Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Heat wave on the Hudson

We are enjoying some very pleasant weather at anchor today after a very hot few days. Saturday night in Gravesend Bay was still pleasant, but we awoke Sunday to still air and a haze over the city that often accompanies summer heat.



Approaching Manhattan. Haze and heat often go together here.

We weighed anchor on a decent flood for the four-hour jaunt upriver to Alpine, New Jersey, where we anchored just offshore of the Palisades Interstate Park (map). We anchored at the very northern end of Anchorage 17, a designated unrestricted anchorage, less than a half mile from the Alpine Boat Basin.


Heading under the George Washington Bridge. Our destination is just beyond the point of land to the left.

The boat basin, like its cousin further south the Englewood Boat Basin, and many other features and fixtures of the park, were constructed in the early part of the 20th century, much of it by the WPA during the depression. Many of the original structures still stand, and have an unmistakable look that speaks to that era.


The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.

We actually cruised past the basin and then circled back to anchor; we considered briefly anchoring a bit closer, or to the north, but decided it was worth a couple of extra minutes in the tender to be settled in a designated anchorage. As we passed the basin southbound we saw the schooner A. J. Meerwald tied up and taking on passengers.

Just as we were dropping the hook, the Meerwald hailed us; they were about to start a slow southbound trawl and wanted to ascertain our status. Sure enough, they passed us at trawling speed a short while later, pulling a net. I'm not sure what they were after, but it was clearly loaded with tourists, so we are guessing some kind of eco-tour.


The A. J. Meerwald from our deck as she passed. Yonkers is in the background, across the river.

We wanted to be near the boat basin so that we could land the tender and meet up with my aunt and uncle, who drove down from their home about 20 minutes up the Palisades Parkway. We had a nice visit with them, with cocktails and dinner in nearby Tenafly, New Jersey, one of the stomping grounds of my youth. There's nothing at all in Alpine, but along this section of riverfront there are no other places to land a boat.

By the time we had dropped the hook, the mercury had already climbed well past 90°, and so it was nice to spend the whole afternoon and evening off the boat. We ran the generator and air conditioning for an hour or so before we left, and we left the boat all closed up while we were gone, knowing full well that we'd need to put the AC right back on when we returned.

They dropped us back off at the boat basin around 9:30ish, with outside temperatures still in the 90s. The boat basin closes at 5:30, so we had to check in with the park police, drive around a barricade, and then MacGyver our way past the chain link gates for the docks themselves (as instructed by the dockhand when we landed). We arrived back at Vector well after dark, and Louise went right inside to start up the generator and the air conditioning while I secured the tender for hoisting.

As I was getting the lifting straps ready I realized something was odd about the sound of the generator. A quick glance toward the exhaust confirmed what my ears were telling me -- no water flow. I yelled for Louise to shut it down, while at the same time scrambling to get back aboard Vector in case she could not hear me. She did, though, and managed to shut it down before it overheated.

So there we were, at 10pm, on a dark, hot boat in 90°+ stagnant air. We ran around the boat shutting off whatever we did not need, to preserve what was left of the batteries for the fridge and the instruments. I'm sure the batteries would have made it through the night (and we can always charge them by running the main engine), but we probably would not get much good sleep in that kind of heat. No time like the present, then, to tackle a generator repair.

Fortunately, by the time I actually started working on it, the draft beers and Chianti from cocktails and dinner had mostly worn off. We popped the back hatch to the engine room to allow some cooler air in, set up all our fans, and I stripped down to my skivvies and got to work.

Having already done it three times previously, changing a generator impeller is now a slam-dunk. Fortunately, that's all it needed (as opposed to, for example, having a plastic bag blocking the underwater intake, or the exhaust elbow self-destructing). After spending several minutes moving gear to get to the proper side of the generator enclosure, the actual process of opening the pump and replacing the impeller takes less than two minutes.

The much bigger issue is always getting the shards of old impeller out of the heat exchanger, where they lodge after being ejected from the pump (pictures and description here, from the first time we did it). On this particular engine, that requires draining a half gallon of coolant from the system, taking the exchanger end-cap off, removing the broken bits, and then adding a half gallon of fresh coolant after putting it all back together.

No problem on a cold engine, but after running under load for a few minutes with no water flow, the engine coolant quickly reaches 200° or so. Cramming my arm behind the exhaust manifold and turning the drain petcock while holding a catch cup without being scalded is an exercise in patience (and sweating).

The whole process took an hour from start to finish, and by 11:30 we had the generator running and the boat cooling down nicely with every air conditioner going full blast. I immediately took a nice, cool shower. While it was still pretty hot overnight, we were able to sleep fairly comfortably by cooling the whole boat down into the 60s, then leaving it all closed up after shutting down the generator.

I'm a little disappointed that we got only 315 hours out of this impeller before it self-destructed. To be fair, we're still using up spares that were on the boat when we bought it, so the shelf age of this impeller was unknown, and the rubber can embrittle over time. After this change-out I am again down to my last spare and we will need to order more.

To put this heat, and the need for air conditioning, in perspective, we normally run the generator two to three hours per day in temperate conditions. On warm days we'll try to time that for the heat of the afternoon, and run the air conditioners then. Between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon, we ran the generator for 11 hours, and that's with having been off the boat for a good 10-11 hours between the two days. Still, 11 hours in two days is less than $50 (even at the rate we're going through impellers), far less than what a marina costs.

While the boat was cooling down we hoisted the tender back on deck, in the relative cool of the evening. Monday morning we weighed anchor at slack tide and headed directly across the river, to the free dock at the Yonkers Pier (map). The river is three quarters of a mile wide here, so we racked up but a single mile on the odometer, which started the morning at an even 8,500 nautical miles.


Isn't there some kind of pennant for this?

We remembered this dock fondly from our last visit, and importantly, we remembered they had a water spigot. We filled the tank, and Louise was able to run three loads of wash while we had the generator running anyway for air conditioning. We topped the tank back up at the end of the day.

On this visit we explored a bit more of Yonkers, walking to the Yonkers Brewing Company for dinner and then around the corner to a large Shop-Rite supermarket to re-provision. We also took the trash off the boat, figuring to shove off on the last of the ebb Tuesday morning.

I'm not sure if it was the extra alcohol in the locally-brewed beers, or the lack of sleep the previous night, but whatever the reason, we both slept in until 9:30, acing us out of an ebb or slack-water cruise downriver. We opted to just stay at the dock for another day, which gave us the opportunity to go out for breakfast.

We wandered over to an excellent bagel joint that's opened since our last visit, Manor Bagels, named for the historic Philipse Manor right across the street. On our way back, we walked through the nicely designed Van der Donck Park, where the city recently "daylighted" a section of the Saw Mill River that has been encased in a concrete tube for the better part of a century.


Louise stands at the west end of the newly daylighted section of Saw Mill River. This was all a parking lot four years ago.

Having decided to just spend another night, we walked to El Guapo Mexican restaurant for dinner, which was quite tasty, returning to the boat just before a squall hit that had us pounding against the fenders and scrambling to close all the windows. The good news here is that temperatures have remained blissfully cool ever since.

Louise turned in sometime before 11, while I remained up, watching some TV and trying to get started on this blog post. Shortly after 11, I heard a voice on the dock trying to get my attention. It turns out that the sloop Clearwater had reserved the dock for the night, for a set of cruises today. The woman on the dock was their shoreside crew. The Parks & Rec staffer with whom I had checked in had neglected to mention this, most likely because he did not even know -- the on-site dockmaster was eliminated years ago and some distant city office deals with the commercial dock rentals.

I rousted Louise out of bed, and we discussed the option of moving forward to the end-tie of the Yonkers Pier, which is also available but is less attractive because it is a set of fixed pilings and a variable step up to the wharf. The Clearwater needs the floating dock to board its guests. Had we learned this in the daylight we might have moved to the pier, but in the dark, with a sleepy crew, it was easier for us to just cross the river back to our old friend Anchorage 17 and call it a night. The Clearwater people were very appreciative that we were willing and able to move on short notice.

Even with all the late-night shenanigans, we were up early this morning, and had a nice push downriver on a strong ebb. We dropped the hook at a favorite spot, just north of Pier I at the end of 70th street in Manhattan (map). From here it is a short tender ride to the 79th Street Boat Basin, where we can land the dinghy for $26 per day, a bargain in this town. Restaurants, stores, museums, and Central Park are all an easy walk, and the subway will take us anywhere else.

I expect we will be here through the end of the month. We'll try to get a few projects done, and, of course, enjoy what the city has to offer. We have plans to visit friends in eastern Long Island early in August, so we'll head across the city and into Long Island Sound on the 1st or so.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Avon calling

This morning found us in the designated anchorage basin on the Shark River, in Avon-by-the-Sea, New Jersey (map). Other than hauling up pounds of seaweed and dozens upon dozens of tenacious juvenile mussels when we weighed anchor this morning, it was a surprisingly pleasant stop.

We had moderate seas and a bit of a push throughout the day yesterday, and we arrived at the inlet right around 7pm. We opted to have dinner en route, so we wouldn't be tackling a challenging inlet on an empty stomach. The Ocean Avenue bascule bridge is immediately inside the inlet, just a few feet past the jetties, and, with a couple of knots of current behind us, we'd need the bridge fully open well before we got to it.


Shark River Inlet and the Ocean Avenue bridge from our anchorage this morning.

The bridge tender is very responsive, and I only had a brief moment of pucker outside in the roiling current, with a brief delay between the traffic gates lowering and the spans raising. Nevertheless the bridge was well open in plenty of time.

I had arrived armed with US Army Corps of Engineers depth surveys from January, which showed just nine feet on the north quadrant of the entrance channel. We found closer to 20' for the whole width instead, and I confirmed with the tender that they've been dredging the inlet over the past few weeks. We had noticed the CoE dredge Currituck, which we've seen before, moored inside the river on our AIS, so we were only a bit (pleasantly) surprised. We passed the Currituck shortly after clearing the bridge.

Within just a few minutes we were dropping the hook. The anchorage basin is also part of the federal project and carried 11' or so throughout, plenty of depth for us. The current here is swift in both directions, so we made sure we set the anchor well. The basin is surrounded by quaint houses on both sides of the river, giving way to a small marina on the Belmar (south) side of the channel just before the Route 71 bridge.


The three bridges to the west of us, and the small marina on the Belmar side. The big municipal marina is on the other side of the bridges.

On the northwest side of the anchorage, also adjacent the bridge, we noticed a brand new set of docks in front of a civic-looking two-story building. The docks were empty, unlike the marina across the way or the ones we could see on the other side of the bridge. The docks were not listed at all on Active Captain, and even Google showed, at this writing, an empty parcel of land there.


These docks beckon us to land the tender. We'll see what the Borough has to say.

A bit of sleuthing on the Internet revealed that this is the brand new Riverfront Park and Marina, owned by the Borough of Avon-by-the-Sea, with a two-story "multi-purpose" building on the grounds. It was constructed in part with state boating funds, but other than that I could find nothing about who can use it, what it costs, or what the rules are. It would be great if the borough plans to let anchoring cruisers use these to get ashore for dinner or shopping; I sent them an email inquiry about it.

We got an early start this morning, weighing anchor at quarter to nine so that we'd have a fair tide most of the way here, to a familiar anchorage just inside Gravesend Bay (map). Unfortunately, we did not expect to be cleaning cozze-fra-alga marina off the entire chain and even the anchor, so we were out the inlet delayed by a good fifteen minutes or so, just enough for us to have an uphill climb for the final two miles of our cruise today. Even with the extra time cleaning, some of the mussels and seaweed ended up in the chain locker. Yuck.

We had a pleasant cruise today as well, diverting out to the three-mile limit for our last macerating opportunity for the foreseeable future. Between yesterday and today we also made another 75 gallons or so of fresh water, but with laundry piling up it's not enough and we'll be looking for a spigot in short order.

Today being a weekend, I played small-craft pachinko on my way out the inlet, and we had to dodge a few in open water as well. I only had to call two big boys on the radio; a dredge, which was running dead slow while suctioning sand off the bottom and told us to hold course and speed, and a giant bulker for whom I had to speed up so as to cross the channel well ahead of him. I simply opted to do my daily 80%-power run-up at that time.

That same bulker, not even a minute after we cleared the channel, had to give the five-blast danger signal for a small boat that was just drifting, center-channel, with three shirtless guys blithely fishing off the back. As much as we hate moving the boat in busy harbors on weekends, I can really feel for the professional pilots and towboat skippers who have no choice, and just endure it for two days every week and sometimes three.

We were once again hailed on the radio by a blog reader, this time a boat with which we'd crossed paths in Georgetown, Bahamas. Somehow we never met in person there, but we finally chatted on the radio, at least, and perhaps we'll cross paths again. The cruising community is small and tight-knit; we end up seeing the same boats over and over again across thousands of miles of water. It's really quite remarkable.

Unlike our last stop here, this time we anchored quite a bit closer to Coney Island, in anticipation of S-SW winds tonight. In this spot we can hear folks on the beach, fishing, swimming, and generally enjoying their weekend. The water's been flat since we dropped the hook, and I expect a comfortable night. We should have a nice view of the lights of Manhattan and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as the sun sets, with a pleasant dinner on the aft deck.


The Narrows from our aft deck.

Tomorrow we'll leave on the flood, for a fair tide up the Hudson and past the George Washington Bridge. We're trying to connect with family somewhere along the Palisades State Park, after which we'll spend a night or two at the free dock in Yonkers, where we can probably get some more fresh water.

Update: We've been watching Marine Corps Ospreys flying around since we arrived, an unusual site here in Brooklyn. Well, just now two VH3-D presidential white-tops flew over us, with an escort of Ospreys. Obama is in town, heading out to the Hamptons this afternoon. The white-tops usually fly in threes, in a shell-game designed to keep everyone guessing which one holds the President. I'd figure he was in one of these two, with the third bird out for some reason. Cool.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Jersey Shore, redux

We are under way in the north Atlantic, off the coast of New Jersey. While there are protected, inland alternatives for us to travel the length of the east coast from Key West all the way to Delaware Bay, there is simply no alternative to an ocean passage to move past New Jersey.

Consequently, we spent three days in Atlantic City, waiting for decent offshore weather to make the passage. We anchored in a familiar spot there, just east of the Golden Nugget casino (map). The casino also operates the State Marina, a convenient place to tie up the dinghy as needed. On this visit, we also had sporadic WiFi available, courtesy of the same casino.


Vector in Atlantic City, as seen from west of the bridge, near Harrah's. The tall building to the right is the short-lived and now-shuttered Revel resort.

We splashed the tender immediately after arriving Tuesday, and tendered in for dinner at the casino. Having learned all the tricks on our last two visits, we opted for happy hour in the bar at the Chart House, the best deal in the casino.


Coming home from dinner Tuesday evening.

Wednesday, as predicted, we were pinned down in the boat all day, with a giant thunderstorm moving through the area. As it turns out, we got a break in the evening and probably could have made it ashore, but we instead had a nice dinner aboard. I made a little progress on getting materials together for the sales listing for the bus, and also spent a few hours working on route planning for the next few legs of the trip.

Yesterday the weather inshore was quite pleasant, and I ended up going ashore, stag, for a massage in the hotel spa, taking full advantage of the spa amenities such as the hot tub, steam room, and a luxurious shower. Afterwards I walked around the point to Harrah's Casino Resort which, sadly, no longer has is own marina or docks. We had dinner at an old standby, the Back Bay Ale House at historic Gardner's Basin.

One thing I did during my route planning session Wednesday was to find a way to break up this leg into two chunks. The last time we came by here, we ran all the way from Sandy Hook to Atlantic City in one hop, some 75 nautical miles. That makes for a long day -- 12 hours or so of running time -- and an early morning start is dictated, no matter what the tidal current may be doing.

There are precious few inlets along this coast, and even fewer accessible to Vector. The "logical" breakpoint would be Barnegat Inlet, but this inlet is uncharted (the channel is constantly shifting and the buoys are moved accordingly) and carries as little as five feet at low tide. It's possible for us only at high tide and in settled conditions, and even then, the charts and guides strongly advise against it without local knowledge.

The next inlet north is Manasquan, which we've done before and found to be fairly straightforward, so long as arrival can be made around slack tide. Once inside, however, our only option there is to dock at a marina, starting at around $150 per night. Even a single night is spendy, but getting pinned down there by weather can get very expensive indeed. The one time we did it, we needed a dock anyway because we had guests coming aboard, and so we were happy to have it.

There is, however, one more inlet a bit further north, at the Shark River. On our last pass, we did not consider it, because it has a tricky entrance involving a bascule bridge that must be fully raised by the time you are powering into the channel. But we passed it fairly close in, and had a chance to look it over as we did so. We also go to watch two fairly large charter boats negotiate it as we went by, and we judged it to be passable. At just eight feet federal project depth, it's a shallow entrance and channel, but I downloaded the latest Corps of Engineers surveys and the depths are adequate for us right now.

What the Shark River has that Manasquan does not is an anchorage. The anchorage is also part of the federal project and is surveyed at over 11', so it should be a fine place to spend the night. As an emergency fall-back, the Belmar marina on the other side of yet another bridge supposedly has enough water for us on their outermost dock, but just barely. Other than that one spot, there is no place for us to dock on the Shark River.

At just 58 miles from Atlantic City, that makes for a somewhat shorter day today, and also gave us the flexibility to wait until slack tide to leave, rather than fight over two knots of current. Slack was at 10am, so we will not arrive until after dinner, around 7:30ish, but with plenty of daylight to anchor.

If the forecast holds for tomorrow, we should be under way in the morning for New York Harbor. We'll lose our fair tide just as we arrive at The Narrows, so we will probably drop the hook in Gravesend Bay and proceed up the Hudson on Sunday with the current behind us.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Running for cover

This morning found us anchored in a familiar spot, just off the Coast Guard Station in Cape May, New Jersey (map). The CG conducts basic training here, so all day long can be heard the sounds of recruits doing drills and calisthenics, from before Reveille to after Taps (both of which are played over loudspeakers). Unlike our last visit, the anchorage was nearly empty this time, and we had no trouble finding a spot well shoreward of the channel markers.

We had a nice cruise from our spot at Miah Maull. We had a little push from the ebb, but were mostly traveling obliquely to the current until near the end of the crossing. Still, we made good time, and were able to enter the Cape May Canal before the end of the ebb, so we had a fair current with us all the way to the anchorage. The down side to that being that we transited at very nearly low tide, and the depth sounder squawked as we passed over the well-known trouble spots at the western end of the canal.

We had the anchor down right at noon, which gave me plenty of time to make some phone calls, splash the tender, and head ashore for parts. Utsch's Marina had the best price in town on a replacement bilge pump, convenient because it had a dinghy dock. Tony's Marine Supply right next door had a float switch that looked like it would fit. Neither place had a horn solenoid.

I managed to get the horn working just by banging on the solenoid a bit, but I still need to find something more reliable. The shower sump problem proved to be more about the switch than the pump, but I replaced both. The old switch, a completely solid-state model, went right in the trash, whereas the pump is now set aside as a spare. The new switch has a float, but is electromagnetic and so requires a three-wire hookup (power, ground, and load). Importantly, the mounting holes were spaced identically to the old switch, and the form factor was close, only a bit larger. I had the sump back together and working in time for our evening showers, after a bit of re-wiring for the new switch arrangement.

As long as we had the tender in the water, we rode over to the Lobster House for dinner. This is a tourist-trap of a joint, but it has the key advantage of free dockage for patrons. There are actually four dining options, including the main restaurant, a "raw bar," the deck of an old schooner floating behind the restaurant, and a large open patio area with no table service and an order-at-the-window arrangement. We wanted table service; the restaurant was a 45-minute wait, the schooner serves only cocktails and apps, and so we opted for the raw bar which had no wait. Each of the table-service options has its own host stand, so we spent the first few minutes getting it all figured out.

We decked the tender after dinner in anticipation of an early start today. Louise has been watching the forecast, and today would be the last good chance for an outside run for at least the next several days. Today's forecast called for conditions to deteriorate throughout the day, and so we wanted to get the earliest start that favorable tides would allow.

We weighed anchor just before 9am, which gave us a nice push out the inlet. With ebb tide against an offshore wind, we had a bit of a rage at the inlet itself, with quite a bit of chop and perhaps 3-4' seas, but that moderated as soon as we turned north out of the jetties to an easy motion and 2-3' seas. Most of the day was a comfortable run.

Once outside we ran the watermaker for the first time since arriving in Beaufort a full month ago. We also macerated our waste outside the statutory three-mile limit, which fortunately happens to be on the straight-line route to where we are now, in a familiar anchorage in Atlantic City (map). We're pretty good on tankage for the next couple of weeks, but we will need more water sooner rather than later.

True to forecast, as the day wore on, the seas got progressively larger, and we were bouncing around a bit by the time we were four or five miles from Absecon Inlet. We had the seas behind us, so we were doing much better than the couple of fish boats we passed going the other way, or even the tour boat that passed us as we cruised by the amusement pier, which was bouncing over the waves so hard that it was burying the bow. The tourists looked a bit green around the gills.

We arrived at the inlet just as the flood began (avoiding the ebb was the reason we did not leave earlier in the morning). Once well inside the jetties things calmed down considerably, and we were pleased to find the anchorage completely empty, so we had first choice of spots to drop the hook. We were happy to find the WiFi signal from the nearby Golden Nugget has improved since our last visit.

That's a good thing, because we'll be here for a while. The forecast for the North Atlantic here is miserable for the next few days. I think Tropical Storm Claudette, while far offshore, is having an impact on the coastal weather.

As we often do when under way for several hours, we had the crock pot running all day. Louise made homemade chili, and we had figured to eat aboard this evening. Tomorrow's forecast, though, is for rain all afternoon and evening, and so it looks like we will save the chili for tomorrow and instead tender ashore this evening for dinner.

We were amused when the aforementioned tour boat, on its next voyage, passed us here in the anchorage. The skipper was narrating over the loudspeaker, and it seems we are now officially on the tour: "...and this vessel on the port side is called a 'trawler' -- you can see it has a dinghy on deck with an outboard motor, and a pair of scooters..." It cracked us up.

There are worse places to be stuck for a few days than Atlantic City. The Golden Nugget has a dock, five restaurants, and a spa, and maybe this visit we'll even manage to get on the jitney and venture a bit further afield. The soonest we could leave, given current forecasts, is Friday, and more likely Saturday, for the long day's outside run to Sandy Hook. From there, at least, we can make New York without leaving protected waters if need be.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Miah Maull

We are anchored on the Miah Maull Shoal, just 300 yards south of the lighthouse of that name, on Delaware Bay (map). We're just on the New Jersey side of the line; the nearest dry land is about ten miles in either direction.


The view from our deck.

We had a very pleasant and very fast (for us, anyway) cruise here yesterday from our nice anchorage near Delaware City. We weighed anchor there just as the ebb began, and rode it the rest of the day. We dropped the hook here at slack water, just before the flood began.

Because the time of the tide change varies at different points along the river, there were just four hours between slack where we started and slack where we finished. Nevertheless, in those four hours we made 32 nautical miles, for an average speed of eight knots. Considering we were making turns for just 6.5 knots, that's a pretty good push. At one point our speed-over-ground was over nine knots.


Ship John Shoal light, which we whizzed past at nearly nine knots.

Even though the push is better mid-river, it's usually more advantageous for us to cut the corners. Yesterday I noticed a semi-displacement boat, a little Nordic Tug, doing perhaps a knot more than us but staying, oddly, in the ship channel. (At one point a giant ship had to call him, and this in a part of the bay where it was fairly deep all the way across.)  Even at a knot slower, we kept up with him pretty well just by taking a straighter line.

Our corner-cutting line brought us very close to the Hope Creek nuclear plant; we remained just outside the security zone about 600 yards offshore. That gave me a great opportunity to see what the plant's cooling discharge does to the water temperature; at that distance I noted nearly two full degrees of rise as we passed the plant.


Approaching Hope Creek from the north.

When I laid out our route for the day, I had originally figured to angle over to the side of the bay for the night, our normal practice for protection from wind and waves. That adds a couple of miles to the overall trip, and with a calm forecast we opted to save the time and the miles and anchor here mid-bay. There was a light chop that might have troubled lighter boats, but Vector is pretty stable in these conditions. We're a half mile from the ship channel, so the big wakes are more of an easy roll here, which seldom troubles us, and there have only been perhaps a half dozen or so since we arrived.

That being said, this morning was something of an exception. We were both still in the bed, but awake, when it hit -- a wake from a large ship that was likely already two miles away. The first wave was not a big deal, and we both just said "ship" and otherwise did not twitch. But this particular wave train must have been right at Vector's natural roll period, and by the time the third wave hit we were rolling nearly ten degrees. I jumped out of bed but not before the fridge door popped open and contents started launching across the galley.

Shoeless and with broken glass on the floor, the best I could do was to hold the door mostly closed until the waves attenuated, while everything round rolled back and forth across the sole. Beer cans ran over blueberries like so many miniature steam rollers.

The death toll included three beers, which pretty much exploded all over the place, half our blueberry supply, and one of the two remaining red wine glasses, which I had left on the counter when I was done with it last night. In hindsight, had we any reason at all to believe we'd experience any rolling, we might have secured the boat as we do under way, with the travel latch on the fridge and the counters cleared.

Other than that, we had a very pleasant stay here, and enjoyed dinner on the aft deck with the lighthouse as a backdrop. We have no Internet connectivity here (I will upload this under way, when we are back in coverage), and I have no cell service at all. Louise has just enough signal to get text messages. As I often do when we are out of range, I uploaded our position and "all OK" message last night on our Spot device.

Just to put our morning beer disaster in perspective, this morning we monitored a mayday call from a cargo ship upriver that had a fire on board. They eventually got it extinguished before the Coast Guard even arrived, and all 23 crew were safe. Apparently one of the generators caught fire.


We passed this bald eagle in the Canal on Saturday. The photo had not uploaded when last I posted.

This morning we will again weigh anchor with the ebb. We have a couple of hours to the Cape May Canal, which will take us across the cape to a familiar anchorage near the Coast Guard station. I'm hoping we'll find a bilge pump in town to repair the shower sump, and I may see if there is an outfit that can have a look at the dinghy outboard as well.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mid-canal musings

For the past three days we've been anchored in the small anchorage basin off the C&D Canal, in Chesapeake City, Maryland (map). It was a great stop, and I'm sure we'll be back sometime. There is a 72-hour limit in the basin, and we used up every bit of it.


The lights of the Chesapeake Inn, at left, and the town of Chesapeake City from our anchorage at dusk.

We had a pleasant cruise Wednesday on a nearly glass-calm bay. Although, for reasons not entirely clear to me, we passed increasing amounts of flotsam, including a considerable number of dead fish, in the Elk River on our way to the canal. We timed our departure from our lovely spot on Worton Creek to take advantage of the flood for the whole cruise, and to arrive at Chesapeake City close to slack water at high tide.


Sandy Point Shoal Light, north of the Bay Bridge, on our way to Worton Creek. I did not have the photo uploaded in time for the last post.

We actually had such a favorable current all day that we arrived somewhat ahead of slack, and I measured about a knot and a half of current with us as we approached the entrance. Unlike the last time we came by here, on a falling tide (we were riding the current the other direction), I was less reticent to attempt the entrance with an extra three feet of water under the keel. It was a bit nerve-wracking shooting the narrow entrance channel while moving sideways, but we made it without trouble. We found barely eight feet of water in the entrance at high tide, so we really can not come in here at any other time.


Sunset at Worton Creek.

Chesapeake City has a free overnight dock, with two or three spaces along a face dock and another two slips for boats smaller than Vector. The face dock was reported at various times to have 6-8 feet of water at low tide, but it turns out to have less than six feet anywhere along its length nowadays, and so is unusable for us. Fortunately, a good part of the anchorage carries at least 7' MLLW, so we found a spot and dropped the hook, just yards away from a nice Symbol pilothouse.


Vector at anchor, as seen from the city dock. Slips at right are part of the Chesapeake Inn.

There are several spots on the city docks for dinghys and PWCs, and we splashed the tender with a bicycle pre-loaded in it so I could run a package over to the post office about a mile away. I managed to just squeak it into Wednesday's mail. On my way back to the dock, Louise intercepted me in town -- she had met another cruiser on the face dock who needed to find a toothbrush, and we ended up lending him the bike so he, too, could make a run to the little strip mall a mile away.

All heated up from my uphill-both-ways bike ride, we stumbled into The Tap Room for a cold draft beer. They also serve food, a casual seafood menu, which looked good but was a bit more casual than we wanted, plus it was too early for dinner. After our beers we wandered back to the dock, where the bike was waiting adjacent to one of the boats there. With a planned three-day stay, we ended up locking it to a bollard rather than schlepping it back to the boat.


A giant Ro-Ro passes by, looking as if it will barely clear the bridge.

We had been in such a hurry to get the package to the post office in time that I had not even completed my full close-out checklist, so we returned to Vector to tidy things up before dinner. That gave me a chance to look up some of the local eateries, and we opted to tender across the canal to Schaefer's Canal House, where we had a nice meal on the patio overlooking the canal.


Another Ro-Ro in the other direction, only a few hours later. The Corps of Engineers has a control center here in Chesapeake City that determines where and when these enormous ships will meet and pass each other; we monitor their channel under way.

Under normal circumstances we would have spent just a single night here, but we wanted to attend the interment of our friend's remains in Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. While we were much closer when we were in Annapolis, Solomons, or even Kilmarnock, we needed to keep moving north. Chesapeake City is really the last place along our route where it is a reasonable drive to and from Arlington in a day. Our next landfall will be in Cape May, New Jersey, which is a very long drive owing to having to round all of Delaware Bay first.

We had booked a rental car for Friday morning, but I was concerned enough about being able to get into the basin and anchor the boat that I wanted to arrive a full day ahead of time, giving us enough time, if needed, to execute a backup plan, such as taking a slip at the Summit North Marina a bit further along the canal, or even backtracking to, say, Havre de Grace. Once we were securely anchored in Chesapeake City, though, all was well, thus giving us a whole extra day.


Thursday afternoon a thunderstorm blew through, briefly lining us up with these three trawlers next to us.

I got a couple of things done around the boat on Thursday, and caught up on email and organizing some photographs. We also took time out to just walk around the quaint town. The basin and most of the town date back to the construction of the original canal in the late 1820's, and quite a few of the buildings in town were constructed mid-19th century. Several have been restored just in the last few decades. Many of the original residences are now shops selling souvenirs, gifts, antiques, and other tchotchkes. There are several boutique hotels in town dating back to the same era.

We had dinner in the basement-level bar of one of those hotels, Bayards, overlooking the canal. The bar was appropriately named the Hole in the Wall, and on Thursdays they have half-price drinks and a prime rib special. Bayards also has a full dining room on the main level, and an outdoor bar called the Umbrella Bar.

We needed a spot for Enterprise Rent-a-Car to pick us up Friday morning -- you can't very well tell them you are in an anchorage. So we arranged for them to get us at the Bohemia Cafe in town and we waited for them over coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Their office is actually in Elkton, twenty minutes away on the other side of the canal.

By 10am we were in possession of a bright blue Chevy Spark, which is the epitome of the "pregnant roller skate" cliche, but it got great gas mileage and was perfectly adequate for our needs. We headed south forthwith, stopping right back in Annapolis so Louise could go to a quilt shop there. It was too far to get to from the anchorage there, and a cab ride seemed unnecessary in the face of renting a car on Friday. From there we proceeded directly to Arlington for the interment.

The nice reception after the interment ran to 4:30 or so, by which time traffic in the metro DC area is simply miserable. We decided that rather than sit in traffic for hours fighting our way out of the city, we'd instead sit in traffic for mere minutes and claw our way into the city instead. We have reciprocity at the City Club of Washington, and we had a light dinner there around 5:30, a bit early for us. Dinner at these clubs is an unhurried affair, allowing us plenty of time for the traffic to abate before getting back on the road.

We did make one more stop, for some groceries, before returning to the Chesapeake City docks. Fortunately, the docks are in a city park with free parking ( 24 hour limit), so we had a place to leave the car overnight.

When we made it back to the dock we were surprised to find that this sleepy little town becomes party central on summer weekends. The waterfront Chesapeake Inn and Marina was packed, with all slips and parking completely full, and a line out the door for the patio dining -- and this was at nearly 10pm. We could see a similar crowd at Schaefer's across the canal, and we presume Bayard's and maybe the Tap Room were doing land-office business as well. We counted ourselves lucky to find an available parking space at the park.

This morning we returned the rental car, picking up a couple of gallons of gas for the dinghy in the process. And then we were ready to leave, except the tide and current situation meant we needed to wait until nearly 5pm to get out of the basin. So instead we tendered back over to the Chesapeake Inn ourselves and had lunch on the patio, with a great view of today's parade of arriving boats. We sat down to lunch just before noon, and by the time we finished eating, the marina was again full.

While overnight dockage is $2 per foot, lunch dockage is free, and the locals come in droves. Shortly after we returned to Vector, with every slip at the marina as well as the free city docks full, arriving boats started anchoring over near us. The Inn sends a water taxi out to pick up dining guests from anchored boats. Several small boats anchored a bit too close for comfort, but I figured they'd hardly make a scratch if we obliterated them in a sudden blow.


This boat was incredibly close. I think I could have boarded him from our tender.


These two were just a tad further, but had used two anchors at opposite ends, so if we swung around we'd hit them for sure.

At 5pm I called canal control to make sure no major traffic was approaching, and we headed out of the basin. Knowing I needed the whole channel and would be powering out into the current, I made a Securite call on the radio, which did not stop some idiot in a center console from cutting me off just as I was winding up. With full power in reverse I avoided crushing him like a walnut, and somehow did not run aground in the process either, but it got my adrenaline level up. We discovered during this incident that our air horn solenoid has again stopped working, so I will need to find a replacement, ideally one with more longevity than the one that lasted less than a year.

Bad things seem to come in threes, and today we had trouble lifting the dinghy motor due to a failing latching mechanism, and the shower sump pump quit working. I don't have the parts to fix any of these latest failures, so we'll be on the hunt at our next stop.

Once we were out in the canal we again had a fair current, and it was just a two hour trip to the Delaware River. It's not really possible to have fair current in both the canal and the river, and so we dropped the hook immediately north of the canal jetty, at the very same spot where we waited a few hours for a fair current in the canal on our way back from Philly last year (map). We'll spend the night here, and continue downriver on the ebb tomorrow morning.

Requiescat in pace, amicus meus



Yesterday, Louise and I rented a car and drove the 120 miles or so to Arlington National Cemetery, to say our last goodbyes to our good friend and American Red Cross coworker, Jeff Clapper.

Jeff passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in March, leaving behind a wife, two adult daughters, and a large community of friends and associates who are reeling to this day. There has been an outpouring of condolences and remembrances on both official and unofficial Red Cross channels, which I will not repeat here.

We were in the Bahamas in March, and thus unable to attend his funeral services. However, for better or worse, interment at Arlington National Cemetery is currently running on about a three to five month backlog, and so his interment was scheduled for yesterday, July 10, 2015. We had put it in our calendar in hopes that we would be back in the country and able to attend.

We met Jeff in Louisiana, on our very first deployment with the Red Cross in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Jeff was on temporary assignment to the Disaster Relief organization from his day job, in the IT organization elsewhere within the Red Cross. We became good friends over the course of several weeks in the field.

Not long afterwards, Jeff took a permanent assignment on the leadership team for the field technology arm of Disaster Services, assuming responsibility for networking, network operations, and the Emergency Communications Response Vehicles. From that point forward we worked with Jeff on each and every operation to which we were deployed, albeit at some distance, as we were usually in the field whereas he was typically at HQ in Washington. We did get to spend some time together in person a few times each year at training events, and whenever we were in DC.

We had met Jeff well after his retirement from the armed services, which he talked about only occasionally. He put in 25 years of service in the US Army, retiring at the rank of Sergeant First Class. His interment ceremony at Arlington was befitting such a career, begun at a difficult time to be in the Army.

We've been to Arlington before, and done the usual "tourist" things there, in my case more than once. I can not watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier without weeping, and the whole experience of standing on this hallowed ground is extremely powerful. It is even more so when attending an interment in person.

If you go to Arlington you will almost certainly see one; they conduct some 30-40 each day. I noted a group of tourists, remaining at a respectful distance, observing the ceremony. Even at a distance it is hard not to be moved by it. Jeff was interred with standard military honors, including an Army casket team, an Honor Guard, and a bugler.

We both managed to keep ourselves together through most of it, including the eulogy delivered by a Navy Chaplain. I think we both lost it a bit when the Honor Guard delivered the three-volley salute. By the time of the presentation of the flag we were both pretty weepy.

After the ceremony we made our way to the Officers Club at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, adjacent to the cemetery, for a brief reception. There we reconnected with several Red Cross friends, some of whom we have not seen for many years. It was nice to see everyone, even under such unfortunate circumstances.

Jeff was a good friend, a valued coworker, a fellow geek, and one of the kindest people we've ever known. We miss him terribly. Rest in peace, dear friend.

(Photo: Theresa Snow, with permission of the Clapper family)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Independence Day in Annapolis



We had a nice four-night stay in Annapolis, Maryland, and are again under way in the Chesapeake, headed north toward the C&D Canal. Once again I am using the opportunity of a few hours in open water to get the blog updated.

We arrived Friday evening, and while there were quite a few boats in the South Anchorage, they were all close to the Spa Creek entrance, which we knew to be inside the security zone for the fireworks. We figured them to be cruisers passing through, or else fireworks attendees who did not get the memo. We dropped the hook a good half mile away, near the Horn Point Light and just 500' or so outside the zone (map).


Rounding Thomas Point Shoal Light, on the way into Annapolis and the Severn River.

While most of Friday's cruise had been dead calm, our spot at Horn Point was rocky and rolly. We remembered it that way from our last visit, too, which we had attributed then to weather. Now we know better -- these are residual wakes. The Severn River is very busy with recreational traffic here, along with three tour boats and a number of water taxis. Once clear of Spa Creek, the power boats throttle up, and the wakes criss-cross the river, reflecting and refracting back into the basin over and over again, making a chop that is nearly indistinguishable from weather-induced waves.

On a busy holiday weekend, this goes on all day and well into the night. We're more used to it now than on our last visit, and so we had little trouble splashing the tender and making our way across the chop to Ego Alley off Spa Creek and a couple of well-earned beers at the Dock Street Grill, a joint we remembered from last time as having quick and easy dinner. Notwithstanding a heavy tourist load at the waterfront, we managed to score a sidewalk table as soon as we walked up.

Throughout the course of the evening, boats continued to pass us close aboard -- lots of folks plot a course that cuts directly through the anchorage for the creek entrance after rounding Horn Point Light. We could tell by the way they dodged around us that we were sitting in or near their pre-programmed GPS course, and this included the two dinner tour boats. We got a lot of askance looks, with some skippers clearly wondering why we were all by ourselves, so far from town. The small-boat traffic tailed off after midnight and the anchorage calmed down quite a bit by the time we turned in.

Saturday was a zoo. There were, of course, the usual summer weekend shenanigans, with tons of boats coming and going, many of whom thought nothing of passing us close aboard on full plane. But the fireworks added another dimension, with more and more boats coming in to the anchorage throughout the day. By dinner time, we were no longer an outlier but, rather, mid-pack, and we could just about walk from where were were all the way to spa creek without getting our feet wet.


Boats anchored all the way to Spa Creek and the Academy sea wall. Most of these had to move.

About mid-day, as the anchorage started filling in, I got a bit concerned about being chased off our spot by an over-zealous CG crew. It was clear to me that hundreds of boats were in the no-zone, and they'd be sweeping them out -- we didn't want to get caught in the net. So I called Station Annapolis on the phone to make certain our position was good.

They put me through to the Officer of the Day (OOD), who had to put me on hold while he plotted the zone and our position on a chart. It's harder than it sounds; the security zone was defined by lines joining six LAT/LON coordinates, none of which matched any navigation aid or other visually identifiable mark. After a few minutes he came back and told me we were good where we were, and I was clear with him that I did not want some coxwain in a 29-footer trying to get me to move in a crowded anchorage after I'd had a few drinks; he was able to appreciate the concern.

You can probably see where this is headed. Around 8ish, someone finally realized that the security zone was full of anchored boats, many of which were rafted together and most of whose crews had been drinking beer all afternoon. And so it began, with two police boats, a fireboat, and a USCG 29-footer driving through the anchorage and telling people to move. They started in the middle and were working their way toward us.


By sunset, they had cleared most of the boats. This sailboat is still in the zone but was allowed to stay. That's the dome of the Academy chapel to the right of a lovely setting sun.

When it became clear they were asking everyone to move past the Horn Point Light, I hailed the 29-footer on their working channel and explained my earlier conversation with the OOD. That sent the whole platoon of law enforcement into a huddle to do what they ought to have done up front -- actually plot the security zone so they could direct people correctly. It might have helped had whoever cooked this thing up picked some sensible landmarks (such as the Horn Point Light) to mark the corners of the zone, instead of arbitrary GPS coordinates.


A bit wider angle post-sunset view.

Suffice it to say they had to concede we were outside the zone, and they ended up leaving us and a dozen other boats (some of whom were still inside the zone) right where we were. But close to a hundred other boats all had to weigh anchor and dance around each other to comply; we sat on the flybridge with a beer watching the whole thing with some bemusement.

After all that, the fireworks turned out to be somewhat disappointing. It was just a run-of-the-mill barge-launched display, with a small handful of well-done sequences, and no music. Nothing to write home about (but apparently, boring you all with it here in the blog is allowed). Still, it was a beautiful evening and a lovely setting for it, and we enjoyed it. We also enjoyed watching the boats anchoring and partying all around us throughout the day. We cooked the traditional dinner on board: burgers, chips, and domestic beer.


I can never time these right with my cell phone.

Louise hit the hay soon after the display ended, leaving me on anchor watch. With hundreds of partly intoxicated boaters weighing anchor and trying to leave, I wanted to keep an eye on things until the bulk had cleared out. When the dust settled, we had only two boats "too close for comfort" spending the night with us (had I realized they were staying, I would have hailed them when they anchored), but after a few minutes with the rangefinder, the radar, and the weather report I decided it was low-risk. There were perhaps two dozen or so boats altogether in the anchorage overnight.

Speaking of partly intoxicated boaters, the following day we heard the CG side of a distress call wherein, apparently, a man donned his life jacket, jumped off his boat, and swam to shore, leaving behind a woman who did not know how to operate the vessel and was, therefore, "stranded." We never heard the resolution, but we had fun imagining how this had played out on the water. "Oh yeah? Well I'll show you -- I'm *leaving*. See who's laughing now."

Sunday morning we tendered ashore for brunch. The canonical breakfast joint, the Iron Rooster, had a line out the door and a long wait, so we opted instead for the Treaty of Paris, which is the hotel restaurant in the historic Maryland Inn. That was a quiet setting with nice service, and we enjoyed our meal. We also ended up with a giant plate of leftovers due to a mix-up in the kitchen, which made for a nice breakfast yesterday, too.


Sunset on Sunday, over an empty anchorage and an unobstructed view of "The Yard," as the USNA is known by its denizens.

By time we got back to Vector the anchorage had emptied out, and we were again nearly alone. With no security zone to mind, we weighed anchor in hopes of moving closer to Spa Creek. Unfortunately, there is only a narrow strip near the creek entrance with acceptable depth for anchoring, and the only other two boats still in the anchorage were there, with no room for us.  Moving just a boatlength further from shore there takes you from 20' to 50' of depth, and then you need to move another 200' to account for the scope. We ended up in a spot that was barely half way to the creek from where we had been in the first place (map).

In the calm and collected aftermath of the fireworks and associated boating mayhem, sitting on deck with a lovely view of the U.S. Naval Academy grounds, it hit me that we actually know someone who teaches there. We met Hite, his wife, Katrina, and their son, Troy, in the anchorage in the Dry Tortugas, on their sailboat Sea Monkey. I also reconnected with them in Georgetown, Bahamas, while Louise was off in California. I did not even know if they were back in the US yet, but I dropped them a note Sunday afternoon, before we headed ashore for dinner at Mangia, an unremarkable Italian place on the waterfront.

Sure enough, they were in town, with Hite settling in for the upcoming academic year. Yesterday we met them ashore at the dinghy dock and they drove us around Annapolis and through the Academy grounds. I had been thinking about taking the walking tour there -- it's been four decades since I spent a week there in a high school science and engineering program -- but with a ride onto campus, Louise was able to see it as well. Hite gave a first-class narration of the campus, and we made the requisite stop at the chapel, whose dome can be seen in the photos above. We caught up over milkshakes (they were already committed for the evening) and they gave us a ride to the grocery store as well before dropping us back at the dock. It was a great visit and we hope to see them again soon.

Annapolis is something of a sailing mecca, and on summer weekdays the Severn is chock-full of kids in fleets of miniature sailboats attending sailing camp. Vector was passed close aboard by more than one of these boats yesterday, and one even grazed our tender. I got to be grumpy old dude, stepping out on deck with stern words, not unlike "get off my lawn." With the entire river wide open, and us the only boat for a thousand yards in any direction, there was really no excuse for getting that close to begin with. Target fixation, I guess.

We enjoyed one last dinner ashore, at Red Red Wine, an excellent recommendation from Katrina. We decked the tender when we got back, in preparation for a fairly early start today. This morning we weighed anchor at 9am to have a favorable tide for the entire day's run.

Update: We are now anchored for the day, in Worton Creek, on the eastern shore (map). I lost connectivity about an hour before we arrived and so had to wrap the post up here instead. We arrived right at high tide, having ridden the flood all the way up. At one point we were cooking along at 8.3 knots, taking advantage of a 1.5-knot push.  We had the anchor down by 1pm, an early stop for us, but we did not want to proceed further and have the current against us. Tomorrow we will continue north to the C&D canal, now familiar to us, and a planned stop at Chesapeake City, about mid-canal.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Let the tomfoolery commence

We are again under way in the Chesapeake, headed north to Annapolis, Maryland. With five hours of open water on an unchanging heading, this is an excellent opportunity to get a post up, at least here in the middle where the traffic is light.


Cove Point light, as we passed earlier today.

We had a nice calm night in Solomons, where we anchored in Back Creek, right in the thick of things (map). That's in contrast to our last visit, where we were concerned it might be too crowded or busy there, and so we had anchored around the corner in Mill Creek.

I dropped the hook in a spot where I thought we'd be out of the way and not in the traffic pattern, but subjectively it felt just barely so. That did not stop three other boats from anchoring even closer to the main part of the channel after us. We were on a short leash; I could clearly hear conversations on other nearby boats in the quiet of the evening. Coincidentally, it was on our last visit here that I did my write-up on where and how we anchor.


Vector at anchor in Back Creek, as seen from our dinner table.

We splashed the tender as soon as we were settled and rode the very short distance over to the Back Creek Bistro for dinner. We shared a prime rib, which was quite good, but the service was lackluster. We had remembered the place more fondly from our last visit.


The best shot I could get of last night's moon over the harbor with my cell phone.

Today being the start of the holiday weekend, we awoke to considerable boat traffic in the harbor. Tidal current dictated that we wait until at least 10 to depart, so the first wave was done by the time we weighed anchor, and we had an uneventful exit, but there were plenty of boats out on the Patuxent, mostly fishing. Rounding Drum Point was the usual crab-pot slalom, but those have been behind us since hitting the deeper water of the bay.

Although I expect it to be much worse tomorrow, the chaos of amateur hour out on the water has already begun. Today we heard distress calls about a vessel on fire, and a disabled vessel that was so hard to find they sent a State Police helicopter. And the DSC distress alert has sounded twice, from the same vessel both times but with no position, nature of distress, or other information, likely the result of someone playing with their brand new radio.

We'll be arriving in Annapolis just as the locals are returning from their day on the water, and I have my fingers crossed that we'll have an uneventful arrival. I don't think the real confusion will start until late tomorrow afternoon, as hundreds of boats jockey for position to watch the fireworks. We went through this last year in Norfolk, and having already been well settled-in, for us it was just another part of the evening's entertainment.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bus report



We are under way, heading for Solomons, Maryland, on the way to Annapolis. As I begin typing this we are crossing the Potomac, heading for Point Lookout at the northern edge of the mouth of the river, where it meets the Chesapeake Bay.


Approaching Point Lookout. The lighthouse is part of the state park.

We've spent the last two days at Olverson's Lodge Creek Marina, just off the Yeocomico River (map), one of the numerous tributaries of the Potomac. We arrived in the Yeocomico fairly late Tuesday, and just dropped the hook for the night one cove short of the marina (map). Long-time readers may remember we took shelter near the mouth of the Yeocomico two years ago, after getting beaten up pretty badly in the square waves of the bay.

What we did not realize then (or maybe we were not yet members) was that this marina, just a couple of miles further up the river, offers a free night to MTOA members. Additional nights are discounted for BoatUS members, making our two-night stay quite the bargain.

We stayed here because it offers fairly easy access to where we have the bus stored. When we visited the bus in October, after a full year of storage, we determined that a year between visits was too long, and we needed to get the interval down closer to six months. With convenient access from the Chesapeake, there's really no reason not to stop each time we pass.

With the shorter interval, things were much easier this time -- I did not have to jump anything from a rental car. Also, more fully disconnecting the batteries last time helped a great deal. I'm sorry to say that, even so, the house bank is beyond end-of-life and was completely flat on arrival, but at least I was able to quickly get the charger on-line, and they do take enough of a charge to keep everything running for a short while. Perhaps it is just one or two bad batteries in the bank that are dragging the rest down.

The start batteries were fine, and had enough charge to bring the inverter/charger up far enough to get the charger started. With the charger running and some juice in the batteries, the big Detroit fired off on just the second crank attempt; the computer reported all normal and I ran it until the coolant came up to 176, as high as I could get it without a real load on the engine.

The generator similarly fired off on the second crank after bridging its battery. This at least I could load up, running all three air conditioners and the charger at once. On two of the air conditioners I needed to pull the shrouds and free up the fan motors, which had lightly seized their bearings from non-use. The compressors were fine and things got nice and cold once I got the fans turning.

Overall, the bus was in pretty good shape. I have a few things I'll need to fix if we need to use it -- the driver A/C is not coming on (probably a pressure switch or refrigerant issue) and the hydronic fluid pump for the diesel-fired heating system has an issue of some sort, but otherwise everything is working.

All of that said, it becomes increasingly hard to watch it sit there unused, or, worse, slowly deteriorating from non-use and exposure. So as hard as it is for us, we made the decision on this visit to put together some marketing materials and get it sold. We had put it in storage in part as a hedge against the boat not working out in some way, or if we wanted to try to alternate. But we are quite happy with and on the boat, and laying the boat up for months to go gallivanting about in the RV has its own issues.

We found someone locally to hold a set of keys, in case we find a buyer who would like to go have a look at it. They'd have to settle for a static look, because it is really not practical to leave it with electrical and water systems fully connected. But if we have a buyer that is interested enough to put down a deposit, I will fly or drive in from wherever we happen to be in order to fire it up for a demo and/or test drive. Since I can't find a dealer to take it on consignment (too unusual), that's probably the best we can do.


Vector is the biggest thing in the marina right now.

Olverson's is not really close to anything, but we drove to nearby Callao both nights for dinner, sampling Nino's Pizza and Italian, and El Indio Azteca Mexican Restaurant, both quite tasty. We also ran into nearby Lottsburg for a few items at the well-stocked Ace Hardware store there.

We were prepared to buckle in right there at Olverson's for the holiday weekend, in the event that I needed to work on any bus issues longer than a day or two. But we really only needed the first day; I used the extra time to cycle the batteries a couple of times and give them an equalization charge. The marina, which appears to have a vibrant community of regulars, is having a big pig roast and fireworks on the 4th, but we opted to move along.


Among the friendly staff at Olverson's is this cat, to whom everyone refers simply as "the Office Manager."

With a good day and a half before the holiday weekend boating crowd comes out in force, we figured we could make Annapolis in time to get well settled before their holiday show, scheduled for 9pm Saturday. It's a comfortable two-day run for us.

Tonight we'll be in Solomons, a familiar stop, and tomorrow afternoon we should be in Annapolis someplace. I copied the boundaries of the safety zone from the Local Notices to Mariners and plotted it on the chart; we'll find a spot to drop the hook outside of the zone.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Comfort in the familiar

We are anchored in Indian Creek, across from the Indian Creek Yacht and Country Club, near Kilmarnock, Virginia (map), a familiar stop. It's been an interesting and emotional week, and somehow it got away from me before I could sit down at the keyboard and post.


Vector at anchor, as seen from the Indian Creek Yacht and Country Club.

We had a very nice dinner Tuesday evening at the Amber Lantern at the Top Rack Marina, just squeaking past the $75 required to make our dockage and power free (we had to order desert to put us over, a delicious coconut cake). As promised, a front moved through Tuesday night, cooling things down considerably, but still, we stayed as long as we could Wednesday to take advantage of the 50-amp power outlet. I also used the opportunity to get the last of the recycling off the boat.


I like Ike.

We shoved off after lunch for the short cruise up the southern branch of the Elizabeth River to Portsmouth and one of our favorite stops, the free dock at the north ferry landing (map). Once north of the Noroflk & Western railroad lift bridge, the river becomes quite interesting, passing the Portsmouth Navy Yards to port. On this cruise, the USS Eisenhower nuclear aircraft carrier, CVN-69, was prominent in the yard, along with another Nimitz-class carrier whose number I could not make out, and a nuclear submarine of some sort, too distant to discern. Heavy nets and speedboats with mounted 50-caliber guns deter closer inspection.


Vector at the ferry landing. That's Take a Breath in front of us, and you can see LHD-5, USS Bataan, behind us in drydock.

After just an hour and a half we were docked at our usual spot in the protected basin of the north ferry landing, across from where the Hampton Roads Transit ferry stops on its loop to Towne Point in Norfolk and High Street in downtown Portsmouth. We took the end spot, in front of a 48 Offshore called Take a Breath; later we met cruisers Kevin and Katie who are about where we were in the learning curve the first time we stopped here. Regular readers may know we've stopped here several times now, including riding out Hurricane Arthur on this very dock a year ago.

We took the aforementioned ferry across to Norfolk for a lovely dinner at the Towne Pointe Club there, something we try to do each time we are in town.  As we walked to the club from the ferry landing, we noticed that preparations were under way for the annual Pride festival Saturday; our table overlooked one of the main stages at the park. We had already made plans for Saturday, and I was a little sad we could not stay for what looked to be a nice event. Of course at this point I was not even thinking about the upcoming Supreme Court decision.


The lights of downtown Norfolk, with Towne Pointe front and center, as seen from our deck.

Thursday morning we checked the weather over a bagel at the Town Cafe right at the end of the dock, and decided to stay another night, with near-perfect conditions forecast on the bay for Friday. We got a few things done around the house, and walked to the Dollar General for a few necessities, including milk -- the best we could do on foot. We ended up at Homegrown Pizza for dinner, a place we remembered from two years ago under a different name.

Friday we got a fairly early start, hoping to have a fair tide for at least part of the trip. We did indeed have a favorable current on the Elizabeth River and all the way to Thimble Shoal out in the bay, but we fought it most of the rest of the day. The northern part of the river takes you past more Navy yards, and here we saw a group of nuclear subs on top of the usual assortment of guided missile cruisers, frigates, and support vessels.


Submarines in the pen. Two boomers and an attack boat, I think.

As we were headed out past the tunnel, we crossed paths with another amphibious assault "aircraft carrier," LHD-1, the USS Wasp. We had crossed paths with sister ships LHD-3, the Kearsarge, out in the ocean, and LHD-5, USS Bataan, being refit in drydock across from us at the ferry landing. That makes three (out of eight) ships in the class that we've seen in just a couple of weeks.


"Warship 1," as they call themselves on the radio.

Crossing Thimble Shoal we opted to keep to the "float free" channel that is designated across horseshoe shoal. This is a bit closer to shore than we normally travel, and the water is shallower here -- our sounder registered just 9.6 feet at one point. I wanted to try it once, both because it cuts a mile off our usual route, and because it can come in handy when we come through here in the thick of crab season, where slaloming around pot floats can be an Olympic sport.

As we were coming north up the "channel" (really nothing more than a designated lane on otherwise level terrain), a southbound boat hailed us on the radio; some of our blog readers, aboard Rosalia, recognized Vector from a distance and wanted to say hello. I'm sorry I did not catch your names, but welcome.

Even though we were on a rising tide, the current change lags enough behind in the bay that our speed dropped continually the further north we got after passing Thimble Shoal. As we passed Wolf Trap Light our speed had dropped to just over four knots, and our ETA, which had started out as 6pm, was, at one point, showing to be past 10pm.


Wolf Trap light under gray skies.

Fortunately the tidal current began to change shortly thereafter, and the ETA steadily improved for the remainder of the cruise. We arrived in Indian Creek well before sundown, and had the anchor set just after 6:30. I warmed up the grill in the last mile of the trip and threw a couple of burgers on as soon as we were settled in.

Yesterday was something of a lost day. Winds were forecast to increase throughout the day, so we splashed the tender right after our morning coffee. I got wrapped up in the Internet most of the day, and it was all I could do to get myself together for our dinner engagement with our good friends Steve and Sandy, who live nearby. The weather was a bit dicey, and it looked for a while like we might have to wave off, but things let up just in time and we took a short tender ride to the nearby marina to meet them.

We had an excellent dinner in wonderful company at the Rappahannock Grill right in downtown Kilmarnock. Visits with them always end too soon, and they dropped us back at the dock at the end of the evening with the conversation still going strong. Good friends were just what I needed at that moment.

Today was beautiful and calm here at our pleasant anchorage, belying the maelstrom that is the Chesapeake today. You could not tell by looking from here, but the forecast was miserable and there was a small craft advisory issued. We opted to sit it out right here. That did not stop some of the weekend warriors from going out, though, and some hardy cruisers as well, but about midday we heard a clearly tired and bedraggled sailor trying to raise the marina just up the creek from us.


View towards the bay from our anchorage.

That marina closes early on Sunday, and this guy was getting beat up so badly out there that he needed to just be done. Several other boaters responded to him with various options, but it seemed to us like he was so tired he was not firing on all cylinders. We ended up guiding him in on the radio; he was adamant about not anchoring and I suggested he could probably just tie up at the marina in any open slip and deal with the office in the morning. He seemed grateful for the help.

Somewhere in all of this, we discovered that we actually have reciprocal privileges at the yacht club across the creek from us (we were looking into it to see if it was an option for him -- unfortunately not). We ended up tendering over there for an early dinner at their clubhouse; it turns out to be mostly a golf and country club with a small set of docks attached, and most of the dinner patrons had just finished a golf tournament. We'll have to remember it for the next time as a possible docking option.

Today's project was checking the generator air filter, after some investigation into a lube oil sample revealed possible fuel contamination. A long story, but essentially we were advised that inattention to the air filter can cause part of it to be sucked into one of the cylinder intakes, obstructing combustion. I found the filter intact, but bits of the felt gasket have started to disintegrate, and were being ingested by the engine. Not good, but we have no other symptoms so we are just monitoring it. I did need to fashion a temporary gasket until I can get a proper replacement.


Why is this gasket made of felt?

Tomorrow is supposed to me a much nicer day, and we'll weigh anchor in the morning headed for the Potomac. There is a marina upriver that offers a free night to MTOA members, and we plan to take advantage of it. Among other things, we need a place to get our mail.