Sometimes sailing sucks – I’m not gonna lie.
Like today, when I woke up in all my ski gear, covered in cold condensation, dreading our departure from Norfolk in 40-degree temperatures with 25-knot winds on the nose, which we fought through for four hours in choppy, lunch-tossing waves to get to Mile 0, the official start of the Intracoastal Waterway, in…eh? Norfolk?
Yes, that’s right. We left Bay Point Marina in Norfolk, Virginia, and four hours later we arrived at the start of the ICW in Norfolk, Virginia. It was like we’d just gone to the base of Mt. Everest to run in place. On a sunny day, perhaps I wouldn’t have minded. After all, there’s that thing they say… “Focus on the journey, not the destination.” Right. Well, I’m guessing whoever said that probably had heat.
But all joking aside, we did do a little high-five with our mittens when we went past red buoy #36, marking statute mile zero on the Intracoastal Waterway (throughout the ICW, the buoys mark what statute mile, rather than nautical mile, you’ve reached to help you understand your location and how far you’ve gone). And we celebrated by breaking out a pack of hand-warmers, which Ryan thankfully picked up on our weekend in Vermont. Almost as good as popping a bottle of champagne
The fun was just beginning, though. During our shifts down in the cabin, taking turns sitting with our tiny 12-volt hair-dryer heater, we desperately pored over the ICW guidebooks to work out how to hail the bridges, what times they opened, and whether we’d be able to get through the Deep Creek Lock before the end of the day or whether we’d have to anchor and wait until the next day to get through.
As it turned out, the bridges weren’t as straight forward as we thought. They had schedules, sure. But when we got to the Gilmerton Bridge for its scheduled opening at 3:30 pm, we found that it was closed because right behind it was another railroad bridge that wasn’t open. And it had a train on it, which wasn’t moving. So, we hailed the bridgemaster, if that’s what you call him (just a guess), and he said as soon as the railroad bridge opened, he’d open. And so we waited. And waited.
Waiting on a sailboat under motor in a canal that has a current involves literally going around in circles in front of the bridge, trying not to drift too far away and waiting for the moment you can rev your engine and go forward again. And in the freezing cold, this is a frustrating exercise because you just want to get to your destination. I know, I know… the journey. Whatever.
Eventually, after an hour passed and the bridge still hadn’t opened, we called the bridgemaster again to see if he had any info for us. And his response, if you can imagine an angry southern drawl, was, “Do you not see that train up there on the bridge?! I done tol’ you, when that train goes and the bridge opens, then I’ll open the bridge!” And so we waited some more.
The bridge did finally open, as promised, but we didn’t have time to get through the next bridge before it closed, so we pulled off into the Great Dismal Swamp to anchor (my favorite name so far…I love that Great and Dismal can describe the same thing).
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, reading this, that I really should not be spending my days sailing if I can complain this much.
But I don’t recount this day as one that completely sucked because I want sympathy, or pity, or because I’m having doubts about this great, long journey we’ve embarked upon.
I’m only telling it how it is because I believe it is important to acknowledge and give a respectful nod to the troughs of any great challenge, because it makes the peaks that much more rewarding.
My father always called these experiences “character-building.” I like to say that nothing in life that’s really worth doing comes easy.
And today was, quite simply, a reminder of that.