View 2 of the ICW (cont’d)
This Ariose Note picks up where we left off last post, sharing some of the highlights of our northward journey on the IntraCoastal Waterway. We’ve seen the ICW through new eyes as we head homeward. We were saying that there had been only a couple of minor “incidents” marking our month on this leg, but also one rather frightening event, and that’s where we left off.
It happened early on the ICW, on the day we sailed from Charleston down the Ashley River. The biggest risk we faced, we thought, was the massive freighters coming and going along the channels we had to cross. We didn’t suspect the peril that lay within Ariose. It was no problem dodging the freighters. We’ve become pretty good at keeping our calm while sharing waters with others, large and small. Once across the bay, we entered the ICW. There was a bridge just ahead, so we needed to be under motor, a requirement of the operators. We started it up a little early in order to arrive on time for the next hourly opening.
Before I go further, perhaps a bit of background would be helpful. On passages, we have had water in the cockpit, at times a LOT of water when broached by waves, enough to submerge the ignition switch. It has progressively been harder to turn the key, something we attributed to corrosion. A new ignition, and perhaps installing it somewhere higher on the boat, was on “the” list. Oh yes, one more salient detail for those like me who are less mechanically experienced. Starters, I have learned, draw high amperage, but of course, only for a few seconds until they get the engine started. A starter should never be doing its thing for more than 15 seconds or those high amps can generate dangerous levels of heat that the starter motor has no way of dissipating.
Okay, back to the incident, which may by now be obvious. About 10 minutes into our motoring, we noticed the distinctive odour of electrical burning and shut off the engine. Tim, alarmed, jumped into the cabin to open the engine compartment. I scanned the horizon certain that our noses were merely telling us that we were entering an industrial area and had nothing to be concerned about. Well, Tim’s instincts were right. In a second or two, smoke was billowing from the engine. It’s amazing how in a near panic situation, the brain still has time to run through its file of images. Two went through my mind. Last year, when combing through a boat wreckers for parts, Tim & I had felt shivers up our spines as we passed by several vessels that been destroyed by fire.
A fibreglass hull can look like black molten wax, and terrifying to think of the fumes that would have been more deadly than the flames. I thought of that. And I also had an image from only days before flash though my mind. We had watched from our anchorage, horrified, as a boat docked in Charleston burned. Was this to be our fate??? Instinctively, we both reached for the fire extinguishers, but thankfully, they weren’t necessary. When the engine stopped, it was clear from a cursory inspection, that there was no fire, only smoke and the sizzling of a very hot starter. We drifted toward shore, dropped our anchor once out of the channel, and within a few minutes our blood pressure dropped too. It didn’t take the on-board mechanic long to figure out that the key in the ignition had not sprung back upon starting the motor. It had remained stuck “on” that entire time we were motoring, at least 40x longer than the safe maximum. As a testament to the quality of the starter, it continued to work, begrudgingly though, on the few occasions we needed it over the next 2 weeks until we were able to purchase a replacement. There was no further damage, to the wiring, nor to our nerves.
While on the thread of not-so-positive experiences on this leg of our journey, there are a few aspects of the ICW that have have been less than desirable. The water is one. Our home waters of Lake Timiskaming serve as a watershed for a large area, bringing sediment from a claybelt and tannins from pine forests, so we are used to brown waters. The waters of the ICW, muddy in the south end, and clear dark tea further north, are not unfamiliar, but oh, how we have been spoiled. How we have missed Bahamian water.
The busyness on the ICW was another negative for us. On our southbound journey, with temperatures at times dipping close to freezing, for some reason we often had the waterway to ourselves. We already mentioned the chaos on the water in Charleston on Memorial Day weekend. It wasn’t limited to there, nor to long weekends. We didn’t need to consult our charts to know when we were approaching a town. The increase in boat traffic would make it obvious. At times, we were surrounded by every sort of recreational water craft you can imagine, and we would be bounced and tossed as many completely ignored the posted “no wake” signs.
The military presence has also been rather shocking for us. We’ve tried to maintain a sense of humour about the ludicrousness of it all. Military guys in a training exercise, pushing high-tech gear swam laps around Ariose (seriously), being buzzed by aircraft, sailing through a firing range, passing by immense warship after warship, guys in fatigues on their gunned boats looking pretty serious about stocking up on ice. If we didn’t laugh at the incongruence with our peaceful meandering, we’re not sure how we would respond. Likely, we would be overcome by anger or by the hopeless of fabricated wars and the billions of dollars dedicated to the killing industry. What’s that quote about old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in? Anyways, this Ariose Note is mainly about the pleasures of the ICW, so we’ll share a little sample of military images, and then get back to the good stuff.
The lush greenery has felt like a salve, especially for Tim. We’re back in diverse forests, often, as we travel the waterway, with little distinction between land and water. From large, Spanish moss-draped live oaks to spectacular flowers, whether wandering through towns, or better yet, rowing Poco into the depths of a cyprus swamp, there’s been beauty all around. Here’s some samples:
The wildlife has also been a highlight on the ICW for us. Or should I say most of the wildlife has been. We’ve already shared our unfortunate encounter with crabs in the last Ariose Note – they, along with the mosquito and no-see-um encounters are most definitely not in this category. Here’s a photo sampling of some that we did take pleasure in.
The ICW, is first and foremost, a highway. More of the waterway is inhabited than not. Here’s a gallery showing some of those sides of its character:
Just hours before the end of the ICW, as we approached yet another bridge, and as per protocol, called the Great Bridge tender on the VHF to let him know were interested in passing through at the next scheduled opening. We expected that to be in a few minutes. “Copy that, Captain (see Fred, you’re not the only one who calls me Captain!). Next opening is at 1900 hours.” What? That was 7 hours’ wait. I paused for a moment, then realized it was a joke. I responded, “A bridge tender with a sense of humour. That’s a nice change. Ariose out. Standing by on one-three, ” and we began slowly circling behind the bridge. A short while later, the tender came back on to clarify that he was not joking. Great Bridge was no longer so great. It had been struck by lightening, so now only opened manually twice daily. The 7pm wouldn’t allow us enough time to get to Norfolk before dark, especially with likely delays at the lock just beyond the bridge. We well knew the stress of navigating Norfolk’s waters outside of daylight hours. Its confusing array of buoys, cranes, bridges, freighters, barges and whatnot all blinking lights in the dark, made all the more confusing against the backdrop of the city’s lights – we had done that last December, and had no desire to do so again. The 6am opening it would be.
It was frustrating that this was our destination for the day, as we were just 10 miles or so from the official end of the ICW. That disappointment was more than made up for by having lots of interesting dockside chats with fellow cruisers from around the world. There’s camaraderie that comes with being trapped together.
Near 7pm, the radio crackled to life with dozens of recreational and commercial vessels communicating intentions trying to create order from what looked like was complete chaos. As the bridge opened, the show began. For 30 minutes, we watched the parade, the most entertaining of which was 4 tugboats pulling/pushing through the largest barge we had ever seen. We were glad we wouldn’t be sharing the lock ahead with that behemoth. If you’re interested, I tried to capture a panorama of the full vessel:
Then bright and early the next day – well more drizzly than bright – it was our turn to be a part of the 6am procession, a rather sleepier, slower moving version of the night before.
By noonish, we had navigated the industrial/military mayhem of the waters at the north end of the ICW, and were in Portsmouth, just across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk, pleasantly surprised to find space for us at the city-owned free docks.
So, our original aversion to retracing the ICW was all for naught. We appreciate having had this second, and much more pleasant exposure and look forward to Ariose taking us back this way again some day.