The Journey Continues

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.

We have been motoring a lot more than I would have liked but we are trying to keep moving without staying in any particular port for more than a few days. So when we left Chesapeake City, we were motoring along on about a 6 hour run to Sue Creek, off the Middle River in Essex, MD. I looked back and noticed that there was a little grey smoke coming from our exhaust. Every now and then I’ve seen Mavis do this but usually our exhaust is “virtually smokeless” as called for in the Westerbeke manual. I called the mechanic who has been caring for this engine since the boat was new. He advised me that as long as the boat was performing normally not to be too concerned. Sometimes it can be the fuel, other times it just goes away on its own. But reading about this I learned it could be an injector that needs service.  But Nick, our mechanic says the injectors are new.  As a precaution, I decided to divert up the Sassafras River and anchor for a short while to change a fuel filter. I found a place to drop the anchor near a beach so first we went for a walk and let the dog get her crazies out. The water was clean and cool and the anchorage was so nice we could have spent a day or two there but I had to get back to the boat to change the filter.

Anchorage on the Sassafras River

Upon returning to the boat, I went into the master cabin to get changed into my “working on the engine” clothes. Diesel and oil are dirty substances and I’ve ruined so many shirts, shorts and jeans working on this boat that I (actually Cindy) decided it would be wise to dedicate an outfit for grimy boat jobs. But I realized as soon as I opened my closet that I never packed my dedicated outfit. It was about 80 degrees and sunny so I stripped down to nothing and got to work, making sure to keep clear of the belts and anyplace that could burn, tangle, or otherwise harm me.

A fuel filter change on a Westerbeke diesel engine is normally an easy job. I’ve only done it about 3 times and each time I get myself into trouble. First, you shut off the fuel supply, then using a filter wrench if necessary, you twist off the filter. You take the filter bowl off the old filter, put it on the new one, fill the new filter with fresh diesel, and screw the whole thing back onto the boat.

Then you start the engine…

Only the engine would not start. It was not getting fuel. I checked the fitting of the filter several times, my head down in the engine compartment and my bare ass out in the breeze. I’d crank and crank and nothing. I tried bleeding the system, removing and reinstalling the filter, and all sorts of other stupid things. I was worried about killing the battery. I decided to hang my head in there one last time to take a look around. With my ass in the air I looked over everything… Filter is on. Bowl is full. Fuel switch is off… OFF?

Fuck! Fucking fuck fuck. After completing my filter change I had forgotten to turn the fuel back on. As I raised my head out of the bilge a sailboat passed off our stern. Covering myself and hopping down into the cockpit, I turned the key, hit the starter and… She purred to life. We motored for about 2 hours after that… Still smoking. We’ll keep an eye on things. She’s been running like a top and we have been running her for long runs.

Smoke coming from our exhaust.

We arrived in Essex and docked at the Baltimore Boating Center. We had stumbled upon this diamond in the rough in the spring on our journey to bring the boat home. It’s not a fancy place. There’s no captain’s lounge, no pool, I don’t even think they have showers or laundry. But they do have an incredibly affordable rate of just $1 per foot per day which includes electricity and water. To put this in perspective, $2 to $3 per foot is common and $4 per foot in places like Atlantic City and Cape May. We had a great slip on the perfectly calm Sue Creek for two nights. Our friends Jimmy and Maria live nearby and they picked us up and took us out for a delicious dinner.

Mavis at the Baltimore Boating Center

The Chesapeake is full of interesting little rivers and creeks with thousands of places to anchor and explore. Sue Creek is one of them. While docked at Baltimore Boating Center we took the opportunity to take the dinghy out for a few rides around the creek and Cindy and Willow went for a paddle on the kayak one day. It was nice to have electricity and easy shore access for the dog but after two comfortable nights, we woke up at dawn and set sail for Annapolis.

Willow the kayaking Springer Spaniel

The Annapolis sailboat show is one of the largest sailboat shows in the world. It brings visitors from everywhere. We were looking forward to hanging out in Annapolis and had planned to anchor on Back Creek and dinghy ashore. Slip space and moorings are very difficult to come by and I knew if we did get a slip it would be at a premium. We had met Don and Phyllis on S/V Solstice, a beautiful Valiant 40 in the C&D Canal… They had gone on to Annapolis ahead of us so I got a hold of them to find out how the anchorage looked. Don said it looked like there would be some room for us. We had this conversation at 10am and it would still be a few hours until we arrived. As we approached the Annapolis area I saw hundreds of boats… Many of them beelining for the entrance to Back Creek. We decided to skip Annapolis and sail on. We were making good time with an average speed of about 6.25 knots sailing dead downwind on just the headsail. Cindy scanned the charts and the cruising guides and found the West River which had lots of places to anchor and plenty of marinas and services. After a quick phone call to the Hartge Yacht Harbor, we had a mooring ball reserved. A few hours later we were tied up and ashore.

Our perfect little mooring at Hartges Yacht Harbor

Hartge Yacht Harbor is a quaint and top-notch marina complex that is full of sailing vessels. The place as been in business since 1865 and is situated in Galesville, MD which is an old Quaker town. Transient boats from all over the east coast lined the mooring field and the docks. We saw one of the boats we met in Cape May, “Winsome” there. It’s funny how you keep seeing the same boats as you head down the coast.

Anyway, for $34 a night we enjoyed having a sturdy mooring, showers, shore access and laundry facilities. We walked into town and discovered a cool little waterfront restaurant called Thursdays where we enjoyed a few meals, feasting on crabs and local rockfish. Willow really enjoyed Hartges because there are tons of Chestnut trees on the grounds which means there were SQUIRRELS everywhere. We let her run as much as possible while we were there knowing she would soon be confined to the boat for another long slog down the Chesapeake.

After two nights on the mooring ball at Hartge, we woke up before dawn to clouds and patchy fog. Even in the fog the visibility was better than 1 mile so I decided it was better to get underway than to wait hours for it to clear up. Once we were out of the river and heading south the sun popped through and we had a glorious summer day in October. The temp was about 84 and the winds were light and on the nose so we ran Mavis’ engine at 2500 RPM for about 8 hours. She operated flawlessly despite the little bit of smoke she was belching.

Fog lifting on the bay. It really looked like this. Cindy thought the sun was the moon!

Upon arrival at Solomon’s we found the anchorage I had planned on looked tighter than I expected with a few boats already anchored there. We needed to get groceries and I had planned out the 1.5 mile walk to the grocery store. I noticed a few free moorings so I called up Zahniser’s on the VHF and was assigned a ball for just $30. A small price to pay for showers and dinghy access.

We set off on foot for Weis’ supermarket which was actually about 1.75 miles away. I had checked the route on Google Earth and saw that our route took us past a Rita’s Italian Ice shop! This was going to be a highlight for us both. As we walked in the blazing afternoon sun it felt as if we were crossing the Sahara. .25 miles felt like 2 miles. We were sweltering. We stopped at a 7-11 and got two double gulp iced teas (unsweetened of course) and continued onward with thoughts of delicious, refreshing Italian ices keeping us moving. At last, I saw Rita’s on the horizon… Or was it a mirage? No! It was actually Rita’s. I could taste the coconut ice as we drew closer and saw the sign that read “Closed Sep 30th. See you next year!” Cindy was pretty uncomfortable at this point. I was too. Willow kept on trucking but she was panting. She has her winter coat on. We decided not to groom her because we thought we might be cold on this trip. We gave her plenty of opportunities to drink water but she seemed to be handling the intense heat better than we were. It was only 85 or so but there was no wind at all and no shade either. The sun was beating down on us so hard it really felt like the mid 90s. Cindy kept saying we needed to get an Uber back to the boat. I was determined to walk both ways because we really needed the exercise. She tried to explain to me that the groceries needed to stay cold but I wasn’t hearing it. I AM THE CAPTAIN.

In the Uber on the way back to the boat, the driver told us that lot’s of cruisers stop in Solomon’s on their way up and down the coast. She told us about saving frogs from baking in her car and we told her about killing birds. I’m really glad I listened to Cindy and took the Uber back. 🙂

Hurricane Michael looks like it will impact this area so we are planning to leave here before dawn tomorrow for the 10 hour journey to Deltaville, VA. The winds will again be light and on the nose so we will be motoring the whole way. On our 44 mile journey today we consumed about 7 gallons of fuel which we replaced at the fuel dock on our way in. In order to make Deltaville by sundown, we need to maintain an average speed of 5.5 knots which isn’t usually a problem but if the seas pick up and we are pounding into waves we will be slowed down. If it looks like we won’t make it to Deltaville by sunset, I plan to anchor on the Great Wicomico river about 20 nautical miles north. Thanks to our trip to the supermarket today we have plenty of food. We are down to about 30 gallons of water, however… So probably no showers until we reach Deltaville. Hopefully tomorrow night.

The Deltaville Marina is very familiar to us. It’s where we sea-trialed Mavis and where I had her hauled out for winter storage after we closed. I travelled down to her almost every weekend over the winter preparing her to sail north to the Great South Bay. It will be nice to be back there where we can get a slip and tie her up and wait for the remnants of Michael to pass before continuing on.

Up until Deltaville, we covered this stretch of coast in the spring brining Mavis home. After Deltaville, we are sailing into the unknown. Only about 45 miles south of Deltaville lies Mile 0 of the Intracoastal Waterway, or “the ditch”. An inland waterway which we will use for long stretches in between short hops out in the ocean all the way down to Miami.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We still have to get to Deltaville. Stay tuned and thanks for sailing with us.

Capt Frank