Sunday, October 4, 2015

Taking refuge

We are moored at Schaefer's Canal House Marina, Restaurant and Canal Bar, on the C&D Canal in Chesapeake City, Maryland (map). We've been tied up here since Thursday afternoon, and at this writing it looks as if we will remain to Tuesday morning, when we will shove off on the ebb for a nice ride out of the canal and into the Chesapeake.

Vector, looking a bit lonely at Schaefer's Canal House.

Since arriving in the Delaware Bay we've received dozens of inquiries by email, text, Twitter, and Facebook, and I want to take a moment here to thank all our friends and family who have reached out to us to make sure we are safe during this weather event. We are, in fact, warm, dry, comfortable, and not even being subjected to any real wind, to speak of. This location is as close to an ideal weather hideout as you can get, which is why it is somewhat surprising that we are literally the only boat on the dock, and have been since we arrived.

When last I posted, I mentioned that it was flat calm on Delaware Bay for our transit on Wednesday. Thursday was another matter entirely. Winds had picked up through the night, as forecast, and we awoke Thursday to 20 knots or so. We had tucked in fairly close to the north shore, protected by land and the jetty for Hope Creek, so we were quite comfortable at anchor. Good thing, because tidal current in the canal dictated that we stay put until noon.

Just a few minutes before noon we commenced weighing anchor. Here in the land of muddy bottoms, that means washing the mud off the anchor chain as it comes aboard, with a saltwater washdown that we installed for that purpose back in our gargantuan yard layup two years ago. Louise got about a dozen feet of chain rinsed before the washdown quit.

Now, under normal circumstances, we would have just brought our freshwater hose around to the foredeck, finished the process with fresh water, and gotten under way, leaving the mystery of the washdown failure for later. However, after our somewhat arduous passage the previous night, we found saltwater in the bilges (more on that in a moment), and now I was nervous that perhaps the washdown system was letting seawater into the boat. We reattached the snubber, shut down the windlass (and thus the washdown pump as well), and headed down to the forward stateroom to investigate.

After moving aside the sewing machine and sewing table, then the guest berth mattress, I was able to get into the thruster bay where I found no obvious problems with the washdown system, but, more importantly, no leaks. We headed back upstairs and finished weighing anchor; in the process of bringing the chain in and out enough to re-snub, most of the mud fell off anyway, and the lack of a working washdown proved not much of an issue. We were under way just a half hour late.

We'd been going back and forth about where to ride out the storms. Our first instinct was to head to the anchorage basin here in Chesapeake City, right across the canal from where we are now, and familiar to us from our last stop there on our way north. We reasoned that would be the most protected spot, and we're comfortable with our own tackle's holding there. Also it's free and has east tender access to restaurants and other services. We'd even booked a rental car from Enterprise on their el-cheapo $9/day weekend rate, so we could drive to supermarkets and hardware stores and stock up.

As we plowed through increasingly rough seas heading north through Delaware Bay, however, we started to question ourselves. Even if there was plenty of room in the basin, and we arrived in time to enter (the basin is inaccessible to us at low tide, and favorable current in the canal means a falling tide), would we really want to be trying to get ashore in the dinghy in cold, windy, rainy conditions?

Our second choice would be the docks at the Chesapeake Inn, which would give us all the benefits of being in the basin without having to launch the dinghy. For that matter, the same would be true of the free city docks, but we already knew from last visit that the basin has silted in to the point where those are too shallow for us to use. A call to the Chesapeake Inn revealed that they, too, have the same problem -- only five feet of water at their deepest dock, which would have us sitting in a foot of mud if we could even get in.

Thus having reluctantly scratched the anchorage basin off our list, we stopped worrying about racing to get here as soon as possible after high tide. We called Schaefer's to make sure they had room for us. We knew they had plenty of water depth here, plus sturdy pilings that would make excellent storm moorings as needed. We had figured this spot to be a bit more exposed to the weather, but it turns out that it has been almost dead calm here, with only the ever-reversing canal current of about three knots to contend with.

Our first real fall color this year (we saw just a hint in Maine), right along the canal east of here.

As soon as we made the turn off Delaware Bay into the canal, the rough seas disappeared entirely. The half hour delay now translated into nearly a knot of additional current, and we whizzed through the canal at nine knots or so. We were tied up alongside by 3pm, and we spent a half hour or so making macrame with our heavy lines in case we actually saw any storm conditions here. The dockmaster gave us a special rate for a four-night stay near off-season.

The down side to being on this side of the canal is that there is nothing in walking distance save Schaefer's itself. Fortunately they have a decent restaurant, and we walked in for dinner Thursday evening. Friday morning Enterprise came and picked us up for our rental car; while we were in their office we met another couple of boaters doing the same thing, although they were tied up in Georgetown.

As we were making our plans and finalizing car reservations, we realized that with a car available, we could drive down to Trawler Fest, which would be going on in Stevensville just an hour south of us. We even called some friends who were scheduled to present seminars there. By the time we picked up the car, however, both Virginia and Maryland had declared states of emergency, and the organizers canceled the show. The boats were already there, of course, and we briefly contemplated going anyway just to walk the docks, but with the show officially canceled we could only guess whether the vendors would be "open" or not.

Instead we proceeded directly to shopping after picking up the car. Louise needed a stop at Joann's, then it was on to Home Depot and finally Walmart, where we fully loaded a cart for the first time in recent memory. To be fair, a good part of that was 15W40 motor oil for the engines, but still. We finished out the day at the Chesapeake Inn across the canal for dinner, after first trying to patronize Maria's Italian Restaurant only to find their power was out.

Yesterday was a major project day. We started with the washdown system. First step was to close the through-hull so I could disconnect the hoses, but the valve handle was stubborn. I heard a crack when I finally got it to move, and when I put the end of the hose into a bucket and opened the valve back up, a bunch of black goop came out before the hose flowed freely. I think a mussel or something similar had made its home in the intake. After cleaning the strainer and putting it all back together, it's working normally.

Next we got out the wet vac to get all the water out of the various bilges, and see if we could trace the entry point. I'm happy to report that it was operator error and not anything more sinister; we had failed to double-dog the portlights on the port side, and we were definitely taking seas on the port beam that came at least that high through the night Tuesday. With only a couple of threads engaged on one of two dogs per port, there was enough of a gap in the seal for plenty of water to come in, then run down inside the wall to the bilge, where it landed on the uppermost stringer. It had taken hours for the water to cascade down past two other stringers to the bottom of the bilge and set off the alarm. We only found a gallon or two all told, so it was not as bad as we first feared.

After a long day of projects and cleaning, we rewarded ourselves with dinner at Bakers, just a couple of miles up the road. This might be the hidden gem of Chesapeake City; the food was good, the service attentive, and the prices were nearly half what they are down here on the waterfront.

Today found both of us sneezing most of the morning, putting a crimp in my project plans. We're hoping it's allergies and that we didn't both catch something. I did manage to get a couple of indoor, chair-bound projects done, and decided it might be a good time to update the blog. We had thought about leaving in the morning, but we've decided to stay an extra day to let the Chesapeake settle a bit, so I'll have time tomorrow to make some more progress on the project list.

As it turns out, we would have been just fine if we had anchored in the basin. There's been a small sailboat there the whole time, and three more at the free docks, where presumably the dockmaster has waived the 24-hour rule due to the weather. That said, we've been happy to have full-time power here to run the heat as much as we want, and we have not had to bundle up nearly as much just to walk the few feet to the car. Tonight we'll do some final errands, since that has to be back tomorrow morning at 10.

Tuesday morning we'll shove off on the ebb, which will make for an early start, and I expect we'll be anchored somewhere in the upper Chesapeake Bay by the early afternoon.

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