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.