I have been avoiding writing this post, not really on purpose, but because time is a finite resource. Admittedly, I have had other things going on that required my attention, and I did write a post for my other blog.
Notice the crazy wave action by the mouth of Pirates Cove in the above video! Hear our beloved generator running?!
When last you heard from our intrepid explorers about three weeks ago, we were lying at anchor in Jacksonville, waiting for Hurricane Nicole to do her worst. She did, and we survived. Pirates Cove turned out to be the perfect place to weather such a storm, and we probably were far better off swinging on our anchor than we would've been tied up in a boat slip with a web of dock lines. Being at anchor means that the bow of the boat is always pointed into the wind and whatever waves there might be, which meant we could stand outside in the cockpit of the boat behind the salon and watch the storm without getting blown around. As three days pinned to the boat goes, it was uneventful, never once scary, often quite relaxing, and almost even fun.
The rain during Nicole was intense! Notice how high the water was getting with the tidal surge! It got a bit higher….
The storm happened during a king tide, so the storm surge which came up the St. Johns River proved entertaining for us, but devastating for some of the very expensive homes that were around us in the cove. Clearly some of the homes were built at a time when no one could've conceived of the river level rising much above a certain level. Newer houses were built upon piles of fill, but the older homes were decidedly not, and we watched with morbid fascination as the water rose over retaining walls and docks, up manicured lawns, around patio furniture, and through locked doors into some very posh dwellings. The wind did howl, but there was almost no wave action in our enclosed cove, and Stinkpot came through with nary a scratch.
After spending three days in the cove with no place to go ashore, your humble captain was starting to go a little stir crazy, so against the better judgement of the crew, we weighed anchor on Veterans Day and pointed the boat out of the cove onto the river to continue up river (south). Our goal was to fuel up at our usual fuel stop at Mandarin Holiday Marina and continue as far as Green Cove Springs where we could dock with power on the municipal docks. Mind you, those docks would've been a terrible choice during the storm because a powerful northeast wind there would rock those docks mercilessly, but post-storm, the winds clocked around to the southwest, and that would be very pleasant there, indeed. I was looking forward to going ashore, perhaps grabbing a pizza or some other culinary perk of civilization while there. It wasn't meant to be.
When we exited the cove onto the river, the river seemed relatively calm, but as we continued south, the wind and wave action on the river became lumpier and lumpier, the overcast increased, and by the time we got to the area around Mandarin Point and Doctors Lake, the seas were uncomfortable and the numerous, black crab pot floats were increasingly hard to spot under darkening skies. I decided at that point that we should divert into Doctors Lake and run down to Whitey's Fish Camp (a restaurant with a dock) to dock for dinner, go ashore for a walk, and perhaps spend the night if allowed.
Stacey called ahead of our arrival, and the person she spoke to was talking as though the docks were bound to be wall-to-wall boats, and we'd scarcely find a place to tie up. I was dubious because, despite it being a weekend evening, the weather was far from prime boating conditions. Stacey persisted with her questioning and asked if we could spend the night. She was told that captains who drink a bit too much are often encouraged to spend the night on the dock. Challenge accepted!
We made the four miles down the lake against the chop to Whitey's and the only boat that was tied up there was one that clearly stays tied up there—presumably belonging to one of Whitey's owners. The restaurant is tucked into a creek and the water was flat calm, despite the relentless southwest breeze. I slid Stinkpot alongside the dock just ahead of that vessel, and the water was already so high still from the storm that we could tell the still-rising tide would take it over the fixed dock. With another two or three hours until high tide, we went inside and told the staff of our presence on their dock and said we'd be in for dinner after the tide recedes enough to let us back off the boat. A plan that we were all too pleased to follow—and we did—and it was delicious—and the captain got a little tipsy as t'was required and foretold. While we were inside, the overcast began to break up leaving us with a beautiful sky under which we took a lovely post-dinner stroll ashore and retired for the evening, and while we were admiring the very nice houses ashore we received a private message from one of our fan/followers on Facebook saying, I see you're at my family's restaurant. I hope you enjoy staying the night on the dock. We told them that we had already accomplished the listed quid pro quo, and were told in no uncertain terms that such drastic measures were unnecessary, and that Stinkpot was invited to dock at Whitey's for the night any time. Fortunately, I did not wake up with a headache the following morning.
The sun rose on that Saturday with nary a breath of wind and gorgeous warming sunshine. We cast off from Whitey's and made our way back up the lake and across the river to Mandarin Holiday Marina for our requisite refueling at the least expensive fuel stop for hundreds of miles in either direction, after which we continued up river (south) in idyllic conditions with a knot or so current against us toward our target for the day of the free docks in Palatka. That current we were running against never waned at all at flood, even though we were still on the tidal portion of the river. I attribute that to the high water and indeed flooding conditions still up river following hurricanes Ian and, to a far lesser extent, Nicole.
Upon arrival in Palatka, I docked Stinkpot on the t-head dock, as I had the last time we spent the evening there a year earlier. There was only one other boat docked there—a sailboat that looked as though it hadn't moved in some time. We settled in, had dinner aboard, and then decided we should go ashore to see if we could grab a few missing items at the nearby Dollar General. We stepped off, and made our way toward land, and when we made the right turn onto the main pier, we spotted it. A chainlink fence was blocking the end of the pier and ostensibly preventing our egress. We walked up to this impediment, and decided that we could carefully swing out over the water and around the fence with one hand on the fence post, which we both accomplished with the ease of geriatric gymnasts.
We walked toward the store only to find the shelves mostly bereft of anything resembling items on our list, but we did find a couple items that were on the list which together totaled about $2, so we picked them up and made our way toward the register. There was such a crush of humanity also trying to check out with the one cashier who obviously was not up to the task, we ultimately returned our bottle of lime juice and wire whisk to the shelves and left empty handed. We returned to Stinkpot, reversing our previous running of the chainlink fence gauntlet, and retired for the evening.
Sunday morning arrived with what would end up being fleeting sunny warmth. Our goal for the day was to make it to our new home berth in Astor, Florida at Astor Bridge Marina & Motel where we would meet our new friends, Chris and Cherie (pronounced share-y), not to be confused with our Technomadia friends, Chris and Cherie (pronounced shuh-ree). These new friends had pulled one of their boats out of the water, parked it nearby on a trailer, and ultimately ended up selling it to one of the other dock neighbors here at the marina so that Stinkpot could have a boat slip to pull into. There are almost no long-term boat slips available anywhere in Florida right now following the COVID Boat Buying Boom and two hurricanes which damaged so many marinas across the state, so we are very grateful and indebted to the new Chris and Cherie for their kindness to a couple itinerant strangers whom they started following on Facebook.
We carefully picked our way up river, avoiding crab pots the entire way, as clouds began to gather overhead into yet another overcast. By the time we made it to the Buffalo Bluff Railway Bridge (AKA Satsuma Bridge), the sky was fully cloudy. The bridge was in the closed position—I radioed the tender and was told that we were "waiting for a train." I held the boat in position against the oncoming current for about a half hour until the Amtrak Auto Train bound for Sanford plunged southard across the trestle. As soon as the train was clear, the bridge opened, and we continued up river. The water was still quite high and to avoid damage ashore from our boat wake, we would throttle down through any developed area of the river, making for pretty slow going. The overcast gave way to occasional showers and chilly temperatures, so we decided to move the party from our flybridge to the lower helm in the warmth of Stinkpot's salon. We arrived at Lake George fairly early in the afternoon, crossed the eleven-or-so-mile lake at which point we ducked back into the river with about four miles left until "home."
The water level on the southern end of Lake George was really very high to the point that we didn't dare operate even at our normal "no wake" speed for fear of causing further damage ashore. We were on the receiving end of a lot of concerned glances from the local landed gentry as we picked our way up river through the Astor area*. We were running with only one engine in gear (our port engine) which I kept throttled down so as to maintain our SOG (speed over ground) at less than 2 knots against the 1.5 knots of current we were seeing, while I kept our starboard engine in neutral and throttled up enough to maintain the alternator that was powering all the boat's electronics above its cut-in rotational speed—somewhat necessary when the solar panels are doing effectively nothing due to the overcast.
It took about 90 minutes for Stinkpot to finish the last four miles or so from Lake George to the marina. We called ahead to the marina and spoke to the manager, Julie, and told her, based on our present momentum, we'd be coming in about fifteen minutes (we could already see the eponymous bridge that is immediately north of the marina), and would start at the pumpout in front of the marina before then coming in and docking in our slip. She talked us through what we'd be seeing, and within an hour, Stinkpot was tied up in her slip, paperwork was done, and we were meeting our new neighbors, Chris and Cherie. They invited us to join them for a walk to the restaurant/bar across the bridge for dinner and beverages, an opportunity we were only too glad to seize upon after a long day underway. We had a lovely evening, returned to Stinkpot, and slept like the dead.
Ordinarily, an arrival such as that would be the end of one of these blog posts, and so it shall be. Oh, but there's more to the story since then, and it absolutely deserves to be recounted here, so stay tuned for the next thrilling episode, coming soon to a computer terminal near you.
In the meantime, I will finish this post with a bit of an appeal. As we've mentioned often, Stacey and I have scheduled a trip to Ireland in June with Brack Tours. This trip is not an outing for us so much as it is an opportunity for our friends and followers to get together with us in a beautiful place and enjoy the Emerald Isle together. In order for the trip to proceed, we need a minimum number of participants, below which the trip, unfortunately, gets canceled. As of this writing, we do not have enough people signed up for the trip to proceed—and that has to change relatively soon. If you have been considering joining us, but just have not signed up yet for whatever reason, now is the time so that we can get to critical mass and know for certain the trip is going forward. If you wish you could go, but the timing is not right, letting us know that also is helpful—so we know whether rescheduling or full cancellation makes sense, should it come to that.
Watch this space for a thrilling, upcoming land-based post.
*Technically, Astor, Florida is only on the west side of the St. Johns River, which means that our location on the east side of the river is technically Volusia, Florida. Because the entire area is serviced by the Astor-based post office, the USPS has the final word on the address, so while we are technically not in Astor, the marina's address says differently.
To those of you on land, today is election day. For Stacey and me, we filled out our ballots a few weeks ago and mailed them from Southport, NC with the USPS's official "Maine Stamp" providing the fare. That truly feels like a lifetime ago.
Today, and for most of the last week or so, we have been, more or less, in Jacksonville, FL. We crossed into Florida on November 2nd, and since we've been "in town" so much has happened that it almost deserves its own blog entry. Instead of doing that, I'm just going to rewind to the point at which our last blog ended, and hit "play." To find out about all that has transpired, read on—I'll get to it. I promise.
The last time I did the old "jazz hands on the computer keyboard" thing here was when we had just entered South Carolina. Having figured out and fixed, at thankfully minor expense, what was wrong with our starboard engine, the boat was running great, and we were so pleased to be back underway. Anchored on the Waccamaw River is truly our "happy place." Quiet and calm, it was a truly relaxing place to unwind after the uncertainty of the previous week or so. We were suddenly energized and decided we wanted to press on and get to Sanford, Florida where I could get some gigs and start rebuilding the cruising kitty after months of expensive boat repairs and even more expensive diesel fuel. We had no idea what we were getting into when we left on April 1st, and had we known then, we may not have even left Sanford.
Sanford was our comfortable, home base where I had work and our storage unit, where we moved all our stuff after we sold the Maine house, is located. Living on the boat in an urban marina with a car in the parking lot (which we also keep in Florida) is like living in a house that floats. It's a simple existence to be sure—far simpler than bouncing around from port to port. Want a pizza? They'll even deliver it to the boat!
So we pointed the boat south after only one night on our beloved Waccamaw River and ran beyond Georgetown to an anchorage in McClellanville, SC—a long haul. And the next day we carved another huge chunk out of our itinerary by running past Charleston and anchoring on the Stono River.
It was about this time that I finally got through to our marina in Sanford to ask if they still had a slip waiting for us after Hurricane Ian's unprecedented flooding. The answer was a simple, "No." The dockmaster, Luke, elaborated that the marina had lost about 40 slips to the recent flooding, and it would be a while before they had slips for anyone who wasn't already there. This dispiriting news was not what we wanted to hear as we were literally powering south to comfort and "home." All the same, we soldiered on, having posted about our misfortune on Facebook and asking for advice, we left the outcome up to serendipity.
The next days would have me making countless, fruitless phone calls to marinas looking for a spot while we were cruising and after we were tied up or anchored. We had a couple positive interactions with marinas, but nothing came together.
We weighed anchor on the Stono River and made a long day's passage that we were hopeful would end on a yacht club dock in Beaufort, SC, but the club did not return our emails or phone calls until we had motored past Beaufort with a stiff following current. We thanked them for getting back to us, but anchored for the evening in the Pinckney Island anchorage not far from Hilton Head where we had a reservation for the following evening on a dock in the Wexford Yacht Club. At some point in our cruise that day, we received a Facebook message from some folks we did not know, but with whom we have a few mutual friends, offering us a boat slip in Astor, FL on the St. Johns River, about an hour by car from Sanford. As soon as we were settled in for the night, I called them, and thus began a process that ended with us having a plan again.
The next morning, we weighed anchor and made our way along the 11-or-so nautical mile journey to the yacht club where we had made plans to have dinner with our dear friend, Mike, who lives in northern Georgia. While we were getting comfortable and settled on the dock, he was making the nearly two-hour trip from his home to Hilton Head. He joined us aboard for conversation and liquid refreshment after which we all adjourned to the clubhouse for dinner—despite the white tablecloths and exceedingly attentive service, it was "pub night" and I enjoyed a perfect (and perfectly huge) cheeseburger and fries, while Stacey ordered a lovely chicken piccata, and Mike enjoyed a crab soup and a salad.
After dinner, we parted company with Mike and took an idyllic walk through the neighborhoods of the club—it's a yacht club AND an HOA, so members can pull their boat up behind their multi-million-dollar manse with all the amenities of one of the finest resorts just outside their front door. The next morning, we pumped out Stinkpot's blackwater tank, filled her freshwater tank, and exited the harbor via the lock. We fueled at the nearby marina which had a stunningly good price, and continued toward Georgia, fully transiting Savannah and proceeding on a favoring current at high tide through Hell Gate before having the anchor down in Redbird Creek.
A beautiful sunset and sunrise later, we were underway again. We had decided to run back to Darien, GA where we stopped on our way north in 2020 after completing the Great Loop. It was early in COVID-19 and the town was virtually closed down. We vowed to return to really enjoy it, and thought that was what we were about to do. That's, of course, when our friend, James, contacted us and said he was going to his boat at St. Simons Island, GA, in case we wanted to get together. By the time we got his message, we had already left the ICW for the side trip to Darien with a solid two-knot following current. At first, we thought we might get together with James the next day, but after looking at tides, currents, and routing from Darien to St. Simons Island, I decided that it made far more sense (and would save a bunch of fuel and time underway) to run to meet James that very day and bypass Darien yet again. As Darien came into view, we turned to port and transited the very narrow and foreboding Generals Cut at a high, falling tide and ran the extra 20 miles or so, anchoring in a familiar spot between Lanier Island and St. Simons Island. In 2020, while on our way north to Maine, I performed an online concert from that very same anchorage.
No concert this time, we prepped the boat for our being away, launched and readied the dinghy, and ran about a mile to the dinghy dock at Morningstar Marinas Golden Isles where our new friend, James met us with a smile. James runs a website we use frequently (and occasionally contribute content to) as we look for great spots to tie up Stinkpot along the ICW. First thing being first, James invited us aboard his sailboat for a beverage or two, after which we adjourned to his Ford pickup truck for a trip to a grocery store, after which he treated us to a fajita feast at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Before he returned us to our dinghy and a starlit transit back to Stinkpot, he drove us around St. Simons Island to see, as best we could in the dark, what makes it such a special place. Soon enough though, we were loading our groceries into the dinghy, A.K.A. "Lil' Stinker," turning on our battery-operated navigation lights, and heading back to Stinkpot. The all-around white light quit due to its disused battery at the very moment we pulled up to the mothership. Perfect timing! We stowed the groceries (and the dinghy) and went to bed.
Morning saw us weighing anchor for another long day. We wanted to make it to Jacksonville, there was no reason why we shouldn't, and that's exactly what we did, arriving at one of our favorite free docks at Jim King Park in Sisters Creek right behind two sailing catamarans, and about an hour before a Carver 440. Now, this, dear reader, is where the story starts to get interesting, and it's also where your humble scribe is going to take a break to gather his strength for the recounting that is to come.
Cup of coffee in hand and a piece of the banana bread our boat neighbors brought us yesterday to sustain me, and I'm back to writing strength.
Jacksonville has been good to us. We arrived at the Sisters Creek dock on Wednesday, November 2nd to minor fanfare. I spun Stinkpot onto the dock in such a fashion that one of the gathered sailors told me that using my thrusters like that is cheating. I corrected him that I have no thrusters, to which he then congratulated me on my mad skills. I used the wind and current to come along side and onto the dock. Stacey handed out lines like free meal tickets and we were made fast to the dock before I even left the captain's chair. We found out a couple of days later that the gent who greeted us is named Jack, but to my face-blind firstmate, he is the spitting image of George W. Bush, so for two days we were calling him George. About two hours after we docked, a Carver 440 docked right behind us, and we all (all six boats—three sailboats and three motor yachts) had a very quiet evening.
We awoke early the next morning with intentions of leaving mid-afternoon on the slack current. I had been watching the current markers on the St. Johns River, not 1/2 mile away, and knew when we wanted to get on the river. I was expecting slack would be at a similar time on the dock, so we stayed on the dock, instead of casting off at first light, which would be our norm, expecting to cast off in the afternoon. By contrast, the owners of the Carver 440 were inclined to press on at first light. The current was coming by the dock very swiftly, probably around 3 knots, so I helped them spring off. The captain seemed very sure of his skills, instructed me correctly on how to deal with his line, and they left the dock from the stern after successfully using an aft spring from a mid-cleat to get skillfully off the dock. That was the point at which his competence ran out. He had a following current which requires power to overcome and give the boat direction. This captain did not throttle up to give himself steerage in the current and his boat came inches from sideswiping Stinkpot on his way by, and then he sideswiped BOTH of the sailing cats tied up off our bow, doing significant structural damaged to the one closest to us, and crushing important parts of the standing rigging on the next boat. Nearly a week later, and the sound of cracking fiberglass is still in our ears. The errant skipper attempted to come to a stop, likely thinking he should communicate his contact and insurance information to the skippers whose boats he crunched, but all of us on the dock could see yet another slow-motion catastrophe unfolding in the stiff current and told him to "GO!" at which point he radioed his information back to the damaged crafts so that insurance claims could be begun. He was the last one to leave the dock that day. The wind came up and all the rest of us decided to wait until we were sure we could get off the dock without incident. Another boat did come in later in the afternoon—a good-sized Back Cove with bow and stern thrusters stopped for lunch, and he had to power out, heavily waking the entire dock, for which we all celebrated—better that than hearing the tell-tale sound of crunching fiberglass again. Truthfully, if I needed to get Stinkpot away, we could've sprung off just like the inept Carver captain and then left, but I decided we were in no hurry, and it became clear that the slack current at the dock differed from the slack current on the river by about 2 hours or more, so there was no point in trying that day.
The following afternoon, Friday, November 4th, after having plenty of bonding time with Jack, who it turns out is Canadian, and the other crews, we finally sprung off and powered out against the significant wind while the current was slack at the dock right after the cats ahead of us made their departures by nudging off the end of the dock into the swift cross current. This meant we had an easy mile to the St. Johns River, but when we arrived there, we were fighting a 3 (or so) knot current up river. We went about 3 miles and anchored to wait for the river's slack current, which took a couple of hours. At 4pm, we weighed anchor and rode the flood tide into downtown Jacksonville tying up at the Metropolitan Park Marina where we intended to ride out the impending weather that we are now calling Tropical Storm Nicole. The marina is hard against the northern bank of the river in this spot, so the expected northeast winds should have vastly less impact on us here than in other places we could've chosen.
Of course, this being 2022, there had to be a hitch. Stacey called the office that oversees the park and asked if there would be any issues. The marina is free to use except when the Jacksonville Jaguars have a home game or there is some other nearby event for which the city can charge for dockage. The Jaguars had a home game Sunday afternoon, so we were told we'd have to be gone for the day of the game. Early Sunday morning we cast off and docked about a mile up river at the brand new Jacksonville Landings—also a great free dock. It's a wonderful place to spend a night, and we took advantage of the proximity to the downtown area by walking to a nice, if overpriced, fresh market, and enjoyed the big-city vibe there. We actually walked back to Metro Park after the game was over to see if the marina had space or if football revelry was going into the night. We were pleased at the sight of a once-again, nearly-empty marina. At first light, we returned to the marina, tying up facing east and well sheltered by the concrete piers. That was yesterday. Since then we have helped two other sailboats get docked in the marina (one of which is the source of the excellent banana bread that nourished this opus). We will remain here, abusing the 72-hour time limit for these free slips with mad abandon, until Nicole moves away—probably on Saturday. We have it on good authority that they waive such arbitrary time limits during extreme weather, and we intend to take advantage of their good sense. As I am writing this, it's beautiful out, nearly 80°F, and gusting over 30 mph. Nicole is coming, and she's going to stay a while. We're settled in. We have all we need here, and we're feeling quite safe.
At least that was what we were feeling as I wrote that last sentence, which was supposed to be the final words of this missive. The story does not end there, however. As the sun was racing across the sky and we were comfortable in the idea that we were in our safe place for this named storm, a very official-looking white pickup pulled up at the end of the pier and a guy got out. He stopped at the sailboat which had tied up not three hours before and said something to its skipper, then he knocked on the banana bread sailboat to speak with them, and so we jumped out of Stinkpot to chat with the man. He said that the City of Jacksonville could not have us on these docks during a named storm. Insurance would not allow it, and we all had until noon tomorrow (Wednesday, November 9) to vacate. I consulted with the USCG and also a good friend who has an encyclopedic knowledge of maritime vagaries to make sure they could do that at such a late point with incoming weather, and was told that the coast guard has no jurisdiction in such situations, so, yes, we had to move. As he was telling us we had to leave, winds were already gusting over 30 mph.
Stacey and I wasted no time. There is a railroad bridge in downtown Jacksonville that needs to be open for us to continue up the St. Johns River, and we didn't want to risk it being closed for weather before we had a chance to venture through. We called the bridge and were told that it was still operating, so we quickly made ready and cast off for points up river. I had a couple anchorages in mind, one of which is a known hurricane hole, and so I pointed the boat south. We arrived at the accursed railroad bridge to find a train STOPPED on it. I called the bridge and was assured that, while they were having an issue with the train, a resolution was close at hand and to stand by. We hovered for a half hour or so before the train started moving, and within minutes, the bridge was open and we continued south.
As we made our way into the widest part of the river the northeast wind found its fetch, and in no time at all we were in what I estimate to be a three to four foot following sea. I kept the waves on our stern, avoided the inevitable crab pots, and kept the bow pointed toward my preferred anchorage, Pirates Cove, a hurricane hole that one of our friends also suggested to us when we began the mad scramble to find an alternate location to weather Nicole. I didn't have a lot of hope that we'd find space in a hurricane hole when a hurricane was bearing down on us, and I had three other options in my back pocket should we find the anchorage full—Mill Cove in Doctors Lake, or Black Creek even further south on the western shore of the St. Johns.
As we arrived at Pirates Cove, the conditions were just about at our limit of comfort with a following sea—it was taking a lot of play on the rudders to keep us going in a straight line, and I really didn't want to add more power to things. We were getting a good ride, albeit we were surfing. Adding power and speed to the equation likely would've also given a much rougher ride. To press on to one of my backups would've been sheer madness. I was resigned to the idea that we would make this anchorage work no matter what. To our sheer pleasure and astonishment, when we turned the corner into the cove, the seas flattened out entirely, the wind abated significantly thanks to the trees, and there was not one single boat at anchor. We had the anchor set hard in no time flat and were eating our belated dinner as the sun set over the cove.
It was then that we also got the good news that our friend, Kip, figured out what was wrong with our Toyota Prius, and we'll have a working car when we do arrive in Astor after the storm. As I write this now, we are safely at anchor. It's blowing a gale outside, but there is very little wave action in this enclosed cove—I'll repeat what I said earlier and mean it this time. We're settled in. We have all we need here, and we're feeling quite safe.
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.
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.
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.
Greetings from GORGEOUS Havre de Grace, Maryland! We have been here for over two weeks now, having arrived on August 27th. Last time I posted here, we were in Rockhall, MD awaiting a diver to give our bottom a scrub—the boat's bottom, that is. He found growth enough down there to slow us down a bit, including a healthy crust of barnacles on our prop shafts. In no time flat, he had chiseled off our stowaways, and we were on our way, headed north along the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. It was still quite hot, and our generator had not worked so well in the heat during our stay in Rockhall. It was overheating under load, so we decided to not run it until we solved that problem (more on that in a moment).
We were on the hunt for an anchorage with a good breeze, similar to the anchorage called Dun Cove that we enjoyed days before, just to the west of St. Michaels, MD. First we nosed into Fairlee Creek, which looked promising, but some crab fisherman had woven an intricate network of trotlines and floats throughout the entire anchorage with little room left for us, so we scrubbed and ran up to just north of Handy's Point in the mouth of Worton Creek. The breeze there was lovely, the water was flat calm, and we were anchored in no time enjoying dinner and the sunset. The breeze calmed down to almost nothing and the only force dictating our position to the anchor was the changing tide.
Some point in the middle of the night, I arose to nature's call to find us taking a very gentle chop on the beam. There was absolutely no wind and no indication of what might be causing it. It was just one of those weird phenomena that happen on large bodies of water at night, probably caused by a distant wind across the bay that just hadn't decided to cross the water with the waves it was causing. We've experienced similar things before. It was a gentle side-to-side rocking, so I paid it no mind and returned to the berth for a couple more hours of sleep. About 5 AM, I rose once again to Stinkpot pointing into a wind and the chop it was making, coming from the same direction as the earlier gentle wave action. It was, by this point, nothing we were going to sleep through, and it was decidedly not comfortable, so I made the pre-dawn decision to venture up into Worton Creek (against protestations from the crew) where I knew we could avoid the building sea entirely. We weighed anchor in the dark and proceeded in, re-anchoring just northwest of Worton Creek Marina, and went back to bed to deal with the unfinished business of getting a decent night's sleep.
When we finally shrugged off our sleep, I made calls to try to get Worton Creek Marina's service guys to take a look at Stinkpot's engines and deal with some deferred maintenance, namely our long-time problem with attaining top RPM from our engines. We've been through nearly every system that could impact that except replacing fuel lines or rebuilding our fuel injectors, and I was finally fed up with it. Cleaning our bottom returned a few MPH, but Stinkpot is supposed to be capable of so much more, and I feel we're wasting fuel with whatever is wrong, so we started making preparations to deal with it. After some soul searching, and another night spent in the same anchorage, I decided there were still a few stones I had left unturned, and we decided to proceed to a different marina where we could spend a month while I did exactly that.
When last I wrote here, I mentioned we might venture up to the MTOA rendezvous, but I decided against that, and when we weighed anchor we were headed to Havre de Grace, Maryland. Knowing that my high school French probably did not prepare me properly to pronounce that which inevitably had long ago been anglicized, we searched YouTube for clues….
For the previous few days, we had been trying out a new navigation app called, Argo. It really seems like a promising app, but it had some rather significant gaps in its feature set. I had emailed the company and started a dialog with Jeff, the company founder. He told me they were located in Havre de Grace, so our trip here developed a few different angles of interest. First, we would rebuild Stinkpot's fuel injectors. Second, we'd meet up with Jeff and learn more about his app and its development and offer to help him make it more attractive to long-distance boaters such as us.
So we docked on the end of pier 2 at the City Yacht Basin and secured a month of dockage from the dockmaster, Steve. I ordered my injector nozzles and a new raw water pump for the generator to cure the overheating problem, and we invited Jeff over to visit us on Stinkpot. Jeff came a couple of times, the first time, bringing some nice gifts like an Argo hat, beer coozie, dry bag, and other things. He asked if he could plug his Argo data collection dongle into our navigation network to collect depth data for improving his app (which we agreed to). On a separate trip, he brought John with him, who is another of the folks working on the Argo, and John asked if we needed a car, offering his seldom-used Subaru sedan for as long as we're here. On yet a third trip, John and Bill came to diagnose and fix an issue with the Argo data-collection dongle (all is well now).
Also since we've been here, I was contacted by friends, Fred and Shirley, with whom I sit on a non-profit folk music association board called the World Folk Music Association. Fred took us shopping (pre-John's Subaru) on one of our first days here, so we could restock our thinning pantry, and he took us to lunch for good measure. Since then we've been treated to lunch several other times by Fred and Shirley. We dined with them last Saturday afternoon along with, Sean and Janet, two other mutual friends. Stacey successfully enjoyed her first-ever Maryland Blue Crab, which your humble scribe eschewed due to having tried and failed to enjoy one before.
Our injector nozzles finally arrived a week or so ago, and I set to work collecting tools we don't have and extracting the first injector to replace the nozzle. You know, if you watch YouTube enough, you can foolishly gain the confidence to attempt virtually anything. With a bellyful of virtual-confidence, I easily removed the first injector and then, using my available tools as recommended by the video's creator, fruitlessly tried to recreate what I saw on YouTube. A vice, big wrenches, a torch, and brute force and I could not get the retaining cap off of this injector. I felt like a stereotypical geezer trying to open a drugstore pill bottle. I called my friend and former Dave Rowe Trio fiddler, Ed, who usually encourages me in these sorts of things, and Ed said, "Oh, I just take mine to an injector shop. You want them to be tested and balanced, and you don't have the tools."
I rarely need to be told twice that I'm a fool, so last Tuesday we were back on the internet and phone—both Stacey and me—and we found a shop specializing in diesel injector rebuilding about 20 miles away, just over the Delaware line who could squeeze our 12 injectors in before our stay here in HdG expired. Last Thursday we piled into John's Subaru and drove there to drop off said injectors and our twelve, fresh nozzles. The process of disassembly, cleaning, relapping, replacing worn parts, seating our new injector nozzles, and testing for leaks and proper aerosolization and spray pattern would, we were told, cost us $80 per injector plus shop parts, as required. He said, "Figure on a grand." I didn't cry at the figure, and I think it's very fair given the circumstances. In the process of finding the shop, we called another injector shop and he turned us away because he doesn't do diesel injectors for want of an $80,000 tool he would need. I guess I can swallow my pride and pay the man who does own the tools (I surely do not and likely will never).
We have been told our injectors should be ready soon, and it'll take me a couple of hours to get them all reinstalled. Until then, Stinkpot shall remain motionless, and we have ceased using our on-board heads for fear of needing to get our blackwater tank pumped out before we are once again mobile. The marina has nice bathroom facilities, but it's a quarter-mile round trip on foot, so we're getting our steps in.
So, all told, this has been a good stop for us. The marina adjoins a nice park with an excellent boardwalk. We've enjoyed the First Friday street festival. There was a "Lighted Boat Parade" and a fireworks show to close out the summer season on Labor Day weekend. We intend to take in the nearby museums as we are able and desire diversion, though our evening walks punctuated with roadside/trailside signs have given us a nice taste of the town and its well-documented history.
I'm not sure when our next update will happen, but it shall certainly be after we depart here for destinations unknowable, which we are scheduled to do on September 26.
It feels like I haven't dropped an update here in a long time! It's funny what a few weeks of being tied to docks will do to you. We have found ourselves staying up later and waking later in the morning. A lot more lazy time…time at the pool at the marina.
Since our last post here, so much has happened. During that heatwave under which the entire continental US seemed to suffer for weeks, our main air conditioning unit died a tragic death. Given some time, patience, and a few hundred dollars in parts, it was probably repairable, but it was also 35 years old, and the technology has progressed with the years, so we decided to "bite the bullet" and ordered a new unit. It took about 3 yea—I mean days—to arrive at the local West Marine in Solomons, Maryland, and I had it installed and running within a few hours of toting it aboard. It was an amazing relief to get cool. We only survived the three days without it by taking advantage of the marina's saltwater swimming pool, but even it was starting to approach "hot tub temperatures" as the heat wave wore on. Suffice it to say, the new A/C unit works great!
On August 10, our slip agreement with Safe Harbor Zahnisers expired, so we moved Stinkpot to the t-head dock at Southern Maryland Sailing Association where I played music in July and again a few days before we cast off to leave Solomons—one of the perks!
After we got Stinkpot tied up and secured, we piled into our car and drove away. I had music to play: two pub shows in Massachusetts, an evening at the Towne Crier in Beacon, NY, an afternoon performance at the Middleburgh, NY Library at the behest of Sonny Ochs. The comings and goings of that music tour were well-documented in Chapter 38 of Folk on the Water, so I'll restrain from rehashing it here.
We returned to Stinkpot Monday, August 15, did groceries, and got ready for our final week in Solomons, which seemed to rush by. Laundry was done. Boat maintenance checks were done. On Friday night I played for the club members in the SMSA clubhouse. Saturday we drove to Rockville, Maryland, where I played a house concert at my friends, Scott and Paula Moore's house. Sunday we returned to the boat and restocked the larder at the local grocery emporia for our Monday morning departure. Monday, we rose and made ready for a 10-11 AM departure to take advantage of a favoring tide to ride the Chesapeake northard. At the appointed hour, we dropped lines, moved briefly over to the town pump-out dock to lighten our blackwater tank, and headed out of Solomons for the bay.
We tucked ourselves into what we thought should be the current and realized we were not making speed. I turned the boat around to see what would happen and our speed reduced even more, so we were indeed riding the tide. Turned back north, we decided our bottom must be fouled from a month-and-a-half of sitting mostly still on the dock. We decided to take our time and not "burn fuel for nothing," tucking into an anchorage behind St. Michaels, MD for the evening. Tuesday, we rose again and again delayed our departure to ride the tide, which we did all the way to the Bulkhead (free dock) in Rock Hall, Maryland, from where I'm writing right now, a morning later. We will remain here until we can get a diver to take a look around and knock off whatever detritus may be slowing our progress. From here, we have no idea where we'll go, but we may head up to the MTOA (Marine Trawler Owners Association) get-together on the Sassafras River this weekend. We'll see. We out here to explore and enjoy, so we'll wet a finger and stick it in the air when we good and ready.
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….