Wednesday, November 01, 2006


We're in New Bern!

We had a beautiful night in Belhaven, NC anchored behind the town
breakwater. Today was a nice day. Eighty degrees. I feel guilty complaining
about the heat.

It was an easy trip to New Bern. We topped off the fuel tanks and pulled
into the slip where aCappella will sleep for the next few months until we
head off for the Bahamas. Tucker is very happy. Real walks on real grass
every day. Life is good for man and beast.

This will be the last entry until February 2007 when we prep the boat for
the next part of the journey.

Until then...


Grounding at the Alligator River

When traveling southbound there is a very well known spot that gives cruising boats problems at the mouth of the Alligator River. This exact spot has been discussed recently on the Trawlers and Trawlering list. NOAA updated the chart for this area in August, 2006. A variety of buoys have been moved over the last year or so. We've been through this exact spot 4 other times without incident. Yesterday we grounded to a stop in 5.5 feet of water.

We were extremely prepared for this problem area. We had the very latest in charts loaded on the electronics although the Raymarine's C-Map display still had the older data for this section of the Alligator River. In addition to this, we discussed at length that we would not rely on ANY of the electronics at all. It would be used as an aid to our navigation. Equally important was the view outside the pilothouse windows of the buoys and other boats. As we approached the area, we pulled back the throttles to idle forward which caused us to move about 2-3 knots through the area while staying in control of our position.

There are two bad sections in this entrance to the river. The first is right after mile marker 80. The green buoy "3" has been moved significantly to the west. It used to be aligned with the next flashing green and the magenta ICW line ran in almost a straight line. It is now obvious on the chart that you are supposed to move way over to the west. The chart doesn't properly show what this change looks like in real life - there is a major movement of that green "3". We were looking specifically for this new buoy placement and found it but it was much further over than we expected. About half of the other boaters in the area didn't even see the moved buoy and went straight. A couple of them grounded on the expanding shoal area. We went through this area fine and never saw less than 10 feet of water.

The next problem area happens as you go around the shoal on the other side. The magenta line clearly shows the turn to the west and the alignment with the channel proceeding south. We followed this without problem. Instead of following the magenta line, we moved a little to the west earlier so we would be better aligned with the channel. The chart shows that there is 8 feet of water in this area. The reality is that the shoal has obviously grown much further to the east and south because we were nailed where the red X is shown in 5.5 feet of water. We draw a little under 6 feet but had filled our tanks with fuel the night before and were probably an inch or more deeper and very close to 6 feet. This shoal came up fast and we had no time to move to the east or south. We grounded to a complete stop.

Since our props are 4.5 feet below the surface, I felt pretty confident in using the port engine to power forward with the rudder turned hard to the right while using the bow thruster to the port side to move us horizontally east. It took a full five minutes for us to wiggle off and into 10 feet of water. It felt like it took an hour.

It is obvious now that you have to follow the magenta line much more closely than we did today. In this case, I believe that following the electronics a little more would have kept us 50 feet to the east and we would have avoided this uncomfortable exercise and analysis.

In the end, nothing was hurt and nothing was damaged except I probably lost some bottom paint from the very bottom of the boat. This is the second time that I've experienced a slow grounding. They say that there are two types of boaters - those who have gone aground and those who will go aground. How many times do you have to be a part of the first group?

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