Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Headed to Joisey

We are under way southbound on Delaware Bay, bound for Cape May, New Jersey. As I begin typing we have about a knot of current behind us, but we also have 16 knots of wind on the nose, pushing the seas up into a frothy mess and making for a splashy ride.

Sunday's sunset over the Chesapeake City Bridge, from the anchorage basin.

Wednesday we had the anchor down in a new-to-us spot in the West River (map), near Galesville Maryland, by 3pm. It was definitely a quiet and protected spot, much more so than our usual digs in Annapolis. We splashed the tender and headed to the town dock at dinner time, walking next door to the Pirates Cove Restaurant and Dock Bar for dinner. They have their own dock as well, but we wanted to check out the town wharf for future reference.

We were expecting the typical waterfront fried-seafood tiki bar experience, but the place turned out to be more upscale than that, and we enjoyed our meal on the deck of the main dining room. The "dock bar" with the same menu is on the other side of the building and has more of the tiki bar vibe. After dinner we had a nice walk through town, but there's not much here. One other waterfront restaurant is a short distance away, but the liquor/general store seems to be permanently closed.

Just outside the Galesville Town Wharf we found this propeller garden.

We had to work our way around the Wednesday night sailboat races on our way home, but after that it was quiet. All in all, it was a comfortable alternative to Annapolis for weather or timing and we've made note of that for the future. Thursday morning we weighed anchor with the tide for the short run to Annapolis, with the forecast deteriorating into the afternoon.

Sunset on the West River.

Winds were forecast to be out of the south, and we figured we'd be OK in our usual spot in the south anchorage. But seas following us in and an an absence of other boats there were not good signs. We dropped the hook (map) just to test the waters, so to speak, but it was untenable, and we weighed before even setting the snubber. We knew that in high season, the limited anchorages up Spa Creek and Back Creek would be full to the brim, and the weather out on the bay was already too snotty to want to go back out.

With few options, we turned instead up the Severn, along the eastern edge of the United States Naval Academy, and steamed upriver to Weems Creek, a new anchorage for us. I held little hope there would be any room; a good part of the creek is full of hurricane moorings belonging to the Academy, and a handful of private moorings. Much to our surprise, we found only two other boats already anchored, and we worked our way into the creek to just shy of the USNA moorings before dropping the hook (map).

Honda has substituted this flange bolt for the pan head one I removed; that's what's left of the anode stuck to it. I had to call the dealer to make sure I had the right part.

Conditions out on the bay and in the harbor notwithstanding, Weems creek is very protected, and it was calm enough to get some work done. I spun the tender around on deck to install the parts I had picked up in Solomons. That included new spark plugs, the internal engine anode, and new gaskets for the water jacket cover and thermostat.

New anode installed and cooling passages cleaned up a bit.

The installation went smoothly, although I was mystified that the little spring-loaded flush valve under the cover was nowhere to be found. I had cleaned it up on the last pass and thought I was careful to ensure it stayed in place as I reassembled everything, so I spent the better part of an hour looking for it in the innards of the cowling and poking things into the cooling passages to make sure it had not somehow worked its way in there. My hope is that it popped out during the last service and then blew overboard, and I will just buy a new one.

Cleaned up jacket cover and fresh O-ring. Is it really an O-ring if it's this shape?

After getting it all back together and a quick stationary test tied up to Vector, we headed up the creek to see if we could get ashore. We headed to the public boat ramp at the end of Tucker Street, hoping to find a dock, but no such luck. Fortunately, the bank is quite steep there, making it easy to make a beach landing and then tie off to a post.

Our beach landing. A sign here says the city is planning to put in a float.

We walked about a half mile back over the creek, mostly on the shoulder with no sidewalk available, to Heroes Pub, a local joint if every there was one. Despite the stark exterior, it was very homey inside, reminding us of our favorite watering hole in Mamaroneck. Both the pub and our server have been there for a quarter century, and they offer 48 different beers on tap, from a massive row of draft handles. We're glad we made the trek.

Heroes Pub. Our kind of place; we'll be back.

The dinghy got us to and from the boat ramp OK, but it's still not running right. It's rough when cold and sporadically overheating when warm, so I definitely have more work ahead of me. The next things to test are the automatic choke and the temperature sensor.

Vector anchored in Weems Creek, as seen from the drawbridge. We're a ways back.

Friday morning we returned ashore and walked to the nearby shopping plaza. We stopped in to Naval Bagels for breakfast sandwiches and a couple of bagels to go, which were pretty good for outside of NYC. Then we stopped next door in the very nice Graul's Market, which we remembered from a previous visit, to stock up on a few groceries. In the evening we came right back for pizza and bottled beer at Bella Italia, which was decent but not spectacular. We brought raincoats, but made it home before the rain started.

Naval Bagels. Everything in this town revolves around the Academy.

Saturday the weather finally would have permitted us to make some progress north. But we'd made arrangements to connect with friends Stacey and Dave, from Stinkpot, as we passed through Chesapeake City, and the timing meant we had a spare day on the Chesapeake side. We were comfortable where we were, and so decided to just spend another night. I took the day off and walked all the way to town.

Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, with apologies to our Army families.

Rather than battle my way through the throngs of tourists downtown, I opted instead to stroll the grounds of the Naval Academy. It's a beautiful campus, and I spent a couple of hours just walking around, after clearing security and a quick swing through the visitor center and gift shop. After exiting I made a quick pass by Ego Alley before heading home, partly by way of the free Circulator bus, which did not really shorten my walk, but let me see some more of town.

Bancroft Hall, the enormous dorm at USNA. I lived here for a week in my otherwise misspent youth.

In the evening we returned ashore one final time for the short walk to Chessie's Wharf. This is basically a burger and sandwich joint, but it's also the tap room for nearby RAR Brewery. The drafts were quite good, and I picked up a four-pack of pints at the end of dinner.

The chapel. That's a tour group in front; I passed dozens of people walking in wedding finery and I assume from the midshipmen with swords crossed on the steps that a wedding was imminent.

Sunday we weighed anchor with the tide to make the run up to the Elk River and the top of Chesapeake Bay. I had my sights set on a familiar anchorage in the Bohemia River, for an early morning fair tide the rest of the way to Chesapeake City for our Monday evening meet-up. We made such good time that we ended up just going the whole way to Chesapeake City and dropping the hook in our usual spot (map).

Spotted on campus, by Dahlgren Hall. My first live Cybertruck sighting; they are just as cheesy-looking and impractical as you've heard.

They've dredged the basin since our last visit, and for the first time ever we could have gone to the free dock, but it was full when we arrived. This is our first visit in the height of the season, and oh, my, was it ever busy. We were glad to find a spot to anchor, and we watched the myriad boats coming and going for the day at the Chesapeake Inn. Fortunately, the day visitors, many in swim attire, were mostly going to the outdoor tiki bar, and we had no trouble getting a table in the main restaurant at dinner time, notwithstanding the Fathers' Day buffet still going on in the ballroom.

A giant pear outside of Evelyn's Cafe, a breakfast place we did not sample.

We had our mail forwarded to Dave and Stacey at their marina in North East, a place near the top of the Chesapeake where Vector can not go. It arrived yesterday morning, and when they let us know, we switched gears from a dinner visit to a lunch visit. We tendered across the canal and met them at Schaefer's Canal House for lunch. It was really great to catch up with them, and we hope our paths cross again later in the summer.

Stacey, Dave, Louise, and Sean at Schaefer's. Photo: Dave Rowe

The early visit let us get under way with a fair tide through the rest of the canal, and we dropped the hook in Anchorage Number 4, north of the canal jetty (map), where we had a bit of protection from the relentless southerlies. It was a comfortable night, other than the wakes of the occasional ships passing by a mile away, which would roll us for a few seconds. We know enough now to dog everything down when anchored in the Delaware.

"Ego Alley," Annapolis. Always a zoo on weekends.

It was pretty calm this morning until we rounded the corner at the Hope Creek nuclear station. Things have been getting progressively worse since then, and we are now bashing through 2-3 footers on a short three-second period, made worse by driving into them.  As I wrap up typing, we still have another hour and half of this before we make the protection of the Cape May Canal.

They're wanting to raise the seawalls at Ego Alley. We've been there with the dinghy landing well under water.

With the unreliability of these marine forecasts, we have no idea how long we will be pinned down here. We were hoping for a window to Atlantic City tomorrow, which is a better place to be pinned down for a while, but that's looking unlikely now.

The first time I've noticed dedicated, and apparently free, scooter parking downtown.

Whenever we get a North Atlantic window to get past New Jersey, we will continue directly on up the Hudson and into the New York Canals to head up to Lake Ontario. That will push off any repair work in Mamaroneck on the paint job until the end of the summer, so that we can be in New York City for some other items we've put on the calendar. That should give us about a month in the lake, if we don't get waylaid before then.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

First scratch

We are under way northbound in Chesapeake Bay, bound for an anchorage in the West River, south of Annapolis, a new spot for us. We had an uncharacteristically long five-night stay in Solomons, mostly due to waiting on outboard parts at the Honda dealer.

Fiery sunset, reflected off the pilothouse, from our spot in Solomons harbor near Mollys Leg Island.

We arrived Friday afternoon and went directly to our preferred spot in the southwest corner of the harbor (map), which was empty when we arrived. We like this spot because it is a short tender ride to the free county dinghy dock and four restaurant docks. In the evening we splashed the tender and headed to the Island Hideaway for a casual dinner. We strolled the riverfront promenade afterward, weaving our way through what appeared to be the local high school prom.

We kept seeing this same family of Canada Geese crossing the harbor and feeding in the nearby grass 

This is the latest we've arrived here on our northbound trek, and the summer tourist season is in full swing. What we did not realize when we dropped the hook in this spot is that the nearby Tiki Bar (yes, that's its full name), which has been closed for the season every other time we've been here, hosts live music every Friday and Saturday night in season. It was quite loud, but fortunately it was mostly covers of music we like, and it did not go all night. The Tiki Bar has a dock, which was quite busy our whole stay.

Last night's sunset over Vector after we decked the tender. Photo: Liz Marks

Saturday was a gorgeous day, so, naturally, I spent it working. This was my first quiet opportunity in pleasant weather to get back to replacing my scooter tire, a project that has languished on the deck since Jacksonville four weeks ago. The seized-on bearing required both good weather and nothing on the agenda, including moving the boat, for at least a day, or, as it turned out, two.

Getting the wheel fork off involved drilling out the bearing cage and moving the balls until the races came apart.

I made a whole write-up about this over on the Kymco scooter forum, complete with photos, so I won't repeat it all here (interested folks can read the write-up here).  Suffice it to say that I had to resort to destructive methods to get the old bearing off, but once I did, the new bearing went in smoothly and I was able to replace the tire, with a lot of grunting and elbow grease on the tire irons. Of course, the patched tire was still fully inflated, holding air just fine for the month it sat on deck. The project took the entire weekend; I'm looking forward to testing it all out when next we are at a dock.

What tire plugs look like from the inside. These two were still holding air.

Saturday evening we tendered to the public dock and walked the three blocks to the CD Cafe for a nice dinner. It's not on the waterfront, so a bit less chaotic on a summer weekend, and a little higher-end than some of the closer options. On our way home we sounded the public dock, which includes a pump-out station and a water spigot, to make sure we could get Vector in for a pump-out.

Dinner at the CD Cafe.

Sunday as I was on the boat deck winding down the scooter project, Joe and Corrin from the lovely Selene 60 Coffee Break, which was anchored just a short distance from us, stopped by to introduce themselves. We've been playing leapfrog with Coffee Break since Skull Creek on Hilton Head Island, so it was nice to finally put names and faces with the boat. After I got cleaned up, we tendered to The Lighthouse for dinner. Afterward we walked through the Tiki Bar to check it out, and we stopped for a soft-serve at Brrrr.

Another great sunset over Solomons. Coffee Break at right.

Monday morning, with the weekend crowds gone, we weighed anchor and took Vector over to the dock for a pump-out. The dock is arranged as two "slips," with additional pilings outboard, and it was a tight squeeze. Past a certain point I could no longer see the pilings below the gunwales, so Louise was on the bow guiding us in. From her vantage, it looked like the pilings were just above our rub rails, but it turned out that they were instead just below. What should have been a soft landing on the rub rail was instead the top of the piling hitting the hull. That would have been fine, except they had nailed plastic weather caps on the tops of the pilings, and one of the nails got us, digging a gouge into the fairing compound.

The first scratch in the new paint, just aft of the hawsepipe. The black is from the plastic piling topper and wiped off. What shows is the light pink of the fairing compound. Fortunately, it did not go all the way through to the steel.

I quickly backed away and we shifted strategy. Instead of trying to pull into the slip as the builders intended, and with no other boats there or waiting, we instead came alongside the end of the dock, using the outermost pilings of the two slips as our fore and aft ties. We lined up the forward boarding gate with the end of the dock, and put one of our big cylinder fenders vertically against the dock end to keep us off the killer pilings. That worked a charm, and we were able to fill our water tank, doing some laundry in the process, pump out our waste, and offload the trash.

Creative mooring. Boats are meant to go alongside the dock; the pilings at our bow and stern are meant as guides and to tie off the side of the boat opposite the dock.

With the weekend music behind us, we went back to nearly the same spot in the anchorage (map), for the convenience. We returned to the dock via tender for dinner at Bugeyes next door, a new spot for us. The menu spans from high-end steaks at half a c-note all the way to burgers and sandwiches for a third that, and they had some very nice local drafts. Our server was a bit inexperienced  and the kitchen did not do a great job with Louise's bok choy, the lone Asian dish on the menu, but my sandwich was good.

The evil villain. If you zoom in you can still see some of our paint near the nail head, though I brushed most of it away. We have one lage fender keeping us off the end of the dock.

I was hoping my Honda parts would arrive at the dealer by the end of the day Monday, and since we needed milk, toward closing time I made the long dinghy ride down to the dealer's boatyard, a few blocks from the shop, tied up, and headed toward the shop, near the 7-11, to check on them. I never made it; the mini-mart at the Citgo station was a lot closer to the dock, and I bought the milk there instead, leaving a voicemail for the dealer about the parts.

Our neighbor last night was this Chesapeake Bay oyster buyboat that has been converted to a pleasure cruiser.

The dealer called me back after closing time, which is apparently when UPS made its delivery. So yesterday morning we both piled into the tender for the twenty-minute ride to the boatyard. While I walked to the dealer, Louise stopped in to the nearby hair salon for a cut. While I waited for her to finish, I went in to the public library to kill time, and ended up using one of their computers to play my daily suite of NY Times puzzles. The librarian was very friendly and helpful; when I got home, Facebook reminded me it was exactly one year ago that we went to get library cards in Mamaroneck.

The library had lots of available computers, free to the public, and decent Internet.

By the time we got home from morning errands, it was really too late to get underway for a 6-7 hour run north, especially since we missed the last of the fair tide. We decided to just spend another night. I used the extra time to replace the sheave bearing in the crane; the new one I installed in Mamaroneck was evidently not up to the task and had deformed, jamming the sheave in place. Unable to find a suitable synthetic replacement, I had ordered a small roller bearing instead for delivery while we were still here.

The glass-impregnated PTFE bearing that deformed with the one it replaced.

The ID of the old bearing is enlarged from wear. The new roller bearing is a nice fit, but it remains to be seen how it holds up in the salt air.

We ended up back at the Island Hideaway again for dinner last night, where our waiter Charlie not only remembered us, but remembered which beers we like and that I like my fries crisp. We decked the tender as soon as we got home, in preparation for this morning's departure. I was a bit worried about another loud night when we started to hear amplified sound from the Tiki Bar, but it turned out to just be trivia night.

Deceased dolphin floating on its side.

It's been flat calm out here on the bay since we left. That makes it easy to see the pot floats, and it also made it possible for us to see a deceased dolphin floating in the bay, which I reported to the Coast Guard. A few minutes later we crossed paths with the tall ship Buque Escuela Guayas, a training vessel of the Ecuadorian Navy.

BAE Guayas of the Ecuadorian Navy. More impressive under canvas, I'd imagine.

The plotter says we should be anchored shortly after 3pm. My route originally went all the way to Annapolis, but hunting for a spot in that harbor at the end of a long day can be a chore, so Louise suggested we try the West River instead. It cuts three miles (a half hour) off the day, at the expense of an eight-mile round trip up the river, but it is reported to be a hidden gem of the Chesapeake, and we are far enough from hurricane territory to be more relaxed in our travel.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Back in the North

We are northbound in the Chesapeake Bay, crossing the sometimes turbulent mouth of the Potomac River as I begin typing, and leaving Virginia in our wake. Today's weather is mild and we are having a good crossing. The plotter says we will be in Solomons, Maryland before 4:30pm.

We passed this LOVE sign made from crab pots on our stroll around Reedville this morning.

Saturday night's winds were calm, as forecast, and we had a comfortable night at our anchorage on the Alligator River. Sunday morning we weighed anchor after a leisurely coffee and headed north toward the Albemarle sound. The Alligator River Bridge tender seemed reluctant to open the bridge three times in succession for boats that were spaced about 15 minutes apart; the replacement high bridge, construction of which has just started, can not come soon enough. He ultimately did make three openings, and we had only a short delay.

We've been very protective of our dragonflies, who've been eating the greenhead flies for us. Word has gotten out and they are now procreating aboard.

The Albemarle was fairly calm for our crossing, and we made good enough time into the North River that we cruised right past the wide sections, where we normally anchor, and into the twisty part, dropping the hook in a new spot for us, off-channel in a spot near Buck Island (map). There is just enough depth for us here, unfortunately, it was also full of pot floats, so we had to set a very short scope, and part of our circle was in just 6' of water over soft mud. Still, we had a comfortable night.

It's only mud.

Monday we steamed through a completely empty Coinjock on our way to Currituck Sound, which was choppy as usual. We timed our departure and cruise to arrive at the North Landing Bridge right at the top of the hour. That's always a risk, because it gives us just a half hour to go four miles to the Centerville Turnpike Bridge.

Two other boats were with us, which always gives us more breathing room as we don't have to be at the next bridge right on the dot. We squeaked through the bridge, which is only opening one of its two swing spans right now, and opened it up to full power to make 8.5 knots all the way to Centerville. While running full throttle like this for a half hour seems like a lot, we do 10-15 minutes of full throttle every day to mitigate wet stacking, so this is really just a double dose. We made the bridge just in time.

Vector at the free bulkhead in Great Bridge, Chesapeake, Virginia.

And then our hearts sank. The push to make this bridge on the half hour is to catch the hourly opening of Great Bridge Bridge, and as soon as we cleared Centerville we could see the rarely-used railroad bridge in between in the down position. In a decade we've only ever seen this bridge closed one other time, and before that we used to think it was abandoned.

The side of the canal is lined with decorated egret sculptures; this one has been decorated as a turkey.

Fortunately, the train cleared the bridge just a few minutes later, and the crew they have to send out to operate the bridge started raising the ancient thing, which rises with glacial slowness. We made Great Bridge just in time, owing in part to the pileup of four boats that were already waiting before the three of us arrived. We were at the back of the pack.

There is a lot of room between the bridge and the lock, but the two boats at the very front of the line started messing around just the other side of the bridge, trying to get over to the free bulkhead dock, which was also where we were headed. Consequently, we were still under the bridge at a slow crawl when the horn started sounding for the bridge lowering. I had to bark at the boat right ahead of us to clear the way.

Neither of those two boats at the front had any lines or fenders ready, and were completely unprepared for tying themselves up unassisted at a bulkhead with no cleats. Ironically, the big cat at the very front did not plan to stay and intended to lock through, but somehow mistakenly assumed they needed to wait here for lockage. The end result was they missed the lockage entirely, when they ought to have been the first boat in the chamber, and had to wait an hour for the next one.

This well-kept historic marine railway and wooden boat facility in Reedville is for sale.

Fortunately the bulkhead was empty before this bridge lift, and we tied up at the complete opposite end of the bulkhead from these two vessels (map). They were still messing with lines and fenders after we were all tied up and shut down. It was too hot to do anything off the boat, so we just bode our time on board until dinner time.

As usual we walked next door to Vino for dinner. This casual Italian place has draft beer, a full bar, and very reasonably priced food, and has become our go-to here since the departure of our long-time favorite El Toro Loco. Afterward I hoofed it down to the Rite-Aid to pick up several Amazon packages from the locker there and get our empty SodaStream gas canisters exchanged.

Reedville fishermen's museum. I walked around the outside exhibits. Reedville 150th anniversary sign can be seen all over town.

We had figured to spend two days here. We wanted a bit of a break from moving, and there are lots of services and a few restaurants here. So we had a leisurely morning, and I walked down to the Kroger for provisions. But a check of the upcoming forecast revealed that we'd be socked in with fog Wednesday, and so we dropped lines for the 11am Great Bridge Lock opening, figuring to just spend extra time in Portsmouth. (The fog never materialized.)

It was a short two-hour cruise up the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River to Portsmouth and the free High Street Landing. It was good we arrived at low tide, because there was a ferry being stored in our usual spot, and we had to tie to the wood docks (map), which we knew would be under water at high tide. We arranged lines and fenders accordingly, and brought our galoshes out of storage.

Someone parked a ferry in "our" spot. The nerve.

We did the math on when the docks would be awash, and headed to dinner early, to beat it on the return. We tried a new spot for us, the Gosport Tavern, which was quite good and had a large selection of drafts. But we hit it on an evening where some after-work gathering was in progress, likely Navy or Coasties judging from the haircuts, comprising two dozen people at one long table, backing up both the bar and the kitchen.

Of course the docks were already two inches under when we finally made it home. I waded across barefoot to get Louise's wellies and deploy a step stool so she could reach the boarding gate. Just a bit of end-of-day comedy to round out the evening. On the plus side, the awash docks keep the looky-loos and the occasional drunk from getting too close to the boat. It also meant my usual evening walk around Portsmouth was out.

Louise in her wellies with her step stool. I leapt across to the swim platform.

Just as we had planned to spend a couple of nights in Great Bridge, we had also planned a couple of nights here, waiting on good conditions in the Chesapeake. By Wednesday morning, though, the forecast had improved, and we made the decision to drop lines with the tide and get further north up the Chesapeake before hunkering down for forecast winds. Louise pulled the fenders out before realizing the rub rails were now 18" above the tops of the pilings, and I had a bit of a scramble onto the dock to finish singling up in my watermen boots so we could get off the dock before a wake bashed us into a piling. Important note for any future spring tide visits.

USCG having a stand-up meeting in the park as we departed. Fifth District HQ is just a block away.

Leaving on a favorable tide for the Elizabeth River and Hampton Roads put us against it in the Chesapeake, and we set our sights on Deltaville to end the day, where we knew there were a few services and a restaurant available, for what we expected to be at least a couple of days of hiding from winds and seas. We dropped the hook in a familiar spot in Jackson Creek (map), in an all-too-familiar place, well ahead of dinner time. The restaurant was dark Wednesday, so we ate aboard and figured to head ashore Thursday.

Deltaville Boatyard and marina, where we spent many months a decade ago. It looks just the same.

In what has become something of a theme lately, the forecast again changed overnight, and yesterday morning we saw that we could get a bit further north, but not cross the Potomac until today. Staying in Deltaville would have made today a numbing 11-hour cruise, and so we weighed anchor in Deltaville without ever even splashing the tender and steamed north three hours to the familiar Ingram Bay.

Vector tied to the free dock at Reedville Market. We had it to ourselves.

In the past we've either anchored in Mill Creek or around Sandy Point in the Great Wicomico when using Ingram Bay as a stopping point, but our friends Dave and Stacey aboard Stinkpot tipped us off that the free dock at the Reedville Market Restaurant was both sturdy and deep enough for Vector, and worth a stop. And so it was that we headed up Cockrell Creek and tied up at the restaurant dock (map) by mid-afternoon.

Welcoming sign on the dock. Town water tower and the restaurant in the background.

We're glad we made the stop, only about a mile further than our usual anchorages. I walked around the quaint little town after we tied up, and we had a nice meal at the surprisingly up-market restaurant for dinner. Southwest winds meant we did not have any noxious odors from the enormous Omega Protein menhaden processing plant that is the economic engine of this part of the Northern Neck. The restaurant closed at 9, and it was dark and quiet overnight. The storm we'd been running from blew through after dinner as basically a non-event, although we did step back aboard just as the rain started.

My project for the evening was replacing the impeller on the generator. We had started it shortly after we arrived, in the heat of the afternoon, to get some air conditioning, and I knew from the sound of the exhaust that the impeller had shredded. I opted to wait until evening to give the engine room a chance to cool a little. Normally it takes me ten minutes or so to do this task, but this time the impeller stubbornly refused to slide out, and I was baking down there for the better part of an hour. Needing to run the air conditioner to cool off after fixing the thing that runs the air conditioner is self-motivating.

The historic Morris-Fisher smokestack, all that remains of what was once the largest fish processing plant in the US. Today a symbol of Reedville, still home to a bustling menhaden industry. 

All of this unscheduled movement will have us in Solomons ahead of plan. I ordered parts for the outboard to the Honda dealer there, so we'll finally get some down time while I wait for those to arrive. I am hoping they will be here by Monday and we can continue to Annapolis by Tuesday.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Emergencies, mechanical and medical.

We are underway northbound in the ICW, just about to enter the Alligator-Pungo canal as I begin typing. This is a ruler-straight artificial ditch that Otto can handle, in settled weather, with minimal input from me. It's also boring as all get-out, so a good time to type.

The remainder of our passage to Wrightsville Beach was uneventful, if a little choppy toward the end. We had dinner under way, wrapping up before reaching the inlet, and we had the hook down in our usual spot (map) around 6:45. It was a tight squeeze, with the anchorage more crowded than usual.

Monday was, of course, Memorial Day, and we had already decided to just sit tight until after the weekend waterway chaos. It was a gorgeous day, and I decided to knock out a couple of projects before heading ashore. I grabbed the new dinghy thermostat and the new painter line that had arrived in Georgetown, along with a few tools, and headed up to the boat deck to put the 'stat in and the painter on.

The Alligator-Pungo canal; a straight ditch as far as the eye can see. The Wilkerson Bridge in the foreground is the lone object to break the monotony.

I expected this to be a ten-minute project. I had worked on the thermostat just a couple months earlier and was already familiar with the task. I was in my street clothes, and perched on the very edge of the boat deck where the dingy motor nearly hangs over.  I took the cowling off the motor, put my wrench on the thermostat cover bolt that had moved easily when I had put it back on, and the bolt promptly snapped in two.

Down two levels to the workshop I went, for work clothes, penetrating oil, and more tools. I hoisted the dinghy and spun it around, putting the motor where I could more easily work on it, with less chance of anything going overboard. Now I needed to remove the thermostat cover to have any hope of extracting the bolt, so I applied penetrating oil to the remaining bolt and let it soak in. Some time later I returned with my mini-torch, heated it as much as I dared in light of the composite cover, and started turning it. It, too, promptly snapped in two.

Now we had no dinghy. Honda outboard mechanics are few and far between, and even if I could nail one down, no shop is going to get to anything in less than two or three weeks' time once Memorial Day rolls around. This is officially a major, cruise-ending problem now, with a very short list of solutions: drop the tender off at dealer and cruise marina-to-marina until we can pick it back up, buy a new engine or dinghy from someone's available stock, or buckle down, move out of my comfort zone, and fix it myself.

All of these shoulder bolts broke where the threads met the block.

In order to reach the broken bolts I had to remove the water jacket cover. Even with penetrating oil, heat, and careful "rocking" of the bolt heads, two of the six bolts holding that on also snapped. Searching the 'net reveals this is a common problem with Hondas in salt water. It did not provide any advice for actually fixing the problem.

With the jacket cover removed I found a lot of encrusted salt, aluminum oxide, and the remains of an on-engine anode I did not know I had or that I should have been inspecting every two years. I cleaned all that out after removing the bolt remnants. The bolts would not yield to any amount of left-handed drill bits or bolt extractors, and I finally just drilled them all out completely, left-handed and in heels, and then re-tapped the holes to the original threads. They're all a little bit off from their original alignment -- it's hard to stay dead-center on a steel bolt with a hand-held drill -- but they are close enough to work, and I did not ruin the aluminum engine block in the process.

It took me five hours to drill out four bolts. The last hole was finished at 4:30, and it took another hour to put everything back together. We got the dink in the water just in time to head ashore for dinner at our go-to, Tower 7 Baja Grill, with some well-earned draft beers. The outboard, unwilling to be vanquished, kept dying when I shifted into gear, which made for a bit of drama on the ride to and from the dinghy dock. I'm still working on that issue, but at least we have a mostly workable dinghy again.

These armored personnel carriers are riddled with bullet holes. It looks like a war zone, but it's just the ICW through Camp Lejeune.

With most of my planned errands still undone, and the hoped-for relaxing memorial day evaporated, we briefly considered staying another day in Wrightsville Beach. It's a good anchorage, and there are plenty of services. But today is the first day of hurricane season, and we expect this one to set records -- not a good time to be lingering in the low country. We're pretty late in the season to still be this far south, and we are making tracks out of the danger zone. Our own insurance only requires us to be north of Brunswick, but there is a reason many underwriters choose Cape Hatteras or the Virginia line as the northern limit of their hurricane box.

And so it is that we weighed anchor Tuesday morning after a quick visit to town for milk at Robert's grocery and a short walk, just ahead of the Wrightsville Beach bridge opening. We got very lucky with a fair tide, and other boats ahead of us as a buffer, and thus were also able to make the Figure Eight bridge opening just a half hour later, even though it was four miles north. We had the hook down at Mile Hammock Bay (map), within Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, early enough that we were only the second boat there. By nightfall there were ten of us.

The whole time under way I was struggling with something passing across my field of vision in my right eye. And in hindsight, I think I had noticed it Monday night as I was working on my computer, too. I kept rubbing my eye, thinking it was just some goop in my eye, but by the middle of the day I realized it was internal. It seemed bigger than a "floater" and also different in nature, which was somewhat concerning.

A very red sunset under the Gallant Channel Bridge from our flybridge at the Homer Smith docks.

There was not much I could do about it surrounded by Camp Lejeune, so we just enjoyed the evening, and got back under way after a leisurely coffee in the morning. The problem was still with me as we made our way north, neither more nor less pronounced. Mindful that sudden unexplained changes in vision can be the sign of a serious problem that must be corrected immediately, such as a detaching retina, we decided I needed to have someone have a look with a slit lamp when we reached Beaufort or Moorehead City. I spent a good part of the morning making phone calls.

I made an appointment at the Beaufort Vision Clinic, just a short bike ride from the dinghy dock. I explained to the receptionist that it was a sudden change that warranted an "emergency" visit, but that 4pm was the soonest I could arrive, and she marked me down for 4:15. We both breathed a bit of a sigh of relief and carried on, knowing we had a plan. Louise checked on Uber and Lyft in the area, thinking she ought to come with me.

The relief was short-lived when the doctor's office called me unexpectedly a half hour later. My symptoms had come to the attention of a medical professional, probably the nurse, and she was calling to say 4:15 was not soon enough: "You have to get here right away!" I explained that, short of a helicopter evacuation, I could not be there any sooner than 4 because I was on a slow boat. She understood that, but went further to explain that my symptoms could, indeed, mean retinal detachment, and if so, the nearest facility was at Duke, some three plus hours away in Durham.

This domestic duck apparently lives on the dock. He had words for me as I walked past.

That sent us back to the Internet and the phones. An end-of-day three hour drive out to Durham would mean the boat should not be left at anchor, especially if I ended up staying a couple of days for a procedure and then out of commission for driving the boat. The Beaufort Docks could only take us for a single night on account of a blue marlin tournament, so I called the Homer Smith docks on Towne Creek, who were able to book us a slip for the night that could be extended as needed. I made a 5:30 booking for a rental car for the week at Enterprise in Moorehead City.

With all the arrangements thus made, all we could do was continue on to the marina. That involved a new route for us, via a back channel and a shallow crossover to the Gallant Channel to cut 15-20 minutes off the trip, so we spent some time studying the charts and surveys. We made it across with water to spare, and were tied up in a slip at Homer Smith (map) by 3pm. The marina has a courtesy car, which happened to be available when we arrived, and after securing the boat we drove right over to the eye doctor.

Fortunately it was a well-equipped office, complete with a fancy Nikon retinal camera. We were there all the way to closing time, 5pm, as the doctor wanted me well-dilated. The good news is that the retinal imagery, slit-lamp examination, and direct examination all revealed the retina to be fully attached and normal. The bad news is that the obstruction is likely just a big floater that I will have to live with. It's annoying, but at least I know it's nothing serious.

Fresh cadmium plated flange bolts from Ace. The two black pan-head ones at the top were all I had lying around, and just barely engaged the threads to keep the thermostat cover on. The replacements were already installed when I snapped this.

We returned directly to the marina, handing the car to the next waiting couple right at the two-hour limit. We walked the four blocks to the Front Street Grill in town for dinner, our first time in all our stops here. It was a bit higher-end than we expected and they have no beer taps, but the food was decent. We ate inside, because my dilated eyes could not take the sunlight, but they have a nice deck area they call the Rhum Bar that looks appealing.

As long as we ended up with an unplanned marina stay, we took advantage to get the laundry done, top up the water tanks, and offload the trash. The marina is recently renovated and sports a nice lounge, a furnished covered deck area, a free laundry with three pairs of machines, and individual unisex rest rooms with nice en suite showers. They also have reasinable weekly and monthly rates, should we ever find ourselves needing some downtime here.

As it was we just paid for the single night, and after using the courtesy car to pick up groceries and some bolts for the Honda at the Ace Hardware in the morning, we dropped lines at the 11am checkout time. That gave us a bit of fair tide up into Adams Creek and we had an easy cruise out into the Neuse, where we found a bit of chop. The late start had us stopping at a familiar anchorage in Broad Creek, east of Oriental (map).

Sunset through the trees over Broad Creek. Moments later we were weighing anchor to move further up the creek.

We had chosen that spot because the forecast was for north and east winds, and we had a pleasant and comfortable evening. But just as the last rays of sunset were fading, the boat started moving with waves coming in off the Neuse. A quick check of the weather revealed an unforecast shift to the south-southeast, and this was a terrible spot for that. We had a mad scramble to weigh anchor and move a mile up the creek to the west, for a calmer spot (map). It was dark by this time, and we had quite the challenge finding and avoiding pot floats as we moved off-channel to anchor. We set a short scope and I left the deck lights on overnight.

Up until yesterday morning we had left it open whether we would take our preferred Pamlico Sound route, or this route up the ICW. The forecast for the sound was marginal, and with the variability we've been seeing and sudden unforecast shifts, we opted for the longer but more protected route, and departed yesterday morning for Belhaven. It was a bit of a bash crossing the Bay and Pamlico rivers, confirming we made the right choice.

We arrived to a calm harbor in Belhaven and dropped the hook in our usual spot (map). It's a short dinghy ride from there to the town dinghy dock, and we walked to the Tavern at Jack's Neck for a casual dinner. They once again have draft beer, after the taps being inoperative on our last visits, and I enjoyed the local amber from Red Oak. We also stopped in the Ace Hardware, which seems on the verge of going under. We noticed renovations in progress in one of the buildings on Pamlico Street, sporting a sign reading "Brewery," so I am hopeful that a brew pub might be in the works.

On our walk this morning we passed this house, jacked up and ready to be moved. It turns out it was the parsonage for the adjacent church, being moved to a waterfront lot to make room for a new sanctuary.

I did go out on deck last night for the SpaceX launch, but we are finally too far north to see anything. This morning we went back ashore for another short walk before weighing anchor; the dinghy seems to be behaving itself a little better now, so it remains to be seen what else I will need to do to get it into shape. We weighed anchor around 10, the last ones out of Dodge.

Update: We are anchored in the Alligator River, in a new spot for us, on the north/south stretch, in what the chart has marked as a spoil area (map). We're taking a chance that the forecast for light winds will hold, since we are very exposed here to the south. I have a couple of chicken breasts marinating for the grill.

From here it is two days to the free bulkhead at Great Bridge, where we might just settle in for two nights to give ourselves a break. We have several packages coming to the Amazon locker there. We're keeping an eye on the passage weather; if we get a window to go outside at the Chesapeake Bay entrance and run all the way to NJ or NY, we'll take it, and save the five-day slog through the C&D Canal route.