that we had one more chance to decided to fuel at Atlantic instead if we needed to. And besides that, no trip through here is complete for us without a stop at El Toro Loco Mexican restaurant, a block from the dock.

We ended up waiting a full hour to lock through at the Great Bridge Lock, but were rewarded with a graceful bald eagle soaring above us looking for lunch. We made sure the cat was below decks. Even so, we were tied up to the bulkhead in Great Bridge (map) in plenty of time to put a scooter on the ground for some errands, again in near-perfect weather.

A calm cruise on the ICW, as measured by the cat index.

I trundled seven gallons of used motor oil over to Auto Zone for disposal, and made a stop at the brand new Kroger grocery (which is actually walking distance from the dock). We rode two-up out to Joann's for some necessary quilting supplies for Louise, and dropped off two bags of stuff at Goodwill on the way. And I picked up two gallons of gasoline for the tender.

We had the scooter back on deck before dinner time. A shared order of fajitas with extra tortillas, two baskets of chips and salsa, and A 60-oz pitcher of Dos Equis Ambar came to twenty bucks, which is one reason we like this joint so much. And their food is delicious. A for-lease sign outside the building suggests to us they may not be here the next time we come through. We'll have to try the Italian bistro, Vino, even closer to the dock.

This morning we dropped lines in time to make the 9am hourly opening of the Great Bridge bridge. While we were having our coffee, the sailboat behind us tried to make it off the dock for the 8am opening, but the wind had him so badly pinned to the dock he had great difficulty doing so. He waited until 7:58 to even try, which was short-sighted. Had I known earlier, I could have showed him how to rig a spring line to easily pivot away from the dock.

Vector at High Street Landing, Portsmouth, with the ever-busy naval shipyard in the background.

He made it out into the channel just in time to very nearly hit the bridge as it was closing ahead of him. Fortunately he stopped in time, but then had to wait another hour. He had the sense to cast off fifteen minutes early for the next opening, and went through ahead of us. We and seven other boats all passed him, and as he arrived at the next bridge he was very careful to alert the tender of his presence, stating he had already had two close calls. Lesson learned, we hope.

The sheer number of boats passing through the bridges with us reveals that we are in the midst of the great annual southbound migration. We're almost never in step with the herd, and so it is a bit of a shock to our system. Our last time through we were perhaps three weeks later, which made a big difference. We saw a lot of stupidity on the water and we heard even more on the radio.

We made our last drawbridge, at North Landing, at the 10am opening, just squeezing through at 10:06 after running the five statute miles from Centerville Turnpike at 2200 rpm. The other seven boats all went through ahead of us and soon left us in the dust. But as these things go, it was not long before the passel of boats from the 10:30 opening also passed us on the water, one at a time.

Most were respectful, but we did get a couple of good-sized wakes. It was actually one of the more respectful skippers, in an 80' Ocean Alexander named Yolo, whom we passed a while later because he was hard aground outside the channel on the way into Coinjock. Last we could hear, TowboatUS was still trying to get him free. I am guessing they missed the famous Coinjock prime rib.

Coinjock-style mooring. Note the pulpit of the boat at right extending past the transom of the one on left.

Speaking of Coinjock, the vast majority of the boats who passed us stopped there, and I am sure quite a few behind us did, as well. I'm not sure what the magic draw is here; the prime rib is acceptable but nothing special, and the dockage rate is high for what it is. Beyond that, they measure you and charge for every last inch, even though they will dock you so that your anchor pulpit overhangs the boat ahead of you. And to top it off, when they fill up they start rafting. It's not for us.

Boats rafted up at Coinjock. I don't think there is any discount.

Our new friends Dorsey and Bruce were there when we went by (they reported that last night's prime rib was excellent) and I snapped a couple of photos of Esmeralde as we went by. I'm sure they will pass us tomorrow on our way south. Shortly after clearing past Coinjock I was able to pass the tug and barge we were behind on the way in.

Esmeralde. Dorsey appeared on deck right after I snapped this.

Update: We are now anchored in the North River, a familiar place. We tucked in as tight as we could to the eastern shore (map) to have the calmest conditions. Not long after dropping the hook, a Nordhavn 55, Mermaid Monster, passed us and headed out into Albermarle Sound; a braver skipper than I for piloting into the Alligator River after dark.

Tomorrow we will weigh anchor and cross Albemarle Sound on our way to the Alligator River. Whether we get underway first thing, or wait until afternoon will depend on the weather forecast. At this writing the sound is actually forecast to get better toward the afternoon. Tomorrow night we should be anchored at one end or the other of the Alligator-Pungo Canal.

Passing a scrap metal scow close aboard.

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