Saturday, June 20, 2015

Seek safe harbor

As I predicted in my last post, we had no Internet coverage last night, although I did have enough signal for text messages and maybe even a voice call. We spent the night anchored just north of Pingleton Shoal, at the mouth of the Long Shoal River south of Long Shoal (map).

Yesterday's cruise from our nice digs on Adams Creek was 61 nautical miles, a long day. With over nine hours from anchor up to anchor down, on a mostly autopilot course, we had a lot of time to catch up on our reading. With the Internet unavailable for much of the day, I went through a half dozen magazines that had piled up.

This trawler passed us on our way out of Adams Creek, giving us some perspective on Vector's rust.

We also took in the scenery and enjoyed the calm conditions; if anything, we wished for a bit more wind. With Friday being the start of so many summer weekends, we got our entertainment from listening in on the various shenanigans on the radio, with lots of calls for assistance. The radio traffic also illuminated an encounter I had during my final night watch at sea.

I did not mention it here because, without a photo or really knowing what it was, I had no way to properly describe it. But during that watch I had an enormous radar target dead ahead. I thought it might be a container ship, but it was not moving fast enough. Perhaps it was a large barge, being towed.

I strained and strained to make out navigational lights as we got closer, to no avail.  I thought I could make out a green light at one end, which would be a starboard-side navigation light, but at that aspect it would have been on the port side. Our radar set does not automatically track targets (more on this in a moment), so getting course and speed was nearly impossible. At one point I convinced myself it was anchored.

Even though it was dead ahead early on, and apparently unchanging, it seemed mysteriously to move out of my way, and we passed it perhaps three miles abeam. Maybe an hour later it was dead astern. As we came to our closest point of approach, I tried again to ascertain its nature and course. I spent many minutes on the flybridge staring through the glasses. I could see a few dim white lights on top, but none looked like a proper anchor or steaming light. The aforementioned green light, now properly on the starboard side, flickered in and out. And there was a dimly lit area below decks. Against the starlight on the horizon it looked like an aircraft carrier.

When we were as close as we would come, I happened to be looking right at it when it took a slight roll, and the single green light that I thought might be a nav light turned out to be just one of a whole row of green lights along the length of the deck. Aircraft carrier for sure, I thought, but it was not really big enough nor did it have the right superstructures. They clearly knew I was passing by, but there were no calls on the radio.

Well, all night Thursday and Friday there were calls on channel 16 from "Aircraft Carrier 3" stating that they were conducting operations at a certain set of coordinates, their nav lights were extinguished, and they did not conform to the "rules of the road." They requested all vessels to remain five nautical miles from the stated coordinates.

A bit of sleuthing yesterday revealed that the USS Kearsarge, LHD-3, was conducting operations in the area as part of an exercise. An LHD is not an aircraft carrier as most think of them, but it does have a flat flight deck from which are sortied Osprey and Harrier vertical-takeoff aircraft, and it also has a well deck that carries LCAC hovercraft. The mission is to carry Marine Expeditionary Units, who use the aforementioned aircraft, and who train at Campe LeJeune, which was nearby. Regular readers may remember we anchored at Camp LeJeune right where the hovercraft operate, and we've had to call range control there more than once to transit the firing range.

The night we went by, they were not conducting flight ops, so were free to move out of our way, which apparently they preferred to do rather than break their radio silence or give away their identity. As a skipper it's always a bit unnerving to encounter something that large that is not bound by the same rules (no AIS, no navigation lights, no radio calls). I never did have to alter course or speed, but it occupied my attention for well over an hour.

Things were so calm on Pamlico Sound yesterday that when we dropped the hook, we opted just to round the Pingleton Shoal for a slight attenuation of the mild southerly swell. If things had been choppier or windier, we might have gone another mile or so into the greater protection of the river, which is only deep enough for Vector a short ways in.

All well and good, but after dinner a thunderstorm came through and all hell broke loose. Early into it the lightning was getting close enough that we put both cell phones and a handheld radio into the microwave for protection. Shortly afterward, as we were pondering whether to move upriver in the dark or at least add scope, the Coast Guard made a Sécurité announcement with dire warnings from the NWS for our location -- 40 knot winds and lightning -- and stating all vessels should "seek safe harbor."

We decided navigating up an unfamiliar, shallow river in the pitch dark to gain only a small amount of additional protection was riskier than staying put, so we fired up the engine, pulled the snubber in, and paid out more anchor rode until we had a ten-to-one scope. We did have a bit of hobby-horsing, but we never budged, and we were treated to a fantastic lightning show.

Somewhere in all of this, my cell phone beeped with a pair of text messages from our friends on Adventure, who are a day ahead of us. We were both mystified -- the phones were in the microwave oven (with the oven turned off at the breaker), which ought to be a Faraday cage. From the standpoint of lightning protection, our whole boat is also a Faraday cage and really should protect such devices, provided they are not plugged in, but we put them in the oven as an extra measure of protection.

Microwave ovens operate at about 2.45gHz, and cell phones are in the 1.9gHz range, so you'd think that the shielding on an oven would keep the cell signals out entirely. Clearly not the case, which makes me wonder how much microwave leakage there is.

Shortly after we anchored, I started transferring fuel to the day tank. We're almost out of fuel in the main tank (we have about 200 gallons in a reserve tank), and I'm trying to run the day tank out before our fuel stop so we can verify the capacity. About halfway through transferring 45 gallons, the transfer pump, which is part of the fuel polisher, quit working.

The polisher has a vacuum sensor which cuts it off when the filter gets plugged. We've done the "debris removal" process twice since buying the boat, but we've never changed the filter. Considering it's processed over 4,000 gallons just since we bought it, I'd say we got our money's worth from this cartridge, and I put a new one in. I also cleaned out the separator bowl and "turbine," which had accumulated quite a bit of dirt.

With seawater temperature in the high 80's and a heat index outside of over 100, the last place I wanted to be working was a hot engine room, but we needed to get it done. It's all back together now and ready for the next four or five thousand gallons. We ran the generator after anchoring to get some A/C going, so I was able to shower and cool off afterwards, some four pair of nitrile gloves later.

Today I was fiddling with radar settings under way, while poring over the manual -- I ran out of magazines yesterday. Somewhere in the middle of fiddling around trying to dial in some better settings for certain conditions, I realized that the upstairs display had an item on it that I had never seen on the main pilothouse display.

After running up and down the steps a few times and consulting the arcane manual, I discovered that the upstairs display might, in fact, be equipped with an ARPA board. ARPA is a standard feature on commercial radars and some newer recreational models that lets you track targets and compute course, speed, and closest point of approach. It's an option on our radar unit, one which I have lamented ours lacked since first learning how to use the set.

Long-time readers may recall that I bought a pair of displays identical to ours a couple of years ago, in order to have a remote display on the flybridge. I updated the software in both, converted them to C-Map charts (they were Navionics compatible units originally), picked the cleaner-looking of the two for the flybridge, and sold the other one on eBay. Total cost to me of the new display was around a hundred bucks, plus $75 in cables and parts.

The thought never even crossed my mind that either of these displays would include the very expensive ARPA upgrade. The seller said nothing about it, and the asking price reflected the much more common non-ARPA model. Also I was much earlier on the learning curve and did not really know to ask. It's very likely that only one of the two had the ARPA board; if so I am lucky that I chose this one to keep.

In order for ARPA to work, the radar antenna needs to be directly connected to the display with the ARPA board in it. So I was not able to test under way today. I will need to move the flybridge display down to the pilothouse and connect it to the radar antenna to see if this all still works. If it does it will be a score -- I've been thinking about spending some money to get ARPA capability, either by buying a board for our existing display, or replacing the radar system altogether. It will be really nice if it's just a display swap.

I started typing this as we crossed Albemarle Sound this afternoon. We are now safely anchored in the North River (map), a familiar stop for us. We are again running the genny for some air conditioning. Tomorrow night we should be in the Norfolk suburbs, either Great Bridge or Chesapeake depending on the status of the lock, which is closing intermittently right now for repairs.

1 comment:

  1. ARPA is a wonderful thing, properly used. With some RADAR displays, most notably the smaller ones, the screen becomes far too busy when there are many targets. This has been know to result in "RADAR assisted collisions". Like most things, common sense will prevail.


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