Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Oh, meet me tonight in Atlantic City

We are under way northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, offshore of the barrier islands of the Delmarva Peninsula. We had a brief window for an outside passage, so we grabbed it, and so far it's been a calm ride. We left the mouth of Chesapeake bay around 4pm on an outgoing tide, and the plotter is predicting a late afternoon arrival tomorrow to our usual anchorage in Atlantic City. We're glad to be out of the conga line of northbound snowbirds and loopers.

Saturday after I posted here we had an easy crossing of the Albermarle Sound, and with calm conditions we ran all the way up the wide part of the North River and dropped the hook off-channel just before the twisty bits (map). We had the river almost to ourselves, a sure way to know we are at the tail end of the migration, notwithstanding all the boats we keep leapfrogging.

Vector at High Street Basin, with a carrier backdrop.

Sunday we weighed anchor early and made our way through the North River, the Coinjock Cut, Currituck Sound, and past Pungo Ferry, which is busy with weekend boaters and swimmers and jet-skiers and kayakers on any summer weekend, but particularly so on a holiday. We made good time and cleared the North Landing bridge at its 1:30 opening. The bridge is only opening one of its two swing spans due to a mechanical problem, and passing the pointy end of the broken span close aboard is a bit nerve-wracking.

That meant we arrived at Great Bridge Bridge smack in between hourly openings, and with the courtesy dock just before the bridge already full, we had no choice but to hover for nearly a half hour until the 3pm opening. We cleared the bridge and pulled over to the free bulkhead (map), which was devoid of boats but chock full of holiday fishermen, and we had to tell them to pull their gear out of the water until we got secured.

As we were weighing anchor in the North River, this little green frog thought he could hitch a ride.

We had a nice dinner at Vino Italian Bistro just a block from the dock, then walked over to the Kroger to stock up on provisions. Other than the three towboats pushing barges that passed through the bridge and the lock, we had a quiet night. In the morning we got ready to drop lines for the 9am lock-through, so we could arrive at the Top Rack fuel dock, which is perpendicular to the current, at slack.

Alas, it was not to be. As we were making ready to get under way, we heard radio traffic from the other side of the bridge about a large commercial tow. That turned out to be the 525' long dredge Charleston, being towed by the Captain Richard with two small pusher tugs behind to assist. They were waiting for the 9am bridge opening (Great Bridge is one of the few bridges that does not open on demand for commercial tows), and it was clear they were going to take up the whole lock. We stood down and resigned ourselves to going through at 10am; of three pleasure boats that made the 9am bridge lift, two came and joined us on the wall to wait it out. They, too, had to shoo fishermen out of the way.

The business end of the dredge Charleston, which is being towed backwards toward the lock in the background. Little push-boat at right is to maintain control. It all just barely fit the lock.

The lockmaster turned the lock around as fast as he could, but it was still past 10 when we were in the chamber. That made for a bit of a challenge getting alongside the fuel dock at Top Rack, made even more difficult when Louise's headset crapped out mid-maneuvering. We made it without incident and spent an hour and a half bunkering 800 gallons of diesel and topping up the water tank. As usual when at a water source, Louise spent the time getting a couple of loads of laundry run through the machine.

Even with the late start and the fuel stop, we were tied up at the free docks at the High Street Landing in downtown Portsmouth (map) before 2pm. Regular readers may recall we spent Memorial Day at this same dock a year ago, and were impressed by the city's annual celebration. This time we arrived too late to take it in. And again I missed out on stocking up on Legend Brown Ale, since the adjacent brew pub is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

On our two-hour crossing of Albemarle Sound, I finished installing the Starlink terminal. This is the permanent mount, but the wire is routed temporarily along the flybridge and into the pilothouse. I won't drill through the deck until I'm sure the location works well.

Before leaving Great Bridge I reached out to our good friends Stacey and Dave, who are docked halfway up the James River but also have a car, and they were generous enough to drive 75 miles each way to meet up with us in Portsmouth. We had cocktails aboard and then wandered over to Guads Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was great to see them and catch up.

This morning we caught up with another boating friend, Sam, who walked down from the marina to join us for breakfast at the Coffee Shoppe. Sam and his wife Rev were just starting out when we met them on the Great Loop three years ago, and now they're doing boater education as something of a mission, with a very large following on social media. Sam has exactly the sort of exacting technical mindset and passion for detail that you'd expect of a retired U2 pilot.

As we left the harbor this morning we overtook our old friend dredge Charleston, this time behind an ocean-going tug. I could not fit in frame the deck barge trailing behind with more equipment, including four small tugboats on deck,

Today's passage window, which I mentioned in the last post, held firm and, in fact, conditions are better than forecast. Pushing to get to Chesapeake when we did paid off in letting us make this window, which will slam shut in short order. The only question as we rolled up to Portsmouth was how far we'd try to take it. Our goal, of course, is New York Harbor.

Multi-day passage planning is a multi-variable problem. In order to arrive in the daylight and on my watch, a New York destination is a two-night passage with an evening departure and a morning arrival. Atlantic City is a one-night passage with a morning departure and an afternoon arrival. It's not possible to set out for either of them while preserving the other as an option, because the departure hours are so different.

Tonight's sunset over the Delmarva, across a slice of unusually calm Atlantic Ocean.

Given the uncertainty of the forecast for Thursday, we decided the safe bet was to shoot for Atlantic City, even though that means we'll need another window to make it the rest of the way to New York. That might be Thursday on a dawn-to-dusk run if the window stays open and we're sufficiently recovered from our overnight. But if we have to wait for the next one, we have enough buffer to do so, and it's not a bad place to be stuck for a few days, Springsteen lyrics notwithstanding.

We dropped lines at 11:30 and had an easy run out of the harbor, with the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush, CVN-77, pulling out just far enough ahead of us that we did not have to hold back. As I wrap up typing we are off Assawoman Island, and I can see Assateague Light in the distance off the port bow. I can also make out the lights of the Wallops Island rocket launch facility. We'll be in Delaware at the 3am change of watch, and Louise will have the conn across the mouth of Delaware Bay. If the way that we're making now holds, we'll have the anchor down in time to tender ashore for dinner.


  1. My mantra was never to be on a schedule. Why are you guys in such a rush to NY? Relax. Have a beer and a wine. No matter where you go, there you are.

    1. I'm often the first to say that the most dangerous thing to have aboard a boat is a schedule, so I understand your concern. The reality, of course, is we often have schedules, even if that's only the hurricane-box deadlines or the general notion of being out of the northern cold in the winter and the insufferable southern heat in the summer. When we do put actual events on our calendar, we always keep a backup option or two open, which includes being able to cancel entirely, and/or being able to dock the boat someplace and travel by other means. In this particular case, we have two back-to-back meetups with friends and family here in NY. We had options to get to both of them by other means, but we made the conscious decision that if we could have the boat with us, that was our preference, and I set a route plan that left plenty of bail-out options and buffer days to have a good chance of success and a margin of safety. The net result of that plan was that we're here in NY two full weeks early. The small price we paid was zipping past a lot of familiar territory up the coast without our usual "dinner in every town" mode of travel. Fortunately, we're very comfortable having that beer and wine on our own deck at anchor in the swamp (well, ok, mostly in the saloon, because bugs). We had a couple of weeks where we could not have enjoyed any time ashore even had we wanted to, because we were quarantined, so that actually worked in favor of making miles while we couldn't really do much else.

  2. Interesting to learn that the stories that do not make the blog, like that skipper asking Louise what a lock is and Vector taking on water. I will read between the lines in the future! ;)

    1. Haha.... nothing nefarious. I sometimes forget about little episodes entirely, and then Louise says "you didn't mention xxx." Then I have to decide if it's worth the effort to edit a whole post to squeeze it in. The whats-a-lock episode did not make the cut, but the laundry overflow definitely warranted exposition. Have to keep the schadenfreude readers happy, but, also, we'll never remember what happened or how if we don't write it down, and this is where it gets written. Why some of my posts are, ahem, overly detailed.


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