As I write this we are in the beautiful Oriental Marina and Inn. Yesterday, when I went to start the engine, it would crank but not start. Diesel engines are pretty simple machines and I did all of the usual troubleshooting and yet — we are stuck. I spent hours in the engine compartment and I seem to have eliminated the possibility of it being a fuel issue. Unfortunately, this could mean that we are not getting sufficient compression… Which could mean our adventure is over — at least for this year. If we need to overhaul this engine or to re-power with a new one it’s not likely something that would be done quickly enough to leave us sufficient time to get down to the Bahamas before having to head back home in the spring.
I’ve called a diesel mechanic who should be here soon to help try and sort this problem out but I’m beginning to worry. Ok, I’m freaking out. I found myself extremely emotional when I woke up this morning in my comfortable bed in my cozy cabin on our amazing boat. I don’t often get this way but as I reported in an earlier post — the highs are high and the lows are lows. For the past six months we have planned and prepared and worried and dreamed and schemed and done whatever needed to be done to make this trip happen. We are, as they say in poker parlance, all in!
Let’s not even talk about the money… Ok lets… A replacement diesel engine for Mavis would end up costing between $20 and $25k. Presently, being stuck on this dock is costing about $70 per day. I have no idea what the mechanic will charge and if we have to haul her out we will first need to be towed to the boatyard a few miles away. Then we will have to store her on the hard until we can do whatever needs to be done to make her go.
I’m hoping I’m worrying for no reason and that our next post will be a happy one where I’ll be able to report that our grand adventure will continue.
When I first started this little blog, I’m pretty sure my intent was to update it each day with some info about the events of the day, where we were, what we saw, etc. I had intended to use it as a way to both share our experience with friends and loved ones and to use it as a journal of sorts to help me remember the details of the trip.
Unfortunately, I soon realized that running a business from a cruising sailboat while making our way south occupies a heck of a lot more of our time than I had counted on. It’s hard to wear both the “Captain” hat and the “President” hat and I sometimes fear I’m not doing a great job at either. But hey — we’ve made it this far and we aren’t out of business!
We’re often underway just before the sun rises and we plan to be “somewhere” before dark each night. Offshore in the ocean, overnight passages are a fantastic and enjoyable way to cover lots of miles. You just set the autopilot and sort of relax. But now that we are in the intracoastal waterway, there’s just too much to hit at night. So we try to be anchored or in a marina before sunset. I’m pretty exhausted after a day’s run but before bed it’s time to review the weather and plan the next day’s run. Before you know it, it’s time to set out again.
The days are getting shorter and we generally are only getting around 40 or 50 miles a day in on a good day which is about the norm. We are also spending much more time in places than I thought we ever would. I apologize for not posting as much as I would like. I’ll use this post to sort of catch up and bring you up to speed on our travels so far. If you’ve read this much and plan to continue, then strap in… This is going to be a long post.
We really enjoyed Norfolk, VA and spent a few days in this cool city at the Waterfront Marina. We indulged ourselves on great food and drinks and I even got a much needed haircut. Cindy walked to the Chrysler Museum of Art and we did some provisioning using Amazon Now. You just order your groceries or whatever you need and within 2 hours it shows up. We put our slip number on our order and they delivered to the boat!
One night in Norfolk as I was walking Willow back to the boat after her evening bathroom trip when encountered 3 river otters on the dock in front of our bow. They sat there unafraid for a few moments as we drew a bit closer. Then they dove off the dock into the water. As Willow and I made our way down the finger pier to board Mavis, one of the otters picked her head up out of the water and peered over the dock only about a foot from Willow. They were nose to nose for about 10 seconds when the thing jumped up on the dock and chased Willow down the pier!
So after a few relaxing days in Norfolk it was time to say goodbye. We were at the official Mile 0 of the ICW and it was just 1234 miles to Key West, Fl. So we sailed off on a dreary morning down the Elizabeth River to the Dismal Swamp Canal, passing lots and lots of the ships of the mighty US Navy in various states of readiness. Across from the marina was the General Dynamics facility where they do all sorts of work on these mighty vessels and the work continued around the clock!
When I last wrote, I was describing the Deep Creek Lock at the northern end of the Dismal Swamp Canal and Robert the lock master. After our brief visit with him, we set off down the Dismal motoring through the duckweed floating on the surface. Shortly after getting underway I realized the engine coolant temperature was about 10 degrees warmer than it usually is. I monitored it for a bit until I saw the temp begin to climb even higher so I shut down the engine and let the boat drift in the narrow channel of the canal… It’s about 60 feet wide and our beam is 14 feet so there was plenty of room on either side but our mast really needs to stay in the middle in many stretches as tree limbs hang over parts of the channel. We were cautioned to avoid letting our mast make contact with the trees because it’s a good way to end up with snakes on board!
After shutting her down I went to check the raw water strainer. It is very common to overheat in the Dismal Swamp Canal due to a water intake clogged with duckweed. As expected, I found some weed in there and cleared it out but it didn’t seem like enough to cause the engine to overheat. After firing her up, she wasn’t pumping enough water and she promptly got hot. Not wanting to sit there in the middle of the canal drifting from side to side in the gentle breeze I found that if I ran the boat at very low RPM she would maintain about 190 degrees. Warmer than usual but not hot enough to cause any trouble. I ran this way for 7 miles to Douglass Landing which was a convenient dock to tie up to and sort things out. I opened up our raw water pump and found that our impeller had lost 3 of its blades. The blades ended up in our heat exchanger causing a blockage. Even if the little impeller missing 3 blades was able to move enough water to cool the engine, the missing blades were blocking water flow almost completely. About an hour after stopping we were back underway. My theory about what happened is that the duckweed blocked the water flow enough to cause the pump to run dry and destroy the impeller. It’s also entirely possible that it was just time to replace it. I had changed it in the spring before sailing North but we’ve put some good hours on the engine since then.
The duckweed is so thick in parts of the swamp that Willow got fooled. We had jumped into the dinghy to go on a short run to pick up some groceries and had to run though some very thick weed. Willow, perched on the bow, her nose in the air thought the duckweed was dry land and jumped off. The look on her face was priceless as she emerged covered in green wondering WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED!
I’m realizing how quickly my mood can change out here. One minute I’m on top of the world, living our dreams, exploring new places and looking forward to the day’s adventure. The next minute I’m worried about being stuck in the swamp. What if it’s something serious? Is this where the adventure ends? An hour later I’m back on top of the world. It’s been said that when cruising, the highs are high and the lows are low. It’s like everything is magnified out here for some reason. I’m also realizing that the feeling I have at the helm changes very quickly depending on the weather. Obviously if the winds and seas are high and we are hanging on for dear life we aren’t going to be calm and relaxed but I’m talking about something much more subtle. A few days ago, while sailing on the Chesapeake, I realized that I was not feeling calm and at ease the way I would normally feel in 10 to 15 knot winds and 1 to 2 foot seas. Then, after a few moments passed, a large cloud moved just enough to allow the sun to light up the bay, the boat and my face. The winds and seas were exactly the same but suddenly I felt confident, happy and just calm. Until that moment I don’t think I ever realized how much of an impact the sun (or lack of sun) had on my state. I’ll try to be more aware of this in the future.
After getting the engine cooling sorted out we chugged along through the beautiful Dismal Swamp Canal on our way to our next stop which was just a few miles down the canal. The Dismal Swamp Visitor Center was just over the North Carolina line and we crossed the border with a happy little dance. New states mean we are actually going somewhere! We had been traveling at a snail’s pace for about a week, intentionally slowing ourselves down as we waited for our insurance company to green light us to go below Cape Hatteras. The swamp in North Carolina looked exactly like the swamp in Virginia. But it was nice to be in the Carolinas. Looking at our charts, however, revealed that we would be in North and South Carolina for a long time!
We arrived at the visitor center’s free dock and quickly tied up to the pier. There was room for about 3 boats and there were two already docked. After docking up about 6 more boats which were close behind all pulled up needing a place to stay the night so we rafted them up and crammed everybody in for a comfortable but cold night in the swamp.
We had been enjoying 85 degree weather about a week before and the low that night hit 34. There was no power on the free dock and we didn’t want to run our engine or our generator so we piled on the blankets and got as cozy as possible. I started the engine at 6am the next morning and heated things up nicely before departing for the day’s trip to Elizabeth City, NC.
The Dismal Swamp Canal was opened in 1805 and runs 22 miles from Chesapeake, VA to South Mills, NC. We thought it was beautiful and despite our overheating ordeal I would take this route again but AFTER exiting the canal in South Mills, the scenery got epic. Our route took us down the winding Pasquotank River through dense forest with tall cypress trees just growing right up out of the water everywhere. Those few hours on the Pasquotank between the lock and Elizabeth City, NC were some of the most scenic miles we have covered. Photos just don’t do it justice.
Arriving at Elizabeth City we tied up at the Mid Atlantic Christian University’s free dock. We were greeted by some of the fellow cruisers we had met in the swamp and by Dan and Cathy who’s gorgeous and well-travelled sailboat graces the dock. They work for the university and immediately ran over to help us get set up. Lending us a long line to tie off to a tree on the shore and even opening up the showers in the gym for us. Cool people indeed.
Due to a gale that would make crossing the Albemarle Sound less than pleasant to say the least, we spent 3 nights in Elizabeth City. We had dinner with some some new cruising friends and discovered some great little spots for food and drinks in this tiny town. We also walked two miles and back to a Food Lion and did some provisioning.
After leaving Elizabeth City we motor-sailed for a few hours across the Albemarle Sound until the wind shut off. It would blow 4 or 5 knots from just about every direction so instead of watching the headsail flop around like a wet blanket. I took it down and we motored down the Alligator River, through an interesting swing bridge and down to the Alligator-Pungo Canal. Along the route to the canal the skies were full of fighter jets making low passes and maneuvering.
Over the din of our diesel engine I would hear them approaching and crane my neck to watch the free airshow. The planes (Hornets I think) passed pretty close overhead a few times at around 150′. There’s a bombing range on the bank of the Alligator River and I hear this area gets really crazy sometimes when various reserve units rotate in to practice unloading their ordinance.
The Alligator-Pungo canal has no locks on either end and is ridiculously straight and narrow. Along the banks there are stumps of trees just above and just below the waterline. I considered what I would do if we had engine trouble here. There’s really no place to stop for miles and miles. Fortunately this was not an issue for us. As we exited the canal the sun was beginning to set. For the last 5 hours or so we had absolutely NO mobile signal at all. We intentionally carry devices from various providers to use as mobile hotspots with the hopes that if one didn’t work, another would. For many, many miles our phones were useless. You realize how much you depend on the internet when suddenly it’s gone for a bit. As I’ve said before we NEED a connection in order to operate our business and finance this grand adventure. So I scanned the charts and found a marina about 5 miles ahead that offered WIFI. We had intended to anchor out for the night and there were lots of nice spots on this gorgeous evening but we didn’t know if and when we would get service back so we opted to hail the marina and see if they could take us.
About an hour later we were tied to the dock at the lovely Dowry Creek Marina outside of Belhaven, NC. Although we still had no cellular service the marina’s WIFI was useable — barely.
The next morning we chose to depart this marina and go about 5 miles further to the little town of Belhaven.
There we found excellent connectivity and planned to spend the night before setting off for Oriental. Unfortunately, while tied up at Belhaven, another Gale popped up and offered us 35 knot winds to cross the Pamlico Sound to the Neuse River so we ended up staying two nights at Belhaven. We were almost stuck there for 3 or more nights. We had one good day of sailing forecast before more crappy weather was forecast. The forecast called for a day of light winds and sun followed by 1 day of heavy rain and 35 knot winds with 50 knot gusts followed by one more day of 30 knot winds as a nor’easter moved though the area. We wanted to leave Belhaven but didn’t want to get caught out so only after having a reservation at the Oriental Marina and Inn did we set off.
But before leaving we had some very important business to take care of. While on the Alligator River, I discovered we were not alone. Somewhere (probably in the Dismal Swamp) we had picked up an uninvited stowaway. I found some mouse droppings near my electrical panel and promptly freaked out. We are sleeping, cooking, eating, showering, shitting and living in about 450 square feet of living space… There was no room for a disease-carrying rodent to be scurrying around! I resolved to get some traps as soon as we made port. In Bellhaven I purchased 8 traps… 4 glue traps and 4 snap traps. We tore apart the entire boat, emptying all of the storage holds and putting our food into plastic bins for safekeeping until we knew we were rodent-free. We discovered that something had chewed into a 35 pound bag of dog food which we had stored in a compartment under a seat. After setting some traps and leaving Willow on board, we went to dinner with John and Martha from As You Wish, a trawler heading south. We had enjoyed their company in Elizabeth City and were happy to see their boat pulling into the marina. After a nice dinner we returned to our boat to find a tiny field mouse stuck to a glue trap. He was cute. But I confess I got some satisfaction watching him try to pull his little chest up off of the trap.
We left the remaining traps out for a few nights and I’m happy to report that Mavis is free of rodents.
As I write this it’s pouring outside here in Oriental. Cindy, Willow and I are warm and dry inside Mavis’ comfy and rodent-free saloon. Yesterday we walked around a bit. It’s been 45 days since Hurricane Florence came through here and there are still huge piles of debris. Everywhere you look there are people working on repairs and you can hear power tools up and down the streets.
I’m getting a little stir crazy in here but tomorrow, after the rain stops, I will stretch my legs and maybe do some exercise. I also need to change the engine oil. It’s amazing how quickly the engine hours rack up when you’re cruising.
Here are some stats.
We have travelled 600 nautical miles since leaving Long Island on 9/29.
We have put 87 hours on our engine and burned approximately 58 gallons of diesel.
We are currently at mile 185 of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.
We’ve sailed on oceans, bays, sounds, rivers, creeks and canals.
We saw a high temperature of 87 back in Deltaville, VA and a low of 34 in the Great Dismal Swamp.
We have killed 2 birds and one mouse since leaving.
That’s it for this monster catch-up post. I promise to try to blog more frequently in bite-sized chunks from now on.
After leaving Norfolk we motored our way south on the Elizabeth River for a few miles on the ICW until we reached Deep Creek where you can elect to leave the main ICW route and take “Route 2” as it is referred to. “Route 2” takes you through the Dismal Swamp canal and the Pasquotank River and rejoins the primary route on the Alligator River south of the Albemarle Sound.
This was intended to be a post on our last few days of cruising through the beautiful Dismal Swamp and Pasquotank River but as I sit here to put some words together, I think our experience at the Deep Creek Lock warrants a post of its own.
We had heard about the beautiful scenic “Route 2” which is shallow and slower. As we were in no particular hurry, we elected to hang a right turn and head for the canal. We had never passed through a lock before and wanting to be sure we were there plenty early, we arrived at the lock a few hours before it’s first scheduled opening of the day… About a half mile before I arrived at the lock, a friendly voice hailed me on the radio to warn me about some shallow waters on the starboard side of the channel leading to the lock. This voice, I would soon learn, was the voice of Robert Peek the lock master at the Deep Creek Lock. Robert has a reputation amongst cruising sailors for being one of the nicest, warmest and knowledgeable people you will ever encounter and his reputation was spot on which is how I find myself dedicating an entire post to the short time we were with him.
We tied up to some pilings and waited for the lock to open. Robert, noticing Willow on the bow shouted over from up on the lock that once the lock opened there was a good spot on the starboard side to let the dog ashore. Then he saw us photographing a large Great Blue Heron. He shouted over “That’s Fred.” and he shouted us the story of Fred and his new girlfriend Wilma and how and why they range right by the lock the way they do.
After a while, the radio cracked again with Robert’s voice. “Captain I’ll be opening the lock at 0830. Set up your lines on the starboard side and I do recommend fenders. When and only when you get the green light proceed into the lock about halfway through on the starboard side.” It was obvious that Robert had said this before.
The gates opened and we entered the lock and Robert appeared about 10 feet above hanging a boat hook down to grab the lines that would keep us in place during our trip up eight or so feet. The lock doors closed, the water began to rise and over the next 10 or 15 minutes or so we got to know a little about this interesting character.
As we slowly rose, the little lock house became more and more visible. There was a manicured little garden of tropical plants in front of the house and dozens and dozens of conch shells everywhere… In neat little rows, in piles and in stacks throughout the little garden and on the front porch of the lock house there were conchs. I later learned that boaters coming north from the islands bring conch shells to leave with Robert who is also renowned as a skilled conch musician.
As the water filled up the lock, he played the conch for us and the other boat locking through with us. As we approached the top of the lock, he told us about a great place to stay. “After you exit the lock, immediately on your starboard side — and I do mean IMMEDIATELY you will find Elizabeth’s dock.” He said this by rote. He had likely said it thousands of times before. But his words still somehow felt genuine. Elizabeth’s Dock is a free dock and he recommended it as a great place to stay the night since we had told him we were in no rush.
After getting set up on the dock I took Willow out for a needed walk in the park behind the lock. As I was walking a raised up and modified Jeep came rolling up. “Hello!” I heard a familiar voice shout. Robert pulled up and we got to talking. And talking… Robert really is a great guy to “chew the rag” with. We talked about boats, and locks, and dogs, and politics, and the local wildlife, the waterway, kids, women, space travel, electronics and lots of other stuff… After a while Cindy came walking over wondering what the heck had happened to me and after some more rag-chewing, Robert said that we should come over to the lock house right before 8 the next morning for some coffee and danishes. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more genuine and welcoming guy.
After a comfortable night on the dock, the next morning we walked over to the lock house and got more of a glimpse into this interesting guy’s life. Inside, the little house was furnished comfortably. Although he doesn’t live there, he has made the place comfy and his own in the 35 years he has worked as the lock master, maintenance man and groundskeeper. There were a few antique comfy chairs and lots of knick-knacks and artifacts on the walls and on shelves. He disappeared into the little kitchen for a moment and popped back out with coffee and yogurt with granola handing it over and saying “you have to eat this.”
He explained that the antique chair I was sitting on was one of the first Lazy-Boy style recliners. We chatted about the swamp and the journey ahead and from time to time Robert would excuse himself to take care of his lock master duties. There were dozens of dolphin figurines, some photos, books, little wooden boats, shells, lighthouses, the kind of things you see in tourist shops in seaside towns and tropical places. I asked him about all the stuff in there and he explained that “everything you see in here is mine… with the exception of that file cabinet, that desk and this radio stuff over here which belongs to the government.” It didn’t feel like we were visitors in a government building. It felt more like we were guests in Robert’s home. It had a charming, lived-in look and I could tell that our host really, genuinely likes people. I got to thinking about how people come and go and he gets to know them for a few hours, shares some coffee and sends them on their way until a few hours later the next batch of boats come along.
I asked Robert what we could bring him on our way back north and he replied without hesitation “conch shells”. He said that it didn’t matter how they looked or their size but how they sounded because each conch has its own sound and the HE would be the judge of that. With that, he picked up a smallish shell from the collection and began to play it for us. Finishing his little ditty, he tossed it aside into the soil of one of his little gardens and then he told us the story of that particular shell.
He explained that he’s the youngest child of a large family and that when he was a child, his brother who was much older than him had taken him out diving for conch in the Bahamas. He said, pointing to the little shell he had just played, that they got that shell that day, cooked and ate the conch and left it on an ant-hill to let the ants clean it up for him. He took it home with him and had set it aside. About a year later if I recall correctly his brother was lost in a diving accident. Shortly after that he picked up the shell and began to play it. Just blowing it at first but eventually learning how to play notes and make other more nuanced sounds. I’m sure I’m not getting all the details of this touching story down 100% but this is how I recall it from our brief visit.
I asked him how he could just throw the shell onto the dirt the way he did when there is obviously so much sentimental value. He said “Oh they’re tough. They can take it.”
As we made our way back to the boat, I heard Robert telling the captain of the boat in the lock about Elizabeth’s Dock. “After you exit the lock, immediately on your starboard side — and I do mean IMMEDIATELY you will find Elizabeth’s dock.”
There is something incredibly Zen about Robert’s life that I find fascinating. The boats come, the boats go. The lock opens, the lock closes, the bridge opens, the bridge closes. He said “You have to understand about this job — that’s all it is and that’s all it will ever be.” He seems quite content.
The fact that he is so loved by the cruising community makes total sense to me now after meeting the legendary lock master of the Deep Creek Lock.
I apologize for the slow updates to our blog. We’ve been super busy! We arrived in Norfolk yesterday and we absolutely love it here.
First… I’m pleased to report that Mavis came through tropical storm (formerly hurricane) Michael unscathed. We had plenty of time to take down our large “screecher” headsail, put out lots of extra extra lines and fenders, and lash down anything that could become a projectile in the 45 knot sustained and 70 knot gusts forecast for Deltaville. The winds were not expected to get serious until about 9pm but they would blow all night.
Some of our fellow transient cruisers at the marina organized an impromptu hurricane watch party in the lounge and the crews from various boats got together. It was nice having drinks and talking sailing and cruising with yachtsmen who have done this trip before. I got lots of information that will be useful as we proceed south. After the sun went down the winds began to pick up and everyone retired to their boats for the night. Earlier today, we met a few people who were anchored out in the creek. They were in for a long, wet and windy night. But then so were we all. The difference in being tied to a floating dock vs. at anchor is significant. In the marina, we didn’t need to worry about our anchor dragging… Or somebody else dragging anchor and crashing into us or fouling our anchor. It was also convenient to be able to get off the boat which is something I did around midnight to let Willow relieve herself.
The winds had picked up to a steady 35 knots with gusts up around 50 and a few over 60. It is difficult to explain exactly how unsettling it can be to feel the whole boat shudder and to hear the winds shrieking through the rigging. At times it felt like we were going to fly away. Just as I was having the thought of our tiny little floating home flying through the air our phones began to sound tornado warning alarms. The alert said “Seek shelter immediately.” I wondered if being on a boat really counted as shelter but there we were. Cindy seemed a bit concerned as the winds picked up even more and the rain came down in sheets. It was about this time when Willow made it clear to me that it was time to go to the bathroom. It was around midnight and the temperature was still around 70 degrees so I hopped into my foulies and out we went.
The floating dock, which seemed incredibly sturdy a few hours earlier was rocking quite a bit. And the tide had risen many feet above the norm. Like on almost every floating pier, there is a ramp that connects the pier to the land. This ramp allows the floating dock to rise and fall with the tides. Our floating dock had risen so high, however, that the ramp was barely accessible. I had to lift the dog and help her up and then jump up myself. On solid land now, little rivers of runoff water were forming small whitewater rapids as they made their way to the creek. After Willow finished up we both returned quickly to the boat — absolutely drenched.
I dried off and got into bed. Cindy and I lay there for hours feeling the awesome power of mother nature. When I woke up around 8am the sun was shining and the winds had died down to about 15 knots. It was a glorious day and I immediately got to checking on the boat to make sure everything was a-ok. Mavis has two very deep hatches on the stern that have been giving me problems. The seals that are intended to keep them watertight are in need of replacement and on one of them the screws that are supposed to secure the latch have stripped. I’ve tried a few times to make a good repair but it keeps failing. One hatch holds a 5 gallon jerry can of emergency fresh water, a bucket and our portable generator. The other holds our kayak paddles, 2 jerry cans of diesel, our shore power cords, water hoses, etc. Upon opening the port hatch I discovered about 1.5 feet of fresh water in the hold and our brand new generator was half submerged. I was really happy to discover that after drying it off, it started and operated flawlessly. I hope that continues.
I spent some time pumping out those holds and doing some general boat cleanup. I raised the screecher sail that I had removed and readied the boat to continue our journey.
Willow enjoyed the large fields in Deltaville. She met a few Portuguese Water Dogs from a neighboring boat and spent time over the past few days running around with them and hunting for squirrels as usual. Her appetite (for dog food) has not returned 100% but she seems much better.
After 5 nights in Deltaville, we departed at dawn and sailed most of the 40 miles to Hampton. We used the engine for the last 3 miles because of a major lull in the winds but they picked up strong just in time for docking. We were expecting light north winds at about 10 knots. This is a little light to keep the boat moving at an acceptable speed if it’s directly downwind. Fortunately, we got gusty winds from the north-northeast between 15 and 25. The winds kept shifting on us making it a difficult trip down the bay but I was happy to be under sail as it will likely be the last real opportunity we will have to sail Mavis for many miles. In fact, over the 1,000 plus statute miles between here and Miami we may only be able to sail about 50 of them unless we hop out into the ocean which we probably will do if the weather is favorable.
We made it into Hampton with plenty of time to spare before sunset but I didn’t want to press our luck and continue the additional 10 miles to Norfolk so we docked at the Bluewater Marina and took a walk to explore Hampton and find some dinner. We found a little seafood place on the water and enjoyed steamed shrimp and crab before heading back to the marina. On our walk we realized that Hampton wasn’t the nicest area. There were some quaint old houses but the security bars and roll up doors on most of the stores indicated a high-crime area.
We ended up motoring down the Elizabeth River 10 miles south to Norfolk the next morning and we are both so glad we did.
We passed the famous buoy R36 which is right outside of the Waterside Marina. This buoy marks the official Mile Zero of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway which runs 1080 miles from Norfolk to Miami. The good news is that this waterway is mostly protected. The bad news is that there are over 130 bridges between here and Miami and about 85 of them will require opening to accommodate our mast. The other “bad” news is that for most of the ICW, sailing is out of the question.
We both really love Norfolk! It’s a clean, small and friendly city with a cool waterfront district and just about everything we could want or need within a few block’s walk. We will probably stay here for a few nights before continuing because we are getting close to Cape Hatteras and we still have not secured approval from our insurance carrier to proceed south of Hatteras before November 1. We hope to get this in place next week.
So for now, we’re here enjoying restaurants and shopping and live music and things we often take for granted like barbershops… I got a haircut and feel human again. We will probably take in the Chrysler Museum of Art and do lots more walking and exploring before we depart here.
So that’s my update for now. I think Cindy is working on putting together her own post from her perspective. Thanks for following the journey!
After a full day of motoring down a calm Chesapeake Bay we arrived in Deltaville and docked at the Deltaville Marina. We put 9.4 hours on the trusty Westerbeke and covered about 60 nautical miles on this run. In order to reach Deltaville before sunset and allowing for a few hours as a safety margin, we left our mooring in Solomon’s about an hour before sunrise. The tidal currents of the Chesapeake Bay run generally north and south and can reach about 1 knot or more in places. Because of the time and distance involved, I knew that we would have currents with us for most of the ride and against us for a few hours too. It all averages out though. For a while we were hitting 7.5 knots and then for a while we were down to 5.25 but we made it in to Deltaville at around 4pm giving us plenty of time to settle in before sunset.
The day’s run was one of the calmest we have experienced since leaving New York but somehow Willow got seasick and vomited in the cockpit… Twice. At least we think she was seasick. We can’t rule out the possibility that she ate something she shouldn’t have back in Solomon’s. She didn’t eat her dinner last night and today she has no interest in eating dog food but was pretty interested in people food. We are giving her the day for her stomach to settle. Hopefully she’ll be back to normal soon.
Upon arrival here in Deltaville, we took on 10 gallons of diesel before getting into our slip and having dinner. 10 gallons is not a lot of fuel to move our home, and everything inside of it 60 miles. But it would have been nicer to sail. Unfortunately the wind was not with us.
It’s nice to be back in Deltaville. Our adventure with Mavis began here in January when we sea-trialed the boat here and after we closed on the sale, we had her hauled out into their boatyard. I spent many nights on the boat here on the hard in the middle of winter while I tackled the 10,000 projects that needed attention before the boat could be launched and sailed home to Long Island. In that time, I got sort of attached to this place. Deltaville is the kind of town where everybody knows everybody. There isn’t much here. Especially in the winter. But in the summer months the population explodes with boats and boaters. In terms of shopping, there’s a 7-11, a grocery store, a fish market, a West Marine, a dollar store, a few restaurants, a gas station, a bunch of marinas, a sailmaker, a coffee shop, other marine services and shops and a liquor store. That’s basically Deltaville. Situated on a peninsula between the Rappahannock and the Piankatank rivers, there is water everywhere.
We plan to stay here for a few days to a week while we wait out Hurricane Michael which is targeting the Florida panhandle right now. After Florida, it looks like it will skip across to the Atlantic Coast and make its way through here and up the coast. I’d rather be cautious and tied to a dock than be out somewhere wishing we were. Plus, we will take a few days to relax and maybe get a few boat projects done. The boat needs constant attention to stay ship-shape. And with all the motoring we have been doing, Mavis is just about due for an oil change. Perhaps I’ll tackle that before we leave here.
We are thinking about sailing over the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay to check out Cape Charles before heading down to Norfolk and entering the ICW. Both of us are looking forward to heading further south than we have been with Mavis in the coming days.
We’ll keep an eye on Michael and will secure the boat as needed for the expected winds. Our floating dock here has finger piers on either side and everything looks very secure. In fact, the dock is brand new. I watched it being built in March and April before we left here. If we need to strip our sails and double up the lines we will. It looks like Michael may still be a strong tropical storm as he moves through here. The current path has the storm passing basically directly over us. It’s always better to be tied to a dock wishing we were “out there” than “out there” wishing we were tied to a dock!
If you haven’t checked out episode 1 of our YouTube vlog, check that first here.
As I write this we are on a mooring ball at Zahniser’s Yaching Center in Solomon’s, MD. But let’s back up a bit because the last time I updated the blog we were in Chesapeake City. Not a lot has happened since our last update. Life on a cruising sailboat is fairly regimented. We wake up most mornings before dawn, fire up the dinghy and take Willow to shore and are underway before the sun is up. We usually run for 5 to 10 hours each day before putting in for the night. As we sail along I scan the horizon for other boats, ships, crab pots, floating logs, etc… I look at the chart-plotter to check our course, and I watch the miles to our destination tick down. I look at our sails to see if any adjustments need to be made and, if motoring, I refer to the engine instruments to make sure all is well with our temperature and oil pressure. This is basically what I do all day. On the ocean and here on the Chesapeake, I usually have the autopilot engaged. This means I really don’t need to touch the helm at all. We adjust course using buttons on the autopilot. Sometimes I’ll listen to a podcast but it’s hard to get any actual work done because even though sailing can be as boring as watching paint dry, the ship does require attention. Recently I’ve taken to trying to stay somewhat fit while cruising. I started doing squats in the cockpit. When the seas are rolling you can get a really good workout this way. I also discovered that the furled headsails make a good support for doing handstand push ups. Basic body weight exercises are going to be the routine for a while.
Nothing major to report from here. We are still docked at the lovely Baltimore Boating Center we’ve been kayaking and taking the dinghy out around Sue Creek and getting lots of work done and making the $$$ neeeded to finance this adventure.
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Welcome back and thanks for coming along for the journey.
Our stats for today… Today was the 3rd day of our adventure at sea. We have traveled 210 nautical miles since leaving Long Island at an average speed of 5.2 knots. I consumed 1400 calories of peanut butter filled pretzel nuggets today(with a whopping 2300 mg of sodium!)
So long, New Jersey… Buh Bye, Delaware… We are now in Maryland!
We left our slip in Cape May at 7am and motored through the Cape May Canal into the Delaware Bay which greeted us with a 15 knot breeze and some rolling lumpy waves. But the sailing was amazing! For a few hours we were flying up the bay with speeds up to 9 knots but after some time, the breeze died down to about 6 knots and after a while of moving at less than 4 knots I decided we needed to motor sail to ensure that we would make Chesapeake City by sundown. So for a few hours we cruised up the bay burning diesel and making noise… But at least we were moving along nicely. Mavis has a single 28 horsepower diesel engine for propulsion that sips about three quarters of a gallon of diesel per hour at my cruising RPMs.
After about 2.5 hours of motor-sailing the winds came back and we were able to sail the rest of the way to the C&D Canal. It was during this sail that Mavis got another flying visitor. A huge dragonfly flew into the cockpit and landed on my camera. I picked up my camera and brought him to Cindy who played with him for about an hour before he flew off, unharmed.
Heading north up the Delaware Bay you enter the Delaware River… You really don’t “enter” the river… The bay just sort of “becomes” the river. There’s lots of commercial traffic here including huge tanker and container ships heading to and from Philadelphia. Today we were passed by the Maersk Winnipeg and the SCF Provider. Needless to say, we got out of the way. The shipping channel is a narrow lane that runs generally north and south but there’s plenty of water for boats like Mavis in the rest of the wide bay. So that’s where we sail, leaving the deep water channel for the big boys.
The C&D Canal runs between the Delaware River and the Upper Chesapeake Bay and today it was probably transited by 100 or more sailboats all starting the fall migration south. This was very different for me because the last time Mavis did the canal (in the opposite direction) we literally saw ONE boat during our entire trip. The canal is about 14 miles long and sailing is not permitted while in the canal… So more motoring.
We arrived in Chesapeake City and were pleased to find only a handful of boats in the little anchorage here. We dropped our hook and Willow jumped in the dinghy for a much needed visit to shore where she found REAL GRASS to run around in and to do her business.
Speaking of business… We had a bit of a hard time today getting things done while transiting the Delaware Bay because there was no mobile data signal for long stretches. We’re hoping for better connectivity on the Chesapeake and the Intracoastal Waterway.
That’s all for today. I wasn’t feeling very much like writing but lots of people are asking to be kept updated… So I sort of forced myself to get some news out. I think it’s a good practice to write everyday. So keep reading and I’ll have to churn out more. It won’t all be exciting, or funny, or particularly inspired or meaningful. But hang in there with me and I’m sure there will be some gems. I promise.
September 30, 2018Cape May, NJ
Days Aboard - 2
Nautical Miles Sailed - 146
Moving Average Speed - 4.9 kts
Trip Max Speed - 12.5 kts
Birds Killed - 2
We left our slip at the Oakdale Yacht Club yesterday “morning” at 3:45am. Let me just say that there is nothing “morning” about 3:45. We knew we had to leave at this hour in order to slide comfortably out of the the Fire Island Inlet with the outgoing tide so we spent the night on the boat in our slip on Friday night. I probably slept less than 10 minutes the whole night. The excitement of the trip ahead had my mind reeling. I kept trying to silence my monkey-brain but the thoughts kept coming. A non-stop stream of barely connected thoughts and worries. Mostly worries. Lots of worries. It’s part of the responsibility of being the Captain. I do the same thing when I fly. The responsibilities of the Pilot in Command or the Captain are awesome and I take them seriously. I’m confident but I’m always thinking about what could go wrong. Can you worry too much? Probably. But I guess its good to consider the problems that could be encountered in advance…
After a fantastic first summer with Mavis on the Great South Bay, the chill in the air means it’s almost time to take her south. Our plan, since before even closing on the boat was to sail south for the winter and spend time in Florida and perhaps the Bahamas. The summer flew by much faster than expected. It feels like just a few weeks ago that we were arriving at Oakdale Yacht Club from Virginia with our new (to us) boat.
We had planned to do some cruising over the summer and wanted to head north and visit Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod but it just didn’t happen. Business responsibilities, weather, and “life” kept us in the bay. This is not to say that we didn’t use our boat! We took her out quite a bit this summer and spent time over on Fire Island, and sailing to “nowhere” around the bay. We have really gotten to know the boat much better and have done lots of repairs and upgrades in preparation for this adventure.
Our insurance policy limited our navigational area to the coastal waters north of Cape Hatteras, NC. It also required that the boat be laid up from November to March. When I gave our broker a call to expand this to include the entire eastern seaboard and the Bahamas, I expected our premium to double. Instead, I was pleased (and shocked) to learn it would only be about $100 per year more. There’s no longer a winter layup required and the only real restriction is that we remain north of Cape Hatteras between June 15 and November 1. This is a common restriction on many yacht insurance policies due to peak Atlantic hurricane season.
Speaking of hurricanes… As I write this, hurricane Florence, a rapidly developing storm, is barreling west toward the Carolinas where it is expected to make landfall in a few days as a Category 4 hurricane. We plan to leave in about a week or two to begin moving south. This storm will certainly impact our trip down in some way. It’s just not clear to what extent and how. Where it hits, and the damage it causes will dictate what needs to be done to get south of it. I have no idea what’s going to happen to the intracoastal waterway, the marinas, and stops for fuel and provisions in the area. It may be necessary to load up on provisions and try to bypass the entire area by running offshore around Cape Hatteras, Cape Lookout and Cape Fear.
I think the boat is ready to go. I just completed an oil change and changed all of the filters. I removed and cleaned our starboard fuel tank. I replaced the DC diesel lift pump. I’ve replaced the genoa furling line and the genoa sheets. The house battery bank was made up of 2 flooded batteries which I changed to AGMs. We’ve installed a 265w solar panel and MPPT charge controller. I purchased a small portable generator. Before leaving from Virginia, I installed a new chartplotter and VHF radio with AIS receive capability. The only piece of navigational kit that we don’t have that I would like to have is radar. Our Garmin plotter supports it but I didn’t buy a radome. I didn’t want to make holes in our mast to install it, didn’t want to spend the $1200 and I was concerned about the power draw… So I skipped it. Hopefully we won’t find ourselves in reduced visibility. I encountered some fog on the trip up the Chesapeake Bay in the spring and it was pretty disturbing. We ended up dropping an anchor and waiting a few hours for it to burn off.
We need to pack our clothing. And while I believe that less is more, we will be gone for about 6 months… The seasons are changing, and we will be changing latitude. The weather can also be pretty unpredictable this time of year. All this makes it tricky to know what to bring, and what to leave home. My thoughts right now are to pack a few pair of jeans, some sweatshirts and sweaters, a few bathing suits and shorts and my foul weather gear. A nice thing about our Gemini is the fully enclosed cockpit. The isinglass makes the cockpit a cozy little greenhouse that some owners refer to as the Florida room. Sailing with the enclosure buttoned up makes it difficult to adjust sail trim and I personally like to sit on the cockpit combing a look out over the bow from the side, but this enclosure really increases the all-weather capabilities of the boat. It’s nice to be able to sail in cold or rain in shirtsleeves while other sailors are in their foulies.
We also need to do some provisioning for the first leg of the journey. Our fridge is a decent size and it has an awesome feature of being able to run on propane as well as electricity. This makes keeping things cool while underway easy and energy efficient. We will also have a small cooler that we can replenish with ice every few days if need be.
We are bringing our salty pup Willow with us and a concern is how she will do being cooped up on board for days on end. While we plan to do this trip as a series of day sails, anchoring or pulling into a marina every night, there will be offshore passages that will keep us out at sea for 24 hours or more. We are hoping to get a small piece of astroturf and teach the dog to relieve herself on it before she explodes. She spends a lot of time on board with us and doesn’t seem to get seasick.
There’s so much to think about… I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything but this trip. I guess it’s anxiety. I’m looking forward to being underway soon.