Saturday, June 27, 2020

Going topless

As I begin typing we are underway across Hampton Roads, headed for the James River inbound. We are en route back to the Chickahominy, not far from the scene of the crime. We plan to arrive Monday afternoon, so it will be a nice leisurely cruise.

We spent Tuesday morning licking our wounds. With everything dry I went back up to the flybridge with a roll of duct tape, some snips, a utility knife, and a few more lines. With a couple hours of work we were able to get the most seriously damaged part of the top cut away, unlaced, and off the frame, and secured what was left with a combination of duct tape, lacing, and lines thrown over the top. All of this in anticipation of having to go at least of couple of weeks, and maybe longer, before we could find a canvas shop that could get to us.

Contemplating the damage, before we cut away the starboard fore quadrant.

I posted the saga of the incident, mostly for entertainment purposes, on a number of boating groups I'm in on Facebook. Those groups have a wide reach, collectively maybe 20,000 or more members. So I suppose I should not have been surprised when someone who lives right on the Chickahominy, and keeps a boat at the River's Rest marina there, reached out to say he knew a canvas guy at his marina who might be just between jobs.

After a couple of phone calls back and forth, we agreed that we'd stop by on our way back downriver so he could have a look. In the meantime, I sent him a few photos. We scratched the plan to tender over to the campground near the dam after learning the pandemic had closed their restaurant permanently, and instead made ready to head back downriver on the ebb in the afternoon.

As close as we came to Walker Dam, left, and the resort campground.

With the current behind us, it took only a bit over an hour to run the eight nautical miles back downriver to the River's Rest, where we dropped the hook outside the buoy line just a half mile upriver (map). It was a quiet and comfortable anchorage, if a bit buggy. Fortunately, I had just re-screened all the house windows a couple of days earlier, so fewer of them made it inside than in the past. I still need to add some weatherstripping to complete the job.

Wednesday morning Jeff, from Trident Marine Canvas, got a ride out to the boat with a fisherman friend, and came aboard for a quick look at the top and frame. We discussed fabric options, and whether or not we wanted to continue our cruise and have him ship us the finished top for self-installation (we did not). He told us he would make some calls to his suppliers and get back to us later in the day. We settled in for the day, thinking we'd be there for another night.

I needed to change networks while anchored at Walker. The first three entries are ours. Posted without further comment.

By early afternoon we had picked a fabric that he would be able to get in just a day or two, and the only fly in the ointment was that his suppliers were all out of grommets, which have to come in from China. We'd have to buy them retail, from Sailrite, at about three times the cost, but they were in stock and he could start right away.

And thus it was that Wednesday afternoon found us removing the duct tape, cutting through the remaining laces, and taking down the remainder of the old top so I could drop it off in the tender for him to use as a guide. With the tender in the water, we would have come ashore for dinner at the on-site restaurant, which has a nice outside deck, but they are only open on the weekends.

The tide was such that the downriver trip was only favorable for a couple of hours early in the morning, or else leaving after 4pm. With nothing keeping us at River's Rest, and needing to be in Newport News on Friday, we opted to deck the tender and get under way after four to run downriver until dinner time. That put us at the confluence of the Chick and the James, where we dropped the hook just upriver of the ferry landing (map).

Vector topless, near River's Rest.

That was also a dark, quiet, and peaceful anchorage, with just a handful of tugs dragging their loads up and down the river. But after dark we soon learned that the previous night's bug-fest had been just a warning salvo. Wednesday night we were hit with a full-on midge swarm; we taped over the gaps in all the windows, doused a many lights as we could, and awoke in the morning to find every square inch of the outside of the boat covered in them, and their green deposits.

With the boat pointed into the wind, the foredeck was not too bad, and we quickly weighed anchor first thing Thursday morning on the ebb, and raced downriver toward Hampton Roads. We had the anchor down before lunchtime, in a small bay between the enormous Newport News Shipbuilding yard, and the James River Bridge, just off the Leeward Municipal Marina (map). Sadly, the cruise downriver rid us of virtually none of our newfound passengers.

We had a nice sunset at anchor near the confluence. Before the midge attack.

With most of the midges taking shelter on the aft deck, we despaired of even getting the dinghy in the water. And so I went out, shop vac in hand, to do battle. I spent well over an hour vacuuming midges, after which I had thinned the herd down to perhaps 15% of what we had started with. That was enough to get the tender offloaded so we could get ashore. Shortly after splashing, a thunderstorm rolled through that churned what had been a very calm anchorage up into a froth. Even that was not enough to rid us of the final midges.

I made arrangements with the marina to land the tender at the dock, and they gave me a code so we could get back in after dinner. It was quite the challenge to board a rolling, pitching dinghy from an equally pitchy swim step, but we managed, and tendered ashore to walk across the highway to the Crab Shack on the James, at the foot of the fishing pier. We sat on the covered patio and had an acceptable meal, grateful to be able to get off the boat for a bit.

Just a small fraction of our midge stowaways. I could not get myself into the thick of them, on the aft deck, for a pic.

After dark the weather radio alerted us to a violent thunderstorm headed straight for us, one that made the afternoon event look like child's play. It hit with a vengeance, with gusts to 40mph. Things got quite choppy in the anchorage, but it was all over in a half hour or so, and an hour later relative calm had returned. This storm was finally enough to rid us of the bulk of the midges, and, as a bonus, it also rinsed off most of the green deposits on all the exposed decks -- we still have a bit of cleaning to do on the covered decks.

In the several wind events that we've now had since losing our top, we've learned that the naked frame catches the wind in a way that it does not when covered, and vibrates at its resonant frequency, a low-pitched hum. These sorts of sounds transmit all over on a metal boat, and it took us a while to figure out what we were hearing.

Leaving our anchorage yesterday, this is how calm it was. Newport News Shipbuilding in the backgound.

Yesterday I tendered back ashore with the e-bike to collect our various packages. The replacement for the helm computer was waiting for me at the post office, and they would have held it for 30 days, so we did not need to rush down here for it. But as long as I had a package coming here, we also ordered some Amazon items to a nearby locker, and Amazon only gives you three days. After making my pickups at the post office and the locker, I swung by the nearby Walmart to restock some provisions before returning to the dock, where I left the bike locked to a rack.

Other than the two short thunderstorms, the anchorage had been very calm. But with miles of fetch to the south, we knew it would become untenable when the wind shifted in the morning. We weighed anchor at high tide to get into the shallow marina for a pumpout and some water, then loaded the bike back aboard and headed out in search of a more protected spot for a couple of days.

We cut diagonally across the roadstead, lowered our SSB antennas to clear under the Monitor-Merrimac small boat span, and set the hook in the bight of Craney Island (map), which we thought we give us the protection we needed today. It did reduce the fetch considerably, and things were by no means bad, but the current holding us beam to the wind made for an annoying slap against the hull, and we decided we did not want to live with that for another whole day. We made a plan to leave at the turn of the tide.

Sunset over the Monior-Merrimac Memorial Bridge.

While we waited this morning, a nuclear submarine came into port; I could just see her fairwater in the distance. But, this being the weekend, the radio cackled literally every three to five minutes with one of the Navy patrol boats trying to raise a pleasure boater about to be caught in the 500-yard security zone. They would try hailing each boat three times, and on the third attempt we always heard their siren in the background. Who keeps driving while being run down by flashing blue lights and a 50-caliber machine gun?

The plotter says we should have the hook down just before cocktail hour, in a spot that we hope will be much calmer and more pleasant than our digs near Craney Island. It's just another few hours back to River's Rest, so we may well spend two or three nights here. When next you hear from me, with any luck, Vector will be sporting a new lid.

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