FL to CT Day 23
Virginia Beach, VA to Portsmouth, VA
Spending the night at the closed Pungo Ferry Marina was uneventful… no one came and told us we had to leave or anything but the abandoned boarded up building by the dock was a little creepy after it got dark… I had to take Beecha for her evening walk… Susan was a little wary to venture off the boat after dark.
We departed at 0730 and headed towards our first obstacle for the day… the North Landing Bridge… it opens on the hour and half hour so timing was not a real big issue… brought “Sails” up to speed and according to the GPS we were not going to make the 0830 opening I had hoped for… we really needed to pass through at 0830 for the remaining bridge scheduled openings to work well… I kicked the speed up a little and we were still arriving 5 minutes late… so I backed off rather than push really hard for an hour. We arrived to the bridge at just before 0900 and were there with two other boats that had passed us before reaching the bridge.
The bridge opened about 4 minutes late and this was going to cause us not to be able to make the next bridge at its 0930 opening. The Centerville Turnpike Bridge just 5 miles away also opened on the half hour and hour… but for us it takes every bit of 30 minutes to reach it. After going through the bridge I brought “Sails” up to speed plus a little just to be sure and we could not make it within the 25 minutes left before the 0930 opening. I slowed down and to reach the bridge at 1000 opening… REAL SLOW… almost idle speed.
We reached the Centerville Bridge at just before 1000 and again were joined by three new boats that went through the North Landing Bridge at 0930. I hung back and let them all get ahead of us as they were much faster boats than us. 1000 came and we passed through the bridge and headed toward our next bridge… the Great Bridge Bridge… it was not far ahead of and it only opens on the hour so we again moved at idle speed to time our arrival at their 1100 opening.
We arrived at just before 1100 and all the boats that were with us at the Centerville Bridge were there waiting and a couple of others that pulled away from the Atlantic Yacht Basin docks adjacent to the bridge… so we had five boats plus us waiting for the bridge to open. It opened right on schedule and we passed through fourth in line.
Just past the Great Bridge Bridge is the Great Bridge Locks… they hailed all the north bound boats and gave instructions on entering the locks… the starboard side is steel and concrete walls and the port has large rubber fender system. I responded to the lock that we were not proceeding through and would be docking on the bulkhead between the lock and the bridge. Susan wanted to run to the grocery store to pick up some items and the store is a very short walk from the bulkhead. We pulled in just in front of two sailboats already docked there and were secured at 1110. Susan hopped off boat to the grocery as soon as we were tied up. We wanted to try and make the next locking at 1200… Susan had 50 minutes to do her shopping and get back… it wasn’t a big deal if she didn’t make it backing time but it’s what we were hoping for.
1200 came and the bridge started it’s opening… the bridge and the locking are on synchronized schedules so when boats pass through the bridge they can enter the lock with no delay. I checked back toward the direction of the grocery store and I did not see Susan in sight anywhere… I figured we were not going to make the 1200 and would go through at the 1300 locking. I took Beecha out for a walk and was watching the boats that came through the bridge pass by… however, they were not heading directly into the lock… they were pulling off to the starboard side and stopping. What was going on? Then I saw it… a tug and barge was passing though the bridge and heading toward the lock. This was going to delay the locking for sure… I looked back to see if Susan was anywhere in sight and there she was 1000 yards from the boat.
She got back aboard and asked “are we going to be able to make the lock?”… I hailed the lock on the VHF and asked if there was going to be room for us in the lock with the tug and barge in it… they said for us to remain tied to the bulkhead and they would let us know after the tug and barge were secure in the lock. Fingers crossed now that there would be room… there was a sailboat, a large motor yacht and a good sized trawler waiting… they had come through the bridge.
We watched as the tug and barge moved in and secured itself to starboard lock wall… the lock hailed the sailboat to enter… they wanted to put it between the barge and the lock wall on the port side… said they had 20 feet of space… sailboat said he was 15 foot beam and would give it a try… he made it in… :) The lock then hailed the other two boats to proceed into the lock and then they hailed us and said there would be room for us and to proceed toward the lock. We tossed the lines and headed toward the lock.
The large trawler had gone to the starboard side behind the tug and the large motor yacht was moving to the port wall abeam and astern of the tug. We were instructed to pull to the port wall behind the motor yacht. I moved in behind him and stopped… There was no lock person to assist us so I went to the bow to get a line onto a cleat on the lock wall. I secured a line and started back to pilothouse when I noticed that “Sails” was no longer parallel to lock wall and the stern was moving away from the wall fairly fast. I got back to the pilothouse as quickly as I could and before I got back “Sails” stern had swung away from lock wall and we were now almost perpendicular to the lock wall. I turned the rudder full to starboard and pushed the throttles forward... the wind had caught us as well as a current running into the lock… we slowly started to spin back toward the lock wall… I sped the spinning up by putting the starboard engine in reverse… we soon were back parallel to lock wall and secure. I had never experienced a current like we had in the lock… I have seen turbulence before but never a current flowing into the lock… talking to the lockmaster while locking through he informed me that the large tug and barge transiting the narrow canal from the bridge to lock and entering the lock causes this… not quite sure about the physics of this but I know there was a current and it twisted the stern of “Sails“ around quickly.
The locking was soon over and the sailboat was first out… then the tug and barge exited… next the motor yacht in front of us and then the trawler to our starboard side… we exited last. I hailed the tug and asked what his speed would be heading up to Norfolk. He said about 6 knots. I told him we would not pass him and would follow him through to Norfolk… he acknowledged no problem Captain.
Following the tug gave us the “Bridge Priority Pass”… no bridge schedules to contend with… just follow the tug and the bridges open when they arrive… very nice. This gave us passage with no delay through the Steel Bridge… I thought it would also work for the Gilmerton Bridge… however, when we approached I was surprised to see the new bridge that was under construction last fall had been completed and the clearance was 35 feet… compared to the old Gilmerton Bridge at 15 feet. The tug and barge still needed an opening but he had hailed the bridge and was asked if he could slow down so the bridge tender could get traffic to clear up a bit… so we passed the tug and barge and went sailing under the new Gilmerton Bridge… not even having to lower our antennas… very cool!
The rest of the trip to Portsmouth would not be a problem… the Jordan bridge had been replaced by a high rise a couple of years ago and the RR bridge past it is always open… NOT THIS TRIP… as we approached I saw it start to lower… it’s a lift bridge and very slow opening and closing… we slowed and waited for the train to pass and the bridge to open… we had been going slow all day so it seemed appropriate.
We had now decided to stop in Portsmouth for the night… it had been a long SLOW day with the bridges and lock and stopping for groceries… we had thought to continue on to Hampton Roads and anchor but at this point the free docks in Portsmouth seemed much more appealing and were only a few minutes ahead of us.
We pulled into the Portsmouth downtown basin and the space we normally dock in was open and we pulled right in… secured the lines and settled for the day/night at 1445. Our location for the night is N36°50.128’, W076°17.773’. We traveled for 7.25 hours covering 24 nm averaging 3.3 knots. Average speed way down… did not deduct our layover in Great Bridge... :)