Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Chasing turkey

We are under way southbound in the Croatan Sound, just about to enter Pamlico Sound. Although seas are not exactly flat, they are behind us, and the ride has been smooth enough for Louise to go down to her studio to quilt. Other than a car ferry in the distance headed for the Outer Banks, we have the sound to ourselves.

Sunday morning we dropped lines in Portsmouth at a fair tide to make the 1pm lockage at Great Bridge. We had a pleasant cruise through the very industrial part of the port of Norfolk/Portsmouth, but as we finished rounding Money Point, Norfolk Southern Railroad Bridge 7 announced it was closing. We arrived at the bridge just as it slammed shut, and we had about a 20 minute wait for the train to clear and the bridge to reopen. So much for the 1pm lockage.

We putted along at low speed the rest of the way to the lock, arriving just as the gates opened at 1:30. We tied to the wall at the far end of the chamber, expecting to wait there for a half hour. I nearly shut down the engine; another motor yacht entered shortly after us and tied up right behind us, and I knew there were two sailboats considerably further back.

Shortly after we tied up, the towboat Royal Engineer, pushing a loaded scrap metal barge, came around the corner looking for a lock-through. While we would easily fit in the chamber alongside the barge, and it is common for the lock to take barges and pleasure boats together, the lockmasters thought better of having a heavy tow push into the chamber with two boats at the far end, and so they quickly closed the gates and locked us through early, hoping to turn the lock around before the tow arrived.

Vector at the free dock for the Battlefield visitor center, left.

That put us between the lock and the Great Bridge Bridge well ahead of the bridge's scheduled 2pm opening. We considered just tying up for the night to the bulkhead before the bridge, which is our preferred spot anyway. But on this trip, we wanted to get through the bridge before stopping for the night, to make things easier for timing the bridge openings in the morning.

We were early enough for the bridge that we headed for the bulkhead anyway, wrapped a breast line on a piling, and shut the engine for 15 minutes. We shoved off again just before 2, cleared through the bridge, and immediately pulled over and tied up to the free visitor's center dock (map), which was empty when we arrived.

I had a pair of leftover parts from the great steering project that I needed to return to Amazon, which had to be dropped off at a UPS store. So I put the e-Bike on the ground and rode the two miles down Battlefield Boulevard to the UPS store, not remembering that it was, in fact, Sunday. (We have a wall clock in the saloon with the day of the week on it, for exactly this reason.) Phooey. While I was there, though, I ran into the new location of our favorite Mexican joint, El Toro Loco.

Sadly, while it is an easy bike ride, it's too far to walk there for dinner. This restaurant is one of the reasons we preferred to dock at the bulkhead, which is a stone's throw from their previous location. On our last trip through I got take-out there during their very last week. The building has since been bulldozed to make room for a retail plaza in this prime location.

Where our favorite local restaurant stood.

At dinner time we instead walked over to the Lockside Bar and Grill, which had plenty of outside tables on their waterfront patio, which is, despite the name, not in sight of the lock. They had decent food and draft beer, so it may become our new go-to here. It's across Battlefield from the dock, with no easy way to cross. We walked over at the 5pm bridge opening, which of course stops traffic, and finished just in time to cross back at the 6pm lift.

I got up early yesterday so I could again ride out to UPS for their 8:30 opening, and on my way back I swung by Panera for bagels and the grocery for a small pumpkin pie -- we may or may not find the rest of the Thanksgiving flavors this year, but there was no way I was giving up pumpkin pie. We dropped lines at 9:50, getting a ten minute head start on traffic waiting for Great Bridge.

Normally, this is no help whatsoever, and we usually stay on the bulkhead even when heading southbound. That's because the next bridge, Centerville Turnpike, is just 23 minutes from Great Bridge, and opens on a half-hour schedule. There's no point leaving sooner, although we do try to be first in line at Centerville.

That's because the next bridge, North Landing, is also on a half-hour schedule, but is nearly four miles away. That's 40 minutes at our normal cruising speed, and we can just barely make it in a half hour if I wick it up to top speed in between the no-wake zones. It helps to have other boats with us, because we'll just arrive at the bridge as the last of the other boats is going through; those boats will all have passed us between the bridges.

Their original building was nondescript, but the new location in a strip mall is even more charmless.

In any event, right now, the Centerville bridge is locked open. It was hit by a barge a week or so ago, and while I missed getting a photo, the damage is evident. With Centerville locked open, a 9:50 departure put us at North Landing right in time for the 11am opening without having to break a sweat.

We had a pleasant and mostly uneventful cruise, although I did have to pass the Royal Engineer and his scrap metal in the middle of Currituck Sound. The channel is very narrow there, and I split the difference between the barge and the shallows, which gave me only a few yards on either side. He had spent the night just past the lock, and cleared through the bridge in the morning before we shoved off.

We passed through Coinjock, where we noted three boats who'd passed us earlier in the day tied up, wended our way through the meanders of the North River, and dropped the hook in a a familiar spot off-channel in the wide, bay-like portion of the river before it empties into Albemarle Sound (map). We tucked up near the northern end of the embayment since we had 20-knot north winds in the evening and into the night; at 10pm I had to go out and replace the snubber chain hook which had snapped at some point in the evening.

We had a nice dinner on board and a comfortable evening even with the wind. This morning we weighed anchor early for a long day across the sounds. We'll be anchored somewhere in Pamlico Sound tonight, and tomorrow should bring us within striking distance of Beaufort and Morehead City.

Our tradition aboard Vector for Thanksgiving has been to find a nice sit-down restaurant that is serving the traditional flavors for the holiday, whether plated or buffet style. We're seldom anyplace where we can easily connect with family or friends for the holiday meal, but we were fortunate enough to do it twice in seven years, both involving renting a car and driving a few hours.

Sunday biker meetup at a local bar. The partying was loud enough for me to hear it across the road. Spreader event?

There is some amount of irony, or perhaps it's desolation, in the fact that this will be our first Thanksgiving without pets to keep us from just hopping on a plane and visiting whomever we'd like. That's not happening in pandemic times, any more than we'll be sitting down to dinner inside a nice restaurant. So instead we are looking for a place that is doing the traditional flavors for take-out.

We were already sitting at the dock in Chesapeake when we realized that we were heading into the dark territory of the Sounds, where towns of any sort are few, far between, and tiny, and if we were not careful, the holiday would come and go while we were in reach of nothing at all. That left us the options of staying in Chesapeake for a week, having our Thanksgiving at a later date, or pushing all the way through the Sounds to civilization on the other side in three days.

I found a waterfront place in Beaufort that is doing the holiday flavors till 3pm, and will do so for takeout, and there may be another place or two as backups. Right now we're on track to be at the Beaufort anchorage by mid-day Thursday. After three full days of hard running, we'll likely stay for more than just a night before continuing south to our fuel stop in Snead's Ferry.

We have much to be thankful for here aboard our good ship. We are safe, comfortable, well-fed, and, most importantly, healthy. We wish all our family, friends, and readers the same, and hope that, however you celebrate it, you all have a happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 21, 2020


We are tied up at the free docks at High Street Landing in Portsmouth, Virginia (map), a familiar stop for us. We arrived this afternoon after two full weeks docked at the Hampton Public Piers, a short distance north of here (map), with our steering inoperative.

When last I posted here, we were underway in the Atlantic, southbound for the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. At the end of that post I prognosticated we'd be in Hampton for at least a week and "may be longer," and you'd think by now I would know that all time estimates on a boat are to be doubled.

The view from our aft deck. We have the basin to ourselves, and the holiday lights are up.

The remainder of our passage was mostly uneventful. We ran the rest of the day and overnight at 1150 rpm to delay our arrival until my morning watch; we normally run at 1500, and 1150 is really just enough for the stabilizers and autopilot to do their respective jobs. As luck would have it, that put us at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, which we have to cross in the same channel as the giant ships. just as the USS George Washington, CVN-73, was coming out, and Louise had to alter course to stay out of her security zone.

I came back on watch after all the excitement was over; as soon as I had some coffee in me I increased to 1500 rpm, and with the help of some incoming tide we were dropping the hook in the Phoebus anchorage, adjacent to Old Point Comfort (map), before 10am. The anchorage was uncrowded and blissfully calm, and we opted to stay right there for the entire three nights until our Sunday reservation at the Hampton docks.

Phoebus is now just a neighborhood of Hampton, but once upon a time was a town in its own right. A public dinghy landing is just a couple of blocks from the old downtown, and we enjoyed getting ashore during our stay and eating in a few of the establishments in town, all of which seem to be owned by the same consortium.

Welcoming committee; several dolphins escort us into Hampton Roads after a two-night passage.

Sunday we weighed anchor and headed to downtown Hampton, which was pretty close as the crow flies, but we had to go all the way around the bridge portion of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, cross over the tunnel, and then double back. We were tied up at the face dock just before lunch, and after lunch I descended into the tiller flat to remove the steering rams. I wanted to be ready to take them right to the shop first thing Monday morning.

The rams came out with little difficulty, and all the connecting hardware was in good shape. I stuck the ends of the disconnected hydraulic lines into a large container to drain, and I was quite appalled at what came out. It was black, almost like used motor oil. I think the leaky seals allowed a lot of dirt into the system. I worked both helms and the autopilot back and forth a few times to empty the entire system, about two gallons in all.

After getting the rams out and bagged up, we put both scooters on the ground for the first time in months, and got them both started and warmed up. We also filled the water tank, which was as empty as it has ever been when we pulled in, and our new batteries saw their first shore power outlet since they were first installed.

With the ram removed it's easy to see this bit of epoxy paint on part of the rod that travels through the seal.

Monday morning after coffee I strapped the two steering rams to the scooter floorboard, where they looked enormous, and rode the 45 minutes or so to the hydraulic shop in Newport News. The shop figured I was looking at about four hours per cylinder at a hundred bucks an hour, plus parts, but the guy who normally works on them was out until Thursday. In hindsight, I should have said thank you, wrapped them back up, and ridden another hour or so across the tunnel to the other shop, in Portsmouth.

They committed to putting me at the head of the queue, and I decided to leave the cylinders with them and chalk the extra three or four days up to bad timing. As long as it was on my way, I stopped at Costco on the way home, in what would turn out to be the first of three visits there. I returned later in the week to load up on fresh meat and some other provisions.

With no steering, we were committed to staying tied to the dock until they got the job done, and we settled in for the duration. On the mostly pleasant evenings we walked into town for dinner at one of the handful of establishments along Queen Street; on other evenings I would pick up takeout on my way back from errands, or we'd walk over for it to the nice brewpub at the end of the dock, which had excellent pizza as well as other items.

We had two solid days of rain, which led to a high reading on this gage right at our dock.

I jumped right in to some other projects that had languished. With full-time shore power available, I was able to replace the raw water pump on the generator, which has been leaking seawater on startup for a month now. Additionally I replaced the vacuum gauge on the generator fuel filter with a larger, oil-damped model. I also disassembled and repaired the Garmin GPS on the tender, which quit just as we left New York; it turned out to have failed due to water ingress.

In addition to parts that arrived at the office, I also picked up four separate shipments of parts from the nearby Amazon locker. Most of these were for a combination bleeder and emergency relief valve system that I designed for the steering, and I was able to get that mostly assembled while I waited for the cylinders to be ready.

A bit of explanation is in order for this last item. Like all hydraulic systems, including the brakes on your car, the steering must be completely full of nothing but hydraulic fluid; if there is any air at all trapped in the system, it will lead to spongy operation and possibly dangerous inability to control the boat. When you fill an empty system with hydraulic oil, there will inevitably be trapped air, and you need to work the air out of the system in a process called "bleeding."

At least we got a rainbow out of the deal.

I'm not sure how the original builders of the boat managed to bleed the system when they first filled it (and near as I can tell, it has never been emptied and refilled since). But lacking the sort of bleed fittings to which hoses can be attached, it most likely involved cracking open some of the fittings and letting them leak fluid until all the air bubbles were out. That's a messy proposition at best, and wastes a lot of oil. Perhaps they managed to get some kind of pan under it all, and with everything brand new and clean, they might have been able to reuse that oil.

I wanted to have some kind of fitting to which I could attach a hose, and a valve on each side to open for bleeding and then simply close once all the air was out. I would add the valves at the end of each steering line with a tee fitting. That, by itself, is easy enough: two tees, and two valves rated for 2000 PSI.

My other objective was to add a cross-over relief valve for emergency steering. This project has been on my list for a long time, but I've been putting it off because it meant draining down the entire hydraulic steering system, installing the cross-over, then refilling and bleeding the system. Since all of that was necessitated by the cylinder removal, now was definitely the time to get this done.

Cross-over and bleeding assembly, some $150 in parts. The brass hose barb at center gets removed after bleeding and replaced with a high-pressure stainless plug.

The purpose of this valve is to allow use of the emergency steering tiller, a steel I-beam about four feet long with a square drive on the end that fits over a square shank on the top of the rudder post. This permits some degree of control of the boat should the hydraulics fail a long way from help. Steering by standing on the aft deck with no forward view and throwing your whole body weight against a tiller bar is not going to let you maneuver into a dock or even down a narrow channel. But by tying the bar off to cleats on both sides of the deck you can hold something of a heading offshore and adjust course every hour or so and mostly get where you're going.

With the hydraulics still connected to the rudder, of course, you couldn't move this manual tiller at all. Heretofore, should we have needed the tiller, I would have had to open the hydraulic lines and let all the fluid out, or else mechanically disconnect the rams from the arms, a very dangerous proposition in any conditions other than flat calm. A crossover valve, once opened, simply allows the fluid to flow freely between the port and starboard steering lines, allowing the manual tiller to operate and providing the benefit of some viscous damping to the movement as well (at the expense of a bit more resistance).

Since I was already adding two valves for bleeding the system, rather than add a third valve and two more tees, I simply connected the two bleed valves back-to-back with a tee for the bleed hose. Once bleeding is done, the bleed outlet on the tee is plugged, and the two bleed valves can be opened together to perform the crossover function. One I had this contraption assembled, I went down to the local hose shop and had them make me a pair of hoses to connect it to the rest of the system.

The local hardware store, here for 125 years, keeps its history alive. I bought cotter pins.

Before the cylinders even came back, I was able to hook this valve arrangement up to the steering lines and use it to flush the lines with clean fluid until no more black gook was coming out. I used fluid that had been on the boat when we bought it; too old to want to use it for an active system, but good enough for flushing purposes.

By far the biggest project, however, during this enforced downtime, was cleaning out the tiller flat, also known as the lazarette, the compartment where the steering lives. We had some rust remediation done in this compartment in Bayou La Batre, and they got sanding dust everywhere. I think the dust was a factor in the failure of the seals, along with the paint they dripped on the rods after they were done making dust.

A quarter century ago, the city gave them a plaque for their centennial.

I completely emptied the compartment, and even though this is more a mechanical space than a storage area, there was a lot of gear down there: two 5-gallon cans of paint, two large ball fenders, two anchors, a 600-cone Jordan Series Drogue in two duffel bags, the emergency tiller, the entire hookah diving rig, three shore power cords, a box of shore power adapters, and some other miscellaneous gear. Every last bit of it was covered in a fine layer of sanding dust.

In the process of removing the rams and cleaning out the compartment, I discovered that, despite making a ton of dust and getting paint everywhere, the yard managed to miss an entire section of rust in the compartment, lurking under the mounting plate for the rams. That would have to be dealt with here as well.

After getting everything out of the compartment and onto the deck or the dock, I spent several hours cleaning every inch of the compartment, first with a dry shop vac, and then with our pressure washer. There was enough hydraulic oil residue in the bilge that I could not allow the pump to discharge the water overboard, so I had to periodically stop pressure washing to suck the bilge out with the 5-gallon wet vac.

Unremediated rust under the tiller rams, after a pass with the shop vac.

After two days of blowing dry air into the tiller flat I was able to put most of the gear back, after first cleaning each piece. The hookah rig was nearly ruined by salt air and mildew, so it is being relocated; I had to give away the two 50' hoses and buy new ones, and I still need to deep-clean the regulators. And then I spent two days dealing with the rust.

I don't have access to the same sorts of tools a yard would use for this. Chief among them, a worker much younger and more flexible than myself. I did the best I could with a hand scraper, a synthetic "wire" wheel, and a palm sander, mostly lying on my side on a skinny stringer. I made a liberal application of phosphoric acid before applying two coats of one-pack industrial primer. This will all have to be re-done properly at some future yard period using grinders, needle guns, and two-part epoxy paint.

I had plenty of time to do all this, including a full day between coats of acid and primer, once I learned from the hydraulic shop on Friday that they could not get seals for these units and had to have them fabricated. They hoped to have the seals by Tuesday and finish the job on Wednesday. This is when I began regretting leaving them at a shop that could not even start the job until the end of the week,

What it looked like after scraping off all the loose paint. Scraper shown for scale.

The extra delay gave us time to have the local diver inspect our running gear and bottom. There was no sign of the lobster float we had picked up or its line, and all the gear looked good. He cleaned the prop, which had some growth toward the hub, but said we otherwise did not need any bottom cleaning; not bad for almost a full year on this paint.

On Wednesday the shop called to say that one of the integral bleed screws on one of the cylinders was leaking under test. It's a special-purpose part, and they had four of them overnighted from the manufacturer in Vancouver, BC. A $24 screw (which is already a ridiculous amount for a tiny brass screw) ended up costing $143 in shipping and $124 in customs fees. But that was the last hurdle and the cylinders were ready for pickup Thursday afternoon.

The original estimate of four hours per cylinder turned out to be low by a factor of 2.5. The shop knocked the labor down from 20 hours to 16 and the rate down to 85, and still the total bill was just under $2,000 -- the price of two brand new cylinders. To be fair, those would have been several weeks lead time, and likely also involve shipping and customs, but lesson learned. These should last at least as long as the originals, but should I ever have this issue again, I will just buy new cylinders.

Rams reinstalled and new valve assembly added. It's held up with a string for now; I need to fabricate a mount.

After dinner Thursday night I clambered back down into the tiller flat, rams in hand, and re-installed them. I hooked up all the hydraulics and called it a night, hoping we'd maybe be able to shove off yesterday and get out from under a $100-a-day dockage bill. But filling and bleeding the system with fresh fluid proved more time-consuming than I'd imagined, in part because I chose to use 1/8" tubing to run from the tiller flat back up to the steering reservoir on the flybridge. That was to minimize fluid waste, but in hindsight, I probably should have used 1/4" or 5/16" tubing instead.

Lunchtime came and went, and then so did 2pm, and I was still bleeding and testing the system. We still needed to load the scooters back on deck, and also pump out, and so we opted to just spend another night at the dock.

With the scooters on the ground for two weeks we got lots of other errands done, including the aforementioned Costco run, two hardware store visits, grocery shopping, and our first ever on-line order for curbside pickup at Walmart, in this case a "neighborhood market." It was a productive stop, and Hampton was a fine place to spend a couple of weeks.

Bilge floor after two coats of paint.

This morning we decked the scooters, pumped out our tanks, and headed out for "sea trials." I did a couple of figure-eights in the small anchorage across from the dock, then we headed out the channel to the deep open water of the Hampton naval anchorages. Here I was able to give the autopilot a good workout, and test the rudder response all the way to both limits at speed. Helm effort is higher now and the autopilot is quieter, both of which I attribute to using higher viscosity hydraulic fluid as specified by the manufacturer.

Successful sea trials gave us the confidence to continue on to Portsmouth. The stretch of water from Hampton to Portsmouth is not only one of the busiest commercial harbors in the US, its also the home of Naval Station Norfolk, where even a slight diversion from the navigation channel can earn you a visit from a pair of menacing patrol boats with 50-caliber machine guns mounted. Not a place where you want to experience even a hiccup in your steering, let alone a failure.

We made it all the way here without incident, including some close-quarter maneuvering coming up to the dock. Today's weather was the nicest it's been in two weeks, and after tying up we had a nice stroll around town. The confederate monument that had been the scene of protests on our last visit has been removed entirely, fresh pavement the only evidence it had even been there at all.

The confederate monument stood on a small island in this avenue; that's the courthouse at left. Even the island is gone, and the street's been paved.

I walked next door to Legend Brewing and picked up a case of their brown ale, of which I am fond, and in the evening we walked back into town for dinner at Guad's Mexican restaurant. Portsmouth has already put up their holiday lights, and there's a large decorated Christmas tree right here at the High Street Basin. From here we will continue south on the ICW at least as far as North Carolina, where diesel is $1.58 a gallon; we're down to just ten percent.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Gotham weather layover

We are underway southbound in the Atlantic Ocean, offshore of the mouth of Delaware Bay. We left New York City yesterday afternoon at 3:30, and we should be arriving to an anchorage in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia tomorrow morning sometime. We had not expected to spend a full 12 days in the city, but the weather was uncooperative for an earlier departure.

Not a bad view for a night.

Not long after last I posted here, we arrived to Port Washington, and dropped the hook in a familiar part of the designated anchorage, just outside the mooring field (map). In the evening we tendered ashore to the public dock across from the grocery store, and walked to dinner at Amalfi, in the same shopping plaza. They had taken over several parking spaces for outside dining, and it was just warm enough to sit outside and enjoy a meal. After dinner we loaded up on provisions at the grocery, including replenishing the all-important beer supply.

In the morning I returned to the same dock and carted the fuel tank for the dinghy a couple of blocks to the gas station. Filling up in the city is a challenge, versus a short walk here, and no doubt the price is better as well. Afterwards I took a stroll around the waterfront part of town before returning home and decking the tender.

Rounding the Battery in the mist. Top of 1WTC disappears into the clouds.

We weighed anchor when we thought the tide would be favorable the whole trip, but it turned out we were ahead of the turn by a little bit, so we ended up slow-rolling to Throgs Neck. Once the tide caught up to us we had a very fast trip through Hell Gate and down the East River. The channel east of Roosevelt Island was closed as we passed by for the installation of tidal energy turbines.

We rounded the Battery in light mist and low cloud cover which swallowed the tops of the buildings. The tide was unfavorable for continuing up the Hudson, a side-effect of favorable tide coming from Long Island (in the other direction, it's possible to have a fair tide the whole way), so instead of pushing upriver, we crossed over to Liberty Island, worked our way around the back side near Liberty State Park, and dropped the hook between the two (map), with a view of Lady Liberty's derriere.

The view from our anchorage. At times all we could see was the base as the cloud layer descended.

This part of the harbor is very rolly and choppy during the day, entirely on account of wakes from numerous ferries, tugs, law enforcement, and pleasure craft. Between the very low traffic -- a bit more than our last visit in July, but certainly much less than "normal" -- and some protection from Liberty and Ellis islands, we were fairly comfortable in this spot, more so than our previous stops north of Ellis. The view is still spectacular, and the prohibition on anchoring outside of designated anchorages is unenforced here; you just need to be outside the Liberty and Ellis island security  zones.

Even in the mist, the view is stunning. That's the back of Ellis Island in the foreground.

Friday we weighed anchor on a fair tide and made the six mile run upriver to our usual digs north of the 79th Street Boat Basin. They never installed the moorings this season, and once again we were able to drop the hook just north of the docks (map) for a very short tender ride to an empty dinghy dock. We paid up through Tuesday, knowing our Amazon deliveries would be in hand by then and with some hope that Wednesday would present a short window to get to Atlantic City.

It was lovely to be right next to Riverside Park in the fall. Not the same spectacular colors of New England, but still charming. Across the river in the other direction, just as in July, was a conga line of idle Reinauer ATBs anchored waiting for work. Commerce in NY harbor is a mere fraction of normal levels.

Vector at anchor in the Hudson. Riverside Park to the right, George Washington Bridge in the background. Those are the marina icebreakers in the foreground.

That first weekend was very pleasant, and we got out to dinner at old stand-bys like the Hi Life, Senn Thai, and the Viand diner. Hi Life even checked my temperature when I went inside to wash up. I had a couple of nice walks around the neighborhood and through Riverside and Central Parks, and was pleased to see Parks had reinstituted a number of programs that lent themselves to social distance, passing at least two music performances and some individual athletic activities. As I came out of Central Park I ran into the Black Womens' March up Central Park West, with numerous police vehicles bringing up the rear followed by some very annoyed drivers.

By the time Tuesday rolled around, the window we had hoped for on Wednesday had evaporated. In hindsight, maybe we could have endured it for a day and bashed our way to Atlantic City -- I read a report from another, much faster, boat which did just that -- but I think we would then have been pinned there for several days before bashing our way to Cape May. Had we done that, we'd perhaps be making our way down the Chesapeake right now.

I stumbled upon people dancing on my walk through Riverside Park ...

Instead we opted to wait for the next window, and we signed up for another few days in the anchorage. As it turned out, the weather was so bad in the harbor that we didn't leave the boat for two days, so our "landing fees" were for naught, but at least we were comfortable and did not have to move. I turned my attention to indoor projects on board to pass the time.

... listening to this jazz combo. Everyone looked happy to be there.

Unfortunately, almost right out of the gate, I knocked myself out of commission, and was down for the count for three days. I was crouching to squeeze into a tight spot in the engine room to look at something on the generator transfer switch, when I felt a twang mid-back. The resulting muscle spasms sent me right to bed with 800mg of ibuprofen, and I spent the next two days in my chair with a heating pad. It's been a week now and I am still recovering.

Fortunately, the weather situation meant we weren't going anywhere, and I could just relax. I did manage to get one key project done, namely bypassing the internal fluid temperature switch on the stabilizers with an external one I ordered on Amazon. The switch has recently been suffering an intermittent failure that causes an alarm on the control panel and takes the stabilizers off-line. Replacing the internal sensor is a big project involving an expensive part, and is wholly unnecessary; the external one cost less than ten bucks and I had it installed in ten minutes.

A march up Central Park West. Just another Saturday in the Big Apple.

I made productive use of the time confined to my chair by doing extensive research on another critical project, one which cropped up a few weeks ago but immediately rocketed to the top of the fix-it list. Specifically, our hydraulic steering is leaking at the rams. We discovered this when the system went through a quart of hydraulic oil in just a couple of months, sending me down to the tiller flat to investigate.

Because the tiller is hard to access under way, especially in rough seas (you have to un-dog and remove a hatch on the weather deck and descend a straight ladder into a cramped space), we have a camera in there aimed at the mechanism, so I can watch it under way. I have not noticed anything unusual in there. But when I went down to have a look, I found the errant hydraulic fluid in the bilge, atop a couple gallons of rainwater. The small amount of rainwater that makes it through the deck hatch normally just evaporates in there, but it can't do that with a film of oil above it.

Vector's massive steering rams, spattered with paint from the last bilge repair.

The rods on the rams were coated in oil, and I immediately realized we had some damage related to the work in the tiller flat done at Metal Shark a year ago. We had asked them to remediate some rust in the bilge, and within ten minutes of them starting the wort, the boat had filled up with dust before I could stop them and make them put up more barriers.

The tunnel I just walked through on Central Park's Bridle Path. In my youth I would not have gone into this tunnel on a bet.

I honestly could not remember whether they had used blasting media, a sander, a wire wheel, or a needle gun. But my first guess was that dust, or much worse -- blasting media, had gotten into the rams and eaten the seals and maybe also damaged the rod surfaces. But I remembered going in there and thoroughly wiping down the rams when they had finished. Still, blasting media and other dust can linger for a long time and cause plenty of damage after the fact. I was cleaning dust out of the engine room for weeks, and I just gave up on the gear stored in the tiller flat until our next yard period when I can pull it all out.

Having gone back down there to inspect and then measure the rams several more times since initial discovery, I noticed some drips of epoxy paint from the same repair on the rods. Those paint drips would be equally effective at destroying the seals, and now I am hoping this is the true root cause, because it would mean the rods are probably salvageable without replacement or machining.

The changing skyline of Central Park South, as seen over the lake. I once worked in the building at center with the slanted roof, seeming low from this angle.

In any event, we either need new rams, about a grand apiece and probably weeks to get made, or else we need these rams serviced with at least new seals and possibly some work on rods and pistons. Since hydraulic cylinder work is not something I normally do, I'll take the rams to a hydraulic shop to have them overhauled.

I ended up spending hours researching the project. Starting with where we could stop on our way south with inexpensive dockage (we're not going to ride at anchor without a working rudder) and easy access to hydraulic and hose shops. Also, how to empty, fill, and bleed the system, including adding bleeders at the rams, which the builders of the boat conveniently omitted. I'm sure they got fluid everywhere when they initially filled and bled the system.

This tre on W. 79th, which we walked daily, has been "yarn bombed" in honor of John Lennon.

We settled on Norfolk/Portsmouth/Hampton as a good place to tackle this. Dockage is relatively inexpensive, we can get around on our scooters, and there are at least two hydraulic shops and a hose shop. We've used the hose shop in the past and they are good. It's an area we'd pass through whether we came down the outside (as we ultimately are) or around through the Chesapeake.

Another uniquely New York sight. This style of electric bike is ubiquitous, nearly every one belonging to a food delivery runner. Now that it's fall, they're making "hippo hands" for the grips from plastic bags. They will ride these all winter.

In addition to a marina reservation, I now have a bill-of-materials for the bleed part of the project that I will source on Amazon and McMaster-Carr. I have a suspicion that the system has been running on fluid of inadequate viscosity, which might have contributed to the leakage, so when I refill it will have the proper ISO 32 fluid.

When we were shut-in by weather, Louise has something of her own equipment failure. She's grown to love and thus depend on our small Instant Pot, in preference to the slow cooker we used to use. But the first night it refused to finish the dinner, giving the dreaded "Burn" error, and the pot very nearly ended up at the bottom of the Hudson along with wise guys in concrete galoshes and heavy metals from General Electric.

Eleanor Roosevelt has been wearing a mask since at least July when we arrived. On Election Day, her mask read "Vote."

In the end, the pot of pasta e fagioli got transferred to the crock pot to be finished for another day, and we ended up microwaving some frozen leftovers instead. Cooler heads have prevailed and the Instant Pot went back into the cabinet, relegated to non-time-critical duties such as preparing dried beans. Tonight's dinner has been in the crock pot since this morning.

Projects here crop up faster than I can knock them out, and while coming home from dinner early in our stay, the all-around light on the tender became intermittent. Once my back was up to it, I dodged the rain drops to pull the cowl off the motor and bring it inside to work on it. Of course, right in the middle of that was when the Pan Pan came over the radio for a Person in the Water (PIW) at the end of 73rd street.

Sunset over Staten Island as we make our way out of New York Harbor.

That's just across the boat basin docks from us, down where we used to anchor near Pier I. We were the closest mariners, and with no traffic from local responders, we geared up, jumped in the dinghy, I slammed the cowl back down on the motor, and we took off downriver. NYFD has beat us to it (no surprise) with their boat as well as shore-side apparatus. NYPD arrived shortly after us. Since the pros had the scene under control, I snapped a quick photo and we returned home, only a tad wet.

NYFD assists a PIW. The ramp is for the old kayak dock, sunk a couple of years ago, which I discussed here.

After those first few nights, it never again warmed up enough for comfortable outdoor dining, but on Halloween we braved 45° temperatures to eat at a joint with heaters on the sidewalk, Nice Matin. This is actually one of the closest restaurants to the dock, but in six years we've never stopped because French cuisine is not our thing. But heaters are few and far between right now, and so we adjusted our standards.

The food was OK but the heaters could not keep up, so we did not linger. But we enjoyed seeing all the children, and many adults, walking by on the street in costume. It was too cold to fiddle with the phone to take photos. We returned home straight away and put the heat on.

The George Washington Bridge and Fort Lee, NJ from our anchorage in Edgewater.

Whatever our hopes had been for a window to escape New York Harbor evaporated when Hurricane Zeta turned northeastward and headed to New York as a post-tropical depression. Seas remained untenable throughout the week, and just to ice the cake, Sunday evening a nor'easter arrived that would bring gale force winds on Monday.

When we awoke Monday winds were already west at 20, pushing us into the shallows near shore despite the current. Between the fetch of the entire width of the river, and the possibility we'd be grazing the bottom at low tide, we weighed anchor, crossed the river, and headed three miles upriver to Federal Anchorage 16, where we dropped the hook just across from the giant flagpole in Edgewater, New Jersey (map).

Manhattan Skyline from our spot in Edgewater.

While we still had wind to contend with, at times gusting well into the 40s notwithstanding some protection there from the Palisades, at least the water was mostly calm, compared to the whitecaps we'd had on the NY side. We had a good set, and a comfortable afternoon and night.

In this daytime view you can pick out some landmarks, like the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, Riverside Church and Grant's Tomb at left, and the new slender additions. At right is the Edgewater ferry landing.

It was too cold and windy to want to eat outside, and getting ashore was an unknown proposition with the city marina nominally closed for the season even though still full of boats. But I found a well-rated pizza place a couple of blocks from the dock, and we decided to brave the winds and see if we could find a way ashore. We pulled into the marina and ... promptly ran aground.

The entire marina, it turns out, is silted in. Every single boat was sitting on its bottom in the mud. Even the fairway had just a foot of water. We backed out into the river, tried again at a different entrance, and were able to tie up at the very last finger pier just inside the breakwater. We found the gates unlocked, and we walked across the street with our fancy insulated pizza carrier and picked up a large pie and a Greek salad from Anthony's.

When we got to the Edgewater Marina we found all the boats in the mud at low tide.

The marina also houses the terminal for one of the numerous ferries that cross to Manhattan, but the dock was barricaded and it appears the Edgewater route is not running. That suited us fine anchored in NY, because the fast ferry makes a good-sized wake.

We might well have just remained in that anchorage until yesterday afternoon when it was time to depart on this passage, but we're nearly out of water and wanted to fill our tank, and we also wanted to get off the boat for a bit and maybe pick up a couple of things ashore. So we ran the three miles back downriver and anchored in the same spot near the Boat Basin.

Coney Island Parachute ride urging New Yorkers to VOTE. The lights chased to make the word "revolve" around the tower; I had to snap just at the right moment.

We ran ashore and paid for another day (same rate as overnight) and walked up to our favorite bagel shop to pick up a few for breakfast under way. We also hit three different drugstores in search of milk and cream cheese. The line for the actual grocery store went around the block, which we chalked up to people being out and about for election day.

We passed the Skipjack Meteorological Buoy close aboard this morning, about midway across the Delaware Bay entrance.

We passed two polling places, which oddly had shorter lines than we saw for early voting last week. Electronic billboards and posters city-wide urged people to vote; on our way offshore we noticed even the lights on the Coney Island parachute jump spelled out "VOTE." It was interesting to be walking around on Election Day.

I went back ashore for one final walk through the park before we had to go to the dock for water. Just as I returned to Vector, the wind picked up to 30, still westerly, and we realized that if we took the boat to the dock, we might well get pinned there until well after departure time. 30 on the beam is not something that can be overcome with the engine or thruster from a standing start, at least not without damaging something.

A short while later I had to adjust course and speed to safely pass astern of the YM Evolution.

We decided to forego the water, and we'll stretch what we have left until we get to the dock in Hampton. We waited the final hour in the anchorage, and weighed anchor with just enough daylight to clear out of the harbor before dark. That gave us a bit of an early arrival time, but we figured we'd just slow down a bit.

We've had an unusually favorable current the entire cruise, and even though I keep pulling the throttle back, our arrival time gets earlier and earlier. At this rate I will have to cut my sleep period short to navigate into the anchorage. As I publish this post, Louise is already in berth, and we are abreast of Assateague Light. As usual, we will spend a full night recovering from the weird sleep schedule before moving the boat.

Liberty welcomes us as we arrive nearly two weeks ago, looking much the same as when she welcomed my ancestors to this country. As the votes continue to be tabulated in this historic election, let us strive to make this country once again the land of opportunity for all.

How long we remain in Hampton depends on what the hydraulic shop finds and how long it takes them to refurbish the cylinders. I'm planning at least a week, bringing the cylinders in on Monday morning and hoping they can get them done by Friday. But it may well be longer; stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Sound of glass

We are under way westbound in Long Island Sound, en route from Port Jefferson to Port Washington (dead presidents are big around here). Uncharacteristically, the sound is dead calm today, like a sheet of glass.

Shortly after my last post, we arrived to the Point Judith Harbor of Refuge, and dropped the hook near the south breakwater, about midway along (map). We had a quiet afternoon and a nice evening, at least until the tide rose to overtopping part of the breakwater and we had a little swell.

Sunset over Point Judith Harbor of Refuge

We awoke to even more swell in the morning, and so we got under way as soon as we had a cup of coffee in us. Once the stabilizers came online things got comfortable, and in short order we passed Block Island and then were being swept toward Long Island Sound by the incoming tide, at one point having close to three knots behind us. We made an s-curve in through the Race to avoid a heavy cross-current. We dropped the hook in a familiar spot, a cove off Truman's Beach in Southold, New York (map).

We awoke yesterday to perfect conditions on the sound, gentle rollers of less than a foot on a long period. We weighed anchor on a fair tide and had a very pleasant straight-line cruise to Port Jefferson Harbor, where we dropped the hook just on the north edge of the mooring field (map). We tendered in to the small dock at Centennial Park and met friends for dinner at Nantuckets, where we sat on the patio in the first shirtsleeve weather in a long time.

I follow a Youtuber who skippers a tug in New York, and at first I thought this might be his boat in Port Jeff. It turned out to be a sistership from the same fleet.

Fair tide gets later each day, and this morning we weighed anchor at 10:30, just at the turn of the tide, for the run to Port Washington. This is another familiar stop for us, and we know it's an easy walk to some much-needed provisions at a nice grocery. With luck we'll also find some outside dining for dinner ashore. Tomorrow we will make our way to New York City. That run is a busy time for me in the pilothouse, so when next you hear from me, we will be underway southbound in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Whaling City layover

We are under way westbound in Buzzards Bay, bound for Rhode Island Sound, after a full week in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Our stop there had been planned to be two or three days, but circumstances conspired against that.

We arrived at Onset last Friday with around two knots of current in the canal; I overestimated it a bit and had the boat lined up a bit early, but we made it through the narrow entrance with no issues, and proceeded into the harbor to drop the hook more or less right where we had previously (map). We had a quiet evening on board.

Sunset over Onset Harbor.

Saturday the forecast winds of 30-40mph arrived, and we were happy to be well-set in the protected harbor. I spent part of the morning unclogging the cross-over pipe between the two waste tanks; I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say it was an unpleasant but necessary project that could not wait.

By mid-afternoon things had calmed enough to splash the tender and bash my way ashore to scope things out. I found one restaurant with some outside tables in something of a lee, and made a dinner reservation there. By dinner time, though, winds were still too high to want to sit outside on a cold evening, and we ended up cancelling and I brought home Italian take-out from Marc Anthony's, which we remembered as being good from our last visit.

Marc Anthony's was decorated for Halloween, including this biker out front.

On Sunday we returned ashore for lunch with our friend Liz, who drove down to the cape for the day to meet up with us. Liz picked up lobster rolls and brought folding chairs, so we picked a sunny spot in the lee of a beachfront building and had a lovely couple of hours catching up. It was very nice of her to make the drive down and to bring us lunch.

The Glen Cove Hotel in Onset.

Monday morning we weighed anchor on a fair tide and shot out of the canal into Buzzards Bay. We pulled through the New Bedford hurricane barrier before lunch time and picked up a mooring ball near Crow's Island (map). For a holiday, the harbor was uncharacteristically quiet; the season is definitely winding down here. We were, however, amused to find Rising Sun moored at the state pier.

All of my Amazon packages were in the locker by mid-afternoon, and I splashed the tender and headed to the marina with the e-bike. While out and about I scoped some diner options that offered some shelter from the cold and wind. The marina is gated and I also picked up a card key, even though we basically never came ashore at the marina dock.

Vector in Onset Harbor.

My first indicator that we might be in for a longer stay was when the UPS tracking for my McMaster order, which had left Friday and was slated for a Monday delivery, indicated delivery would be delayed due to "holiday closures." UPS had claimed on its web site to be 100% open on Monday, and the marina was as well. When I pressed UPS, it turns out one of their intermediate facilities was closed. Harumph.

Having the McMaster parts arrive Tuesday instead was not a big deal. What was a big deal, however, was the 13' of sanitation hose that I had ordered from Defender. They had a computer glitch for several days; web ordering was down altogether, and they could not even take an order over the phone until Saturday. They told me it would ship Monday, but on Monday I learned it would be Tuesday instead.

The superyacht Rising Sun departing New Bedford harbor.

We returned ashore Monday evening, landing at the city dock, and had a nice dinner at The Black Whale right on the waterfront, who had a covered patio with most of a wrap-around windbreak. There was enough outdoor air to feel safe, but enough protection to be comfortable. I had the scallops, considering the east coast scallop fleet is all right here at the moment. They were very fresh and very good.

Tuesday my McMaster package arrived, as well as our mail, which included our ballots. I ran ashore to get them in the one 15-minute break in the rain all day; otherwise we never left the boat. That did give me the chance to finish up the remote microphone project and clean up the workshop. Between the rain, the onshore wind, and "king" (perigean spring) tides, the Coast Guard started making announcements toward high tide about closing the hurricane barrier at 6pm, but it remained open all day.

Completed remote mic installation, above a shelf in the stateroom. This lets us answer the radio and acknowledge weather alerts without traipsing upstairs.

The delay from Defender meant my hose did not arrive until Wednesday, which happened to be Louise's birthday. That nixed any hope of getting off the $45 per night mooring ball and into another harbor during the very short window we had on Wednesday morning, and committed us to staying inside the hurricane barrier through the next round of unsuitable offshore conditions.

New Bedford library, across from the city hall clock.

After picking up my hose, I took the e-bike ashore in Fairhaven to explore a bit, hoping maybe to find a nice venue for a birthday dinner. Oddly, Fairhaven has nothing I would describe as a "downtown," although there is a historic district rich in architectural treasure wherein one finds the library, City Hall, and a number of elaborate churches including Unitarian Memorial. I rode out to Walmart to pick up a few items before returning home.

With no real options in Fairhaven, we returned ashore to New Beford in the evening and hoofed it uphill to Cafe Italia downtown, where we were the only outdoor diners, on the sidewalk which had been commandeered for the purpose. The food turned out to be excellent, and the portions were huge. It was Louise's turn to have scallops, along with other seafood, and her dish fed her Wednesday and both of us Thursday -- that's how big the leftovers were. My leftovers are still in the fridge, for tonight.

The gothic revival Unitarian Memorial Church. We're sorry we could not see the inside.

Thursday morning we had the pumpout boat come out so that I could start my "projects." I replaced the discharge hose from the master head, as well as the crossover hose and fittings that connect the forward and aft waste tanks. These thick-walled, wire-reinforced hoses are stiff and difficult to work, so changing out a dozen feet of hose took me literally all day, and by the end I was very sore. Fortunately, nothing spilled into the bilge and everything went mostly to plan. With any luck we should get several more years out of these without having to go through this again.

I came out on deck for a break several times during the project. During one break, a delivery skipper arrived single-handed in the 50 Prestige Elora Greyson to pick up a mooring. These moorings were challenging for us double-handed, and with no immediate access to the deck from the helm in that boat, he was struggling. I hopped in the tender, ran over, took one of his lines out to the mooring and looped it back to him. Lovely boat, but that lack of access would keep me from recommending one.

Louise snapped me passing the mooring line to the skipper.

Friday morning it finally happened -- the tide got bad enough that the Corps of Engineers closed the barrier at 7:15. As it turned out, it closed just as the Elora Greyson and a cruising ketch were trying to leave the harbor. Both boats had to turn around and return to the marina to wait a full two hours. This is one of the key reasons we always have the radio on: the Coast Guard had been announcing that closure for at least two hours ahead of time. Neither of these skippers should have been caught off guard.

We went ashore Friday evening for one last meal in town. This time we were looking for covered seating, since rain was threatening. After hiking all over town, we ended up right back at Moby Dick Brewing, where we ate a couple of months ago, on the sidewalk under their overhang.  I again had the fresh scallops. Most of the scallop fleet has Cape May hailing ports; we've seen many of these same boats in Atlantic City and Cape May. We managed to stay dry all the way home.

Fairhaven town hall.

Yesterday, with the wind having clocked around to the east, we could finally leave the harbor, but not as far out as Buzzards Bay. We let go our mooring in the morning and motored over to the dock to take on water. With our tank mostly empty, we were at the dock well over an hour, shoving off right at lunch time.

We motored for about an hour to a harbor locally known as Padanaram, after the village of that name, which is really part of Dartmouth. The harbor is chock full of moorings, but at least anchoring is permitted just at the end of the mooring field, where we dropped the hook for the night (map). I had heard the village was interesting, and so we dropped the tender and headed ashore just to walk around, figuring it to be too cold for outdoor dining even if we found any. The Farm & Coast Market drew us in, though, and we ended up getting take-out before returning to Vector.

"Padanaram's front porch." Check out some of the sweets.

Current Covid-19 rules have us bypassing Rhode Island, lest we be mandated to quarantine for two weeks in New York. Ideally we would have left Massachusetts this morning, and run straight through to Long Island this afternoon. Unfortunately, that would put us at the entrance to Long Island Sound with some three knots of current against us. Instead we will shelter tonight at the Point Judith "Harbor of Refuge," an enormous anchorage enclosed by breakwaters near the point, but we will not land or go ashore.