Wednesday, July 2, 2014

We know the drill

We are docked at Top Rack Marina, a familiar stop, in Chesapeake, Virginia (map).  It's just a few miles from our last stop, in Great Bridge, taking us just a little over an hour, including two bridge openings and a lock-through.  The bridges are on an on-the-hour schedule, so the trip takes at least a little more than an hour no matter how fast you go, but delays at the Great Bridge Lock can push it to two hours or even more.

Top Rack has the cheapest fuel on the route, although it jumped up nine cents since I called last week, to $3.599 per gallon.  Still a bargain for marine diesel.  We headed right to the fuel dock when we arrived, bunkering 817 gallons over the course of two hours.  We also availed ourselves of the pumpout while we were fueling, and we moved here to a slip when we finished.

Long-time readers may remember that we fueled here on our way south, too, but we did not spend the night because the lock was damaged and operating on a restricted schedule, and we wanted to get through it before the Corps decided to close it altogether.  We did stay here on our way north last May, though, and spending the night is really a no-brainer for us, considering dockage and power is free if you spend at least $75 eating in the restaurant.  Since dockage and power for Vector would normally run $62, it's like getting a nice dinner for two for $13.

Having arrived here twice now with empty saddle tanks (save for about 200 gallons we keep in the starboard tank to trim the boat), and filled the belly tank to the top each time, I can now do some back-of-the-envelope math on our fuel consumption over a fairly long period.  I'll spare you the full details, but since mid-November we've burned 1,433 gallons of diesel between 370 hours of main engine and 263 hours of generator usage, and traveled 2137 nautical miles.

I don't have a good way to know how much fuel was used by the generator, but at the very minimum it is a half gallon per hour (likely more, especially if it is loaded), so knocking 133 gallons off the total for the genny gives us an average burn rate of around 3.5 gph in the main engine, average fuel mileage of about 1.64 nm/gallon, and an average speed of 5.8 knots.  Not bad for a 52-ton boat.

We were absolutely the only boat in the marina last night, and we were very nearly the only patrons in the restaurant.  After speaking with the dockmaster, we are keeping these docks in mind as a backup should our plans for the next few days run off the rails.  For now, however, we plan to shove off this morning for the free docks in Portsmouth, about ten miles north, and spend the next few days there, through Independence Day.

Where is everybody?  That's the high-rise replacement for the Steel Bridge going up in the background.

What might derail those plans, of course, would be Tropical Storm Arthur.  We have been watching the models and forecasts from the National Hurricane Center with great interest, and for a time yesterday the "cone of uncertainty" for the forecast track included not only our current location, but also pretty much anyplace we could reasonably get the boat in a day's time.  The 11pm forecast moved the western edge of the cone to just east of our planned route, which is good news, but we are not yet out of the woods.

If you've been following us since before we bought the boat, then you will know that we are long-time Red Cross volunteers, and the weather tools we are using now are very familiar to us.  Until last year we spent every hurricane season on the east coast, and more often than not we were heading towards the forecast track, rather than away, when storms took aim at the coast.  The tables are turned now, and we are using these tools in a different way.

Having responded to over a dozen named storms, and even driven the bus right through a couple, we have a great deal of respect for their power.  We also understand at a root level what the forecast probabilities mean, and how to read the various forecast products.  We are not relying on Joe-the-weatherman on the local TV station to prognosticate about storms.

We'll be tracking the storm throughout the day and continuing to revise our storm plans accordingly.  By sometime tomorrow we will know whether to batten down, cinch up the lines, and stay put, head west up the James River to get more inland before the storm arrives, or head to a nearby marina or boat yard to see if we can get more well secured or even hauled out.  We also have a standing offer from Louise's cousins in Elizabeth City, NC to use their hurricane hole dock. Each option has pluses and minuses and there is no one-size-fits-all storm strategy.


  1. Hi,
    Hope this finds you out of harms way with this storm. I'm new to all this mariner jargon but love following your progress. I'm puzzled over this hurricane hole dock. Can you please explain what it really is? Also how is your new fridge working out?

    1. The new fridge is working pretty well. The freezer keeps the ice cream much colder, which is great. There are warmer and cooler spots inside the fridge, and once we mapped those we put the beer in the coldest spots.

      A hurricane hole is a place that is considered a bit safer during a big storm. That might be because it is better protected from the wind, such as a harbor with land most of the way around it. Or, it may be far enough inland that the winds have been reduced by passing over land. I've also used it heard to describe a very sturdy dock or pilings where the boat can be tied up in such a way that it can ride out the storm surge and wind.

      My cousins have a dock that they have beefed up to protect their sailboat during a storm. It is big enough for two boats, and they have graciously offered to let us use the other half. Of course, given how slowly Vector travels, we would have to be close enough to travel there and then prepare the boat. In this case, we are close enough, but Elizabeth City is more in the path of the storm so it does not makes sense for us to travel in that direction.


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