Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Today's Travel

Hello from Wrightsville Beach, where we are anchored.


I closed yesterday's blog with a description of our rather complex travels of today, between Swansboro and Wrightsville Beach. I spent some time yesterday scribbling some notes on the planned trip, as shown below:

Allow me to decode the scribbles. At top is our starting location Swansboro, at ICW mile marker MM=229 (mile 0 is in Norfolk VA, and ICW miles are statute miles rather than nautical miles). The four drawbridges are shown : Onslow Beach, Surf City, Figure Eight Island, and Wrightsville Beach, along with their MM's, the distances between them (deltas), and their opening schedules.

The target times start at Wrightville Beach since my goal was to make the 3 pm opening so we could drop anchor here with some daylight left to explore some. The times then are figured backwards based on distances, Spray's expected speed, and opening schedules. By the time I worked the times back to Swansboro, we needed to start out at 6:30 am, which is first light these days. It's good that we were at a marina which made it easier to 'drain the dogs' before we left.
You will also see contact info for Camp Lejeune, in case we had issues with crossing their firing range, and the number for Towboats US, in case we had issues with any of the several shoaling areas we would encounter.
So here's how we made out :
- Pulled out of Swansboro (MM229) on schedule at 0630.
- Entered Camp Lejeune firing range (MM235) at about 0720. Warning sign had no flashing lights and AM530 (referred to by sign) was silent.
- At MM238 we encountered shoaling near Brown's Inlet, which we had been warned about. Slowed down and threaded S pattern through temporary markers. Saw no depths less than 9 feet so no problem there.
- Continued through Camp Lejeune and started seeing activity such as amphibious vehicles and speeding patrol boats (hey, take some 18 year olds, give them guns, and turn them loose with powerful motor boats - What can go wrong?). Also heard many booms from ranges inland.
- I picked up the pace in hopes of making the Onslow Beach Bridge by its 0800 opening, so we could get ahead of schedule. We arrived at the bridge at 0805 and the operator would not open it. So we dropped the hook right in the channel and had breakfast. We made our scheduled 0830 opening but just to show us who's boss, the operator waited until 0835 to open the bridge.
- The next stretch I knew would be tough. We had not quite 2.5 hours to cover the 20 miles (17.4 nm) to the Surf City Bridge. It all hinged on the currents, which for a while helped us so we moved at 7 to 8 knots, then against us so we couldn't even make 6 knots. I had to push Spray some but we made the 1100 opening right on time.
- So we were right on schedule heading for the Figure Eight Island Bridge, an I thought we could loaf as we had 3 hours to cover 17 sm (we just covered 20 sm in 2.5 hours), but the current was against us and I got greedy, thinking I should try for the 1:30 opening rather than 2:00. I kept Spray at 'upper cruise' speed of 1700 rpm and the current eventually started helping us some so we were lucky to just make the 1:30 opening.
- But so what? We had about 5 sm to cover before the final bridge, but it would open only at 2 pm or 3 pm, and it was 22 minutes until 2. I loafed along thinking that I'd miss the 2 pm opening but it would be OK since the Wrightville Beach Bridge has at least 20 ft clearance at high tide. Spray needs about 23 feet for her top VHF antenna to clear, but the tide was getting low, and that antenna is flexible, so why couldn't I pass under the bridge when it was closed?
- Then things got a bit weird, but in a good way. As we approached this last bridge at about 2:10, I saw that about 6 boats were passing through, and that takes some time, so I radioed the bridge operator and asked if he might hold it open a couple more minutes for me. He said that some work being done on the bridge actually required he hold it open a bit longer, so come on through! Thus we made the 2 pm opening, almost an hour earlier than scheduled!
- So here's the weird part. The same bridge work that allowed Spray to pass through a bit late also had some netting hanging below the bridge, lowering its clearance to 17 ft. Spray never would have made it under and we would have had to make a last minute u-turn against the current and in a narrow channel, then wait until 3 pm to get through.
It was a lucky Spray and crew that turned into Wrightsville Beach, dropped anchor at 2:30, and had plenty of time to walk the dogs on their great beach and watch the surfers. Those waves looked rough and I'm glad we have the barrier islands to cruise behind.
Tomorrow we leave mid morning and have a short 24 mile cruise to Southport NC. No more drawbridges in NC. HooRay!

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