June 16, 2013
Father’s Day was bon voyage day. Today, my husband Charlie and I embarked on an adventure down the Intracoastal Waterway aboard our 34 foot American Tug, Rainshadow. Sonya at Boats.com suggested I write a blog documenting my trip. My friend Becky helped create the structure of the blog. She keeps asking when I will post my first entry. Here you go, Becky. I am just a few days behind.
Charlie and I purchased Rainshadow in 2012 from a fellow cruiser in Deltaville. We named our tug Rainshadow in hopes that it would bring us luck with weather. (The back side of a mountain in a rain shadow receives little rain because the mountain blocks the weather systems that produce the rain.)
Since our purchase, we have been getting acquainted with our tug and the waterways. We have test driven it on several overnight trips including Solomons Island, Colonial Beach, Fort Monroe, Carter’s Creek, Urbana, Hampton, Stafford, Waterside in Norfolk, Cape Charles and Kent Island. We have endured our tug stalling in the mouth of the turbulent Potomac River because of a clogged fuel filter and have been towed out of Broad Bay at night due to shoaling. We have replaced, upgraded and repaired several items as well as re-painted the hull. We have read the book “Adventures in the Ditch” about a trip Jon Coile took with his family down the Intracoastal Waterway. After analyzing charts, downloading ipad apps and researching marinas, we feel somewhat prepared for the three week trip we were about to attempt, understanding, of course, that each day is a challenge when you are boating.
Let’s get back to Father’s Day. We were ready to push off. So a little after 8 AM, we left Marina Shores in Virginia Beach and headed out to the Chesapeake Bay. Charlie had been looking at the wave and weather forecast for several days. He informed me that the waves would pick up when we turned the bend into the Elizabeth River. In preparation, I took ½ a Dramamine and I gave our dog Bella ¼ of a pill. Sure enough, 2-3 foot waves began battering the boat. Once we got further up the Elizabeth River, however, the water calmed down and so did we.
As we passed the Naval Yard, we saw the Enterprise Carrier which had recently been retired from service. The Enterprise holds a special place in our heart so I took a picture as we passed. The first time Charlie and I went out together it was aboard the Enterprise. But that is a story for another blog, I suppose.
We went by Hospital Point anchorage in Portsmouth and pulled into Ocean Marine. They had worked on our outboard motor for our dingy and we needed to get it for the trip. While we were there, we filled up on diesel and I walked Bella. When they brought the motor to the boat, it became very obvious that getting the motor from the top of the dock down 12 feet to our dingy was going to be tricky. While my husband and the two individuals from Ocean Marine debated solutions, I began to put the salon in order. That morning we had just dumped everything in the salon and taken off knowing the weather was rough. After a short while, I stuck my head out the cockpit door. The guys had decided to tie a line on the motor and tie it to a forklift used to lift boats in and out of storage. While Charlie stayed on the swim platform, the motor was gently lowered in place via the forklift driver. I love when a plan comes together because of human ingenuity.
Once the motor was in place, we took off down toward down the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. The charts indicated that we would encounter a seven mile long congested path with six bridges. We passed through several bridges. The maps seem to indicate that the Gilmerton bridge had 11 feet of vertical clearance and to wait for a signal to pass. However, after watching several boats pass through with more required vertical clearance than us, we went closer and decided we could clear it with no problem. In fact, it appeared to have 30 feet of clearance. After passing under the Interstate 64 bridge, we came to a bridge (“Steel Bridge”) that the charts stated only opened on the hour. We still had 20 minutes to go. As we pondered our situation, I looked to the left and saw a marina. The sign said “Top Rack.” “Isn’t that the marina you made a reservation at? “ I asked my husband. “It certainly is!” he answered. Somehow, we had miscalculated the bridge count and passed right by the marina. As we pulled into a slip, the manager/owner met us and asked us if we needed diesel fuel. We told him we had just gassed up at Ocean Marine. He noted that he has the cheapest gas around and pointed to his price sign. Sure enough, we could have saved $.40 per gallon! We wrote a note in our records to stop here on the way back.
We made dinner reservations at the marina restaurant, Amber Lantern. This meant we had a free slip for the night. The bathrooms were open as long as the restaurant was open, and the manager warned us that the restaurant could be closed as early as 9pm. (The next morning we found out that the bathrooms also don’t open back up until 8:00 am.) After securing the boat, our kids met us for Father’s Day dinner. Afterwards, the kids went home and we headed back to the slip where the day’s activity was slowing down on the docks. In fact, the dry storage had closed and we were the only boat staying the night. The wind had died down and we enjoyed a lovely sunset. Tomorrow we would go down the Dismal Swamp Canal to Elizabeth City.