September 9-17, 2001
From Beaufort, NC, to Norfolk, VA.

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Great Bridge, 9/11/2001

(Click on any photo for a blow up)

Scorpio left the dock at Bock Marine on a sunny Saturday morning and we headed north along an almost calm waterway. Our ICW adventure had finally continued, and now by our own means. It had started about three months earlier with a tow from Beaufort up to Bock's at Core Creek, where Scorpio spent the summer as subject to extensive and expensive repairs and improvements with respect to the propulsion and fuel system. And as usual, when hauled out in a yard, we decided to have several other projects done.

We motored along Adam's Creek and past the city of Oriental in the Neuse River and headed out into Pamlico Sound, one of the larger bodies of water along the ICW. Our first major halting place would be the city of Norfolk, Virginia, roughly 200 miles and four to five days north. The ICW is for most parts quite sheltered, consisting largely of rivers, creeks, and man made cuts or sounds and estuaries protected from the Atlantic by barrier islands, but in the area between Beaufort and Norfolk are the Neuse River, Pamlico Sound and Albemarle Sound, all in North Carolina, where conditions can get rough. The waters are shallow and the winds have a long fetch from all directions; it can suddenly build up short, steep uncomfortable seas. The sea will be out of proportion to the strength of the wind. As it turned out, however, this time we had no other problems with the weather than the usual this year: no wind (except for a few hours in the North Landing River, where they were strong and, of course, right on the nose).

Too many geographical names and no bearings? HERE IS A MAP of the area (opens in a new window, so you can keep it open behind the active window, while you read on.

After 15 miles we left Pamlico Sound and headed up the Bay River and Goose Creek. At Hobucken there now is a new 65 feet bridge replacing the old swing bridge. A couple of miles later we found our first anchorage at Eastham Creek. It was not easy to find a suitable spot for because of the numerous crab pot floats in the area, but we managed to lay the anchor in a depth of about one fathom. The depth sounder had surrendered; apparently the muddy bottom does not return the echo, which we would rediscover every day hereafter: usually when we were at critical depths and needed the sounder the most it just blinked "last". The instrument is a relatively new Raytheon ST60 but I have not found out from the manual if there is a way to calibrate it for soft bottoms. I find this strange because our previous Brookes & Gatehouse (from the seventies!) had this feature, and it worked well over muddy bottoms!


In the morning and every morning thereafter in the ICW we found good use of our deck wash system (photo on the left). Without it we would have got a big load of mud aboard.

We crossed the Pamlico River, headed up in to the Pungo River and continued further through the Alligator River-Pungo River canal. This is a man made canal, more than 20 miles long. A 65 feet fixed bridge has also replaced the swing bridge at Fairfield Highway. During the whole journey to Norfolk we were surprised of the sparse traffic. Usually we did not see more than a handful boats a day.

Our second anchorage was at Tuckahoe Point, where the canal meets Alligator River. The scenery is different from the Caribbean, to say the least. The water is black and impenetrable, for the eye. The color looks like black coffee and is said to be caused by tannic acid that seeps into the water from juniper and cypress trees. It sharply reflects the marsh banks with its dead tree trunks point at the sky. It was quite dramatic in the absolute silence and solitude.The following day the surface was dead calm again; it was hot (35°C) and humid (probably 98%) long before noon. After Newport News Point the Alligator River widens and the ICW proceeds north across the disreputable Albemarle Sound. The distance of north-south open fetch is about 35 nautical miles and would be a nightmare in northerly winds. Not so this day.

On the other side of Albemarle Sound we proceeded up North River and found a sheltered anchorage for our third night behind Buck Island. This was our last night in North Carolina. Next day we would cross over to Virginia. This afternoon had been particularly hot and humid but during the following night several thunderstorms cleared the air and brought northerly, cool winds. We proceeded north against a constantly increasing northerly. After the town of Coinjack the Ditch (as the ICW sometimes is called) enters the wide body of the North Landing River. Over a distance of about 15 miles, where the river borders the Currituck Sound it is about 5 miles wide. We had about 25 knots of wind right on the nose and though the channel is well marked we encountered some difficulties because of the leeway. The water is so shallow, however, that it did not build up an impossible sea, but we felt that we got more than our share of spray.

The North Landing River narrows at Pungo Ferry and from there we had a pleasant, sheltered trip up to Great Bridge. It was difficult to imagine the northerly blowing in the vicinity. The trees along the banks were typical of the last days: pine, sweet gum, magnolia, holly and cypress (according to the cruising guide) with clumps of mistletoe in many branches. Before we reached Great Bridge we managed to time the approach to two swing bridges that open on the hour and half hour so well that we could proceed almost without changing speed. We spent our forth and fifth nights at Atlantic Yacht Basin Marina at Great Bridge, just 12 statute miles south of Norfolk. We arrived there in the afternoon of September 11, 2001.


As it is with everybody else: we will always remember where we were that particular day. When I entered the office of the Dock master, the television told me about the terrorists' attacks. The world had changed forever!

The Atlantic Yacht Basin Marina would be a good place to have repairs done. They have impressive repair facilities and friendly and helpful staff. Like many other marinas and yards they also have a courtesy car that customers can borrow for a couple of hours and a phone line where you can hook up your laptop to connect to the internet and check your email (provided that you have a local ISP access number). They also have a marine store where I bought a new starter battery to replace the one that Bock Marine's subcontractor East Marine managed to destroy (but refused to compensate).

The last twelve miles or so along Elisabeth River to Norfolk took us at least three hours. We had to transit the only lock on ICW and pass a couple of swing bridges, but the longest wait was at a railroad bridge. Norfolk is the largest naval harbor in the world and there must have been hundreds of navy vessels, from small tugs to huge aircraft carriers and submarines. Because of the terrorist attacks we expected to be subject to attention from the authorities, foreign flag and all. A US Coast Guard inflatable came alongside, but after a short interview we were allowed to proceed with orders to stay at least 100 yards from any Navy vessel or military installation. But this was only the beginning; it would get tighter within a couple of days.

Meanwhile, we had the good fortune to stay as guests at a private dock in the center of downtown old Norfolk, connected to water and electricity. It is a delightful place with old red brick houses and streets pawed with cobblestone, which has been brought from England some hundred years ago as ballast in the bilge of sailing ships. This part of the city has a more European feel about it than other places we have seen on this journey. We stayed five days and enjoyed it greatly, jogging along the waterfront in the mornings and taking tours on our bicycles in the afternoon. A visit to battleship USS Wisconsin was interesting, particularly now because of the terrorist event. Wisconsin is in the Inactive Fleet, in a "moth ball" of sort, and can be activated in national emergencies. Last time she saw action was during Operation Desert Storm, where she carried Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles, in addition to her 16-inch guns (probably the largest ones on any ship). Other interesting places in Norfolk are The Crysler Museum and the Douglas MacArthur Memorial.

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