May 15, 2019
Today marked another state line crossing, as we passed from North Carolina into Virginia. The day started early, though, as we and several other boats left Coinjock between 05:00 and 05:30. The reason was that the Army Corps of Engineers had announced that the North Landing Bridge, some 35 miles farther along, which opens on the hour and half-hour, would be shut down for 48 hours after the 09:30 opening today, for some major repairs. There had been rumors about this up & down the ICW for the past several days. I phoned the ACOE on arrival at Coinjock to get the real story, and we immediately planned to get underway no later than 05:30. Anyone who missed the 09:30 opening was going to be in a pickle, because there are only 2 or 3 marinas between Coinjock and the bridge, and if you got as far as the bridge and couldn’t get through you could pretty much bet that everything behind you was full with new northbounders. So there was quite an exodus during those early hours on Wednesday and the ICW got pretty crowded with people who were bound and determined to make it to the bridge before 09:30.
We are faster than some and slower than others, but in any event we made the 08:30 opening and had no problems. We monitored some other boats on AIS who we’d gotten friendly with at Belhaven and/or Coinjock, and we’re pretty sure everyone who wanted to, got through. One couple we met in Belhaven, who live on an Island Packet 40, stayed in Belhaven for a few more days due to the rumors about the bridge., figuring they’d wait for the crush of boats to get through. Some people are lucky and have no real schedule. Must be nice…
So shortly after the North Landing Bridge are the Great Bridge bridge and the Great Bridge lock, where there was still a bit of a crowd from the Coinjock exodus. The lock was full and we were the last ones to get in, but all’s well that ends well. The difficult thing for the ACOE in closing the ICW for several days is the effects on commercial traffic. For recreational boaters getting stuck for 48 hours in an inconvenience; for commercial vessels it means losing real money. You don’t see many tugs & barges in the deep southern sections of the ICW, but between Coinjock and Norfolk we passed several and one wonders what they will do with the waterway closed. Well, what they’ll do is obvious: wait until it opens again, but there are construction projects that are waiting for sand & gravel, pilings, etc., and none of that was going to move until at least Friday.
Norfolk is always an interesting place to pass through, because right where the Dismal Swamp Canal branch of the ICW merges back into the main ICW, both sides of the waterway become heavily industrial. There are cement plants, contractor yards with huge barges & cranes, all manner of oil, chemical and gas facilities, there’s a huge and diverse U.S. Navy presence, with shipyards as well as operational bases, not to mention several commercial shipyards. And that’s all before you get to the downtown cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth, where there are more shipyards, container facilities and marinas. You fairly suddenly pass from marshes, forests and nothing but recreational boats, into a very industrial world, and it rather catches one off-guard. Yikes – the real world!
I found it bittersweet to once again pass the Mile Zero buoy in Portsmouth and realize that this trip that I’d dreamed about for so long was nearing its end. Not that we’ll never get back this way again on our boat, but the lackadaisical meander down the ICW to Florida was over, and the reality of getting back to “the real world” was staring me in the face. Of course, getting home also means getting back to family and loved-ones, and of course that’s a good thing. It’s just that I may like boating a bit too much (is there such a thing?!?).
The flip side of an early departure is often an early arrival at your destination, and such was the case today when we pulled into our slip at the Hampton Public Piers marina, which is right in the middle of downtown Hampton, at noon. Carol and I have both been looking forward to getting to Hampton, where we lived for 4 years in the early 80’s when I was stationed in Norfolk. Hampton was our first married home and we were anxious to see what it’s like now. We lived in a nice neighborhood a few miles from the harbor, but “downtown” Hampton, near the harbor, was something of a dump in those days, with a lot of vacant buildings – it was a place you avoided at night. As we’d read, that’s all changed now and everything is new and the beneficiary of urban renewal. There are new buildings everywhere with nice new houses and apartments on tree-lined streets. One block behind the main drag is a street full of bars, restaurants and antique shops – really nice. I’m sure downtown Hampton is a nice place to live now, and we saw lots of people from a variety of backgrounds who appeared to live there. It looks like they’ve done a really nice job of bringing Hampton back to life.
After a nice dinner at one of those little restaurants, we had a fairly early to-bed after what was, after all, a long but nice day.
Today: 54.5 nautical miles
Running total: 687.8 nautical miles