Saturday, December 1, 2018


We are anchored in the St. Johns River, near Jacksonville, Florida, more or less right where the ICW crosses (map). We dropped the hook here yesterday just before cocktail hour after a pleasant overnight passage from Charleston. I did start this post underway, but made little progress due to numerous interruptions.

Sunset at sea over the glow of the instruments.

Sunday morning we had plenty of water to make it past the last skinny sections of the ICW, near Isle of Palms, South Carolina. With our slip in Charleston not available until Monday morning, and facing the prospect of having to anchor in a less-than-convenient spot in the harbor, we opted instead to turn up Inlet Creek, just east of the Sullivan's Island Bridge, and anchor for the night, even though it was just half past noon.

The ebb was running strong in the narrow creek, but close to high tide we had little trouble negotiating the entrance and dodging around a couple of crab floats that only made their presence known by the wakes they were creating. We dropped center-channel between the crab floats and an anchored sailboat that appeared to be vacant (map). The afternoon's entertainment was listening to the VHF traffic from other cruisers picking their way down the shallow ICW and across the busy harbor.

Our "neighbor," a small sloop stored on anchor in the creek.

The anchorage was quiet and serene, even though it is not remote by any measure. From here you can see the IoP and Sullivans causeways in the distance, and the top of the Ravenal Bridge in the harbor. As the tide ran out we learned we were just fifty yards from a wreck, a dismasted sailboat that was completely submerged at high tide, but a good four feet high and dry at low. No one ever showed up to the sailboat upstream of us, so it was just "stored" there.

This wreck appeared from the muck before cocktail hour.

We had a leisurely morning Monday, planning for a 9:30 departure so our one-hour cruise would land us at the Charleston Maritime Center right at the 10:30am slack water. The current at the marina entrance can be wicked otherwise, as we know from experience, and we wanted a drama-free entrance and docking. As we sipped our morning coffee a half dozen sailboats stacked up in the ICW just outside the creek, stopped cold by the rush-hour restriction on the bridge, which did not open till 9am.

That same spot at high tide - not a trace (different angle because we are at the other end of our swing).

At 9:20 we commenced weighing anchor in heavy flood current, even stronger than the ebb on which we arrived. It looked to us like the vacant sailboat had actually dragged upriver a bit. What was worse, though, is that the pair of crab floats we passed on the way in, which should be dead ahead of us, were nowhere to be found. Until, that is, Louise looked over the bow before starting the windlass, to see one of them tangled in our snubber line.

This float is still attached to a pot, but is tangled in our ground tackle.

Apparently the same spring tide and high wind that was dragging the sailboat also picked up both crab pots and sent them right into Vector. We never spotted the other one (and worried the whole time that it was already under us and caught on the running gear), and this one we untangled with a boat pole but then had to maneuver aggressively to avoid overrunning it and sucking it into the prop.

After a bit of nail-biting close-quarter maneuvering, including drifting upriver, sideways, toward the sailboat once the anchor was off the bottom, we finally cleared the crab float and headed out of the creek into a blissfully empty ICW, the bridge having already cleared the backlog. Somehow the anchor came up upside down with a half twist in the chain, so we stopped before the bridge to drop it back to the bottom, untwist the chain, and bring it back up and on deck. We cleared the bridge without needing an opening, and soon were in Charleston Harbor.

Sunset at Inlet Creek.

The southeastern quadrant of the harbor was miserable, with 20-knot winds and 2-3' of heavy chop, which sent spray over the pilothouse. But by the time we arrived at the marina, the peninsula provided enough protection from both wind and wave to let us glide right into the basin and back easily into the slip (map). By the time we were tied up and plugged in, it was nearly 70° outside, and we lowered a scooter for errands.

Vector at Charleston Maritime Center. Ravenal bridge in the background, with a schooner between.

Chief among those was a trip to the auto parts store, where I needed to pick up a set of lug nuts (really) for the injector project. That's all the way out in Avondale, across the Ashley River, and as long as I was there I picked up a gallon of oil for the main engine. I stopped at West Marine for dinghy oil and filters and the Harris Teeter for groceries on the way back. The ride both ways and all the stops felt comfortable and familiar after our extended stay here last year.

We might also have ridden the scooter to dinner, except that it turns out there is a great hole-in-the-wall sushi place, Shi Ki, a short walk from the marina, and we had a lovely walk on one of the warmest evenings in recent memory. Louise says the sushi was perfect; I don't eat fish but I enjoyed my teriyaki alongside a large Sapporo.

The new injectors and other miscellaneous parts arrived at the Komatsu dealer on Monday as well. I can't say enough good things about Linder Industrial Machinery in Ladson, which is a bit of a haul from downtown Charleston. For the second time, the parts manager actually brought me my parts on his time off, meeting me just outside the marina on his way to dinner with his family. Nice guy.

With injectors and lug nuts in hand Tuesday was show time. After breakfast I changed into work clothes and started tearing into the engine, removing the injection supply lines for the #3 and #4 injectors at both ends. The lines are clamped together in pairs, so removing them in pairs is faster, easier, and less stressful on the lines than removing all the clamps. I also removed the return banjo bolt and crush washers from the leaking #4 injector and loosened the bolts on #3 and #5 to rotate the return pipes out of the way.

This post-completion photo shows the two supply and return lines I needed to move. #4 is center frame. It also gives you an idea how tight it is in there and how difficult to get tools in there.

Removing the clamp that holds the injector down proved something of a chore. The bolt refused to yield to my wrenches, even when I brought out the big guns and adapted the 9mm socket to my longer 1/2" drive ratchet. My electric impact driver also could not extract it, even after two full minutes of hand-numbing effort. I finally had to drag the air hose down from our flybridge compressor and use my pneumatic impact driver, which took only a few seconds.

Next came the real challenge, getting the injector out. The last time I did this myself, the injector had only been in place for perhaps ten minutes of engine operation and slid right out. Now, a year and some 900+ operating hours later, that was not going to happen. Thus the need for the lug nut.

This shot of the new injector in place shows the clamp and bolt, just below and to the left of the supply line.

Last year when I had a Lugger mechanic help me with the 4,000-hour service, he brought with him a homegrown tool for removing the injectors. It was a small slide hammer with an old 12mm compression nut matching the injectors welded to the end. Each injector came out with just a couple of taps of the slide. I don't have this tool, or even a spare compression nut.

The threads on the injector are 12mm, but regular 12mm nuts you might find in a hardware store are 1.75mm pitch, whereas those on the injectors are 1.5mm, or "fine" pitch, stocked by almost no one. I never knew this until I started hunting for 12x1.5 nuts online, but apparently there are a number of subcompact cars that use this size on their wheel lugs, and so 12x1.5 lug nuts are commonly available in auto parts stores. I bought the cheapest ones I could find, a set of four for $9.

The removed injector with my shiny new lug nut still attached. Old crush washer to the right, near the tip.

Fully aware that I might have to go find someone to weld one of my new lug nuts to the end of a slide hammer, there was little to lose to try a few other things first. I threaded one of the nuts fully onto the leaking injector, and then gave it a few sharp taps into the engine block with one of my heavier wrenches. Much to my relief, this had the effect of immediately loosening the injector to the point where I could wiggle the end. I still could not just pull it out by hand, however.

Tying a string around the injector neck just under the lug nut, and the other end to a heavy wrench, I was able to give the injector a sharp jerk away from the block, and it popped right out, hitting me in the right ear and dousing me with a bit of diesel in the process. At least the string kept it from flying across the room and damaging the tip against something hard.

Close-up of the leaky spot. The leak is not visible to the naked eye.

The replacement injector slid right in, after first cleaning out the seat, and pressing the new copper seating washer onto the tip of the new injector. This latter task involved heating the washer with my heat gun to expand the hole a bit; it's a tight fit by design. It took me all of perhaps ten minutes to seat the new injector, clamp it down, and reconnect all the fuel lines. I was done before lunch time, a project for which I had budgeted from one to two days. After lunch, a ten minute static test revealed proper operation and no leaks.

With the injector repair behind us, we could return our focus to making our way south. A near-perfect passage weather window would arrive Thursday, and we made plans for an outside run at least to Jacksonville if not to Canaveral or even Palm Beach. And we extended our marina stay to three nights, for a Thursday departure.

When all was said and done this is how much fuel we leaked. Perhaps an ounce or two in 40 hours running.

Tuesday evening we met up with fellow cruisers Dorsey and Bruce of Esmeralde, whom we had met in Portsmouth and with whom we'd been leapfrogging down the inside since. We had a nice dinner, much laughter, and good conversation over some excellent drafts at the Charleston Beer Works right downtown. Notwithstanding having spent four months in Charleston last year, this was our first time on one of the free downtown DASH shuttles. One of the stops is a short walk from the Maritime Center, at the Aquarium, whereas no stop is close to the City Marina across town.

Wednesday was an extra, unplanned day in town, and it might have been nice to get out a bit. Monday's warm weather was short-lived, though, and it was too cold to want to ride anyplace beyond another grocery store run for some items I could not carry on Monday. I did do a bit of walking and caught up a bit around the boat, and we braved the cold for a mile ride in the evening to the Harbour Club for a nice dinner.

When RoRos land in Charleston this is where they disgorge their cargo. From here they will be loaded on rail cars (upper left) and semitrailers to go to their destinations.

Thursday morning's forecast check revealed that Jacksonville was as far as we could get in benign conditions, and with a 27-hour projected passage time, we opted to wait until the 1:30pm slack to depart the marina, giving us a fair tide on departure. I spent the morning walking around the neighborhood before decking the scooter and making ready to depart.

We made our way through the harbor and out the inlet into perfect conditions, Turning southwest with some current behind us showed a projected arrival here of 3:30 on a flood tide, which, had it held, would have been just right to continue all the way upriver to the downtown docks. Of course,  things seldom work out that way and we were lucky to be making the inlet on the last of the flood, with our fair tide running out just as we made the anchorage.

Another view of the Maritime Center, with the USS Yorktown museum ship in the background.

Throughout yesterday afternoon, Louise had been hearing a new rattle below decks, metal on metal. My less keen hearing could only pick it up at certain times and places, but she assured me it was constant. When she turned in at the start of my night watch, she had to don earplugs to quash it. Throughout the day we had discussed various possible sources, including perhaps the mystery crab pot from Inlet Creek perhaps caught on a fin and banging against the hull, unlikely given the speed we were making through the water.

We decided to run through the night and stop the boat in the daylight when I came back on watch to see if we could figure it out. When Louise turned in, the seas were still quite calm, but by the end of my watch they had picked up to short two-footers that made for a bit of a bumpy ride; Louise was a bit bleary-eyed when she took the conn. By the time I came back on watch at 9am, all was again calm and another perfect day on the ocean.

Sunset over Georgia, from the ocean.

After coffee we did, indeed, stop the boat. While not exactly crystal-clear, we reasoned we could at least mostly see the running gear with the underwater camera if we needed to. It did not come to that; after some brief testing of running at different engine RPM and boat speeds we finally isolated it to the transmission, which rattled in gear regardless of boat speed or RPM but not in neutral. This is the tell-tale sound of the damper plate beginning to fail, and so it looks like we will need to haul out soon to pull the transmission and replace the damper.

I had plotted our route to generally follow inside the Territorial Limit, 12nm out to sea, which kept us in Internet coverage through most of my watch and parts of Louise's. The extra waypoints added a little under three miles to a 175nm passage, or about a half hour, worth it for the Internet access as well as slightly calmer seas and a bit less contrary current.

Warship 82 headed for the jetties. The sailboat in front of us needed to adjust course for him.

We came in Jacksonville Inlet just behind a warship headed for Mayport. The river was busy, and we dodged a 700+' oil tanker and one of the ubiquitous dredges in their never-ending battle to keep the channel at full depth. We briefly had a trio of dolphins on our bow; Louise snapped a photo as I was too busy on the bridge passing the tanker.

Dolphins in the St. Johns. This never gets old.

We had the hook down just in time for beer, and spent a very quiet night here. The occasional ship wake rolled Vector gently; at one point, two giant RoRo's passed each other just abreast of us. Our old friend the river cruise ship Independence passed us on its way to Jacksonville Landing, our own destination, for the night.

Ships that pass in the night. This photo does not do justice to the immense size of these car carriers.

In a few minutes we will weigh anchor and head upriver on the flood to downtown. If there is room at the Jacksonville Landing free docks we'll tie up there; otherwise we will continue upriver to the anchorage. It's a rainy miserable day so I'm hoping the docks are available. Even so, I am back in short sleeves for the first time in weeks.

Passing a dredge on its unending mission.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Low Country

We are southbound on the ICW, between McClellanville and Isle of Palms, South Carolina. My depth sounder says we're in 12' of water, but we're also at a high tide of +6', and we can see flooding that tells us there's an additional foot or so of floodwater as well. Considering today's low is -0.5' we'd be plowing the mud without the help.

This morning found us anchored in the South Santee River, just upriver of the ICW (map). We had the hook down there by 12:30, an early stop, because there are no anchorages between there and the start of the skinny water at McClellanville, which we'd have reached at a tide of less than two feet and falling.

Sunset from our quiet anchorage on the South Santee.

We left Butler Island early and pushed against the incoming tide all the way to Winyah Bay, a stark contrast from the nearly two-knot push we had coming into the anchorage Friday afternoon. As we made the turn past Georgetown the current slackened and then was behind us for the last couple of miles to the ICW turnoff. The several sailboats that spent the night in the anchorage with us all started later and were behind us in the ICW.

Duck hunting season is in full swing, and we saw quite a few boats decked out in swamp camo at the boat ramp near the wildlife preserve. We could also hear the reports of the hunters' guns throughout the afternoon at our anchorage. Today we passed a trio, guns ablaze.

We made it through several shallow trouble spots with plenty of tide help, including right at the turn into the ICW. And for a while we had enough current behind us to give me a false hope of passing McClellanville and making the Awendaw Creek anchorage before the tide dropped too far. Alas, we had current against us for much of the run as well, forcing us to take the Santee River anchorage instead at an early hour.  We anchored alone, but by the time night fell there were four sailboats with us.

Duck hunters and their stealthy craft. Note the flooding well back into the boat ramp parking lot.

After setting the hook we were a bit surprised to see several of the sailboats behind us continue on toward McClellanville. Surely at least some of them drew five feet or more. Even a large Fleming with perhaps a five foot draft passed us. The Fleming ended up stopping at the lone dock in McClellanville, just before the skinny stretch, but the sailboats continued and soon found trouble.

We were just on the edge of VHF range and heard several reports of plowing through mud or finding depths below 5' (at current tide level). We were very glad we made the decision to stop where we did. We also heard a report of a buoy off station, and a boat nearly going aground trying to honor it.

This morning we weighed anchor before sunrise, with just enough daylight to see the channel clearly, in order to have the best tide. We went through the shallowest section showing 9.5' at a tide of +5.5' (and rising), with maybe some flood water on top of that. I would guess three feet MLW, which corresponds to the year-old hydro surveys we have.

Gratuitous sunset pic.

At our current speed we will be in Charleston by 2pm. However there is one more shallow bit west of Isle of Palms which the hydrographic survey shows as "three to six feet" MLW. When we get to that stretch we will have just under three feet of tide, and falling. If we can't pick our way through, we'll be spending the night at Isle of Palms.

I booked a slip (the one and only which fits us) at the Charleston Maritime Center starting tomorrow night. So if we make it to the harbor today we'll be anchored tonight. The Maritime Center can only be entered close to slack tide, so we'll likely spend some time in the harbor no matter when we arrive.

In the morning I will call Komatsu to get a status on the fuel injectors, which I hope will be arriving tomorrow. We'll probably spend two nights at the dock, unless the injectors are delayed and we need to extend a bit.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Grand Strand

We hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving. We enjoyed a day of downtime along the Grand Strand in Myrtle Beach, and as I begin typing we are again southbound in the ICW there. How we came to be here for Thanksgiving is something of a tale in itself. A lot has transpired since last I posted here.

At that writing we were headed in to Wrightsville Beach, where we found a spot in a familiar anchorage (map). We splashed the tender and headed ashore for dinner at one of our old standbys, Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill. We strolled a couple of blocks, stopped into Robert's Grocery to refresh our memory, and then headed home.

A lovely sunset from our anchorage in Wrightsville Beach.

I spent all Monday morning on the phone trying to line up injectors, crush washers, and possible assistance. Unsurprisingly, neither the local Komatsu dealer nor the local Northern Lights dealer had the injectors in stock. Komatsu could get them for $390 apiece but on an unknown schedule. Northern Lights wanted $500 apiece and I could have them from Seattle before Thanksgiving for an extra hundred bucks. It looked like Monday would be optimistic for getting anything done.

In the meantime, Louise-the-weather-router was determining that our window to get to Charleston on the outside was rapidly closing. Having successfully made one outside run by changing sorbents every three hours (every third ER check), and with a route to Charleston hugging the coast with no need to pass around Frying Pan Shoals, we decided that continuing to Charleston would be our best bet.

We knew that in Charleston not only was there a Komatsu dealer, but also we'd already worked with the Lugger mechanic there from the local Northern Lights dealer, which is also a fuel injection shop. Plus there were plenty of decent restaurants options for Thanksgiving dinner, a free shuttle system, and easily accessible auto parts, hardware, and provisioning stores. Making progress while we still could seemed a sensible alternative to spending a full week in Wrightsville Beach, no matter how much we enjoy the Holiday Flotilla there.

A victim of Florence, we presume, we spotted this sailboat well aground on our way out of Wrightsville Beach.

I ordered two injectors and a bunch of washers from the Komatsu dealer for a delivery of Monday or Tuesday. I also spent an hour or so finding a place that still had availability for Thanksgiving and booked the extravagant buffet at Revival in the Vendue hotel. And I booked a week at the Harborage Marina, since neither the Maritime Center nor the City Marina had any availability.

We went back ashore Monday evening for a final dinner in town, only to discover that every single joint on the beach was closed except Tower 7. In hindsight we should have tendered up to the ICW instead and eaten at the Bridge Tender, but already ashore we just went back to Tower 7. Monday is half price fajita night and $3 draft XX, and we ate at the bar.

Tuesday morning we weighed anchor at 10am to time the tides on the Cape Fear River. We had a pleasant and uneventful cruise down the ICW, across Snow's Cut, and down the Cape Fear to the inlet at Bald Head Island. We had thought we might have to anchor for a couple of hours to adjust our arrival time, but we were within the window to just slow down a bit if needed, so we proceeded directly out the ship channel.

We did not get far. Between the weather routing we did Monday and our arrival at Bald Head on Tuesday, the system that was moving in had worsened. What Monday's forecast said would be 4-5 footers on nine seconds, just tolerable, in actuality turned out to be five footers on five seconds, too short and steep for comfort.

Esmeralde passed us shortly after leaving Wrightsville Beach, and sent us this nice photo. Photo: Bruce Beard.

The cat, who had been sleeping peacefully right up until the first violent pitches in the inlet, registered her objection by eliminating all over the boat through every orifice. Louise chased her all over the boat wielding a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of enzymes, while I remained at the conn, furiously adjusting RPMs and dodging and weaving in a futile attempt to keep things more settled until we could make the westward turn in the ocean, bringing the seas on the beam where the stabilizers could help.

After bashing through the inlet for twenty minutes and turning the boat to its final orientation, we finally conceded defeat and turned around, heading back in to Southport. We turned on to the ICW and proceeded south to the South Harbour Village Marina (map), where we snagged the last spot on the face dock for the night. Anchorages on this stretch of the ICW are few and far between.

Sunset over the ICW from our dock at South Harbor Marina.

South Harbour Village is not really close to anything at all in Southport, but right on the premises is one of the best Italian restaurants in the whole area, Joseph's Italian Bistro. After having lick our wounds from our offshore misadventure it was nice to enjoy a nice meal with a friendly glass of wine.

For the second time in as many days I now had to cancel several well-laid plans and go back to the drawing board. Now in Southport but with parts already ordered to Charleston, our only option was to continue south on the ICW. What would have been a single overnight on the ocean is a four day trip on the inside, and while we'd be in Charleston in plenty of time to get our parts, there was no way to make our Thanksgiving reservations. I was able to cancel just an hour or two before a cancellation fee would be due.

Looking ahead at where we could reasonably be in two days, the best option for Thanksgiving dinner turned out to be Myrtle Beach, where at least a couple of marinas are within easy reach of restaurants that were open. I was able to get a reservation at Ruth's Chris, which was serving a prix fixe of all the traditional holiday foods alongside their regular a la carte menu, and I called the Marina at Grande Dunes right next door to reserve Thursday night.

Unsurprisingly, the marina was closed Thursday and they were reluctant to take my reservation. I told them we'd need no help docking, but they needed us to fill out some paperwork and provide insurance and registration documents. I told them I could email all of that ahead of time and they put us down for a slip.

Early start. Sunrise from the upper helm as we shoved off from South Harbour Village.

Wednesday morning we got a very early start. The tide was falling and we needed to cross Lockwoods Folly before it dropped below about three feet. There is a section there where the depth is just five feet at low tide. Armed with the latest Corps of Engineers depth survey, we made it across without incident. Without the 7am start, we would have had to wait till nearly dark to cross the inlet, and it would have been a lost day.

The early start coupled with drama-free crossings of Lockwoods, Shallotte, and Little River inlets had us ahead of schedule, and the plotter said we would be at Grande Dunes mid-afternoon, even though we had planned to anchor before then. A full day of downtime in Myrtle Beach was attractive, and I called the marina to tell them we'd be there a day early and could do the paperwork in person.

Not long thereafter, I got a call from the Red Cross asking if I could deploy to Saipan for three weeks. We're far enough south now that this is not a problem for the boat, and Myrtle Beach would be a fine place for Louise to spend some time on her own, so I called the marina back to see about a long-term stay. It turned out that their monthly rate was pretty good at just $13 per foot, so I called the Red Cross back and told them if they could get me there from Myrtle Beach I would take the assignment.

Another victim of Florence, this shrimper fishes no more.

That was a tall order. Our own research showed no flights until Sunday, and that one went via London and Hong Kong. In any event, even though we had everything dialed in, while wheels were in motion the billet got filled by someone from Texas instead, likely a much easier set of flights. I told Deployment that if things changed, the arrangements we already made were good through Friday morning. This is the second false start this season; it's a bit frustrating.

Other than the mad scramble on the phone, the rest of the cruise was uneventful, and we made it through the infamous "Rock Pile" without incident. By 2:30 we were tied up in the north basin at Grande Dunes (map), and we put a scooter on the ground to get around. We ended up using it only to go to dinner and groceries Wednesday, as it was too chilly to want to just ride around casually on Thursday as I had hoped.

Instead I spent Thursday morning just walking around the Grande Dunes complex. The four-diamond hotel was serving a Thanksgiving brunch spread, and I enjoyed just walking the grounds. Venturing up the hill and across the highway gets you to a nice Lowes grocery store (no relation to the home improvement store) which even has a beer bar, as well as a very good pizza and Italian restaurant which was closed for the duration of our stay. I recognized the Lowes as the place we once fueled the bus coming through town.

This very detailed scale model of the hotel and marina was in the hotel lobby.

Thanksgiving dinner was relaxed and tasty. Ruth's Chris was nicely and tastefully decorated for the holidays, and the service was attentive. We both had leftovers, and we staggered home and into a tryptophan coma.

This morning I thought we might linger at the dock, but with outside temps in the 40s dissuading us from any outdoor activities, we opted to just get under way once we finished our coffee. Seeing a half dozen or so sailboats on the ICW, I am thankful to have a nice warm pilothouse in which to drive.

Apparently the same storm system that kept us off the ocean also dumped tons of moisture inland, and between when we arrived and when we departed the water has risen five feet. We passed a lot of docks and several yards under water. That's on top of all the damage still visible from Florence.

Vector tucked in at Grande Dunes. The ICW is actually to the right, past the seasonal cafe.

Update: We are now anchored behind Butler Island on the Waccamaw River (map). It's a familiar stop; we met up with friends here when we were rank newbies on our first trip north. Everything seems so much easier to us now. We are on track to be in Charleston on Monday. We're now changing sorbents every half hour, so it will not be a moment too soon.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

False start

It's been a full week since last I posted here, which was not my intent. In fact I should have been typing this Friday, when we had hoped to be under way to Jacksonville, but we had a bit of a false start which I will detail later in the post. At the moment, we are offshore in Onslow Bay, en route to Masonboro Inlet and Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

Last Sunday afternoon we arrived in Oriental, NC to a predictably crowded anchorage. The free docks were totally occupied. With light winds forecast from the north for the night, we eased up between two sailboats and dropped the hook in the harbor (map), setting a very short scope. After we got settled we called our friends Gayle and Bill on Spiraserpula, who were docked in a marina one creek over.

Vector at anchor in Oriental harbor. That's Flux, our new dink, at the dock.

Lots of businesses in Oriental are still closed from the storms, including most of the restaurants in the harbor area. The ones that have since reopened, though, were not open on a Sunday evening at this time of year. Fortunately our friends were able to get a courtesy car from their marina, and picked us up at the dinghy dock. They took us to a casual Italian place they knew, about 13 miles away. The place was run by a family of New Jersey transplants and thus had a very familiar feel.

We enjoyed dinner and drinks and had a great time catching up. The last time we saw them was a very brief visit aboard their boat in Georgetown, Bahamas back in March. They dropped us back at the dinghy dock after a very nice evening, and we said our goodbyes, hoping to connect again perhaps in Florida.

In the morning we headed back ashore to stroll the town in the daylight. The Provision Company marine and general store is open for business, as is the restaurant and top floor of the Oriental Hotel. The commercial docks seem to be humming along. Everything else is shuttered, including local coffee shop and social gathering spot The Bean and the canonical downtown restaurant, M&M. Construction and repair is ongoing throughout the town.

We can see why Oriental is so popular with cruisers, but this visit confirmed what we long suspected: it's a very tight squeeze for Vector, unless we want to spring big bucks for one of the handful of docks that can fit us. We'll not likely return unless we again have friends in town to visit.

This pier at Lou Mac Park, on the Neuse, was intact before the storms.

Monday evening's forecast was for 30kt winds clocking through several points of the compass, and we certainly could not stay in our tight spot in Oriental. After our stroll we weighed anchor and crossed the Neuse to Adams Creek and the ICW southbound. We considered dropping the hook for the big blow in a very secure and familiar spot in Adams Creek, but Bill and Gayle had told us that Beaufort had cleaned all the derelict boats and illegal moorings out of the city anchorage, and we decided to head there instead to see if we could find a spot. The last time we were there we had to settle for a dock and only stayed one night.

We came into town via the eastern route past Town Creek, passing under the new highrise bridge that was under construction the last time we passed. The highrise bridge bypasses the old draw bridge, which by rights should have been locked open, as it has been since about January. When we arrived, however, we found a crew working on dismantling the bridge and it was closed; we had to call for an opening, which happens on the half hour, and we ended up station-keeping in Town Creek for fifteen minutes.

While we were hanging out, occasionally maneuvering against an outgoing current, I whiled away the time by scanning the marinas in the basin with my binoculars. In very short order I spotted a familiar boat, the Nordhavn 50 Sea Turtle, belonging to Michel and Caroline, whom we had met in the Bahamas. We got no answer on the radio, so I dropped them a note.

Within a half hour we had the anchor down in Taylor Creek across from the Beaufort town docks (map). We dropped in the middle of a trio of sailboats, an appropriate distance from each, and set out 60' of chain in about ten feet of water, an amount appropriate for the forecast gusts to 40 or so. We splashed the tender and headed ashore for dinner, having a somewhat disappointing experience at Ribeyes right on Front Street.

Vector as seen from the Beaufort dinghy dock. Behind her you can see the wild horses on Carrot Island.

Winds were still light and the harbor was calm when we returned to Vector, and we settled in to our chairs to catch up on email, news, and social media. And that's where we were sitting when we were startled by a blast from one of those handheld, canned-air horns close aboard, followed by a spotlight in our window. We stepped out on deck to find ourselves just a few yards from one of the aforementioned sailboats, and a few more yards from another. The latter skipper was the one with the horn, all in a panic and certain we were dragging anchor.

Of course we were not dragging anchor, and if we had been, a klaxon sound from the helm would let us know in short order. Nevertheless Louise ran up to the pilothouse to check the plotter and confirm this. What had, in fact, happened, was that the current reversed, as expected, carrying Vector almost to the full extent of her chain in the opposite direction from when we anchored.

You'd think that the same current would also be carrying the two sailboats to the opposite ends of their respective swing circles, too. But power boats and sailboats lie to their anchors quite differently, and Vector often lies differently from lighter, shallower power boats too. In this case the current had carried Vector across her circle, while the two much lighter and sleeker sailboats had not yet begun to move, held in place by the weight of their chains and the wind, which opposed the current.

While we know we often lie somewhat differently from sailboats, usually we can count on at least some movement in generally the right direction, but, clearly, in this anchorage and these conditions we could not. Waiting until the current picked up, or the forecast winds from a different direction arrived, would solve the problem, but not in time.

The unwritten rule of anchorages is that in case of conflict, the newcomer must move, and that was us. So at 9:30, in the dark, on a couple of glasses of wine, we weighed anchor to re-set closer to the channel. We'd thus be swinging out over the channel, but not enough to impede traffic in this lightly-used area.

That in itself proved something of a challenge, as the current now had us squarely over our own anchor, and backing up enough to retrieve it cleanly would have me backing right into a sailboat. Between the current, the wind, the other two boats, and the thick mud exerting plenty of grip on the anchor, it took every last bit of boat-handling skill I had, and all 370 engine horses, to get the anchor up and the boat free and clear without hitting anything. We had a marital moment as Louise, on the bow, was giving me maneuvering instructions with which I could not comply, as she tried valiantly to raise the anchor.

Once we got re-set all was well, although in the process the guy with the air horn actually weighed anchor and moved to the other end of the anchorage. He either never believed that we were not actually dragging (and who would want to anchor next to a dragging boat in a 40kt storm), or else the aggressive maneuvering that it required to avoid hitting his neighbor suggested to him that I can't drive. Oh well, good riddance. The other guy, the one we came closest to, came by the next day to thank us and check on things.

The forecast storm arrived overnight, and our anchor did not move an inch from its new location, even though we actually tightened scope to just 50'. We battened everything down before turning in, and the wind was already howling at 25 or so when I went to bed. In the wee hours, every cell phone in the boat sounded an alarm for a tornado warning -- take cover immediately. Not much you can do on a boat, and we're safest below decks so we just went back to bed. The tornado touched down about four miles from us, in Atlantic Beach, knocking out power. Our anemometer recorded our strongest gust at 43mph.

When we first arrived in Beaufort we were not sure when we would be leaving. We prefer to travel out in the ocean from here, but if a decent weather window was not forthcoming within the week, we agreed to make progress down the ICW. By Tuesday the forecast was showing a good possibility of an outside window by the weekend, and we opted to stay in town and wait for it. That let us make dinner plans with Caroline and Michel, who were also waiting for an outside window, for Wednesday, and massage appointments for Thursday afternoon.

Tuesday's dinner at Black Sheep was a much more pleasant experience than the previous evening (the well-rated venue is dark Mondays), and Wednesday we hoofed it across town for cocktails aboard Sea Turtle before strolling to their excellent choice of restaurant, Beaufort Grocery. Moonrakers and Clawsons rounded out our dining experiences during our stay. We were fortunate to see the Shackleford Horses across from us on Carrot Island in the Rachel Carson Reserve, and we also had a number of dolphins visit us in the harbor.

Wild horses of Shackleford Banks as seen from our aft deck. They only appeared one day.

Michel and I spent a good deal of time Wednesday evening discussing our common propulsion engine, the Lugger 6108. Few pleasure boats have this engine, and Nordhavn selected it for their N50 model. In what would later prove to be somewhat ironic, I spent some time explaining how to recognize Komatsu part numbers in the Lugger parts book, since Komatsu, who made the base engine, often has the parts cheaper and closer than Lugger.

I spent several hours across our stay exploring the whole town on foot, which is how I came across the massage therapist. We were happy she had a cancellation and was able to get us both in on Thursday. While Louise was on the table I hoofed it the mile and a half to the Piggly Wiggly for some provisions for the offshore run, including replenishing the all-important beer supply. And while I was on the table she found a place for a haircut.

Friday the anchorage cleared out. A half dozen sailboats, including our neighbor, were headed to the Caribbean on a rhumb line; they called themselves the Back Street Pub Rally after the boater-bar in town where they had been planning over beers. We wished them fair winds and following seas. We might take the same path the next time we try for the Caribbean; easting from the Bahamas was more bashing into head seas than we cared for.

Careful planning for the best offshore weather as well as an optimal arrival time in either Jacksonville or Charleston, our bailout option exactly one day earlier, suggested a nighttime departure, and so we enjoyed Friday in town and one last meal ashore. I spent Friday morning changing the main engine oil; we were a tad past due already, and 55 hours to Jacksonville would have put us unacceptably over. I had to call the Carquest in town to get their last two gallons of Delo 400 as I was a bit short, and their driver met me with it at the dinghy dock.

While I was working on the engine I kept getting a strong whiff of diesel, and an inspection of the injector lines revealed one of the injectors to be leaking. We check the engine every hour under way, and so this developed during or since the short run from Oriental. We've seen it before; the return line cracks at the injector body from work-hardening. The only fix is to replace the injector.

The last time this happened, under way to Charleston from Fort Lauderdale, the leak was a slow seep and I was able to get all of it with a small bit of sorbent material crammed into the injector well until the next scheduled engine service in Charleston. We reasoned we could do the same thing this time, perhaps changing the sorbent a few times under way, and deal with replacing the injector in Florida.

For our overnight watch schedule to work out, Louise needs to go to bed by 8pm, and so we weighed anchor at 7:20 and negotiated our way through the unlit buoys out to the ship channel and out to sea. With over a knot of outgoing current against four-foot easterly seas, the ride out the inlet was pretty violent, with the boat heaving up and down, and the cat, well, heaving. We knew it would get better after turning south and so we pressed on, our egress somewhat complicated by the fact that the Coast Guard has moved all the buoys but NOAA has not updated the chart.

Sure enough, things were much improved after turning southwest toward Frying Pan Shoals. Conditions were just barely acceptable to continue, knowing that the forecast called for steady improvement over the following two days. Louise went below to do the engine room check and go to bed. In a few minutes she reappeared in the pilothouse with bad news: the injector leak was worse than expected, and much, much faster than the last time.

I went below to have a look and to change the sorbents. We had leaked perhaps a teaspoon or so in just 45 minutes. This immediately brought to mind three questions not easily answered in a heaving seaway on a night watch:

  1. Was this a different kind of leak than we thought, perhaps in the supply (high pressure) side of the system rather than the return?
  2. Even in the return line, could the injector survive another 54 hours of engine vibration without the return line cracking through altogether, possibly stopping us in our tracks fifty miles offshore?
  3. Could we find a way to deal with as much as a pint or more of leaked fuel in a safe and responsible way?

After careful consideration we decided the safest course of action was to turn around and return to Beaufort, where we knew we could get ashore and where there is a boatyard, should we need one, who could help us deal with the problem. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and had we known then what we know now, we would have continued west-southwest and diverted to Masonboro inlet, our other bail-out option, some nine more hours of travel, rather than reversed course.

What took us 45 minutes with the current behind us now took 1:15 with it against us, and we were back in the anchorage by 9:20. In those two hours another boat had come in and taken our spot, and we had to drop even closer to the channel than before, but we found enough room and settled in for the night.

I spent the entire day yesterday working the problem. I carefully inspected the injector with a bright light, an inspection mirror, and swabs to determine that, yes, the leak was in the expected spot in the return line. And I called around to the Komatsu and Lugger dealers to see if I could find a replacement, but, unsurprisingly, no parts departments are open until Monday. We never even splashed the tender, opting instead to proceed with the dinner menu we had planned for under way.

Our previous leaking injector, showing the weak point where the leak develops.

Just before dinner time we got a call on the radio from Bill and Gayle aboard Spiraserpula, who were just coming into the anchorage. It caught me off guard because I thought I heard them docking earlier in the day over in Moorehead City; it turned out they were just fueling up there. Had we not already had the tender well-secured on deck (we use extra tie-downs offshore) and dinner already on the stove we would have tried to get together once again, but with a very early start this morning that seemed a bridge too far. It's another fact of cruising that you will see folks you know out on the water but just out of practical reach, with only a chat on the radio to connect.

What I learned yesterday from researching injectors was that there is no Komatsu dealer anywhere near Beaufort, the closest being some 40 miles away. And the nearby Northern Lights dealer, who could get us Lugger parts, is not listed as providing Lugger service. There are, however, two Lugger service dealers and a Komatsu dealer in Wilmington.

Knowing we could make no parts progress until tomorrow, and having a good outside window still today, we decided we could handle the leakage and tolerate the risk on the 70-mile daytime run to Wrightsville Beach, a Wilmington suburb. That would put us closer to the parts we need and also make some more progress southbound. And, we'd had our fill of Beaufort for this visit; if we remained, we'd likely be there through the holiday.

We weighed anchor this morning in the pre-dawn hours, and made our way down the channel at first light. We again had a knot of current behind us, but with outside seas on a longer period we had a smooth ride out the inlet and the cat-alarm remained silent. As I type we are abreast of Figure Eight Island and have about an hour to the sea buoy.

Sea Turtle left on Friday and is likely already to Florida, and we heard Spiraserpula come out behind us this morning. They had Masonboro as a bailout option but from their track and radio transmissions I see they are headed past Frying Pan with a goal of St. Marys. Perhaps we'll run into either of these boats somewhere in Florida.

It's been a good ride out here today and I anticipate having the anchor down in Wrightsville Beach by 5:00 beer hour. We'll head ashore for dinner in this familiar place. I've already booked Thanksgiving dinner at The Bridge Tender Restaurant. Long-time readers may remember we did all this once before, after our very first outside passage. I've changed the sorbents twice and the current set should last us all the way in. In the morning, I'll be on the hunt for an injector.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

South bound and down

We are under way across the Pamlico River, headed for the Hobucken Cut. It's a sunny but crisp day; last night temperatures dropped into the low 30s, and this morning we've just clawed our way up out of the 40s. Upriver from us I can see the tug Pamlico headed downriver. We see Pamlico on almost every ICW trip, and one time I posted about it and we got a blog comment from the skipper's wife.

Friday morning we had a leisurely coffee and checked the weather, weighing anchor around 8:40. In hindsight we should have gotten an earlier start, but we were still thinking conditions would improve on the Albemarle Sound throughout the morning. The giant conga line of smaller boats passing us and heading out into the sound without complaint informed us that things were better than forecast.

We had an uneventful crossing of the sound and after a couple of hours were in the relative calm of the Alligator River, with light rain and fog on and off. The Alligator is the first place we ever used our automated foghorn, five years ago. By a coincidence of timing we drove straight through the Alligator River Bridge without having to slow down as it was opening for two boats ahead of us.

All of that put us at the start of the Alligator-Pungo canal around 2:40, which gave us a dilemma. We could make it an early day and anchor in the Alligator, leaving the canal for Saturday morning, or we could push through, knowing the sun would set while we were still in the canal and that we'd be anchoring at the other end in the very last bit of twilight.

What essentially made the decision for us was the absolute lack of any cellular connectivity at the Alligator end of the canal. We have devices aboard from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, and none of them had any signal at all. Not being able to even pull up a weather forecast is never our first choice when it comes to overnight stops.

We opted to press on, which later had me running the throttle up to 1600 rpm for most of the transit when we encountered some adverse current. We did emerge from the canal into the Pungo River with just minutes of twilight to spare, neck on neck with a pair of sailboats. All three of us dropped the hook in the Pungo, not far from the canal (map).

Sunset on the Alligator-Pungo Canal.

One consequence of no cell signal at the decision point was that I could not call the Dowry Creek Marina in Belhaven to get the status of the heretofore broken fuel pump. We did not regain signal until the very end of the canal, after the marina closed for the day. So I called first thing yesterday morning while we were sipping our coffee. Sadly, they reported that the pump was still broken and that they were expecting a technician later in the day.

Bearing in mind they'd already offered me an additional discount on the fuel for holding off and fueling with them, I now asked if they would discount dockage while we waited on the pump repair. They immediately offered to let us tie up for free, only charging us for power -- they really wanted to make that $3,400 fuel sale. That sounded good to us, especially since we already had the genny running to get some heat.

With cold forecast for the whole day (in addition to overnight), we weighed anchor and motored the 45 minutes to the marina, where we tied up on the inside of the face dock (map) in about 20kt of wind. With 50 amps of 250v and a water spigot, Louise ran a few loads of wash while we waited on the fuel pump repairs.

Meanwhile, I trundled our pile of "give away to other boaters" stuff over to the clubhouse, where they have a spot for such items. The boater pile is distinct from the generic give-away pile, most of which went to Goodwill while we were in Great Bridge. And I signed up for the courtesy car at dinner time, in case we ended up spending the night. I have to say, everyone at this family-owned marina was friendly and helpful.

As it turned out, the pump was not repaired until 4pm, and they fueled a sailboat to about 4:15. It takes us a good two hours to fuel, so we'd be there overnight in any case. Even though 4:15 was a late start, we opted to fuel rather than wait to the morning, for two reasons. One was that the pump tech was still on site, in case there was a problem. The other being that we'd have more departure options if we did not need to spend a couple of hours of the morning fueling.

We got off to an auspicious start, with the delivery rate going up as high as 16gpm once we got Vector leaned over a bit to port. But by the time we started fueling the center tank, perhaps 400 gallons in, the rate had dropped to less than ten and they stopped the pump to change filters. There were some hiccups getting the pump restarted, and for a brief while we worried we'd be spending the night with a significant list to port. Fortunately, it cleared up soon afterward.

Between the filter change, the hiccups, and the slower rate for a while, we did not finish fueling until 6:20. We paid for the fuel and got the keys to the courtesy car, which turned out to be a very nice Mercedes, and headed off to dinner. Our goal was the Tavern at Jack's Neck, in downtown Belhaven some eight miles away, where Jeff, one of the dockhands, works evenings as the bartender.

Our nicest courtesy car to date, parked in downtown Belhaven.

We were looking forward to it; the place had four and a half stars on Yelp, and Jeff had rattled off an impressive list of drafts when I asked him back at the marina. We parked the car and walked to the door where we were stopped in our tracks by the hostess, who informed us they were closed. It seems they did not get their gas delivery and the kitchen literally ran out of gas in the middle of the dinner service.

She allowed that the bar was open and they could make us a salad, but that had little appeal. We went in just to say hello to Jeff, and we passed a table of other boaters from the marina who were just about to dig into their pizzas, some of the last to come out of the kitchen. Jeff recommended Fish Hooks just around the corner as an alternative.

We had a decent meal at Fish Hooks, and they at least had a bar, albeit with no draft beer. But the place was completely charmless, with harsh, bright, fluorescent lighting throughout, and vinyl tablecloths reminiscent of cheap diner. Still, we were glad there was at least one other place even open; some of the businesses in town have still not recovered from the one-two punch of hurricanes Florence and Michael.

Vector at the dock in Belhaven.

Our friends Bill and Gayle on the sailing catamaran Spiraserpula have been in Oriental, NC, replacing their generator. After getting confirmation this morning that they would still be there tonight, we opted to drop lines first thing and make the run all the way to Oriental today. That said, I have no clue where we will be able to tie up or anchor there.

Oriental calls itself the sailing capital of North Carolina, and it also caters to cruisers and in particular the semi-annual ICW snowbird migration. We've passed it a dozen times, and yet we've never stopped. That's principally because, for all its cruiser-friendliness, there are few places there where a 52' boat with a 6' draft can go. We can only enter the very tip of the harbor, and not any of the four creeks closest to town.

There is a free dock right downtown, but there is only enough depth and room for Vector on one side, and the odds that either side of the dock will be open on any given evening in the middle of the migration are low. And the only anchorage we can access is very tight and somewhat exposed. With a 3:30ish arrival this afternoon I am not holding out a lot of hope.

We'll see what we can find when we arrive, even it that's one of the two or maybe three marinas with enough depth for us. If we can't squeeze into Oriental, we'll still have enough daylight to cross the river to one of our old stand-bys, but it would mean skipping a visit with our friends.

Thursday, November 8, 2018


We are underway southbound on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, approaching Coinjock, NC. Navigating the ICW requires more attention than open water and I am only able to type sporadically. At the moment we are stuck in a very narrow channel behind a tug and barge going just 4.1 knots, which is more or less our minimum steerage speed.

We arrived at the free docks in Portsmouth right at 5pm Sunday, just before sunset. Unfortunately, the north ferry landing docks are now in such bad condition that the city has closed all but a few feet of them, with no room for Vector. Long-time readers may remember we rode out Hurricane Arthur at one of these docks.

The pointy end of battleship Wisconsin, BB-64, permanently moored in Norfolk as a museum.

Instead we proceeded to the High Street Landing docks. Unsurprisingly, with the north docks unusable, the High Street Basin was full. We entered the basin to read the signage on the one available spot, which appeared to indicate it was reserved for a schooner of some sort. Reluctantly we headed back out into the Elizabeth River to backtrack to the Hospital Point anchorage.

As we were rounding the turn back into the river, we noticed there was room for us on the river side of the bulkhead but still inside the park. There were no signs prohibiting it, and the bulkhead sported both pilings and cleats. With no one around to ask permission, we opted to ask forgiveness, if needed, instead, and tied to the bulkhead (map). It was comfortable and secure, and we did not have to deal with the issue of the inside docks being awash at high tide.

High Street Basin with docks awash. Vector is at top right, across the bulkhead.

The High Street landing is actually closer to downtown than the north landing, and we strolled to dinner at Cancun Fiesta. Our previous favorites in Portsmouth have all closed since our last stop here three years ago.

The weather Monday was absolutely perfect, warm and dry and a refreshing change from the cold we've been experiencing. The forecast for Tuesday was even nicer, right up until dinnertime when it would be raining. While we had only planned for two nights in Portsmouth, we decided to extend to three (the limit at the free dock) so we could have dinner at the Town Point Club across the river in Norfolk.

I spent Monday strolling Portsmouth. My first stop was the North Landing visitor center to "sign in" for our stay. The same volunteer that has checked us in for years is still there; I asked her if we were OK on the outside dock and she basically shrugged. By the end of the day there was plenty of room inside the basin, but with no one really caring, we just stayed where we were.

Today's view as I began typing. Four knots behind this scrap metal barge.

Downtown Portsmouth has been struggling to reinvent itself for as long as we've been stopping here. This visit was no different; the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame across the street from the Children's Museum has folded and left an empty building, and several restaurants have changed hands or closed altogether. High street, the main drag, is a disorganized mix of boarded-up storefronts and going concerns.

Toward the end of my walk I ran into Bruce and Dorsey, another couple southbound on a trawler, walking their two adorable dogs. I recognized them from recent posts on Facebook where we had exchanged comments about routes and conditions. We had a nice chat as we strolled and they gave me a quick tour of Esmeralde, their American Tug, which is a model we had seriously looked into when we were doing our research, even getting a tour of the factory near Anacortes.

At least one of our old stand-bys, the Bier Garden, is still in business, and we ended up there for dinner after more recent arrival Olde Towne Public House, while highly rated, proved both too noisy and too cold to be comfortable. German food is never my first choice, but it's good here and they have a nice selection of drafts.

I spotted this funky bike rack in Norfolk, made to look like Kryptonite bike locks.

Tuesday was positively balmy and I decided to head across the river to Norfolk early in the day to explore. A round-trip ticket on the ferry is $4, and a day pass is only $0.50 more. I was pleasantly surprised by the total makeover of the Waterside complex into an eclectic waterfront dining and cocktail venue, and the main downtown is much more vibrant than I remember it. There is even a new light rail system.

I walked as far as the spiffy MacArthur Center Mall, where I found nothing I needed but enjoyed strolling around. Afterward I walked through its namesake General Douglas MacArthur Memorial across the street, housed in the historic old City Hall and Courthouse building. The memorial and its exhibits are very well done.

Front of the MacArthur Memorial.

I stopped in to the whizzy new Hilton hotel with its soaring public spaces, and scoped out a mostly indoor route from the ferry dock to the Town Point Club in case it was pouring at dinner time. I ended by walking past the historic battleship Wisconsin and the bulk of Town Point Park. The Royal Princess cruise ship was docked at the cruise terminal all day, which accounted for heavier-than-normal crowds downtown, at the battleship, and at the MacArthur Memorial.

In the evening we returned to Norfolk and had our afternoon beer at the Starr Hill bar in the Waterside complex before strolling the town a bit. We had a nice dinner at the Town Point Club, a much nicer experience than we had in DC. Somehow we managed to escape the rain altogether, even though it had been pouring just before we left the boat to board the ferry.

Royal Princess and downtown Norfolk, as seen from the ferry.

One of the things I did in Portsmouth was to scan the fuel prices ahead of us. Traditionally the best prices have been in Chesapeake at the Top Rack marina, or a penny more at Atlantic Yacht Basin in Great Bridge. But on this trip I found a better price in Bellhaven, which is further south on the inside route. We typically don't go that way, preferring the Pamlico Sound route, but on this trip weather will keep us inside anyway.

When I called the fuel dock in Bellhaven they told me the pump was actually broken and should be fixed in the next day or two. When I told them I could not take the chance and would fuel in Chesapeake, they offered me another $0.05 per gallon discount, which amounts to $60 on our fill-up, and a full $130 less than Chesapeake. That was a fair offer, and it meant we would not need to stop in Chesapeake on our way out of Portsmouth.

Vector docked in front of High Street Landing in Portsmouth.

Yesterday we dropped lines at a very leisurely 10am for the short, ten-mile run to Great Bridge. There's really no good stop south of there anyway, and we reasoned that we had one more chance to decided to fuel at Atlantic instead if we needed to. And besides that, no trip through here is complete for us without a stop at El Toro Loco Mexican restaurant, a block from the dock.

We ended up waiting a full hour to lock through at the Great Bridge Lock, but were rewarded with a graceful bald eagle soaring above us looking for lunch. We made sure the cat was below decks. Even so, we were tied up to the bulkhead in Great Bridge (map) in plenty of time to put a scooter on the ground for some errands, again in near-perfect weather.

A calm cruise on the ICW, as measured by the cat index.

I trundled seven gallons of used motor oil over to Auto Zone for disposal, and made a stop at the brand new Kroger grocery (which is actually walking distance from the dock). We rode two-up out to Joann's for some necessary quilting supplies for Louise, and dropped off two bags of stuff at Goodwill on the way. And I picked up two gallons of gasoline for the tender.

We had the scooter back on deck before dinner time. A shared order of fajitas with extra tortillas, two baskets of chips and salsa, and A 60-oz pitcher of Dos Equis Ambar came to twenty bucks, which is one reason we like this joint so much. And their food is delicious. A for-lease sign outside the building suggests to us they may not be here the next time we come through. We'll have to try the Italian bistro, Vino, even closer to the dock.

This morning we dropped lines in time to make the 9am hourly opening of the Great Bridge bridge. While we were having our coffee, the sailboat behind us tried to make it off the dock for the 8am opening, but the wind had him so badly pinned to the dock he had great difficulty doing so. He waited until 7:58 to even try, which was short-sighted. Had I known earlier, I could have showed him how to rig a spring line to easily pivot away from the dock.

Vector at High Street Landing, Portsmouth, with the ever-busy naval shipyard in the background.

He made it out into the channel just in time to very nearly hit the bridge as it was closing ahead of him. Fortunately he stopped in time, but then had to wait another hour. He had the sense to cast off fifteen minutes early for the next opening, and went through ahead of us. We and seven other boats all passed him, and as he arrived at the next bridge he was very careful to alert the tender of his presence, stating he had already had two close calls. Lesson learned, we hope.

The sheer number of boats passing through the bridges with us reveals that we are in the midst of the great annual southbound migration. We're almost never in step with the herd, and so it is a bit of a shock to our system. Our last time through we were perhaps three weeks later, which made a big difference. We saw a lot of stupidity on the water and we heard even more on the radio.

We made our last drawbridge, at North Landing, at the 10am opening, just squeezing through at 10:06 after running the five statute miles from Centerville Turnpike at 2200 rpm. The other seven boats all went through ahead of us and soon left us in the dust. But as these things go, it was not long before the passel of boats from the 10:30 opening also passed us on the water, one at a time.

Most were respectful, but we did get a couple of good-sized wakes. It was actually one of the more respectful skippers, in an 80' Ocean Alexander named Yolo, whom we passed a while later because he was hard aground outside the channel on the way into Coinjock. Last we could hear, TowboatUS was still trying to get him free. I am guessing they missed the famous Coinjock prime rib.

Coinjock-style mooring. Note the pulpit of the boat at right extending past the transom of the one on left.

Speaking of Coinjock, the vast majority of the boats who passed us stopped there, and I am sure quite a few behind us did, as well. I'm not sure what the magic draw is here; the prime rib is acceptable but nothing special, and the dockage rate is high for what it is. Beyond that, they measure you and charge for every last inch, even though they will dock you so that your anchor pulpit overhangs the boat ahead of you. And to top it off, when they fill up they start rafting. It's not for us.

Boats rafted up at Coinjock. I don't think there is any discount.

Our new friends Dorsey and Bruce were there when we went by (they reported that last night's prime rib was excellent) and I snapped a couple of photos of Esmeralde as we went by. I'm sure they will pass us tomorrow on our way south. Shortly after clearing past Coinjock I was able to pass the tug and barge we were behind on the way in.

Esmeralde. Dorsey appeared on deck right after I snapped this.

Update: We are now anchored in the North River, a familiar place. We tucked in as tight as we could to the eastern shore (map) to have the calmest conditions. Not long after dropping the hook, a Nordhavn 55, Mermaid Monster, passed us and headed out into Albermarle Sound; a braver skipper than I for piloting into the Alligator River after dark.

Tomorrow we will weigh anchor and cross Albemarle Sound on our way to the Alligator River. Whether we get underway first thing, or wait until afternoon will depend on the weather forecast. At this writing the sound is actually forecast to get better toward the afternoon. Tomorrow night we should be anchored at one end or the other of the Alligator-Pungo Canal.

Passing a scrap metal scow close aboard.