Today we had a long day. Our destination was Calabash Creek, just inside the SC border, but we couldn’t find deep enough water outside the marked channel to anchor. We tried, but ran aground and were luckily able to power off. So we went another 15 or so miles (and two bridges) to Barefoot Marina. This place was recommended by our daughter and son-in-law. We arrived late. As you can see, we barely had any daylight left:
One thing we do during our long days motoring down the InterCoastal is keep track the marks to know where we are and make sure we don’t run aground or hit something .
On the Intercoastal, marks are generally red to starboard/right when we are southbound and green to port/left. There are daymarks, (see below), cans (they resemble green oil drums), nuns (they look like little red pointy steeples), and buoys (red or green or both). The marks are very popular with ospreys, who like to build nests on them. Each mark has a number that corresponds with our chart. Red day marks are triangular.
Green day marks are square. The seagulls also like them.
Sometimes the next mark can easily be seen with the naked eye and sometimes we are both looking through binoculars, straining to find it. We have two pairs of binos, one pre-set for my eyes and one for my husband’s – his and hers.
Here is a mark you definitely don’t want to see too close to your boat:
All along the way, there are bridges; if it’s not a high, 65’ bridge, we have to request an opening over the radio. Bascule bridges lift up on one side. Swing bridges swivel around perpendicular to the roadway to open to water traffic. Here we are approaching a swing bridge.
In the Alligator River, twenty cars, trucks and motorcycles waited for our little boat to pass before the bridge was closed and they could resume their trips. We felt very special.
Bridges that don’t open “on demand” have scheduled openings. Here are half a dozen boats all bunched up at the Surf City Bridge which only opens once an hour, on the hour. We mill around waiting for the opening, fighting wind and current and trying not to run into each other or the bridge. Lots of anxiety. And for this bridge, the 2nd boat in front of us slowed to almost a stop right in the middle of the bridge; the boats behind – including us – had to do some hard, quick reverse not to hit him. Yikes.
Here is a swing bridge closing behind us. You can see the little trail of our boat in the water.
In southern North Carolina, the Intercoastal is a mostly a natural waterway between the mainland and the barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean. From time to time, the barrier islands are breached to form an inlet that connects the ICW to the Ocean. The connection might be fairly direct or it can be a series of “S” curves. Tides and storms change the course of the inlet over time and can affect the depth of water in the Intercoastal, which we are navigating. Here is a straightforward inlet, and you can see the Ocean.
The shifting sands cause shoaling and can change the depth of the water in the Intercoastal. So passing an inlet is always a little dicey. At one inlet, the USACOE inserted a temporary green mark to guide boats totally outside the regularly marked channel in order to stay in deep water. The USACOE did this after numerous boats ran aground there and had to be towed. So, here are some tips:
You know the channel at the inlet is shallow if:
- Your Skipper Bob Guidebook to the Intercoastal says so.
- You hear radio chatter that boats keep going aground there.
- Your depth sounder suddenly goes from 12’ to 5’.
- You see wading birds walking around the mark.
- You run aground.
So far so good for us.