Friday, October 31, 2008

October 30, 2008.

We ended up sitting in the south end of the Alligator River on Tuesday. The wind was still very strong and blowing straight out of the west. We were fine and the anchorage was okay, it’s just that we were apprehensive about taking the boat through the Alligator-Pungo Canal with 20 to 30 knots of wind dead on the nose. Its narrow, full of snags and probably the birthplace of the Bogeyman. Nobody else in our little group left either so I felt a little bit better about sitting.

On Wednesday morning we awoke to the sound of anchors being raised. I poked my head upstairs to find the wind was still from the west but considerably lighter. We decided to go for it. As I was raising the 2nd anchor I signaled to Christy to put the boat into gear, and guess what? We didn’t have “forward”. Crap. I went below to check the transmission fluid level, and guess what? No fluid. Double crap. This is definitely not good news, the professional “repair” that we just had done, had failed. I refilled the transmission and off we went. This meant that we would have to motor for at least 4 hours with a damper plate that is breaking up and a leaking transmission.

Due to the tenderness of our damper plate we opted to turn just enough RPM’s to make 5 knots over the ground. We actually even passed a few boats including a catamaran, Don’t Look Back, which stopped to take another sailboat in tow. The poor guy pulled up a huge snag that he couldn't free from his anchor and then had his propeller fall off just as he was entering the canal. They came by and took his line and towed him the entire 22 mile length of the canal.

We set a schedule and I checked the transmission fluid level every 30 minutes and added as needed until we shut the engine down. The wind did once again build to about 20 knots on the nose for the rest of the day so it was slow going.

About 1300 hours we reached the south end of the canal and had had enough. There’s a nice anchorage there that we’ve used before so we turned in and dropped the hook.

An hour later the Don’t Look Back pulled in still towing the sailboat. They’re just another example of the type of extraordinary people that we’ve come across in our travels. As the afternoon went on another half dozen boats tucked in to share our anchorage.

The winds for Thursday were supposed to be lighter than we’ve had lately, but out of the north, so we were up early to take a shot at sailing the 48 miles to Oriental. We raised the mainsail and sailed off the anchor in the predawn darkness. The wind was light but we made about 4 knots as we headed south.

After a few miles we turned due west and our boat speed picked up to 5 ½ knots. After another 6 miles we once again turned due south and went wing and wing for the length of the Pungo River. When we reached the Pamlico River we were able to turn to a more advantageous point of sail and were soon picking off the few boats that had passed us while they were motor sailing.

Once across the Pamlico we entered Goose Creek. Fortunately, the wind had once again built enabling us to continue sailing even through the confines of the creek. I had a timeline in my head of where I wanted to be at a certain time and we seemed to be about an hour ahead of schedule.

There's an expression that people use when a boat is underway with fenders still hanging over the side. They say "his fly is down". Fly down?; evidently this guy wasn't even wearing pants. Once free of the wind blocking trees of the creek it was off to the races. The winds were between 15 and 20 knots and we flew along between 7 and 8 knots for most of the remaining 20 miles.

We were able to sail right up to the number 1 channel marker at Whitaker Creek where we would have to start the engine for the very first time all day. Which brought us to challenge number 2 for the day, the engine wouldn’t start. I’m pretty sure that the problem is with the preheat switch. So close, yet still so far. We called Towboat US and requested a tow, but fortunately I was able to start the boat and cancel the tow within a couple of minutes. Once the engine was running we were pleased to discover that the creek had a few more inches of water than we usually find when we’re here.

We have never been so happy to arrive anywhere as we were to land in Oriental. We are safely tied to the dock of our good friends, Ken & Carol and boy does it feel good. We were not here for 1 hour when we got a call from our friends on Sapphire & Fine Lion offering to come and pick us up and take us away. We had a great evening with old friends and even made some new friends. We love Oriental!
October 28, 2008.

We got underway on Sunday morning and headed back through the Centerville and North Landing bridges. We were enjoying being underway again and even got to see a deer swimming across the waterway. As we once again passed through Pungo Ferry we heard an unwelcome noise from below. I had been periodically checking the oil level in the transmission and all seemed well with the new seal.

Unfortunately I recognized this new noise. It sounded like the damper plate was coming apart. Maybe it had been a little early to be thanking God for AYB. When the transmission was reinstalled if it wasn’t lined up properly or not supported well enough the weight of the transmission would be entirely on the plate. The plate is a thin piece of sheet steel with some springs that act as a vibration damper when the engine is engaged. Anyway, while it’s robust when driving the transmission it would be pretty fragile when side loaded improperly. Once the tranny was all bolted up the damage would be invisible.

So we were at a crossroads, I thought I had the problem diagnosed but the noise was fairly faint and I could be wrong. We opted to kill the engine and keep going. We had just made it to a section of the Virginia Cut that would enable us to sail the rest of the day. We sailed on doable points of sail all the way to the bottom of the North River. We started the engine just to set the hook and after dinner I removed the starter to see what was going on inside the bell housing. Damn. A small piece of the damper plate was sitting in the starter cup. Shit.

A thing like this is hit or miss. In this condition it could last for 100 hours or it could fail immediately. If it fails we’ll be without our engine. We’re supposed to have good wind from the west in the morning so we’ll leave at first light in an effort to get across the Albemarle Sound and down the Alligator River to the Pungo Canal.

When morning came we were disappointed to see that while the wind was up it was dead out of the south, our intended direction of travel. So we raised the mainsail and sailed off the anchor just before dawn.

We got out into the Albemarle Sound and began to tack our way across the sound. It was frustrating for both of us as we watched group after group of boats as they headed straight down the rhumb line to the mouth of the Alligator River. Once into the river we made it to green marker #3 before we were forced to furl the genoa and start the engine. We motored for about 3 miles until we were through the Alligator Swing Bridge.

Within the last week a sailboat had been dismasted at the bridge while attempting to sail through with a favorable breeze. I was surprised that the bridge tender didn’t raise a fuss about us coming through with the main sail up. Especially with a brisk wind on the nose.

Once through the bridge the river is once again wide enough to sail. We cut the engine and pulled out the genoa. It was a series of long tacks running from shoreline to shoreline as we made our way south.

At the head waters of the river we had a choice to make. There have been severe weather warnings on the radio for the last couple of hours. We’re going to have sustained winds from the northwest in the 30 to 35 knot range with gusts expected to 45 knots. Crap. We can see it coming behind us from the north.

The Alligator River runs north – south and is shaped like a giant funnel. At the tiny south end of the funnel the river narrows and turns due west. This section would offer better protection from the wind but because of the narrowness, putting out enough scope becomes an issue. Because the channel is a main thoroughfare for barge traffic and you sure as hell don’t want to encroach on the channel.

Our other option was a small cove straight ahead, if we skipped the turn to westward. There were already 3 boats there but room for a hundred more. It’s all 7 or 8 feet deep and we’d be able to lay out as much chain as we want. We figured it would probably be a little rougher during the early part of the blow but at least we could drop enough chain to keep from dragging. So that was our choice.

We pulled in under power and dropped and set the hook. The only problem was that there was still 15 knots of wind from the south, so we set the hook facing south. I dropped 120 feet of chain and then my conscience started to nag at me. When the wind hits from the north its going to spin the boat around and force the anchor to reset. Resetting could be an issue if the wind comes on strong enough right from the get go which is entirely possible.

We have 4 big anchors onboard and I’d really feel like a horse’s ass if we dragged and still had 3 anchors on the boat, so I decide to drop a second hook. The bottom is good sand so I opted for a Fortress FX-23, it’s a fairly light weight anchor with a huge surface area which is what you want for superior holding in sand. I walked it to the stern and threw it overboard. Then I went back to the bow and hand set the anchor as best I could. Then I coiled up another 110 feet of line and set it on the bow and cleated the tail off.

Then I went about securing everything on deck that might try to take flight. Christy was cooking dinner while I was getting ready and as we sat to eat, an eerie calmness set in over the anchorage. Before we were done with dinner the wind had started to build from the north. As the boat swung around to face the stiffening breeze the line from the second anchor paid itself out over the bow.

Within 2 minutes we were facing northwest and hanging to the second anchor with a minimum of 30 knots coming over the bow. The anchor rode on the second anchor was as tight as a piano wire. Here’s where dumb luck showed up. Since the Alligator is funnel shaped when the huge north winds started to blow all the water was compressed into the tiny southern end. This left only one escape for the water; through the narrow channel to the west. All the boats that had opted to crowd together in the narrow section for protection were having huge spacing problems. Some were facing the wind while others were turning and facing the 6 knots of current that was ripping through the anchorage. A couple of them dragged and a few others had to go out into the storm to try and adjust the amount of scope they had out to avoid contact with other boats.

It was kind of poetic justice as we had heard 2 boats that came in after us wonder aloud (on the VHF) why anyone would want to anchor where we were, when the narrow section still had some room. They were arrogant as the one woman suggested that we might just be dummies to her buddy boat. Now I had to stop what I was doing to get on the radio just to let her know that we were bright enough to work the radio and that we opted to anchor with room to swing instead of following the rest of the “sheeple” into a tight spot. Instead of apologizing the woman said “I had no idea you’d be listening to the radio”. Stupid bitch. I have to admit it was with smug satisfaction that I listened to them as the winds gusted to 45 knots and the rain was driving down while they were on the bow adjusting rodes in an effort to keep from hitting each other. I went to bed at 2100 and slept like a baby while they were setting up an anchor watch schedule.

So it’s now Tuesday morning and we still have 17 to 25 knots of wind directly out of the west. Since we’ll be unable to sail the canal we’ve opted to spend another day here before moving on.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

October 25, 2008.

Late Thursday afternoon we had another mechanic, Justin, show up to start the reinstallation of the transmission. Once again with Christy and I doing the winching we were able to get the transmission in place. It went in a lot easier than it had come out. Gravity is your friend.

By the time it was bolted into place it was time for Justin to punch out and go home. After he was gone I used the opportunity to bolt the support brackets for the V-drive back where they belong.

On Friday morning Justin was back to do the alignment of the shaft, transmission and engine. It went really well as the alignment was spot on to begin with.

Once he was gone we started in earnest with the re assembly of the boats systems. I replaced several aging hoses and a couple of suspect hose clamps as we worked our way through the muddle of wires and hoses. I also cleaned every electrical connection as I reconnected everything. I cleaned both raw water strainers as well.

I refilled the transmission and Christy started the engine and everything seems to work as it should. Once I was satisfied that things were okay we used the halyard to maneuver the generator back to its spot above the transmission.

During the day we took the time to go up to the office and settle up our bill. It actually wasn’t that painful, especially when compared to the beating absorbed for pretty much the same job up in Connecticut. In Connecticut the marina staff did all the work as per their rules. Here at Atlantic Yacht Basin we were allowed to do as much of the work as we could handle ourselves. We did spend a lot more on parts in Connecticut as there were several parts we had to replace while here there were only a few pieces to be replaced. The big difference was the labor. In Connecticut we paid for 60 hours of labor while here it was only 11 hours. Huge difference; especially when labor rates are upwards of 70 dollars an hour. Thank God for do it yourself yards like AYB.

So we’re sitting here with everything done by 1800 hours on Friday evening. We would be able to leave on Saturday as planned but there’s just one problem. The weather.

Its supposed to blow a hoolie from the south. The weather forecast is for 25 knots straight out of the south with gusts into the 30’s with torrential rains. Christy talked to Nancy from Solitaire and they’re currently in the middle of this weather system down in Georgetown, SC. Nancy said they went food shopping in their foulies and still got soaked to the bone. Of course we’re headed south so traveling into this mess isn’t something we want to do. The forecast calls for it to blow through here during Saturday and the winds are supposed to clock and be from the northwest by Sunday, so it looks like we’ll be outta here on Sunday.

Friday, October 24, 2008

October 21, 2008.

The ceramic heater turned out to be a timely purchase. The outside temps dropped to 43 degrees last night but the interior of the boat hovered just above 60 so it wasn’t too bad.

This morning I spent some time cleaning the newly exposed recesses of the bilge. Shortly thereafter Ken stopped in to say that they had been able to round up a coupling that would fit our application. It should be here just after lunch tomorrow. So there’s an outside chance they’ll be on the boat tomorrow afternoon to reinstall the transmission.

So much for outside chances. Dawn broke today revealing another crisp morning complete with an early fog upon the water. It’s now Wednesday and Kens been given some other duties to perform at the marina this afternoon. So we have another day to sit and wait, but he did tell us that he installed the seal in the pump and the correct coupling did arrive. So we’ll be expecting him first thing in the morning to put the transmission back into place.

After that it’ll be up to Christy and me to put the myriad of hoses, wires and whatchmacallits back where they belong before we even start reinstalling the generator. There’s an outside chance that we’ll be ready by tomorrow evening but after all this time we’re not really willing to chance rushing through just to get done. So a Friday departure may be possible but I think Saturday morning might be more realistic.

So we decided do a little walking around to pick up a few odds and ends that we’ve needed. Another interesting thing we came across when we got to the more rural parts of the country were the motor vehicles. A guy at the local service station drives this customized pick up
truck while one of the marina workers has a hot rodded Yugo out in the lot. I can’t even remember the last Yugo I saw on the road let alone one with a 4 inch exhaust.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October 20, 2008.

Evidently Ken drew the short straw as he was the mechanic assigned to remove our transmission. I had pretty much everything out of the way and he dove right in. He made great progress but the actual lifting of the tranny was still a pain in the ass. Ken enlisted another of the yard guys to help twist and pry the transmission out of its tiny cocoon. Meanwhile I lifted with the main halyard while Christy tailed the line. It took all four of us working in complete cooperation to finally get the tranny to “pop” out of its resting place.

We left Ken working below and headed in to town. The other day I said that the temperature had “dipped” to the low sixties. Well last night it went crashing down to the forties. Its supposed to be even colder tonight. We’ve been happy with the “candle of warmth” but it was time to visit the hardware store in search of the “ceramic heater of happiness / survival”.

Once the transmission was removed Ken took out the pump with the leaking seal. He also removed the shaft coupling as we’ve decided that having those coupling bolts break every few months isn’t really as much fun as we thought it would be. It might even be construed as dangerous.

Once the coupling was removed it became obvious that the situation with the coupling was much worse than I had ever imagined it to be. I couldn’t see into the coupling when it was below the transmission but holding it in my hand and looking at it was another matter. The 4 threaded holes that I could feel as being bellmouthed were more than just worn. They were a mess; it’s a miracle that they were able to be used at all. They were so worn that they were practically useless. So in my usual “cups half full” mantra I guess this leaking seal could be construed as being a blessing. It was only a matter of time before the coupling would have had a catastrophic failure and the leaking seal revealed this to us.

The transmission was out and the leaking pump removed shortly after lunch. Ken said it would take the rest of the day to locate the needed seal and a new coupling. He said he’d get back to us at the end of the day so we knew what was going on.

True to his word Ken showed up at 1600 hours with the good news and the bad news. The good news is that they’ll have the correct seal in the morning. The bad news is that their having trouble locating an appropriate coupling. It seems my shaft is larger than most but they think they can get one from a place in Jersey.

So we’ll play it by ear for now as we really don’t have any other choice at the moment. There’s no use in installing the seal without the coupling so we’re stuck until one can be rounded up. At least we’ll be warmer.

Monday, October 20, 2008

October 19, 2008.

We’ve been exposed to a bit of a phenomenon that I had never really considered before. You see, we’re docked just south of the only lock on the Virginia Cut. The locks purpose is to raise you up or lower you down to the proper level depending on which direction you’re traveling. Without the lock the Cut would be ravaged by tidal flow and would not be navigable.

For the last few days there have been very strong winds from the north. The winds have been between 15 and 25 knots with frequent gusts up to 35 knots. That has meant that the waterway north of the lock was very high with a windblown tide. While meanwhile the water on the south side of the lock has been blown away and the tide is down much further than normal. This greater than usual disparity of water height on either side of the lock is causing a problem.

The lock has a computer controlled safety that won’t allow the lock to operate if the water depths are too divergent. So the lock was closed for a good portion of the day today. Once it did open, several of the south bound boats that came through decided to stop here for a few days as now the river in front of them is dangerously shallow in spots. Today is also the first day since we’ve been here that we haven’t seen tugs & barges passing by. They must all be sitting somewhere waiting for the water to come back. When we got here we had to step down to the dock from the boat, now we need a ladder to get up to the dock.

Other than this observation, we spent the day doing laundry and watching a little football. Speaking of which, after the laundry was done we walked down to the local “sports pub” which we had seen the other day while we were walking around. This is a pretty rural area so I was surprised at the scope of this place. It was huge inside and they had projection screens with a half dozen different games on. There were tables set up so fans of any particular game could root their team on in their own little areas. It was actually kind of bizarre how many fans were there representing each team that was playing.

Back in Jersey a place like that would be ninety percent fans of the New York teams. Maybe with a few Eagles fans, perhaps a Steelers fan and maybe the random loser Cowboy fan. Here it was completely different, every group of tables had at least a half dozen team jersey wearing fans rooting for every team playing. It was definitely a good people watching place but we only had a quick drink while we watched the Giants finish off the Niners. Then we had to leave because in the state of Virginia’s infinite wisdom they still allow smoking in bars and the place just smelled like ass. It’s funny how spoiled we are after having been in state after state that doesn’t allow smoking in restaurants.

After we got back to the boat I disconnected the rest of the hoses, wires and crapola that inhibits access to the transmission. We’re ready for tomorrow….

Sunday, October 19, 2008

October 18, 2008.

Since we’re here for a couple of days we decided to make the best of it. The temperature has dipped to about 60 degrees. So while it was cold as a meat locker in the boat we decided to empty out the fridge and spend a few hours replacing the refrigeration system.

Christy emptied everything out of the refrigerator and set the Engel up as our full time freezer. In the mean time, I sat and read everything about the installation of the new system.

Once the fridge was empty I ripped out the faulty Alder Barber system and started the new installation. The biggest difference between the old system and the new system is the fact that the box that had once served as both freezer and refrigerator would now be dedicated to being a refrigerator only. So by getting rid of the old internal freezer we would be effectively adding 30% to the size of our refrigerator. Cool. (<~ pun)

Also different about this system was the fact that we’d be installing a flat evaporator. The old evaporator was box shaped and served as the freezer with the excess cooling acting as the refrigerator. This flat evaporator had to be heated with a hair dryer and bent around a round tube of a specific diameter to provide the correct radius in the corners of the box. We didn’t have any PVC tubing laying about so we had to improvise a bit and it worked out perfectly.

So I screwed the flawlessly bent evaporator into place. The installation of the new compressor was straight forward and went well. I figured the worst of it was behind me now, but I was wrong. After that I had to deal with the temperature sensing probe and the variable speed motor controller.

The temperature sensor is standard equipment but the variable speed control is a custom addition we chose to add in an effort to save amps. Integrating the 2 extra components into the system took a little more effort than I figured it would. The directions that came with both devices didn’t really earn any awards as the worlds best directions.

Finally, I was able to figure it all out and had the system up and running in a bit over 4 hours. So now we have more freezer space than we’ve ever had and the fridge is markedly bigger as well.

Since we’re still tied to the dock and plugged in to shore power it’ll be a while before I can really see how the new system will be impacting our power supply.

While I’m talking about the docks……..a little about the marina. We’re tied to a face dock right on the ICW so we have to sit and watch all the south bound boats as they head south. It is a no wake zone and since everyone is coming out of the Great Bridge lock they all seem to honor it. The marina facilities are a little past their prime but any cosmetic deficiencies are more than made up by the personnel that work here. No, I didn’t mean that they were really good looking; I meant that they were really nice. We’re also only a short walk from a couple of bigger strip malls with a grocery store, bank, fast food and tons of other stuff available as well.

While things could be better, they could definitely be far worse. So we sit by our “candle of warmth” and wait for our mechanic to come on Monday morning. Things could be worse, the drinks could be warm.

Friday, October 17, 2008

October 17, 2008.

Today dawned with us tied to the wall at the Atlantic Yacht Basin marina. The service manager came down and confirmed that it is indeed a transmission seal. I’m kinda pissed because we just had them replaced a year ago.

The marina doesn’t have any mechanics free today but we will be scheduled to have a guy on Monday. Most of the incurred cost is going to be labor in a thing like this. There’s just so much crap in the way. We’ll do all of the preliminary disassembly ourselves in an effort to save some time and money.

The biggest part of the job was removing the generator. The generator lives directly over the transmission and definitely had to come out. I disconnected everything while Christy labeled it all so we would be able to reinstall it later with as few headaches as possible. She even took a slew of pictures in case there was any question later as to where things went.

Once we had everything ready I laid out a thick piece of cardboard to set the generator on before shoving it out of the way and into the salon. The most difficult part of the process was the need to lift the generator about a foot off the ground and over a small partition and onto the cardboard. The first time I tried to pick it up I had to recheck to make sure that it wasn’t still bolted to the floor. Holy shit! It barely moved.

While I was lamenting the fact that I must be getting old, we decided to rig our boom vang as a block and tackle to do the lifting. Christy went topside and dropped the end of the vang down the companionway so I could attach it to the generators lifting ring. With her doing the raising I was able to force the generator over the wall and onto the cardboard. Once out of the way the transmission seems almost accessible.

I’ll wait until Sunday afternoon before I get the rest of the crap out of the way. Some of it is our fresh water system so it makes sense to do it at the last possible moment.

When we were all done and cleaned up I went to the generators manual to check and see how much the little bitch actually weighs. It turns out that it weighs 277 pounds! No wonder it felt like it was still bolted down.
October 16, 2008.

Today we set out at 0800 and did a forty five mile day and ended up 100 feet from where we started. But oh boy, was there some fun in between.

We hit the Centerville Bridge right on time to catch their 0830 opening. About 2 miles further along we heard a short-lived squeal from below. At first I thought perhaps we wrapped something in the prop but there was no difference in performance. I went below and was confronted by the slightest wisp of smoke when I opened the engine room door.

I had Christy turn the boat around while I checked into it a little further. Once the door had been opened there was no trace of where the smoke had originated. There was no smell of smoke either. I thought maybe it was the oily residue burning off the recently installed starter. There is however a clear section of tubing leading to our new transmission cooler and there didn’t appear to be any water flowing through it. The transmission was barely warm to the touch though, so we babied the boat back to the marina.

I had the service manager come out and look at the transmission cooler with me. I thought the cooling water ran consecutively through the transmission cooler and then the engines heat exchanger and I know we have good water flow out the exhaust. I’ve had so many problems in the last few weeks that I’m a bit shell shocked and really needed another set of eyes to look over the situation.

He suggested I switch the location of the oil cooler lines as it would help in the cooling process but otherwise everything appeared to him as it should. I moved the lines and checked the transmission fluid level. All was fine and at 1100 off we went….again.

We got about 200 yards when we momentarily heard the slight squeal again and more smoke. This time I recognized the sound as being the alternator belt being loose and slipping. Once again I had Christy turn the boat around but this time we just tied up at a spot on the free public dock across the river from the marina. After the adjustment and 10 minutes we were again on our way.

Things finally looked brighter for us and we made good progress and caught up to several boats as they bobbed about waiting for scheduled bridge openings. We even saw a few American Bald Eagles along the way. This section of the ICW is heavily traveled by both pleasure and barge traffic. It’s also very narrow and winding. There’s very little chance for sailing on this section. We were traveling along like ducks following the leader when the transmission slipped out of gear. Damn.

Fortunately it happened in Pungo Ferry. Last year we’d actually done a little exploring in this area to look for someplace to anchor in this section of the ICW. We were in a twenty mile section where there is no safe place to anchor. There’s a very good chance of being run down by a barge at night, you just can’t get out of the channel, except in Pungo Ferry. There’s a high rise bridge with an area of 7 foot deep water immediately adjacent and just outside the channel.

We had just passed the bridge when the transmission slipped out of gear. We immediately spun the boat around while we still had some speed. We had been motoring into a ten knot headwind and now used the wind to sail back to the bridge under bare poles. It was only about 300 yards but seemed to take forever until we could turn out of the channel and into the relative safety of the tiny anchorage.

Yet again, I went below to check out the situation. The transmission was empty, no fluid at all. The lines to the cooler were tight and in good shape. The bottom of the tranny was wet with fluid. It’s probably a bad seal. Damn.

There are big winds from the north predicted for the next 2 days and we had a lot of open water in front of us. This would let us sail the lions share and if I refilled the transmission and used the engine sparingly in the “to tight to sail” spots we could make it to Oriental. Or we could just bite the bullet and use our towing insurance.

Christy called Towboat US to make arrangements for a tow. Where to though? Oriental has the best services in the area but it’s about 150 miles away. So with heavy hearts we decided to go back to the Atlantic Yacht Basin. I know they will be able to help us there, it’s just hard to be going the wrong way. We were only backtracking 17 miles or so but it’s pretty difficult to swallow. We were securely anchored and gave the tow boat guy the choice of whether he wanted to come get us in the morning or if he wanted to do it then. He said “I’ve got to do it tonight, it’s not safe to stay on that stretch at night”.

The area is so remote that it took him well over an hour to reach us. We had the anchor up and were under tow by 1700 hours. We got back to the marina well after dark at 1930. It was pitch black out and there were some anxious moments as we looked for a vacant spot along the dock to tie the boat up. But in the end it all went well and along the way we got to see another great sunset, just from a different perspective.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

October 14, 2008.

We left Mill Creek at around 0900. We waited a bit this morning as there are 5 bridges to negotiate in Norfolk. They all stay closed from 0630 til 0830 on weekdays so we planned to arrive at the first bridge at 0930. I know everyone is probably sick of it; just one more picture of the value of AIS. Its crowded as hell here with huge ships. We even saw a submarine underway.

We decided while underway to once again transit the Dismal Swamp. I know that the last time we went through the swamp I swore I’d never do it again. We just ran into so much crap in the water it really made for a nerve racking trip. But we’re doin’ the dismal….

The Dismal Swamp locks are only opening twice a day; once at 0900 and once again at 1500 hours. I figured we’d get in at the 1500 opening and let ourselves be trapped inside the swamp for the night. It’s not as dramatic as it sounds though; there’s a really nice rest stop two thirds of the way through so we could tie up there for the night.

We arrived at the first lock at 1300 and dropped the hook and shut the boat down. While we were waiting I was checking things out and discovered that the starter solenoid that I had repaired and installed in DC had severely cracked. The plastic cap was actually disintegrating so there would be no repairing it again. So since I had the time I installed the new solenoid that we had gotten at NAPA while we were in Annapolis.

Once the lock keeper opened up the lock to let us in I was suicidal when I found out that the boat wouldn’t start. I couldn’t even jump start the engine by arcing the starter. Shit. The new solenoid from NAPA looked the same and bolted into place as it should but the internal depth was different by close to three eights of an inch so it was not engaging the starter. Shit. I've actually got a bruise on my chest from laying on top of the generator so often while working on the starter.

I worked like a madman trying different mishmash of parts from our 2 starters and 2 solenoids but couldn’t come up with a winning combination. The lock closed and we had to abandon hope of making it into the lock tonight. Shit. Finally well after dark I remembered that we had a used solenoid cap on board. I got it out and found that while it physically fit in place of the broken cap none of the hardware would fit upon it. So it was close but basically useless…….unless. I got out my drill, my micrometer and every drill bit on the boat. I was able to turn real slow revolutions with my drill and open up all the holes in the hard plastic cap to enable all the through bolts to be pressed firmly into place.

I was so emotionally exhausted that I didn’t even install it until morning. I got up in time to give it a try and eureka, crank crank….vrooom. Okay, the boat was running and the lock was about to open, but we decided not to chance it. Instead we turned around and headed towards the other route south, the Virginia Cut.

We chose the Virginia Cut route after a quick phone call to our friend Jay. He’s more familiar with the area and services available. He recommended the Atlantic Yacht Basin which is located on the Virginia Cut. While on the way to the Virginia Cut we had a pleasant surprise when we found ourselves in the company of our friends Jim & Nancy on Solitaire. It was a chance meeting and we actually locked through at the Great Bridge lock right behind them.

We pulled into the marina just before noon and went up to see the service manager about our situation. I wanted the solenoids on both of our starters replaced but I wanted the 2 old ones back. The one I “created” I’ll keep as a spare and the new one from NAPA will be returned. The service manager, James said to bring em’ up to the marinas store and they’d take care of us.

When we were in DC we ran into a group of eco-nuts that were handing out nature friendly bags for you to bring to the food store with you instead of using the stores bags, thereby saving a few trees. They'd probably be disappointed to find that I ended up using them for our pair of starters.

I handed both starters over to Rich at the ships store with fairly involved instructions. He walked them out to the van to take them to the rebuild shop and then loaded us in as well so he could drop us in town. After we hit the grocery store, Radio Shack and pizza parlor, then we walked back to the marina. When we got back to the boat we had an email waiting for us that informed us we had some faxing to do. We printed and filled out the necessary paperwork and walked up to the marina office to see about using their fax machine. They couldn’t have been nicer and seemed actually thrilled to be able to help us with what otherwise would have been a daunting task.

While we were up at the office we ran into Rich who informed us that our starters were back. 2 starters sent out and repaired, vegetables bought and a fax sent all in less than 3 hours. Talk about full service. Atlantic Yacht Basin, full service at its finest.

I got back to the boat with our treasured starters and had one installed and the boat running in 30 minutes. The happy dance lasted much longer. We’ll be off again in the morning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October 13, 2008.

We were up early and after taking the dogs to shore were underway by 0730. There were about 6 boats in various stages of getting ready to leave as we departed. After transiting the exit and heading back out to the bay we picked up about another dozen boats that had spent the night around the corner in Fishing Bay.

We had a little bit of breeze from the west so we had to motor sail the entire day. We were about the sixth boat in line as we headed southward. We did a little creative navigating and cut the corner on several marks and soon found ourselves leading the pack. That is until the incident……..

I just wrote about our spat of mechanical failures and we had yet another. The coupling bolts on the drive coupling sheared again. It already happened twice in the last 2 years. Of course, the wind had just died and we were debating taking down sail when the drive train was suddenly disconnected from the propeller. So we left the sails where they were and ghosted along at 1 to 2 knots while I went below to start to make a repair.

This time something was different though, I was unable to turn the propeller shaft by hand. Something had it jammed so I figured I should check to see that we didn’t pick up a crab pot in the propeller.

Christy got my mask and fins while I got ready to slip into the water. While I got ready she also rigged a line to drag behind the boat in case I was unable to keep up. I would be able to grab the line as it went by and pull myself hand over hand back to the boat. I should have dropped the sails but there's that ole' hindsight is twenty twenty crap but thankfully the wind didn't choose this moment to pick up. I was only in the water for a minute and the problem became obvious. The shaft had slid back after it became disconnected and the prop shaft zinc had jammed up against the face of the cutlass bearing. I was able to free it and dragged myself back aboard no worse for wear.

Once back aboard I was able to replace the bolts and get us underway again. In the 2 hours that went by we went from “first to worst” and trailed the fleet into Norfolk. All the other boats continued on to Hospital Point or further while we settled for Mill Creek. It’s a great anchorage and we have it all to ourselves.

Here's a couple of shots of some of the boats we've seen lately. First there was a tiny power boat with a mizzen mast. I saw the boat the night before at anchor but I didn't really think he put sail up on that mast. I guess it lessens the side to side rolling, again, I dunno.

Then there was this guy with the newly installed aluminum radar arch. It was a design I've never seen before; at least not that big. It just looked a little out of place on a trawler with such classic lines.

The Chesapeake does always yield a classic.
October 12, 2008.

We had the anchor up and were underway by 0750 this morning. We were pleased to find that the wind was from the northeast at 10 to 12 knots. This enabled us to kill the engine soon after leaving the anchorage. We were doing 6 ½ knots even though we were heading into the flood tide.

We had a great sail until we reached the mouth of the Potomac. We were still bucking the flood tide, but the wind started to die. Usually when the wind dies it comes back, just from a different direction. After our speed had dropped to 1 knot we decided to start the engine and get going.

After 2 hours the wind came screaming back. It had veered a bit and was now coming from the east southeast. We were able to shut off the engine again and now with the ebb tide dragging us along we were making about 7.3 knots.

In fact, we were doing so well that I decided to change our destination for the night. We had been headed for Indian Creek but the renewed winds changed our choice to Jackson Creek. It was only an additional 9 miles but its 9 miles less that we have to do tomorrow.

Jackson Creek is a very protected anchorage with a winding entrance. It’s actually scary as hell. You have to take the boat practically right up onto the beach before turning hard to port and making a U-turn around 2 marks back away from the beach. Oh yeah, it’s also shallow as hell. We made it in okay and were soon anchored among a few other southbound boats.
October 11, 2008.

Well, the boat show has come and gone for us. While there though, we saw several couples that we’ve come to know over the last few years. We even had the chance to accept an invitation from our friends Jeff & Tessa for a fabulous dinner at their home in Annapolis.

We spent Thursday running around trying to find parts and the local NAPA. We found the solenoid we needed and headed back to the boat to install it and a new transmission cooler. Once that was taken care of we spent the rest of the day on the boat doing chores. We’ve had a spat of mechanical failures recently.

First it was the generators governor needed readjustment. The very next day was the generator’s impeller, a day or so later it was the main engine impeller. Then I found water in the transmission during our morning system check. That meant we had to order and install a new transmission cooler. While I was inside the engine compartment I cleaned every connection in the ignition system and replaced both solenoids while I was at it. Everything worked as it should, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a little respite from the extra maintenance.

With our maintenance done we spent Friday at the boat show. We strolled the aisles and looked at all the goodies that vendors are trying to tempt people with. Since we’ve spent so much time on the boat its interesting when a salesperson try’s to bullshit me on the newest, bestest crapola their trying to peddle.

There is always something that is brilliant, new and revolutionary but it’s often tough to find amongst all the shiny pieces of garbage that are out there.

We left Annapolis this morning while the boat show was in full swing. The wind was from the north as predicted, but with a little less steam. We sailed along at better than 7 knots for the first 2 hours then the wind slowly abated. We ended up moving along at 4 knots while configured “wing & wing”. At about 1300 hours we started the engine so we could arrive in Solomon’s Island early enough in the day to hit the post office.

So we’re back in Solomon’s for the night. We made it to the post office and hit the grocery store before settling in for the night.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

October 8, 2008.

On Monday night we had anchored among more than 20 other boats in Solomons, MD. When we got up Tuesday morning there were only 3 of us left. Was it something we said? The wind was supposed to crank from the north again so I guess if they were going south they all picked a great day for it. If they were going north, well, then God help them.

We did end up spending Tuesday doing some boat chores and running around town. After our chores were done we took a quick dinghy tour of the river to see who’s here and to check diesel prices as we need to top off before we leave in the morning. We did find a pretty cool statue commemorating sailors lost at sea, actually I’m just making that part up. We didn’t get close enough to actually read the inscription. It might have been erected to celebrate sailors who enjoy bird watching for all we know. That pretty much killed the day and it was early to bed for us.

On Wednesday we raised the anchor and headed over to the fuel dock. They didn’t open until 0800 so we arrived a half hour early so we could top off the water tank, pump out the holding tank and rinse the salt from Mondays beating off.

We left Solomon’s Island and slowly motored out to the Chesapeake Bay. Today’s forecast was for 5 to 10 knots out of the south with small craft warnings later this evening.

We were making such good time that we were actually able to stay ahead of the ebb tide and rode the last of the flood tide all the way to Annapolis. I’m thinking the small craft winds got here a little earlier than expected because at times we were hitting 9 knots as we surfed northward. The boats headed south looked a lot like we probably did the other day; they were getting pounded.

The reason we’re headed north is to attend the Annapolis sailboat show. Then again so are about 1000 other sailboats. Some people have been here for weeks to get a protected spot to anchor. Last year we got here about a week before the show and other boats practically anchored on top of us anyway. So this year I decided I’m gonna be that guy; Late Arriving Anchor Like I Didn’t See You Guy.

There are a few choice anchorages in Annapolis. Spa Creek is the preferred spot but it gets so tightly packed that you can practically walk from boat to boat. Back Creek is another prime spot, albeit a little farther from the show but it gets just as busy. South River has some options but anchoring there leaves you with a 2 mile walk and leaving the dinghy unattended for the day is a little sketchy. Weems Creek is a great spot, there’s probably room but the place to leave the dink for the day is a little shady.

That pretty much left us with anchoring off the Naval Academy. It’s actually the closest spot to the show, but the protection stinks. Last year we got our asses beaten for several days before the show even began, but that’s where we headed. We pulled in to an anchorage with more than 40 boats at anchor, bouncing around in the small craft winds. I figured we’d head all the way in nearest the show and start to poke around for a hole big enough for Veranda to fit in. We picked our way through the crowded anchorage and lo and behold when we got all the way to the nearest corner to the show there was a spot we could almost fit into; so we did. Actually the only guy we might be making uncomfortable is a French Canadian boat. The French stereotypically have horrible anchoring etiquette so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

While I’m on the French Canadians, could somebody please explain to me why they’re so ashamed to be Canadians? I know they’re always trying to secede from Canada, but why? I have to say, every Canadian that I’ve met has been wonderful to be around. But most of these faux French are rude, unfriendly and regularly hide behind a language barrier when ever it suits them. Unless of course they need you, then they speak prefect Kings English. Can’t they understand that the French are from France. Quebec and Montreal aren’t anywhere near France; they’re Canadians, stubborn Canadians. So says the Ugly American.

Anyway, it’s like we’re anchored in a washing machine. The wind is supposed to calm tomorrow so hopefully tomorrow night will be better, I’m already sure that tonight is gonna stink.

The harbor patrol has been enforcing anchoring regulations. There are actually designated areas that you can anchor denoted by a dotted line on your charts. As you can see in the picture, we were able to wedge ourselves firmly into the sharpest corner of the anchorage. Since we’ve been here, the harbor master has made several boats that were here before us leave because they were encroaching on the channels or too close to the academies wall. Theres a red, wedge shaped beam of light that can be seen from the anchorage. The harbor master pulls up next to your boat and if he can’t see the light then you’ve got to move. We’ve seen the light…..

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

October 6, 2008.

All good things come to an end and it was time to leave Washington behind. After a tearful goodbye with Ashlee we met up for cocktails with a few of the wonderful people that we’ve met while we were here. We were really fortunate to add to the list of friends that we made while we were here last year. But again, its time to go.

We raised the anchor and motored slowly down the Potomac as DC faded from view. The Potomac is fairly boring. DC itself, Mount Vernon and Fort Washington are all within 10 miles of each other and after that there’s not really anything to see for the next 85 miles.

The river can be a good workout for a sailor. The wind is constantly shifting and often comes right down the river at you. Ya know, if there is any wind. Sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes it’s rewarding. I must have put up and lowered sails a dozen times during the day. After a 57 mile day we pulled into Bluff Point, ate and retired for the night glad to be underway again.

This morning blossomed with a nice breeze blowing out of the north.
The skies were looking kind of iffy but the breeze was good. We sailed off the anchor and made about 7 seven knots into the end of the flooding tide. After a few hours the wind went fluky on us and it was back to motoring. When we had only about 7 miles of Potomac left the wind came back with a vengeance. The AIS receiver once again earned its keep by letting us see the big ships course and speed before we could even see the ship. We were in the ebb tide and flying along at about 8 knots.

When we reached the mouth of the river we had to turn north for our intended stop at Solomon’s Island. The Chesapeake Bay was a nightmare. It was gonna be a 20 mile bash to windward to get to Solomon’s. We set out motor sailing across the bay, we had the rail in the water as we headed towards the eastern shore. The tide was trying to drive us down the bay and with the winds cresting 20 knots progress was slow. We had to use the engine to allow us to point high enough so we could limit our number of tacks to something less than 200.

Eventually, the tide turned and was coming up the bay. Normally I love when the tide is with us, but then we had that whole tide versus wind predicament. The wind was up to 25 knots as we encountered 4 and 5 foot standing waves that were set close together. Nasty, doesn’t begin to cover it. We talked about it later and we couldn’t recall a day with worse conditions. We had water coming over the entire boat, up over the dodger, bimini….everything. There was water in the dinghy……

We were in the middle of a tack and then it happened. The loudest explosion either one of us had ever heard. You know when you go to a fireworks show and they have those random shells that just make the brief bright flash and then go Ka-Booom. It was deafening, it felt as if it had been right in the boat, we actually felt the concussion and then the engine changed pitch, so I quickly shut the engine down. We had plenty of wind so we just fell off about 20 degrees and continued on across the bay.

First the explosion and then not 2 seconds later the engine noise dramatically changed. What now. Shit. Shit. Christy went below to make sure we were not on fire. We were standing in the cockpit looking at each other thinking….???? Was that us? Then it happened again, Ka-Booom. The boom was so intense that it hurt your internal organs. It scared the living crap out of us again and almost killed Molly, but we were never so glad to hear anything as we were that noise. That meant the noise hadn’t emanated from the engine the first time, it was just a freakish badly timed coincidence.

The engine temperature was a bit higher than it should be. There was a possibility that the raw water impellor had given up the ghost. I went below to start taking it apart while Christy tweaked the sails in an effort to make as much headway as possible. It turned out to be the impellor and after 30 minutes we were back in business.

While I was below there was another explosion. It felt as if we had hit something as the concussion actually “banged” on the bottom of the boat. It felt and sounded as if we had run into a large log.

There ended up being 4 of these Ka-Boooms during a 30 minute period. The only explanations we could come up with was that it was either the Navy target bombing range or sonic booms from the fighters orbiting the area. I’ve heard sonic booms before and these were much louder, it was like they had flown through the cockpit. I don’t know if a sonic boom would have been as loud as the boom that smacked the hull when I was below. It was crazy.

So that leaves the bombing range. I can’t believe they would use live ordinance out on the Chesapeake Bay but I dunno, maybe. Generally, when the navy is conducting live fire exercises they broadcast security warning to ships in the area. We had the VHF on all day and never heard a single broadcast. The range includes a couple of targets that jut up from the water. They’re marked on your charts and you’re supposed to avoid the immediate area. Most people just sail right through unless the range is hot. When the range is hot there is a pair of small Navy patrol boats that intercept and warn boaters that the range is hot. We were about 4 miles from the area so we didn’t see any patrol craft. We were also one of the few buffoons on the bay so maybe there was nobody for them to warn, so there was nothing for us to hear. Again, I dunno. I guess I’m gonna go with the sonic boom theory, I mean, they wouldn’t drop live bombs in the bay, would they?

We were able to clear the riprap shoal guarding the southern entrance to the Patuxent River by about a hundred feet. It was at the end of a perfect tack some 4 miles away. Once past the shoal we were able to ease the sails a bit and sail through the crab pots at 7.5 knots into the setting sun. We dropped the sails and motored into Back Creek, our usual anchorage when here. Once at the rivers end we were shocked to see that the anchorage was full. A month ago when we were here there were 3 boats now there was more like 23. We were able to edge our way in without giving anyone a stroke and anchored securely for the night.

We’ll spend Tuesday doing maintenance and a little shopping before heading up to Annapolis on Wednesday.

Friday, October 3, 2008

October 1, 2008.

Yesterday was a chore day with me jerry jugging 100 gallons of water to the boat while Christy did the laundry.

Today however we decided to head over to the capitol building and take the tour.

The youngest girl child is staying with us in our floatel for a few days as she can’t move into her new apartment until October 4th. So we left her at the yacht club doing school work while we went to the capitol.

Tickets are free but they do “sell” out so we were pleased to arrive early enough to procure a pair. Security is pretty tight so there are a few rules that must be followed if you want to get in.

At the bottom of the hill is a small tent covered rally point where the guide told us that absolutely no food, drink, sharp objects or sprays of any type would be allowed into the building. After walking about 250 yards up the hill we came to the second checkpoint where these rules were once again reiterated by a second guide. Then after a short walk we were at the first real security check.

There were 2 huge plastic barrels that were full of banned objects that the people from the previous groups thought would be okay to bring through. I was standing there thinking that everyone before us must have been an idiot. The guard stepped forward, stood everyone in a single file line and repeated the banned objects list yet once again. He said you can’t bring …. blah blah blah and if you have any of those items on your person step forward and discard them in the bins. About half of our 50 person group stepped forward and started throwing all kinds of shit in the garbage. Sandwiches, water bottles, thermoses, hairspray and even mace. WTH? Weren’t they listening, did they think the first 2 guides were talking to someone else.

After that we went through a metal detector and were inside the security screening building. Once everyone was admitted we were sent on a 400 yard walk to the entrance where our guide was waiting. Once there we were all issued a pretty slick headset. This enabled the guide to talk to everyone without having to yell.

The building itself was absolutely gorgeous. The centrally located rotunda was huge. The ceiling was 188 feet above our heads. The guide explained that if the Statue of Liberty was removed from its pedestal in NYC and placed in this room it would fit with 29 feet to spare.

There were statues and artwork everywhere. The amount of history that has taken place within these walls is amazing.

After the tour was over we left our group and wandered down to the House of Representatives. We had gotten passes from our representative, Jim Saxton, which enabled us to go up into the visitor’s gallery.

After finding our way there and transiting yet another security checkpoint (where we had to check our cell phone & camera) we were let into the gallery. Of course since they had voted just yesterday to shoot down the fiscal bailout bill they all must have needed the day off because the house wasn’t in session. So we were in the rafters looking down at the very large, very empty room. So much for the highlight of the visit. It would have been cool to be here yesterday but ya’ know, we had laundry.

We left the building just before the arrival of a nasty looking front. We were able to just make it back to the boat in time before the rain hit.

After dinner we accepted an invite from our friend Bess to stop over for a bit. I was going to have to go to shore anyway as Ashlee was on her way to the boat. As soon as we got to Bess’s boat Ashlee called and said she was close by so I went out and brought her back to Bess’s with me.

We ended up having a great time with several other couples as they made their way through the boat. At one point there were 5 couples seated in the aft salon with the guy from every couple being named “Bill”. It was probably the first night I had no trouble keeping names straight.

One of Bess’s neighbors is a Congressman. We had met him before so when he arrived I introduced him to Ashlee by name but without his title. I was impressed with the reserve she showed meeting such an important person.

After we said our good byes and retreated to the Veranda I remarked to Ashlee as to how impressed I was with her coolness when meeting the Congressman. She looked at me and said “Congressman? Who was a Congressman?”. When she realized that she had just met a fairly important person in our government she immediately called her beau, Mark, to tease him with “Guess who I just met? So much for coolness…….