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Cautionary Tale III

The Alligator-Pungo Canal was completed in 1928. In later years it was brought out to a project depth of 12 feet and width of 90 feet. Over the years bank erosion has increased the width considerably, but the waters outside of the 90 foot width are infested with stumps. The depth of the canal has been reduced by soil deposited by bank erosion. Now the canal is probably on average 10 feet deep right down the center and 120 feet wide, with gradual shoaling on either side, and then stumps outside of 45 feet either side of the centerline.

Large catamarans are getting popular among ICW travelers. They are comfortable, economical to power, and shallow draft, all things that make for pleasant long-distance transits. TJ's Boatyard in Belhaven sees a lot of them, since the Marine Travelift can accomodate wide-beamed boats. Recently a Lagoon 410 stopped at TJ's for light running repairs before continuing north. A day after departing, it limped back into the yard with a broken propeller on the starboard hull.

What happened? Partway through the Alligator-Pungo Canal, the boat encountered a southbound barge tow. A barge tow is about 40 feet wide, draws around eight feet, and is constrained to run directly down the center of the canal. With 90 feet of project width, that means the barge tow takes the middle 40 feet and leaves 25 feet on either side. A Lagoon 410 is 26 feet wide. So even scraping right down the side of the barge tow, the starboard hull of the Lagoon is going to be over in the stumps as the boats meet.

A boat has to keep up some minimum speed to maintain steerage, and I'm sure the crew of the Lagoon throttled back as far as they could as they slipped past. Unfortunately, luck was not with them, and they clipped a stump, bending a propeller blade.

Back at the yard, they made quick work of removing the prop and getting the blade straightened, and then with it reinstalled, they continued on their way.

There's not much way around this situation, although beamy boats might want to try hailing for opposing traffic before entering the canal. That is standard procedure through the notorious Rock Pile in South Carolina. An alternative would be to use the Manteo route instead of the ICW.

Text by Paul Clayton.

Copyright © 2023 Paul M. Clayton