Saturday, July 26, 2014

Upper West Side

We are anchored in the Hudson River, just north of Pier "i" off W. 70th and south of a set of abandoned dolphins off W. 72nd (map).  We are actually at the south end of a designated "special" anchorage, and north of the dolphins are fixed moorings for the 79th Street Boat Basin.  The anchorage continues north of the basin all the way to 110th, with more fixed moorings a good part of that distance.

The "special anchorage" designation, which I've mentioned briefly before, just means we do not need to display a day shape or an anchor light here.  While I've opted to leave the day shape stowed -- many recreational boats never show them anyway, despite it being compulsory -- we are nevertheless turning on the anchor light at night, out of an excess of caution.  Not that it's at all dark here -- this is New York City.

The special designation, one of only a handful around the country, is really here, as is often the case, at the request of the city, to accommodate their mooring balls.  Outside of a special anchorage, a fixed mooring does not confer any exemption to the rule to display anchor lights and day shapes while moored, and boaters who take a seasonal mooring, in many cases in absentia, prefer not to hassle with having to have an anchor light.

We're here because the marina in Hoboken was unable to accommodate us.  It's a tiny marina, still recovering from Sandy, with only one T-head that could fit us, which is occupied.  I next called the 79th Street Boat Basin here, to see what was available.  As a municipal facility (another Robert Moses public works project, back in the 30s), all transient space here is first-come, first served.

Moorings are $30 per day, and include the use of the dinghy dock and some limited shore-side facilities.  Unfortunately, there is a strict 40' limit on moorings.  The staffer who answered the phone told me we were free to anchor, and just pay the daily $26 fee for dinghy landing and facility access.  She informed me that the north moorings were for sailboats and the south ones for power vessels, and suggested we drop the hook closer to the powerboat moorings for a shorter dinghy ride.

We found no room for us between the moorings and the dolphins, but reasoned we could just fit in this spot.  It took us three tries to get the anchor to set exactly where we wanted it, so that we could swing all the way around without running aground, hitting a dolphin, or hitting the city's shiny new Pier-i public facility.  As it is, when we are at max ebb with a current of over two knots, we are just a hundred feet from the pier.  It's a great spot for people watching, as the park is very popular.

Just north of the dolphins is a free kayak rental dock, run by the city's "Downtown Boathouse."  The kayaks were locked when we dropped the hook, but they opened at 10 this morning and almost immediately had every boat in the water.  Many paddled out to look Vector over, until one of the employees paddled out to clarify to customers that we were actually out past the limit of where they wanted the boats to go.  Mike-the-kayak-guy paddled over to us to apologize for the intrusion, but it was really not an issue.  He was very nice, and even offered to tow a kayak out to us if we wanted to go for a spin.  This after I admitted we envied their little dock, close to Vector and also close to the well-rated Pier-i Cafe.

Free kayak rental, with Riverside Park's greenway, baseball backstop, and pedestrian/bicycle path in the background.  The dolphins are just a few of the many ruins of wharves gone by that dot the waterfront on both sides of the river.

We thought about dropping the tender last night and heading ashore, and seeing the crowd at the aforementioned cafe enjoying the weather with al fresco dining added to the temptation.  We decided instead to save the $26 dinghy fee for the evening and just eat on deck, with only a slightly different view.  In part, that's because we had something of a late arrival.

World Trade Center, the Battery, and the Financial District from New York Harbor. Today's cover photo is from a bit further out, with a Staten Island Ferry inbound.

Yesterday's cruise was magnificent.  We weighed anchor around 3pm, shortly after finally hearing back from the Hoboken marina and speaking to the folks here at 79th Street.  I had figured, being on a rising tide from 2:30 onward, to have some help upriver, but I actually fought the current the whole way, adding some delay to our late start.  That actually made for a much slower cruise, though, which gave us more time to take in all the sights.

"Liberty Lighting the World"

Main immigration building on Ellis Island.

After leaving Gravesend Bay we passed beneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the unofficial gateway to New York Harbor.  While dodging and weaving a bit around the anchored ships and barges (we opted to stay out of the main channel), we passed in succession the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governors Island, the East River (with a view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges), lower Manhattan and the financial district, Jersey City, Hoboken (with my Alma Mater, Stevens Tech), the Intrepid Sea and Air museum, and the cruise terminal, which was vacant when we passed but sported an enormous NCL liner today.

Castle Williams on Governors Island.  I could only look down on this island from the top of the World Trade Center in my youth, when it was restricted to Coast Guard personnel.  Now it's a park and historic monument.

The Brooklyn Bridge, and, behind it, the Manhattan Bridge.

My alma mater, Stevens Institute of Technology, on Castle Point, Hoboken.

We also passed more ferries than I could count (there was not a single operating ferry when I left this area save one, the Staten Island Ferry, and now there are dozens of lines going every possible direction), a number of sailboats out for a day sail, plenty of law enforcement, and lots of commercial traffic.  What struck me the most, having lived here for two decades, is how vibrant the riverfront is now on both sides of the Hudson.  It's a stark contrast to the unappealing, run-down, industrial wasteland that lined both banks three decades ago.

Classic Manhattan skyline, with people enjoying the waterfront.

On a pleasant Friday afternoon, the waterfront was full of people, dining or drinking at many outdoor venues, strolling the nice promenades, or availing themselves of tourist attractions such as the Jet Boat tour, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Intrepid.  On such a lovely day, I could even see myself coming back someday.

Today our plan was to drop the tender, go ashore, and maybe walk around the neighborhood a little  Growing up here, it's a bit of a busman's holiday to try to see, say, the American Museum of Natural History, the Hayden Planetarium, or any of a half dozen other points of interest an easy walk from here.  About the middle of my second cup of coffee, though, just before Mike paddled over to chat us up, my shoulder went into a spasm that had me writhing on the floor in pain.  It's an old problem -- I've been doing battle with this shoulder for years -- but it was an inopportune time.  For one, I had my mouth all set for a classic New York bagel for breakfast, but that was now out of the question.

I've been popping ibuprofen all day, and between ice, massage, and a heating pad I can now sit up straight, and walk, and have recovered a good deal of my range of motion.  But I've been confined to the boat all day, mostly in my chair, and even typing is an effort.  By 5pm I was in good enough shape to get the tender in the water, so at least we could go to dinner.

This is a very tony area -- just inshore of us are a quartet of Trump luxury condo towers, and even in the older brownstone buildings to the north, this is the kind of neighborhood where many buildings have a doorman.  So, unsurprisingly, excellent restaurants abound just a block or two east of Riverside Drive.  Riverside park, once a bleak and graffiti-laden war zone, is again the lively and well-appreciated recreational space it was in its heyday.  We walked to a nice local Italian place on Amsterdam at 83rd -- I felt right at home.  On the way back we walked right through the Boat Basin Cafe, which was packed on a pleasant Saturday evening.

Trump Place condos overlooking our snug spot.  That's Pier-i to the right, just 100' away when I snapped this, with the Pier-i Cafe at the landward end, amidst Riverside Park south.  The elevated road is Henry Hudson Parkway, whose road surface is quite noisy.

To our north is the George Washington Bridge, which has a majestic look, especially at night, that belies the traffic nightmare it really is.  Across the river, skyscraper development along the riverside has all but obscured the majestic Palisades  The Palisades (Amusement) Park of song fame was bulldozed when I was still here to make way for luxury towers (which are still here 40 years later), and now similar towers extend all along the Palisades from Fort Lee to Gutenberg.  Plentiful ferries across the river now make what was once a backwater into highly coveted Manhattan-view real estate.

It pleases me greatly to see all this.  I remember wandering the forlorn halls of the abandoned ferry landing attached to the classic Erie-Lackawana rail terminal in Hoboken, which I passed through twice daily for four years, thinking what a shame it was the ferries no longer ran.  Now that terminal is again buzzing with activity.

Tomorrow we will have visitors aboard from, of all places, California.  While we were in NJ, our friend Lisa contacted me out of the blue to say she saw where we were on the blog, and that she and her husband were coming to New York to connect with their two college-age children, who have been on a whirlwind cross-country road trip with two of their friends.  We've been following their road trip sporadically -- we've known these kids their whole lives -- and had suggested we try to connect if they came close in their travels, but we were not expecting to also meet up with the parents.  It is a pleasant surprise.

I'm glad they saw our post from New Jersey and contacted us when they did, or else we'd likely have already left here for points north.  This is a great spot to connect, even though we will have to make two shuttle trips each way in the tender to get the whole crew here and back, because their hotel is just 20 blocks south of us, a nice walk in this weather, or a quick cab or subway ride.  It's easy enough for us to stay another night or two in this anchorage -- the $26 dinghy fee pales in comparison to the $2.75 per foot and upwards for dockage at any of the nearby marinas (one Manhattan marina charges $7.50 per foot, the most we have ever seen; it looked nice when we passed it, but not that nice).

In fact, we are thinking about extending our stay another day or two, so we can spend a bit more time in the city.  Today was a write-off, owing to the shoulder problems, and I am guessing I will be house-bound again most of tomorrow until our visitors arrive in the afternoon.  Just as well, because summer weekends are probably the worst time to try to see anything in New York; we will likely find everything much less crowded by Monday.

When we are done here, we will continue upriver to Haverstraw for another family visit, with my aunt and uncle who live a short drive from there.  After that the plan is less clear, although we'd like to cruise some more of the Hudson before making our way across the city to Long Island Sound mid-August.

Friday, July 25, 2014

New York, New York

We are anchored in Gravesend Bay, part of lower New York Bay, just north of Coney Island and southeast of The Narrows (map).  We have a fantastic view of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the upper half of the new World Trade Center tower, with the very tops of other lower Manhattan buildings just visible above the much lower roofs of Brooklyn.  Closer to us is the greenway along the Belt Parkway, and the top half of the Coney Island Parachute Jump, which is colorfully lit at night.  We have WiFi here courtesy of the nearby Mercedes dealer.

Verrazano-Narrows bridge at night.  Hard to get a good shot from a moving platform.  Sunset over the bridge was spectacular (above).

Yesterday was something of an adventure getting away from the dock.  There are no current-reporting stations on the Manasquan River, and I made a key strategic error in figuring that the current would slacken considerably coming in to low tide.  Apparently, slack at the railroad bridge follows the tidal maxima by a good hour or so.  We shoved off right at low tide, half past noon, and there was still enough ebb current to make it a mighty struggle to get out into the channel without being swept into the bridge.  It would have been much easier had we been facing upriver; maneuvering a single-screw powering astern is challenging.

Nevertheless we managed to get away unscathed, and I shot through the railroad bridge at six knots under full power to maintain steerage and keep the boat straight in the narrow opening.  Once east of the bridge it was all a piece of cake, and, as I had hoped, we then had a fair tide all the way to New York.

Sensing the anxiety of the departure, George comforts mommy by holding her hand under way.

The bottom drops off rapidly east of the beach in this part of the coast, and we spent the first half of the trip just a couple of miles offshore, affording a good view of the various beach communities, and letting us use the Internet for the whole trip.  The coastline is convex here, and I plotted the inflection of our course to be just outside the three-mile limit so we could discharge our waste before turning back towards Sandy Hook Light, on a straight-line course for the tip of Romer Shoal, just south of Ambrose Channel green buoy 9.  Salvage operations in the channel east of there had both directions using the green half of the channel, with no meeting and no overtaking allowed, so we made sure to pass west of the buoy before entering the channel.

Ambrose Channel is the main shipping entrance to New York Harbor.  While we were only in it for a few minutes -- small pleasure craft such as ours are well-advised to keep outside the channel as much as possible -- we were following in the wake of some of our ancestors, who passed this way along with some eight million other immigrants.  Though I've been this way twice before (on the QE2), it's different in your own boat.

A light haze obscured our view of the New York skyline for the first part of our cruise, with the skyscrapers of Manhattan eventually emerging from the haze as we passed Sandy Hook.  I grew up with, and in the shadow of, the twin towers of the World Trade Center; their absence from the skyline brought me to tears the first time I saw it, and the "replacement" is, for me, no replacement at all.  It seems not unlike any other modern tall building in any other city.  While Yamasaki's twin towers were often roundly criticized as ugly, they were uniquely New York, and became iconic.

The rest of the skyline is at once familiar and foreign to me.  For several years I worked at Citibank headquarters, across the street from the flawed and controversial angled-roof tower that bore their name.  That tower is still prominent and allows me to quickly calibrate the location of any other building on the island.  There are only perhaps a half dozen of that height that I don't recognize as having been here when I left over three decades ago.  We'll get a better view of the skyline as we continue north up the river.

Coney Island amusement parks, from sea.  The Wonder Wheel almost disappears against the backdrop of housing projects.

As we got closer to the city we could make out the amusement parks, or what remains of them, on Coney Island, with the landmark Parachute Jump prominent.  The amusements are on the south (ocean) side of the "island", which is no longer a separate island at all, the creek dividing it from Long Island proper having been filled in long ago.  We are now on the north side of the western portion of the old island, and from here we can see only the top of the parachute jump, endless rows of Robert Moses housing projects, and the small community of Sea Gate with its Coney Island Light.

After the tide turns here in an hour or so, we will weigh anchor and continue north through New York Harbor and into the Hudson River.  I'd like to spend a couple of nights in Hoboken, where I attended engineering school for four years, but the sole marina in town has not answered my phone messages.  Hoboken was just beginning an urban renewal when I was a student; now I can't afford to live there.  If we can't raise the marina, we will continue north, and visit Hoboken by train instead.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nice visit in NJ

We are at Hoffman's Marina West in Brielle, New Jersey (map), just west of the NJ Transit railroad bridge on the Manasquan River.  It's a very nice marina, with all brand new docks (courtesy of Sandy) and a very friendly and helpful staff.  That said, it's also one of the most expensive places we've docked, at $2.50 per foot plus electricity after our Active Captain discount.  As I've written here before, when dropping $150 a night to stay someplace, that ought to come with housekeeping and room service.  To be fair, they did notarize a document for us at no charge.

We arrived Tuesday just before high tide, around 5pm.  Our original plan was to be at Hoffman's East, which would have obviated the need to come through the narrow and tricky railroad bridge, but there was apparently an issue with the slip there and they put us here instead.  Fortunately the current was pretty low, approaching slack, and the railroad bridge was no problem.  The slip we are in, on the L-head at the end of the dock, is just feet from the bridge, though, and apparently some unfortunate skippers have been swept into it, so they sent two hands down the dock to make sure we got in OK (it was no problem).

The NJ Transit trains passing by just a few yards away are a flashback for me.  I commuted to college on a different line of this same railroad, riding more or less identical rolling stock.  Fortunately, they do not sound their horns right here for the grade crossing just north of us.  The bridge itself, on the other hand, has an old-fashioned mechanical siren which sounds before each closing and opening.  It sounds a bit different each time, as if the bridge operator is cranking it by hand.

We are here in Brielle because my parents live just a few miles away, in Brick, and we wanted to visit with them.  The Manasquan River actually runs through Brick, but it gets too shallow for us just upstream of the highway bridge, less than a mile from here.  They drove down and met us yesterday, and after a brief tour of Vector took us shopping for some much-needed provisions before we went to dinner at local favorite Simko's, which is actually walking distance from here.  It was a very nice visit, and I think they enjoyed finally seeing the boat, even though the stairs were a bit of a challenge.

I was a bit nervous about coming in Manasquan Inlet at all -- the inlet is narrow, the current is wicked, there is a lot of traffic, and reports of Sandy-related debris and shoaling still circulate.  Arriving close to slack, however, we had no trouble at all making our way inside and up to the bridge.  Other than the high cost -- there are no anchorages here, only marinas -- it's a fine stop, and I won't be so apprehensive the next time we stop by for a visit with my folks.

We weighed anchor Tuesday morning at 8am to time our arrival here for slack (and we were still a bit early, due to favorable current).  We wanted to be under way at 8:15 or so, and we've learned to start weighing a good 15 minutes ahead of time, given the occasional hiccup getting the anchor off the bottom.  In this case, we managed to bring up, uhh, OK, I don't really know what this is but it was caught in some fishing line that was in turn caught in our chain.  I managed to reach through a hawse-hole and cut the line with my snips, and the whole mess fell back into the water.

Incidentally, we had our final dinner in Atlantic City again at the Golden Nugget, and on our way back to the docks we saw Vector from the pedestrian bridge, looking as if we had somehow parked it at the end of the block.  The boat is actually anchored a quarter mile off shore, so we were amused to have this view.

We are glad we waited the extra day before continuing north.  Seas were comfortable most of the day Tuesday, but they got progressively choppier at the end of the day.  I had to turn the stabilizers off to negotiate Manasquan Inlet, and we had quite a bit of motion before we reached the protection of the jetties.  I think we would have had a much less comfortable day if we had gone on Monday.

The cruise was pleasant and mostly uneventful, staying just a couple miles off shore the whole way, which afforded us a great view of typical summertime festivities along the New Jersey shore.  On our way past the amusement pier in Seaside we recalled meeting the nice couple who own it, at a waterfront restaurant in Hollywood, Florida.  After Sandy dumped their roller coaster into the ocean and devastated much of the rest of the pier, they turned the business operations over to their kids and headed south.

Just north of the Barnegat Inlet sea buoy, Louise did a routine engine room check and found a large nut loose in the bilge, under the propeller shaft.  Finding random loose hardware in the bilge is never good, but it's particularly not good when it might be part of the driveline.  From that spot we could have easily made Barnegat Inlet (which is navigable for us but leads to almost nothing we can access), but then we'd miss our slack timing here, and we'd have to spend the night there.

We opted instead to disengage the propeller and "lie ahull" right there off the coast while I looked at the shaft coupling to see if we were missing a nut.  Seas were around three feet in light chop, and we bobbed around like a cork, but not so badly that I couldn't move around the boat.  This was a good spot to stop and check, because we knew we could get Towboat US out of Barnegat Light if we needed them.

It turned out that, indeed, this was one of the shaft coupling nuts.  More disturbing, all the nuts were loose, some not even finger tight.  I know they had all been put on with thread lock and properly torqued at the yard, but the forces on the coupler are high, and clearly they all worked loose.  I was able to get a box wrench on all of them and tighten them up well enough to continue, but now I will need to look into jam nuts or some other solution to keep them where they belong.  No harm done, though, and we were back under way in less than fifteen minutes.

Today we will shove off close to low slack, around noon.  We'll have to push our way out the inlet, but, more importantly, we should have a favorable current all the way in to New York Harbor.  In a slow boat such as ours, traveling the Hudson River and New York Harbor can really only be done with favorable tide.  If we had, instead, left on high slack first thing this morning, we'd be fighting our way into the harbor.  With only a few hours of favorable conditions, it will be a relatively short day, and we should be anchored somewhere off Coney Island tonight.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tender tribulatons

Just a quick update here to say that we are still in Absecon Inlet, off Atlantic City.  When we awoke this morning, the ocean forecast for today had improved only slightly, with the wave period increasing to nine seconds.  While four foot seas with that period in ten knots or so of wind is really no problem for us, tomorrows forecast remains even better, with seas of just two to three feet on a period of seven seconds.

We had little time to decide -- if we wanted to make the run today, we needed to have the anchor up and be under way no later than 8am in order to have a favorable tide at the other end.  Even at that, I'd have to run at a higher RPM than typical.  We decided to play it safe and spend another day here, and have a more comfortable ride tomorrow.

Today's drama was all about our tender.  After deciding to spend the extra day, we opted to run out for brunch at locally famous Gilchrist's, at Gardner Basin.  Even on a Monday mid-morning there was a wait, but it was not too bad, and the food was very good.  We left here at 10:30, since Louise had booked a hair appointment at the salon in the Golden Nugget for noon.

On our way from Gardner's to the Nugget, I managed to strike a piece of uncharted underwater Sandy-related debris with the prop.  In hindsight, it was a stupid mistake, since the condition there is flagged in Active Captain, and I can see that on the main chartplotter aboard Vector.  The little plotter on the tender, though, does not have that information.  We passed very close to that same spot last night (admittedly, at a higher tide) after fueling the tender at Kamerman's before heading around the corner to Garnder's for dinner, and saw nothing amiss on the depth sounder.

The prop is aluminum, and, as marine items go, not all that expensive at around $65 for a brand new one, so I was not too worried.  The prop came with the motor, which is ten years old, and was not in perfect condition when we got it, either, so I figured to just put a new one on and clean this one up as an emergency spare.  It was a bit chewed up on two of the three blades, with the worst damage being about a 1/4" nibble.

On our way back from the Nugget I could not get the tender up on plane -- untreated prop damage like this can exact a significant penalty on performance.  So I decided to haul the tender up on deck, bass-ackwards for easy access to the prop, and clean up the blades to see if we could get at least some of the performance back while I wait on a new prop.

As we started to hoist the tender out of the water, one of the three legs of the nylon-web lifting bridle parted with a loud noise, and the forward end of the tender fell back into the water.  We were very lucky -- it was only a foot or two off the water when the strap parted, and none of the rigging whipped back to injure us or damage the boat.

I jury-rigged a new forward leg for the bridle using one of the commercial lifting slings and a pair of 450-lb carabiners that we normally use for the scooters.  That let us get the tender up on deck and I was able to clean up the prop in short order -- aluminum responds well to a set of files and some emery cloth.

I'd love to say all's well that ends well, but while I was working on the prop, I discovered the shaft is bent.  Spinning the prop by hand there is a barely noticeable wobble.  The allowable run-out on these would be imperceptible by eye, so the wobble is significant.  Unchecked, it can lead to premature bearing and/or seal failure or other more serious problems.

Based on the minimal damage to the prop, it's hard to believe the shaft bent during this incident.  Honestly, though, I can't say one way or another if it was bent when we got the motor, or perhaps it bent somewhere else during our year of ownership.  Whatever the genesis, now that I am aware of it I need to find a shop that can straighten it out.  I've been told many prop shops can straighten it still on the motor.  I've also learned that if it needs to come out for service or replacement, I'm better off buying a whole rebuilt lower unit.  If that's the case, we'll run this one till it quits, first.

I got a little of the performance back with my minimal prop repair, but planing is still more difficult than before.  We'll get a new prop at our earliest opportunity, likely well before we can get the shaft addressed.  Before any of that, I need to turn my attention to the lifting tackle.

I'm a bit surprised at the way this strap failed.  The harness was made by Wichard, a respected manufacturer of marine rigging.  It, too, came with the boat, though, and I suspect eleven years of use and storage just weakened the fibers.  Certainly it has seen some sun and plenty of salt water.

Marine items like this are outrageously expensive.  I will likely replace it with a trio of commercial slings and various fittings available from more conventional rigging suppliers, just as we did for the scooters.  In the meantime, we're still using the two undamaged legs, although I am affixing an extra safety line as well, just in case.

After dinner tonight, we'll load the tender back aboard for an early departure tomorrow,  Slack tide in Manasquan is around 5:30, and we have a nine hour cruise.

Quilting update

It's been a while since I posted my first quilting project, and I've been working steadily on several others. If you're here for technical boat details, you may skip this entry.

This quilt was finished quite a while ago, but I couldn't blog about it because it was a gift for my Mom's birthday. Now that she has it in her hands, I can share the details. I called it "Floral Gallery" and it is made primarily of fabric from the Indigo Nature line by Daphne B. Each picture frame block is quilted differently in straight line patterns such as cross hatching, zig zags, plaids, and concentric rectangles. That was a lot of work and I probably won't do it again for a while, but the little frames seemed well suited for the effort. As a bonus, this fabric is particularly soft to the hand, so I hope my Mom finds it particularly snuggly.

Sean is modeling the quilt in what we affectionately call the "Kilroy pose." Quilting blogs are full of photos of quilters' husbands' feet and knuckles. Few capture such a charming glower, though.

This one is called "Bright Remainder" and is also lap blanket size. The pattern is a Disappearing Nine Patch, which looks much more complicated than it actually is. It's pieced from batiks in saturated colors, solid yellow, and a subtle dark blue tone-on-tone background called River Mist that I really like. Modern quilting often uses solid colors for the negative space, but I like fabrics that read as solid but are really a more interesting texture when you look up close.

This photo shows it before I added an outer border of navy blue with a dense metallic gold swirly print. I've since quilted it in a sort of plaid pattern, easy straight lines that intersect on all the small yellow squares. All that's left is to pick a binding fabric and attach it. Binding can be sewn on completely by machine, but I like how clean a hand-finished binding looks both front and back. Hand sewing is a great activity for at-sea days, too.

The photo also shows the sewing machine set up in the salon. We've since moved it down into the VIP stateroom, where I'm experimenting with a folding table setup. It's nice to get the fabric mess out of the living space, but I have not dialed in the right combination of table and chair downstairs yet. More on that, and fabric storage, in a future post.

I was motivated to piece this Christmas lap quilt while we were waiting out the tropical storm conditions in Portsmouth. It's called "Arthur's Holiday." I purchased the pre-cut fabric squares as a kit from The Quilt Place in Rockledge, FL. The store had put together fabrics from many different manufacturers and lines, all in shades of blue and cream. There are stars, trees, ornaments, angels, snowflakes, and other festive and wintry motifs. The quilt is still waiting for another contrasting border, backing and finishing. It really got me in the Christmas fabric groove. I've since ordered more sparkly metallic fun stuff in more traditional reds and greens, and I'm looking forward to more holiday projects.

These two little stars were made for the Astronomical Quilts Block Challenge. NASA Astronaut Karen Nyberg is a quilter and hand-sewed a small quilt block in zero G while serving on the International Space Station. I chose a yellow fabric with a concentric circle print that looks a bit like either the solar system or the Bohr atom, and a deep blue fabric with subtle black swirls on it that represents Dark Matter. If my block is chosen, it will be part of a quilt that will be displayed in Houston next year. Even if it isn't selected, though, this was a fun project and the first time I tried a pattern with triangles and matching points. It was a great learning exercise, which is why there are two blocks. Turns out it isn't all that easy to re-size a block, and I screwed up both the math and the construction, resulting in a block too small to be submitted. Don't worry, though: the little brother block on the left has found a new home in another quilt. That one is also a gift, so I'll reveal it after the giftee has seen it.

Finally, a little wall hanging called "The Persistence of Light." The prismatic rainbows are super bright batiks, set in a background of solid muted blues. The quilting all emanates from a single point on the left hand side. I designed it to be vertical, but have since decided I like it horizontal, with the lighter blue on top. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jersey Shore

We are anchored north of Absecon Island, where Clam Creek empties into Absecon Inlet (map).  Both the northern end of the island, and the inlet itself, are more popularly known as Atlantic City, the casino capital of New Jersey.  (The cities of Margate and Ventnor -- yes, the one from Monopoly -- are on the southern end of the island.)  We dropped the hook here just after 5:30 yesterday, right in time to catch most of the free Morris Day and The Time concert a few hundred yards from us at Gardner's Basin -- the parking area around the aquarium there was packed with partiers, despite the lousy weather.

We made a last-minute decision yesterday morning to weigh anchor and head north, in what the forecast said would be the last reasonably acceptable weather for a few days.  Seas were forecast at three to four feet with a period of eight seconds, just at the limit of our go/no-go criteria (one of which is a period no shorter than twice the wave height forecast).  The anchorage at Cape Henlopen, while pleasant and protected, was not appealing for a potential three-night stay, particularly as we were running out of provisions.

The early part of the trip was decent, although I realized halfway across Delaware Bay that I had considerable current against me, and what I had figured to be an eight hour cruise would be more like ten unless I cranked up the RPMs.  As we got closer to Atlantic City, though, seas built to four to five, and we were slamming up and down over the sharpest of them as 15-20 knots of breeze whipped the tops into whitecaps.  The ride became so uncomfortable at one point that we turned twenty degrees to port and made a big dog leg out of the last straight section of the route, which got us into an attitude to allow the stabilizers to null more of the motion.

Driving in the inlet in these conditions was something of a challenge, but having a few knots of ebb current against us allowed me to crank it up to our highest normal engine setting, which makes all the controls, as well as the stabilizers, more responsive.  I was relieved to see that this little corner of the inlet is far enough out of the current that it was mostly calm, even with froth in the main channel.  We were very happy to get the anchor down and the engine shut off.

Since we were entirely out of fresh food aboard, we dropped the tender shortly after arrival and went over to the Golden Nugget Casino for dinner.  This casino is adjacent to, and manages under a lease agreement, the Senator Frank S. Farley State Marina here, and offers courtesy dockage for patrons of the casino and  its tenants.   The latter includes some half-dozen restaurants, and we chose the Grotto, an Italian offering from the megalithic Landry's restaurant empire.  The food was good and we had no problem getting in, in contrast to the Chart House which had a line out the door.

Long-time readers know that we are no strangers to casinos and their dining venues.  While Atlantic City and most of Las Vegas are notable exceptions, the vast majority of casinos welcome RV patrons to spend a night, sometimes longer, in the parking lot, and, though we don't gamble, we've been more than willing to reciprocate by dining inside.  This is the first time we've managed the same trick in the boat.  The casino has, apparently, vastly improved the marina since taking over, and we would consider a stay there under  different circumstances.  The yacht Triple Eight mentioned in the linked article is one we've seen before, and we saw her come out the inlet Saturday and turn north.

Atlantic City remains an odd juxtaposition of over-the-top excess, embodied by the casino resorts and the handful of businesses surrounding them, with blue-collar industry (we are a stone's throw from the commercial fishing docks) and even abject poverty.  Casino gaming was to be the tide that lifted all boats, but that dream never materialized, and now the industry here is in decline, with three casinos planning to shutter in the next few months, victim to more liberal gaming laws elsewhere in the country.  The Golden Nugget here is the resurrection of a failed property in the Trump portfolio (the original Trump casino is one of the three slated to close), and the ill-advised and likely ill-fated Revel was the most prominent landmark beckoning us to the inlet, the Absecon Light having been long-since eclipsed by surrounding development.  I can't help but be reminded of Springsteen's lyrics -- "Everything dies baby that's a fact."

Atlantic City skyline from the ocean.  The tall building to the right is the Revel, bankrupt ten months after opening.

We're still out of fresh food, as we have no access to a grocery store here.  So this evening we headed over to Gardner's Basin, which has the same courtesy dockage arrangement, and had dinner at the Back Bay Ale House.  We may well be doing something similar tomorrow, too, if the weather does not improve.

Today's ocean weather was, in a word, lousy, and a small craft advisory is in effect.  We've even had some chop right here.  Notwithstanding rain, wind, and generally crummy conditions even inland, folks who can only use their boats ten weekends a year were out in force today, and even the local fishing charters had full boats, with folks huddled in their foul-weather gear, rods in hand.  The beach across the channel in Brigantine had plenty of beach-goers, too, similarly bundled up save for the children, who seemed more than happy to splash around in the 70-degree water.  Brr.

Tomorrow's forecast is again for three to four foot seas with an eight-second period, and we have reservations in Brielle at the only marina we can reach inside the Manasquan inlet.  Tuesday's forecast is for two to three feet, though, so unless tomorrow improves (or Tuesday deteriorates) we will likely just spend another day here and call the marina to postpone by a day.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Flag state

We are anchored behind the 196-year-old Delaware Breakwater, north of Lewes, Deleware, on Cape Henlopen (map).  It is Vector's first visit to Delaware, her "home" state.  We had a pleasant 22-hour passage from Kiptopeke, although the swell-induced motion was a little abrupt while I had the watch, so Louise had a rocky night.  We have the rest of the day to recover, though, and maybe longer if the forecast for tomorrow deteriorates.

Shortly after I last posted here, one of the numerous crabbers whose pots surrounded us at the concrete ships had trouble hauling in a pot, and we chatted briefly -- our anchor chain must have run over his pot line.  He decided just to haul that pot on his next pass, but it made us a bit nervous that we might have to go down and untangle the two before we could finish weighing anchor.

Fortunately, when we started that process shortly before 1:30 the chain came aboard straight away with no tangles, and all the pots around us were clear.  We slalomed through the pots and motored past the breakwater right at 1:30, which proved to be just a tad early, as I had current against me for the next half hour even on a falling tide.  We cleared past the Bay Bridge-Tunnel at the 75' "high span" at the northeast end.  The big boys use either of the two deepwater tunnel sections, but that would have been quite a detour for us.  I remember wondering as we passed over those spans in Odyssey if we would one day pass under them.

The high span of the older, northbound bridge (we've already passed the newer, southbound span, which lacks the truss).

Seas were actually rougher on the bay north of the bridge than they were in the ocean, with just an unrippled swell as we passed the end of Fishermans Island.  I had plotted a course several miles along the "north channel" well past Nautilus Shoal before turning north -- we'd heard that the shoal can cause a three foot incoming swell to turn into six foot breakers, making the deeper water north of the shoal unusable.  However, by the time we passed the shallower portions of the shoal, we noted no breakers and not even any roughness and we decided to turn early, shaving over three miles off the route.

We chose a path south of the shallowest section where the chart indicates a cut through the shoals that carries over 20' most of the way, with just a short bar of 18-19'.  When the depth sounder started reading in the teens, though, in an area charted as 34', we thought we might have to turn back.  Reasoning that the steep part of the northern bank was simply building southward, we turned until we found depths in the mid-20s and picked our way though.  Fortunately, the chart was off only in that small section, and depths were as charted the rest of the way.

Solid blue is our plotted course.  Dashed line is our actual track.  Note the dip just south of the southernmost 9' contour, where our depthsounder read 15' in charted 34'. (Click to enlarge.)

That saved us over two gallons of diesel on the shortcut alone.  But because it also put us a half hour ahead of schedule, I was also able to slow down a bit for the next few hours, probably another gallon or so.  The last time this happened, we ended up having to backtrack and take a longer way around -- you can't win them all.

The original route had us outside the three mile limit before the final northward turn, but with the successful shortcut, I had to deliberately set the next waypoint a little to the east to get outside the limit briefly earlier in the trip.  The vast majority of the passage was, in fact, outside the limit, but we wanted to run the watermaker continuously for most of the ocean portion of the trip, so we opted to macerate our waste early on, making the watermaker a set-it-and-forget-it proposition.  This later item ran for 16 hours, putting some 150 gallons or so of fresh water into our tank.

While macerating the waste overboard could easily be a push-button operation, we prefer to leave the manual tank valve closed at all times except when macerating.  This means one of us has to open up the bilge hatch over the tank to operate the valve, which lets us also visually see the tank level (the tank is translucent) and know that the macerator is operating properly.  Also, we can tell for certain that the macerator is done, rather than relying on merely a change in sound when other things, such as the engine and stabilizers, are also making noise -- running the macerator after the tank is already empty will destroy the impeller.  Lastly, this helps us comply with the legal mandate that sending waste overboard requires a valve to be opened manually elsewhere than the helm.

When I opened the hatch, I was floored by how low the tank level actually was.  I knew the new toilet would use less water than the one it replaced -- part of the reason we made the swap in the first place.  But I had figured it to be maybe half, and it appears to be more like one-quarter.  This is great news, because it means we will be able to go that much longer between pump-outs when that is our only option.

We tie the boarding gates closed whenever a passage has us standing separate watches.

On our way out of the bay we crossed paths, albeit at a great distance, with the nuclear aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, on its way back to its home port of Norfolk.  We shared the ocean run with a handful of fishing vessels and a tug pushing a barge to New York.  We encountered not a single recreational vessel outside until we reached Ocean City, Maryland, where Louise reported a number of sportfish ran out the inlet at first light.  We are definitely outside of the migration -- the northbound loopers are already long gone.

We had an early dinner, on account of the sleep schedules, and enjoyed a nice sunset before splitting the watches.  The only real difference, while underway, from our usual evening routine is omitting the customary glass of beer or wine with dinner.  With only two watchstanders, it's hard to do otherwise.

Sunset on the water.

My watch was uneventful, and became easier after moonrise.  In the pitch darkness beforehand, though, I did pass one buoy that was supposed to have a flashing light, but did not.  It showed up just fine on radar, and I could see it in my spotlight, so the light was, as they say, "extinguished."  It did not show as such in my Local Notices to Mariners, but I am a couple of weeks out of date.  It was the outer marker for one of the numerous shoals and banks we passed, some of which dictated how far offshore we had to travel.  Louise had to keep an eye on the aforementioned sportfishers, but otherwise had little to report.

Ferry coming in to the Lewes terminal.

This anchorage is within sight of the southern terminus of the Cape May-Lewes ferry, which bridges the mouth of Delaware Bay between New Jersey and Delaware.  The two ferries operating today are, unimaginatively, the New Jersey and the Delaware.  Very long-time readers may remember us making that crossing in Odyssey early in our adventure, on, I believe, the Cape Henlopen.  Interestingly, the original ferry fleet here comprised the ferries retired, when the bridge-tunnel opened, from the Cape Charles to Little Creek fleet, whose terminal provided our comfortable concrete-ship breakwater at the last stop.

Delaware East End Light and the very old breakwater from our aft deck.  The beach in the background is the landward side of Cape Henlopen, part of the eponymous state park.

At this writing we are the only boat taking advantage of this historic protective breakwater.  We have a great view of the Delaware East End Light just a few hundred  yards from us, and beyond the breakwater we can see the more recent but still historic breakwater of the National Harbor of Refuge.  We passed between this breakwater, with its lighthouse, and the tip of Cape Henlopen, on our way in.  The deep channel comes incredibly close to the sand beach at the cape -- we were only a few hundred feet off the beach as we rounded the turn.

Harbor of Refuge Light and breakwater, as we came north past Cape Henlopen.  They are closer than they look -- phone cameras are very wide-angle.

As I had guessed, we have very poor coverage on our cell phones here, but I am getting the WiFi signal from the ferry terminal.  The forecast looks favorable for the hop to Absecon Inlet (Atlantic City) tomorrow if we have recovered sufficiently from sleep deprivation by the morning.  After that we may have to wait on sea conditions for a day or two before continuing to Manasquan.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ghost ships

We are anchored behind the concrete ships, which I mentioned in my last post, at Kiptopeke State Park on Cape Charles, Virginia (map).  This is just a mile and a half from our last digs, in the opposite direction from where will will head next, but we really had no choice.

Monday, seas remained mostly calm after I posted here, and we stayed put right where we had been at the end of Sunday's drama.  By dinner time it was too choppy to drop the tender, so we enjoyed a nice meal aboard, even though we would have likely had the restaurant mostly to ourselves, if the lack of people on the beach throughout the day was any indicator.  I got a few projects done around the house in a relaxing day of downtime.

Tuesday started out the same way, and it even looked, for a time, as if we might get the chance to go ashore for dinner.  No dice, as a line of thunderstorms formed inland and made their way to us across the bay.  The weather deteriorated throughout the afternoon, and we started getting weather alerts for severe thunderstorms.  As they say, "small craft should seek safe harbor."  Radar showed the bulk of the storm would pass north of us, and we were well anchored, so we opted to stay put.

We missed most of the rain, but we did not miss the wind or the seas that went with it.  We don't have an anemometer, but I would estimate the wind in the heart of the storm to be 30+ knots with gusts to 40 or so.  Seas were 2-3' and breaking.  At one point, we manned the anchor watch, and I fired up all the instruments and prepared to start engines if needed.  Our ground tackle held fast, however, and we emerged with nothing worse than a few loose items fallen from counters.

It was all done and gone by dinner time, and we had hoped things would eventually calm down to the pleasant state we'd experienced earlier in the day.  Unfortunately, the same system that pushed the storm our way left us with the lasting gift of a westerly component to the winds.  With 20+ miles of fetch to the southwest, we had quite the swell through dinner.  Worse, it was mostly on the beam, as the prevailing current runs north/south.

Wind and current from different directions can play havoc with boats, and Vector, in particular, can do some weird things when lying to anchor.  At one point during the day (not during the storm), I glanced at the chartplotter and realized that our anchor was mostly behind us and slightly to port.  I looked over the bow and, sure enough, the snubber, which was taut, was heading just left of straight back.  On most boats, that kind of force on the anchor rode would swing the boat around to be mostly in line with the rode, but the wind against our high profile can swing us around like this even in the current.

That's our snubber running back parallel to the hull.  Big splash is from the porpoising we were doing at the time.

In order to get through dinner prep without falling down, I ended up starting the engine and turning on the stabilizers.  They're not very effective with only a knot or two running under the boat, but they did help a little bit.  I shut the engine down when we sat down to eat.  We had to set the wide-base cup holders on the dining table to keep our beverages from falling over.

After dinner we realized this would not relent all night, and another check of the forecast confirmed it.  With only an hour of good daylight left, we ended up weighing anchor in confused seas and high wind to seek shelter here, where the concrete hulks provide excellent protection from the west.  The seas were so high when we left that I had to drive from the flybridge in order to see the crab pot floats, which kept disappearing below the wave tops and sometimes were even towed under completely.

Once we were under way the stabilizers could do their job and the ride here was not uncomfortable, although against the current it took us a good twenty minutes to reach the breakwater.  It took nearly as long to get anchored again -- it's wall-to-wall crab pots in here, and we've already swung back and forth over a couple of markers since anchoring.

After we passed the entrance between the two rows of ships, we were in calm water once again, though, and were able to take our time getting settled.  We were able to get a good night's sleep, uninterrupted by the chaotic motion just the other side of the breakwater.  By Wednesday morning, winds had subsided, and it was like a lake here in the anchorage.

Ironically, Wednesday evening it was calm enough to go to dinner, but, of course, there is nothing here but the fishing pier, formerly the ferry landing.  A beach bar with fried food was not compelling enough for us to want to run the tender three miles round trip and then have to wade ashore, especially since it was cool and overcast, so we had leftovers instead.  We did enjoy a spectacular sunset from the upper deck afterwards.

Sunset over the ghost ships.

As I type it is past 2am Thursday morning.  I was up late last night, too, and Louise has been doing the opposite, early to bed and early to rise.  We're trying to shift our circadian rhythms a bit to help with tonight's overnight passage in the ocean.  Louise will publish the post in the morning, after review and perhaps an edit here and there.  What I've noticed at this late hour both nights is that the fishing pier is still very, very busy.  Last night there was even a family with fairly young children fishing at 1:30am.

The fishing pier.  The pier is open, and lighted, all night.

We had actually hoped to get underway today, and I transferred fuel to the day tank and did my pre-departure engine checks this morning.  But while things were very calm indeed right here, the ocean forecast off Paramore Banks tonight was for fairly steep waves.  Thursday's forecast is much better, and so we opted to wait here another day.

The trip from here to Cape Henlopen, at the south of the entrance to Delaware Bay, will take us around 22 hours, plus or minus two hours depending on current.  We'll leave here with the outgoing tide, around 1:30pm, which should give us an incoming tide on the other end too.  We'll anchor behind the breakwater off Lewes, Delaware, where we will spend at least one night.

From there our route takes us to Atlantic City in a single outside hop, and thence to Manasquan Inlet, also in a single hop, where we have marina reservations.  My folks live just a few miles from there, and we're looking forward to a nice visit.  We had our mail, which missed us in Deltaville, re-sent to the marina there as well.

I expect we will be mostly off-line once we weigh anchor here, as we'll be a good ten miles or so offshore for much of the trip, and even the Cape Henlopen anchorage may be outside of coverage.  My next post here may well be from Atlantic City.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Whirlwind work week, and bang-bang boats

As I am typing, we are underway in the Chesapeake, bound for the southern end of the eastern shore, where we plan to anchor near the small community of Kiptopeke, Virginia.  (Update: we're anchored; I never managed to finish this post yesterday.)  For the past week, we've been in Deltaville, Virginia, at Deltaville Boatyard and Marina (map), where we spent four months last year getting work done on the boat.

We've been hip-deep in projects since we arrived there, leaving me no time at all to blog, so I am taking the opportunity here in open water to get some typing in, just as I did one week ago, on our way there.  To be fair, we did also get a little down time to swim in the pool, bicycle to some of the local eateries, and even have dinner with good friends our first evening.

On this occasion, we actually spent the first five nights in the marina, rather than the boatyard.  While our detour up the Chesapeake to Deltaville was occasioned by yard work, specifically to have the rudder looked at, we figured that to be a one-day project.  That said, we needed a few days of marina time someplace, so we could receive some packages and tackle some projects of our own.  When we realized we'd need to be there for the rudder anyway, we decided to make it a one-stop affair.

Chief among those projects (and also packages) was the installation of our new head (a fancy nautical name for a toilet, also used to describe the bathroom as a whole).  We bought the head, a Tecma Easy-Fit Eco macerating model, from our good friends at Yacht Products International, who long-time readers may remember made the "YachTub" hot tub we have on the bus.  They had the best price I could find on the web, but we then needed a good address where we could have it sent.

We needed a different head principally because the Headhunter brand eductor-style toilet in the master bath could not really be used once the aft waste tank filled, even if there was room in the slightly higher forward tank.  The Tecma can actually pump six feet or so uphill, so it should not have this problem.  That's been pending for a while, but the urgency increased when the head stopped working altogether a couple of weeks ago, due (I assumed) to a stuck check valve in the output line.

I'm sure I could have taken it all apart, cleaned (yuck) or replaced the check valve, and gotten the whole thing working just fine again.  However, since the worst part of the job is the disassembly of the waste line, and we knew we wanted to replace the head with a macerating one anyway, I opted not to go through the disassembly process twice, but rather just accelerate the replacement project.

The Tecma arrived slightly before we did, and so first thing Monday morning I picked it up from the parts stockroom, where large packages end up, and carted it over to the boat.  By the time I got it all unpacked and inventoried and matched the installation instructions to the various parts, it was too late to start the project, given all the other "first day in town" items on our list.  Or perhaps I was just dreading too much the, uh, crappy job ahead of me.

It turned out not to be as bad as I thought.  We had run quite a bit of fresh water through the system -- the blockage in the check valve was not complete, so, while the head would not flush properly, it did eventually drain.  Between lots of clean water, and the fact that the valve was still passing fluids, there was really no sewage sitting in the hose when I took it apart.  That was good, because the best I could do, really, was to stuff an old towel down into the bilge to catch any spillage.

Old head removed.  That's the new piece of sanitation hose sticking up with a rag stuffed in it, before trimming to length.  Unfortunately the new head does not cover the round hole in the floor where the old hose ran, so we will be adding a piece of trim under the head when I can pick one up.  The rectangular hole in the foreground is the only access I have to work in this bilge -- it's tight.

I did have to cut through a PVC pipe with the sawzall, and accessing all the bolts, pipes, and wires made the whole removal process a very long and tedious job.  But all in all it was easier and less messy than I had planned.  Still, it was a full day and a half to make the swap.  The new head went in much more smoothly than the old one came out, but I did need to splice in a new section of sanitation hose, which costs more per foot than gold chain.  The built-in macerator pump needs a good bit of power, but there were already a pair of heavy wires running back to the engine room, from the original head installation, long since replaced, that also needed it.  I connected those wires through a fuse to our new 24-volt power system and ordered the 24-volt head model, which makes the whole thing more efficient.

New head waiting to be installed.  I've already attached the blue PEX water inlet.  Pay no attention to the feet at the right... Louise snapped this while I was working.

I'm happy to report that the new head works great, and uses significantly less water than the Headhunter, which is advantageous with our limited tank capacity.  The old head has been cleaned up to like-new condition, and is now sitting in the lazarette until I can find someone who wants it.  There's nothing wrong with it (the check valve, which was, indeed, stuck, is an external component and has been discarded), and, new, they sell for over $1,300.  We'd rather pass it on to someone than have it go to the landfill.

While we were in Deltaville I also repaired our air horns (another stuck valve), lubricated the emergency tiller post, inspected the bilges, and otherwise kept myself occupied with the ever-present project checklist.  This, of course, in between actually working with the yard.

Other than having a good address for the new head, the horn valve, and a few other items (including our mail, which never arrived -- a story in itself), the principle reason for our visit to Deltaville was to address the rudder packing.  The story here is that the rudder has been leaking seawater into the lazarette since we left the yard last August.  I had been led to believe that a certain amount of leakage was normal during break-in of the new packing, and after break-in I should tighten the gland slowly until the leakage stopped.

I kept tightening the gland periodically over the past several months, slowly to avoid binding the rudder and damaging the hydraulic system, but water continued to come in.  A couple of months ago, after the latest round of adjustment, the rudder started making a horrible groaning sound when the helm was turned through part of its swing.  I called the yard, who allowed that by now there should be no leakage at all, and we agreed to back the last adjustment out due to the groaning, and come in to the yard to have it addressed.

Monday one of the senior technicians came aboard, and confirmed what I had already concluded, which was that the groaning was not coming from the packing, but rather from the upper bearing where the emergency tiller post passes through the deck.  It was most likely unrelated to my packing adjustments.  I agreed to remove the deck plate myself and squirt some lithium grease down there, which seems to have helped, but if it comes back I will need to withdraw the post from the rudder stock altogether and slather some proper marine grease on it before reinstalling it.

Wednesday they sent a different tech out to our marina slip to deal with the leaking packing.  He found only two rings of packing left in the gland, so either some packing was inadvertently left out back in August, or pumping grease into the gland managed to push a ring or two out the bottom of the boat.  In any case, he replaced the packing with several rings of new flax, pumped the box full of waterproof grease, and tightened the gland to the point where it is no longer leaking.  We then rinsed the lazarette out with fresh water, as there has been salt water down there for a long time.  At some point I will have to clean up the rusty mounting hardware and spray it with corrosion block.

With that done, and the yard owner and I agreeing to have the rest of our warranty list addressed when we return this way in October or so, we figured to be done at the yard, and planned to shove off Friday for the three day run to Delaware Bay.  Wednesday afternoon the marina called asking if we could move around the corner to accommodate another boat Thursday morning, which was fine with us, and I went to the helm to get ready for an early morning move.  When I powered up the electronics, the depth sounder was kaput.

The depth sounder has been acting up since April, when it quit while we were docked in Stuart.  It mysteriously fixed itself before we departed for Fort Lauderdale, thus avoiding an expensive haul-out at a yard with a marginal lift.  It acted up once more out in the ocean, but has been working ever since.  We are counting ourselves lucky now that, when it failed again, we were already docked at a yard, with a lift that was more than capable of hauling us out.

We asked the yard if they could squeeze us into the schedule, and they agreed to haul us out on Friday, replace the transducer (we already had the spare aboard, ordered when the problem first appeared), and let us hang in the slings overnight while the bedding cured.  As long as we were in the slings, we had them clean the bottom and touch up the bottom paint, and I put two fresh coats of zinc spray on the propeller.  We also pulled the shackle off the bow eye, touched that up, and reinstalled it with some grease to keep it from seizing up.  While we were on the hard I also paid out 100' of anchor chain and repainted the "0", 50', and 100' marks, which were wearing out.  Louise has already posted a photo of Vector hanging from the lift.

By the time they got everything done on Saturday morning and splashed us, it was really too late to make it here to Kiptopeke, so we stayed an extra night at the fuel dock and left Sunday morning, which brings me full circle to where I started typing at the top of this post.  It is now Monday morning and we are anchored off the beach behind the Sunset Grille (map), a popular beach bar here at the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula.

We arrived at the eastern shore near the town of Cape Charles, somewhat north of here and accessible only by a long channel going the wrong direction for us.  Just south of that channel is a more protected anchorage at Kiptopeke State Park, known more popularly by cruisers as "the concrete ships."  What is now the fishing pier at the park was, prior to the opening of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in 1964, the eastern landing for the ferry that crossed the bay here.  The ships, literally made of concrete during WWII when steel was in short supply, were sunk here after the war as a breakwater for the ferry landing.

Just a small section of the "concrete ship" breakwater as we steamed past.

That had been our originally planned anchorage, but conditions were so pleasant when we arrived that we elected to continue another mile and a half to this much less protected anchorage.  Not only does that cut twenty minutes from our next hop, we hoped to find WiFi here, and if we have to wait a few days, we can dinghy ashore and sample the restaurant fare.  Also, it was Sunday afternoon, and we thought we'd catch some of the weekend-boater mayhem.

On this last score, we got a bit more than we bargained for.  When we arrived around three in the afternoon, there were perhaps 50-60 boats anchored here.  Many were unoccupied, their crews either in the water (78 degrees -- too cold for me), or ashore on the beach or at the bar.  We maneuvered in as close as we could get, dodging crab pots the whole way, in a small area bounded to the north and the south by rows of fish stakes.  With the rapidly shallowing bottom topography, that put us about a quarter mile from the beach, further than any other boat by a good 150 feet or so.

We dropped the hook, set it, snubbed it, and settled in, enjoying a marginal WiFi signal (we're just a bit too far), distant music emanating from the bar, and a nice view all around, with the concrete ships to the north, the beach to the east, the Bay Bridge-Tunnel to the south, and the wide expanse of the Chesapeake to the west.  By the time we were sitting on the aft deck enjoying a beer, however, a swell had moved in from the south, along with the 15+ knot wind, and the scantily clad beach-goers did not look particularly comfortable to me.

As the swell got progressively worse, I went to the pilothouse and fired up the radar, to double-check our distance from the closest boat, a 40' Sea-Ray express bridge.  I could see it bobbing in the swell and stopping hard against its all-chain anchor rode, which lacked any kind of snubber.  I was wise to do so, as our distance from him was closing rapidly.  A quick check of the chartplotter revealed that we were not dragging -- our anchor was holding fast.  Louise was deep into a phone conversation with relatives on the west coast when I started the engine.

Seeing me in high-alert mode she quickly wrapped up her call, and we had a quick pow-wow about the situation.  I speculated that the Sea-Ray was dragging, and we noticed it getting closer not only to us, but also to a 45' sportfisher, which my memory said was even farther from us when we anchored, maybe 300', but now also was much closer.  When the Sea-Ray was less than a boat-length away, we hurriedly removed the snubber and weighed anchor, fearing we might be hit by not one, but maybe two boats, both of which were clearly dragging.  While we were mid-scramble to get under way, with our hands full, the other two boats were mere feet from each other, and I sounded five blasts on the horns, hoping that one or both crews ashore might look out and see the impending peril.

One operator did eventually arrive on a center console, but it was too late.  The two boats had already collided, and the swell was pounding them together over and over again.  The boats smacked into each other (side by side) for several minutes before the skipper of the sportfisher managed to get aboard, start engines, weigh anchor, and move away.  We were free and under way by this time, but I was sorry I missed any opportunity to snap a photo of the two boats pounding into each other.  The sport fish re-anchored a few hundred feet south.  We re-anchored a few hundred feet north, giving what we thought was plenty of drag room to the Sea-Ray, whose skipper heard neither my horns nor my Sécurité call.

About a half hour later the center-console came back from shore to the sport fish carrying another eight people.  They all boarded the sport fish, tied the center console to a tow line astern, and beat a hasty retreat.  I tried several times to raise them on the radio to see if they had made contact with the Sea-Ray owner.  No response.  Guessing they were hoping to leave the scene of an accident without consequence, we called the coast guard, passed along the details of both boats, and a short while later I got a phone call from the Virginia Marine Police.

I was on this phone call when the Sea-Ray crew finally returned to their boat, and we managed to contact them and tell them what had happened.  They had no clue.  In the meantime, their boat has also continued to drag across the anchorage, and by the time they were aboard they were again just a boat length from us.  In their haste to get their anchor weighed and under way, they managed to run over their own anchor chain three times, and also wrap the tow line for their center console tender around a prop, severing it.  Then both boats raced off into the sunset, with, I suspect, nary a sober soul aboard.  I had the engine running and did my best to stay out of their way, but with our anchor well buried and no time to remove the snubber, there was little we could do save fend off if they had gotten any closer during the process.

By the time sunset came around, we were the only boat still here, which suits us fine, as we'd had enough drama for one day.  Still, I'm glad we did not miss the excitement by being up behind the concrete ships.  Today, in stark contrast, there is nary a boat to be seen, unless you count the giant US Navy hovercraft conducting exercises a mile to our west.

The swell picked up quite a bit overnight, and it was so rolly when we got up this morning that we thought about weighing anchor and heading back up to the protection of the park breakwater.  It calmed down quite a bit as the morning progressed, though, and we've decided to stay put unless it picks up again this afternoon.  At this writing, it looks like we will be here at least two more nights to have good weather on the ocean.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Odd Angle

Always a disconcerting view of one's boat. Our depth sounder failed again here in Deltaville so we're having the yard replace it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Worth the day's wait

We are under way in the Chesapeake, en route to Deltaville, Virginia to have a few things corrected before continuing north.  After the first couple of hours wending our way up the Elizabeth River and around Thimble Shoal, where closer attention to the helm is required, we are now in open water for the next few hours, leaving me ample extra attention to write.

Yesterday morning I walked around downtown Portsmouth and took in the "Farmers' Market," involving only three actual farms and perhaps two dozen other booths peddling all manner of "stuff," although to be fair some of it was also edible such as baked goods.  A couple of blocks away was the antique flea market, with another dozen or so booths.  I finally ended up back at the High Street Landing, the more southerly ferry landing (where we also could have docked).  Here I found yet another half dozen booths, staffed by folks in colonial attire, celebrating Patriots Day.  Docked at the landing was the Amara Zee, a purpose-built theater ship with a crew of aerialists; the city was sponsoring three nights of performances, which we opted to skip.

I had to pick my way through the colonialists to access the Naval Shipyard Museum, free for the day and which was actually fairly interesting.  I then made my way to the Lightship Portsmouth, which I expected to just walk through but instead ended up with a very informative docent tour.  Louise elected to stay home and quilt. I very much enjoyed the morning, in absolutely perfect weather, and we could easily have spent the rest of the day there, but we wanted to get settled for the fireworks.  We shoved off right after lunch for the cruise of less than a mile to the Hospital Point anchorage.

I'm glad we left when we did, because the anchorage was already filling up, limiting our options, a situation made worse by a string of perhaps two dozen crab pots smack dab in the middle of a designated anchorage.  We ended up dropping the hook at the north end, just off hospital point and only a hundred yards or so from the channel buoy which happens to mark the very northern terminus of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, "Mile 0" (map).  Between the crab traps, the proximity of other boats, the shallows near the point, and the ship channel, it took us three tries to get the hook in a spot where we could swing freely in all directions.  Which, of course, did not stop another dozen boats from anchoring in that circle before the fireworks began.

The anchorage just after sunset.  I lost count of the number of boats.  Many, many more arrived after this photo was snapped.

These were mostly small boats, and we knew they would not spend the night, so we were not too worried.  For us, a big part of the entertainment is watching what we like to call "amateur hour," and we were not disappointed.  We saw one small boat nearly cream another while anchoring, a third boat hit the Navy dock while they tried to set their anchor, and a fourth boat have to be towed at the end of the night with a dead electrical system.  After sunset, we saw every possible combination of incorrect lights -- boats anchored with their nav lights on, boats navigating without nav lights, and boats with no lights at all.  Law enforcement had a good presence, though, with boats from Norfolk PD, Southport PD, Virginia Conservation, and the USCG all zipping around with their blue lights on, which kept the real stupidity to a minimum.

This last point is an important one, and I'm sorry that all the law enforcement cleared out before all the boats had left.  Shortly after the end of the fireworks, a harbor tug, probably annoyed by having to wait a half hour for the channel to reopen, ripped down the river at over ten knots (the speed limit in this no-wake section is six knots), and his wake wreaked havoc in the anchorage just as boats were trying to leave.  Many yelled at him on the radio; even though Vector was not affected nearly as much (due to our sheer mass), I added my voice to the chorus, because I could see both his name and his speed on my AIS display.  (It was the Kaye E. Moran, and Moran Towing will be getting a note from me -- I've never seen such unprofessional behavior from a licensed mariner.  No excuse, either -- he was light-boat.)

In any case, there were no real mishaps, but lots of small boats, many with unskilled operators who've been drinking all evening (or maybe all day) can be a recipe for disaster.  Witness the fact that four people died and several more were hospitalized last night in Miami coming back from, you guessed it, the holiday fireworks.  We narrowly escaped a similar incident over Memorial Day weekend, when a small boat ran full-speed into an anchored trawler in the middle of the night, killing one occupant of the small boat and critically injuring the other (the trawler occupants were awakened from a sound sleep but were unharmed).  You may recall we cut our weekend short and left a day early; it happened that very evening, and the trawler they hit was the one anchored closest to us, just a few hundred yards away.

Aside from our own pastime of watching other boats, we also enjoyed the scheduled entertainment.  Even from across the river, we clearly heard the two cover bands playing at Town Point Park; both bands played mostly "our" (read: 1970s and '80s dance) music, and one of them was actually quite good.  The music ran from about 6:30 until the fireworks display at 9:30, so we had background music for dinner and for boat-watching.  The only part of the shore-side festivities we missed was overpriced truck food and wrist-band booze and, of course, the crowds.

Our view of the festivities.  The band shell is the tent-like structure in the center; we had no trouble hearing the music.  To the right is the marina where we stayed last May.

At the appointed time a tug pushed the fireworks barge into the middle of the harbor, and we had the best seats in the house.  The fireworks themselves were quite spectacular, and let me say here that I'm pretty jaded -- we've seen a lot of fireworks.  But Norfolk pulled out all the stops, as is fitting for a city with such a large military presence, and I have to say this was one of the most impressive displays we've seen this side of Disney.

Ring-side seats.  The fireworks barge is bottom center -- you can see the tug's floodlights.

We turned on all the outside lights after the show ended -- it's amusing to watch the weekenders leave, so long as they don't hit us on the way out.  In fact, we left the side-deck lights on all night, just to be that much more visible with so much late-night traffic.  Only about a dozen cruising boats spent the night -- the anchorage was empty earlier in the week, and I suspect it will be again by this evening.

We should be tied up at Deltaville Boatyard by five or so this afternoon, just in time for a six o'clock dinner with friends in town.  We'll be there for most of a week, but our friends fly out on business tomorrow morning.  We've had a number of items shipped to Deltaville in anticipation of our arrival, and we're looking forward to seeing the whole crew tomorrow, and likely meeting some new folks as well.  I'll try to post at least one update from Deltaville before we continue north.