Sunday, November 20, 2022

Charleston fly-by

We are under way downbound on the South Edisto River on a cold November evening. We had actually planned to be in Charleston this evening, but circumstances, detailed below, suggested otherwise. It will be sunset in a few minutes, and we will drop the hook in the twilight near Fenwick Cut.

Tuesday morning we took advantage of the marina's pumpout and then dropped lines for the ICW southbound, with the weather not conducive to an outside run to Little River. At Calabash Crossroads we turned toward the Little River Inlet and dropped the hook around 1:30 in a familiar spot (map). We just missed our friend Tim aboard s/v Paquita, who left the inlet a couple of hours before we arrived for a long outside run to Fort Lauderdale.

Vector on the inside of the face dock at South Harbor Village. As seen from near the restaurant, which is about a half mile walk.

We had a comfortable afternoon, but by dinner time the wind had shifted and the swell coming into the anchorage was rolling us, so we deployed the stern anchor to keep our nose into it. That worked great until 1am, when another shift had the waves on our beam again, and we weighed the stern anchor for the remainder of the night. The rough night had us lingering in the calm of the morning, and we did not weigh anchor until after 10.

It would have been an easy shot out the inlet for an outside run in marginally acceptable conditions down to Winyah Bay. But other than easier driving on autopilot, there's no percentage in it for a day run, as the channel into Winyah Bay adds another six miles, a full hour, to the trip. We instead made our way back to the ICW on a fair tide and continued south to Georgetown.

I wrote in my last post that lining up Thanksgiving was my next project, and I spent time both Tuesday and Wednesday getting everything nailed down. I found two restaurants in downtown Savannah offering the holiday meal, and a call to the city dockmaster revealed that the docks would be open and available on the normal first-come, first-served basis. Since our last visit they've dropped the fees and instituted a two-night maximum.

Georgetown is full of stray cats, and this one has found a daytime home in the marina office. She waits at the door each morning to be let in. She was very sweet.

We had a lovely cruise through Myrtle Beach and into the Waccamaw River. Long-ago RVing friends from the Red Cross who now live in Myrtle Beach came out to wave as we passed by, and someone we've never met posted a video of Vector cruising through Socastee on Facebook. We dropped the hook in a new-to-us anchorage at Bull Creek, just off the Waccamaw (map).

After calculating all the routes and stops to Thanksgiving we determined that we had time for a two-night stop in Georgetown, where we had figured to drop the hook. The weather forecast was calling for overnight lows in the 40s both nights, with the daytime highs only in the 50s, and after contemplating a cold stay with even colder tender rides to shore, we decided to splurge on a dock if one was available.

Evidently, cats are not the only feral denizens. They have apparently reached detente with the chickens.

The Harborwalk Marina, closest to town, was booked up, and we settled for the Georgetown Drystack Marina another quarter mile further away. After picking our way into the shallow harbor at dead low tide, we were tied alongside the face dock (map) before lunch time. They gave me a cash discount, throwing in the 50-amp power. It was nice to have all the heat we could want, and as usual Louise took advantage of 240 volts and unlimited water to get all the laundry done.

Mid-afternoon we spotted Esmeralde steaming into the harbor with our good friends Dorsey and Bruce and their adorable, if excitable, Scotty pups Maisie and Ollie. We arranged to meet for drinks and dinner at the Corner Tavern, which has great burgers and a selection of decent drafts. We had a great time and lingered for quite a while.

Esmeralde, always in Bristol condition, arrives to Georgetown. That's Bruce handling lines on the aft deck as skipper Dorsey pilots to the marina.

Friday afternoon, when it was not exactly warm but not freezing either, I took the e-bike out for a spin. I did some exploring further afield in town before landing at the Piggly Wiggly for some provisions. The Pig is a terrible store even in their biggest locations, and in this little burg it's even worse. I came back with just a little more than half the full list, but enough to get us by for a while.

After dropping off the groceries I did a bit more exploring and then stopped by Esmeralde over at the Harborwalk Marina for a quick visit. That involved a lot of dog interaction, which simultaneously made me miss having pets and be relieved that we do not have pets. The dogs are a lot of fun and a lot of work. As I was leaving the suggestion was floated to get together again for dinner, and we all ended up over at Marker 42 Low Country Cantina, a quasi-Mexican affair which had decent food but no drafts. This after walking out of Rollin' Local because they would not seat only two of us, even though the other two were less than five minutes away. We again had a lovely evening and agreed we might re-connect in Charleston in a couple of days.

Loose Italian sausage was on my grocery list. Every one of eight packages was aged to this brown color. Cased items on the left show what the color should be. There's no excuse for this, Piggly Wiggly.

Yesterday we dropped lines on a fair tide and headed toward the ICW. Outside weather would have been good for a run all the way to Charleston, but here again the outside day run is a full 16 miles, or 2.5 hours and eight gallons of fuel, longer than the ICW route, owing to the long channels to sea. On either route we would make Charleston Harbor too late in the evening to do anything but anchor and eat aboard.

On the inside route we did not need to anchor in the busy harbor or after dark, choosing instead to stop at a familiar anchorage at Inlet Creek, just east of the Ben Sawyer Bridge (map). That let us get past the worst shoal on the entire ICW, just a bit east of there, at a high tide of +5 feet. That was enough extra water for us to try an experimental route across the shoal, which turned out to be deeper than the previous "best" route by 1.7 feet, and our recorded track across that shoal has now been incorporated into the latest published tracks used by thousands of cruisers every season.

Reminding myself why we're not staying at the free city dock. Although it looked like a couple of boats tempted the $1,092.50 fate.

We had a very calm and peaceful, if a bit chilly, night aboard, and this morning weighed anchor early to get across one final shoal before Charleston. The early start had us dropping the hook in our usual spot in the Ashley River (map), across from the City Marina, right at 10am. We always enjoy Charleston, and I was looking forward to dinner ashore.

That enthusiasm waned as it got progressively colder in the saloon. It was still in the 40s, with a high today of only 50, and we had arrived with the engine barely warm and little charge on the batteries. Spending the night in Charleston would also have us pushing against a full 2+ knots of current in the morning to stay on schedule for Savannah. By 11am we were both in agreement that we'd be better off weighing anchor at slack tide and spending the afternoon under way, with plenty of heat available in the pilothouse.

Esmeralde followed us out of Georgetown Harbor and when we got to the wide deep water of the Waccamaw they came by us at full speed for a photo op.

And thus here we are in the South Edisto, having come through the troublesome Watts Cut at a tide of over 6'. The depth alarm, set at 10', was nevertheless screaming, so we'd be well aground at low tide. We have another very shallow spot about two hours ahead of us, so we will need to get an early start on a falling tide to have enough water to get through.

My next post here will be after we depart Savannah, sometime over the holiday weekend. We wish all our family, friends, and readers a very happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Cccold front

We are under way downbound on the Cape Fear River. On a sunny day I am nice and toasty in the greenhouse that is our helm station, but we're running an electric heater back in the saloon, where we could be safely storing a side of beef.

Thursday conditions got much better shortly after making the turn into Goose Creek. They were better still once we were in the Hobucken Cut, which is very protected, and as we passed by we briefly contemplated tying up at the R.E. Mayo Seafood docks in protected water. But we had no need of the dock for any other reason, and we continued on to Gale Creek, dropping the hook off-channel near the Jones Island Club (map). It was still pretty protected here and we had a calm and quiet night after a nice dinner on board.

Vector at the Morehead Gulf Docks. Two sailboats kissing each other in the background are anchored and the reversing current brought them together.

Our AIS display is right at the top of the ladder to the staterooms, and at one point on my way down to the restroom I noticed a familiar name on the display, which had otherwise been blank all evening. It was s/v Paquita, belonging to an online acquaintance, Tim, whom I knew to be rapidly catching up to us on his way to Fort Lauderdale.

I know Tim through his very popular YouTube channel, TimBatSea, where he shares a lot about his work as a tugboat captain. I first started watching this channel when he was working in NY harbor, where we interact with lots of tugboats every year, and I found it interesting and informative to get the view from their pilothouse. Any time I crossed paths with his tug in NY I would say hello. He's since relocated to working tugs in the Puerto Rico area, where he's had a home for some time.

Somewhere along the line he bought himself a sailboat and started a channel around that. I don't watch sailing channels in general, but I subscribed because he is an excellent raconteur, and I found it interesting to watch how a professional mariner with decades of experience on large vessels would transition to the world of small pleasure craft. When he did a video on preparing to convert his boat to lithium batteries, I could not resist chiming in with some information from my own experience, and we've been emailing back and forth ever since.

Just some of the two dozen anchored boats at Mile Hammock Bay on the USMC Camp LeJeune base.

They had stopped for the night at R.E. Mayo. After reaching out I learned their next stop would be Morehead City, and while we had loosely planned to head to Beaufort and anchor near town, we agreed to go to Morehead instead and try to meet up with them. Of course, the remains of Hurricane Nicole were still blowing a gale on Friday, and there's no good place to anchor there in those conditions. I was able to snag a slip at the Morehead Gulf Docks on short notice, mindful that we had been sitting on the bottom at the city docks last time, and that we could not count on the first-come, first-serve inexpensive dock at Sanitary Seafood Restaurant.

We bashed our way across the Neuse River, swinging over toward the windward shore for a slightly better ride. We had previously made tentative plans to stop before that crossing Friday at Broad Creek, where we could anchor and perhaps connect with friends Dorsey and Bruce who were docked nearby. But after Bruce had scoped out the one and only restaurant there and given it an emphatic thumbs-down, we had already agreed to wave off until another time. It would have saved us an hour of bashing, but I was happy to press on to connect with Tim.

We were tied to the face dock at Morehead Gulf Docks (map) before 4pm, and started our usual round of dockside chores. Paquita came in an hour later and tied up a few doors down at Sanitary Seafood, after waving off their reservation at Portside Marina. Long-time readers may remember that we got beat up pretty bad at Portside, which is very exposed to southerlies, so we did not even check them when we were looking for a dock. I had also warned Tim about it.

Rick, Tim, Crisalida, Louise, and Sean at Sanitary Seafood Restaurant.

At cocktail hour I walked over to Paquita and we spent a half hour or so discussing batteries and the other bits and bobs that make a complete installation. Louise joined us at dinner time and we all went in to Sanitary Seafood for dinner, which is more or less a requisite when using their dock. It was a very nice evening and we enjoyed meeting Tim, his partner Crisalida, and his friend and crewman Rick.

Saturday morning after wrapping up the laundry, which we always try to get done when we are at a dock with power and water, we dropped lines on a fair tide for the long slog down the inside to Mile Hammock Bay, the only usable anchorage in this entire stretch of waterway. There are several trouble spots where shoaling requires me to thread the needle, steering by hand, and we had one "incident" wherein a vessel overtook us without bothering to call just as I was steering around a shoal, but the cruise was otherwise uneventful, if a bit of a conga line. All the boats that had been hunkered down for Nicole were out with us trying to make miles.

The later start put us into the anchorage very late in the day, and there were already 20 boats scattered around. We found a small spot near the Camp LeJeune hovercraft ramp and dropped the hook (map). By nightfall there were 23 boats in the anchorage, the most I've ever seen there. One of the later arrivals was a sportfish who had no idea how to anchor, "setting" and dragging across a half dozen spots before settling on one. When they later started dragging again some other cruisers took pity and came over in their dinghy to provide direction.

Sunset from the flybridge, Mile Hammock Bay.

Paquita turned out to be across the anchorage from us, projecting videos on their sail, which I thought was pretty cool even though it was too distant to really make anything out. That would be the last time we'd see them, as they are on a mission to get to Fort Lauderdale before Tim has to go back to work.

Yesterday we got a leisurely start from Mile Hammock, trying to time the Figure Eight Island bridge for the top of an hour, which is really tricky from that far away. That put us behind a tug pushing a loaded deck barge, and we had to overtake him when we got to a "wide" spot in the channel. I still had to run alongside the barge just two dozen feet off for what seemed like an eternity. We missed our timing for the bridges anyway, hitting Figure Eight Island on a half hour, which meant we had to drop a lunch hook to wait on the Wrightsville Beach Bridge, which only opens on the hour but is 45 minutes away.

All's well that ends well, and we had the hook down in a familiar spot in Wrightsville Beach (map) before the anchorage filled up. We splashed the tender right at 5 and headed ashore for dinner at one of our ICW favorites, Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill. We're glad we went early; there was a line at the door by 5:30. We decked the tender as soon as we got home, in anticipation of it being too cold this morning to want to be messing around on deck.

Do not honor this red buoy, it is off-station.

Sure enough the temperature plummeted overnight, and this morning we awoke to the mercury just above 40. That made it unappealing to spend any extra time in Wrightsville Beach, and we weighed anchor for a favorable tide to and through Snow's cut, which put us here on the Cape Fear on the last of the flood.

Update: We are docked at the South Harbour Village Marina in Southport, NC (map). We've been here before, and just as last time, we're here because there are really no good anchorages in Southport at all. As a bonus we can run all the heat we want in this cold snap, and there's a nice Italian place right on the property. Our friends Dorsey and Bruce, who passed us in the river, are tied up less than two miles away, but it's over six miles by land so there's no easy way to visit.

As is usual at this time of year, my next challenge is to find a place for Thanksgiving dinner. We like to have all the traditional flavors, but we want someone else to make it all (and we have no oven). I was hoping to get a spot at the Maritime Center in Charleston for the holiday, but they are full up, so tomorrows project is to try to coordinate both a restaurant and a dock in some town big enough to have a restaurant open for the holiday. That may be elsewhere in Charleston, or perhaps Hilton Head or Savannah.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Go away, Nicole

We are underway downbound on the Pamlico River, a new waterway for us, after a pleasant three nights in Washington, NC. And yes, that's an "N" and not a "D." We're moving today before whatever is left of Nicole arrives to stop us in our tracks. Our hearts are once again heavy watching the destruction befalling our adopted home state of Florida.

Not long after posting here on Friday we arrived at the start of the Alligator Pungo Canal. The canal is a three-hour transit, and we could have made it to an anchorage at the other end just at twilight, but we'd be driving right into the sun for the whole three hours and so instead we pulled off into a familiar anchorage in Winn Bay and dropped the hook (map), just after a sailboat that had passed us a bit earlier in the river.

A lovely lady in front of Vector at the Washington, NC city docks.

There were only two of us in the anchorage when we set around 2:30, but by dusk there were a dozen boats. That included a large Selene that drew 6.5', and we came in with just a foot under the keel at the entrance. I admired their determination. We had a very calm and peaceful night.

The morning found us in a conga line of migrating boats running the ditch. We passed a couple and were passed by several. We went under the notorious Wilkerson Bridge just ahead of a sailboat that had to stop and swing a huge water bag out on its boom to lean over for a few more inches to clear the bridge; he mostly made it but damaged his wind instrument in the process. There is no tide here and the bridge is a foot too low.

The stop at Winn Bay made for another short day, even running at reduced rpm, and we arrived to Belhaven Harbor and dropped the hook (map) by 1:30. With a bit of chop in the harbor we took a spot as close to the dinghy dock as practical. At dinner time we headed ashore and walked to a new spot for us, El Mariachi, with decent Mexican food and draft beer.

Sunset over Belhaven harbor on a calm night.

Even before we left the anchorage at Winn Bay, we had been looking at and discussing the brewing storm that was then Investigation Area 98-L. Track models had it coming right here after dancing through Florida and the low country. That factored into our decision to stop in Belhaven while we sorted things out, rather than continue to an anchorage half way to Oriental.

We learned our friends Dorsey and Bruce, who had already made it to Beaufort on the coast, had decided to turn around and come back to Oriental to hunker down in a marina there known for its shelter from storms, coincidentally the same marina where our friends Steph and Martin chose to shelter their boat for the off season. There is an anchorage in a well-protected creek there, and we decided that would be a fine place for us to ride out yet another tropical storm, and maybe get in a visit while we waited.

The decision to drag our heels and remain well inland until the storm passed meant we'd have the better part of a week to wait, and we decided to just stay in Belhaven another night. Unlike Saturday, it was quite calm in the anchorage on Sunday, and it was a warm and pleasant day; I even tackled some outdoor projects. We again headed ashore for dinner, this time at The Tavern at Jack's Neck. Unlike our one and only previous attempt here, they did not run out of cooking gas, and we were able to enjoy our meal. They no longer have draft beer.

Main Street, Washington. The town has done a nice job with preservation.

With good weather for a few days on the Pamlico River and still a few days before we'd need to hunker down for the storm, we decided to make the 50+ nautical mile side trip up the Pamlico to the town of Washington, with a possible stop in one direction or the other at the even smaller town of Bath. Both towns sport free overnight docks for visiting cruisers, and we've heard lots of positive things about the side trip, which heretofore has seldom fit in with out cruising plans.

The forecast called for gale force winds, unrelated to the impending tropical storm, to arrive in the region overnight Monday and into Tuesday, and so we weighed anchor in the morning calm on Monday for the 36 mile cruise down the Pungo and up the Pamlico to Washington. On our way upriver we passed our old friends the tugs Pamlico and Beaufort Belle, docked at the Nutrien Aurora Phosphate plant, and crossed paths with the state ferry that principally carries workers to the plant. We glided through the open Carolina Coastal Railway swing bridge and were tying up at one of the free face docks (map) by 2:30.

Louise has her own hotel in town.

After getting signed in for our free 48 hours and receiving the codes for the bathrooms (even the free dock guests get bathroom and laundry access) from dockmaster Rick, I walked through the downtown waterfront area to get the lay of the land. There are a half dozen restaurants, a few bars and breweries, a couple of spas, and lots of touristy gift, craft, and art shops. We returned together at dinner time to Grub Brothers, one of the few places open on Monday. We won't be back, as Louise's meal did not sit well. It was an unseasonably warm evening and we enjoyed strolling around town a bit on our way home, where we found Vector aground in the front and a little bow-high.

One of the motivations for us to make this side trip is that we've been in need of a Walmart stop, and the Supercenter here is a short 1.5 mile bike ride from the dock. I needed ten gallons of motor oil, which is $10 less per gallon at Walmart than anywhere else, and Tuesday morning I set up both the e-bike and the blue folding wagon, intending to jury-rig a hitch so I could get all ten gallons in one trip. This was well after rising early for the lunar eclipse, barely visible here in haze and pre-dawn twilight.

The town clock, also on Main Street.

While I was standing on the deck with this contraption, still noodling the best way to connect them, Linda and Brian from Vahevala, docked a short distance away, stopped by to introduce themselves and say hello. Vahevala is also a steel trawler-style yacht about the same size and age as Vector, and I had interacted with Linda a bit on Facebook about steel boat issues. She had recognized Vector as we pulled in to the harbor.

Almost before we even had the basic greetings done, Brian was handing me a set of car keys. They are spending the winter here and have their car with them. It was a munificent gesture, and having a car made it possible for Louise to come with me to the store, simplifying everything. I was also able to up my oil haul to a full 12.5 gallons in the form of five 2.5-gallon jugs. We left after first lining the boat back into slightly deeper water while we had the chance.  We used our folding wagon to haul everything from the car to the boat.

Vahevala, a 52' steel trawler, also built in Canada and a lot like Vector, only with less rust.

We met back up with them for dinner at Down on Main Street, which had some good drafts and decent food. It was very nice meeting them and discussing the back stories of both boats. They've been boating quite a while but are relatively new to the full-time live-aboard life. We hope to see them again, and perhaps our paths will cross again on our next northward cruise.

The forecast said if we left yesterday we'd have a flat calm cruise down the Pamlico. We had some morning errands, including a hair cut for Louise and an e-bike run out to O'Reillys for me, where oil sample test kits I ordered had arrived. We were all wrapped up by lunch time and shoved off the dock well before our 48 hours were up, for the 25+ mile run to the turn at Goose Creek, where we figured to anchor before dark.

The Underground Railroad Museum, in a non-underground caboose.

Alas, it was not to be. The railroad bridge was closed when we left the dock, with one boat circling around waiting on an opening. We waited to drop lines until we saw the train crossing the bridge, which we figured would put us there just as it opened. That was optimistic; the bridge is well over a century old and apparently takes a while to open even on a good day. But after hovering for ten minutes, we watched the bridge slowly start to open, only to stop just a short distance into its swing. A couple of small boats waiting on the other side squeezed through the tiny gap on the non-navigable side.

The tender told us he'd wait ten minutes for the equipment to "cool down" and try again, and we dropped a lunch hook. But after 15 minutes came and went, we learned they needed maintenance to come out, and that would be at least an hour and a half. That put us well outside our window to make a safe anchorage in the daylight, and we reluctantly weighed anchor to return to the docks for another night.

The railroad bridge stuck partly open. You can see a tiny gap at right.

This time we were able to tie up in a deeper spot, vacated by a sailboat that had moved out to the anchorage (map). Dockmaster Pete helped us tie up in the 15 knots of wind trying to keep us from the dock. In the fullness of time, maintenance guys arrived at the bridge in Hy-Rail trucks and we watched as the bridge swung to the fully open position. A while later, Pete came by to tell us the bridge would remain open until 9:30 this morning, after which they would start working on it. We told him we'd stay overnight and make a decision in the morning; he did not ask for the $0.75/foot we'd nominally owe for a third day at the dock.

We took advantage of a third night in town to have dinner at the Mulberry House, which was very nice. A quick check of the weather when we returned home revealed a slim but non-zero chance we might be able to get under way today. By this time, what had been 98-L and then Tropical Storm Nicole was already a full-blown hurricane and we spent part of the evening doom-scrolling the weather. We have many friends in Florida who are in the thick of it, and in particular our friends aboard Stinkpot were dealt a raw hand and are having to make the best of it.

Sunset over Washington harbor.

While our own weather issues pale in comparison, this morning's check of the forecast showed the Pamlico would be "within limits" as far as the turn into Goose Creek, and we opted to get moveing rather than risk being stuck in Washington indefinitely should the bridge need some Unobtainium Framistat that needs to be fabricated in Duluth before it can open again. When the bridge was partway open, the railroad was highly motivated to get it working. Once it's closed and they can run trains across, their motivation will be somewhat lower.

It's blowing to 20 knots right now, and coming right up the river, so we are bashing into two footers that I expect to get worse. But we only have another hour or so before turning into the more protected waters of Goose Creek and the Hobucken Cut. It remains to be seen whether we press all the way to Broad Creek today, or stop short in a less protected anchorage for the night. By this time tomorrow, Nicole will be making her closest point of approach.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Gone to Carolina

We are under way southbound on the ICW, crossing Albemarle Sound as I begin typing. Yesterday we heard someone on the radio, whose first language was not English, pronounce a long "e" at the end and now we can't stop calling it the Bob Marley Sound. We be jammin'.

We had a few dolphins in our bow wave after crossing the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, our first in several months.

After last I posted here we pushed on a little further than usual to a new anchorage for us, in Dividing Creek, near Kilmarnock, Virginia (map). We tucked in just far enough behind Hughlett Point to get protection from the northeast wind and had a comfortable night. In the morning we weighed anchor with the tide for the run to Hampton Roads.

Sunset over Dividing Creek

The bay was flat, at least until we got close enough to the mouth to catch some ocean swell, and we had a nice Halloween cruise. We missed an outgoing submarine by enough time to avoid getting caught by the security zone, but we did have a brief episode with dredging equipment. It was a replenishment project for Buckroe Beach, and a tug pulled 300 yards of pipe right across our line. I needed to know if I could cross the pipe already in place, but neither the tugs nor the dredge answered the radio for nearly fifteen minutes.

I finally reached them at the very last minute and we crossed the pipe without incident. Later in the day we heard the Coast Guard control center trying to reach the same operation on the radio, and they, too, had trouble getting an answer. We only ended up detouring a few hundred feet, so all was well in the end.

What has become our usual spot at High Street. BAE shipyard in the background.

As we rounded Old Point Comfort we put the current behind us and the plotter projected a pre-dinner arrival at Portsmouth. We briefly contemplated making it a shorter day, stopping at a familiar anchorage near Phoebus in Hampton, but there were so many AIS targets already in the anchorage that we decided to press on.

We were surprised to find two spots still available inside the basin at High Street Landing when we arrived at 5:20. We opted to leave those spots for late arriving smaller boats that needed the protection, and tied up instead on the outside bulkhead (map). Sadly, the Legend Brewing location right there at the basin has closed, so I could not stock up on one of my favorite browns, and we instead walked to Gino's New York Pizza for dinner. We picked up a couple of items at the Dollar General on the way home, and I offloaded a huge bag of recycling at the dock.

I like Ike. Note the ever-present armed patrol boat.

We contemplated just spending a second night, with no agenda moving us along. But it was drizzing when we awoke and the forecast called for rain into the afternoon, reducing the appeal. On a nice day I would take the ferry over to Norfolk and spend the day. Instead we dropped lines on a fair tide and headed down the Southern Branch to Chesapeake.

If there was any doubt that we are now squarely in the southbound snowbird migration, or at least the tail of it, that was put to rest when we arrived to railroad bridge #7, at Gilmerton. The bridge was closed and we found ourselves at the end of a line of a dozen pleasure boats, with two tugs thrown in for good measure. Thankfully, only one of them pulled in to the Top Rack marina ahead of us for fuel, with the rest continuing on to the locks.

Ballistic missile submarine USS Sam Rayburn, long since decomissioned, being defueled and dismantled after her retirement as a nuclear training ship. If you look closely you can see a section of casing missing.

I had called Top Rack under way and they had told me they had just 1,300 gallons left. While we were fueling one other boat arrived to take 300 gallons; the sailboat ahead of us had taken just 30. We took the rest, adding just under a thousand gallons at $5.03, making this the most we've ever spent bunkering (but not the highest price we've paid). Dwindling diesel supplies are driving prices upward and even making it difficult for marinas to keep stock, so we wanted to fill up before things get worse.

A half dozen or more boats passed us at Top Rack heading for the lock, and by the time we arrived the south wall, where they normally lock pleasure craft and which is thus lined with rubber fenders, was full. The lock gave us permission to use our own fenders and tie to the north wall. That let us make the 12:30 lockage, and we were at the Great Bridge free wall in Chesapeake just before 1pm.

Vector squuezed in at the Great Bridge bulkhead, with a line of sailboats moored astern.

Normally this early in the day there is plenty of room, but today the wall was nearly full. We were able to squeeze in by going to the very end and overhanging the last piling by several feet (map). Uncharacteristically, the free dock on the other side of the bridge was nearly empty and was our backup option, but we had to know before the 1pm bridge opening. We were tied up with five minutes to spare.

I set out on errands, including picking up a delivery from the Amazon locker, some bagels from Panera, and a few items from the dollar store. Apart from the Amazon delivery, the important errand was to pick up a script for Louise at the Walgreens. But after waiting in the pharmacy for nearly a half hour, they informed me they were out of stock and would have to order it in, and to come back after 11 the next day. Fortunately, we were already planning on a two-night stop. In the evening we walked just a short distance to the Vino Italian Bistro for dinner, which has become our go-to since the relocation of our beloved El Toro Loco.

Sunrise over Great Bridge Bridge and a mirror-calm canal.

With the script not ready until mid-day, we decided to make a big excursion together at dinner time, trying a new-to-us place not far from Walgreens called the Court House Cafe. Then we'd pick up the script and finish off at the Kroger to reprovision at the most convenient grocery for a long stretch. This proved to be a serendipitous decision.

We've never tried this restaurant because it's really at the outer limit of how far Louise can walk. It's in a strip mall, and sounds mostly like a lunch place, so we had low expectations. That said, it is now our new go-to. Wood paneled, with a nice bar, they have prime rib on the menu every night, and on Wednesdays it's on special. We shared the discounted prime rib, which was excellent, and worth the extra walk. It was better than the much-vaunted item at the Coinjock Marina, which we always miss because we don't want to pay for the dockage.

We always feel welcome in Great Bridge, Chesapeake.

Yesterday we dropped lines for the 8am bridge opening, thus placing ourselves squarely in the middle of a pack of migratory boats, including the other five boats who also left the wall at the same time. The fast yachts left us in the dust after the 8:30am Centerville Turnpike Bridge opening, to make North Landing Bridge at 9. We putted along at just above idle for the four miles to make the 9:30 opening, with four sailboats behind us. We were in the company of those boats all the way to Coinjock.

Crossing Currituck Sound we had 15-20 knots of wind, mostly on the beam, and the sailboats all put sail up. At one point one of them caught up to us and requested a pass, which is all well and good, but under sail alone, when the channel made a dog leg later on, they slowed so much we nearly hit them. As the stand-on vessel I am required to maintain course and speed, but I had no choice and had to maneuver "in extremis," as it is known in maritime parlance. This is the same individual for whom English was not a first language, and so I cut him some slack when he passed me to port after arranging to pass to starboard. But the rules are printed in all languages.

A nearly empty Coinjock Marina at 2pm. The dock was fully booked and there would not be an inch of space come sunset.

We dropped the hook in the North River just a stone's throw from where it enters the Albermarle (map). A sailboat that had been right behind us on the dock in Great Bridge was right behind us to the very end, and anchored just a half mile away after consulting with us for advice. We had a calm night, and I grilled up one of the steaks we had picked up at the Kroger for dinner.

Last night's sunset during dinner from our anchorage in the North River.

Our preference for continuing south from there is to take the Pamlico Sound route, which is shorter and faster and requires less attention to the helm. But tomorrow's forecast on Pamlico is for stiff two-footers, which in the ocean is nothing but in Pamlico can be a misery. So instead we are taking the ICW route, and we're now on the Alligator River south of the bridge. With no agenda it will be a relatively short day, anchoring before the Alligator-Pungo canal around 3ish.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Chesapeake Bay

We are under way southbound in the Chesapeake Bay after a lovely few days in Maryland. We've had an uncharacteristically social week. We are approaching the mouth of the Potomac, and tonight we will be in Virginia.

Monday we anchored as planned in Rock Creek (map), a familiar protected anchorage in the community of Pasadena. We splashed the tender ahead of our vaccination appointments and headed ashore, landing at the friendly Bar Habor Marina with our blue folding wagon, the old Starlink terminal, an eBay shipment, and two gallons of used motor oil in tow.

It was a half mile slog through the Bar Harbor neighborhood to Riviera Beach. I dropped the eBay packet in the mail and we headed into Walgreens for our shots. Walgreens is also a FedEx ship center and I dropped the Starlink for its return trip to SpaceX. I locked up the wagon, motor oil included, outside the store.

Dorsey fished this decorative gourd out of Annapolis harbor as we returned to our tender. We washed the harbor slime off before setting it out on the counter. I'm guessing it was decor at the boat show that just concluded.

After our 15-minute post-vaccine wait we walked next door to the Weis grocery store for provisions, then headed for dinner a short distance south at Primo, which was quite good, and unexpectedly a white-tablecloth place. On the way back to the dock I dropped the used oil at Advance Auto and picked up a gallon of fresh, without which we could not even leave the anchorage. It was a good ten bucks more than I usually pay, but I was in no position to be choosy.

Tuesday was flat calm and we had a very pleasant short cruise to Annapolis, where we dropped the hook in a familiar spot in the outer harbor anchorage (map). At dinner time we tendered in to the dinghy landing in Ego Alley and met up with our friends Dorsey and Bruce. We ate at the newly opened Choptank restaurant, where the food was very good but the noise level was unacceptably high.

It was OK when we were seated, but mid-meal Bruce's iPhone was giving him noise level alerts and ultimately registered 98dB. The floor is tile and every other surface is hard and flat, and the place is popular. In spite of the noise, we really enjoyed our conversation, and lingered a long time. It was great to see them again and catch up.

The lower dress panel has broken off our starboard nav light. I've asked AquaSignal if they sell just that piece.

It was again flat calm on Wednesday and we weighed anchor with the tide for a very pleasant cruise to Solomons. We were hoping for the small anchorage near town, but it was full, so we instead proceeded up Back Creek to our fallback (map). That was also quite crowded, but we squeezed in, moving a bit further from the channel (map) the next morning when things emptied out.

We splashed the tender to head back to town for dinner. We did not get far before we were waved down by someone on a boat at the Zahnisers dock. That turned out to be Paul and April aboard Parnassia, a gorgeous Dutch canal boat whose immaculate steel finish puts Vector to shame. I had spoken with Paul on a couple of occasions regarding this vessel and what it would take to make its European electrical system work here in the US. They had purchased the boat with the intent to cruise over there, but the pandemic intervened and they had it shipped here instead.

After chatting a few minutes we continued on our way, agreeing to meet the following evening for dinner. We landed the tender at the town dock and walked the half mile to Charles Street Brasserie for dinner. Google maps reminded me we had eaten there in 2015, and sure enough, a check of the blog revealed that to be correct. We drink to forget, but we blog to remember. I was not yet in the habit, back then, of writing to my future self about whether the place was any good or not. It was OK, but there are better restaurants in town.

Computer surgery, mid-swap. The busy fabric is the reverse side of our (quilted, natch) tablecloth.

On the way from and to the town dock we passed a spa, and Thursday morning I called for a massage appointment after lunch. The massage was very relaxing but was not particularly therapeutic for my abused neck and shoulder issues. In the evening we returned ashore, landing at the very nearby Zahnisers dinghy dock, as guests of tenants.

We enjoyed our tour of Parnassia before walking over to the on-site restaurant, Vela. The meal was enjoyable, as was the company, and once again we lingered. It was great to meet April and Paul whom, heretofore, I had only interacted with remotely.

Friday afternoon Esmeralde arrived and tied up at Zahnisers, not far from Parnassia. We thus had an unexpected second chance for a meal with Bruce and Dorsey, and we walked down to the CD Cafe, which was quite good. Once again we lingered over coffee and dessert before walking back. They left yesterday and are once again well ahead of us.

This sign at Island Hideaway amused me.

We thought it would be a bit rough crossing the Potomac yesterday (a hunch later confirmed by Bruce, whose boat is more suited to those conditions), so we stayed put another day. I continued a three-day run of boat projects until dinner time, when we tendered over to Island Hideaway, which has its own dock, for a final meal in Solomons.

Projects included far too much time repairing cheap spotlights just to keep them out of the landfill, doing the same with a pair of ancient FRS radios, diagnosing a charging problem with our weather station, and swapping the cpu fans between our main helm computer and a used item I purchased on eBay. An entire used computer is cheaper than a replacement fan, and I'll sell it for about what I paid for it, albeit with a somewhat noisier fan. Noisy fans eventually fail, and that's not a failure we can afford to have on the main plotter.

Our decision to wait until today to depart has proved correct, as we are now crossing the Potomac in fairly calm conditions. Tonight we should be anchored somewhere between Ingram Bay and Windmill Point. Tomorrow should also be calm and we will make it to Hampton Roads or beyond.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Finally relaxed, in Maryland

We are underway southbound in Chesapeake Bay, finally more relaxed after a whirlwind transit from New York City. While the bay can get pretty rough at times, we are essentially now in inland waters and will be for the foreseeable future, with plenty of anchorages and no impetus to keep moving. We're glad to have the Atlantic Ocean behind us, at least for now.

Seas got progressively stiffer after dinner Friday, and I had a bit of a bouncy watch. Louise was able to get some fitful sleep, and with conditions tolerable, I opted to run right past our bail-out options at Barnegat Light and Atlantic City. Barnegat Light (the lighthouse) has been extinguished since January, distinctly changing the character of passing these shoals.

Sunset over New Jersey, before the seas built.

The lights of Atlantic City are visible for many miles, and were quite helpful in seeing the horizon on a moonless night. We seldom pass this close in the wee hours, and I was surprised the animated light display on the Ferris wheel runs all night. The "golf ball" atop the Ocean Resort is normally an animated display, but it was solid magenta all night, I presume in honor of breast cancer awareness.

Even though I reduced rpm at the beginning of my watch, our arrival time got progressively earlier throughout the cruise. The forecast had called for at least a knot of adverse current the entire cruise, but that proved to be wrong. I had to set an earlier alarm when I turned in, and I awoke even earlier than that, coming back on watch at 7:40am. With seas much calmer, we increased to cruise rpm and had the hook down across from the Cape May Coast Guard Station (map) before 8:30.

Atlantic City. The best my phone could do on a pitching boat from three miles away.

The early arrival let us get some much-needed rest, and we decided to weigh anchor with the tide to continue up Delaware Bay in the calmest conditions we'd see for days, rather than spend the night in Cape May as originally planned. We had the anchor up at 1pm, picked our way through the shallow spots in the canal at low tide, and rode the flood all the way to the Cohansey River, dropping the hook in Cohansey Cove (map) just at dinner time.

That put us in a great position yesterday morning to weigh anchor at the perfect time to ride the flood to the C&D Canal, and then whizz through the canal with plenty of current behind us. We bypassed our usual stop at Chesapeake City in favor of continuing to take advantage of the current, proceeding all the way to the Sassafras River and a new stop for us at the tiny town of Betterton, where we dropped the hook a short distance from the town docks (map).

I picked this stop, rather than the more comfortable anchorages on either side of it that we've used in the past, because there is a very well-rated pizza place, Marzella's by the Bay, just a half mile walk from the free dock. We were looking forward to pizza so much that we splashed the tender and headed ashore even though it was drizzling, bundled up and carrying our umbrellas.

Seldom is Delaware Bay this calm. Cape May behind us in the distance.

Imagine our disappointment, then, when we arrived at the restaurant a bit wet to find a sign on the door that the dining room was closed. They have apparently been getting by since the start of the pandemic on delivery and pick-up orders. Of course, we did not have with us our whizzy water-resistant insulated pizza carrier that we bought at the start of the pandemic, but we went inside anyway.

The octogenarian proprietor, Mr. Marzella himself, and his lone employee, Justin, were extremely accommodating, and when they learned we had a long, wet walk to get there, offered to let us order at the counter and sit at one of the tables while we ate our meal. They even had a fridge full of cold beer. It was all very tasty and we are grateful they allowed us to stay. Mr. Marzella chatted us up while we waited for the pizza. While we were eating he took a phone call from a waterfront friend who wondered if he had seen a pair of boaters who wandered up the hill. Small town.

As if that was not enough, after we finished, Justin, who not only makes the pizzas but also does the deliveries, offered to run us back down to the dock. En route we saw the remainder of the tiny town that we had missed on our way up the hill. And here I thought we had left this sort of kindness behind in Canada. For anyone coming along after us, the restaurant is happy to deliver to the town dock, which is free for 72 hours. It's too small for Vector but many cruising boats will have no trouble there.

Sunset over Delaware from our anchorage in Cohansey Cove.

Winds overnight were higher than forecast and it was a little bouncy this morning. Thus we weighed anchor as soon as the tide turned and are en route to our next stop, a familiar anchorage off the Riviera Beach neighborhood of Pasadena, MD. Since our hasty departure from NYC, I've been scrambling to find a place to get our boosters, as well as a place to get the old Starlink back to FedEx. There's a Walgreens with a FedEx ship center just a half mile from the marina there.

Once our errands are done in Riviera Beach, we officially have no agenda, and now our cruising will be much more relaxed. Our friends Dorsey and Bruce aboard Esmeralde are just a little ahead of us, arriving to Annapolis this evening, and we hope to connect there for our next stop. After that we'll be easing south to warmer climes.

Our friends Stacey and Dave aboard Stinkpot are having engine troubles in Southport, and we've extended an offer to help as we pass through, so that will keep us moving steadily through the Chesapeake and past the Outer Banks. It's also 20° warmer there, and the numbers are telling us we need to get back to outdoor dining posthaste.

Friday, October 21, 2022

South bound and down

We are under way southbound in the Atlantic Ocean, off the New Jersey coast, on what we hope to be an overnight run to Cape May. Seas are two foot rollers out of the south, but it's otherwise calm out here, and is supposed to remain so until late tomorrow morning.

Sunday we had a fairly short cruise from Port Jefferson to Northport on Huntington Bay. We could easily have made our more usual next stop of Port Washington, but that would have overshot Mamaroneck, where we hoped to stop early in the week for a paint evaluation. Beside that, I felt a bit cheated out of Northport on our last (and only) visit, since that's where the heart trouble started.

It's actually a full four miles or so from the sound to the anchorage, but it was the right place to stop. After anchoring just outside the mooring field (map), Louise had a long phone call to make, and I suggested we splash the tender beforehand so it would be ready to whisk us ashore for dinner right afterward.

Our nighttime view of Manhattan through the George Washington Bridge, from our anchorage on the Hudson.

That was a prescient call, because the davit winch crapped out as I was rotating it into position. I then had a good hour to work on it before we'd need to leave the boat. The two-decade old crimp lug on the end of one of the power wires had simply come off, and I learned that the lug was too small to begin with (they had trimmed strands from the wire to make it fit), and was poorly crimped with a hammer-type crimper.

I was lucky to find a properly sized connector in one of my parts boxes, although I did have to drill the lug hole one size larger. I crimped it on with my hydraulic crimper and it will probably now outlast the boat. The other wire was still firmly attached, but I assume it has the same issues, and I will replace that crimp when the crane comes off for painting.

When Louise got off the phone we splashed the tender and headed in to the nice, free town landing. It was a short walk to Skippers where I made a dinner reservation. Afterward we had a nice stroll along Main Street. There are more decent restaurants here than I had remembered from our brief and fraught first visit.

Passing Execution Rocks close aboard en route from Mamaroneck to Port Washington.

Monday morning I called Derecktor Shipyards in Mamaroneck, with whom I had been communicating, to let them know we were just three hours away. They told me they would not have room at the dock until Tuesday afternoon, and we decided to just spend another night in Northport. Rain was forecast for dinner time, so we went ashore for lunch, instead -- pizza at La Porta and ice cream from Lics. We had dinner aboard.

Tuesday morning we weighed anchor for a 1pm appointment in Mamaroneck. Whatever project they were hoping to get off the dock in the morning was backed up, and so instead they had us raft up to a shiny aluminum research vessel belonging to CUNY. The number of metal boats in the yard gave us some measure of reassurance, as did the number of yachts.

This yard seems willing to do what most other yacht yards, thus far, have not: put a commercial, roll-on paint on out hull that will be a lot easier to maintain than the spray-only Awlcraft finish we have now. Their rates are reasonable, and we had a good feeling about the yard/paint manager. They will send us an estimate at some point, but in the meantime we're researching just exactly where we could live in the area while we have to be off the boat for two or three months next summer. There are no long-term hotels or corporate housing in Mamaroneck.

Approaching Throgs Neck, Manhattan skyline to the left.

We were dropping lines by 2:20pm, in plenty of time and a favorable current to make Port Washington, where we dropped the hook in our usual spot (map). We made certain we were far enough in to be entirely within the designated "special anchorage" so that we would not need a legal anchor light overnight.

I spent the rest of the afternoon running though the mast-lowering checklist in preparation for our next leg, but I had to stop short of actually lowering the mast until we returned from dinner and had the tender on deck. We made our usual pilgrimage to the triumvirate of Amalfi's, Home Goods, and Stop & Shop. Groceries are expensive in Manhattan and we wanted to stock up on a few items.

After we returned home we decided to just leave the mast up until first thing in the morning, thus making the anchor light a non-issue (we always use it, even in Special Anchorages). In the morning we finished the mast lowering checklist and weighed anchor on a favorable tide for Manhattan via the Harlem River.

The Palisades, adjacent to our anchorage on the Hudson, showing some fall color.

We had the hook down in Anchorage 17 across the river (map) by lunch time, but 20+ knot winds against the knot or two of river current had the river so choppy we could not splash the tender. That was a bit of a problem, because our Starlink terminal had gone walkabout, and I was hoping to get ashore right away to track it down.

I had called the Dyckman Landing marina last week and asked about having packages delivered there, something we did routinely at the Boat Basin. They had told me yes and even supplied a delivery address. But just as with the Boat Basin, that address is shared with an adjacent restaurant, The Hudson, and apparently that's where our terminal went. Our forwarded mail also landed there Wednesday afternoon.

I learned this when I called under way in the morning to tell them I would be in to pick it up. Apparently they don't really accept deliveries here and whoever I spoke to early in the week was mistaken. The Hudson was closed for the season, but the NYC Parks people were able to track the delivery down and they had it in the office while we were still trapped on the boat.

The chop laid down when the tide changed, and we were able to get ashore for dinner. We walked over to the Amazon locker for a few packages before landing at the Tryon Public House, our favorite spot in this neighborhood. The delivery alert for one final package arrived while we were eating, but we figured to be here a couple of days, so we would pick it up Thursday afternoon on our way to the vaccination appointments we had scheduled.

On our way out of the city we passed this quad of foreign warships enjoying a port visit. USS Intrepid museum at right.

By yesterday morning that plan had changed. A possible passage window for today and tomorrow was shrinking rapidly, and the forecast for winds east of south would make our anchorage in the Hudson a hot mess. We needed fuel before we could leave NY harbor, and so we made a last-minute decision to abandon our vax appointments and any other NYC activities for an immediate departure. I raced ashore in the tender, power-walked to the Amazon locker for that last package, by way of the post office to drop of our ballots, and raced back to Vector. We had the anchor up by 10:30.

That was still not early enough to have favorable tide the whole way, and it was against us once we reached The Narrows. The relentless 25-knot wind had us bashing our way across the mouth of Raritan Bay to Sandy Hook, and things did not really calm down until a mile north of Atlantic Highlands.  We were alongside the fuel dock, which closes at 4pm, by 3:20. Fuel had jumped from $4.78 to $6.00 between when I called on Monday and when we arrived at the dock, but we had no choice, and we bunkered 350 gallons and filled our water tank.

It was flat calm at that end of the bay, other than the wakes from the huge high-speed ferries that run to New York City, and we dropped the hook in a familiar spot (map). We tendered ashore for dinner at On The Deck, with a lovely view over the bay to the NYC skyline in the distance. Thursday turned out to be prime rib night, which was decent if not spectacular.

Departing Atlantic Highlands, an inversion layer trapped this brown haze, nearly erasing the city. How it always looked in my youth.

We had been going back and forth about leaving at first light for a two-day run to Cape May, with an overnight stop at Barnegat Light. But as tomorrow's window got progressively shorter, we considered instead a two-day run to Atlantic City, an OK place to be pinned down. Eventually even that became un-doable, and we instead decided on an overnight run.

Just since I started typing, the wind has picked up and seas have built, and we're now in two-foot short-period chop on top of the roll. We have bail-out options at Barnegat Light this evening or Atlantic City in the wee hours if things get worse, but we're hoping the forecast for decreasing winds is correct and we'll make our goal of Cape May. That will allow us to continue our journey much sooner, in more protected waters.

We're just passing Manasquan Inlet as I wrap up typing, and the plotter is projecting an arrival in Cape May at 9am, just as I come back on watch. My next post here will likely be from Delaware Bay.