We are under way in the Chesapeake after an unexpected four-day layover in Solomons, Maryland, anchored in The Narrows just west of Molly's Leg Island (map). As unexpected layovers go, Solomons is a great place for it, with plenty of services and restaurants accessible from the water.
Bloody Point Shoal Light, on our way into Kent Island. This "spark plug" lighthouse needs some TLC.
We had a very peaceful afternoon and evening south of Kent Island on Tuesday. It was sunny and warm, and so calm that I decided to get some overdue maintenance done on the tender. That started with replacing the spark plugs on the engine, with items that I had picked up at Walmart on our great provisioning run with the rental car in Chesapeake City.
One of the spark plugs turned out to be loose -- not even finger-tight. That probably explains more of the recent rough running than any other factor. There was a fine coating of oil and other blow-by products inside the shroud. The old plugs were also just done, and I found they were not the suppressor type, which accounts for the large amount of impulse noise we've experienced on the VHF radio. I replaced them with suppressor plugs which has improved but not eliminated the noise.
Sunset over calm water and Kent Island.
As long as the anchorage was dead calm, I also opted to change the gearcase oil, a project that involves suspending the tender over the boat deck from the crane so that the outboard can be lowered to the vertical position. As I feared, but mostly expected, the oil came out a milky silver color, indicating contamination with seawater, which has emulsified, and metal particles. I blame all of this on a serious prop strike a year ago, during a close encounter with uncharted wreckage from super-storm Sandy in Atlantic City, which bent the prop shaft.
I'm actively looking for a replacement "lower unit," as used take-offs in acceptable condition are less than what it would cost to repair this one. That search has taken longer than anticipated, though, so I decided to change the oil just to eke a few more months from this one. In for a penny, in for a pound, and as a last project I partly disassembled the steering cable mechanism and greased everything up; we probably need a new cable now, but this should make it easier to steer for a while longer.
Sunrise over the Eastern Bay.
I was up with the sun for a fair tide to Solomons, in a calm anchorage. The calm prevailed all the way to Solomons and we had a very pleasant cruise, arriving a little before 2pm to find our preferred spot empty. We set the hook and splashed the tender for a ride to dinner at one of the two closest eateries. I was a bit disappointed to notice a sheen coming from the gearcase fill, which I tentatively attributed to failure to get all the oil residue off the case.
As we were relaxing for the afternoon a familiar voice called us over the radio -- it was Bill, from the sailing cat Spiraserpula. We first encountered Bill and Gayle in Georgetown, Bahamas, and then again at Lee Stocking Island and Black Point, both in the Exumas, and Rock Sound on Eleuthera where they hailed us en route as they followed us in. Not too remarkable that you run into the same folks again and again in the Bahamas, but then we ran into them in Portland, Maine, a long way from our previous encounters.
When we talked in Portland (we did not manage to get together there) we were still heading north and they were already southbound, so we figured them to be well ahead of us. That made Wednesday's call a bit surprising; it meant we had passed them somewhere in the Chesapeake. They had their hook set just as we were leaving for dinner, and we made plans to meet up at the Lighthouse restaurant just across from our boat.
This was our first visit outside of a group setting, and we enjoyed getting to know them a little better. Gayle is a renowned marine biologist (their boat is named for the worms she studied), and when we found out she spent time in Raleigh we made the accidental discovery that they are good friends with Louise's cousin Donna and her husband Tom, also renowned marine biologists in Raleigh. Small world, and even smaller when you are a cruiser, apparently.
Thursday was another gorgeous day, and we started making preparations to get underway for what promised to be another beautiful cruise. As I lifted the dinghy motor out of the water to get ready for the hoist, I again noticed a small sheen coming from the fill, and I knew I had a leak. Both plugs were tight, so I had at minimum a damaged washer. I'll be counting on this dinghy for three weeks in DC, and it made sense to deal with the leak in Solomons, where I had access to plenty of marine resources, many more than will be available anywhere up the Potomac.
We stood down from our departure preparations, deciding to just spend another day in our cozy anchorage. I started hunting around for parts and resources on line, and found an authorized Mercury dealer in town. After talking with them on the phone, I decided to spring a c-note to just have them drain and refill the oil and replace the washers, saving me the trouble of doing it on deck with the dinghy hanging from the crane after running all over town for parts.
To get to the shop I had to run the tender around and out into the Patuxent, then up the river to the highway bridge where the county boat ramp is located. The dealer met me there with a trailer for the five-minute drive to the shop. It was a twenty minute shop visit and I was back at Vector before lunch. While I was at the shop I saw the lower unit of a much larger outboard that had been in a strike of its own, making me feel a little better about the relatively minor damage that ours suffered. The river was also flat calm on this day, making for a very pleasant high-speed run in both directions.
This much larger gearcase lost its fin as well as a big chunk of propeller. Can't be good inside, either.
The tender is running well now, with no leaking. The shop also flushed out the last of the old oil, something I lack the facilities for. I can highly recommend the good folks at Reliable Marine. Spending another day in town gave us the chance to go out to dinner at the other close-by restaurant, Charles Street Brasserie.
Friday morning was a bit of déjà vu as we once again made ready to get under way; I was very relieved to see no sheen form after another night in the water for the tender engine. We were under way by 9am, and as we headed out into the Patuxent from the harbor I was very glad I had calm conditions with the tender on Thursday, as the river now sported quite a bit of chop, and a small craft advisory was in effect.
Things only got worse as we left the Patuxent for the Chesapeake, with Vector banging into three foot head seas, the same sort of extremely short-period, very square waves that had done so much damage on our very first excursion to the Potomac. We pressed on, holding out hope for a better ride after making the turn around Cedar Point off of the Naval Air Station, but it was not to be -- once outside of the protection of the point, things got even rougher. Reluctantly, we turned around after an hour under way and headed back to Solomons, the closest harbor of refuge.
We settled right back in at our same spot, figuring to be there another two nights, as the forecast for Saturday was even worse. That gave me a chance to tackle some projects that have been bubbling up the list, first among them re-wiring the chart plotter inputs to import AIS target information from two sources at once. Our venerable Furuno FA-100 transponder tends to acquire targets at greater range, whereas it tends to drop targets not conforming to much older identification standards. The output from the Standard Horizon GX2200 often displays more targets. Having both together ensures we have the most accurate picture at any given moment.
These sorts of wiring projects under the helm always take longer than they should, in large part due to the unlabeled and disorganized spaghetti-bowl of wiring that has accumulated there over a dozen years. Tired of them always getting in my way, on this occasion I took the opportunity to remove several heavy power cables that had been abandoned when the last owner upgraded the electrical system, but left in place haphazardly by the installers who did the work. Not only did that clean up some of the spaghetti, but it also freed up some much-needed room in the now over-full wiring chases from the pilothouse to below decks.
After having pulled back one of the four old shore power cables to the engine room Friday, yesterday I reinstalled a shore power inlet on the aft deck for 30-amp, 120-volt service, so we can have a bypass feed to the inverter-charger when at a dock lacking 240-volt power. We love our isolation transformer, but it has meant the boat won't work at all on a dock with just 120-volt power. In the process, I discovered that the boat had spent fully the first decade of its life without any galvanic protection on the shore power system; it is only by sheer luck that it managed to escape any serious galvanic damage during that time.
Friday afternoon we were joined in the anchorage by another familiar boat, Rocinante, whom we had met in Deltaville and encountered again in Yorktown last year. They are accomplished cruisers and we were happy to have them as neighbors, but while we were at dinner two more boats dropped their hooks nearby, one of which dragged significantly in the squall that blew through in the evening. No excuse, since the storm had been well forecast.
We had dinner at one of our old standbys, the Back Creek Bistro, which overlooks the Calvert Marina. The marina was hosting the annual Krogen Rendezvous, and after squeezing through the flotilla of Krogens to park the tender, we got a great view over the whole lot of them from the restaurant. The bigger ones had to med-moor, and the smaller ones were packed into an offset stagger arrangement, nose-to-midships, that looked exactly like a can of sardines. It was amazing to behold, and we heard much merriment coming from their event tent.
Yesterday we tendered over to Anglers restaurant at the Beacon marina for breakfast -- even the harbor was rough in the morning -- and afterwards stumbled upon by accident the Patuxent River Appreciation Days at the nearby Calvert Marine Museum. We got a kick out of walking around the arts and crafts fair and listening to the live music, and it was nice to be off the boat for a while. We wrapped up our extended Solomons visit with burgers for dinner at the Island Hideaway not far from our anchorage; by dinner time the harbor was much calmer. We loaded the tender on deck when we got home, in anticipation of getting under way this morning.
The third time's the charm, and in a "déjà vu all over again" way we again made preparations to leave first thing this morning. With gorgeous cruising weather, the rest of our anchorage had the same idea, and we left about mid-pack. Not a moment too soon, though, as shortly after we cleared the harbor my AIS lit up with a dozen or more Krogens coming out right behind us; we joked that the final coffee-and-donuts of the rally must have just wrapped up.
Today was, indeed, picture-perfect cruising weather, and we are now steaming up the Potomac towards a planned anchorage near Coles Point. Tomorrow we will continue up the river while the tide is favorable, anchoring somewhere in the upper Potomac.
Update: We are anchored just east of Coles Point, Virginia (map). In a strange twist of history, the waters of the Potomac are in Maryland, with the state line following the Virginia shoreline, so we are still in Maryland. It's calm here, and the weather is perfect, and we are looking forward to tomorrow's cruise into new territory for us.