October 28, 2009.
The anchorage at Hospital Point has the reputation of having so-so holding. We’ve never stayed there before but we usually take those reports with a grain of salt.
I would say that most nights we anchor in about 10 feet of water. The 10 foot water depth added to the 5 feet to the bow roller means that we can drop 75 feet of chain and be sleeping on a scope of 5 to 1. It always works, we always sleep well, it’s simple. The difference here is that the chart shows very little water in close to shore so most people anchor out in deeper water than they’re used to. We were in closer than several boats and we were still in 20 feet of water. That meant our normal 5 to 1 scope would require 125 feet of chain. There just wasn’t room so I dropped 90 feet of chain, set the hook well and then set the anchor alarm.
Of course the wind kicked up a bit, brought some rain and veered as well. I was up several times during the night checking out “voices” in the night. People were dragging and when dawn broke I was shocked at how many people had dragged past us during the night. It’s just piss poor seamanship and I forgot just how common it seems to be sometimes.
The first real bridge we had to contend with was the Gilmerton Lift Bridge. Directly next to the bridge is a railroad bridge that is usually open, ya know, unless we want to get through. When we came around the bend we came upon the railroad bridge stuck in the down position with about 19 boats already waiting to get through. We were the lead boat in a small parade of another 9 boats so now there was a butt load of boats waiting for the bridge.
We were meandering through the crowd of boats saying “hi” to friends and pretty much just checking out who was there that we knew. As we were slowly coasting past a boat that we don’t know I looked over and waved hello. I was met by the sight of a guy waving his arms wildly in the internationally accepted “WTF?” motion. He was actually upset because he thought we were trying to cut the line or something. I couldn’t believe that he was serious so I laughed and waved again. Then when the bridge finally did open after an hour and a half I did make it a point to go through before him. It’s gonna be a long ride south for that guy if he keeps getting stressed over somebody getting through a bridge 19 seconds sooner than he did.
We decided on the Dismal Swamp to avoid the crowd of boats that were now bunched together and headed for the Virginia Cut. We got to the lock 40 minutes early and after holding position for so long at Gilmerton I was in no mood to do it again.
“Dolphins” are several pilings lashed together to form a very stout mega piling. There’s one right in front of the lock at the Dismal Swamp so we nosed right up to it and Christy dropped a line over it from the bow and we hung from it while we waited for the locks scheduled opening. The breeze kept us away from the pile and made things much easier. We heard the captain of the boat next to us discussing the advantages of our technique with his crew. Little did I know that this would come into play later.
Locking through was normal. The trip down the swamp was normal as well. We hit at least 10 submerged logs that shuddered the entire boat and it ended with me swearing never to do the Dismal again. See, just like always. Normal. F#@k the Swamp.
Even though we took our time going through the swamp we got to the other end with an hour to kill. To exit the swamp you have to negotiate a lift bridge and then another lock. Since we got to the bridge so early we pulled up and tied off to the bridges fender system. It’s a huge wood wall, 8 feet tall and 70 feet long, in great shape and it just begs to be tied to.
We were tied to the port side fender when the next boat showed up and the captain decided to tie up to the starboard side fender. Unfortunately, he and his crew weren’t on the same page. There’s a dolphin just before you reach the fender system that protects the fender system from being rammed.
The captain was intending to side tie to the wall but the woman on the bow dropped the already cleated line over the dolphin as they went by. Before the captain could stop the boat it immediately turned hard to starboard and wedged its bow firmly between the dolphin and the end of the fender system. There was a slight current from behind the boat which slowly pivoted the boat out perpendicular to the wall. Now it was really wedged. Try as he might there was no backing out of this wedgy. He ended up throwing a line across to us, which I took out to the end of our fender system to pull his stern back upstream a bit. It ended up being enough as his bow finally pulled free. I was going to say something about shoddy seamanship again but I think this one actually falls under the category of practically paranormal. As a matter of fact there’s probably a secret government center devoted to the study of people doing stupid stuff on the water.
So here we sit in Elizabeth City with the Albemarle and the Alligator in our sights for tomorrow.