Norfolk to Bald Head Island

Day One. We are anchored off the ICW near G163 on the Pasquotank River 53 nm south of Norfolk. Good holding here in mud/sand. We have 100 feet of chain out and our snubber; should be plenty for the predicted no-wind evening. We had a great run today. All the drama from Joaquin is gone; we are back to sunny days and calm winds. Ran all day without the generator, doors open, cool breezes. The chop on the bay has calmed down, wind is down, it is peaceful. There are no other boats nearby; one sailboat is at anchor at the head of the river and another closer to Albemarle Sound. Several barges pass by during the night but, otherwise, we have the place to ourselves.

I set up a guard zone on our Broadband radar encircling the boat. Anything entering triggers an alarm. This can be good and bad. I’m hoping the false positive rate is zero; more than likely that isn’t the case and we may well be awakened in the middle of the night for nothing. Still, it is comforting to have with the barge traffic nearby.

We didn’t see too much debris in the water today but as we get further south into areas that experienced significant flooding we may well encounter floating hazards. If we are lucky the conditions offshore will moderate allowing us to bypass the hazards on the ICW and run directly to Charleston or Brunswick. We will make the decision when we get to Morehead City.

Day Two. A perfect day. Flat seas, beautiful weather. Uneventful. We cross Albemarle Sound, traverse the Alligator River, the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal, and finally the Pungo River. We hummed along at 8 knots all day and traveled 70 nm to a pretty anchorage on Slade Creek south of Belhaven, NC. Even though we came this way in the Spring it is still a pleasant journey. All systems aboard Tivoli are working well, we even ran the watermaker for an hour to prime the system after a filter change. As night fell even the slight breeze disappeared leaving the water like glass. Much to our surprise, Day Dreams, a Krogen 39, was anchored in the same creek about a mile away. I noticed their AIS signal and hailed them on the VHF but they didn’t respond. We met these folks several weeks ago in Deltaville and had dinner with them and several others. We made contact by email and caught up on the latest news. They are holding up a few days to allow Waterford to catch up. We are heading down to Morehead City and, weather permitting, offshore to Charleston or Brunswick.

Day Three. Another perfectly still morning. We are up before sunrise, hoist anchor and spend 20 minutes washing the mud off the chain. Finally underway at sunrise. Water is like glass. Bright orange sunrise to the east is reflected in the water. The journey is routine given we’ve been this way before and the conditions are benign. We enjoy the passing scenery as the miles tick by. We leave the Pungo and cross the Pamlico River, passing River Dunes Marina and Oriental NC where we spent a week last spring. We enter the Goose River, into the man-made canal, and a final turn into the channel leading into Morehead City Yacht Basin. A very nice day but it did end on a sour note. We had some drama docking. All the Active Captain reviews pointed out how little current is in this marina. Not so. The heavy rains resulted in a fairly strong current pushing us into the dock. We rubbed up against a piling but that’s what rub rails are for. No damage except to the ego. When we got off the boat and I was surprised by the eddies swirling past the bow of Tivoli. My mistake for not paying enough attention and seeing this in advance but we weren’t expecting it. Sure would love stern thrusters or twins!

Day Four. Weather predictions for the Atlantic passage down to Charleston or Brunswick vary depending on the source of the information. I figure if there is that much disagreement nobody really knows. We will check again at dawn but right now conditions look favorable; winds 10-15, seas 2-3 feet at 8 seconds. Of course there is a 90% chance of rain. At first light we check again, the forecasters are predicting 20-25 knot winds and 3-5 foot seas, we opt for the ICW. Tivoli can easily handle these but why beat ourselves up? We continue down the ICW. Miles pass by, navigation markers come and go, green on the port (left) and red on the starboard (right) at this location. It’s easy to become complacent. After all, we’ve had several perfect days on the ICW. Long stretches invite the use of the autopilot. Before long one can be lured into an over reliance on the chartplotter, blindly following the “magenta line” or ICW course.

We are humming along straight down the magenta line with a following current increasing our speed to a blistering 10 knots. Then, abruptly, we go from 10 knots to 3, then 1, then 0. And zero means zero. Within 60 seconds our day changed from pleasure to panic. The chart is wrong and I, like a robot, followed the magenta line and missed a green marker way to the right side of the channel. Yes, straight into the shallows. Tivoli is hard aground in mud and listing to port about 8 degrees. I make an unsuccessful effort to back into deeper water, we are stuck. I shut down the stabilizers. The Lugger is keel-cooled and can’t suck up sand/mud so I leave it running for the moment, not sure how the boat will behave and want to have power available if necessary. Fortunately, the generator was not running or we would likely have clogged the strainer. I run down to the engine room and check the bilges, drive shaft and stabilizers for leaks; all is good, no obvious damage so far. Back up to the pilothouse I dig out the TowboatUS 800 number and call them. They dispatch a tow boat from Swansboro, NC. We wait, and we wait. We have lunch. Tide continues to ebb. The strong current streams past and mud under the boat is carried away. We are out of the channel sitting crosswise in the ICW; a convenient location from which to advise other boaters passing of the best approach to get through the shallows. They seem appreciative. High tide is at 7 PM and I’m making contingency plans to move to the nearest anchorage after dark. Fortunately TowboatUS shows up, we attach a bridle to the stern and the powerful tow boat flushes mud off the bottom under our boat while pulling us upstream. In 15 minutes we are free. We test the running gear and stabilizers, and detect no vibration, no leaks, no apparent damage. All is well and we are shortly on our way. Most boaters know that running aground isn’t a matter of if but of when. Now we know what that’s like, not fun. Tivoli is a rock, yet again. Given the two and a half hour delay, and the ensuing stress, we decide to cut our journey short and anchor. A man-made bay at Camp Lejeune, Mile Hammock Bay, is open to the public. We had anchored here when bringing Tivoli back to Tennessee after we purchased her and decided it would be ideal and it’s only a few miles down the ICW. We get here to find the bay occupied by 3 other boats but there is plenty of room; we are securely anchored in short order and collapse after a trying day. Cruising is not all roses. I’m expecting a YouTube video to appear covering this unfortunate incident.

Day Five. Mile Hammock Bay to Bald Head Island Marina. Large day. Only 57 miles but tedious miles. Shallow spots, strong currents, traffic, confusing navigational markers, incorrect charts, long waits at two bridges. All conspire to create a stressful day. Thankfully we didn’t run aground today but easily could have. The 30 minute wait at Wrightsville Beach Bridge is the worst. A 2 knot current is pushing us downstream toward the shallows on one side and the bridge ahead. I put the boat in reverse to stay in one place but that requires constant attention to rudder, throttle and gear. Add to the mix a slew of small boats, jet skis, paddleboarders, canoes, hovering like mosquitoes around Tivoli. These folks just don’t realize an 88,000 pound boat isn’t that nimble. Nerve wracking. Finally, the hallowed time arrives and the bridge opens. We are down current and have less control and theoretically have right of way. Not so at this spot. It’s a mad dash through the bridge. The crowded marinas and restaurants just past the bridge add to the chaos. We get through finally and breath a sign of relief. Another tedious 20 miles or so of waterway and we finally break out, entering the ship channel in the Cape Fear River north of Southport and finally turn Tivoli over to Mr. Autopilot. We arrive at our destination safe and sound and finished the day with an unprecedented perfect docking. The dockmaster was busy so nobody was on the dock to help. We sidle up to the T-head like Capt. Ron; Deanna lassos the piling at the bow, I step back to the stern and lasso a cleat at the stern. We are tied up without stepping off the boat! We then casually deploy spring lines and fenders and shut down the boat. Of course, we had observers. One always has observers when things go poorly and never when things go well – until now. They told us we were given a score of 9.5 out of 10. Wish we could do that every time!

Bald Head Island Marina is in a planned community and quite lovely. Two restaurants are on-site so we clean up and head out to a well-deserved glass of wine and dinner out.

Day Six. We spend the day on boat maintenance. We hired a diver to check the running gear and fins for any potential damage from our unfortunate grounding incident. Were the fins damaged? Any dings in either of the props? Zincs still in good shape? The diver spent 30 minutes inspecting bow to stern. Much to my surprise he found the bottom unscathed and in perfect condition. A bit of bottom paint was scraped off the keel. Bravo Nordhavn! What a stout boat! Next on the list was to replace a bad genset battery. How does one get a heavy battery to the island? It has to come by ferry. Jack, the dockmaster, went way above and beyond by arranging the purchase from a Southport NAPA store and then going to the store on his day off to pick up the battery and take it to the ferry dock to be delivered to Bald Head. We picked it up at the ferry dock and I had it installed in 30 minutes.

With that behind us we rent a golf cart and tour this lovely island. Bald Head Island is a 200+ home planned community with beach or golf course homes, a marina, a couple of good restaurants, etc. There are no bridges to the island so all the inhabitants and visitors get around on golf carts. The houses have golf cart garages, there are golf cart parking lots, golf cart bridges, must be a thousand of them on the island. The marina is lovely but surrounded by beautiful homes. The only downside is there can be a significant surge in this manmade basin; we rocked and rolled at the dock on a day with 20 knot winds. Overall, the place is terrific.

The weather is moderating and our next leg will be an offshore run down to Brunswick.

Deanna’s cell phone pics:


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