Friday, October 10, 2014

Breaking my silence

We've been docked in Yorktown, Virginia, at the county's Riverwalk Landing Marina (map) for nearly two weeks, since Monday September 28th.  That's a long time to go without updating the blog (aside from George's memorial), but we've been busy visiting friends and family daily.  I'm also behind on answering comments.  Of course, dealing with a dying cat did not help my time management.

We said our last goodbyes this morning, to Martin and Steph as they shoved off for Norfolk.  There they will pick up their delivery skipper, who will take them and Blossom all the way to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, where it will be part of the Nordhavn exhibit.  Now that it's back to just the two of us, I finally have some time to catch up on the blog.  As luck would have it, I'm again typing under way in the Chesapeake.

This morning's sunrise over the York River.  That's Blossom at the pumpout dock on the right, with the barque Alliance behind it.

Our plan today had been to shove off at high slack around 1pm, head over to the pumpout dock, and then go just a mile downriver to the same anchorage where we spent the Sunday night of our arrival, adjacent to the marina's mooring field. That would give us all weekend to make our way to Deltaville for a Monday morning start on the project list.  It would also have given me a quiet afternoon at anchor to update the blog.  The forecast has been deteriorating, though, and we decided, after pumping out, to get as far as we could today, perhaps all the way to the Piankatank, so we would not have to plow through rough seas later on.

Shortly after finishing my post here two weeks ago, we arrived at our destination in Yorktown.  We were two full days early for our Tuesday reservation, but we headed over to the marina anyway, just to check it out.  It looked like a pretty easy dock, and the dockmaster met us to see if we wanted to try coming in, but it was a good hour past slack, and I would have to dock with the current behind me to be able to offload the scooters, tricky without a working bow thruster.  With full batteries, we also did not want to pay for an extra night of dockage we did not need.  So after assessing the situation, we headed back downriver to the anchorage.

We were happy to find these signs on the docks, which were locked after hours.  I called the sheriff's office three times during the course of our stay to deal with uninvited "guests" on the docks after hours, mostly guys fishing.

After we dropped the hook and got settled in, I contacted my cousins, who were already in town and just settling in to their accommodations.  They were happy to meet us for dinner at one of the dockside restaurants right there at Riverwalk Landing, and so we splashed the tender and did just that.  It was a great reunion -- we had not seen my cousin Lawrence, his wife Lori, and their son Joe (who calls us uncle and aunt) since January, 2013, when we were in the thick of buying a boat and they were in the thick of buying a house.  Long-time readers may remember we had Christmas dinner with them after delivering their dog, Simon, and their car, having driven both across country from our pre-purchase sea trial.

They rented a suite for a week in Williamsburg, a 20-minute drive from Yorktown.  Joining them were my other cousin, Chris, whom we saw recently in Troy, New York, and my Aunt Graciela, whom we also saw recently in Haverstraw, New York.  My uncle couldn't make it, and so the five of them fit comfortably in Chris's car for the ride to the docks.

Over an al fresco dinner at the Water Street Cafe, we hatched a plan for my cousins to join us aboard Vector Monday for a short cruise.  That involved the four of them piling into the dinghy with me at the marina for a slow putt to the anchorage, then watching as we stowed the tender and weighed anchor.  We had just enough time before slack tide to cruise underneath the massive George Coleman double swing bridge and up to the naval weapons depot before coming back through the bridge to the marina and docking.  The cruise was very short, but they got to spend a couple of hours on the boat, and Joe got to drive for a while after we turned around at the weapons depot and headed back for the bridge.

Joe drives Vector towards the Coleman Bridge.

The marina was happy to have us come in a day early, and I trundled into the office and paid for nine nights, a fairly long stay for us.  Blossom arrived Monday afternoon and did exactly what we had done -- anchored downriver to make a slack-current arrival on Tuesday.  The marina crammed the two of us right next to each other, yet we had the entire marina to ourselves for most of the nine days.

Vector and Blossom all alone at Riverwalk.

After we were well tied up at the dock, we put my scooter down so that we could go over to the cousins' suite in Williamsburg for dinner, bearing in mind we could not all fit in the car.  We had a lovely ride along the National Park Service's Colonial Parkway.  My cousins ended up feeding us at their place Tuesday and Thursday nights as well, and even invited Martin and Steph along. We returned the favor at a local Italian place near their digs on Friday, their final evening in town.

We had a fantastic visit with all five of them, mostly involving overeating in the evenings.  They did some of the Williamsburg tourist stuff in the daytime, while I got some projects done, Louise had a hair appointment, and we both got massages at a local massage school.  Wednesday was, of course, focused on the cat, and we were too emotional to have dinner with a crowd, so we had a quiet dinner with Martin and Steph at the Riverwalk Cafe dockside.  Martin and Steph were also quite close to George, having cat-sit for us on more than one occasion, including while we were sea-trialing the boat.

When the four of us made unequivocal plans to spend a week in Yorktown, Steph and Louise both decided to have their mothers fly out to meet us.  Louise's mom was the last among our parents to see the boat, since making flight reservations from California to connect with us is a bit like hitting a moving target.  This is one of the few places we've stopped long enough to do so close to a major airport.

To facilitate the logistics of all the family visits, we rented a car, as did the Blossom crew.  We got a great weekly rate, and picked it up on Thursday, making it due back yesterday right after all the mothers-in-law departed. As long as we had a car, we ran lots of errands involving trips to big-box stores in Newport News.

Among many other projects, I thus finally was able to replace the failed start battery.  A handful of pulleys and some rope from Lowe's let me rig a system to lift the old one, weighing 175 pounds, out of the engine room.  I replaced it with a much smaller battery from Advance Auto Parts, leaving room in the battery tray for a second, identical battery in parallel if this one proves insufficient.  The jury is out at the moment.

We had a bit of downtime between my family's departure and the arrival of Louise's mom.  Part of that was occupied with projects, but Saturday turned out to be the annual Virginia Wine Festival at Riverwalk Landing, and we all bought tickets and sampled the local wines.  I found none worthy of actually buying a bottle, but it was fun tasting them all and enjoying the outdoor festival in perfect weather.

Super moon rising over the York.  We did not catch the eclipse at zero-dark-thirty the next morning.

This was the event that necessitated the tight quarters at the marina.  By Saturday afternoon the marina was full, with a boat at every inside spot.  As luck would have it, though, Saturday night ended up being the worst weather of our whole stay, with 30-knot winds whipping down the river and sending waves crashing over the docks.  Vector and Blossom did not move uncomfortably, being the heavy boats they are.  But the other dozen boats in the marina did not fare as well, and we saw many crews standing watch in the wee hours, tending to their dock lines.  Some of the smaller boats looked like they were having worse motion at the dock than Vector has seen at sea.

Waves coming over the docks, shot from our aft deck.

We never made it to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, or any of the other tourist attractions in the area.  But I did ride my bicycle around all of Yorktown, which is historic in its own right.  It is, of course, where Cornwallis surrendered to Washington, thus ending the Revolutionary War.  Many of the earthworks and fortifications for both sides still exist, as do some structures of the era, though the fortifications were altered by both sides during the Civil War.

The very first monument authorized by Congress, in 1781.  Even then, they were inefficient -- it was not erected until a century later, for the centennial of the surrender.

This week we've been entertained by numerous Coast Guard boats practicing docking and line-tying at our dock and the ones around us.  There is a large USCG training facility in Yorktown, and these were recruits, still wet behind the ears, being instructed by petty officers.  Many, it would seem, had never set foot on a boat before they enlisted.

Perhaps hard to tell, but there are five USCG small boats in this photo.  We saw as many as a dozen practicing at the docks.

Today's entertainment, just as we were finishing our pumpout, was watching the USS Farragut transit the swing bridge, which seldom opens, on its way to the weapons dock.  We only saw the bridge open one other time during our stay, for a Coast Guard cutter going to the same place.

USS Farragut, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer, heads for the opening of the Coleman Bridge.

This morning we were awakened by a DSC distress message on the radio at 7:15, which turned out to be a false alarm from a vessel some 150 miles away, in North Carolina.  At least I got a nice sunrise photo, which appears earlier in this post, and we were well awake for our 8:30 farewell breakfast date with Martin and Steph after they moved Blossom to the pumpout dock on the 7am slack.

The visitor we found under our bow line.  He's tiny -- that cleat is perhaps 10" long.

We cast off lines and headed for the pumpout ourselves at the 1pm slack.  As she was singling lines, Louise found a tiny visitor to our humble abode: a little green snake no bigger than a pencil in diameter. I have no idea how he got here.  By the time we were ready to leave, we had 5-10 knots of wind pinning us to the dock, and it was a real challenge to get the boat away with no thruster and no room for backing astern.  We made it without incident, other than some black marks from the dock's rubber bumper on our hull, which the dockmaster called a "Yorktown racing stripe," easily removed.

It's taken me most of the cruise to get this all typed, and then some, and we are now safely anchored in nearly the exact same spot we left two weeks ago, in the Piankatank River outside of Deltaville. We decided to press on the whole way, knowing we'd arrive just after dark, but that we'd be dropping the hook in a familiar spot.  Of course the five minute downpour of rain had to happen just as Louise was on deck deploying the anchor.  We'll move into Jackson Creek tomorrow or Sunday as weather permits.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Best. Cat. Ever.


Our sweetest girl, George, passed away today peacefully in our arms.  While we did opt to assist her passing, ultimately kidney disease is what took her from us.  The disease first manifested itself back in 2008, when she passed a painful kidney stone as we were deploying to the Hurricane Dolly relief operation with the Red Cross.  This disease inevitably worsens, notwithstanding tightly controlled diet, subcutaneous hydration, and careful monitoring and veterinary care.  Honestly, we are so thankful for all the years we've had with her, well in excess of what we were told to expect.

George and Angel on their first full day at home.  They'll grow into those enormous ears.

George came into our lives as a kitten, on the same day as her "sister" Angel, who is really from a different litter.  They both came from the shelter in the spring of 2001.  After a full day of hissing at each other, they became good friends, at least at the start, and we have many photos of them sleeping together.  In their later years, George would bully Angel, and probably the best way to describe their adult relationship is d├ętente.


Shelters learned long ago that pets, even kittens and puppies, are more adoptable if they have names, and when we got them, we liked "Angel" enough to just keep it.  (We later discovered that it was somewhat misleading, as "angelic" is not how we would describe her.)  George's shelter name was "Patch," and neither of us cared for that name at all.  We brought her home and ruminated about names for several days.

Come to the light.

We discovered in short order that she liked nothing better than to be held and loved and even squeezed tightly, and I could not help being inspired by a childhood memory of this scene from the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoon, The Abominable Snow Rabbit:

The first time I said "I'm going to hold her, and love her, and squeeze her, and call her 'George'" the name stuck, and thus we had a female cat with a male name.  To the very end she still loved to be held closely, although she was so frail that we dared not squeeze.

Sometimes I squeeze you back, daddy.

George loved confined spaces, and we'd often find her peeking out of boxes or bags.  When she was still a tiny kitten with big ears she crawled into Louise's motorcycle helmet through the visor area, and then was perfectly content when we closed the visor.

Can we go for a ride?

Take me shopping.

We still lived in a condo when we got her, moving to a different condo just a few weeks later. Shortly after her third birthday, she began her peripatetic life, starting with the car as we shuttled back and forth between San Jose, California and Sumner, Washington for monthly checks on the progress of the bus.


Unlike her sister, who suffered from a bit of motion sickness at the start, George settled in comfortably to the traveling life.  Moving onto the bus was a big adventure for her, with many new spaces to explore, and transitioning to the boat was better still.  They have been indoor cats their whole lives, but on the boat she was allowed to roam the decks at anchor, which she loved.

Each of us has had many pets over the years, and for the last 13 years we've always said that George was the best cat ever.  She loved people, would purr just from proximity, and climbed into the bed between us for warmth and cuddles.  We will miss her terribly.

She spent her final day doing what she loved -- climbing onto our laps for morning love on the aft deck, and lying on the deck in the sun.  We gave her a final dose of subcutaneous ringers last night so she would be as comfortable as possible today.  I am very thankful we were able to find a vet to come to the boat, so she could spend her final moments in comfortable and familiar surroundings.

Goodbye, George.  You will always be the best cat ever.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Comfort in the familiar

We are once again under way in the Chesapeake, on the final leg to the York River.  The bay is like glass today.  This morning found us in a very familiar place, anchored just outside of the Jackson Creek entrance on the Piankatank River (map).  We could see the docks at Deltaville Boatyard and Marina from there, although we were too far to get their WiFi signal.  We were treated to a spectacular sunset over Stove Point after dinner.

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has written, either in the comments or directly, to express their feelings regarding George's condition.  It means a great deal to us that so many of you care.  Many who have met her know what a friendly and loving cat she is (well, except to other cats) and how much we will miss her.  As much as we love our other cat, Angel, she can never replace what George gave us.

Yesterday after I posted we were treated to a large pod of dolphins feeding; about a half dozen or so came over to play in our bow wave.  We learned long ago that Vector does not go fast enough for that to be fun for long, and we enjoyed them porpoising alongside us for only a couple of minutes before they got bored and swam off.  Still it is a wonderful sight, such strong, graceful animals swimming just a few feet below our eyes.

Today we had to thread our way among the participants in a sailboat regatta on our way out of the river, which is exactly what we had to do the last time we left Deltaville.  We spotted at least one boat we recognize from the yard, and we also recognized a friend who works at the yard.  Fortunately, the race had not yet started and we did not have to divert our course.

Our friends Martin and Steph aboard Blossom are also under way today, having left Baltimore early this morning.  Their latest blog post updated us on what we missed the last two days of the show.  Blossom is faster than Vector, being ten feet longer, and they will arrive in Yorktown just a day behind us.

Tonight we should be anchored in the York River.  We will time our arrival at the dock tomorrow for a favorable tide - I have some tricky maneuvering ahead without the thruster.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

PAX River

This morning found us anchored in the Patuxent River, just off the runway at the Naval Air Station (map).  Across the river is Solomons, Maryland, where we stayed a few nights last year.  This time, we needed neither the protection nor the services (although we did pick up their WiFi), and this spot was closer to the bay. We did have to put out over 200' of chain in 30' of water.

PAX River NAS, tower and hangars.

We dropped the hook a little after 6pm, a long day for us.  The weather was pleasant, though, and the traffic from the airfield light, so we had a nice dinner on the aft deck.  In the evening I drained the tap water out of the engine cooling system and filled it back up with coolant.

Apparently I misjudged the overall capacity of the system, because I had to add an extra gallon and a half to it.  I used filtered tap water for this extra bit because I only had three gallons of distilled.  I left the domestic water heater loop valved off, so there is still a little room in there to add straight coolant later, which will get me back close to 50/50.  As it stands, we're at 40% glycol and 60% water, which is fine for most purposes, but it leaves the additive package short.

This morning we had a bit of coolant leak out from the pump when the engine was still cold, but after it warmed up the leak stopped entirely.  With the old extended-life coolant, we were seeing leakage throughout the day.  It's possible that this is the best it's going to get until we replace the pump, but if we leak only a tablespoon or so every startup we can go a long time before that will be necessary.

It's quite calm out here on the Chesapeake today, and we're having a pleasant cruise, albeit marred by an unpleasant task.  I've been calling vets in the Yorktown area to see if one will come to the boat for George's final appointment. She's still eating and drinking, but she's getting too weak to move around the boat, the episodes of dementia are nearly constant, and she mostly lies around with a vacant stare.  She does not seem to be in any pain, but neither does anything please her any longer.

These decisions are always hard.  We've been taking turns crying uncontrollably. But we know now unequivocally that it is time; leaving Baltimore we became concerned that she'd go into crisis before we make our next stop.  If that happens, there is little we can do for her for many hours until we can make port someplace, and then we'd likely have to get her into a taxi for her final ride. We'd rather her last hour on Earth not be filled with the fear that comes with any trip in the carrier, followed by the unmistakable smell of a vet's office.

For now she is resting comfortably in the salon, and we're continuing to give her subcutaneous fluids every day and a half.  When she is awake and lucid we try to give her whatever comfort we can.  And we have our fingers crossed that she will make it to Yorktown without incident.

Tonight we should be somewhere in the Piankatank River, which is incidentally where Deltaville Boatyard is located.  We'll be right back there after we wrap up in Yorktown.  On this pass, we will only go as far up the river as is necessary to get a comfortable spot to drop the hook.  Tomorrow we will go most of the rest of the way to Yorktown, with a planned arrival on Tuesday just ahead of high slack, to simplify docking.  My cousins are in route now and should be arriving late tonight.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Been busy in Baltimore

We are under way southbound on the Chesapeake, bound for Yorktown. We just wrapped up a very busy week in Baltimore, Maryland, where we were docked at the Inner Harbor Marina (map), right in the thick of things. Our friends aboard Blossom are still there, enjoying the last couple of days of Trawler Fest, but we needed to get moving to catch up with family in a few days.

Vector at the Inner Harbor.

Before I continue with today's update, we received an anonymous comment on my last post here that is quite timely and appropriate to answer here in the main blog, rather than in the comments.  That reader asks:
You've had to do a number of very in-depth repairs and I'm curious if this is a function of a used boat (ie, you're just lucky to own it when these parts hit the could-be-trouble point in their duty cycle) or if this is just boating generally. ...
Is there a point where you will be able to run for a period of time and not expect a major maintenance issue (ie, tearing apart the cooling system)?

Those of you who are already cruisers know the answer to this, of course,  but for anyone who has never owned a boat larger than a center-console, the answers are "yes," "yes," and "not really."  That is to say that, yes, a used boat will have a different set of issues than a new one, but, sadly, even a new boat will have problems.  Note I said "will," not "may."  Our friends took delivery of their new boat just a month ago, and they are still shaking out problems with the generators, heads, engine room cooling, the propeller -- the list goes on.

The reality is that a boat with living quarters comprises many complex systems, with equally complex interconnections among them.  On a new boat, those systems are universally delivered without an adequate amount of testing, because the manufacturers do not want to deliver a product with systems that have been "used."  No one wants to take delivery of a brand new boat, for example, where the toilets have already been used (for their intended purpose) say, two dozen times, or where the generator has already been "broken in" and run up through its first 100-hour oil change.  Yet that is often what it takes to "dial in" the systems and shake out any "infant mortality" failures.

Of course, on a new boat, those sorts of problems are covered under warranty. Fat lot of good that does you, though, if you are a hundred miles offshore when your generator, or air conditioning, or waste system quits.  Used boats, like ours, usually come from the previous owner with the systems already dialed in and any sub-par factory parts already replaced.  Here, instead, we have problems more related to aging components, incorrect maintenance, and the like.  Many of these problems will be evident during the pre-purchase survey, and, in our case, we made allowance for many expected problems in the final settled price of the boat.

Even when all is working perfectly, ongoing failures are a routine part of boating life, the inevitable result of statistical probabilities.  I once tried to count the number of pumps we have aboard, and found that we have close to twenty of them.  Many are in use nearly 1,000 hours each year.  If the MTBF of a properly maintained pump is, say, 5,000 hours, then we can expect to replace a pump every three months or so.  That's an oversimplification, of course, but you get the idea.

So the answer to the final question, about running for "a period of time" without having to fix something, depends on what you mean by "period."  Yes, we can run for days, weeks, or even months with nothing breaking.  But I can't imagine any boat similar to ours, new or used, going for a full year, or even half that, of full-time, live-aboard use without something breaking.  We cope with this situation by carrying a full-time mechanic (yours truly), a full set of tools, and spares for all the critical parts we can imagine.  Many boaters, including our friends, choose instead to add redundancy -- they have two engines, two generators, two water makers, two steering pumps, etc..

I mention all this now so that I do not sound like a broken record, or like I am whining, when I tell you, so soon on the heels of the coolant pump issue, that our bow thruster quit on our way out of the Maryland Yacht Club a week ago.  We knew this was going to happen: as I reported here back in August, the thruster started making pre-failure noises, and inspection revealed drive leg oil seepage that indicated it was not long for this world and would need to be replaced.  We were hoping it would hang in there until our scheduled haul-out in Deltaville two weeks hence, but it was not to be.  Fortunately, we only have two more dockings before then, so I can't complain.

As long-time readers will know, this is not the first, second, or even the third time our thruster has gone out.  I think, however, that all the failures are related. The drive leg failed early on in our ownership, and I am guessing that was the original and thus ten years old.  We had it replaced, and a couple of months later it melted one of its battery terminals.  Later still it sheared a coupling, and we discovered the bolts were not properly tightened during the replacement.  This likely caused the terminal meltdown as well as the sheared coupling. My guess is that the latest failure is the inevitable result of internal gear damage that was done during that episode.  Live and learn:  we will watch and make certain the leg is installed properly this time around.

After pulling out of the slip at the yacht club, we went around to the pumpout dock while conditions were calm.  It's a face dock, so I had no trouble approaching without the thruster.  After pumping out, we had an enjoyable cruise to Baltimore.  Things got a bit rocky when we arrived at the marina, in the middle of a weekend procession of a half dozen or so boats.

Fort McHenry, flying a replica of the Star Spangled Banner (15 stars and 15 stripes).

The marina had assigned us to a slip at the end of a very long fairway.  It would have been a perfect back-in, with a great view and very close to the ramp leading ashore.  But we had ten knots or so of crosswind, and I thought it would be too risky to try.  After some back-and-forth on the radio they gave us a bow-in slip closer to the entrance, but as soon as I started my turn to line up, the boat got caddy-wumpus and there was no way I was going to get it into the slip without hitting anything.

It took everything I had to back all the way out of the fairway into open water, much to the annoyance of the other boats waiting to enter.  We pleaded with the marina to give us a spot on the face dock, which would have been a slam-dunk, but they had reservations for larger boats covering the whole dock.  We finally convinced them to give us a slip much closer to the fairway entrance, with no boat in the adjacent slip (the slips are in pairs, with no pier or pilings separating the two spots).  That was the ticket, and I got it in on the first shot with no further problems.

It's a nice marina, adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant where Martin and Steph joined us for dinner that evening.  The marina has passes for the very nice indoor pool and fitness center in the Royal Sonesta hotel across the street.  It is a short walk to all the inner harbor attractions, and a pleasant walk along the quay in the other direction leads to the Harborview Marina where Trawler Fest was held and our friends were staying.  We got a discounted rate, arranged for the show.

Over the weekend we put one scooter down and I spent a good part of Monday and Tuesday running errands, including picking up the new coolant pump at the Komat'su dealer, and loading up on distilled water at Walmart and Fleet Charge coolant at the auto parts store.  Louise also made a provisioning run to the nearby grocery store before we hoisted the scooter back on deck Tuesday evening, mostly because it was too much of a hassle to park it.

Komat'su water pump.  Hard to tell here, but it's big.  And heavy.

Monday afternoon our new bicycles arrived from Amazon.  The scooters are absolutely wonderful, and usually the right solution when we are tied up at a dock.  But we prefer to anchor out, and there is typically no way to get scooters ashore when we are anchored.  We've been hunting around for some inexpensive folding bicycles that we can carry ashore in the tender, effectively extending our shopping and exploring range by several miles.

One of our new bikes.  We've ordered a folding stand so we don't need to use the pedestal like this on a dock.

Louise found these 18-speed mountain bikes on-line, with a single hinge in the middle and 26" wheels.  They don't get particularly small, and they are anything but light, but they work great and they (just barely) fit in the tender.  We happily used the bikes to get around, and over to Harborview and back.  We need to make some carry bags for them, mostly to protect the boat and the tender from pointy bits on the bikes.

When we were not running around on errands or assembling bicycles, we enjoyed seeing some of the sights around the Inner Harbor and enjoying several restaurants with Martin and Steph, who also fed us a couple of meals aboard.
We enjoyed meeting our neighbors JD and Whitney, their trawler displaced from Harborview for the show.  We also caught up with many long-time friends at Trawler Fest yesterday, and we were sorry to have to leave this morning after just a single day.

The "big boy" dock at Trawler Fest.

We shoved off at 8:15 for a long day's cruise.  It was calm and the adjacent slip was still empty, so it was straightforward backing out and getting turned around without the thruster. On our way out of the harbor I captured a shot of the Trawler Fest docks behind us, as well as one of the city skyline and the nuclear-powered cargo/passenger ship NS Savannah.

Goodbye, Baltimore!

Nuclear Ship Savannah.

With so much going on in Baltimore, I did not have a chance to post to the blog. When I realized we'd have an autopilot-intensive ten hour cruise today I decided to just wait until we were under way and post a bigger update.  As nice as it would be to make a few stops along the way, such as Annapolis or Solomons, my cousins are arriving in Williamsburg on the 28th, and we'd like to be there shortly thereafter; I booked the marina for the 30th.  It's at least a three-day trip, and we left some room for weather, with today being our longest run.

At this writing, we've been under way nearly seven hours, and the coolant leak has essentially stopped completely.  It was greatly reduced on our way to Baltimore, and we had a bit come out when I revved it up several times while maneuvering this morning.  We'll see how it does when I do my "full RPM" five-minute run at the end of the day, but at this point I am willing to try putting the correct coolant in the system and calling it good for the time being.  We've got the spare pump on board now for the day when it starts back up at a more prodigious rate.

Tonight we should be somewhere in the Patuxent River, a run of about 65 nautical miles.  Tomorrow will also be a long day, unless weather intervenes. We have some flexibility in our arrival date, and I want to come in to the face dock at Yorktown with a minimal amount of current, on the nose.  That should make the lack of thrusters moot.  Blossom will join us there a day or two later.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Catch-up day

We are docked at the Maryland Yacht Club, off Rock Creek near Pasadena, Maryland (map).  It was a very short trip here from our last stop -- anchored just a few hundred yards away at a familiar stop in Rock Creek along with our friends aboard Blossom.  They weighed anchor shortly ahead of us, did some docking drills, and headed off to Baltimore, where we will join them tomorrow.

We had a nice cruise Tuesday from our quiet anchorage on the Corsica.  Blossom headed out just before us, and they ran a good half to three quarters of a knot faster than us as well -- it's a longer boat and so has a higher cruise speed.  We were able to mostly keep up with them by cutting all the corners closer, as we also have a lower draft.  We would have been right behind them coming in here except I had to dodge a Coast Guard cutter and a container ship while I was crossing the ship channel.

While we were anchored here, they lent us their whizzy pedal-powered kayaks to try them out.  I have to say, they are much easier to propel with the big leg muscles than with upper arm strength.  That said, for our purposes, simpler is probably better and I think we will continue shopping for a two-person conventional paddle-powered model with no frills.

We got together Tuesday evening for cocktails on Vector, and Wednesday we had cocktails aboard Blossom before piling in their enormous tender and going ashore to Mike's for dinner.  They were having a special on crab cakes, and four of the five of us ordered them, which left Louise and I with three leftover crab cakes for dinner last night as well.  Good thing -- there's nothing in walking distance here except the yacht club itself (closed Thursday evening), but at least we are here on a free two-night certificate that we won at last year's MTOA rendezvous.

Now that we're apart for a couple of days, today was a good day to tackle some projects.  Chief among them is the leaking engine coolant pump, one of perhaps two dozen pumps on the boat.  A week ago, Louise noticed some red coolant in the bilge during a routine engine room check.  After the engine cooled down I was able to track it back to behind the coolant pump pulley, and after removing the belt guard it was clear that it was coming out of the weep hole on the bottom of the pump.

This can mean only one thing, which is that coolant is coming past the shaft seal. A call to Northern Lights in Seattle confirmed the seal would probably need to be replaced, and to get to the pump I'd have to remove the expansion tank, the thermostat housing, and all the external coolant plumbing.  Then I'd either need an impeller puller and a bearing press to rebuild the pump, or to replace the pump entirely.

A follow-up call to the service manager on the east coast brought some slightly better news.  It turns out that we have the wrong coolant in the engine, a type that is known not only to cause premature seal wear, but also to squeeze past the seal much more easily.  The engine was delivered with the proper coolant, as well as a coolant filter and time-release additive canister.  Somewhere along the line some mechanic removed the filter canister, including all its mounting hardware and plumbing, and refilled the cooling system with this incorrect coolant, nominally to extend the drain interval.

The suggestion from the service manager was to completely drain the extended-life coolant and replace it with plain water, run the engine for a few days, and see if the leak stops or at least slows down.  If so, he thinks I can get away with refilling the system with the proper coolant without having to replace the pump just yet.

So today's project was to drain the coolant, all seven or eight gallons of it, and fill the system with tap water.  We wanted to be at a marina for this project, in case anything went wrong (such as a drain petcock breaking).  A bonus in doing it here is that this marina actually has a collection drum for used antifreeze.

We've now got fresh water in the cooling system, but I had to valve off the loop going to the domestic water heater, as I could not bleed all the air out of it.  The engine is running fine on a static test, but only the trip to Baltimore tomorrow will tell us if the cooling system is working normally.  I don't expect to have a result on whether this will slow the leak until another few days of running, after we leave Baltimore.

Given that this is a critical failure point, and could leave us stranded, I also ordered a replacement coolant pump, which is waiting for us in Baltimore. Northern Lights wanted $1,800 for it, but I was able to order it directly from Komatsu for $1,300 -- apparently, it costs $500 to spray-paint it Lugger White over the stock construction-equipment yellow.  And I used to think Detroit Diesel parts were expensive.

If we end up needing to replace the pump, we'll do that in Deltaville when we are there next month.  They have a Lugger technician on staff, and can get all the O-rings, gaskets, and seals that will be needed to reassemble the cooling system after the replacement.  If it is still serviceable, I might have them rebuild the old pump as a spare.

When it rains, it pours, and the other pump on the main engine is also failing. That would be the raw water pump, and the shaft seal on the wet side of the pump is now leaking.  I have a spare for this pump, but I want to also replace all the hoses that connect to it, a job that will be easier when we are out of the water in Deltaville.  I've already had this pump off the engine once, to replace a leaky oil seal, and it's a big job.

Tonight we'll have dinner right here at the Yacht Club, which is supposed to be quite good, and tomorrow morning we will continue on to Baltimore.  Martin and Steph say goodbye to their training captain, Jim, today, and we will reconnect with them when we get into town.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Eastern shore solitude

We are anchored in the Corsica River, off the Chester, just a few miles from Centreville, Maryland (map).  Blossom is anchored just a few hundred yards from us.  It is dark and very, very quiet here at night; the Corsica is navigable only another mile by large boats, and three miles to Centreville by shallow-draft.

We had a very pleasant cruise here Sunday from Rock Hall, although on such a nice day, there was a lot of traffic on the bay.  I suspect some of the traffic was related to the Star Spangled 200, still ongoing on Sunday, which was the final day for the Blue Angels performance.  A good time to be here on the quiet side.

We led out of the harbor and most of the way here, with Blossom taking the lead coming into the Corsica so they could choose their anchorage.  Blossom draws another eight inches more than Vector, so they are the limiting factor.  Left to our own devices, we would have chosen a spot another mile upriver, thus shortening the tender ride into town.

Vector under way, as seen from Blossom.

We each got some good shots of the other vessel under way.  We both splashed our tenders after we dropped the hooks, and Louise and I zipped over to Blossom for a delicious dinner of Moroccan Stew.

Blossom under way, taking over the lead.  She's at full power here, running the engines up to clear the soot.

Yesterday afternoon we all headed into town.  Martin, Steph, and Jim crammed into their tender with two full-size bicycles, and Louise and I went separately in our own tender, which allowed both boats to get on plane for most of the ride. The bicycles were to allow the ladies to head off to the local quilt shop a couple of miles away, while the boys wandered around town (ten minutes) and landed at the pub (45 minutes).

I picked up a couple of gallons of gas for the tender at the lone station/mini-mart in town on our way back toward the river, and the five of us reconnected at Doc's Riverside Grille for dinner.  The crab cakes were delicious and the place was pretty popular for a Monday.

It's a quaint little town, as you might discern from today's cover photo, typical of the eastern shore.  Not much there, except in this case, as the county seat, it sported a number of lawyers and bail bondsmen, encircled around the historic court house.  Apparently it is the oldest operational courthouse in Maryland.

This morning we loaded the tenders back aboard and in a few minutes we will weigh anchor for a familiar anchorage, near White Rocks off the Patapsco River. We should have better Internet access there, and we'll have a couple of restaurants we can dinghy to when we want to get together.  Martin and Steph only have their training captain aboard for another few days, and they are working on anchoring systems this week.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave

Today is the 200th anniversary of the raising of the Star Spangled Banner over Fort McHenry -- the flag that, today, resides at the Smithsonian museum.  The very flag which inspired the lyrics to what is now our national anthem, a line from which is today's post title.

Vector (left) and Blossom (right) together in Rock Hall.

We are docked at the free town dock in Rock Hall, Maryland (map), across Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore.  Fort McHenry is just twenty miles from here, and, of course, we can't get near the place.  For one thing, every marina and mooring field from the Inner Harbor to the mouth of the Patapsco has been booked for months.  For another, the Blue Angels have been practicing and performing daily over the main section of the river since our arrival in the area Thursday, and the harbor has been closed to navigation from 10:00-18:00 daily.  Every Coast Guard cutter and harbor patrol boat in a fifty-mile radius has converged on the city; tonight we should see the rockets' red glare from the fireworks.

It has been amusing to listen to pleasure boaters and tug skippers alike pleading with the coasties to get to their berths.  And there are apparently a fair number of boaters who haven't a clue that they need to get out of the way of historic square-rigged Coast Guard cutters bearing down on them.  The radio has been squawking non-stop since Thursday.

The Reedy Point Bridge heralds our arrival at the C&D Canal.

Wednesday we got under way at the start of the ebb in the C&D Canal and had a very pleasant and scenic cruise through this historic waterway.  The C&D effectively makes the entire Delmarva Peninsula an island, reachable only by way of several bridges.  The graceful Reedy Point bridge welcomed us to the canal, while the modern but unimaginatively named C&D Canal Bridge sees more highway traffic.

The ultra-modern C&D Canal Bridge.

Summit North marina, in Bear, our hailing port.

We passed our official hailing port of Bear, Delaware, which is otherwise landlocked but has a single marina on the canal.  And we passed the quaint town of Chesapeake, Maryland, where we had originally intended to stop for the night.  With two knots of current behind us and numerous reports of significant shoaling both in the entrance channel and at the docks, we opted to play it safe and continue on.

The town of Chesapeake, at the foot of the Summit Bridge.

Having made that decision, we decided to ride the ebb as far as we could, which brought us to a beautiful anchorage known as Still Pond, off the Chesapeake south of the Sassafras River.  It was a lovely and quiet spot, but we had no cell coverage at all there, let alone Internet access.

The Turkey Point Light, where Elk Creek meets the Chesapeake Bay.

Thursday we again weighed anchor mid-day at the start of the ebb and came here, where we knew there was a free dock with access to provisions and services.  As with much of the eastern shore, there are lots of shallows, and we had less than eight feet of water at the entrance, although we arrived at low tide.

Even though their boat draws nearly a full foot more than Vector, our friends Martin and Steph decided they would take a shot at getting in here to meet up with us, and they arrived at high tide yesterday.  Winds had shifted from south to north in between our arrivals, and so they really did not have any more water than we did, and we'll both have to leave on a high tide to get out of the harbor.

There are two restaurants right here by the free dock, along with a well-stocked bait, tackle, and general store.  This latter establishment had the beer we like, and I ran in to stock up right after we tied up.  I learned they were running a fishing tournament here today, and they asked if we would both squeeze down to the eastern end of the bulkhead, which we did.

It's been great catching up with them and finally seeing their boat complete and in cruising trim.  They have a training skipper with them, and the five of us have enjoyed a few meals together already.  We've also walked around the quaint little town, about a mile walk, twice.  The town has a few restaurants, a grocery, a Walgreens, Dollar General, and even a small West Marine.

I had high hopes of finding some hose and other items at the West Marine for some imminent repairs, but no such luck.  Our raw water pump is leaking at the seal, so I will be installing our spare.  Of much greater concern is that the coolant pump is also leaking at the seal, an eight-hour replacement project involving tearing apart half the cooling system, to get at the $1,900 pump that is out of stock at the manufacturer.  The support folks gave me some workarounds to try until we can source a pump.

This evening we will have a final restaurant meal somewhere in town.  Tomorrow we plan to shove off at high tide and head up the Chester River to anchor for a few nights.   It is likely we will once again be without Internet access, but I will try to post if I can.  We'll move over to the western side of the bay after the Star Spangled 200th chaos has subsided, and we are due in the inner harbor around the 20th, in advance of Trawler Fest.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cradle of Liberty

We had a nice two-day visit to Philadelphia, where we docked right at Penn's Landing Sunday mid-day.  We had such a good push up the river on the flood that we arrived well before our planned slack-tide arrival, so I overshot the marina to approach from down-current.  Once in the basin there was very little current and we had no trouble tying up.

PPL Park.

It was an interesting cruise upriver, with a few sights to see.  We passed PPL Park (the soccer venue) as well as Lincoln Financial Stadium, where the Eagles were playing as we went by, as evidenced by numerous banner-flying airplanes and the Met Life blimp circling overhead.  We also passed Harrah's Casino, attached to a horse track, where we once stayed in the bus.

Eagles Stadium.

Harrah's racetrack casino, in Chester.

We then passed the retired aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, the last non-nuclear US carrier built, now at the reserve base awaiting a worthy organization to make a museum of it.  Next up was the graceful but tired-looking SS United States, the fastest ocean liner ever built.  It, too, awaits refurbishment.  Finally, on the Camden, NJ side, we have the battleship USS New Jersey, now a museum.

John F. Kennedy, looking a bit worn.

The majestic SS United States.

Battleship New Jersey.

We were in a museum of sorts ourselves, with Commodore Dewey's flagship from the Spanish-American War, the protected cruiser USS Olympia, immediately astern of us.  Behind it is the WWII-era submarine USS Becuna. Immediately ahead of us across the pier was the century-old tug boat Jupiter. Finally, the barque Moshulu, now a restaurant, adjacent to the Olympia across the basin from us.

The Olympia behind us.  Top of the Customs House is to the right.

Upon hearing we were en route to Philly, Louise's cousin and her husband made arrangements to come out from the Manayunk neighborhood for a visit.  They met us at Penn's Landing Sunday afternoon, and took us on a nice tour of the city and its neighborhoods before heading off to a nice dinner at an Italian place near their house.  It was a wonderful evening and it was great catching up.

Monday, Louise caught up on the laundry -- six loads' worth -- given that this is our first marina stay in over a month.  We have our own washer/dryer, but running it without access to a city water supply is problematic, as it will quickly empty our 500-gallon tank.  We did get a load done just before filling the tank in Greenport, and, in hindsight, we probably should have stayed and done some in Yonkers while we had access to a hose at the free dock there.  We'd have to run the genny, but that's cheap compared to marina power.

Meanwhile, I headed off to visit the aforementioned historic ships, the Olympia and Becuna, both very interesting and a bargain at just $10 with AAA discount. That included admission to the Independence Seaport Museum, but the museum itself was shop-worn and uninteresting.  I often do these sorts of walking museum tours stag, because they are very hard on Louise's feet, and she prefers to save her limited walking time for things more interesting to her.

View of Vector from the Olympia.  Tug Jupiter across the pier, and the battleship across the river.

Monday evening we walked to the City Tavern, where we enjoyed colonial-style draft beer and some colonial-era menu items served by wait staff in period attire. The food was quite good, thanks to an award-winning chef, and the National Park Service did an excellent job with the building, basically a ground-up re-creation of the original.

After dinner we hoofed it to the nearest grocery store to re-stock the now-empty larder.  Between two backpacks and our folding hand-truck we managed to get everything we needed back to the boat, though it was a long hike.

Yesterday we had a half day in town, as we did not want to shove off before high tide, around 2:30.  We walked around the historic district briefly, until Louise's poor feet could take no more, and returned to the boat in time to see Jupiter depart upriver for its winter berth.  Labor Day is really the last hurrah for Penn's Landing; while we were there they also took the pedal swan rental boats out of the water.

It was a very busy stop and I never found time to post to the blog -- these posts take me one to two hours, closer to the latter when there are photos involved. Neither did I have time yesterday after we left, as we ended up going further than planned.

The forecast for the upper Delaware yesterday was foreboding, with 25-knot wind gusts and 2-3 foot waves.  We figured to plough downriver a few miles and take shelter behind Tilicum Island or one of the very few coves.  Two feet turned out to be less than a half foot, though, and with a good current behind us, we decided to press on all the way to dinner time.  Ironically, that put us at the exact same spot where we had anchored on the way north (map), but at least we knew the holding was good and we had a 4G signal. I fired up the electric BBQ while we were still underway, taking advantage of an excess of alternator power, and grilled lamb chops for dinner after we dropped the hook.

Delaware Memorial Bridges at night.

At this writing, we are anchored on a "lunch hook" just outside the eastern entrance to the Chesapeake & Delaware (C&D) Canal (map).  We weighed anchor this morning before we even finished our first coffee, to take advantage of the last of the morning ebb.  I ended up pushing against the flood for the last 20 minutes of the run, but we had a good push for the first hour and a half.  The current in the C&D can be wicked, so we are waiting here until it starts in the westbound direction, which is considered the ebb on the canal.

There is one other boat here with us in the anchorage, a sailing catamaran.   I am hoping it will be just the two of us at the head of the line when the ebb starts, because we'd like to get a spot at the free dock in Chesapeake City.  The dock is only 200' long, room for just three or four boats.  Otherwise, we will likely be anchored in that same basin.

By this time tomorrow, we will be in the upper Chesapeake.  Our friends Martin and Steph aboard Blossom are working their way north and we hope to meet up before the week is over.  We'll cruise the Chesapeake for a few days, and then join them in Baltimore for the start of Trawler Fest.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Coals to Newcastle

This morning found us anchored in the Delaware River, off Townsend, Delaware (map).  We had a very nice cruise yesterday through the Cape May Canal and up Delaware Bay.  Transiting the canal at low tide, however, made for some tense moments, when the depth sounder registered just over seven feet of water.  We heard a Coast Guard announcement later in the day about dredging in that area later this month; apparently we are just a couple of weeks early.

Interestingly, we caught up to a number of sailboats in the bay that had spent the night with us in the anchorage, even though they left a couple of hours ahead of us.  There is a 55' fixed bridge on the canal route, so apparently all the sailboats go around, even though we had 60' of clearance when we went through at low tide.  We later heard one sailboat say his mast was between 55' and 58'.

Thus on the bay portion of the day's cruise, we were in the thick of "the migration," where boats that have been in the northeast for the summer begin heading to warmer climes for the winter.  Even though we were all heading north in the bay, this section is actually part of the southbound inside route, which starts at Cape May, proceeds up Delaware Bay, and crossed to the Chesapeake on the C&D Canal.  We'll be rejoining that route later in our cruise.  Yesterday we saw perhaps a dozen boats all heading along that same general path.

Brandywine Shoal Light

To a landlubber, Delaware Bay looks like a wide, navigable expanse of water.  Just under the surface, though, is a labyrinth of shoals, the typical river "delta" deposits spread far and wide through the fan of the bay.  We actually had to make a southerly turn out of the canal before turning back north along the deeper section of the bay, wherein lies the marked ship channel.

Miah Maull Shoal Light

Thus has it ever been, and so Delaware Bay is dotted with centuries-old lighthouses, or what remains of them.  Many appear out of nowhere, sticking straight up from the water.  All that remains of some are the caissons that formed their bases, topped in modern times with skeleton towers or just a bare light on a short pole.

Ruined base of old Cross Ledge light, and one of the many sailboats in our "pack."

"Elbow of Cross Ledge" light, a skeleton tower on an old lighthouse caisson.

Ship John Shoal Light

We timed our departure to take advantage of a favorable tide, getting a push up the bay from the flood.  Even though we transited the Cape May Canal at low tide, the calculus of currents in the bay gave us a southerly push as we headed that way from the exit, and we had slack or maybe even a bit against us as we first started our northward push.  By mid-cruise, however, we had over a knot with us, and that got even stronger as the river narrowed.  We were still riding a good flood when we arrived at the spot I had chosen for an anchorage, and we continued another hour and a half upriver.

We finally dropped the hook not because we had run out of flood, but, rather, because it was dinner time, and we knew if we went further we'd be punchy while we were trying to get anchored.  As it was, we ended up having to dance around a sea of crab pots to find a spot to drop the hook, so we were glad to finally be settled in.

Our bucolic view of Delaware, near Townsend.

We chose a spot on the Delaware side because winds were from the south and west, and we were very comfortable.  Our view of Delaware was actually rather bucolic; so much so that I needed to use the cell amplifier to get online.  Across the river in New Jersey, however, our view was of a three-unit nuclear power station.  Fortunately, it was not unduly illuminated, and it was a fair distance from us.

The not-so-bucolic view across the river to New Jersey.

When we first arrived, I had figured we'd be there not only overnight, but also until around 2:30 today, which is when my tables said it would be low tide there.  I had figured that only an hour or two of usable flood in the morning was not worth getting under way for, and we'd instead get perhaps four hours this afternoon.

That plan changed when we saw what time Vector actually turned around with the tide change.  It turns out that slack current actually lags high or low tide there by nearly two hours.  If we had waited this morning, we'd have been there another night, because the flood did not start until nearly 5pm.

Instead, we weighed anchor right after our first coffee this morning, getting under way mid-flood.  We rode the flood all the way here, to a spot just south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge near Newcastle, Delaware (map), and dropped the hook before lunch time.  We probably could have ridden it another hour upriver, but there did not appear to be any good places to anchor along the next few miles north of the bridge.

Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, which we passed this morning.

That made it a short day today, but the flood did not return until nearly 6pm, at which point we were in the midst of a thunderstorm with 34+ knot winds.  We still have 26 nautical miles to go to reach our reserved berth in Philadelphia tomorrow, but the timing is again favorable, and if we leave just after low slack in the morning, we should arrive just before high slack in the afternoon, and get a good push upriver the whole day.

OSG Horizon, an articulated tug/barge, passes us close aboard yesterday.

This morning we passed the entrance to the C&D, so we've left "the pack" for a few days.  We're also now in the narrower part of the river, and mostly we are passing commercial traffic, from giant freighters to smaller tugs and barges.  Our routing has us crossing the ship channel every time the river bends a different direction -- we cut the insides of all the turns much closer than the deep-draft ships can.  Rarely does this conflict with any traffic, but today I had to alter course for the OSG Horizon articulated tug/barge coming down river.  Ironically, I had to alter course for the exact same vessel overtaking us upriver yesterday, the only two times I've had to do so since entering the Delaware.

OSG Horizon passes us in the other direction this morning.

This is not a serene anchorage by any measure.  Across the river are industrial terminals, and on this side are business parks.  The pair of identical bridges, while majestic, carry the Interstate across the river and the road noise is constant.  But the depths and holding were good and it was in the right place at the right time.  Plus, I have a good 4G signal on my cell phone.

Hazy ppproach to the Delaware Memorial Bridges.  We are now anchored just this side of the abutment on the left.

As long as I had all afternoon to myself here at anchor, I knocked off a couple of projects.  Not that I really had a choice about the first one, which was repairing the anchor roller for the umpteenth time.  When we weighed anchor this morning, at max flood, the anchor jammed in the roller, and it turned out that one of the roller bolts had worked its way loose. just waiting to be munged by the powerful windlass, cramming the roller in place with the anchor shank.

I ended up spending the first hour or so of our stay here hanging over the bulwark in my climbing harness, fighting with the roller bolts.  We really need to replace this roller with something more robust.  I bought extra bolts the last time this happened, so we were able to get it all back together after a few tense moments with the Vice-grips trying to coax the wedged bolt out of the axle.

Since I was already in my work duds and covered with roller grot, I decided to make it a double and tackle the installation of the hard start kit on the fridge.  Getting the fridge out of its "built in" cabinet was a good part of the battle, and then working on the compressor in its tiny cubby hole at the very bottom of the unit would have been much easier for a ten-inch-tall person.

The guts of the fridge, with some extra parts that don't really fit in that tiny space.

I did manage, with much swearing, to get it all changed and fitted and tested and the whole mess back in the cabinet just before beer o'clock.  The details of the hard start kit and its installation will have to wait for a different post.

In the morning we will weigh anchor, which will NOT jam in the roller, and head under the bridge and upriver past Wilmington to Philly.  We've booked two nights at the dock there, which should give us some time to take in a few sights, as well as knock out three weeks worth of accumulated laundry while we have dock water and power.