Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spring Return Trip - Part 2

We loaded up the red Mustang that has been sitting in our driveway for the last three weeks and headed back to Sneads Ferry, NC.

It was an uneventful 7 hour ride, with a bit of traffic on 95, but it went fairly smoothly.  We arrived at the marina after dark and took the minimal clothes, etc. to the boat.  The new engine was installed, the marina had washed the boat and it looked great!


The new Starboard engine


Day 1



 We spent the morning visiting and catching up with the nice folks at Swan Point Marina. Evelyn and Tina are great! We went food shopping at 'Four Corners' and picked up some groceries. We settled our bill and the marina staff offered to return our car for us.  That would save us a lot of time, so we took them up on their gracious offer.

The event board in the marina store had "Welcome Back Eric and Bonnie" written on it.

With the engines checked, and the boat all packed, we headed out.  I had figured out a break-in period for the new engine and planned to be very gentle on it as we followed the routine.

We got about 3 miles...

Then the port engine started knocking and loosing power. So we went down to one engine, the new one, which we needed to be gentle with.  This provided a bit of a predicament.  Do we keep going and figure out the problem along the way, or go back.  We called the marina and they had not returned the rental car yet, which made our choice easier.  So we turned around and headed back.

Evelyn called a mechanic they use often, and he came over an hour later to check things out.  It was pretty much the case that this engine was a bit tired as well.  It apparently is leaking oil, and perhaps seawater into the cylinder.  So the engine would be needing a lot of TLC to get us home.  Little did we realize how frequent that TLC would need to be.

In the meantime, I returned the car as it was getting late and we felt very guilty asking the staff to coordinate it that late in the day.  When I returned, the marina was hosting a nice happy hour for everyone.  A few commercial fishermen were there and Bonnie was asking a lot of fishing questions.

Somehow it was decided that we were to go 'flounder gigging' with Captain Jerry that night.  I didn't know this, but apparently flounders go into the shallows (like 2 feet or less of water) to sleep at night.  A flat bottom skiff with a couple 200 watt bulbs and portable generator can light up a lot of bottom area. One then uses a heavily reinforced pole with a 3 or 4 pronged spear head to 'pole along' the flats until a flounder is spotted.  Then you use the pole to spear the flounder and flip it into the boat.

It took me a bit to grasp the shape of a flounder, covered with sand, lying on the bottom.  But once I got it, I had no problem gigging four that night.


Cleaning the flounder from Gigging
Once flounder was close to 5 pounds.  Bonnie was sitting at the console seat behind me and pulled off the flounders when I flipped them in.  We got back about midnight and couldn't thank Jerry enough for the experience.

Day 2



So here we go again.  This time I was a bit better equipped in the knowledge department on how to deal with the fickle engine. We followed the break-in routine on the starboard engine and one the port engine performed an every three or four hour plug cleaning and oil topping off session. We had the current and wind with us for the entire day and made good time.

From a few miles west of Moorehead city, to the inlet, the place was swarming with powerboats of all sizes and speeds.  They were like bugs swarming around us.  Boat wakes and passing boats kept us on our guard.

As we passed through Moorehead and headed towards the inlet, to make the turn to Beaufort, we spotted Tintean coming in from her offshore hop from Charleston.  Sara and Ken were exhausted and had reservations in Moorehead city.  Bonnie missed the opportunity to see Beaufort on the way down, as it was so cold in Novembeer, so we decided to meet up the next day or back in Annapolis.

We got a great slip at the town dock and after nice showers on-board and getting settled, we went for a walk around town.  Someone had recommended to Bonnie that she sell her solar lights through a store in town.  But it had already closed and would not be open on Sunday until after 11.  We would be long gone by then.  So hopefully Bonnie and organize something by phone, and we can drive down or stop through in October.

We asked about a few places to eat in town and went for a stroll to find them.  We ate in a waterfront restaurant that had very friendly staff, but just adequate food.

Day 3



We (meaning me) woke up an hour later than we planned.  We took on a bit more water, and then headed to the gas dock.  We had a nice chat with the attendant who spent over 20 years living on a sailboat and doing the ICW each fall and spring.  He had good tales to tell.  We didn't mind chatting as we had time to kill before the draw bridge opened.  Another boat started to get in position, so we said our goodbyes and shoved off.

We had the current with us again, and now with enough hours on the new engine to push her a bit harder we made 7.5 knots as we headed towards the Neuse River.

Sara and Ken got an earlier start and were 3 miles ahead of us as we began the journey.  They were going to River Dunes to do a bit more R&R before journeying farther.  We really wanted to make it home a bit quicker as Bonnie had sample cupcakes to bake for a friend's wedding and the dogs were costing quite a bit during their stay in the spa.






We made great time on the Neuse, and still had a decent current on the run up to the Pamlico River. So we kept going.  We were passed by one of the prettiest Hunter Sailboats I had seen, that is before the new 40s that Greg, and Carl and Sue purchased. It was painted blue and looked brand new, yet had the lines of an early 2000s style Hunter.

It was also very fast, and was doing a good 8 knots.  When we got to the Pamlico River, it was a couple miles ahead.  But requiring under 3 feet of water, we cut the turn into the Pungo and jumped ahead.  We didn't really intend to race, and were not even aware of our position to them until we turned into an Anchorage Mark Doyle had listed in his cruising guide.  They intended on the same anchorage, and were following us in.

During all this, Bonnie made dinner and we enjoyed a nice dinner of the flounder we caught and lobster ravioli.  It was a little rough, but not too bad.  We had a lot bumpier meal underway three weeks earlier in the Cape Fear River. Certainly pushing each day is not a good habit to have, and the great meal Bonnie made were worthy of an anchorage and calmer eating.  We really hope to be able to give ourselves more time when we go south this fall.

We anchored and the Hunter anchored not too far away.  As Bonnie was cleaning up from dinner, I went over in the dink to find out what model it was.

So, you know its a small world when... The couple, Rich and Betty were from Pennsylvania, kept their boat at Kent Island and were former HSA1 members.  Not only that, they did a sailing trip with HSA1, myself and Ian and Tyler, in 2000 and remember Carl and Sue.

I brought Bonnie over and we had some drinks and chatted.  Rich actually had a copy of the float plan for the HSA1 trip. He is a very organized guy.

We were in bed before 10.

Day 4



We were up about 6:30 and off almost right away, so that we could try to get good miles under our keel again today.  Bonnie already checked on Mary at Doury Creek Marina to find out if she was making her Beer Can chicken this week.  She wasn't, so we could keep on going.

The long run ahead...

The Alligator River- Pungo River canal is a very long run.  It was quite pretty, but it is very long and we had to keep attentive as this is where we bent our rudder on some unseen tree in November.

The tannin rich water's of North Carolina

We saw a lot of deer, one herd had over 20 deer in it.  One the radio a boat ahead of us radioed that they saw bear cubs playing by the water.  When we got to the spot, they were gone.  Bonnie was quite bummed.

Last time we were on the Alligator River, we bent our rudder on a tree.

As we crossed into the Alligator river, the winds picked up quite a bit.  We had our jib up since morning, but it did not do much until now.  We were heading up the River at mostly 8 knots, making great time.  Until... The electrical system started acting odd.  We would smell burning rubber on occasion, but could not isolate it.  I made the assumption that it was the chest freezer, as that was the newest item on board.  But it wasn't. The voltage was dropping and rising very oddly causing the radio and chart plotter to reboot.

I started to isolate the various system to find the cause, and of course that is when the port engine decided it was time for some TLC.  I decided we could continue on one engine for a bit, and worked on the power problem.  Bonnie had the helm, and the iPad with Navionics as her guide.  It did not take me too long to find the problem.  The cable jumping each pair of 6 volt batteries was apparently the weakest link in the electrical system.  As we like to run the invertor in the mornings, rather than the generator, the cable was heavily loaded once a day.  I should have changed it when I replaced the batteries in October.  My bad!

Then good fortune smiled upon us.  Just the day before I ran across an old bag of junk from the 1985 Hunter we owned.  I kept meaning to throw it out, but didn't.  In it was some 1/0 gauge cable I had from a project were I was going to upgrade the Battery cables on that old boat.  Cables, lugs, everything I needed were there. I cut the cable with the bolt cutters we keep for emergency rigging issues, and had us back up and going in 15 minutes.  Then on tothe TLC for the port engine.

We crossed Albemarle Sound with minimal current, and good wind behind us.  Storm clouds passed both in front and behind us, but missed us. We ran up the North River and entered the cut to Coinjock.  We were pretty tired.  Our new friends on Trust Me, radioed us to see where we were anchoring.  We told them Coinjock, so they called around and found space for both our boats at Midway marina.

We tied up at the dock by 6pm and invited Rich and Betty to join us at the restaurant across the creek.  We launched our dink and I was designated dinghy driver for evening.

Bonnie tinkering on the dink before dinner.


It was a cool night and we continued to not need heat to AC. We were in bed by 10pm.

Day 5



We were up fairly early but wanted to get oil as the port engine had been burning a quart of oil about every four hours.  We used all the oil on the boat and only had the oil jug I store old oil in.

By 7am we were antsy and decided to find a place farther north to get oil.

We followed a Nordhavn trawler through to the Great Bridge Lock.  While we waited for the bridge, he radios and ask what he should know about the lock.  We gave him a bit of advice, but forgot to mention NOT to tie up the wall.  Fortunately in the lock, I noticed him tying his line to his cleat and warned him of the  potential consequences. The change was about 3 feet, and a Nordhavn would make a heavy ornament hanging from the lock wall.

Earlier, while waiting for the Great Bridge Bridge to open, we passed another PDQ 36 moored.  It was from Maine, and had the word Peach in its name.  It looked about the age of our boat and appeared to be undergoing a refit.  It had new canvas, new wrap around windows, no trampoline and some really ratty looking gel-coat. Hope it brings a lot of joy to whomever is renovating it.





This is a video of us leaving out of the north end of Great bridge Lock.

Heading up the ICW into the industrial and shipping port areas was a bit crazy.  Tugs with barges, ships, Navy vessels, security zones, and other cruisers made it all fairly complicated.

A railroad list bridge that is normally open was closed as a very long train just went through and another was about to.  A barge we were just ahead of, had a heavy load, so the bridge stopped the second train and opened for it.  The bridge tender announced that anyone that could make it through with the tug could go, but he was closing the bridge for 15 to 20 minutes right after the tug passed so that the next train could go through.

We were at full speed and ahead of the tug, but the tug accelerated from 5 knots to 8.5 knots and was gaining on us.  We made the bridge in parallel with the tug.  It was a bit stressful with our fickle port outboard  could call it quits without warning.  The current was against us and it would have slowed us own greatly if the engine failed.

After the bridge a ship with two tugs was coming south, riding the tide and was going to pass the tug port to port. The tug had to shift to the starboard side of the channel, where we were.  Simultaneously we were approaching the Navy security zone around a warship, and there would be no space for us.  Thus, I ducked into a space between a dry dock and a pier and radioed the tug of my intentions to get out of the channel.  He thanked me and went on by us.  The photo below was taken with the GoPro and does not really do justice to how close everything was.


Tug passing us, south bound ship, Navy ship with Security zone off its bow and no room for us.
To top is all off, we wanted to go into the Marina on the other side of the channel to get fuel and oil.  Once the chaos passed, we had an opening, as the railroad bridge now was down and blocked the rest of the ships from catching us.

We got fuel and oil, and a short break before heading up the river again.

As we passed Norfolk, and the Navy base, a warship was coming in to dock, escorted by tugs.  By this time the bridge had opened and a line of large cargo ships, other cruisers and tugs were coming up behind us.  So we decided to turn left and head out into the Hampton Roads anchorage and out of the channel.  

The discussions on the radio coordinating the Navy ship was interesting to follow.  The navy ship wanted the oncoming cargo ship to pass starboard to starboard, and the next ship and smaller vessels to hold position as it came close to the pier, turned hard to port, dropped its anchor and backed into the pier.  It was quite a sight to see.
Navy ship readying to turn to port, drop anchor and back into the Navy pier.

We wanted to anchor someplace safe for the night.  It looked as if we might get a thunderstorm.  I had never been into downtown Hampton, and avoiding the events on the Norfolk side put us in that general direction.  We went up the Hampton River, which was very nice.  The VA hospital (I just found out what the building complex is) and Hampton University were very pretty.  There did not seem to be a place to anchor until we were almost to the fixed bridge downtown, that we could not fit under.  As we were preparing to find a place there to anchor, I saw a person coming out of the Hampton City Dock office.  I called the number listed on our chart-plotter and the guy picked up his portable phone to answer my call. It was a $1.25 a foot for Boat/US members and he had lots of open floating dock space.

We slipped right into the dock and tied up for the night.  We were pretty tired and Bonnie was already working on dinner, so we stayed put and did not walk around town.

We called Tyler, but he was in back to back classes, and as we were exhausted, we went to bed.

Day 6



We were up early, and were ready to shove off a couple hours before the marina was to open.  So we put cash in an envelope with a note and put it under the planter where the dock-master left a bathroom key for us the night before.

We crossed the Route 64 tunnel before 8am and were out in the Bay.  As we crossed Mobjack Bay and came in closer to land, we sailed through a swarm of black flies.  There were flies everywhere.  Killing flies became an obsession for the next two days.

The wind was from the south, but the current was against us, so we did not make great time heading north.  We had the jib out and did the best we could.  The waves were pretty high and felt like ocean swells.


video


As the day wore on, we were not sure if we were motivated enough to go all the way home by sailing through the night.  I did want to get across the Potomac River before we stopped though.  Bonnie found a nice little anchorage on the chart.  I had never tried to anchor just above the Potomac as there is not much in the way of good anchorages.

The one we found was really pretty, with one problem.  The channel in was very shallow and narrow.  And it was exactly at low tide we entered it.  There were channel markers indicating the deep areas (2.5' to 3.5') from the shallow (less than a foot or exposed sand bars).  Obviously this was a channel for small power boats.

We ran aground a couple times, but were going very slow and backed off the sand easily each time.  Once, we could feel the keel dragging across the bottom while were running down the center of the channel.  Good thing the wind was not from the north or west, cause we would never have gotten in (or out) if any water was blown out of the creek.


Our path in to St Jerome's Creek
As I mentioned, the creek and anchorage were very pretty. There were not a lot of houses around it.  I put out our 25 feet of chain and with the bridle, give us over a 7:1 scope in the 4' of water we were in. The sunset was pretty, we had a nice evening and slept well.

Day 7



Bonnie woke me at 5:45am as she heard voices outside.  I looked out and some watermen in their boat were passing us slowly and talking- probably wondering how a sailboat go in there.

We did not have exact tide data for the creek, and I was trying best to interpolate the tide data from the Potomac and from Patuxent.   So I did it the old fashioned way and looked at the current.  It was still leaving the creek.  I had the feeling it might be a good idea to up anchor now, before it got shallower.  So we did.

It was easier getting out as we had our trail on the GPS that showed where we had to back up when we went aground.  We only hit bottom once and as the tide was inches higher than the night before, we were fine.

The winds had not calmed during the night, so the Bay was choppy and full of large swells.  The initial run out of the creek, to the point we could turn north was broadside and not at all enjoyable.  But it only lasted about 15 minutes, then we made the turn, raised the jib and were making 7+ knots up the Bay.  We still had the current against us, but it was much less stronger than yesterday.

There were a lot of cargo ships and tugs out, and the AIS traffic reminded me of Norfolk, only on a larger scale.  Car carriers were overtaking slower tankers, tugs were running outside of the channel, and about 6 sailboats were all lumped together heading north.

We still had leftover flies and may have picked up some additional ones.  The car carriers were coming fast - overtaking us at 10-14 knots faster then we wee going.  So we had to plan to cross from the east side of the channel near Popular island to the the west side of the channel between ships.

We tied up onto our mooring ball at 2:30pm.  The skies looked like rain, but as with the entire trip, missed us each day - with eerie clouds passing either north or south of us.  I took the dink in to shore and walked down the street to get a car.

We unloaded the first load of food and clothes from the boat and headed home. Then it was time for a long shower.

Bonnie went to get the dogs, who had acquired 'kennel cough' while in the Spa, and I did some work that was in need of attention.

Its nice to be home.  But over the total of six or so weeks we were actually on the boat this winter/spring we had developed a routine that was like being at home.  I really enjoyed it, and am ready to go again.

As we are off to France in under two weeks, I will be getting my travel wishes fulfilled. In the meantime, we need to haul the boat, get the port engine looked at, clean it out, and get the house ready for us to leave again for three weeks.  Oh, and I suppose we have to earn a living somewhere  in there as well.

Stay tuned for photos and video from France.