Wednesday May 16, was in some ways a very unusual day. We are still cooling our heels in Norfolk awaiting a different generator technician to come on board on Monday May 21 or sooner if his schedule opens up. So what did we do without a car? Why we went shopping of course…by boat.
While being without a working generator and there being somewhat unfavorable conditions in Chesapeake Bay has kept us from cruising any distances it certainly did not stop us from taking a day cruise in the Hampton Road harbor area. Additionally while Waterside Marina did make us a good deal on a fee to stay here for the remainder of May (Hopefully it won’t take that long.) they did ask us to move our boat from our old position on a wall at the entrance of the marina to a slip deeper inside. We were fine with that. So seeing as how we had to move the boat we decided on taking a little jaunt around the area and see what there is to see from the water. This also gave us a chance to test our PC based navigation software program called OpenCPN, a fully functional free computer application using all of the free NOAA marine charts which are also free. We would use this when we were piloting Why Knot from the flybridge as it is not equipped with any navigation equipment. And we like it up on the fly bridge rather than piloting from the lower helm which is equipped with nav aids.
We cast off about 11:00 am and headed up the harbor towards its mouth. I had set a multi-waypoint course that would actually take us out into the bay about three miles, turn around and come back in. Our first vistas included the downtown area of Norfolk to our starboard side and Hampton Roads and Hampton on our port side. The navigation package worked but it was very difficult to see because of the glare on the PC’s screen. This is something we will have to investigate. As we ventured on and turned east towards the opening of the harbor into the bay it became very apparent that the conditions ahead of us were not to our liking. It was a hazy day with no real direct sunshine with low lying cloud cover that was thick enough that we could not see anything in the distance. Every structure, landmarks and other vessels were obscured. So we turned around.
Now, the closest variety store of any kind to Waterside Marina is a Dollar General Store over across the bay in Portsmith. We had been there before by taking the ferry from Norfolk (About thirty feet from our original dockage) to Portsmith and then walk the five or six blocks to the store. The Portsmith dockage was at the mouth of a small but accessible inlet where there are free docks where someone could dock for a few hours to up to two days. But as there is no power or amenities (Showers or bathrooms) it is mostly used as a quick overnight spot instead of anchoring out in the bay.) Now, as we were cruising back to our marina Lisa said in an excited voice, “Let’s go shopping at the Dollar General Store.” Me, a tad thick at this point said something along the lines of that it would be good idea and that we would after we went back to our marina and hopped on the ferry to Portsmith. She corrected me. Her idea was to take our boat over to Portsmith. I wasn’t too sure about the idea as my image of that inlet was that it was the size of a bathtub. But I pulled up my britches and headed on over.
We had to linger a little bit downbound of the inlet as the ferry was ahead of us and we could not wade into the inlet until after it had made its stop and left which was only a few minutes. We got a look into the inlet passing it on our starboard side and saw that it was almost deserted and that there was a nice long dock that we could approach and tie up to on what would be on our port side. After the ferry left we turned in and with the help of another boater on the shore we smartly brought Why Knot to the dock, tied her up and Lisa grabbed our handy little blue folding two wheel cart and off to Dollar General she went. I remained with the boat.
I looked around the inlet to plan our exit. It was tight but manageable. I have grown more confident in my boat handling in close quarters and felt that we had plenty of options (Three to be exact.) on getting the boat out without hassle. Upon Lisa’s return we waited once again for the ferry to clear out, untied the lines and I started to try to back Why Knot out directly back into the channel of the bay. This was the first best option as the boat has a tendency to let her stern swing away from any and all docks once it is released, and this would work perfectly on exiting the inlet with only a few vector thrusts to keep her pointed in the right direction. Why Knot seems to be temperamental at times and even though we released lines in the right order for us to take advantage of her almost guaranteed stern swing she played a trick on us and she immediately started a bow yaw to the starboard side. In other words the bow started sweeping out instead of the stern. This was maneuvering option three and the least desirable. (There was a second option of me forward pivoting on the bow line but I did not think that would be needed. Silly me.) This meant that I had to make a 180 degree turn to starboard in tight quarters instead of maybe a 100 or 110 degree to port. But it went fine and we got out cleanly.
We cruised back to Waterside Marina with a bit of a breeze and calling ahead to the marina they told me that it was dead calm in the marina and knowing that there were few boats in the marina itself I decided that this would be the time for me to try the one maneuver that I had not accomplished yet, let alone even try. That is a stern first slip entry. Remember, Why Knot is a 45 foot boat with only one screw and without a bow thruster. Quite frankly she is a bear to back up. I can have more power than idle speed on her and I can flip the rudder any which way and she could go straight back or any direction she wants, so up to now all of my slip entries have been bow first. I pulled into the marina basin and the dock hands told me to go ahead with a stern-first starboard side entry. (Waterside has duel slips with finger docks. In other words two boat share a single extra wide slip with finger docks on one side of a boat instead of each boat having its own distinct slip with docks on each side.) I got into the basin and got her into position for a forward vector pivot. This is where the boat is in idle. I then turn the wheel full to port or starboard and I give her a quick burst in forward at idle speed, just for a second, and the boat begins to pivot almost within her own length to that side. She responds very well to this. Once in the basin directly in front of and perpendicular to the slip and at what looked like at a distance a bit further away than the boat’s midship length, about 25 feet, I did a vector pivot and she turned around smoothly and sweetly with her stern right at the opening of the slip with the boat almost pointed perfectly for a straight entry in. I gave her a little thrust in reverse, Lisa threw the starboard quarter line to the dock hand and she moved on in without a hitch. Sweet. So as far as our day trip went it was a very good day indeed.
But it wasn’t even close to being over. It only got better.
Evening came around with a bit of a shower. We ate dinner and hunkered down on the couch to do what we usually do in the evenings…watch DVDs. Currently we are working our way through the fourth season of West Wing. The rain clouds were clearing away and it was a very pleasant evening. Then we heard a ruckus outside. It was the sound of an engine of some kind going through mad changes of pitch and volume. It sounded almost like it was being tortured or in some kind of terrible distress. We paused the DVD and went out the port side of the boat facing west. There up in the sky, over the water, a very short distance away was a helicopter gyrating around in what looked like terrible wrenched patterns. The other boaters and the dock hands still on duty were all out watching this scene too. But it wasn’t a horrible accident looking for someplace to happen. It was an acrobatic helicopter practicing for an airshow this weekend. It was doing all sorts of sick moves in the air: barrel rolls, stalls and recoveries, fast pivots in every direction. And then it did two even more incredible moves. It did a full loop in a circle (A move that I always understood could not be made in a helicopter.) and then a move where it picked up some speed, flew up and flipped itself end over end, then pointing straight down towards the water pulling up to another roll. It was crazy but what a great show. And as it turned to the west to head to some airport it focused our attention onto what we both think was the most beautiful sunset we have ever seen. The sun was burning through from the west with its rays silhouetting huge cloud formations trailing the storm front that came through earlier. The giant cranes of the ship yard even added a degree of grace and proportion to the scene as they seemed so small and insignificant against this wondrous display of God’s creation. It was breathtaking…a spiritual moment.
Perhaps this day, May 16, 2012 best illustrates why I have always had this dream of being a boater and doing the Great Loop. To borrow words, oddly, spoken by the replicant Roy Batty from the movie Blade Runner, its for all those moments. I have seen things that I have never seen before. I have experienced things that I have never experienced before. I have been a witness to circumstances that are truly tranformational in their occurring. Amazing.