The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times

We have had a love-hate relationship with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway for over 20 years. Every trip is a journey of discovery and every trip we learn something new and encounter new experiences. There are days when we are so thankful for all of the years and miles we have experienced, and there are days we wish we had stayed in bed. Heading south from Swansboro might be classified as one of those days we should have stayed in bed. But in the end, it's all part of the adventure. Our destination for the evening would be the anchorage at Wrightsville Beach. The ICW between Swansboro and Wrightsville Beach requires traveling through one of the more troubling areas of the waterway. The weather was perfect, but all did not go as planned.

Less than 10 miles along the ICW is the Camp Lejuene Marine Base. In over 20 years we have never been delayed because the firing range, which includes the ICW waterway, was hot. At each end there is a watchtower and signs with lights. During live fire, there should be lights flashing and red flags displayed, as well as guard boats stopping traffic. As Beach House approached, we saw no lights or flags but the Navy guard boat was present. They immediately hailed us on the VHF to tell us the waterway was closed and it would be about an hour wait. The best course of action was to dropped the anchor and enjoy the scenery until they gave the all clear. Soon enough, the guard boat announced that the waterway was once again open. Anchor up and off we went. This is where you will encounter the first problem area along this stretch. Browns Inlet has been notorious for shoaling and the marker buoys are frequently moved to mark the deepest water. Sometimes they aren't moved soon enough.

On the approach to Browns Inlet, we favored center channel until approaching green "61A." The Navy Guard boat was passing us and we stayed mid-channel, a mistake. Suddenly Beach House came to a full stop as if someone had slammed on the brakes. A quick look at the depth sounder showed the depth to be 3 feet mid-channel, just before the green. As the Navy Guard boat passed us, he reported depths of 9 feet just 20 feet off our beam. Getting off a grounding can be as simple as backing out the way you came or as difficult as a long wait for the tides to rise. If a boat happens to pass us and throw up a wake, we can often bounce out into deeper water. Just our luck, no boats waking us this morning. Another tactic that has worked in the past is to put the helm hard over and power up hard for a short period, then put the helm hard over the other way and do the same. It takes several times of doing this to wiggle the keel back and forth enough to dig a trench under us and allow the boat to slowly plow out of the shoal. You must be careful in these situations not to draw mud or silt into the raw water intake and create another problem. This time it worked and after a few minutes, Beach House was once again in deeper water on her way. Unfortunately the delay was just long enough to miss the scheduled opening at the Onslow Beach Bridge and the bridgetender would not delay the opening schedule for even a few minutes, even given the fact that there were no other boats on the waterway that needed an opening. He said he is required to maintain a strict schedule. Oh well, it wouldn't be the first time we sat for 50 minutes because we just couldn't make it in time.

The rest of the day was pretty much uneventful and at around 5:00 pm, we turned off the waterway into Motts Channel at Wrightsville Beach. There are a few shallow spots in Motts Channel, but since we were near high tide, this would not be an issue for our 4-foot draft. The channel is well-marked and goes past some of the marinas and homes as it winds its way toward the anchorage area. The shallowest depths we saw were between the first and second markers and would have been 6.9 feet at mean low water. The rest of the channel depths were 12 to 18 feet. The anchorage had quite a number of boats there already. It was obvious that some were semi-permanent and others were cruisers like ourselves. Beach House cruised the anchorage checking depths and how the other boats were sitting to their anchors. There is a fair current and wind direction can make anchored boats do some strange things. It was 5:30 pm when the anchor was finally set and the sun was just going down. This would be one of our longest days in quite a while, and despite the problem at Browns Inlet, it felt good to have covered the miles and moved farther south.

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