Wed 23 May 2012
Anchored off Gwynn Island, VA
[photo: CV 77 Aircraft Carrier in Norfolk, VA]
The evening was a comfortable one, and Duane was awake just before 0500, having had enough sleep. Diane got up before 0600 and we cast off at 0620 for a long day's run. We both decided that having been at Portsmouth for 2 nights, we were fine with a long day, especially in good weather.
Getting out of the congested port area took almost 2 hours, with a vigilant lookout for other vessels (especially the large, commercial type) as well as steering to the other side of the channel when passing US Navy warships at berth, so that we would not have to deal with a patrol boat chasing after us. We stayed on the extreme edge of the main shipping channels so that we could duck into shallower water if there was any conflict, but it was unnecessary.
We did pass several of the very new cruisers, as well as the CV77 aircraft carrier (will have to look that up when I turn on the internet connection). There were at least a dozen large missile frigates and cruisers in port, too, all behind a barrier to help prevent terrorist attacks from boats. Consulting the chart, we deviated from the main channel and headed more to the NNW, staying in adequate water depths, of course. We saw several sailboats following us from a mile away and by the time 4 hours had passed, they were both way ahead of us. We were under power using the headsail to a minimal effect, but they were just using their much more powerful engines and depleting their larger fuel tanks much faster, too.
It was a peaceful passage for most of the way after leaving the port because there was no shallow water to worry about, no narrow channels, few navigation aids, and few boats to be concerned with. It was one time when I could read my book, and glance up at the instruments and our surroundings every minute. That ceased to be the case a few hours later as biting flies came aboard. There only seemed to be 3-5 around at a time, but the moment you directed your attention to something, they would light on your ankles and bite (drawing blood). They were the size of house flies, but terribly annoying. I finally devoted myself to killing as many as possible and then realized that although I only saw a few at one time, no matter how many I killed, there would always be that many again. Where do these flies come from so many miles from land?
Two cool things that happened were some flyovers by an F-15 fighter jet, and a hovercraft amphibious vessel (probably out of Little Creek, VA) zooming around. Your ear gets well-tuned to the normal sounds on your boat, and you suddenly realize something is different. Then you understand it is the "thunder" of a jet, or the sound of the hovercraft finally reaching your ears from 5 miles away.
We suffered a slight adverse current leaving the port, but then enjoyed a strong beneficial current all the way to our day's destination, Gwynn Island, VA. There is nothing special here that we want to see ashore, but since the actual and forecast winds were from the SE and S, this is a great place to tuck up. Unlike the Intracoastal Waterway, where many owners of slow boats (me included) are loathe to deviate miles off the "magenta line" for a night's stop, the Chesapeake forces you to do that regularly.
Diane is content to chill on the boat and not bother with lowering the dinghy to explore ashore. We haven't used the dinghy in over 12 days. It had better work when we need it!
Dinner was delicious (yes, Marilyn, there was broccoli) and while Diane cleaned up the dishes, Duane tried to scrub the cockpit clean of all the fly remains and other debris that magically appears. Following that, we had a short, serious discussion about the cruise. There is no question that far more major and minor problems have developed than we thought likely. The other reality, which I know many of our cruising friends have already surmised, is that the pace we have kept is impeding our enjoyment. We know we would enjoy more if we didn't have so many hours to run, on average.
So, the decision is final: we will plan to turn around at Gloucester, MA and skip points farther north. We have met a lot of cruisers on this trip who love Maine, but who tell us horror stories about the fog and the need for RADAR, which we do not have. That reinforces our decision, as well.
Tue 22 May 2012
Tied to Free Dock at North Landing, Portsmouth, VA
[photo: battleship Wisconsin]
I don't think Diane heard the ferry after she closed her eyes. I adjusted the stern line to allow for the tidal change and went to bed a bit later. We slept well, and awoke to a fair amount of fog. What woke us up was not the fog itself, but the massive whistle blasts from a huge freighter as she was guided by tugs up the Elizabeth River.
We spent a bit of time researching distances between points of interest in the Chesapeake and mapped out a rough plan for our stops over the next week. We will definitely be stopping in Annapolis, as our friend, Bill, has arranged a repair yard for us to get some important things done.
After the fog lifted, it started feeling quite warm to Duane and comfortable to Diane. We got out the bicycles and backpack and headed out to explore the Olde Towne. While we did not stop at every location listed to read the brief history of the building (mostly homes), we did admire how many nicely maintained historic homes there were packed in one location. There were very few (if any) homes that looked to be in sad repair and many blocks seemed to be entirely historic homes with very interesting architecture.
Most of the Olde Towne is bicycle friendly, but once you get outside that on the main roads (such as London St and the Food Lion grocery store), then you have difficulties with traffic. The store was pretty good, according to Diane, and we packed home the booty on our bikes. We rode about 4 miles in total, and it was a pleasant way to spend the morning.
After a brief lunch, we got the 1230 ferry (right from our landing, but still a few minute walk) across the Elizabeth River to the landing at Norfolk. It was a 15 minute walk to the Nauticus Museum, co-located with the battleship Wisconsin. We found the museum to be large, very clean, and full of varied exhibits. Maybe we have just seen a lot of maritime museums in our day, but we breezed through this one in a little over 2 hours, including touring the open part of the battleship Wisconsin, which was solely the main deck. Overall, we are not sorry we went (maybe Diane is a little), but it wasn't a thrilling event for us.
As we walked back to the ferry dock, it started raining, and then we realized we could not make the ferry that was just departing. I suggested we have a beer on the outside deck of an eatery there, and then it started really pouring, with lightning, too. Diane was not a happy camper because she had deliberately left one small hatch open on the boat and was fretting about all the water that might be getting in. She made the dash for the our boat when the ferry reached the dock and after Duane finally got there, she reported that very little water had come in.
After a much-needed nap, we got dressed for dinner (including rain jackets and umbrella) and then walked the half mile to the Lobscouser Restaurant. We met our new friends, Ed and Jane, there and had a simply wonderful meal for very reasonable prices. Many cruisers have recommended this place and it is a real gem!
Strolling home after the rain stopped was quite pleasant. We have two larger sailboats tied up to our stern, but no one is visible. Our plan is to leave tomorrow at whatever time we feel like it and head to an anchorage in the Chesapeake. It may be on the eastern shore or not; we don't know at this point.
We will post our intended schedule in a day or so.
Mon 21 May 2012
Tied to Free Dock at North Landing, Portsmouth, VA
[photo: The Lightship Portsmouth, retired and berthed in Portsmoth, VA.]
It rained during the night, but all the hatches were closed since it was a bit chilly. We got up fairly early for a 0620 departure. The current in the cut was northerly (in our favor), but not due to lunar tides; the strong N wind had blown much water south, and when the wind stopped, the water started flowing back.
As our new friend, Ed, described, there would be a sequence of restricted bridge openings on our route to Portsmouth, and you had to hit the first one on the half hour, fairly early in the day. Since some opened on the full and half hours, and some just on the hour, a boat capable of making 6+ mph can do it with proper timing. We had 30 miles to run to the first bridge, so we assumed we could easily make it in 5 hours. When we got going, we realized the current boost could let us make it in the 4 hours and 10 minutes we had, so we tried for that.
I ran the engine at a higher power setting than we had been doing for most of the cruise, and the temperature stayed at the optimal setting with the higher capacity cooling pump. We had one snag where a railroad bridge which is normally open (expect for passing trains), was stuck in the down position, blocking all but rowboats and kayaks from passing. Our "flotilla of about 8 boats kept station or circled until they fixed it. It was only a half hour delay, thankfully, and the adjacent road traffic bridge opened immediately after the RR bridge did to accommodate us.
As an aside, as the flotilla cleared the bridge before the stuck RR bridge, there was an announcement on Channel 13 regarding a RR bridge stuck in the closed position. To be frank, my ears aren't quite tuned to the dialect and accent of the speaker, so I had no idea what bridge was affected. When I hailed on that channel for a repeat of the bridge location, a nasty voice informed me that "He done told you three times already! It's the number 7 bridge!" I elected not to reply, but I would have liked to say that not everyone can understand the speaker, and just as importantly, no pleasure craft transiting the waterway has any idea what the "number 7 bridge" is. All we have are names that appear in our cruising guides, and those change frequently, too.
During the long run (49.5 miles in 8 hours), Diane was helpful whenever needed, but spent a good bit of time pulling apart the bedding and mattress from the V-berth to get it dried out. Maybe we just need a major overhaul of our hatches and ports, but the terrible pounding we took for 4 hours in the Albemarle Sound, with the bow being buried under water countless times, let enough water in that the berth was too damp to ignore it. It is one thing to sleep on a damp berth, but letting the moisture sit there will invite mold and mildew.
After we docked, and part way through our celebratory beverage, Diane wisely decided that the boat needed to be put back in order before we got too relaxed. After struggling with the difficulty of putting sheets and covers on the mattress, she (half-jokingly?) said in frustration that she would be flying home. I pointed out that we had not brought her broomstick along; I hope to survive the night.
This seems like a good spot, and some other cruisers and a few locals who stopped to say hello, agree with us. We got off the boat about 1600 and secured a map in the nearby Visitor Center. The ferry that goes across the river to Norfolk leaves from this location, so that will be easy. While off the boat, we stretched our legs with a short stroll through just a portion of the "Olde Towne." It was clean and nice, although we came 12 inches away from being hit by a car making a left turn while we had the crossing signal. We (Duane) were tempted to stop at Das Bier Garten restaurant for some Wurst und Bier as an appetizer, but we (Diane) declined.
Many cruisers, including some locals we chatted with today, recommend a restaurant called Lobscouser, just a few blocks away. The prices look great, especially the early bird dinners. We will try that tomorrow.
Our opinions differ on our location for the evening (and probably tomorrow, too), but Duane thinks the docks are sturdy and fine. The location is right in the heart of the Olde Towne, which is the part we hear is worth seeing, and for a night or two, it is free. We will hear the whistle blast of the ferry until its last run near 2130.
Dinner was our yummy leftover clam sauce over linguini and fresh broccoli. We intend to explore ashore more tomorrow with the bicycles.
Sun 20 May 2012
Docked at Coinjock Marina, NC
[photo: Duane at the helm during the nasty crossing.]
The evening was an early one; Diane suggested that Duane go to the TV room ashore around 2030 and he almost fell asleep there. Otherwise, it was a good night's sleep and then up at 0500 to check weather. Four different sources had similar forecasts, but surprisingly wide variations of wind speed and wave heights. We chose to go, as did most of the boats at the marina.
Our passage across the Albemarle Sound can be described as horribly frustrating. It wasn't that it was unsafe, and the discomfort was not really all that bad. What made it horrible was the spacing and steepness of the waves (no more than 4 feet or so, by my reckoning). The bow would pitch up on a big wave, then plunge down just as the next wave would hit and bury the bow. We had green water sluicing over the deck frequently.
Early on, the repeated force on the anchor was so bad that the lanyard parted (broke) and only the chain was holding the anchor in place. Normally, that would be OK, but with the windlass malfunctioning, the chain was not as taught as I usually keep it, so the anchor was hanging half off the bow roller. I crawled forward on my knees with a new line to lash it down, while Diane took the helm. Yes, the bow did crash down into the waves while I was up there, and yes, I did get water inside my foulie jacket and bibs.
Still getting to the frustrating part - with the wind blowing almost 20 knots on the nose with no sail power, the poor engine is barely giving 4.5 knots of speed in the smaller waves. Once the frequent big wave trains hit (usually three big waves in a row), the speed would drop to 2 knots. It would take a while to get back close to 4 knots and then you would be slowed again. At that rate, it was over 4 hours to cross.
Out of the Blue radioed that they were trying a tactic of putting out as much headsail as they thought appropriate and bearing off the wind so they could motor-sail at 6-7 knots. You are no longer sailing towards your destination, however, so the increase in speed has to make up for the zig-zag route. It did not, really, but what it did in this case was to bring us closer to shore faster where the waves were smaller. Additionally, the sail kept the boat heeled and drawing through the waves much better, and finally, the angle of the bow to the waves was much better.
After close to 5 hours of travel, we were out of the bad waves completely, but still had strong winds from ahead plus occasional rain, and often poor visibility. Diane came up to assist at the helm and with the sails. She wasn't exactly comfortable, but there was no sense in both of us being damp and chilled. I should also mention that it was good that the bypass cooling pump was upgraded; the engine was run at a higher power setting today to try to get across the sound quicker and there was no hint of any overheating.
Near 1330, we got to the Coinjock Marina after a 42 mile run. In this weather and feeling the way we did, we ponied up for yet another marina stay. The only downside to the berthing arrangement is that the current forced us to dock with the cockpit, rather than the bow, facing the wind and rain. We will not have any real shelter topside, but that's manageable by just staying below.
The marina is just one long (1,200 feet) dock, but the showers are pretty good and the laundry is fine. The water here looks and tastes fine, so we topped off our tanks. The cockpit was laughably dirty (where does all this dirt come from?), so that got a good washing, too. The rest of the boat got rinsed very well and after the permeating salt spray, so that part was welcome.
We dined at the marina restaurant with Ed and Jane from Out of the Blue and had some food that was close to very good. If the fish had been cooked a little less and the potato wasn't cold, it would have been a very good meal.
The plan is to make 50 miles tomorrow through numerous bridges and one lock to anchor in Portsmouth, VA.
Sat 19 May 2012
Docked at Alligator River Marina, NC
The day dawned in muted light as there is still a thin overcast cloud layer. The refrigerator did not keep me awake with its "short cycling" and I can only hope that problem is behind us. Despite very little direct sun, our solar panels have been almost keeping up with the demand, so our deficit after almost 48 hours with no engine-alternator charging is just 50 Amp-hours. The weather looks like it is moderating enough that we will leave tomorrow morning to cross the sound, so sun or not, we will have the engine-alternator to charge us back up.
I started to take a bag of trash to the dumpster and then go to the office to pay for another night, when I saw Ed from Out of the Blue heading over to Manatee with the bosun's chair. I offered to assist, and with no self-tailing winches at the mast, it took us all to get Ken safely up the mast to put the new VHF antenna on. It is a long story with many twists, owing to the difficulties presented, but we were finally successful. The total elapsed time was 3 hours, since we had to wait for my battery-powered drill to charge in order to drill a new hole in the mast.
Diane had Clyde ashore again and he had his short romp. It is a lazy day, otherwise. I should be polishing some stainless steel (many friends tell me that it customarily the Admiral's duty, but I guess Diane never got that memo), but it is nice to just relax for a change. That reminds me an exchange between friends: "whatcha doin?" "nothin' " "I thought you did nothin' yesterday." "Yeah, but I didn't finish."
It was an exciting afternoon, but I missed the really exciting part. A number of boats came in very close together and there (apparently) were some close calls with near collisions. Towards the middle of the afternoon, I looked over at the fuel dock and saw a large hunter sailboat named Aurora and realized that had to be Dennis and Shirla from our home town of Punta Gorda; we have been following their blog since they started on their cruise N (with no particular destination). Mind you, we had never met them, but mutual friends, John and Marilyn, got us connected via email. Anyway, when I arrived there to say hi and see if they needed any help, there was quite a bit of splattered blood all over the cockpit and aft deck areas; Shirla had a hatch slam onto her head and head wound bleed profusely. It turned out she was fine after later examination by Dennis.
I offered to jump on board to help them get into the slip, but Dennis did a masterful job and there were no exciting moments, except for a small runabout that was having trouble staying out of the way of the large boats. With Shirla nursing her wound with a bag of frozen peas, we quickly made our "hellos" and agreed for them to join our ever-growing docktail group at 1700. When I mentioned that we would have to split into two boats, they generously offered their large cockpit. At the appointed hour, 11 people were in their cockpit (without crowding) and enjoyed very interesting and varied discussions. Dennis even made Dark n' Stormies for several of us!
Dinner aboard Diva Di was while clam sauce (canned clams, of course) over pasta with fresh steamed broccoli. Yum!
[Posting early Sun morning, Weather forecasts and current conditions seem to allow us to move today. The first 3 hours will likely be the hard part.]
Fri 18 May 2012
Docked at Alligator River Marina, NC
[photo: We have a new foot warmer in our V-berth. Clyde has decided he likes it there now.]
Even though it was blowing hard all night, and we don't have great wind protection, the lack of wave action made it a restful night. Duane was up just before 0500 and used the time to look at options for the next few days of travel, whenever they may occur. The winds are pretty strong from the wrong direction for crossing the Albemarle Sound. Being "stuck" here is not so bad. The marina is a gas station/convenience store/grill restaurant in the middle of nowhere, but the docks are sturdy and the bath house/shower/laundry facilities are decent enough.
There are two other sailboats here and we met them at the counter when we were picking up a few items and they were finishing breakfast. They are very nice and we have plans for cocktails at 1700 and then dinner at the grill. Supposedly, the food is good.
The morning boat chores were to clean the fridge and find the source of the nasty odor. It turned out to be spillage in several of the plastic baskets that Diane uses to keep things easy to find and well-stowed. With that done, she got laundry started and we got a bag of ice for the refrigerator. Here is where another "issue" has returned: the refrigerator compressor/fan started "short cycling" just the other day. It usually happens only when the evaporator coil is covered in frost, but there is no frost this time. The compressor and/or fan come on for minute, and then shut off, and then within 3 seconds the cycle starts all over. I need to contact the manufacturer to see what this might mean. In the meantime, a cheap bag of ice is allowing the compressor to stay off for a while.
Clyde got some "shore leave" on the large expanse of close-mowed grass. He actually seemed to enjoy it, although it coincided with a break in the cloud cover, so he wasn't thrilled about the bright sun.
I had been postponing the change-out of the existing 500 gph bypass cooling pump with the 800 gph unit due to the contortions needed and in consideration of my sore back. Today was the day, however, and within a half hour it was done. We will see if it helps the next time I need to push the engine beyond a "low cruise" power setting.
Next, was some trouble-shooting of the occasionally recurring refrigeration problem. I checked the voltages at various points from the battery, through the circuit breaker, through the switch, to the compressor itself, and found more voltage drop then I thought acceptable. I then cleaned every connection and retested and there was a significant improvement. With a bag of ice in the box, however, it won't be a good test to see if the short-cycling is fixed.
A nice hot shower ashore followed, and then we had the other two sailboat crews over for cocktails and snacks. It was a very enjoyable conversation, although half was dedicated to the weather forecasts and the strategy for timing the numerous bridges on restricted schedules in the lower part of Virginia.
Owing to the schedule of the grill, we broke up the party at 1740 to go order supper. Some of the food was remarkably good for the price and location, and some was just OK, but dining with the group and meeting two other boat crews in the "dining room" were enjoyable experiences. We had our second dessert treat of the cruise with some butter pecan ice cream as we strolled back to the boat. The chilly N winds made us wonder, however, why we ordered ice cream.
We have decided to stay another day since the winds are likely to be no better tomorrow than today. We plan to leave Sun morning to head for the Coinjock Marina (no good anchorages that we could see), and then on to Portsmouth (adjacent to Norfolk), where we hope to get space on the free dock/wall and spend a full day or more there.
The best news was saved for last; Diane had a brief bout of disorientation a few days ago before getting out of bed, and since it passed quickly we were not too alarmed. When she went to read her book later, she noticed she could see well enough with just her normal eyeglasses that she did not need the large magnifying glass she had needed since the stroke. We were both elated at the news, but she wanted to see if she could read a newspaper, as that was her biggest challenge. With the paper delivered today, Diane found she could read it pretty well. So, it seems official that her brain has done another "rewiring" to bring her lost visual acuity closer to normal. We feel very blessed and thankful for that improvement.