Our Next 30 Years

21 September 2023
18 September 2023
04 September 2023
29 August 2023
30 December 2020
02 April 2019 | Chula Vista Marina, San Diego, California
02 March 2019 | San Diego, Ca
28 February 2019 | San Diego, Ca
28 February 2019 | San Diego, Ca
28 February 2019 | San Diego, Ca
16 January 2019 | Rivergate Marina, Brisbane River, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
11 November 2018 | Bundaberg Port Marina, Bundaberg, Australia
09 November 2018 | Bundaberg Port Marina, Bundaberg, Australia
04 November 2018 | Bundaberg Port Marina, Bundaberg, Australia
01 November 2018 | Bundaberg Port Marina, Bundaber, Australia
30 October 2018 | Bundaberg Port Marina, Bundaberg, Australia
28 October 2018 | Bundaberg Port Marina, Bundaberg, Australia
24 October 2018 | 24 45.6'S:152 23.3'E, Bundaberg Port Marina

Change, a Lesson of Time

21 September 2023
David Balfour
When we returned from Washinton, DC (and Colonial Beach), we left the Potomac River and crossed the Chesapeake Bay to Crisfield, Md. We choose to go to Crisfield, because it had tour boat access to both Smith Island and Tangiers Island, two places we wanted to visit, but did not feel comfortable trying to get our boat there and safely moored. If you don’t know anything about Smith Island or Tangiers Island, there are several good documentaries available on YouTube. These were the introductions that made us want to go to these Islands.

Crisfield is a nice state-owned marina (Somers Cove) that has easy access, is safe in most any kind of weather, has floating docks for transient boats, and has been well maintained. The town of Crisfield is nothing really to write home about. But we met some nice "transient" cruisers (like us), and after moving to allow the Secretary of the Navy to dock his boat where we were docked (yes, that really happened), some nice "local" cruisers that kept their boats there, full time.

There are several ways to get to these islands. You can go to the Crisfield town dock and try to get a ride over on one of the boats that deliver mail, supplies etc. Or you can charter a boat for the day to take you (very expensive). Or you pile on to one of the commercial excursion boats (what we did). First however, you have to find out how and where to buy a ticket. Cindy will tell you that this is a very well protected secret - but she finally cracked the codes! Dogs are welcome, so Ruby came along with us. It is about an hour (Smith Island) to 90 minute (Tangiers Island) one-way trip. The Captains do a good job of pointing out items of interest, and the time goes by quickly. You have about 2-1/2 hrs on the island, which allows you to look around, talk to people and have something for lunch.

Smith Island has a wonderful Restaurant that we highly recommend. Don’t miss the soft-shelled crab, and make sure you hear the story of how that soft-shell crab you are enjoying came to be! This is where most of them come from. You can also buy a Smith Island Cake (or just a slice) - yes, it is the Official Cake of Maryland! There is such great demand, that commercial production and distribution has moved to Crisfield. They have a really well-done museum that chronicles the history of the Island, as well as the current challenges they are facing.

Tangiers Island is actually in Virginia, which is only the beginning of the rivalry and squabbles between the people of the two islands. Tours of Tangiers were facilitated by the fact that the ladies of the town take you around in a stretch-golf-cart-limo and narrate what is what, how they make do, and some of the history. The older men of the island have a unique dialect, that can make it difficult to understand what they are saying. The women seem to work hard to make sure you do understand what they are saying.

Both of these islands are tied to the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. They are “watermen”. Their lives revolve around their profession. Time seems to have passed them by, but they still hold on to what they know - the crabs, oysters and fish of the Bay. How much longer they will be able to continue is in question. Between the dwindling number of inhabitants that choose to stay on the island and embrace this life, the fact that their islands are sinking into the Bay, and the growing list of rules and regulations that they are being forced to live with, their time is numbered. If you get a chance to visit these islands, don’t pass up the opportunity. Spend an extra day and visit both - it is interesting to see the differences in how the people from each Island are dealing with their challenges.

Washington, DC

18 September 2023
David Balfour
One of the first stops that got scheduled on our travels around the Chesapeake Bay was Washington, DC. Our youngest son has taken a position with the DC Fire Department, and as a result the Grands have moved away from San Antonio. So, Cindy wanted to make sure we had a chance to spend time with them as soon as possible.

We had been told that it was a long, boring trip up the Potomac, and that it would be difficult to find a suitable marina to stay in while in DC. People said to try the Capital Yacht Club first, but we would probably never be able to get a spot (yes, it seems that this is where many of the politicos keep their boats in DC). However, luck was with us and we were able to get a reservation at the Capital Yacht Club (founded in 1892!), for the dates we wanted.

Our trip started with a bit of a tough lesson. Schedules are not a good thing when it comes to cruising. Yet we were on a schedule - to see the grands and make our reservation with the Capital Yacht Club. The trip up the Potomac to DC is a long one for us. At just over 120nm and our cruising speed of nominally 10kts, that is a 12 hr trip. Since we are conservative and like our departures and arrivals in day light, that would mean finding a stop along the way. We selected Colonial Beach which was very close to being at the half-way point. The weather forecast showed some weather that we didn’t want to be caught in, so we decided to depart a day earlier than originally planned and wait out the weather at our stop-over point. As we departed from Ingram Bay heading north, all looked good, but once we got out into the Bay proper, we (some fishermen in a small boat and another unlucky sailboat) quickly found that the conditions (15-20kt winds) were not as forecast the day before! I realized that we were in a current vs wind condition that was resulting in 3-6ft, square waves (wave height and wave period about the same). As is normally the case, the boat handles things better than the humans (and in our case the dog). Ruby got sick with the up and down motion, and then after trying to clean up after her, I started to feel sick. Luckily, we only had about an hour or so of those conditions before we were able to turn into the Potomac and get some relief - both Ruby and I. By the time we arrived in Colonial Beach the event was just a memory - but one we had no desire to experience again - we will check the forecast the morning we depart to make sure nothing has changed. The ride up and back down the Potomac was enjoyable (not boring) - good sightseeing, including Mount Vernon, interactions with a NOAA ship that was doing sea-trials - very professional radio communications with us, an encounter with a pirate ship - we outran them, and a military live-fire operation that required us to follow specific navigational instructions in real-time to stay out of the active area!

Colonial Beach (the Boathouse Marina) was a wonderful experience. The people were as friendly, and kind as could be. We were loaned a golf cart to take us around town to dinner and get groceries. Ruby had a blast playing with dogs in the Dog Park and we got to meet many of the town's residents. And if you go, make sure you ask Bill to show you all the treasures he has collected over the years! That said, beware that to get to Colonial Beach, you will first have to run the gauntlet of crab traps, and just when you think you have figured out their pattern, they throw a few out at random. Be sure to have your head on a swivel, and remember, if there is any sea-state or when you are heading out into the morning sun, they will become almost invisible.

Our approach and entrance to the DC harbor area was spectacular. As we came under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge the Capitol and Monuments came into view - another one of those feel as well as see moments. The dockhands at the Capital Yacht Club were great and worked through an issue with their shore-power in a professional manner. Our son joined us for dinner at the Yacht Club (which had been highly recommended to us and did not disappoint - don’t forget a dessert!). The next day the Grands arrived (along with mom and dad, and it was a special treat having them all (including our grand dog!) spend the night on the boat with us. We had a wonderful time walking the Wharf area, playing in the fountains, watching the presidential helicopter and escorts fly back and forth along the Washington Channel, etc. After the Grands had left the next day, we found time to catch-up with a Godson, and a former classmate and best friend of our middle son.

DC gave us an opportunity to spend time with people that matter to us. No, we didn’t see or do the things that you typically do while in DC - we have been there and done that before. But our time visiting, and the journey there and back will leave us with many great memories and that is what cruising is all about.

Impressions - Norfolk and Hampton - Gateway to the Chesapeake Bay

05 September 2023
David Balfour
Coming into Norfolk is somewhat like coming into San Diego - our Navy is proudly on display! We stayed at Waterside Marina in Norfolk. It reminded me of other marinas that were front and center at a public area. Some people like the proximity to the crowds and others don’t. We have never had any issues. It is always great for people watching. While the marina has both fixed and floating docks, we unfortunately were on the fixed portion of their docks. This makes it a bit of a challenge getting Ruby on and off the boat - and Cindy as well, depending on the tides.

Norfolk gave us a great introduction to the history we would see throughout the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, many of the museums (Douglas McArthur, etc) were closed on the days we were there - something we did not fully appreciate as we were thinking about our schedule - so we got to see the outsides, but not the insides (Cindy did spend some time in some of the art museums while I was helping with the replacement of the injector pump). St Paul’s Episcopal Church was one of those places that you “felt” as well as “saw”. The church is from pre-revolutionary war times and is surrounded by the tombstones and burial plots from the day. It also has a cannonball lodged in the brickwork from the War of 1812! We took the water taxi over to Portsmouth where we were able to see some neat homes in “Olde Towne”, and once again ran into scheduling issues with the Naval Museum being closed. The marina provides easy access to Norfolk, and we had a great day wandering around, eating lunch, and even found a small dog park for Ruby.

Hampton provided us with the first opportunity to use our reciprocal privileges to stay at another Safe Harbor Marina (Bluewater Marina). Cindy and Ruby enjoyed the fact that it was a floating dock, making it much easier to get on and off the boat, regardless of the tides. Ruby met lots of puppies on the dock that she could play with. The Hampton Yacht Club (across the channel) was hosting a large (well over 200 boats) youth regatta and it was fun seeing all the kids sailing!

We had decided to go to Hampton as an easy way to rent a car and visit places like Williamsburg, James Town, York Town, etc. However, the weather wasn’t cooperating and we got rained out. Hopefully we can have better luck on our way back south? We did however get to dodge the rain and get in some local sight-seeing, with water taxi access provided by the Marina. We saw the old Carousel that has been restored - but was closed due to mechanical problems. The Air and Space Museum looked like it could be fun, but Ruby was with us and she was denied access. Again, we found great places to have lunch - most of which were dog friendly. We also got to see the church and cemetery that was the only structure to survive the burning of Hampton during the War of 1812. And of course Hampton University which has a prominent presence there. For me though, one of the highlights was going to Patrick & Sons Hardware Store (I guess I get this from my dad). It has been open for over 100 years, owned and operated by the same family - definitely not a Home Depot!

Like the Patrick and Sons Hardware Store, it is the people and the attitude they have with their clients that makes a Marina a good one or not so good. Cindy and I appreciate a friendly welcome, patient dockhands, and a willingness for them to do what they can to help someone “new in town”. Both of these marinas had great people that displayed all of these qualities, making them pleasant stays and places we would definitely come back to.


04 September 2023
David Balfour
Buying a previously owned boat opens yourself up to surprises. There are certain steps that you take to minimize those surprises, like a pre-purchase survey and a mechanical survey, but there will always be surprises. I felt very good about the level of detail that our surveyors went to for this boat. Armed with the survey reports and 6 weeks of living on the boat, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done to minimize the surprises we would encounter during our first full cruising season.

During the pre-purchase survey, we had identified fuel leaks around the injectors for both port and starboard engines. So this was an item that we discussed as we developed our extensive list for servicing the engines. Because of the extensive (read expensive) list, we choose to deal with what obviously needed to be done to address the fuel leaks vs jumping to a worst case scenario. So, when the boat went back in the water and we fired up the engines, we were disappointed (surprise!) to see that the solenoid on the injector pump was now leaking. And even more disappointed to see that the lead time for delivery of the parts was over a week! We decided to play it safe and replace the solenoids on both the port and starboard injector pumps to avoid any more surprises. We finally got the parts, they were installed, and we did our sea-trials. Surprise! The alternator on the starboard engine stopped working during the sea-trials. With some luck we were able to get one overnighted and installed in only 2 days. And so we finally departed Jarrett Bay.

Fast forward to our arrival in Norfolk, and imagine my surprise as I am doing my post-trip engine checks and find fuel in the bilge of the starboard engine room. A quick call, some Q&A, and we come to the conclusion that we need to replace the injector pump. Yes, that was the worst-case (read expensive) scenario that we had hoped to avoid. And to make matters worse, our diesel mechanic was in Beaufort, NC and we were now in Norfolk, Va. After the mechanic did some magic with finding an injector pump and overnighting it in, and our luckily being able to extend our stay at the Riverside Marina, we were back up and running after a half day drive and a half day to remove and replace the injector pump. We made the decision to refurbish the injector pump so we could replace the one on the port engine at the end of the season, to avoid future surprises.

Fast forward to our arrival in Chestertown, Md and imagine my surprise as I am doing my post-trip engine checks and I see signs of fuel beneath the injector pump for the port engine! A quick call, some Q&A, and we come to the conclusion that the port side injector pump has started leaking and will need replacing. The good news was they had just finished reconditioning the pump we replaced in Norfolk! The bad news was the Marina couldn’t extend our stay because they were fully booked for the upcoming Labor Day Weekend, so we would need to move on to Baltimore, Md. - a 5hr trip. The best news was that after reviewing the situation, the diesel mechanic added us to a service call for one of their clients in Ocean City, Md. So the day after we arrived in Baltimore he showed up with our reconditioned pump and took care of the replacement.

As I said, buying a previously owned boat will always open yourself up to surprises, and as you can see, we have certainly had our share this season. But what was always comforting was knowing that someone always had our back. That someone in this case was Davis Diesel. I can’t say enough good things about these folks. I know that we will always get surprises when we are cruising, but it helps to have friends like Davis Diesel and Jarrett Bay Boatworks that will always do what they can to help you out of a jam.

Locked Out

29 August 2023
David Balfour
Cruising on the Atlantic IntraCoastal Waterway (AICW or ICW) brings with it a number of challenges. For the most part it is shallow water that shoals to very shallow water in a number of places. We are grateful for our “Aqua Maps” charting software that includes USACE depth survey (updated regularly) information, and the “tracks” that Bob Sherer (Bob423) unselfishly posts and updates regularly of the best routes to avoid running aground. Then there are the bridges. Just as you must be aware of your “water draft” so you don’t run into things below the boat, you have to be aware of your “air draft”, so you don’t run into things above the boat. While we don’t have to worry about the high voltage lines (they are plenty high), we do have to worry about bridges. Newer bridges are usually greater than 65ft, making it not a problem for us now that we aren’t carrying around a sailboat mast. But a number of the older vehicle bridges and most railroad bridges are low enough that we have to arrange for and wait for the bridge to open so we can pass. Some bridges open on request, but most have a set schedule for when they will open. So you time your travel to minimize your waits. That planning is assisted by numerous lists of bridges, their vertical and horizontal clearances, schedules, and how to contact the bridge tender. And then there are locks.

As you pass from North Carolina into Virginia going north on the ICW, you must navigate the Great Bridge Lock. Given that we had never traversed a lock, I tried to learn everything about the process so that we would be ready for any and every possible situation. Cindy would be handling the lines, and I didn’t want any surprises for her or I. I watched You-Tube Videos, read primers on how cruising couples lock-through all the locks encountered on the Great Loop, noted the schedules for north-bound openings, etc. So imagine my surprise as we were leaving the Jarrett Bay docks heading north when a boat heading south casually mentioned that the Great Bridge Lock was closed! What? How can that be? As I began searching for confirmation, all I found was maybe this and maybe that. It seemed that the lock was having electrical problems and needed to come down for repairs - then a tug and barge hit the lock and was forced to come down for repairs. The best I could find out was 1) that they were on a reduced schedule for openings, 2) they were going to be down (no traffic) during the next week, 3) open with the reduced schedule for Saturday and Sunday, and 4) closed again the next week. So our schedule suddenly had changed! Mind you, there are alternatives to the Great Bridge Lock - a) you can go out into the Atlantic Ocean and go around Cape Hatteras and back into the Chesapeake or b) you can take the Dismal Swamp Canal (and it’s lock). The weather was not conducive to going out and around (even if Cindy had agreed to it), and we were warned by many “locals” that the Dismal Swamp canopy had grown over so much that with our beam and air-draft it would be difficult to get through in many areas.

We decided to stage our final wait (we had taken our time stopping in River Dunes, Belhaven and even an anchorage on the Alligator River) in Coinjock, NC, and were surprised when we arrived and were the only boat on their long face-dock. They gave us the place of honor at the front-door to their restaurant! Over the next two days more and more boats arrived, queing up for the promised opening of the Great Bridge Lock. When everyone saw a tug and tow go by they knew that indeed they were going to open the lock, but the question remained, would they just open it to commercial traffic or would they also open it to recreational traffic. The reports varied, with the lock engineers saying it would be open and the lock tender saying he doubted the engineers could get it to work! I realized that all of the boats were planning to try and make the early opening and quickly made the decision to avoid the crowds and plan for the noon opening. Two other boats had the same idea, so we patiently waited for everyone else to leave.

We bid farewell to Coinjock and were relieved to see that the crowds had cleared out as we approached first the Great Bridge Bridge and then the Great Bridge Lock. I positioned us last in line so that Cindy and I could observe “how it was done”. Wow the Lock Tender made it easy-peasy. He pointed to exactly where he wanted us along the wall. Then he instructed Cindy to place the middle of our dockline on his boathook. He put it on the bollard and all Cindy had to do was hold on. Once we had risen 2ft (yes, only 2ft). He directed us off the wall and we were done with the big challenge for the day - or so we thought!

As we entered Virginia we were aware of a Railroad Bridge and Vehicle Bridge which we would want to have opened. The Railroad Bridge was normally open, eg only closed when a train was approaching. The Vehicle Bridge opened on demand. As our group of three boats approached the Railroad Bridge we realized it was down - not up. We tried calling and got no response? We called the other Bridge Tender and he said it had been down for a while and didn’t know what was going on. So we waited, and waited, and waited. Finally a long freight train came through - but the bridge didn’t go up. So we waited and waited some more. By the way, both the wind and the current wanted to push us under the bridge - it was exciting! Finally an Amtrack passenger train zoomed by and the bridge began to rise. We asked the vehicle bridge tender for an opening and he responded that he had been watching us and we would fit without him opening his bridge. His bridge reported a closed clearance of 35ft. Our air draft (conservatively) is 35ft with our lightning arrestor antennas up. The other boats asked that we go first, since if we cleared they would! I looked over at the boards on the bridge and realized it was low tide and we had an additional 2 ft of clearance. With a little more confidence I proceeded forward - but realized I was holding my breath. And then we were through - next stop Rivergate Marina in Norfolk.

The silver lining in waiting for the lock was that we met some great people and ate some wonderful food at Coinjock - don’t pass up the Grouper Ruben sandwich (and the prime rib was good as well)!!

MV Songlines - a New Chapter Begins

26 August 2023
David Balfour
In our "Final Post" (Dec 30, 2020) I wrote "while this chapter of our cruising adventures has come to a close, you never know what a new year will bring...". It has been well over a year now ("too long") since I wrote that, but we have indeed started a new chapter of cruising adventures. I have been a little slow in re-establishing our cruising blog, and with everyone doing video blogs these days I knew I didn't have the time to attempt that, but I have been encouraged to provide commentary (as in the past) of our travels.

At the end of 2022 Cindy and I purchased a power catamaran after a long ("too long") search. After a "too short" get to know you cruise from Wilmington, NC to Beaufort, NC, she was put up in the Jarrett Bay yard for the winter to address the issues identified during the pre-purchase survey, and some things that we wanted done to better meet our specific needs and desires. After a "too long" period in the boat yard we finally got underway with this season's goal of exploring the Chesapeake Bay.

But first, a little background on the new-to-us boat. MV Songlines is a 2016 Malcolm Tennant 60. The name came from our experiences in Australia getting to know the indigenous people's culture. They shared the stories of their travels and experiences through "songlines". These stories were passed along through their art (dot paintings), verbal story telling and some times music and dance. While people see that we are from Austin and assume we are musicians, the real story behind the name is that MV Songlines is our vehicle for travel, experiencing cruising adventures, and telling those stories.

This is the 6th (and last) of a series of this Malcolm Tennant design (60 ft long, 20 ft beam and 4 ft draft) that was built by Orren Byrd (Cat Craft Marine). This specific boat was built by Orren as his boat (MV Cat Byrd) to retire on in the Bahamas. Unfortunately due to health issues, he was forced to move back a shore. We are the third owners. The boat is a composite build using strip-plank construction, in West-System Epoxy, wood, foam, and carbon fiber. It is a very "livable" boat, with easily accessed systems. The hull design and construction has resulted in a strong, light-weight, easily driven boat. The two Cummins 6BT (no after cooler) 210HP engines drive it easily at a nominal cruising speed of 9-10kts (1450 RPMs), while sipping fuel at less than 2 gph each. Yes, it will go faster (17kts WOT during the survey sea-trials), but we would only do that if there was a good reason. With the 1500 gallons of fuel (2 primary tanks and 2 day tanks), we have a cruising range of well over 3000nm (not that we will ever need it?). We also carry 450 gallons of Fresh Water and have both a watermaker and rain water collection systems. Our House Battery bank is 900AH at 24VDC (AGM batteries). The batteries are kept charged by a) 2400 watts of solar, b) 200AH 24VDC alternators (one on each engine - and yes they can power the A/C for Cindy while we are underway during these hot summer days), and c) if needed a 6KW 120VAC Genset. We use a single 50Amp shorepower connection. We have two 3.5KW Inverter/Chargers. All the electrical is managed by an Outback Power System. The boat has steering from both a lower helm station and the upper pilothouse (we have only used the upper pilothouse since it has such great visibility while underway).

Next time, what happens when the lock you are scheduled to go through is closed for repairs?
Vessel Name: Full Circle
Vessel Make/Model: 50' cruising catamaran designed by Garry Lidgard
Hailing Port: Austin, Texas
Crew: David and Cindy Balfour
Full Circle's Photos - Main
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S/V FullCircle

Who: David and Cindy Balfour
Port: Austin, Texas