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Posted by on Jul 4, 2013 in Boating Lifestyle, US |

Intracoastal Waterway: Storms in Alligator River

Terry and Charlie end up smack in the middle of a monster storm on their tugboat when their internet goes out.

Terry Blevins is traveling the Intracoastal Waterway with her husband Charlie and dog, Bella, on their 34-foot tugboat, Rainshadow.

June 27, 2013

Around 8 a.m., we left Oriental. Charlie was not happy with the weather pattern. Thunderstorms and strong winds were forecasted in the area during the next few days, so he wanted to head north. We crossed the Pamlico River, then the Pungo River and made the decision to skip Belhaven and headed on to Alligator River Marina.

Intracoastal Waterway

We traveled through the chop of the Neuse River into the Bay River. The canal after Bay River was very calm and we passed the fishing boats at Hobucken Marina on a hot, lazy day.

It was windy, and there was a small storm to the east, but all seemed fine on radar. We entered the Alligator River/Pungo River Canal. Charlie and I began testing our speed at different RPMs on the calm water. At certain RPMs, the difference in speed is negligent and not gas-efficient. We were trying to find the optimal RPM. All of a sudden, we felt a very strong jolt. There is a common saying about boaters: Either you have run aground, or you are lying.

We had run aground.

The one other time we ran aground, we needed a tow. This time, after measuring the depths around the boat, Charlie decided to use the bow thrusters to get Rainshadow moving again toward the center of the channel. The head-on current helped also. It worked! So we continued up the canal.

Soon, however, we lost all internet access. For a long time. We still had our charts, but no weather report and no phone. A few boats were passing in the canal, including Sorrento, who called us on the radio to let us know they were passing, but for some reason we could not talk to each other. But they passed with no issues.

Finally, we turned out of the canal into Alligator River, and what we saw made our hearts sink. There was a large storm approaching, and the water was very agitated. The internet access reappeared and we pulled up the weather radar.

Charlie said we had no choice. There was no way out of it, we were going to get caught in it.

Rainshadow was getting tossed around in the waves. We saw lightning striking in front of us, and we saw the storm front approaching fast. I put a life preserver on myself, Bella and Sarah. I brought a life preserver for Charlie in the helm. We asked Sarah to go into the berth, which is a few steps below the helm, just in case we were hit by lightning. She was reading a book (The Knife of Never Letting Go), and it would keep her mind off the storm.

I was desperately looking for the red markers and reading the chart to help Charlie stay on course while he battled the wind and waves. Every time we passed a marker, I yelled it out and put a red sticky next to the marker number on the chart so I could remember the next marker number. I wanted to get to that marina so badly!

The rain began to pour, and we couldn’t see anything in front of us, though the tug’s radar would help us see what’s ahead. Loose items were being thrown about the boat. We were trying to hold on as the boat was getting hit with waves. I sent an email to my family that we were heading into a storm, but I did not want them to know how scared I was. I felt like we should tell someone else what was going on.

At that moment, I received a text from my admin at work. I decided she would be the one I would communicate our location to. But I didn’t tell Charlie. He radioed to the marina and the Alligator Swing Bridge that we were heading into the storm. The following was my conversation with my admin, who was trying to calm me down:

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Thanks to Charlie’s handling, we made it through the storm and into Alligator River Marina, which, as Sarah described it, is a car place in the front and a boat place in the back. Already docked was Sorrento, who had also been stuck in the storm.

We were beat from the long trip and the weather. The dockmaster told us we had to put our order in for the grill in the station by 6:30 p.m. because they close by 8 p.m. That was not a problem. We ate a good dinner and crashed for the night.

Read more about Terry’s adventures here or on her blog, Rainshadow Voyages.