This voyaging life: five episodes on the ICW

To the editor: Our route from Carolina Beach to an anchorage at Camp Lejuene in North Carolina held three challenges for the day: three opening bridges – two of which open only on the hour; the third opens on the half hour. Of course, these bridges are spaced to make continuous transit from one through another impossible. The day’s route also was taking us through a few shallow-water spots.

Episode 1 Not half a mile from our cozy anchorage at Carolina Beach – BANG! J drove Kotchka into a shoal. Quick as bunnies, we launched our dinghy over the side and hooked up the outboard. J rammed the dinghy against the bow to get it pointed into deeper water, while Marci slammed the engine into high gear. Eventually, our combined efforts paid off, and Kotchka powered forward. Marci slowed a bit to get J back aboard, lifted the dinghy engine and carried on.

Episode 2 After getting Kotchka off the dirt, we were headed to the Wrightsville Beach bascule bridge, which opens on the hour. It’s important to remember we have been up and down the ditch 10 times now, so we were feeling our expertise, putting along, timing our arrival to meet an open bridge. Well, the experts managed to miscalculate the speed-distance equation, arriving exactly three minutes late, forcing us to gin around for an hour, contemplating our stupidity.

Episode 3 We gunned the engine to arrive at the second bridge, four miles away, in time for the half-hourly opening. There were boats ahead of us motoring faster. We figured they’d talk to the bridge tender, get him to open, and slow down while the opening sequence commenced. Meanwhile, Kotchka would catch up with the frontrunners just in time to sneak through. Wrong! Even the frontrunners failed to arrive in time, and we all milled near the bridge for 30 minutes.

Episode 4 We cleared the second bridge and pushed on to the Sunset Beach Bridge. We actually had a fair wind and plenty of time, so we turned the diesel off and enjoyed a couple hours of quiet sailing on the ICW. We managed to arrive at the bridge with 10 minutes to spare, a crowd of sailboats already waiting. One boat, a 49-foot Taswell, drove to the front of the crowd, threw the engine in reverse, then backed through the fleet. In the scramble to keep clear, J drove Kotchka into the mud. As we scrambled to get the engine back on the dinghy, we watched the bridge start to open. We broke Kotchka free, Marci pushed the throttles to the stops and hustled through the bridge solo. J drove the dinghy through and rendezvoused with Kotchka on the other side. Phew!

Episode 5 About a mile from the anchorage we had been struggling toward all day, another boat drove into the mud. We got on the radio and volunteered to help. Once again, the outboard came off the rail and was lowered to the dinghy. J hopped in and rode off to the rescue. An hour later, we discovered our inflatable and 8-hp outboard was way overmatched for the task, and our friend’s boat was still stuck firmly in the mud. Fortunately, a local on a skiff with a 100-hp outboard managed to break them free.

Our route was supposed to be an 8-hour trip, assuming cleverly timed bridge arrivals and no rest stops in the mud. Instead, we spent 11 hours on the waterway. Highlights included two groundings and an equal number of missed bridges. The pleasures of cruising!

– J and Marci Kolb live aboard their 1969 Hinckley 38 sloop Kotchka.

By Ocean Navigator