Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Window-driven

We are under way northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, on a very long daylight run to Gravesend Bay in New York Harbor. We weighed anchor in Cape May before 5am, and we expect to have the anchor back down sometime around 11:30pm tonight. It's a long day, and I expect we'll be pretty bushed when we get in.

We had a quiet night Sunday in the Bohemia River. We had a few wakes from powerboats coming and going from the small marina upriver, but those died down after dark. The tows going by in the ship channel, and even the 700' cargo ship, barely moved us. And while I doused all the outside lights as a precaution, the bugs were not too bad, and we even got to enjoy the sunset.

We got an early start Monday to have the current behind us in the canal. Even though it is optional for us, we checked in with Canal Control when we reached Town Point. We had enough of a push that we arrived at Chesapeake City ahead of slack, and we flipped around and came alongside the fuel dock at Schaefers Canal House, in a cacophony of cicadas. We bunkered 500 gallons at just $2.55 with discount, topping off our normal capacity at the best price we will see in the northeast.

Sunset over the bridge from the Chesapeake City basin.

Our timing was perfect, as the hour we spent fueling brought us to high slack, and we crossed the canal and entered the Chesapeake City basin to anchor. As we were crossing the bar we got an urgent radio call from a boater at the dock who was quite certain we'd run aground -- there is definitely a hump in the middle of the channel that will catch any unfamiliar boaters.

Once we were in the basin we called him back and asked for depths at the docks. They shoal quickly but get dredged periodically. He reported plenty of depth, and with temperatures in the 90s and shore power beckoning, we crept across the basin to see if we could get in. No dice; the hump at the entrance extends well back into the basin, effectively separating the anchorage and the docks, and I was not willing to try to enter the dock area directly from the canal. We dropped anchor in our usual spot instead (map).

The city dock is free, but power is $15, and we actually did not spend that much running the generator, so it was no big deal. We ran the pilothouse split unit from the batteries all day, and I took some time to set up "Mr. Roboto," our freestanding unit, in the master stateroom for the season as well. We ran all the big seawater units when we ran the generator to recharge.

Sunset over our very calm anchorage on the Bohemia.

The successive decisions to skip Solomons and leave Annapolis early for the canal put us here low on provisions, and so in the heat of the day I schlepped the e-bike ashore and went to the only available option, Dollar General. The meant substituting canned, jarred, and frozen veggies for the fresh items we normally buy, but I was able to find enough items to keep us going until we can find a real grocery someplace.

We returned ashore in the evening for a nice dinner at the Chesapeake Inn. In addition to the open-air tiki bar dockside that is always popular, tonight being no exception, the Inn also has a nice terrace for their main dining room, both more shaded and much quieter. But we found the dining room itself pleasantly uncrowded, and opted to eat inside, for only our third time, instead, and stay out of the heat.

On our way to dinner we re-sounded the entry channel, as the Corps of Engineers crane boat Elizabeth had come in for the night and tied up to the east bulkhead. The good depth is right along that bulkhead, but when we sounded we found enough if I kept her close aboard on my way out. Canal Control had informed me they'd be there all morning, and the crew was away.

Since our last stop here, the Inn has completely redecorated inside and out. We remembered the dining room as covered in dark mahogany, and now it's all light and airy colors and textures, with all new furnishings. The tiki bar music stopped around 11 and we had a very calm and quiet night in the basin. It was nice to have a half day of downtime in this easy stop.

Chesapeake Inn and marina. No filter.

We timed our morning departure to get a push all the way through the rest of the canal, arriving in Delaware Bay just two hours before a favorable tide there as well. In the past we've dropped a lunch hook outside the canal to wait for the tide to change. But as we made our way through the canal, Louise-the-weather-router determined that if we hustled to Cape May, we could just make a short one-day outside window to make New York Harbor.

This stretch of coastline, along New Jersey, is one of the few inescapable ocean passages on the eastern seaboard. There's no alternate route at all from Manasquan to Sandy Hook, and the inside waters from Cape May to Manasquan are impassable for Vector. Outside weather along here can trap us for days in places like Cape May, Atlantic City, or Belmar, and has on some occasions. With only one window on the horizon, we made the decision to push to Cape May yesterday.

After we turned into the flood on the bay, running around a knot and a half, I slowed RPM down to 1400. That evens out the fuel burn of pushing against the current, and also slows us enough to give the tide a chance to overtake us. By noon the tide turned and we brought the RPM back up. It was against us again as we entered the Cap May Canal, making the last four miles a slog, but we had the hook down in a familiar spot (map) adjacent to the Coast Guard station before 6pm. A sailboat mast protruding from the water near shore bespoke some earlier drama in the anchorage.

Atlantic City, shrouded in mist.

The rain that had been forecast for 6 was pushed back till 7, and we dropped the tender and ran over to the Harbor Inn for dinner on their deck. We had a relaxing meal, but just as we were packing up, Louise spotted the storm front in the distance, moving fast. We made it back to Vector just as the heavens opened, escaping a major drenching. After the front passed and Vector was well-rinsed, we ran out and decked the tender in a lull where it was only drizzling.

We slipped out of the harbor in the pre-dawn darkness, two small boats zipping past us on our way. Anglers are an early lot. This was the first time we've done the Delaware Bay in a single day, and the first time we've done a daytime passage all way from Cape May to New York. Our preference is for a slower pace, and we try not to run to schedules, but good weather windows are hard to pass up.

The fortuitous timing and extra effort will have us in New York City nearly a week before we expected to be. We'll find plenty to do in that extra time, of course. And as a bonus, we'll arrive at our usual digs at 79th street tomorrow before our friends Julie and Glen, who are there now, drop lines for points north, so we may get to see them for an hour or two. We'll settle in for a while, so the blog will be quiet for a little bit.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Naval bombardment

We are under way northbound in Chesapeake Bay, abreast of the Patapsco River and Baltimore as I begin typing. The city is enveloped in a shroud of smog, and I can barely make out the Francis Scott Key Bridge just a dozen miles away. It's hot enough to be uncomfortable ashore, and we are running the air conditioning in the pilothouse.

Thursday we had a very calm and quiet night, glad to have tucked as far into the creek as we did. On our way out we passed a sailboat that had dropped the hook in the first spot we contemplated, and he was rolling with the swell even in the calm of the morning. On our way out of the creek we passed an incoming conga line of giant oyster boats, each about 140' long and 35' wide, headed for their harbor and processing plant off the Great Wicomico.

The unfortunate timing of the tide cycle right now meant we had the current against us all day for the run to the Patuxent River and Solomons, Maryland. As we passed Smith Point to begin the long crossing of the mouth of the Potomac, we left Virginia behind for the season. It would have been lovely to make the left turn and go up to DC for a week or so at this time of year, but that's a minimum two-week detour, and we'd be cutting it close for a commitment in Southold, New York in early July. Perhaps we will get another chance in the fall.

Smith Point Light That's the privy at lower left.

We were aiming more or less for Solomons, a familiar stop with an easy anchorage and a few eateries along the water. But as we approached the Patuxent, we made the decision to stop short instead. With winds out of the south for the afternoon and overnight, we turned the corner, ran under the glide path off the end of the Naval Air Station runway, around Hog Point, and dropped the hook in the middle of a quiet bay just off the air station grounds (map).

Stopping in the river saved the five or six miles, round trip, into Solomons and back, a stop that was not particularly calling us just because we've made it so many times. It also meant we were not hunting around for a spot in what can be a very crowded anchorage, especially on a Friday afternoon. And most importantly, the radio had been squawking all afternoon about an approaching storm system, which would not only ace us out of dinner ashore, but would also make for more drama than necessary in the very tight anchorage.

Even with the adverse current, we had the hook down by 2:30, and enjoyed having the calm and peaceful anchorage to ourselves for a while. A constant parade of Navy aircraft of every description had come into the field as we passed under the glide path -- I think we may have some tire tracks on the soft top -- with the extremely loud fighter jets giving us pause to stay so close. But the landings stopped soon after we had the hook set.

Sunset over the Patuxent...

It was not long before the reason for the sudden scramble of landings made itself clear. The storm hit with a vengeance, with the front bringing 40 mph winds that swung us through 90 of arc so quickly that it tripped our anchor out and re-set it. Across the river we could see several boats making a run for the harbor, but too late to escape the worst of it. We were comfortable and safe, and very glad not to be manning the anchor watch in a tight anchorage.

The boat got a nice rinse, and by dinner time the sun was back out and all was calm again. In the meantime, several boats had entered the harbor, called around to multiple marinas, probably circled all the anchorages, and then come right back out again, and we ended up with two neighbors overnight. Even though the weather had cleared for dinner, we had a more restful stop in the river.

We awoke Saturday to a perfect morning. Which sounds wonderful, but on a summer weekend, it makes for amateur hour out on the water. We were headed to Annapolis, one of the busiest recreational harbors on the east coast. And just to add a bit more excitement, the Coast Guard was making announcements about two sailing races in Annapolis -- a local regatta on the Severn till 5pm, and the start of the Annapolis to Newport race that would be running down the bay to the sea.

I was expecting to have to dodge the big race boats headed for Newport, but as it turned out we did not cross paths, and instead I had to adjust course to miss a pair of freighters in the ship channel. Later in the day we were overtaken by yet another ship, the Dublin Express, that threw a four-foot wake all the way across the bay; we watched a couple of small boats slam over it dangerously, and I had to steer to put it on the quarter when it reached us.

... and over the US Naval Academy, Annapolis.

Winds picked up throughout the day, and since they were out of the south, there was quite a bit of wave action on the bay by the time we made the turn for Annapolis. Fortunately, it was mostly behind us. By all rights it should have calmed down once we turned into the lee, but there are so many powerboat wakes in the harbor on the weekend, reverberating off the shores on both sides, that the harbor was almost worse that the bay.

We made good enough time that we arrived before the 5pm end of the races, and rather than dodge and weave the sailboats all the way in, we dropped a lunch hook in the outer reaches of the South Anchorage, next to a large Nordhavn named Ah Ha. We had earlier heard him on the radio having to move, as apparently he had originally anchored in the race course.

By 5 it was all over but the shouting, and we weighed anchor smartly to move to a calmer spot. We tucked in as far as we could to the NW corner of the South Anchorage (map), which is really the best we can do here. It's 30' deep here, so we need a 350' diameter circle of clear space to anchor; on previous visits this anchorage was always too busy for that. Today, however, we had the whole corner to ourselves. This corner of the anchorage is in the no-wake zone, but it's not much help, as it is open to the part where the wakes are awful.

The dingy dock. Although in this photo I count at least four large boats that are not dinghies, taking up more than their fair share.

We splashed the tender and headed ashore for dinner, cruising down "Ego Alley" to the town dinghy dock. We had to squeeze in at the very busy dock, owing in large part to a few large powerboats pretending to be dinghies. The "dinghy and tender only" rule seems to be poorly enforced by the harbormaster, which is odd, because they charge a day use fee to tie this size boat up at the city docks.

We were pleased to find part of Market Space Street closed off completely, and numerous parking spaces along Main and Market Space blocked off to create outdoor dining, encompassing the sidewalks. We found a shady outside table at the touristy 1771 Grill and Taproom, where I was surprised to find one of my favorites, a Cigar City Maduro Brown from Tampa, on draft.

We were very happy to be outside, considering that, like almost everyone we saw in town, the restaurant staff was unmasked. That was true at every restaurant we passed, and we saw very few people on the street or inside business wearing masks. It seems folks are mostly overlooking the "for those who have been fully vaccinated" part of the CDC mask guidance. Only two out of every five people in Maryland are vaccinated.

Our brunch view, up Main Street.

The more popular joints, such as Pusser's overlooking the water, were packed at pre-pandemic levels, and I could hear the music from Pusser's on the boat until past midnight. The harbor had calmed down considerably when we got back from dinner, and even further as the numerous day boats left, but it never got dead calm.

Given that we expected the harbor to be just as miserable today as it had been when we arrived yesterday, we made the decision to just move along. There are other, calmer anchorages on the Severn river, but none is close enough to town to be worthwhile. Before we weighed, we went ashore for a nice brunch on the sidewalk at O'Brien's. Just getting from the tender to the boat was a challenge by the time we returned, and we hoisted it on deck and made a hasty exit.

That meant, once again, pushing against the tide, after more sailboat Pachinko on the way out of the harbor. We ran at 1400 rpm until the turn of the tide caught up with us. As I wrap up typing, we've got it behind us and we are nearly to the entrance of the C&D canal. We passed up our usual anchorage in Worton Creek because we wanted to have more-or-less free air conditioning until later in the afternoon, and to take advantage of the tide.

Update: We are anchored at the entrance to the Bohemia River (map). So far, no rhapsody. The river itself quickly becomes too shallow for us. We arrived just at dinner time, and I had to set this aside. Tomorrow we'll have an early stop in Chesapeake City.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Hampton Roads

We are under way northbound in Chesapeake Bay, with Hampton Roads receding astern of us. I had hoped to be headed north to New Jersey on the outside, but the weather is unfavorable and looks to remain that way for the foreseeable future. It's 87 nautical miles farther via this inside route, but the alternative is to camp out somewhere in Hampton Roads until the weather improves, and that can be well over a week.

Vector in downtown Hampton. Tight fit on the inside.

After my last post here a week ago, we ended up dropping the hook in a familiar spot off Reed's Point (map), the last stop off Croatan Sound before the Albemarle Sound crossing. It was a long day, but we wanted to cross the Albemarle early on Friday. We had the place to ourselves for a while, but at some point I looked up and a diminutive Nordhavn had taken up residence a short distance away.

Sunset over Reeds Point, Croatan Sound.

Friday we got an early start and had a very calm crossing of the Albemarle, which can get very uncomfortable in any kind of serious wind. The forecast was not great, and as a consequence we had the North River, Coinjock Cut, Currituck Sound, and the North Landing River more or less to ourselves, with just a modicum of locals at the usual water-play area of Pungo Ferry. Coinjock Marina was uncharacteristically empty as we passed.

Coinjock Marina, full every night, but uncharacteristically empty mid-day.

We made excellent time, which proved to be something of a liability. At Pungo Ferry we realized we'd reach the Centerville Turnpike bridge while it was still in its afternoon rush hour lockdown. We made the 4:30 pm opening at North Landing Bridge and then proceeded at idle speed to Centerville, but were still a half hour early for the 6 pm end of lockdown. We dropped a lunch hook mid-channel and shut down the engine to wait.

That put us in Great Bridge at 6:20, and we were very glad to find just enough space for us at the free Battlefield Park dock (map). Had the dock been full, we would have had to wait another 40 minutes for the 7 pm opening of the Great Bridge Bridge.  I offloaded the e-bike and ran to the Amazon locker for my packages, with a grocery run on the way back. Mid-store I got an urgent text from Louise telling me to get a move on, as a thunderstorm was incoming.

Vector on a full dock at the newly opened museum and visitor center.

We had been all set to walk across the bridge to the little Italian bistro on the south side when the heavens opened. I got back to the boat just in the nick of time, and we ended up eating leftovers aboard. A couple of boats that had arrived between bridge openings found themselves seeking shelter from the storm at Atlantic Yacht Basin across the channel, making us doubly glad we had snagged a spot.

Many lamp posts around the museum were adorned with whimsically painted rocks.

Long-time readers may know that we've stopped at this dock and its companion bulkhead kitty-corner across the way many times over the nine years we've passed through here. In that time we watched the dock rebuilt, the adjacent land cleared, a foundation poured and then left fallow, and finally a visitor center and museum for the battlefield built, only to have the grand opening waylaid by the pandemic.

The museum has finally opened, and, perhaps fittingly on Memorial Day weekend, I walked through it on Saturday morning. I had low expectations for my $8 entry fee (gladly paid, considering all the times we've used the dock), but I was pleasantly surprised. I even learned a few things about this decisive battle, seven months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that would embolden the Patriots and set the tone for the war that followed.

A nuclear submarine in the pen at Portsmouth, VA.

I scrambled back aboard once again just before the rain started. With the weather projected to be miserable all day, we opted to just spend another day at the dock, which permits stays up to 48 hours. None of the other boats moved, either, and Saturday arrivals had to transit the bridge and tie to the bulkhead, which itself was full by day's end. In a mid-day lull I returned to the grocery store to finish my interrupted provisioning. No such lull was forthcoming at dinner time, and we again ate aboard.

Vector on the bulkhead at the High Street Landing, as seen from the ferry.

We dropped lines for the 8am bridge opening Sunday morning in light rain. We had both the bridge and the lock to ourselves, a rare occurrence, and arrived at Top Rack Marina at slack to take on fuel. Diesel prices are insane right now, and fuel is a few cents cheaper further up the Chesapeake. But we were still hoping for an outside window, and we needed fuel, so we bunkered 700 gallons, rather than the 1,200 we would normally take. Their high-speed dispenser was down, so we still spent 90 minutes fueling.

Portsmouth railroad museum. No building, just some rolling stock. Closed.

Two hours later we arrived at the High Street Landing in downtown Portsmouth to find the basin entirely full. Everyone was hunkered down for the weather, and at noon we knew no one would be leaving for the rest of the day. We tied up on the outside bulkhead (map), as we have done in the past, even though it is more exposed to river chop and ferry wakes, and is playing a bit fast and loose with the rules.

Looking to finally get off the boat for dinner, at 6:15 we walked over to the Legend Brewing Depot, only to find that they closed at 6pm. Worse, they'd be closed Monday and Tuesday as well, and I had planned on picking up two cases of their excellent Brown. I'm still kicking myself for not walking over to pick up the beer earlier in the afternoon; my disappointment was palpable. We walked instead over to Gino's pizza, where we ate indoors, for only the second time, in the nearly empty restaurant.

My precious Brown Ale. So close, yet so far.

Monday, of course, was Memorial Day, and after putting the ensign out, I lowered it to half staff, or at least as close as I can get. A couple of boats left the basin first thing in the morning, and, in hopes of moving, I walked over with a boat pole to sound the dock there, as we've not been in that part. A city truck had pulled up near us and workers were unloaded and setting up folding chairs in front of the flagpole. A sign for the Tidewater Concert Band sent us to the web to find there would be a concert in the park.

Audience chairs set up and musicians arriving to the flagpole stage. Wreath at left should have tipped us off.

Walking back, boat pole in hand, I ran into the crews of Sunshine, North Star, and The Old Blue Chair, and we chatted for 15 minutes or so about cruising in general, and these docks in particular. By the time I got back to Vector, the workers had set up a lectern and a speaker, the band was warming up, and city dignitaries were arriving. We had missed our window to move; if I started the engine now, I would be assaulting the musicians with noise and diesel exhaust. We were literally just 25' from the nearest musician.

Rear Admiral Dickey delivers her remarks. Captains Mulligan and Wolfson to her left, and mayor Glover to her right. As seen from our deck.

What started out looking like a concert turned out to be the city's Memorial Day celebration, in lieu of the annual parade (a 137 year old tradition), held in this park and live-streamed. We had front-row seats. The band provided the patriotic entrance, and then in turn the Mayor of Portsmouth, US Coast Guard Fifth District Commander Rear Admiral Laura Dickey, Portsmouth Naval Hospital CO Captain Lisa Mulligan, and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard CO Captain Dianna Wolfson all delivered remarks. The Chief of Police laid the memorial wreath at the foot of the flagpole, the band played the hymns of all five Services, and the top brass and color guard of the police department paraded the colors, making a snap turn as they came within a foot of Vector.

Portsmouth Police color guard parades the colors. They marched right at us and then turned smartly left along the bulkhead.

It was a nice ceremony and we were glad to have been there by happenstance. When it was over, Rear Admiral Dickey came over to the boat and chatted with us for several minutes; we learned that Search and Rescue calls are up significantly in the District due to the explosion of new boaters, and slip availability is at an all-time low. We do a lot of cruising in the Fifth District, comprising six mid-Atlantic states and the Capital District, and we thanked her for all the USCG does for us.

After having the police department literally march right past us, and the Coast Guard chat us up, we determined that no one cared we were on the outside seawall, so even though the basin emptied out, we did not bother to move. The chop was not bad, and we reasoned that leaving the calmer inside water to the lighter boats would be a friendly gesture. At noon I smartly raised the ensign back to the top of its staff.

Blossom steaming north past USS Wasp (LHD-1) in floating drydock.

Mid-afternoon our friends aboard Blossom steamed up the river on their way to the Waterside Marina across the harbor. I took a quick spin around town on the e-bike, stopping at the new visitor center on High street, and at the transit kiosk to buy passes for the ferry. We grabbed a 4:30 ferry over to the Waterside, our first public transit in over a year, and walked to Blossom for cocktails. We had stayed at this marina our very first year.

Walking back from dinner I caught the sunset beneath the Nauticus building.

After cocktails we walked over to the Waterside complex for dinner. Despite the complex undergoing a massive renovation and having something of a renaissance a couple of years ago, somehow the facility was entirely closed on a busy holiday. Just one eatery with a direct outside entrance was open, Stripers, but by 6pm they had run out of food, being the only open establishment for half the holiday weekend. We ended up walking over to Saltine in the whizzy new Hilton instead, for dinner on their lovely patio. It was great to catch up with Steph and Martin one last time before we parted ways, but we hope we will run into them again somewhere in New England.

Tuesday morning we dropped lines on the last of the ebb and rode it north toward the bay. The Norfolk Navy Piers is always a busy place, requiring a lot of attention at the helm, and this day was no different. Having to cross the channel to Craney Island Flats, I had to thread my way between an Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer, USS Stout (DDG-55), which was under tow to the BAE shipyard, and the USNS Robert E Peary, inbound for the piers. Louise worked on the target illuminator tubes for the Aegis cruisers, and we always wonder if one of her tubes is aboard one of these ships. Fortunately we missed today's arrival of a nuclear submarine, which always entails a more serious security zone and more restrictive movements.

Passing USS Stout under tow by a pair of Moran tugs. Her anchor is dangling, ready to deploy -- a precaution taken for a ship with no propulsion. The tugs are under command of the harbor pilot on the bridge of the ship.

With the early start we were in quarters at the Hampton Public Piers (map) by 11am, which I thought would give me a relaxing afternoon to take in the Virginia Air and Space Center, also comprising the NASA Langley Visitor Center, which has been closed every other time we have been here. The outside face dock was full, so I had to maneuver to the inside dock, just barely long enough for Vector. Our no-drama docking in the tight space earned us compliments from the crew of the nearby tour boat Miss Hampton II.

Not an illusion -- we are really just a foot from the dock.

I got to try out the new pedestal power tester I built on my off day in Great Bridge, and once we were secure I picked up the several packages waiting for us in the office. Those included the new folding legs for our saloon table, to replace the fixed pedestal that we removed during the flooring upgrade. The space center turned out to be closed Tuesdays, as luck would have it, and so I installed the table legs and got a few other things done instead. I had to e-bike to the century-old hardware store for fasteners.

240v receptacle tester I built after probing a half dozen outlets in Jacksonville. The perfect-fit el-cheapo voltmeter was one of my Amazon deliveries in Great Bridge.

We had followed a familiar Krogen Manatee into the harbor, and they were backed in and secured in their slip when we arrived. We heard on the radio they had booked for three days. So we were surprised to see them drop lines and leave right after we got our packages aboard. I learned later the marina had updated to GFI pedestals during their renovation, and the Krogen could not connect without tripping the power. Long-time readers may know that I have helped solve this problem on numerous RVs and boats; the campground industry went through this a decade ago, but it is just now starting to impact older boats. He will need to fix his wiring, or soon find himself with no place to go.

Carousel selfie. We had it to ourselves.

We ambled over to the on-site Bull Island Brewing pub for dinner and a nice draft, then strolled the neighborhood. We found the historic Bukroe Beach Carousel to be back in operation for the first time since we've been coming here, and with the place empty and on a whim we went for a dollar ride on the painted ponies. The very loud music was delivered by a century-old band organ, so we were surprised to hear tunes from our youth, including Georgy Girl, Downtown, and Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.

The back of the band organ as seen from my pony on our ride.

When the ride stopped, I asked the young operator, Will, about it, and he absolutely lit up and gave us the behind-the-scenes tour of the entire carousel. The organ works on paper scrolls, which were produced from 1920 to 1973, and he had selected those 60s tunes for us when we walked in. Humorously, our final entertainment for the evening was watching the Miss Hampton depart and return on a pizza cruise full of pre-teens and teenagers, with a DJ playing music from the 70s-90s. It's as if I had gone on a kids' cruise in my youth with big-band music playing.

Half-century old paper band organ scroll. That's Will's hand in the photo, and I am sorry I did not snap his photo, too.

Danny the dockmaster has been friendly and accommodating for us on every visit, and yesterday morning I asked if we could depart a little after checkout time so I could get my space center fix. Before the center opened, we topped up the water, offloaded the recycling, and pumped out, and I rode over to VASC right when they opened at 10. I skipped the included 45-minute IMAX movie, and the exhibits themselves only took me an hour.

The Langley LEMS. Every lunar astronaut trained in this.

Mostly I was interested in the Langley artifacts, which included the Lunar Module trainer used by all the landing crews, and the Apollo XII command module, Yankee Clipper, bearing the signatures of the astronauts. Space travel seems routine now, but when you see the charred hull and decimated ablative shield of a returned capsule, you are in awe that anyone survived. On the more modern front, the museum has an Orion test article that was used to test the Launch Abort System.

Apollo 12 CM Yankee Clipper, rather space-worn. At left is a Mercury test article, and above an Orion one.

Notwithstanding a "take your time" from Danny, we were off the dock shortly after checkout time for a very short trip around the corner to the Phoebus anchorage (map), between Old Point Comfort and the bridge/tunnel causeway. They are adding more tubes to the tunnel, and we had to swing wide of the crane barges. We had thought about making some progress north, but opted for Phoebus instead because it is more protected and we could get ashore for dinner. Alas, we were rained out once again and had to throw together some pasta aboard.

The capsule was later autographed by Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Alan Bean.

We have a long day today, and so we got an early start, or at least we tried. This seems to be our week for fouled anchors, and when we weighed, we were caught on a 3/8" chain. With the chain well above the surface, we were able to get a line around it from on deck, drop the anchor from under it, and then let the line go, a total of less than five minutes.

Orion test article used for the Pad Abort test.

As I wrap up, the plotter is projecting an arrival at the Great Wicomico River, our planned anchorage for the night, around quarter to six. I expect a quiet evening after a nice dinner on board. Tomorrow we will continue north, and we are bracing ourselves for working our way through the busiest part of the bay on a Saturday.

Langley invented what was to become the Harrier jump-jet, seen here. One of many aircraft on display.

Update: We are anchored in Mill Creek, near Mt. Olive, Virginia (map). I had hoped to finish this post under way, but a thunderstorm overtook us and I got a little busy at the helm. Seas were behind us until we made the turn for the creek, and then I had to crank up the rpm. We're tucked in with good protection now, and I expect a calm night in spite of the occasional thunderstorm.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

OBX

We are under way northbound in Pamlico Sound, bound for Croatan Sound. To our starboard are the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and to port the mainland. As I begin typing I can not see land in any direction, and I expect my Internet connection to come and go throughout the day.

Tuesday we had a full dinner in the pilothouse before we even arrived at Beaufort Inlet. High tide happened while we were eating, and they managed to refloat the cargo ship Kite Bay and pull her off the shoal; we had just got her in sight. By the time we arrived at our inbound turn, she was already back in the anchorage licking her wounds. We assume she needed a diver inspection and some Coast Guard clearance before being allowed back into port.

Vector arriving at the Fort Macon anchorage. USCGC Maple at left, and just visible through our hard top is USCGC Smilax, the "Queen of the Fleet." Photo: Stephanie Morris

Passing high tide meant we had a good push into the inlet, at one point doing nearly nine knots. We rounded the corner by the Coast Guard station and headed to our usual spot (map), dropping the hook a little before 7pm just 300' from our friends aboard Blossom. We did have an occasional wake from a go-fast boat in the channel, but spent an otherwise peaceful night. Blossom was already gone when I came upstairs in the morning.

The forecast said we had a good window to cross Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds this week, with weather moving in over the weekend. And so we weighed anchor early with the flood and continued up to Adams Creek and the Neuse River. Under way, we turned our attention to planning some stops in the Hampton Roads area. We needed an Amazon locker, and also a marina to which we could have our mail and some other items shipped.

Our view of Blossom at anchor. Beaufort at right and Morehead City left.

The most convenient locker will be in Great Bridge, and for the other items we opted to book a night up in Hampton. I tried the yacht club there, but they have races booked, so we will stay at our old standby, the Hampton Public Piers. Between here and there, we will need to take on some fuel.

We had set our sights for the end of the day on the same anchorage we had used last year, near the Cedar Island Ferry Landing. We learned that Sharky's, where we ate on that pass, had closed, but the storefront had reopened as Bay Breeze, so we figured we could at least get in a bit of a walk and some dinner.

We had a great push out into the Neuse, and by the time we were approaching the NR beacon, our predicted arrival at the anchorage was just 2pm. With both the river and the southern part of Pamlico Sound very calm, we opted instead to continue to Ocracoke, to shave some time off today's cruise. The anchorage is also more protected, and there are more and better dining choices.

Silver Lake anchorage, Ocracoke.

The predicted afternoon winds arrived sooner and heavier than forecast, and seas picked up to two feet on a very short period sometime after we passed Brant Island Shoal. We had a bumpy ride for the last hour and a half before the turn into the Big Foot Slough Channel to Ocracoke. We were champing at the bit to get into the anchorage, but, as luck would have it, the NC State Ferry Sea Level was coming down the channel out of the harbor as we approached.

The narrow part of the channel, constantly shifting, is not wide enough for both of us, and we agreed to wait outside until he got through. I ended up circling around, because it was too choppy to just hover in winds of about 25-30. On the plus side, I put an AIS track on him, so I could follow his bread crumbs across the squeaky bit, which was very helpful alongside the Corps of Engineers depth survey. The ferries draw 7.5', give or take, depending on load.

I made a few loops while waiting on Sea Level.

After we got past the skinny stuff, the ferry Swan Quarter overtook us in the channel. We otherwise had an uneventful entrance, and dropped the hook in a familiar spot in Silver Lake (map), a short distance from another steel hull, aluminum house trawler named Congrio and sporting a Valparaiso, Chile hailing port. We had the hook down by cocktail hour and in plenty of time to go ashore for dinner.

A new restaurant opened in town just a couple of months ago, Dajio, with expansive outside dining and an eclectic upscale menu. No reservations, so we arrived by 6 to get seated. We had a wait of about ten minutes. The food was decent and the space was pleasant, and we enjoyed getting off the boat. It was just a short walk from the park service dinghy dock at the ferry landing.

Our neighbor. We felt right at home.

In the middle of dinner a reader of this very blog approached our table, having recognized us from across the room. He and his wife were waiting for a table; he's a fellow bus conversion enthusiast and has been following since our bus days. They were staying in the campground in their MCI. I did not hear their names well enough to reproduce them here, but I am hoping he will drop me an email or a comment here.

We are apparently in a period of high solar flare activity, which has been wreaking havoc with our radios. We are getting periodic bursts of static that can not be squelched, and had to turn the radio off overnight (we normally keep it on 24/7, both for urgent messages on VHF 16, and to get weather alerts). We're also hearing ship and Coast Guard traffic from far afield; yesterday we head Sector Jacksonville and Sector Southeast New England within minutes of each other; the latter was reporting that the New Beford Hurricane Barrier would be closing.

Ferry Sea Level, incoming this morning as we were leaving. You don't get the scale unless there is a tractor-trailer aboard.

We had decked the tender when we returned to Vector last night, in anticipation of an early start this morning. I had checked the ferry schedule and wanted to get out the channel before any of them would be making their way in. We weighed anchor just a bit before 8. Well, we tried to, anyway.

The windlass struggled mightily for the last dozen feet, ultimately grinding to a halt with the anchor shank out of the water but the flukes just below the surface. Our windlass can exert over a ton of force, so whatever we snagged was well-secured to the bottom. Once the cloud of mud cleared, we could see it was either a heavy hawser or a steel cable, extending off in both directions. All three of our flukes had caught it. Hooked on it, right next to our own anchor, was another anchor of the Danforth type, presumably cut away and abandoned by another boat that had snagged the same cable.

Best shot I could get in the heat of battle. This is as far as we could raise it. You can see the hawser over the shank below the ripples. At left is a Danforth anchor hooked on it, also under water.

With the problem still below the water surface, I needed to splash the tender to go deal with it. Once I got my hand on it, I could feel it was a 1" nylon hawser rather than a cable, and I started to saw through it with the serrated knife we keep for line fouling emergencies. I got about a third the way through it before I stopped on account of safety: there was no way to take any of the one ton of force off the anchor without the hawser falling beyond my reach.

Instead we ran a 5/8" line under the hawser, both ends secured on our deck. I tied a line to our anchor's trip line hole, and we lowered the anchor. With the wind still blowing Vector back against our makeshift mooring line, I had to haul the anchor well in front with the power of the dinghy motor so that Louise could lift it clear with the windlass. We had the tender back on deck and we under way just a half hour after we started.

After freeing it. My pull-away line still attached. Taut loop of line behind it is still holding Vector firmly moored in place. After I was aboard we let one end of that line go.

That extra half hour was just enough to ensure that I would have to call Sea Level on the radio on my way out the channel. This time he slowed down for us, and we squirted through the shoals with a knot of current behind us. We've been on the same heading since leaving Big Foot Slough, and as I wrap up typing, we still have another hour to the next turn, at Long Shoal.

Tonight we should be anchored somewhere in Croatan Sound, unless tomorrow's forecast on the Albemarle Sound is lousy. In which case, we have the option to continue across the sound over dinner, and anchor in the North River at twilight.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Getting while the getting is good

We are again underway northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, crossing the Camp Lejeune firing range just a couple miles offshore. We called Range Control first thing this morning to get clearance, as we wanted to transit Onslow Bay close to shore due to sea conditions.

Wednesday morning we awoke to a mostly calm Cape Fear River, ready for an early start to have high tide and following current in Snows Cut. We were stunned to see Liberdade and Blossom pass us before we even weighed anchor; they had spent the night some eight miles away in Southport, and left with the sunrise to make the same high tide. We had figured them to make the afternoon high instead.

Vector steaming up the Banks Channel into Wrightsville Beach, crew on the weather deck. Photo: Stephanie Morris

With an extra four feet of water we had no issues through the cut, and we still had plenty of tide for the several shoals north of Carolina Beach. The early start had us in Wrightsville Beach by 10am; we passed Blossom and Liberdade on the way to our usual spot in the Banks Channel (map). At this hour of the morning there were but two other boats in this anchorage, and it was refreshing not to have to "squeeze in" as we so often do.

We had not counted on another chance to get together, so to take advantage, I made reservations for the six of us at the only outdoor venue that would take them, the fancy East oceanfront restaurant at the Blockade Runner resort. I spent the afternoon exploring a bit in the dinghy and on foot before it was time to get ready.

Blossom and her stalwart crew anchored at Wrightsville Beach.

By dinner time, Liberdade had one crew under the weather, and so it ended up being just four of us for dinner. In all the times we've been to Wrightsville Beach we'd never made it to the Blockade Runner, which longtime readers may know we can see from the anchorage and who hosts the annual holiday boat parade. The resort was very nice, and dinner on the well-spaced patio under an expansive shade structure was very pleasant.

The passage weather forecast for today has hovered on the edge of marginal. We knew that Blossom and Liberdade would slog through it, because they will not go up the inside through here. We were on the fence; I always prefer outside, but I could have used a day of downtime in Wrightsville, and we could take two days up the inside and get a good fuel price in the bargain. Louise checked the forecast again when she got up and made the call that we would stay another day.

We had to make passing arrangements with this Coast Guard cutter, the James, who was hovering right in our path. When I called they said they were "loitering."

That was the status as I was coming upstairs, just as the Coast Guard announced that the Wrightsville Beach Bridge was non-operational and could not open for vessels, with no estimated time to resolve. That could mean a delay of hours, or weeks. Faced with the prospect of being stuck there until the next outside window opened, with the anchorage and every restaurant in town becoming miserably crowded, we had a last-minute change of heart, weighed anchor, and headed out, just a half hour behind our friends.

They got the bridge fixed just as we were leaving the inlet, and it would have been fairly easy to change our minds, turn around, and go right back. But as we had been on the fence in the first place, inertia took over and we opted to stay the course. So far the ride has been acceptable, although we expect seas to increase as we approach the inlet.

Cargo ship Kite Bay firmly aground near the Beaufort channel, as seen on Vessel Finder.

The Coast Guard has been making announcements for the last few hours about a ship aground at the inlet, just outside the channel. We looked it up: a 600' long bulk carrier called the Kite Bay. Our route has us entering the channel considerably closer to shore, so we don't expect any impact, but Marine Traffic shows a phalanx of tugboats and other vessels in the area, presumably trying to free her. If she's still there in five hours when we arrive, I will get some photos.

Our plan is to anchor in our usual spot in front of the Coast Guard station, just inside the inlet, and continue tomorrow toward Pamlico Sound, essentially repeating our northbound cruise from this time last year. We're moving a bit faster than we'd like, driven entirely by the timing of weather windows. At this rate, we'll be in the Norfolk area by the weekend.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Charleston fly-by

We are under way in the Atlantic Ocean, headed for the Cape Fear River from Charleston, South Carolina. I was not expecting to be out in the ocean tonight, but a very short window popped up, and we seized it. It's late in my 20:00-03:00 watch as I begin typing.

We had a very quiet night in the Beaufort River Thursday, and got an early start Friday to have a favorable tide through some of the shallower sections. Notwithstanding having the current against us for much of the way, and slowing down considerably even when the current was in our favor, we still arrived at the worst section, the entrance to the Ashepoo-Coosaw Cutoff, at a tide too low for safe passage.

Making matters worse, no fewer than six other boats, all of whom draw less than Vector, and several of whom had actually passed us earlier in the day at a high rate of speed, were all hovering around the entrance waiting. We might have had just enough water to make it with careful piloting, but we did  not want to do it in a cluster of other boats. We dropped the hook in the Coosaw and waited for the traffic jam to clear.

Waiting an extra 20 minutes meant we saw nothing less than 8' at a tide of +2.5', but the depths were lower than survey, even more so than on our last pass through. Shortly after that trouble stretch, we transited a section of the Dawho River where we, once again, diverted out of the buoys and across what appears as dry land on the chart. Since our last transit, which I described here complete with a chart graphic, the Corps of Engineers has run their survey boat over this stretch, inspiring confidence, even though the Coast Guard has not yet moved the buoys.

Sunset from our peaceful anchorage on the Wadmalaw River.

That put us into the North Edisto and thence the Wadmalaw with the current behind us, and we continued upriver to an unmarked anchorage outside the buoy line that looked like it would have enough protection for us (map). It turned out to be perfect -- very calm other than a handful of boat wakes, and very quiet. We had a nice sunset, dinner on board, and a restful night.

That left us with a short four-hour trip to Charleston Harbor yesterday. Once again the current was against us most of the way, this time on account of timing our arrival at Elliot's Cut for an outgoing tide close to slack. Last time we had to anchor outside the cut to wait for a tide change. On a pleasant weekend day, the waterways were very busy, and the narrow cut is challenging with so much traffic.

While I was driving all morning, Louise was texting back and forth with our friend Steph aboard Blossom. They'd been at the dock in Charleston for a few days, and we were looking forward to possibly seeing them. We were surprised to learn they were planning to leave the harbor in the evening for the outside run to Cape Fear. Louise has been watching the weather closely and, until yesterday morning, had seen no window for an outside run.

There was, indeed, a window, which actually improved throughout the day. But it was tight, slamming shut this afternoon with no other opportunities on the horizon for at least a week. We spent some time discussing whether we, too, wanted to grab this window. The alternatives would be an extended stay in Charleston, or a very tedious slog up the inside through some of the shallowest parts of the ICW.

Part of the new WestEdge complex. Some Saturday goings-on.

Neither one of us really relishes an overnight passage. It's harder on Louise than on me, but there is no question it takes a toll on both of us. One-night passages, counter-intuitively, are the worst; on multi-night passages you adjust a little to the change in rhythm, and you make a lot of miles -- more bang for the buck. So we thought long and hard about getting in a quick visit with our friends before they left on passage and then just remaining in Charleston ourselves.

In the end, we decided to grab the window, even though I had been up early and driving all morning. In part that's because it would be very difficult for us to get anywhere in Charleston unless we wanted to spring for a dock at $150+ per night to put the scooters on the ground, and most of the places we really enjoy lack outside dining. We've spent months in Charleston, so it's not like we are missing anything.

That said, we needed provisions, and had been planning on a grocery run in town. That was still necessary, and I was girding myself to run the e-bike ashore in the tender and ride all the way across town to the Harris-Teeter that is so very familiar to us. But Steph let us know that a brand new Publix had just opened north of the city marina, in walking distance. That sealed the deal, and we dropped a lunch hook in the Ashley River, not far from the marina (map).

Rather than spring for dinghy dockage at the city marina and have a very long walk, I opted to tender up through the bridges to the free dock at Brittlebank Park, which was less than a half mile from the store. It's in a new mixed-use development called WestEdge, which also sports a couple of eateries (with room for more) as well as the new home of the Harbour Club, which moved from its historic building across town. We no longer have access to this club, but we have fond memories, and I found the move interesting. I also learned that the City Marina now has an Amazon Locker, which would make getting deliveries here a slam-dunk, had we been inclined to stay.

On my way back from groceries I passed this party pedal-boat. The guests are pedaling their hearts out, but the skipper has not lowered the pedal-powered paddlewheel into the water.

Louise reported the day-boat wakes were miserable aboard Vector while I was ashore, and so as soon as I returned with a backpack full of provisions, we weighed anchor and motored the three miles down to our familiar digs just outside Commercial Anchorage B (map), where Blossom and our other friends Bob and Dori aboard Liberdade had anchored after leaving the City Marina to stage for their passage. We towed the dinghy the short distance, and as soon as the hook was set we tendered over to Blossom for a quick visit before we had to make preparations for our passage.

We weighed anchor right at the start of the ebb, for a good ride out the inlet. We did have to divert briefly to pass the enormous container ship Hyundai Hope, inbound in the entrance channel; nearly a half mile later, her wake turbulence rolled us pretty hard, and Louise's computer was a fatal casualty.  Liberdade and Blossom, both faster boats, left a full hour behind us. They both overtook me at the Cape Romain Shoal Buoy, where we all turned toward the Winyah Bay sea buoy. They were a few miles ahead when they passed that buoy, where our paths diverged We were about six miles astern arriving at the Cape Fear entrance.

We actually slowed down at the 0300 watch change, to try to avoid arriving on an ebb tide. Our two friends pushed against the ebb because they wanted to arrive at their marina at slack tide at the docks, an hour later. We got the timing mostly right, with the ebb against us only a short time at sea before the flood picked us up and swept us into the river.

We often stop at the first available anchorage after an overnight passage. But with a good push up a wide, deep, easy-to-navigate river, we opted to come all the way upriver to the turnoff for the tricky Snows Cut. We're now anchored off-channel between a pair of range lights on the Cape Fear (map), which will position us well to make Snows Cut with plenty of tidal help in the morning. Tomorrow we will be in Wrightsville Beach, a familiar stop and a comfortable place to wait for good outside conditions to make Beaufort.