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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cape Fear River and ICW Day #16

posted by Ardys

My dad milking cows
There are no good weather windows for another comfortable ocean passage in the next few days and we want to keep moving south.  It’s become cold the past few nights.  Not cold by Minnesota standards, but still… cold  We have been running our wall-mounted propane heater while we’re awake in the evenings but shut it down before we go to sleep.  I could see my breath the last two mornings.  Kinda makes a person reluctant to plant one’s bare feet on the floor.   Carl has been the first awake, and he gets the heater going so it can run a bit before waking me up.  I told him that these mornings have taken me back to my adolescence on the dairy farm.  My mother’s thankless task was to pry me out of my warm bed on dark winter mornings and steer me toward the barn to help my father milk cows.  So, this morning, he whispered, “Ardys, those cows are waiting to get milked.”  “NOOOooo, not the cows again!”
Festive fishing boat
 The channel where we were anchored connects with the ICW of course.  We pulled up anchor just after sunrise and returned to our southward trek. Two things will stand out in my memory about resuming the ICW in Wilmington.  First, that we were boarded by the Coast Guard at a most inopportune time, and second, the Cape Fear River moves REALLY fast!  Wow!

Two of the three officers who boarded our boat.
Being boarded by the Coast Guard is really not a big deal in and of itself.  We have been boarded a few times over the years.  We’ve had safety checks, and there was the time we were rescued from the shipping channel our first time away from the dock many years ago.  (The reader is referred to The Case of the Bucking Tiller for that story).   The USCG comes alongside and asks if the boat has had a safety check recently.  “No, we haven’t.”  Then they will ask permission to come aboard to perform said safety check.  “Of course.”  The only problem was in where we were at the time they boarded us.  
Here’s where we were.  First let me say, it’s taken us (me actually) a little while to sort out what my role is when Carl is at the helm in the ICW.  There are the Red and Green markers, of course, but the channel sometimes snakes around unpredictably within the water “road” and the charts provide additional cautions about shoaling and trouble spots that have put boats aground.  Also there are power boats coming from behind and passing and other boats are meeting us within in the narrow channel and sometimes putting up a (forbidden) wake.  So rather than being a “looky-lou” and taking photos of birds and things, I really need to help pay attention to all of these variables while Carl is at the helm.  It’s a two person job.

Pelicans are a common subject of "looky-louing" 
 We were boarded right where two small rivers were converging, the red and green markers were intermingling, the channel shifting around and several cautions appearing on charts regarding recent shoaling.  Our depth meter was bouncing from 22’ to 16’ to 8’ (NORTHERN STAR, you may recall, draws 6’6”) so an 8’ depth makes our eyes open a little wider than usual.  Meanwhile, the officers wanted to see our documents which meant that one of us had to leave the cockpit and go below to find the paperwork.  That would be me.  Plus, Jax has a love/hate thing for uniformed people.  More hate than love.  So Jax was hyper-vigilant with three unknown men climbing aboard, with or without uniforms.  The officers instructed us, “Just keep going; we’ll do the safety check while you’re underway.”  So, I was sent below, clutching Jax, schlepping our paperwork out to them, answering their questions and all the while being very cordial so that Jax knows these are “good guys.”  Meanwhile, Carl is alone at the helm, answering questions and trying to not run aground.  
Their conversation, "Have you ever been photographed during a safety check before?"

By the time the officers returned to their boat, we had passed through the most complex part of the channel and could breathe once again.  Really….almost anywhere else on the ICW would have been a better place to entertain the Coast Guard than where we were, except maybe for the Cape Fear River.  
Fast current pushes over buoys

We entered the river within a few minutes of the Coast Guard departure.  The current grabbed the boat and pushed us downriver a few miles toward the mouth of the River.  Behind each of the buoys marking the channel could be seen a leeward wake, because the water was rushing past so quickly.  I ended up letting the engine idle and we were still making 7 1/2 knots.  Following the curves of the intended channel was “interesting” at times.  I had to steer the bow well away from the buoy and the boat would then “crab” sideways through the water and narrowly avoid broadsiding the buoy.   Carl resumed his spot at the helm and when he later, missed turning at the right time to slip off onto the quieter ICW channel, he was required to gun the engine to fight back up the current and move off the river.  
Home port, Cape Fear
We pulled off at a marina alongside the ICW for a good night's rest.  No dreams about cows for me.

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