Between Mile 0 at Portsmouth and Mile 136 at Belhaven, NC there are six fixed bridges, of which five are not subject to tidal flows and four are sinking slowly after many years to a published 64 feet clearance. This is problematic for Dolce Vento to say the least, because even with full water tanks weighting us down, we need 64′ 3″ to pass under a bridge without scraping away our Windex directional instrument. To lose it would be noisy and kind of scary, but not a disaster as it only costs about $45 to replace and about $100 to have it mounted (old captains like myself don’t get hoisted up masts anymore).
Despite misgivings by my crew, I took the risk to proceed, believing in my own “margin of error” theory, which states that a hidden six inches leeway is built into the bridge height by its engineers, but not published to the casual sailor who attempts to traverse the ICW. Of course, there was no direct proof that my theory is true, until this week.
With John and Cindy laying on their backs at the bow watching the Windex and directing me with hand signals, I motored ever so slowly, trusting them to find the highest point under each bridge. We held our breath, listened to the VHF radio antenna that extends another foot above the Windex go, “clink, clink, clink and clink” as it flipped back, scraping the under side of the bridge. And, we made it — through all of them. Give us a high five and a thumbs up! Now, only some 30 more 65′ bridges on our journey. Luckily, we’ll have tidal flows to ease the passage for these.
Cindy has another theory about our bridge passage success which I am coming to believe in as well. She suggests that we were able to navigate the bridges successfully, because of our careful seamanship every day which gave us points to deposit in our “black box” repository into we build credit points for doing the right seaman like things. She says we succeeded because we used a bunch of our points to get through the bridges.
The man who “invented” the black box was a sailor named John Vigor. As you can read in several articles (Story 1, Story 2, and Story 3), a good sailor keeps her black box as full of points as possible. For example, these last few days, we’ve added points back into our black box by minding our fenders so Dolce Vento doesn’t scrape against the dock pilings, tied on extra lines preparing for a big wind tonight, cleaned our HVAC and engine raw water strainers as well as those for the bilge and sump pumps, and took a full afternoon yesterday to plan the next 10 nights of our trip south, creating a Plan A and Plan B for each day relying on multiple sources for information — our paper charts, Navionics software and ICW Waterway Cruising Guide. We also get points for doing pre-departure checklist items with rigor and discipline (e.g. review weather conditions the night before, check engine, walk deck to check rigging, plan together how we will leave dock or anchorage). Good seamanship is easy if you use common sense and due diligence and not assume “all is well” all the time. Just like our monthly team meetings where we discuss what is going well and what we need to work on – we are expanding our seamanship knowledge and practice. I hope this convinces friends and family that we are not risking our lives out here on the water.
The week found John and Cindy recovering from colds and coughs, sunny days with both no wind and big wind, and, of course, our bridge adventures. We continue to have a small diesel fuel leak (an ounce or so) from the engine after running for at least four hours. Cindy continues the search for the source or a new source. It is not affecting the engine’s performance or our safety. All the other systems seem to be functioning just fine.
Our surprise this past week was first, the Midway Marina and Hotel at Coinjock, NC (Mile 50). Envision two burly Duck Dynasty guys — with long white bears, big bellies, oil stained shirts, and a North Carolina drawl that leaves you hanging on every word — directing us to their rickety dock that suffered from the earthquake that struck the east coast some five years ago. There was no water, no fuel and no pump out available, but these guys were fun, kind, sweet and helpful. You got to love ’em.
The next night at Mile 85, the Little Alligator Swing Bridge, found us at a small marina just on the north side of the bridge. The marina is a gas station, deli and convenience store combination. We met Anna, an owner, who made sure we were happy eating ate their “famous” homemade fried chicken for dinner, cooked to order so we were able to get all dark meat. Instead of Duck Dynasty, this place was all about country-style home cooking (e.g., fried Okra), friendliness with good showers, laundry and comfy lounge. We left refreshed and ready for Belhaven.
Now in Belhaven, after getting Cindy and John to visit the weird collections of the Belhaven Memorial Museum the first day here, I sit here within the protective canvas cocoon surrounding the cockpit, watching a soaking rain and fog envelop all that is around us. We expect strong winds tonight so all our lines and fenders are properly in place. But as Little Orphan Annie sings, “There is always tomorrow when the sun comes out.” We are underway again when the sun shines and the winds die down about 8 AM.
Until next week, may you have fair winds and a candy filled Halloween.