Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A first time for everything

As I predicted, we had no cell coverage whatsoever last night, at yet another anchorage off the ICW.  This one was the first stopping opportunity after the Alligator-Pungo Canal, just after it joins the Alligator River.  Both the canal and the river were the color of strong tea.  The canal is a long haul, straight and narrow, with snags and stumps lining either side.  Still, we had 14' of water in the center, so it was a relaxed transit for us.

We had the canal to ourselves, with no other boats passing us in either direction, and none in sight or even on the radar.  We briefly had the anchorage to ourselves, too, as there was no one there when we dropped the hook at 3:30.  Shortly afterwards another trawler showed up, followed by two sailboats.  Still, it was quiet and peaceful all night, with the lone exception of a giant 80' tug pushing a 130' barge that passed by around midnight.

After we left our nice anchorage in Slades Creek, we headed to Belhaven to pump out at Forest River Marina.  Belhaven is accessed by a narrow channel that passes through a storm breakwater, and a sharp right took us down an even narrower channel to the marina.  As this was nearly two miles, round trip, off our route, I had called Sunday to make sure their pumpout was working.  They told me they had no one to work it Sunday, but we could come in late Monday morning, which is when we arrived.

It was pouring rain when we pulled up to the dock, and we were both drenched by the time we tied up -- Louise from working the lines on deck, and me from driving the last few hundred feet on the flybridge in the driving wind.  Only after we made a tricky docking in the wind were we informed that the pumpout involves a portable electric pump and they will not do it in the rain.   They invited us to stay at the dock till the rain stopped, sometime in the afternoon.

This was not how we wanted to spend the day, and, moreover, if we stayed too long, we'd never make it through the canal in the daylight, forcing us to spend the night in a marina in town.  Not Forest River, which turned out to be rode hard and put away wet.  We opted to move along, although we had cell coverage long enough for me to get Sunday's blog uploaded.

The other marina in town said their pumpout was at the city docks, at the far end of town.  We'd heard docking there was dicey for large, deep-draft boats, so we waved that one off as well.  The next two marinas near our route wanted way too much money for a pumpout, so we opted to see if we can make it until tomorrow, when we will be at a marina in Coinjock.

So the rainy trip over to Belhaven turned out to be a goose chase, and we high-tailed it back to the ICW channel to make our chosen anchorage early in the afternoon.  By the time we dropped the hook, the weather had cleared up and we had a very pleasant evening.

All our cruising guides said that the Alligator River had so many snags on the bottom that we had best rig a trip line.  A trip line is a line rigged to the anchor at the opposite end  from where the rode, or main anchor line, attaches, which can be used to dislodge a fouled anchor by pulling it out from the fluke end. This was a new experience for us, and I used some of the lazy time we had on the Alligator-Pungo Canal, while Louise tended the helm, to set it all up.  I found a shackle to fit the trip-line hole in the anchor, attached some spare polypropylene line to it with an anchor bend, and attached the other end of the line to our Polyform A-3 round orange buoy/fender, the same one that had a supporting role in the great Bohicket Anchor Melodrama.

Of course, after all the dire warnings, not one of the other three boats that anchored after us set a trip line, neither did we have any trouble bringing the anchor up without it, aside from having to wash off all the caked-on mud.  Still, we left it attached, in case we ended up in the Alligator again tonight, which was a possibility at the onset of the day.

We got off to an early start this morning -- what often happens when we don't have the Internet to deliver our morning news and weather while we leisurely sip our coffee.  By the time we made the northward turn into the main part of the Alligator, we had decided that just 20 miles to the last anchorage on the Alligator side of the sound was too early to stop, so I put on another couple hundred RPMs to take us all the way across the Albemarle Sound before day's end.

Shortly after making that decision, we found ourselves enveloped in light fog, and we got to try something else out for the first time -- the Kahlenberg automatic fog horn.  The five-second blast from this incredibly loud air horn once every minute sent poor George into orbit -- she detested the air horn on the bus, too, which was not nearly this loud.  After the worst section was past, I took pity on her and switched to the fog-horn signal on the loudhailer (outdoor loudspeaker) connected to the VHF radio.  Plenty loud outside, and meets the legal requirement for a fog signal, but not nearly as disturbing to the cats.  They'll just have to suck it up, though, when we get into real pea soup.  I also cranked the radar out to a longer range, and we saw nary a target all morning.

The Alligator River swing bridge came into view shortly after we left the fog behind.  At Vector's speed, we had the bridge in sight for nearly 20 minutes before we were close enough to call the tender and ask for an opening.  We've been over that bridge before in Odyssey; today was our turn to hold up traffic for a few minutes.

Not long after the bridge we crossed the Albemarle Sound, a 14-mile stretch of open water that taxed the stabilizers and autopilot, but not much else.  We did have to take control to dodge a number of crab pots over the course of the nearly two hour crossing.  Soon after entering the Sound, the Intracoastal Waterway diverges into two distinct routes, the "main route" to the east, and the "Dismal Swamp" route to the west.  Someday we'd like to do the Great Dismal Swamp route, but for our first pass we opted to take the slightly shorter and, more importantly, deeper main route.

That brought us here, to an anchorage at the mouth of Lutz Creek, on the North River.  Once again we are all alone, but here, at least, we have 3G access to a Sprint tower.  We're catching up on email and web sites now that we have access for the first time in three days.  Among other things, we're catching up on our trip planning using the ActiveCaptain web site.

When I don't have Internet access, I tend to knock projects off the list, and yesterday was no exception.  We have some electrical gremlins, one of which was the mystery of why the oven pilot (indicator) light is illuminated when there is no power to the boat.  Another is why the "reverse polarity" indicators on the main electrical panel are also lit when there is no power to the boat.  I suspected these two were related.  Also on my project list was to rewire the receptacle by the coffee pot, which only works on shore or generator power and not on the inverter.

After an hour or two of sleuthing around under the helm, poking at electrical panels, I discovered that, in fact, all three issues were related.  Whoever installed the ice maker (which we've had powered off since we bought the boat) and the receptacle in the wet bar area, which apparently share a circuit, carefully connected the hot lead to an inverter circuit -- so they could run all the time -- but connected the neutral to the main neutral bus instead of the inverter neutral.  Not only did this mean the receptacle (and, presumably, the ice maker) would only work when shore or generator power was present, it also meant that when that power was absent, the main neutral bus was being made hot by a backfeed through this circuit from the inverter, thus lighting both the reverse polarity indicators and the oven pilot light.

The backfeed has been eliminated  a relief since stray electrical currents on a metal boat can be very destructive, up to and including sinking the boat.  As a bonus, we can now make our coffee without having to either start the generator, or move the coffeemaker to a different counter with a working inverter outlet.

Having come all the way here to statute mile 60 tonight, tomorrow will be a very short day, just another ten miles to a marina in Coinjock, North Carolina.  We will absolutely need a pumpout, and we can also use some water and a full charge on the batteries after four nights at anchor.  Coinjock, at mile 50, is also the last possible place for us to stop until Great Bridge, Virginia at mile 12.  That will make Thursday a very long day, at 38 statute miles with three timed bridge openings.  At least tomorrow we can sleep in, as we'll have less than two hours to Coinjock.


  1. Sean --

    This is great reading, and I'm delighted you are solving the electrical gremlins.

    I must say after owning boats for 25 years that I have never heard of anyone as scrupulous as you about finding a pump out station. I will not say anything self-incriminating, but there are other ways to empty the tank. And this is just one more reason to travel on the outside where you can legally empty the tank at sea.

    Good sailing!

  2. Be very careful with the hazard just before the cut into Coinjock. We passed a boat aground within the channel on the red side just 2 weeks ago. It's shallow on the green side too - it's a rare place where you have to stay on the charted magenta line:

    You're also approaching Top Rack in Chesapeake, VA (after the Great Bridge Lock and Dominion Bridge). That's the location of one of the lowest prices of diesel on the ICW. And if you eat at their restaurant (it's fantastic) the night's dockage is free. They can fit you but there's only one place and you'd need a reservation.

    There's lots of fun ahead!

    1. Thanks, Jeff. We did see the cautions on ActiveCaptain about that spot, but it's always reassuring to hear from another 6'-draft skipper. Thanks also for the Top Rack suggestion; we might avail ourselves of the free dockage (with dinner) option. We're trying not to put any fuel in the boat -- one of the projects in Deltaville will be to open up all the fuel tanks to clean them out, so we'd like to get them as empty as we can en route. Given that we started with 600 gallons around 700 miles ago, at our guesstimated burn rate, we should still have about 200 gallons aboard (the gauge accuracy is unknown, but shows more like 250). More than enough to get us the 110 miles or so to Deltaville. Since we have a day tank, which we fill before each leg, there is no danger of running out unexpectedly. Thanks, BTW, for continuing to follow along.

  3. While I'm not sure about boat designs, unless your oven is a "pilotless" propane oven, then seems to me that the pilot light remains lighted is the norm for gas/propane appliances -- my gas hot war heater stays lighted even during power outages -- there is no electrical connection on the waterheater.

    1. Sorry, by "pilot light" I meant the indicator lamp that is supposed to tell you the oven is on. Our range is all-electric, 120 volt. We have no propane on the boat at all, having left the BBQ that was on the boat deck at the first marina we stayed at. I've updated the text of the post to make this more clear.

  4. Wow! I've just got to say: I'm learning something new on every post. Thanks for sharing the details of your electrical projects, which are of particular interest to me.

    I must admit I hope you do work out Vector's height challenges, and take on the Great Loop. Some friends of mine have taken a real interest in the Great Loop, initially through your posts - and they're now convinced I should find a Great Loop-able boat and we do it together. I'd love to learn from your experiences first!

  5. Wow, 400 gallons of fuel in 700 miles...Yikes!


    1. @Mike:

      Now you know why fuel usage in the boating world is usually expressed in gallons per hour!

      There should be a way to calculate fuel use based on "recreation per hour" or some such. What we see while trawlering along at 6-7 miles per hour is very different than RVing at 40-60 miles per hour. Not necessarily better, just different.


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