As we inched closer to Portsmouth, VA the boat traffic picked up; mostly motor vessels: cabin cruisers, trawlers and those over-produced Grand Banks Eastbays. Tuesday would see us tucked in at Tidewater Yacht Marina located just off the ICW in Portsmouth, but first we had to deal with five opening bridges and one lock; not to mention the heavy commercial traffic that would begin north of the lock, about 12 miles from the marina.
You may recall that Mile 0 of the ICW is at Portsmouth, VA. The first opening bridge of the day was at mile 20; the last at mile 6. Each one is on a schedule that seems to have been created with some forethought! What we do is make a list with the mileage and calculate when we need to start out to make the first one, based on when we want to transit the lock. The lock passes northbound boats on the hour and southbound on the half hour.
After the second bridge we had a good idea of the pleasure boats that would be going through the lock with us and it turned out we were the fourth and last boat in. I was anxious about the lock, recalling how in the fall I needed the boat ahead of us to help me with the lines. This time we had the option to tie up on the opposite side where the locktenders are and will take your lines. Sweet. The other side is properly described as “self-service.” The locktender makes his announcement on Channel 13 so that all the approaching boats know what to do and if the lock isn’t full, can select the side to tie up to. The lock is used to lift boats between tidal waters and non-tidal waters in the Elizabeth River. It rises less than three feet; slowly. When done, the locktenders toss back the line being held by the Captain who returns to his job at the helm. I had to pull mine off, removing fenders as we left the lock.
The Coast Guard makes several different announcements every day. Many are repeated for days. It’s very common that we have difficulty understanding due to the person having placed marbles in their mouth. I get very frustrated. We caught part of one that pertained to something in the channel just north of our last bridge. Finally, after the darn message “… for an announcement concerning garble, garble, 500 yds north of the Gilmerton Bridge, Break.” And they’d go on. Turns out it was a sunken barge (we thought at first they were saying “second barge”) but had 29 feet of water over it. So do we care? No. That message played for days and days. Just mark it or remove it. Can’t imagine that the tugs and other commercial vessels in the area don’t know about it. Don’t get me going about the Coast Guard’s announcements.
Shortly before the last bridge at Mile 6 we entered “Dances with Barges”, appearing daily in the Elizabeth River near you! The distance between the 5th and 6th bridges is six miles, so we all had nearly 10 mins to wait before the scheduled opening at the final bridge. A tug pushing a barge had just left the dock as we passed by and he came through after us; not close but well, it was a beginning. We kept ahead of him, but then came upon another tug and barge that was behind a Very Large cargo ship with two tugs in attendance. We allowed the pleasure boats ahead to run interference for us; a good time to be last in line. The Very Large ship requested the first boat in our group to stay behind, but then soon stopped to allow the cruise ship a ½ mile up river, to turn around and be on its way. By now we’re at stress level 6; it’s not like we do this all the time. Our turnoff to the marina is just a short ways past the Very Large ship and we proceed to pass the tug and barge ahead of us along with the other cruisers. The river is wide enough and plenty deep; like 40 feet. The Very Large ship continues to wait for the cruise ship who is now completing his maneuver to continue north. We push the throttles forward to 3000 rpms to make our way past Mr. Very Large… who then begins to proceed and we find ourselves mere yards away from his red hull.
We win the race, don’t get yelled at and arrive at the marina only to misunderstand the dock they want us on. Got on the one we preferred though and all was good. Fueled up at the dock; an easy to leave T-head.