The Beginning of the Intracoastal Waterway

Leaving a sunny and pleasant Portsmouth Virginia, Temujin's throaty diesel grumbled along, pushing her effortlessly over the six inch sun capped ripples of sea state in the Elizabeth River.

Here marks the beginning of the Intracoastal Waterway, or ICW, a roughly 1100 mile network of rivers, canals, land-cuts and bays that wind and intersect, connecting Norfolk, VA with the southern tip of Florida, allowing for the passage of vessels safely out of reach of the Atlantic Ocean, so long as they don't protrude more than 64 feet skyward and ten or so feet into the water.  

Temujin fits squarely within these dimension restrictions at four feet of draft and 45 feet to the top of her mast, however, the numerous 65 foot fixed bridges always seemed to threaten to dismast her and more than once we feared running aground, as the main channel can shift unexpectedly, stumps and snares are common, and navigation markers seem to maintain about a 90% attendance rate.

So it was that we passed the last vestiges of heavy industry hugging the shores of Portsmouth and called into the Gilmerton Bridge, a hulking steel New Deal era Colossus of Rhodes, guarding the entrance to the ICW. 

We will remain in the ICW until at least Morehead City, NC, where the weather in the Atlantic will dictate whether we continue offshore to Charleston, SC, or rejoin the relative safety of the ICW.

Our first stretch of the waterway between Portsmouth and Great Bridge, VA, gave credence to the ICW's informal nickname of "the ditch" with the wide waterways and industrial shorescape of Hampton Roads immediately opening into a rural and winding passage of swamp grass, dead trees, and mud colored water.  Meandering through the pastoral swampland of the ditch we were reminded of the civilization we were leaving behind in the form of bridge, after bridge, after bridge, after bridge. Much of the first leg of the ICW can be summed up as preparing for bridges, timing bridges, calling the operators on bridges, looking at bridges, waiting for bridges, passing under bridges, Jeff Bridges, bridgegate, the Bridge to Terabithia, and a bridge too far.

It seems particularly fitting, that our first port in the ICW was the thriving metropolis of Great Bridge, VA, whose entrance is tended not by a bridge (though there is one), but the Great Bridge Lock. Excited by the prospect of navigating our first lock, we busied ourselves setting the lines just right. As we tended to our lines, a square-nosed barge tug named the "Coastal Trader" glided into the lock behind us, tying up to the opposing wall.  From his three story perch, the tugboat captain conversed amicably with the lock tender. They had no doubt transited the Great Bridge Lock on more occasions than we had even seen one. After some deliberation over which way the water in the lock would go, Temujin floated gently down, the lock gates opened, and our journey continued...

Eric Bihl