Day 22 September 30 – First Day on the ICW

This Sunday was an important day for a number of reasons.  First, it was the end of 3 nights staying in the Renaissance Hotel in Portsmouth, during which I washed my clothes, ate high caloric meals and purchased detailed charts for the next 500 miles or so.  Because these charts were so large (6′ by 40 inches), I sent forward the last 3 and kept the first 2 that I will need over the next two weeks.  I then cut up the two that I kept to make them more manageable.  Second, it represented the start of going down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and 750 miles to  Jacksonville.  After 8 AM Mass at a Catholic Church, I got all of the gear from the hotel and used a cart from the Tidewater marina where Katie had been locked up against a white picket fence near the set of dumpsters that served the boat owners.  I had been worried about how to get Katie back in the water, but there was a corner near where she lay, that had some sand above water once the tide started going down, around 11:30 AM.

By noon I was there, easing Katie down into the shallow water, then packed up all of the gear.  The sun was out, with a gentle northwesterly breeze, and after sending Grace an email at 1:15 that I was off, we headed down the Elizabeth River, past large naval and industrial buildings, some with navel vessels clouded in secretive wrapping behind which work was being done even on a Sunday.  Later, I passed what appeared to be destroyers and an aircraft carrier, being repaired.  Eventually the cranes and buildings receded and the landscape resumed a more natural look, still with periodic large commercial enterprises and barge locations.  I headed down the southern branch, past Chesapeake, and eventually turned left into the breeze towards the Virginia Cut, the first of several canals built by hand in earlier centuries.  I was so happy to be in the ICW and off the Chesapeake Bay!  Several large power boats moved passed me, most slowing down to reduce their wake – I continue to be amazed at the amount of money that has been spent on these vessels.  After a couple of breaks, I arrived at the Lock on the western edge of the town of Great Bridge, and as requested, hailed the lockmaster over my VHF radio on channel 13 to announce my arrival, and my intension of going through the lock.

At 4:30, the lock opened, and I thought I should advance ahead of two yachts behind me, but as I entered, I realized that I had jumped the gun, and then a boat was coming out.  In order to avoid getting too close, I headed to the side where the gates were located, and got too close.  I reached out to grab what I could to slow me down, and was rewarded with several barnacle cuts on my right hand.  I had not worn my gloves this day, which ended up being a mistake.  Anyway, I moved to the far right inside the lock, grabbed onto a metal ladder, and soon I was moving into a canal that goes through Great Bridge.  Another kayaker I had spoken to suggested that I stay at the park for the night, but I could not find confirmation that this would be permitted, so I left the kayak with a nice couple fishing off a dock, and ran to find something to eat for dinner.  After 45 minutes, I returned and thanked Richard and Valerie for watching Katie, and resumed paddling down the canal to the east to look for a good place to camp.  After around mile 15, a man in a rowing shell told me about an abandoned Boys Scout camp ahead on the left, and recommended that I camp there.  I continued to paddle on, trying to find a good opening, but in the growing darkness, it was difficult to find.  I decided to head towards a tiny piece of beach, and there, I saw a break in the bushes into a dark stand of trees, beyond which was a bit of a clearing.  I decided what I really needed to carry up the steep bank, which included my sleeping pad, pillow, sleeping bag, clean clothes, toiletry bag and some water for washing and drinking. With my headlight on, I put up the tent and got ready for bed.  I made sure that Katie was secured at both ends, tied to dead trees lying on the beach.  That was a good thing, because twice during the night, two large barges came through pushed by tugboats lit up like Christmas trees, creating a high swell that crashed into the shore.

As I lay there, happy in my tent, I gave this day a 4.  I had travelled 15 miles in just an afternoon, and thought this was a very good sign about how much progress I could make.  I had to be in Coinjock by Tuesday night as I had arranged after speaking with Grace, to have someone take me from that village on Wednesday around the large Albemarle Sound (14 miles across) and drop me in the northern end of another large piece of water, the Alligator River.  There are several large bodies of water in North Carolina, and this was the largest, and one that I did not think I could negotiate safely.  But as the Alligator River goes south, I thought I could follow the shoreline until the next canal.  I had 35 miles to do in two days, but the weather forecast looked threatening, so I resolved to try to paddle as far as possible the next day.  Little did I realize what a challenge that would be.

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