Captain's Log: Carolina in My Mind…
I don't want to write this post. It's just too much, and I'm pooped. It has been a full ten days since I last sat down to write a post here, and it feels like at least a month has passed—maybe two.
It's Wednesday, and we were supposed to be here on Saturday afternoon. As I write this, we are in South Carolina, right beside the point where the ICW and the Waccamaw River diverge. Why were we not here five days ago? There's a story, and I will tell all as soon as I catch you up on everything that happened after we left Washington, NC.
We left Washington in the morning after our last entry here and ran back down the Pamlico River and turned onto Goose Creek and the canal to its south, ultimately stopping at R.E. Mayo's Seafood Dock where we spent the night. While there I changed the oil in our main engines, and we enjoyed a quiet night. Mayo's even had a "used oil" tank where I was able to dispose of the evidence.
Early last Tuesday morning we topped off our fuel tanks while we were near Mayo's fuel dock and then continued south to the Neuse River where we bounced around on some uncomfortable seas until the Adams Creek turnoff. We continued to Bogue Sound and ran all the way to Swansboro to a wonderful anchorage just off the beaten path known as "Spoil Island."
Last Wednesday we rose with the sun and were underway soon thereafter to make a long run down the ICW to Carolina Beach State Park, a favorite stop of ours, where we spent two nights. We had mail and Amazon packages stacking up ahead of us in Southport, NC and didn't want to get there before they did!
Friday morning, October 21, 2022, we ran the 12 or so miles from Carolina Beach to Southport to visit with our friends, Ian and Jen—fellow mis-placed Mainers. They were the ones who were collecting our packages on their front stoop.
Ian is now the dockmaster at South Harbour Village Marina in Southport and he caught a glimpse of us heading toward the nearby anchorage. He immediately called us on the radio and offered us a spot in the marina for the night, which we were very happy to accept. Ian and Jen took us out to dinner at the Rusty Hook, right beside the marina. We had a great time hanging with them, and as we said goodnight, we knew it would be for a while.
Saturday morning, we were again up with the sun and shortly underway. We put about 20 miles under the keel, and then at a particular point as we were nearing the South Carolina border, we slowed down for a no-wake zone. As we exited the zone, I began to throttle the engines back up and SOMETHING was wrong. The engines did not sound right at all. I gave the helm to Stacey and ran below to check on the engines and noted that there was coolant on the floor by the starboard engine, and I ran aft and noted that the engine was belching out white smoke. That was all I needed to decide that we may have lost a head gasket in that engine, so I shut it down. Not. Good.
We began looking at local repair options and trying to decide if we should go forward on one engine or turn around and go back on one engine. Ultimately, after considering our options and calling a couple of local friends to figure out how we'd find needed support to figure this all out, we decided that heading back to Ian's marina in Southport made the most sense, so we came about and ran slowly on one engine back from whence we came, arriving around 1:00pm.
As soon as we were back in Southport, I began making calls to try to figure out next steps, but being a Saturday afternoon, most (read: all) of my calls that day achieved nothing. Sunday was similar. Monday came around, and I made a flurry of phone calls to marine mechanics and parts shops. For half of the day, all I did was talk to voice mail systems and answering machines. The first call that actually "landed" was to a parts supplier in Washington State who was able to ship me a head gasket. I placed the order and then, in a fit of frustration from not being able to speak with a mechanic, called Earl Summerville, known as the "Hino Whisperer." Our engines were made by Hino, which is a subsidiary of Toyota.
I described everything to Earl and he stopped me and said, "That doesn't sound like a head gasket to me. I think it's a bad injector. Pull your fuel injectors and get them pop-tested."
I immediately called the west-coast vendor back and asked them to "pause" the order until I knew more. They agreed. Then I climbed into the engine room and started removing fuel injectors—the very same fuel injectors we just had rebuilt in northern Maryland. The first one I pulled out seemed visually okay. The second one was coated in a weird orange slime—mind you the anti-freeze we use is made for diesel engines and it's ORANGE! It was around then that one of the extremely busy and overbooked mechanics I had called stopped by briefly to see how we were doing. I told him about my call to Earl, and he agreed that it made the most sense. I pulled the rest of the injectors and they looked just like the first. I marked the slimy one with a zip tie, and Stacey started researching how we might get up to Wilmington to the only reputable diesel machine shop she could find in the area.
After some checking around, Stacey came up with the names of a couple who frequently help boaters in need in the area—Robert and Kay. They have completed the Great Loop, just as we have, and after a short conversation with Robert, they offered to loan us a car to run to the machine shop! Robert drove to the marina, we jumped in with him and visited with them at their home for an hour or two, and then we drove back to the marina in their car to be poised to make the trip to the shop first thing in the morning. Stacey had already contacted "Diesel Parts of Carolina" and they offered to check out our injectors if we could get there shortly after they opened at 8:00am.
I rose at 6:40am, and by 7:30am or so, we were on the road. We arrived at the shop at 8:12am and by 8:20am we were asked to join Jeff, the expert technician, at his workbench to see what he'd discovered. The slimy injector was stuck in the "open" position, and was not popping, nor aerosolizing fuel at all. The other five checked out just perfectly. Jeff tinkered with it right in front of us, and had it testing out perfectly within minutes. We thanked him, paid for his time, took a wonderful tour of the shop, and then shuffled off to buy a few things at Trader Joe's (we had a car in a city, after all) and Sam's Club. We then ran back down to Southport where I reinstalled the injectors and started the boat. She purred.
Disaster averted, I called the company in Washington and canceled the order for the head gasket and thanked them. We then went and told Ian the good news and settled up with him for our 5 nights on his dock (we decided to stay one more night and celebrate, since it was already so late in the day, and we still had a car to return). Ian was exceptionally kind to us and made a very difficult situation so much less stressful than it otherwise might've been. We are eternally in his debt.
We called Robert and Kay and drove over to return their car. They gave us the tour of their home and their nearby loop yacht, and then Robert drove us back to the marina in time for our dinner and a relaxing sleep without a broken boat hanging over our heads.
Wednesday morning—this morning—we got off the dock sometime in the 8:00am hour and ran all day. We did stop in Little River (not long after sighting a manatee by Calabash Creek) at Cricket Cove Marina for fuel at the verifiably least expensive diesel stop in this area of the ICW—we paid $5.04 per gallon for about 140 gallons. This "top off" should get us most of the way to Florida. So here we are at anchor. It's pitch black out. We hear owls and crickets. This part of the ICW is completely freshwater. We are swinging at anchor by cypress trees in a little oxbow, and we are simply thrilled to be underway again. We're now on a mission to get south to our beloved Sanford, Florida, and hope to make it sooner than later. Tomorrow we will run down river through Winyah Bay past Georgetown, SC. We should be in or near Florida when next I post a blog.
Captain's Log: Back in Gator Country…
But there's not a gator in sight, and this late in the season we don't expect to see any until we reach Florida. I guess what I mean to say is, we are now in North Carolina.
This place we're in now is simply lovely. I mean, truly beautiful. Nice downtown with lots of historic buildings and houses. A free dock with 48 hours of allotted time to tie up while we take it all in, and a laundry room all to ourselves to do as much laundry as we can stand for the nominal cost of $5. Washington, NC is exactly as was promised when we were reading about it and considering making a side trip up the Pamlico River to experience it for ourselves. It took a bit of doing to get here, and we'll be casting off in the morning to leave here, but it was so worth it!
The last time I wrote here, one week ago, Stinkpot was tied up in Deltaville, Virginia at the Fishing Bay Yacht Club. The very next day, Monday, October 10, we had a beautiful, flat-calm day to run down the bay to stay in our regular spot on the Portsmouth, VA free dock at High Street Landing. We enjoyed being in a "downtown" location, and took a nice long walk to admire the the city's architecture and take in the ambiance of the waterfront.
Tuesday morning, we set off early to avail ourselves of the inexpensive diesel price at Top Rack Marina. We had it in our plans to stop there for fuel for several days, but when we arrived in Portsmouth, someone let us know they'd just run out of fuel. We were gutted by the news, but called as soon as they opened in the morning to learn that they had just received a delivery and had not (yet) raised the price. We were there by 9am, pulled in, waited our turn, fueled, and were back underway one hour later.
We spent the rest of the day running the Virginia Cut, a system of canals and rivers that connect Chesapeake Bay to Albemarle Sound, crossing into North Carolina in the process. We anchored in the North River, just south of Buck Island at the end of a very long cruising day.
Wednesday, we had the anchor up with the sun and made a picture-perfect crossing of Albemarle Sound, which is Stacey's nemesis. There is no body of water that frightens her much more after having seen it angry in the spring of 2019. It was flat-calm and beautiful, and we continued on transiting the Alligator River to the Alligator-Pungo Canal, and then the Pungo River, anchoring in Slade Creek near Allison Creek to avoid the south winds overnight.
Thursday, we weighed anchor early and made a dreary short hop to the free state dock in Bath, North Carolina to visit the home port of Edward Teach, A.K.A. Blackbeard. It's a cute, quiet, sleepy town up Bath Creek with 300 year-old architecture to enjoy and very little else. We did stop by Blackbeard's Tavern for a beverage and a small pizza that was completely forgettable. It was also a kind of homecoming for Stinkpot as Bath, NC was her hailing port when we bought her—because of the Blackbeard connection, we were told.
We stayed in Bath a couple of nights, shoving off not altogether early in the morning for the short cruise up the Pamlico River to…drumroll…Washington, NC. Another picturesque town with a lot of old buildings, but it's more 19th and early 20th century than the 18th century buildings we enjoyed in Bath. Washington is considered a "sticky" town, meaning boaters come and stay for extended periods because it just has such a nice feel and has very affordable marina rates. I did deploy my bicycle for a ride to the local Food Lion to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables.
Tomorrow we'll be shoving off to head toward Beaufort, NC and a much different vibe. For tonight, we'll enjoy one more night in this very chill little harbor.
Captain's Log, Supplemental: We did a thing tonight. After the sun began to go down, I looked up at the voltage gauge and determined that we didn't get nearly enough solar charging time to make it through the night without some serious powered intervention, so we made the decision to pay for a slip and have power. We moved the boat to the only open Stinkpot-sized slip in the marina for the night.
Captain's Log: Goodbye Maryland
After two false starts, the first caused by a delayed Amazon package, and the second caused by the remnants of hurricane Ian circling for what seemed like a year, perhaps a year and a half, while we watched coverage of the wasteland it left in its wake, Stinkpot has finally left the dock and begun her voyage south for the winter.
With a tinge of regret, on a beautiful, sunny morning, Thursday, October 6th, we dropped lines and pointed Stinkpot away from Havre de Grace, Maryland after five weeks in the City Yacht Basin.
We made some very good friends there, not the least of whom is Steve, the dockmaster at the marina, as well as the developers of the Argo Navigation app, Jeff, John, and Bill. I'm sure all of these folks will figure prominently into some future adventures, but for now we are off to new places. Our first day, we ran down to Annapolis to pump out our black water tank and grab some fuel—not a lot of fuel, but just enough since we see a very nice fuel price at Top Rack Marina.
We were thinking we might anchor nearby and take in the sights and sounds of Annapolis, but that will have to wait for another time. The Annapolis Boat Show was in full swing, and our desire for a peaceful anchorage proved more powerful than the desire to see the town. It remains on our list of future stops—the boat show is as well—just not now. We continued south and anchored up the Rhode River near Sheephead Cove.
No sooner did we have the anchor down and the engines off, I looked at our battery voltage and realized that the batteries were not doing well. I should back up…. While we were doing boat maintenance in Havre de Grace—mostly engine maintenance including new fuel injectors and fuel lines—I also checked the electrolyte levels in our house batteries, which are six, lead-acid, 6-volt golf-cart batteries. I was chagrined to find them near dry. I re-watered them, but the damage was done. I had never seen them require watering more often than every six months, but this time they needed it sooner, and I neglected to check them. I inspected the plates and they really looked bad. They seemed to take a charge, though, so I figured they'd be "good enough" until they weren't anymore. Well, that day turned out to be Thursday. With only our usual house loads on the batteries, and following a full day of charging from the solar and the alternator, the voltage was a very dim 12.0 volts—it should have been no less than 12.8 volts, if not more at that point with the sun still out and dancing across the solar panels. I thought for a minute and then started the generator—our new-to-us generator! We ran it until bedtime to keep what little juice the batteries could hold available for once the anchor light had to go on and stay on all night. At bedtime, we shut off EVERYTHING except the anchor light. I mean everything. The fridge and freezer included. I even risked death by not using my CPAP machine for the first time in probably 6 years.
As it turned out, I wouldn't have died. I could barely sleep all night. Every time I so much as snorted, I woke myself up. Kids, if you have a snoring problem, get a sleep study. The doctors refused to believe a guy of my weight and build could have sleep apnea, but I showed them. I stopped breathing 50 times in one hour during the sleep study. They made me sleep on my back, I'm usually a side sleeper, so it was far worse on my back. Anyhow, I didn't die, and with morning light Friday, we weighed anchor and began making way to Solomons, Maryland, where we would put a cunning plan into action.
When we were headed up the bay in July, we spent about six weeks in Solomons, and we left our Toyota Highlander parked in dear friends, Cristin's and Aaron's yard, while they are spending three years in Germany (It's unlikely our car will remain there the entire three years). We call the Highlander our "northern car." Next summer, it will follow us wherever we end up going. So, as we were in need of transportation to buy new batteries, and we just happened to be going by Solomons, we contacted friends at the Southern Maryland Sailing Association and asked if we could dock there while we dealt with our battery situation. That is exactly what we did.
Friday afternoon we docked at SMSA, walked the 1/2 mile or so to our car, parked it near the boat, removed six 66-pound batteries from the boat, loaded six batteries in a dock cart, loaded six batteries in the car, drove 50 miles to Sam's Club, bought six batteries ($108 apiece), recycled six batteries, and returned to the boat exhausted.
Our intention at that point was to park the car and deal with the batteries in the morning. We stepped aboard Stinkpot and I realized that we needed to at least get the batteries aboard and "in position." The batteries belong along the port side of the engine room. With their 400 pounds missing, Stinkpot had a very prominent starboard list. I could just imagine another sleepless night trying not to fall out of the bed. The plan was amended. I backed the car down to the pier, loaded the batteries into the dock cart, wheeled them out to the boat, moved them aboard, and placed them where they more or less belong. With Stinkpot sitting level again, we went up to the yacht club and enjoyed a couple beverages with friends and asked to spend a second night because of forecasted winds.
Saturday morning, I finished installing the new batteries. It was a blustery October day and reminded me of autumn in Maine. The new normal is people telling us that whatever weather we are enjoying, wherever we are, is unseasonably [insert correct adjective]. Over the summer, it was unseasonably hot. Now in October it is unseasonably chilly. The extremes seem to be getting more extreme with each passing year. Last year at this time, we were also on Chesapeake Bay. It was gorgeous. This year it is chilly.
Saturday came and went. We made a quick trip to the nearby market for a few food items and parked the car back at its "winter home." Sunday—today—we continued south and had a very nice cruise to Deltaville, Virginia, where we returned to the Fishing Bay Yacht Club, which I wrote on this very blog about mere months ago. No sooner were we docked, a sailboat docked behind us. It was an older couple with a comparably spry Jack Russell Terrier. We caught their lines, exchanged pleasantries, and then returned to have our dinner aboard, a walk ashore, and chill out until bedtime.
As we were sitting here at twilight, we heard…well, I'll let Stacey tell this story. She just posted about it on Facebook. I'll paste it in right after I say that tomorrow we hope to get an early start to head to Portsmouth, Virginia. Here's Stacey's retelling of what just happened with our new neighbors:
A tiny, meek, almost unheard voice roused us from not doing much of anything in Stinkpot's salon after dark following a long constitutional walk on land. Dave turned and peered into the inky night where we floated. It was the older woman from the sailboat behind us in this photo at the next slip from the other side of the dock. We had caught the couple's lines when they arrived just after we did this afternoon.
"Oh, hello." Dave responded while he invitingly threw wide Stinkpot's heavy mahogany door.
"Terry fell in."
Dave was off like a flash. Me in my stocking feet flew after him. 100 yards away her husband Terry was just a small shape shivering in the darkness. He clung to the dock. We had noticed earlier that he wasn't the most steady on his feet for a sailor dancing along the rail, but hey, at least they are out here.
"Give me your hand," Dave gently but authoritatively commanded.
My Captain started to pull with all of his might while the wife stood back and lit the struggle with her cellphone flashlight. With his free hand Terry tried to push himself up but was already exhausted. The headlamp that had been on Terry's head illuminated the scene dully from below; on the murky bottom of Jackson Creek.
I reached out over the water to my limit. With one mighty heave I grabbed the back of his belt holding waterlogged blue jeans. Whatever strength I mustered was enough for the three of us to hoist him back onto the dock while their little boat-terrier yipped encouragement.
We tried to make as small of a fuss as we possibly could as the man sat nursing his dignity more than anything else.
We were game, but Terry decided against us trying to rescue his headlamp.
Stacey and Dave are nomadic explorers who travel the waters of the eastern United States aboard their Bayliner 3870, m/v Stinkpot.