It's very hot here in Solomons, Maryland right now. 100°F in the boat's cockpit when I snapped this photo. The lower two temperatures are INSIDE the boat with the air conditioning cranked (it's slowly losing the battle, but by the time is might get too hot inside, the sun goes down and it recovers). I bet you're wondering about what is 2°F. That's inside our deep freeze, which is out on deck with the sun beating on it. I keep wondering if there is a way to fit myself inside there for a little while, but I have my doubts. My contortionist days are mostly behind me.
Two familiar and perfectly wonderful anchorages in a row, and neither was part of the plan. We find ourselves in the second of them, swinging at anchor in Solomons, Maryland. Our eight-day odyssey of anchorages, docks, friends new and not-so-new, frightening stormy skies, and not-quite-angry-but-at-least-slightly-miffed seas over the last four days has brought us here, but I get ahead of myself.
Allow me to back up four days. As you might recall from our last blog, we were docked in Deltaville, Virginia at a very nice yacht club that had given us three days on their very comfy T-head dock in exchange for a performance after a cookout on July 3rd. Stacey and I ate well and were very glad of their hospitality, and not wanting to overstay our welcome, we attempted to leave the very placid harbor on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 5th. We knew the wind had come up, and we could see waves breaking over the shallow bits of the creek entrance, but we were sure we'd be able to get out and around Stingray Point before the winds and waves got the better of us. All the wind and wave apps were saying that it was 1 to 2 footers coming from the south, and surely we've been through worse. Furthermore, once we make the final turn north, the seas would be behind us—you know, following seas. That's supposed to be a good thing.
On top of that, we were unwisely "timing the tides," which means we were waiting for the flood to carry us north and save us fuel. If you run north up the bay on the ebb, you burn more fuel and it takes longer to get anywhere. If we left at 3pm, we'd have the flood carrying us north and saving fuel. How foolish we were! You can't time the Chesapeake. You take the flat calm when you can get it, which is in the morning.
We had dinner cranking in the Crock-Pot, and we expertly wedged it in so rough seas would not cause it to seek a low point in the cabin while underway, disconnected the shore power and water, cast off lines, and headed into the wild blue. We cleared the channel and it got a little rougher, and a little rougher. We were seeing waves of about 1 to 2 feet, as the forecast stated—until we saw something more like 5 feet, and it broke over the bow and brought Stinkpot to a standstill whilst she bounced on the next three consecutive waves. A rogue. These things happen. Press on. Two minutes later it happened again. Stacey was below making sure nothing was becoming airborne in the salon—like our dinner. I assured her via our ship-board communications system that if it happened again, we'd turn tail and…no sooner had the words left my mouth…it happened again. I turned the boat around, the sea became a following sea as it beckoned us back to the same dock we'd just left not 15 minutes before. We tied up, connected the shore power and water, and, when it was ready, ate our dinner that never spilled a drop. It wasn't long after dinner a storm cloud moved by to the north and "convinced us" to go ashore, just in case it did something dastardly on its way by (it didn't).
That's when we remembered something about Chesapeake Bay. The early boat gets the calm. The winds always kick up the afternoon seas. Message received and hopefully remembered for next time.
The next morning, we woke early. Wait, that should be all-caps: EARLY! We started the engines, brought in the shore connections, cast off the lines, and we were gone. Our destination, as earlier stated, was to be Tangier Island. We had been doing some research and it had come to our attention that there was a marina with comparatively inexpensive fuel not far from there, and we intended to spend a night at the island and then run up for the cheap fuel. We got out, made the turns to the north past the point, and the wind was coming off the western shore—on the beam—at about 14 MPH. After the previous day's events in a similar wind, and realizing that a good breeze needs fetch (read: distance) to turn little waves into big waves, we decided to just run straight up the western shore and stay on our friends' dock in Reedville. Walt and Mary have a gorgeous spot there and had extended an invitation, so we quickly emailed them and told them we were coming. Tangier could wait a day.
We arrived in Reedville in late morning, and with the mercury creeping toward 90°, we immediately set to work plugging into shore power and getting the air conditioning working! We enjoyed the day looking out the window at the beautiful scenery around us and chilling INSIDE the boat.
While enjoying the cool, we came to the realization that a couple marinas near us would be dropping their fuel price 30 cents overnight. That meant crossing the bay to get our fuel no longer needed to happen. Our reason to venture over to Tangier Island was now solely "because we want to." That kind of reasoning made it easy to push off the visit until later this summer when we'll be looking for places to visit and running south on the bay. We decided that our next day on the bay would see us in Solomons. The forecast was for sun, light breezes, and nice temperatures on the water. So, decisions made, we had a lovely visit with Walt and Mary on their porch, took a nice walk around town, and retired for the night.
The next morning, we shoved off and ran about 4 miles south to Ingram Bay Marina where we fueled (180 gallons at $5.39/gallon) and pumped out our black water tank. We then began running north toward Solomons, which required crossing the massive, 10-mile mouth of the Potomac River. It was beautiful and sunny, just as predicted, but for some reason I referred to my weather app to see a small craft advisory was in effect for the very water we were cruising on. It made NO SENSE. It was beautiful out there, and there had been nothing in the forecast last time I looked, but there is was, all scary-looking, in big red letters with exclamation points and everything. It was obviously Chesapeake Bay being fickle and changeable, and there was nothing we could do about it. We were committed.
Another ten minutes went by and the sky started to get dark around us. We still had about 5 miles of river mouth to cross, and we were running against the ebb current, which was running about a full knot against us, so we were only making about 6 knots SOG (speed over ground). The north wind came up and waves started to break under our bow, depositing salt spray all over the foredeck.
I started considering our "bail out" options. Where could we go? We could take the building sea on the beam run behind Point Lookout and anchor in Lake Conoy by the state park which would add about 8 miles of off-course distance to our trip to Solomons, or we could continue running another 4 miles north and duck into St. Jerome Creek where we've anchored before. It's skinny water, but if we just stay inside the marked channel, it's just enough for Stinkpot. We opted for the latter and got off the bay. We'd continue our way to Solomons Friday morning. After we cleared Point Lookout and got north of the Potomac River mouth, the sea started to lay down a bit, and we ran the rest of the way into St. Jerome Creek without incident.
It took two tries to get the hook set in 4 feet of water, but after putting the hook down further up into the cove off the channel, we felt confident we'd have a peaceful evening, which we did—winds be damned.
Friday morning, we rose with the dawn, weighed anchor and continued our northard push to Solomons, riding the flood the whole way. We arrived in the harbor by 10:30am and had the anchor down in our favorite spot before our morning coffee buzz had even worn off.
We did go ashore in the dinghy, reclaimed the keys to our car, and ran a couple of errands (including a much needed haircut for yours truly), and picked up our Amazon packages (including our new Breeze Booster), returning later to the boat for supper and a very pleasant, if hot and sticky night on the hook. The Saturday forecast was for all-day rain/showers, which we ultimately chose to weather aboard (and during which I finished writing this post). Tomorrow we shall move to our allotted slip at Safe Harbor Zahnisers, where we shall be for the next month.
UPDATE: As scheduled, we moved into our new boat slip around noon Sunday. They originally had us on "G" dock, but I balked after pulling within sight of it, and said I didn't think Stinkpot would fit between the pilings. They called up to the office and confirmed that I was right and moved us to the much nicer "F" dock. We are in the catbird seat now and have already had an evening visit with our friends, Cristin and Aaron on Sunday night, and Monday we ran up to Harpers Ferry, West Virigina in our car to visit with good friends, Cherie and Chris of Technomadia, and walk around the national park—which is gorgeous and worth the trip!
Thursday…four days ago. It feels like a couple weeks ago, but it has only been four days. We spent the days in the run-up to Thursday preparing the boat to leave our slip (well, actually, our friend, Robert's slip) in Hopewell, Virginia, where we spent the last two months working on the boat, installing Robert's gifted generator into Stinkpot, and waiting for the right time to get underway. We determined a week earlier that the right time would be July 1st after consulting tide calculators. Doing so would allow us to ride the outflowing tide almost all the way down the James River to Hampton in one day—it would peter out around Jamestown around 1PM, but then the tide would change there and give us another push all the way to Hampton before petering out again when we arrived at the mouth of the river.
We did a last grocery store run and then moved our car to our next destination with the help of Robert's Jeep. We got the boat ready and scrubbed a month's worth of spider poop off and ejected the eight-legged web-artists responsible for it. We put all the tools away, and stowed all the spare parts. Still planning on a Friday departure, Wednesday we decided to move up our departure to Thursday. We were ready, and the plan was to anchor out at a nearby swimming hole where I'd dive on the hull and see what kind of condition our sacrificial anodes were in before we ran down into the saltwater of Chesapeake Bay. By Wednesday evening, I looked at the tides again and realized we'd have our "good run" all the way to Hampton a day earlier than the models had said a week before. We changed our plans.
Thursday morning rolled around and Robert showed up early at the marina to see us off. Hugs and handshakes all around and we cast off with Robert telling us to look for him waving when we come onto the James River.
We pulled out of the slip and made our way to the marina's black water pump-out dock to take care of a little business first. We started the process and the nozzle dripped this viscous mess all over our clean deck and on Stacey's pant leg. This is not an uncommon occurrence when using this kind of equipment, but usually the drips are human waste which rinses right off with a water hose. Spoiler Alert: this stuff didn't.
We started pumping (the machine still worked fine), and started to clean the mess while it we offloaded our "cargo." This was when we realized that the "mess" was oily. Someone had used the pump-out machine to clean the sludge out of a fuel tank—at least that is the only hypothesis I can come up with to explain the mess it made. Whatever it was, it was pumped into Hopewell's sewage system, which can't possibly be a good thing.
Pumped out and cleaned up, we started our way out to the James River to pick up our predicted current. We came around City Point and took our last looks at Hopewell, and there was Robert as promised, standing on top of an oil tank and waving at us. Stacey took his picture while Robert took ours. You can barely make him out on the oil tank, but Stinkpot looked great underway in his shot.
It felt great to be underway again! As predicted, we had the current pushing us for about 4 hours. About the time it petered out, we were just south of Jamestown and we dropped anchor in Cobham Bay to wait for the tide to turn about 2 hours later. While we were there, I pulled on my swim trunks, strapped on a diving mask and proceeded to give Stinkpot a quick once-over to make sure she was in good shape below the waterline. The last time I looked, was right before we launched in Maine for the summer of 2021. The water was not very clear. To wit, I could not see my hand in front of my face, so "copped a feel," and the year-old Navalloy anodes right in front of me were crumbling under my touch. They were, spent.
Anodes protect the metal parts of the boat underwater from galvanic corrosion, and without them electrical currents in the water will "eat" propellers, rudders, and such, via a process called galvanic corrosion. Without turning a blog post into a chemistry class, anodes are made of a metal that will corrode before the bronze and stainless steel that our underwater bits are made from, so keeping them fresh is very important—especially in saltwater, which is an electrolytic solution. Not such a big deal way up the James River where the water has no salinity—I'm sure our nearly-spent anodes were just enough up there, but the closer we got to the ocean, the more important it became to change them out.
I immediately began contacting divers in the Hampton Roads/Portsmouth/Norfolk, VA area. Only one got back to me, and only to say that he didn't work in that area (though Google disagreed with him, apparently). Again, Robert to the rescue, when I told him about our anodes, he gave me the number for Justin, the diver he uses. I called and Justin Friday morning he said he'd try to get a colleague out to us ASAP, and if all else failed, he'd come himself on Monday. Having anchored Thursday evening in Hampton at a favorite anchorage, while we were ashore enjoying dinner at a local tavern, Justin texted me and said he had someone coming to help us first thing in the morning.
We finished our dinner and returned to the boat for the evening and started scheming how we'd find a dock for him to do the work. We decided to just take our chances and use the Hampton City Docks. 8AM the next morning, my phone buzz with a text, and it was our diver, Christian, telling me he was on his way and would be meeting us in 30 minutes. I told him to meet us at the City Docks and we quickly raised anchor and started chugging in that direction, about 1/4 mile away. While I drove, Stacey called the dockmaster, and after a little phone tag, he gave us permission to dock. It all came together. Diver arrived and changed our anodes. We sent payment via Venmo—very reasonable too. By 10:30AM we were underway, to where we did not know.
After a bunch of indecision, and given that we had a good following flood tide, breeze, and 2-foot chop pushing us up the bay, we decided to run until we wore out the push, which we estimated to be about Deltaville, VA, and which proved to be correct. About the time we started to get near the mouth of the Piankatank River, we noticed our speed starting to slow. We pulled into Jackson Creek and dropped anchor. We launched the dinghy and did a little exploring of the creek as the day waned and spent a very peaceful night in this familiar anchorage—we anchored here before in spring of 2020, while we were cruising home to Maine after finishing the Great Loop. At the time, we did not go ashore because it was early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sunday morning, I woke, made coffee, and emailed the nearby yacht club, Fishing Bay Yacht Club to ask about spending the night of the 4th on a dock instead of leaving ourselves out in the open on the hook where revelers surely would be careening around us on jetskis and pulling screaming children on floating, inflatable toys behind power boats. I happened to mention in the email that I'd gladly play a show in exchange for such a courtesy. At about 1:30PM, our boat phone rang (What? You don't have a "boat phone?"). It was Brian, the General Manager of the yacht club, inviting us to dock for as long as we'd like to stay, enjoy the club's evening cookout, and entertain the waiting masses. I accepted his offer to both dock and perform, and said we'd be over right after we dinghied over to the local maritime museum and park for a walk around the grounds, which is exactly what we did.
As I am writing, it is Monday, July 4, and we are still enjoying this beautiful spot on the club's t-head pier. Tomorrow we plan to drop lines and head to Tangier Island, which we have been told is a must-visit place. We'll let you know….