Or shoals…or live firing at Marine Corps bases…or opposing currents…or eight foot tides…or high winds when we’re at anchor… Everything doesn’t always come up roses when traveling down the ICW in a sailboat that needs 53 feet of clearance above it and 6 feet below!
On the day that we left Swansboro, NC en route to Wrightsville Beach, NC, we encountered several of these. We left bright and early that day, shortly after sunrise, because we had a long day ahead of us. The first uncertainty of the day revolved around Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base where there could have potentially been live fire exercises being performed, which would have closed a section of the ICW for the duration of the live firing. Fortunately, this was not the case on this day. Obstacle number one cleared.
Obstacle number two…Shoal (verb) – to become shallow or more shallow. Ugh. Shallow or MORE shallow?!? There is a LOT of shoaling on the ICW and we need to be very aware of the spots which are shoaling. There was one such spot (one of many!) on this leg of the trip where friends of ours that had left ahead of us found themselves hard aground. We would have loved to have been able to stop and help them out of the bind they found themselves in, but with winds blowing at 22 knots we would have most likely been pushed right into them or been grounded ourselves. We passed safely around them, at one point with only 6 1/2 feet of water below us…a mere six inches to spare. A bit too close for comfort in my book!
Obstacle number three…Bridges. There are a LOT of bridges on the ICW. Fixed bridges, swing bridges, lift bridges, railroad bridges, London bridges…oh sorry…got carried away there! The fixed bridges aren’t an issue for us, as they all have a clearance of around 65 feet. It’s the bridges that need to open for us to pass through that cause us headaches. Some bridges open on demand, while others are on a timed schedule and only open at certain times each day.
On this particular day, there were four bridges that we needed to pass through when they were open, and NONE of them opened on demand. The first one we encountered was the Onslow Beach Bridge which only opens on the hour and half-hour. At 8:30am we could see it opening, but were still nine minutes away, so figured we’d have to wait til the 9:00am opening to make it through. Jim called the bridge tender on the VHF, told him how far away we were and asked if we’d be able to make this opening or if we’d have to wait. We were so relieved when he told us he’d hold it open for us! Just saved us a half an hour of wasted time!
The next bridge we would encounter this day was the Topsail Island Bridge, which was a fixed bridge with a 64′ vertical clearance, so we could go under at our leisure. Obviously our favorite kind of bridge! Still three more opening bridges to go though, and the next one on the itinerary was the Surf City bridge which only opens on the hour. Believe it or not, we actually had to slow down a bit so we wouldn’t get there too soon! It’s not easy trying to “stand still” in a sailboat, especially with current pushing us around, and the dredged channel we need to keep ourselves in is not very wide. Sitting in front of bridges waiting for them to open is NOT fun and can be quite nerve-wracking!
This is exactly what happened at the next bridge, the Figure Eight Island bridge. It opens every half hour and we arrived at 2:45pm. Ugh. That was a VERY long 15 minutes spent trying not to run aground or hit one of the other boats also waiting! 3 o’clock finally arrived and we brought up the rear of the parade of boats through the bridge opening. The next part’s pretty frustrating….the Wrightsville Beach bridge only opens on the hour…and it’s only five statute miles away, which means we have to move slower than our normal snail’s pace, again so as to not get there too early. You have no idea how hard it is to PURPOSELY try to go slow, when we are typically trying to figure out how to gain any extra bit of speed we can!
Finally made it through the last bridge of the day at 4pm! Woo hoo! We’re in Wrightsville Beach where we are going to anchor. We just need to make a left hand turn, go through Motts Channel and we’re there. Oh yeah…but there’s only 4.5 feet of water through this channel, so instead we’ve got to go about another four miles to get to the anchorage which we can practically see as soon as we made it through the last bridge opening! Oh the joys of having a deep draft sailboat!
And here’s a quick video showing one of the swing bridges we’ve just gone through as it closes behind us. Enjoy!