Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Fond Farewell to the ICW - Hello to the Chesapeake Bay

Well, the prime rib was all that it was cracked up to be at the Coinjock Marina Restaurant - who would have ever guessed?? After cocktails on Gypsies, we headed up into the restaurant to do battle with the famed 32 ounce prime rib - upon further reflection we each thought that might possibly be more than we could handle so we "settled" for the 16 ounce version!!
Drinks on Gypsies Before the Prime Rib Dinner
Prime Rib Dinner in Coinjock
Bob Met His Match in Coinjock!
Despite everyone's valiant efforts, no one (at least in our party) was successful in conquering the whole thing - uncle!! Even Bob passed on desert that night - not sure that would have been the case if there was red velvet cake but alas....

The next morning we rolled out of the marina bright and early for our 12 mile trip up to Great Bridge where there are free docks and a great Mexican restaurant according to our friend Di on Aurora! As if we really needed more food - after the night before I don't think I need a meal again for at least a week, but OK I don't want to be the party pooper - if I must!! Usually a 12 mile trip is very short but we are in the land of the low clearance bridges - not even a gnat can pass under many of these bridges - so we had to time our travels to coincide with bridge openings. Unlike many of the other bridges on the ICW which open on demand (just call the bridge tender as you approach and they will open the bridge so you can pass under), the bridges along this stretch are mostly on a fixed schedule and some of them only open once an hour so if you happen to miss the opening you are screwed!! And let's be real, it's not like we can just put the boat in park and go off and mess around until the bridge opens - we have to try and hold a 66,000 pound boat steady in wind and current while not running aground, running into the bridge or running into the inevitable other boats that are doing the same bridge waiting dance along with you. To compound matters, the bridge tender often won't open the bridge until all the boats are close up and nearly ramming into each other - have any of them ever driven a boat before??? So I sound like I'm not a fan of this stretch of the ICW - bingo!!! If you could even count on all the bridges opening on time at least that would be something, but NOOOOO - inevitably one of the old railroad bridges is stuck (of course it's always stuck in the down position, never open) but I guess I digress....
Bridge 1 to Great Bridge
Bridge 2 to Great Bridge
Bridge 3 to Great Bridge

The stretch from Coinjock to Great Bridge is at least pretty scenic with lots of osprey nests and cypress and pine trees lining the winding river - where we would see really young osprey babies several months ago, they are now getting older (and more vocal) as they seem almost ready to leave the nest for a life of their own!! Very cool!!
Osprey Nest
This stretch of the ICW is narrow and very shallow outside the channel which makes dealing with the increased barge traffic interesting to say the least - one double barge I was trying to pass nearly sent me aground as he tried to deal with the current by traveling almost sideways down the narrow channel!!! Thanks buddy - not!!
The Double Barge Passes Us in Coinjock, We Passed Him about an Hour Later
We did have a very colorful hitchhiker for about a half hour of our journey though - a dragonfly with the most beautiful red wings decided that my blue binoculars were the perfect spot to chill out and enjoy the scenery. While beautiful, they do have the weirdest eyes...but as long as they continue to eat the mosquitos and assorted bugs that also find our boat hospitable, they will be welcome on Gypsies always!!
The Hitchhiker on Gypsies

At green marker 63 we passed into Virginia from NC and bid Doug a welcome home (he was born in VA) - what a weird feeling for us to be back in VA where most of Doug's family lives after being gone for almost a year!!! After dealing with swing bridges and bascule bridges of various varieties, we finally reached Great Bridge where we went through one of the funkier bridges on the ICW and then immediately tied up to the free dock on the side of the waterway along with a catamaran that we first saw in Ocracoke!!
Great Bridge from the Stern of Gypsies, Tied Up to the Free Docks
Gypsies in the Palace and September Song at the Free Dock in Great Bridge
The docks are lined with beautiful flowering trees and gaggles of Canadian geese (wonderful to look at but noisy little crap machines otherwise) and they are walking distance into a town with a great grocery store for re-provisioning which is always welcome! We took advantage of the store while studiously avoiding the Dairy Queen along the way despite a peanut buster parfait that was calling out to me the whole walk (maybe I'm dating myself - do they still make them?? if not, they should!!) We spent the afternoon relaxing and watching several women catch blue crabs off the docks by tying chicken parts to a string that they dangled in the water off the pilings - we were fascinated and it looked like a lot of fun so next stop we are definitely buying chix parts. We've had dolphin and tuna in the Bahamas, clams in Ocracoke and shrimp in Manteo all that we or friends caught so why not a crab dinner now that we are back in the Chesapeake??

That evening we headed over the swing bridge to the 3 Amigos restaurant (no you can't make this up!)
The 3 Amigos
As we were walking across the bridge, Bob and Doug insisted on stopping and putting some pennies and coins under the bridge (like Di from Aurora had done on an earlier trip with September Song - gee thanks for the idea Di) so that when it opened the next time they would have pressed pennies (like in those goofy tourist machines).
The Boys Place Their Coins
Great - that is if they didn't break the bridge!! Despite its outward appearance and hokey windows, the mexican restaurant turned out to be great - big margaritas, $2 beers (even if they were anheuser busch products on special), lots of warm chips and salsa and tons of food!!!
Dinner at the 3 Amigos
On the trip back across the bridge, the jailbirds picked up their crushed coins and oohed and aahed over the indentations the coins had made in the bridge (not really but you could see where the coins had been pressed flat) - we took a photo of what the boys would like like behind bars just in case the bridge tender caught them!!!
Smashed Coins...Kewl!
The Jailbirds

The next morning after our early morning goose wake-up call, we headed out into the Great Bridge lock - the only lock on the Atlantic ICW. The sign in the lock was pretty cool since we've actually been to most of the places listed!!
Sign in the Lock in Great Bridge
Compared to the Panama Canal locks or even some of them on the west coast of FL and in the Mississippi river system that we are reading that our friends on Life's2Short are going through, this is a pretty sissy lock with only about a 3 foot change in water level. But you still have to tie off to the side and wait to go through it - compared to the first time we went through the lock on our way down, we didn't have to change our shorts this time!!
Stephanie Helps Hold September Song in Place in the Lock
Tammy Holds the Stern of Gypsies in the Palace in Place in the Lock
We've learned a whole lot on this trip and now almost nothing phases us!!! Except this last stretch of the ICW - which we really don't like too much. The final 12 miles or so heading into Norfolk and Hampton Roads is one of the busiest and most commercial sections of the ICW (unlike Fort Lauderdale, you're not dealing with a bunch of idiot go-fast boats but with naval destroyers with guns and cannons and a license to fire and tugs, cargo barges and container ships that can flatten you without even knowing it) and has the oldest, low clearance bridges so you know at least one of them will be broken, it's just a guessing game as to which one and how many huge tankers or naval warships will be on your butt when it happens!!
The Approach to Norfolk
Of course our broken bridge had to be the second of two bridges right where three tugs were getting a huge tanker ready to depart which meant that their wake blew us out of the channel while we tried to sit tight waiting for the freaking railroad bridge to be fixed!! Bad enough for us but even worse for the several snailbots behind us - even Doug actually felt bad for them!!
The Broken Down Railroad Bridge Finally Starts to Go Up

But finally we maneuvered through all the bridges, passed all the navy ships and commercial barges and headed into our home for the next week, the marina at the Nauticus Center in Norfolk.
The Approach to Nauticus Marina...Now Where is That Entrance?
Whew - were we glad to be off the ICW - that is until we saw the unbelievably tight entrance to the marina and the postage stamp sized turning basin in which these guys seriously expected us to dock??? But again, experience took over and we (the royal we again as Doug was docking!) managed to get Gypsies turned around and backed into our slip with inches (OK maybe several feet) to spare.
The Narrow Entrance and Small Turning Basin in the Nauticus Marina
Then it was time to watch September Song who is 6 feet bigger than us try the same feat - Bob did a masterful job swinging SS around and cleared the wall at the Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center in front of us with inches to spare - no kidding!! Once we were safely docked though we began right away to enjoy our little space - we plan on being here for a week and we are about as protected as you get although given how close we are to the naval base we do get some pretty serious fly-bys!

We headed out to scope out the waterside area where this weekend they are holding a Cajun Festival with lots of bayou music and you guessed it food!! Can you say yippee!!! Our tiny marina is right next to the Nauticus Center which has an aquarium, the naval museum, various exhibits and right next to it is the Wisconsin battleship that you can tour - we plan to hit all of that later today. The park around the waterfront is really beautiful with its pavilions, colorful mermaids (they are all over the city and done by different local artists!!),
The Mermaid at Waterside Park
The Mermaid at Waterside Marina
Mermaids Everywhere
fountains, sculptures and open spaces! There are a number of shops along the waterfront as well, one of which contained a mongolian fast food joint which we couldn't pass up for lunch - it was so good, we'll be back!!!
Sculpture at Waterside Titled "the Tourists"
Yesterday afternoon Doug and I finally got to see the sixth Harry Potter movie, The Half-Blood Prince, and it rocked - not only did we finally get to see a HP movie on a huge screen with all the special effects to make you jump out of your skin let alone your seat, but it felt like we were playing hookey going to a movie during the middle of the day on a Wednesday!!! But then again if you really look at it, I guess we've been playing hookey for the past year or so - this just somehow felt naughty!!! It was wonderful!!

As soon as we got back from the movie, our nephew Luke and his girlfriend Laura (yes I'm sure they take a lot of crap over that) showed up at the boat bearing presents courtesy of Doug's sister - the keys to a car that we can use during our stay!! How wonderful is that - thank you guys! It was great to see them even though we didn't have much time to catch up before one of our other nephews Larkin came to pick them up. We're hoping they will come back into town one day this weekend for the Cajun Festival but know we'll see them again soon one way or the other during our stay!!

A quiet evening on Gypsies where we polished off the remainder of our prime rib from Coinjock and drank a glass of rum out on the bow under the stars was the perfect end to a great day. Today we are heading off to explore Norfolk - the Cannonball Trail (I keep wanting to call it the Thunderball Trail - guess I really want to go back to Thunderball Grotto in the Bahamas!!!) which represents over 400 years of Norfolk history and is a walking trail through the city topped off by an afternoon at Nauticus and the Wisconsin. I better go get ready or we'll be late! Tonight is shrimp scampi on Gypsies (with the fresh shrimp that our friend Dave from Manteo caught and gave us!!!) and that's as far as we've planned....but as soon as we know, you'll know too!

Click here to see our location at Nauticus Marina

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