Sat 26 May 2012
Docked at Beacon Marina, Solomon's Island, MD
[photo: one of many waterfront pubs on the island]
It was a great night's sleep once we went below with the hatches closed. Apparently, several 50-something guys that clean other people's boats as a side job think that they should have loud conversations between them even at 2100.
Diane commented this morning that it was a very civilized way to start the day. We took our time down below, then walked up to the Comfort Inn for our complimentary breakfast (very good coffee) and then sat reading the Wall Street Journal in the early light on a nice bench overlooking the waterfront. Of course, there was the always-appreciated use of a full-size shoreside toilet to make it complete.
Having it available, we turned on the air conditioning and were glad we did as it is shaping up to be a hot day again. Despite that, we got out the bikes and rode around the relatively small area. It turned out that Solomon's Island gets a middling grade on bike friendliness. There are some places with a wide shoulder along the main road and some decent sidewalks, but sometimes there is nothing but a narrow road and no shoulder, so you are trusting that the cars will see you and swerve around you. If you stick to just the safer bike-riding areas, it is still a worthwhile ride for the scenery and exercise.
One cool place we visited was the Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center. There is a path through the woods with some large and substantial pieces of sculpture, but what was unique for us were the many dozens of "je ne sais quoi" scattered in between the major pieces. We really don't know if there is a term for them; they ranged from wacky bird houses, to dinosaur figures, to painted tree stumps, to castles, and lots more. It was a very unique experience and we are glad we happened upon it.
On the way back from our northern excursion, we passed the West Marine store where (traditionally) they serve complimentary hot dogs, chips, and sodas for a few hours midday during Memorial Day weekend. We stopped for a free lunch and had a really good quality hot dog that was grilled just to our liking. Complimentary breakfast, free lunch; do I know how to show a girl a good time or what?
Down in the southern end of the island, the tourists were thronging the sidewalks and boardwalk. We were looking for some fresh fish, but the seafood markets said all their catch was going to the restaurants for the big Memorial Day influx. The one thing they did have was some incredible looking jumbo shrimp for a fair price, so we got some of that. That place also served cold beer, and when we checked Diane's watch, coincidentally, it was beer-thirty.
Back at the boat, the air conditioning felt great after the hot ride in the blazing sun. It is only supposed to reach the low 80s in temperature today, the humidity is low, and there is a breeze, but that sun is hot! I know what it can get like here in July and August and I don't think it is any more comfortable than south Florida.
As Diane was making Gin n' Tonics to take to the pool, she said the tonic tasted funny. I agreed, and then realized that when I used the SodaStream to carbonate the water yesterday, I forgot to add the syrup. Oh, well. That was easily fixable.
Being at the pool, relaxing and reading, was very enjoyable. Not everyone wants to do the same thing, of course, so there was a family of 20-somethings chatting away, and then their parents arrived. We had a nice conversation about cruising and some of the young men's military service. That was all good until the sub-teens arrived with the jumping and splashing and yelling. Hey, I was a kid once, so it was just time for me to go back to Diva Di to chill with Clyde.
It was almost supper time, so the preparations for the shrimp fra diavlo (with the last of the broccoli) began. When I just started cooking, I heard some loud clomping on the deck and wondered why Diane was making so much noise coming back. I was surprised that she didn't come below and when she actually arrived 30 minutes later, I found out the twin-engine small sport fisherman boat next to us had left the slip (I heard that part) and then lost an engine, so he almost collided with several boats along the fairway (ours included). The clomping was someone trying to fend him off, but we have so much gear in the stern, plus the large inflatable dinghy hanging off the davits, that there was no way he could do that even if he tried.
As I was in the middle of making the sauce, the propane tank ran empty, so there was a 10 minute intermission while I changed to the spare. Before quite finishing dinner, the boat returned, but this time he seemed to have complete control. Diane and I both popped up to help him get safely into the slip.
We had a lot of exercise today and a lot of sun so it will, again, be an early night.
Fri 25 May 2012
Docked at Beacon Marina, Solomon's Island, MD
[photo: freighter passing us shortly after the fog lifted]
We enjoyed a very restful night and got up well after dawn. The tide was low and the current was with us for a very short while, but then we had to endure a foul current (albeit low) most of the way to Solomon's Island. A few hours into the day's passage, we noticed lowered visibility to the west and eventually motor-sailed into fog. At first, the visibility was about 1 mile (based upon sightings of navigation aids), but it got down to about 200 yards at one point.
Of course, we had our navigation lights and steaming light on, plus I had as much of the sail out as possible to make us more visible to others. The AIS feature of the VHF radio alerted us to several large and not-so-large commercial vessels. Only one, a small crabbing boat, required evasive action when she loomed out of the fog with no lights showing. It was not particularly tense or scary, but those were two hours where concentration was required and there was no time to glance at a novel or become distracted.
When the visibility started to improve dramatically, we were able to see numerous pleasure craft plying the waters near the western shore of the bay. Mosquitos and biting flies don't seem to have a problem with limited visibility, however, as they attacked. The cockpit I scrubbed last evening is again littered with the gooey remains of insects of all kinds.
It seemed like a much longer run than it was (just over 7 hours), but we finally arrived at Solomon's Island and filled up with Diesel fuel and found our slip at the Beacon Marina. For those cruisers following in our wake, the Beacon Marina was chosen because it seemed the least likely to be full on Memorial Day weekend. There are pros (free laundry, free electric hook-up, free continental breakfast at the co-located Comfort Inn, and a decent pool) and cons (small bath house and tiny finger piers), but for $1.50 per foot, it is not bad.
Our weather on this cruise has generally been pretty good. We have had few days that were too cold or too hot; today it was pretty hot in the dying breeze inside a protected marina under the blazing sun. We elected to hook up the power cord for air conditioning just before we left for the shower and pool and we are glad we did (and Clyde the cat in his fur coat probably is, too).
Dinner was chicken medallions in a lemon/white wine/butter/caper sauce with pasta and (yes, again) fresh broccoli. It will be an early night to bed, so this will be posted now.
Thu 24 May 2012
Docked at Park's Marina, Tangier Island, VA
[photo: A nice B & B on the island]
The evening was very restful except for the occasional swell that rocked the boat. That would not have been an issue, but the boom gooseneck fitting "decided" it was time to squeak every time it moved with the boat's motion. I got up to lubricate it early in the morning.
Owing to the tidal currents, it was best for us to leave a bit later than usual, so we weighed anchor at 0820 (using the manual mode of the windlass, but with patience and a little forethought, it wasn't so bad). The wind was stronger than forecast, but it was in a favorable direction for us to motor-sail and make decent time, despite having a foul current. After about 5 hours, we were safely in the western portion of the Tangier Island harbor.
The sail was nice in that we were in open water with plenty of depth and not much to hit. The wind opposed the current, however, so the 2-3 foot waves were rather steep, but fortunately from astern. We had several close encounters with large commercial shipping, but taking bearings on the ships and watching those bearings change meant that we would either pass astern or ahead. Passing ahead is not a good idea unless it is well ahead; I like a mile or more.
We have an AIS (Automated Identification System) receiver on our VHF, so we had the information broadcast by the vessel as to its course and speed, then the VHF (tied in with the chartplotter/GPS) calculates how far away it is from us, the CPA (closest point of approach), and the TCPA (Time to CPA). It is another tool to help you navigate safely.
Getting alongside the Park's Marina, our information indicated we should not expect Milton Parks to answer the phone or the VHF radio, but to just tie up at the office dock and await him. While we waited, another sailboat came in and Duane assisted them with getting tied up into a slip. They had reached Milton earlier and told them to take either slip 6/7 or 12/13. With them in 6, I asked if they would assist us getting into slip 12. The current on the beam made it challenging, but it all worked out well.
We have been here for well over an hour and still have not seen Milton, so we are heading ashore with the bikes and see what there is to see. [Later] Well, that was a most interesting adventure. The island is a throwback to the watermen lifestyles of a bygone era. Most of the homes on the tiny island are obviously kept up with pride, although there are a few in very sad repair. There were numerous golf carts, mopeds, and bicycles, but we only saw 4 cars or trucks. There are no bars, and the restaurant we ate in served no alcohol. Some cruisers have likened it to Man O' War cay in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas, and I understand the comparison.
There are only a few main roads, and two cars cannot pass on any of the roads we saw. We have no idea how they handle that eventuality. Everyone was friendly, and for a weekday, there were a surprising number of people sitting on front porches or riding around in some small conveyance of some sort. The area by the marina is used to attract tourists to various small restaurants with all sorts of hand-lettered signage touting the "best crab cakes on the island."
There was, indeed, a handful of interesting looking eateries clustered in one small area (downtown?) We even left our bikes (unlocked - I think they would be mortified if you locked your possessions here) and strolled to the long beach on the south end. It was nice, but we didn't dawdle.
The E side of the island was much like the W, and we completed the loop in a very relaxing hour, with many stops along the way. The last stop was at the grocery store (yes, there is only one, and it is much smaller than a 7-Eleven), but it was surprisingly well-stocked. We got some fresh fruit.
Back at Diva Di, we saw a sailboat coming in with some difficulty docking in the strong cross-current. We offered assistance, but the slips have a 6 foot long finger pier so there is nothing for a helper to do until the boat is already committed and mostly in the slip. After helping them tie up, we invited them over for cocktails since it was almost 1630. They were over in a very short while and we had a very pleasant chat for almost an hour.
Not knowing when the restaurants might close, we left for dinner around 1800 and enjoyed several different crab-based appetizers and soups, all of which were delicious. Three of us had the soft-shell crab sandwich (we all ignored the Wonder bread), with some fried potatoes of some kind or another. Diane had the crab cake and we all thought the food was great.
Getting back to the marina, we finally found the elusive Milton Parks and he came over to the boat to collect. As expected, he (in his early 80s and a widow for a month) was more interested in chatting than collecting the fee, but I finally got him to confirm the price of $30 for the night and settled up. To say he is a "character" sounds trite, but he surely is. He is somewhat deaf, but we got along fine, and his mind is very sharp.
I finally disengaged when our dinner companions came back and wanted to pay him. I needed to fill the water tanks and not only was the light fading fast, but the no-seeums (almost invisible biting flea-like bugs) were coming out.
We will head for Solomon's Island in the morning. With absolutely zero signal strength for the cell phone and no Wi-Fi here, I do not know what the tide height/current will be when we want to leave, so we will have to take what we get.
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.