Norfolk (Mile 0) to Pungo Ferry (Mile 28.5)

Melvyn Brown
Mon 15 Nov 2010 21:55

36: 37.1N 76: 02.9W


The beginning (Mile Zero) of the ICW is deemed to be mid channel outside the marina in Norfolk where we were berthed on Saturday and Sunday.  Gone is the need for the sophisticated electronics and huge admiralty charts Melv has been relying on until now, and in truth I think he is feeling a bit bereft.  The navigation book we are now using (I wouldn’t give it the distinction of “map” let alone “chart”) has an illustration of the next eight or nine miles of the route showing each red and green buoy (or booie as the American’s pronounce it….goodness knows how they get from “buoy” to “booie”) and marks off each mile, in much the same way you see the signs on the hard shoulder of the motorway.  Next to the illustration is a table listing all the buoys and any bridges and you are supposed to tick them as you pass, with an indication of the time, in order to keep track of exactly where you are.  Although so very simple I have been able to assume the role of Navigator, it is useful because there are so few landmarks or distinguishing features to determine your whereabouts.


From first light we watched a flotilla of craft go past the marina and into the ICW.  We weren’t going particularly early because, according to the ICW reference book, the first lifting bridge didn’t open until 8.30 am (after the commuter rush, presumably).  We duly set off and found three or four yachts in front of us.  Once we were all through the bridge which only opened on the hour, the flotilla was in effect complete; as it was unlikely other (motoring) would catch us up.


The bridges went well but our first lock (The Great Lock, no less) was a fiasco.  I was detailed to stand on the bow and tie the boat to the so-called dolphins set into the above-head-height wall of the lock whilst we all waited for it to open on the half hour.


I wasn’t at all confident about this manoeuvre – and I did tell Captain Bligh as much.  The gentle glide in behind the yacht in front did NOT go well, to the extent the lock master came out of his office and offered to take the rope on the other side of the lock.  I was berated because of my unreasonable reluctance to lean out over the rail and put my head, arms and upper torso between the moving boat and the concrete wall in order to affix a rope.


Immediately after the lock was the Great Swing Bridge (see photographs).  If you think it doesn’t deserve its name take a look at the mechanism for lifting it up.


Unfortunately we weren’t able to take the Dismal Swamp route as it was too shallow for the likes of Zarafina.  Indeed the depth of the ICW in general is problematic for a yacht with a 6ft draft.  Keeping between the red and green buoys is vital as they mark the deep (and official) channel, but even so the channel is prone to silting up and shoaling and so one eye has to be permanently on the electronic depth indicator. Going aground in tidal waters it is often just a question of waiting for the tide to come back in to lift the boat off, but on the ICW you don’t even have that option.  A sailor we met in Deltaville, who had sailed the ICW five times, strongly recommended we took out membership of Boat US because that would entitle us to free tows.  He told us the cost of towing can run into the hundreds of dollars as you are paying on an hourly basis from when the tow boat leaves its home port.  We took his advice and although it cost a little more because we didn’t have a US residence, we may yet find it was $165 well spent. 


The navy boatyards ran for miles and miles but eventually we were into open country.  There were no banks to the canal as we passed.  The trees grew right at the water’s edge and whether the result of climate change or what, we saw perfectly formed trees now sticking out of the water, some distance from the shore.  The trees eventually die and leave what look like bare telegraph poles behind, or uproot entirely to add to the vegetation debris at the water’s edge.  Branches, logs and entire trees float out into the channel and present a real hazard to boats.  Sometimes you see the end of a log, but it doesn’t move and is (presumably) an entire trunk embedded in the silt.


The trees are only just turning here and the temperature in Norfolk touched 70....yeeeessss!














We weren’t intending to be over ambitious, partly because we couldn’t predict the delays we might experience at the lifting bridges and partly because the first marina was too far to reach in a day anyway.  Our plan was to anchor overnight at 30 miles, do the 20 miles to the marina on Tuesday and then a long day’s motor across comparatively open water on Wednesday.  There were three anchorages shown at the 30 mile mark, but with the proviso the depth had to be checked (one also mentioned looking out for water skiers but we didn’t think that would apply in November).  We were going for the second of these when we noticed the other yachts in front peeling off and heading for a derelict marina opposite the first of the recommended anchorages.  We gingerly left the comparative safety of the channel to explore the possibility of anchoring and almost immediately touched the bottom.  Melv did a U-turn and went back to try the first site.  As we approached the sailors on the yachts hailed us and suggested we tie up next to them, which is what we did and how we ended up with three other yachts at the least luxurious marina on the ICW.  Later that evening two Canadian yachts joined us.