Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I've done it again!

Holy cats! I've gone and done it again.

Introducing Outside the Channel, Volume 1 Just Hangin' Out -- another collection of stories, this time about our 2014 cruising season.
Click here to order from Amazon

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Recap of the 2014 Cruising Season

Well, since we are safely tied up in our slip at The Marina at Ortega Landing in Jacksonville, Florida—our last stop for the season—as an exercise in accurate record keeping, here is a recap of the details.
Our starting point for the season was Barefoot Marina at North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We departed there on May 24, 2014.

UP                   773.88 sm
Carolina Beach (NC) Mooring Field (a favorite of ours)
Mile Hammock Anchorage (NC) (Yucky mud)
Caspers Marina, Swansboro, NC
Whitaker Pointe Marina, Oriental NC (Still our absolute favorite marina anywhere.)
Dowry Creek Marina, Bellhaven, NC
Coinjock Marina, Out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, NC
Hampton City Marina, Hampton, VA (Jake is the best! So is Signature Canvas.)
Cape Charles Harbor Marina, Cape Charles, VA
Somers Cove Marina, Crisfield, MD
Mill Creek anchorage. Solomons, MD`
Annapolis Landing Marina, Annapolis, MD
Skipjack Cove anchorage, Sassafras River, Georgetown, MD
Delaware City Marina, Delaware City, DE
Penn Landing Marina, Philadephia, PA (Our selection as the best destination of the season. Go!)

DOWN           1176.21 SM   
Schaefers Marina, C&D Canal, Chesapeake City, MD (Our selection as the worst marina of the season.)
Skipjack Cove Yacht Center, Georgetown, MD
Baltimore Inner Harbor City Docks, Baltimore, MD
Annapolis Harbor Mooring Field, Annapolis, MD (Generator died.)
Annapolis Landing Marina, Annapolis, MD
Holiday Point Marina, Selby-on-the-Bay, MD (Replaced the generator.)
Calvert Marina, Solomons, MD (Sat out a bad gale that blew through.)
Regatta Pointe Marina, Deltaville, MD
Dismal Swamp free dock, Chesapeake, VA
Coinjock Marina, Coinjock, NC (The prime ribs aren’t as good as they used to be. The potato chips, though, are still amazing.)
Dowry Creek Marina, Bellhaven, NC
Whitaker Pointe Marina, Oriental NC (Let me check—Yep, still our favorite.)
Casper’s Marina, Swansboro, NC
Seapath Marina, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Bald Head Island Marina, Baldhead Island, NC
Barefoot Marina, North Myrtle Beach, SC
Barefoot to Osprey Marina and back (daytrip to buy cheap fuel at Osprey)
Georgetown Landing Marina, Georgetown, SC
Harborage At Ashley Marina, Charleston, SC
Port Royal Marina, Port Royal, SC
Isle of Hope Marina, Isle of Hope, GA
Buttermilk Sound anchorage (GA)
Fernandina Harbor Marina, Fernandina Beach, FL (Get the damn sticker.)
The Marina at Ortega Landing, Jacksonville, FL

Total miles       1950.09 sm
242 hours engine run time. Approx. 8.0 smph average, which actually we are very pleased with.

About this time, during December of 2011, we were in negotiations to buy Why Knot from the previous owners in Pompano Beach, Florida, and we returned to St. Louis a few days later with a closed sale in our hands. It was a wonderful time for us and we were looking forward to a great adventure of cruising the Great Loop. We departed Pompano Beach on January 9th, 2012. So, on this date, December 4, 2014, and since we are returning home in a few days for a four month shore leave, we can say that we have been active cruisers for three years now. During that time, we have travelled 9538.93 statute miles and navigated in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama. That’s 18 states and 1 Canadian province. And if you want to get technical, we’ve cruised through several states several times.

Not bad for a couple of rookies from Missouri.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Ten Day Run, Part 2

When we left Charleston we experienced some pretty unbelievable conditions, both good and not so good, but never terrible. It was always cold, and that affected some of our choices. It was just plain too cold to anchor out, with low temperatures in the mid thirties. Brrr. But the sun was out most of the time, and that helped. But that only lasted until we got to Port Royal, South Carolina. We were there for six days of wet, icky, cold, crud. We even changed our plans and stayed there for Thanksgiving instead of motoring on down to Isle of Hope, Georgia. The weather was nasty. But Thanksgiving up at the marina office with other boaters and some locals was fun, but still very cold.
Now, on the good side—we blasted down the coast. We seemed to get juiced up by every incoming tide all the way down. I mean, for us, we flew! We were even able to change up our routes midway during two straight days to allow for some longer days out on the water--two seventy-plus mile days and we made it to the destination of both with sunlight and time to spare. And our tide surfing also helped us in the trouble spots along the way: Hell Gate, Little Mud River, and Jekyll Creek. Plenty of water—no problems. That was until the last day—today—getting into Ortega Landing Marina in Jacksonville, Florida.
We spent the last two nights at Fernandina Harbor Marina in, you guessed it, Fernandina Beach, Florida. One reason we stopped there was to take in the town. We’d never been there before and we enjoyed it. The second reason was to acquire our Florida State Sojourner’s Permit. For you lubbers, it’s basically a state sanctioned snatch-and-grab theft tactic by Florida to rip off visiting boaters. It’s a way of getting us for something akin to personal property taxes to the state…of which we are not residents…using the waterways that don’t belong to them in the first place. And to make it all the more suck-ish, it is widely misunderstood by law enforcement officials and very unevenly enforced. Oh, and it’s a pain in the ass to get one of the little yellow permit stickers. What you’re supposed to do when you arrive at your first port of call in Florida is to somehow get to the nearest county tax office, which could be miles away, and get one. And to make it even worse is that there are some widely known abuses of the law by law enforcement. It’s a crock, but it’s the law until someone with some deep pockets challenges it. But nobody seems to know what it really means. (We chose Fernandina Beach to get our permit because it’s the Nassau County seat and there is a tax office a few blocks from the marina.) 
I hate Florida.
Anyway, back to today. We left Fernandina Beach under a cloud of trouble. Our starter went on the fritz and we couldn’t get the boat started. Admittedly, it has already been rebuilt twice and we knew that it was only a matter of time before it crapped out again. It did. But I was able to use a very technical and sophisticated repair technique on it. I tapped it with a hammer. Presto! She started. So we quickly untied our lines and headed out towards our final destination of our cruising season, The Marina at Ortega Landing in Jacksonville, Florida.
Ah, what a great feeling. We were on the last leg of the year. The sun was shining and the temperature got into the eighties. We were three days ahead of schedule thanks to all of the favorable tides down the coast. Splendid! But there was one small problem. When we made the turn out of the ICW at Sisters Creek and headed inland on the St. Johns River toward Jacksonville, blammo. Bummer city. Remember me saying we had the tides in our favor the entire way down the coast, and that our cruising was fast and furious? Well, not so much on the St. Johns. As a matter of fact, we were headfirst into an outgoing tide the entire way.
My god, the trip up the river, past downtown Jacksonville, and to Ortega was excruciatingly long and BORING! We never got past about 6.2 statute miles per hour, and the hours crawled along forever. It really was the worst. Oh, and the smell! The polluted water of the river was so pungent and so acrid that, I promise this is true, it made my eyes water. Yuck.
But finally, after what seemed like years on that stinky yucky river, we did finally did get to Ortega Landing Marina where Why Knot will sit patiently while we head home until we return around April 1st.
There was a bonus to the day, kind of a reward for enduring the crummy trip to Ortega.
It was over 80 degrees. The marina’s pool was open. I got to go swimming. Amazingly, it was just six days ago that we were freezing our butts off up in Port Royal on Thanksgiving. But today we went swimming!
I love Florida.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Quick Story – Darrell is a doofus.

We are currently tied up at Port Royal Marina at Port Royal, SC. It’s raining heavily and the wind is blowing pretty hard.

In past posts I have written that I’m a bit anal about the weather, and that there have been times that we have not left someplace because the weather predictions were in that maddening groove between acceptable and not acceptable conditions. Then, when we decide to not embark, I curse the sky and tell it, “Rain, damn it. Rain!” so that my decision to stay put is justified.

Well, as we sit here getting soaked, and the boat is being pitched about on the dock, for some reason my joking is all about us going ahead and heading out. “Let’s go! We won’t have any boats to pass. We’ll have the ICW all to ourselves. Let’s get out there!” Lisa, in all her love and understanding, sits across from me in the galley. She points out the dichotomy of my past-frustrated expressions about staying put, and now joking about going out. With tenderness in her voice, she says, “Darrell, shut the fuck up.”

Perhaps, that is exactly what I should do.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Ten Day Run, part 1

Departing Barefoot Landing was a bittersweet event. On the one hand, we were back on the water, heading south, on a ten day push to get to Jacksonville, Florida. And that’s a good thing. It’s exactly where we like to be with Why Knot. That’s where she belongs.
On the other hand, we had to say good-bye to Rick and Margi. We thoroughly enjoyed the ten days that we had to spend with them. They’re lovely people and during this last summer, our activities were all measured around when we would get to North Myrtle Beach and see them again.
We also got to see Rick and Betsy of Rick and Roll. They live in Topsail, SC and had their boat tied up at Barefoot too. They came down to the marina a couple of times while we were there. Alas, their reason to be there is because they are selling their boat. They have decided that cruising up and down the coast was no longer for them. It was fun to see them also.
We didn’t spend the whole ten days sitting around the boat. There were always shopping trips to go on and restaurants to eat at, which the Grand Strand has a million to choose from.
We even took Why Knot out for a daytrip. She has a fuel capacity of 750 gallons and we wanted to make sure the tanks were full before we got down to Florida and the Bahamas. There is usually a price difference between Florida and almost anyplace up north by as much as a dollar per gallon as it is. But we found out that a marina twenty miles south of Myrtle Beach called Osprey Marina had diesel fuel at only $3.11(.9) per gallon, including taxes. That’s about as cheap as it comes, so with Rick and Margi as crew, we set out down there to fill up. We believe we are now fueled up enough to go to the islands and to piddle around Florida for most of the summer.
Our ten-day cruise plan to Jacksonville is an interesting one, mostly because it includes us anchoring out more; eight nights out of the ten. But, of course, nature has had a hand in us having to modify it greatly. The main reason is that it is just too damn windy and cold! So, for the first several nights, we are marina hopping with our first stop in Georgetown, SC, and then at the Harborage at Ashley Island marina in Charleston. The first leg down to Georgetown was uneventful, except for the windy conditions. But the second leg down to Charleston was quite interesting.
You experienced boaters can probably guess what I’m talking about, but you lubbers don’t. That leg has a reputation for having some of the shallowest waters on the entire eastern seaboard, especially around an area called Isle of Palms. And, of course, we arrived there at low tide.
The muddy shores were bare as we carefully picked our way through the narrowing channel. For most of the time, we followed two trawlers and fast moving sailboat. For most of the stretch our depth sounder rarely showed anything over seven feet under our keel, most of the time less than five, and a few times it showed the dreaded double dash lines that showed it was lower than two feet. We even bounced off the mud on a couple of occasions.
Then, with just a mile or two of the troubled stretch to go, we saw a group of four sailboats all grounded at the edges of the navigable gash in the channel. The two trawlers went first, then the sailboat, then us. We watched the two trawlers weave carefully past the bow of one particular sailboat that was stuck literally just a few feet from deeper water. The sailboat in front of us slowed to a crawl. I had Why Knot all the way back in idle speed, but we were still faster than them. Uh oh. Then, they made a slight turn to port and I saw an opening to gently glide past them and one of the stuck boats. We passed by the shoaled sailboat’s anchor with just two feet to spare, but we were in a VERY narrow strip of 10 feet of water. We got through. The sailboat that we had been following also made it through, barely. From there we motored on into Charleston.
Many boaters we know have said that that particular stretch of water has been a deal-breaker in their fervency to continue on being cruisers. I can’t say I blame them. I don’t like it either. For the most part, I find the ICW to be a pretty innocuous thing. It’s like a certain road you have to drive every day that isn’t particularly in good shape, but it’s not dangerous and it gets you where you’re going…except that small strip that’s full of potholes and with pavement so rough it can break your back. You’d like to avoid it, but you can’t.

Friday, November 7, 2014

It Was a Weird Day

One of the most appropriate sayings about what the boating experience is like is this – Boating is long periods of boredom punctuating my moments of sheer terror.
Let’s face it, truth be told, sometimes this on board life is boring as hell. Routes through large bodies of water can be mind-numbingly tedious when all you have to do is select your next waypoint some twenty or thirty miles down the way, hit the auto-pilot button, and sit back and daydream. Oh, you keep your eyes focused on the water in front of you, but, like the boat, you’re on auto-pilot too.
Well, that was not the case on our cruise getting from Oriental down to Bald Head Island.
The first leg, from Whitaker Pointe Marina in Oriental to Casper’s Marina in Swansboro, North Carolina, was no big deal. But there were some telltale signs that things were going to get interesting. The biggest sign was the increase in U.S. Coast Guard and Navy traffic on the VHF radio. For instance, there obviously was a bevy of U.S. Navy ships out in the waters off the coast as we heard constant hails from the warships to pleasure vessels that were getting too close to their positions. Also, we heard more hails from USCG and USN patrol security boats. Then, after we passed under the railroad bridge in Beaufort, we started to see the patrol boats, several dozen of them, all flitting around Morehead City harbor and Bogue Inlet, and all of them were armed to the teeth with .50 caliber M2 machine guns, the venerable Ma Deuce killer gun. But the most troubling messages were the communications from the Coast Guard North Carolina Sector to all vessels telling us to go to channel 22A for unscheduled safety announcements which told mariners that the ICW in Camp Lejuene would be closed for long periods of time throughout the week.
After we got into Casper’s Marina that Monday afternoon, I got online and found out that we were smack dab in the middle of Operation Bold Alligator, the largest Navy and Marine maneuvers of the year. Twenty nations were participating in those games and it stretched from north of Norfolk all the way down the coast of North Carolina, and for a pleasure boater it meant one lousy thing; making any headway heading south was going to be a pain in the ass.
Our departure from Casper’s was on Tuesday and our destination was suppose to be the mooring field in Carolina Beach; a long day even with an early start. But the ICW in Lejeune was closed on Tuesday morning from 7:00 am to noon. That put a big crimp in our schedule. But at 11:00 am we undocked, went down to the northern end of the canal, and waited … along with a dozen other boats.
Exactly at noon the navy patrol boat scurried off and we all headed on down. There were two fast powerboats and they zoomed on down towards the Onslow Bridge, but the rest of us slow trawlers and sailboats all trudged along together.
The first obstacle was the notorious Brown’s Inlet detour. According to charts, a boat could just cruise on past it without a care in the world. The reality of it is that it shoals terribly and the green marker has been set way over to the red side of the channel to where a vessel has to dive way over to the red side and make a sharp turn to port to get through it. We remembered this little jaunt from before so we were prepared for it. But the other boats in our flotilla were not ready for it. We were fourth in line and the three boats in front of us were totally got caught off guard by it. They were zooming down the channel when they all of sudden got the picture and took hard turns to starboard to make it around the green buoy. There angle was bad. The first two boats squeaked by, but the third boat, the one directly in front of us, didn’t. He ran hard aground. Fortunately, the boat had a four person crew on board and two of them jumped up at the mast and rocked it back and forth until they got free. We then made it around the marker.
Lisa kept a close watch on the boats behind us and saw that they were all in worse shape. The last seven or eight boats were all sailboats and they were all bunched up together too close. The lead sailboat ran aground and the ensuing mêlée was, frankly, difficult to watch. It was a real mess.  
Okay, so we got past Mile Hammock (which was heavy with Navy and Marine shallow draft vessels of all kinds) and we had the throttle lever pushed up high. We knew that we were in a race with the sun to get to someplace safe before the it went down. But where? And we were entering that stretch of the ICW that because of all of the conflicting tides, we could be going ten miles per hour with a tide or six miles per hour against a tide. If we had one thing going for us was that weather conditions were calm and clear.
We kept pushing hour after hour but the math of the situation was clear. If we were able to get to Carolina Beach, it would be in the dark. Now, we have done some nighttime navigation and I’m not all that freaked out about it, but considering we were in the ICW, I was concerned. The thing that killed us was the damn swing bridge in Surf City. We had to wait forty-five minutes to get through. That sealed our fate. We weren’t getting to Carolina Beach at all. We had to settle for Wrightsville Beach. Lisa got on the phone and found us a marina on the back channel call Sea path Marina (a great stop, by the way.)
I believe that of all of creation there is only one thing that is 100% true all of the time – Mathematics – and the math was showing us that we would be navigating in dusk conditions or the dark for about ninety minutes. But we had no choice. We had to go on.
Remember when I said that the one thing we had going for us was calm conditions? That stayed true. There was absolutely no wind at all and we seemed to be following the high tide slack water all of the way after Surf City.
Lisa and I navigated from the fly bridge where it’s easier to see everything around us. I kept the boat on the magenta line while Lisa swept the channel with our handheld search light. I don’t want to say that it was easy, but Lisa and I made it finally down to Wrightsville Beach where we had to wait thirty minutes for the 7:00 pm opening.
I hate the bridge at Wrightsville Beach almost as much as I hate the bridge at Surf City. The currents can be horrendous and I was prepared for a nerve-racking thirty minutes of bridge dancing in the dark. But Poseidon smiled on us. We got to the bridge at high slack water with zero wind. I found a spot, put the boat in neutral, and we sat there almost totally motionless the entire time. The bridge finally opened and we made our way to the marina. They have a very long facing dock and the tie up was easy.
After all of that I sat in the salon and waited for the adrenaline to waft away. After about ten minutes, it did, and I crashed. Nevertheless, we made it safe and sound.
Our original plan was for us to get to Barefoot Landing from Carolina Beach. Instead, we are now at Bald Head Island for a few days. It’s Lisa’s absolutely favorite place. And if Lisa is happy, I’m happy.

Next stop from here – Barefoot. We’re coming Rick! We’re coming!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Seven Days

It took us seven days to get out of Chesapeake Bay.
Weather was the culprit as it whipped up two storms that swept through the area in quick succession. The first was a gale force storm that held us up in Solomons for three days. During that stay at Calvert Marina, we were fortunate to be on the south side of one of their floating piers. The wind was from the north and our lines held us off the dock about a foot and a half. It wasn’t too bad for us, but the boats on the north side of the docks got rocked pretty hard. The crews were out almost hourly as they adjusted their fenders to protect their boats.
There was one unfortunate crew of a thirty foot cruiser that made the mistake of actually going out into the bay on the first day of the storm. They limped their way into Solomons on one engine. All of us gathered on the dock and helped them get in and the crew looked beaten and bruised. After we got them tied up, the main question on everyone’s mind got asked almost immediately. “What was it like out there?” The captain of the small boat, Dofu 2, at least was honest enough to say, “It was someplace we shouldn’t have been.”
While in Solomons, we befriended a crew from Canada, Frank and Kathy of Salty Paws. They were cruising with another couple, Dave and Jackie of Tempo, also from Canada. Salty Paws was tied up with us at Calvert while Tempo was at another marina for some quick repairs. We all traveled together from Solomons to Deltaville (sort of). They went to the anchorage on Jackson Creek, the south side of Deltaville.
After Solomons, we had one good cruising day and made it into Regatta Pointe Marina in Deltaville. There we sat for only two nights, with some of our dockmates from Solomons tied in also. That storm was not as bad as the previous one, but enough that it made things rough in the bay.
We all left our moorings on that seventh day out of Chesapeake Bay and headed on into Norfolk under nearly perfect conditions. The conditions were so good that we skipped outr original destination, Hampton City Pier, and motored on down with Salty Paws and Tempo to the free dock at the mouth of the Dismal Swamp canal where we enjoyed docktails and a peaceful night.
In the morning, they all went down the Dismal Swamp. We headed on down the Virginia Cut to our destination, Coinjock. My god, the boating was sooooo slow. We first had to wait for the Steel Bridge to open, along with ten or eleven other boats. Then it took forever to get everyone into the Great Bridge Lock, out, and past Atlantic Yacht Basin. Then, for the first time ever, the railroad bridge between Great Bridge and the Centerville Bridge was down for a train. We had to wait for that. That threw the timing off to get through Centerville. Then, we had to wait for the North Landing Bridge. All in all, it took us four hours to cover 12.5 sm. Eesch.
Crossing Albermarle was a real treat, and I do mean that sarcastically. The 15 mph winds were from the southwest, and just like it always happens at Coinjock, all of the boats peeled off the docks shortly after sunup. There was, again, a line of a dozen or so boats that made their way down the North River out into the sound. The faster boats made their way easily and quickly, while us slower boats and to sludge through the two to three foot close swells until about midway through the sound. After that the wind lost some of its fetch and things calmed down enough that it was tolerable. But that first half was pretty rough. Our bell rang twice on its own.
We were going to anchor out in a large anchorage field just at the northern tip of the Pungo River, but the weather reports we were getting were beginning to sound a bit ominous. We decided instead to pull into Dowry Creek Marina and sit out a day. Overall, from Coinjock, it was an 81 sm day. That next day, s it turned out, the weather reports were wrong and we learned it was a pretty good day out there. But we committed to stay put and, actually, we’re glad we did. I was exhausted. I pretty much collapsed and slept in a lot of the day.
As I write this on November 1, 2014, we are at Whitaker Point Marina in Oriental, North Carolina, where we will once again sit out another gale force storm that is churning its way into the area. Here, we’ve made some new friends already; Larry and Sue of K’ten, from Troy, New York…or Connecticut…or Delaware. They’re like us in that they have several properties in different states and declare their residency to suit their needs.
And low and behold, Salty Paws and Tempo have made their way in here also.  

So what of the future? Well, starting on Monday, it looks like we are going to have some very good boating conditions. The winds are going to pretty much lay down, and with us entering the heart of the ICW, we expect to get into Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach by the end of the week. After a few days there, we will continue on down to Jacksonville where we are still thinking we will have to head back to St. Louis and Denver for a short stay each.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hanging out in Annapolis … literally.

Before I say anything else, let me tell you that Rob and Michelle Nixon of Dependable Marine Service in Annapolis, Maryland are the two most awesome people in the entire world. Not only are they great technicians, but they’re very generous too. So, without reservation, let me say that when you are in Chesapeake Bay and you need some work done on your boat, you should definitely motor up to Annapolis to get the work done by them. As a matter of fact, you should get to Annapolis and break something on your boat yourself intentionally just so you can have the experience of these fine people doing the repairs. They’re that good.
Here’s a little recap to get you up to speed.
We had to get a new generator installed on the boat. Check. There was also a short punch list of small repairs that had to be done. These included the tachometer on the flybridge crapped out and needed to be replaced, the lighting in the engine room was acting up, and a water intake hose needed to be replaced – if you own a boat, you know the drill. Check, check, check. Everything was falling into place so that we could drive the boat up to Annapolis Landing Marina, kick back, and enjoy the Annapolis Powerboat show Thursday through Sunday, and then skedaddle on Monday or Tuesday, weather permitting.
Not so fast, bucky.
Why Knot is a very dry boat. The only water that is dumped by out by the bilge pump is the drippings that come in from the propeller shaft packing and some overflow water from the shower sump. Otherwise, she’s pretty watertight. After all the repair work was done, I was secured all of the stuff in the engine room and I noticed water weeping from one of the unused through-hulls. It wasn’t a flood, but it was a definite leak. The through-hull had a plug in it and so it was first thought that the plug was defective. Nope. Either the actual through-hull was defective and needed to be replaced, or the entire thing drilled out, plugged, and glassed. That is the option that we decided on. And, of course, that meant that the boat needed to be pulled out of the water again.
That, in and of itself, wasn’t that bad of a thing. If a repair needed to be made to the hull, you have to take the boat out of the water. However, all this was discovered on Friday morning. I did a quick calendar calculation and thought that that meant that the boat would go up on jack stands and the work would not get done until Monday or Tuesday of the following week, which would delay out departure by several days. Fortunately, Ron, the manager of the marina, worked out a deal for us so that an employee fixed the hole on Friday, sand it on Saturday (and apply the first coating of bottom paint), then come back Sunday and apply the second coat. The boat would then be splashed on Monday and, after Rob came back and calibrated the new tachometer (which can only be done with the engine running), we could get the heck out of here.
When all of that was decided, our biggest thoughts were about logistics. Where would we stay, what would we do, and would we be stranded on the boat and miss the entire boat show anyway?
The marina came up with a novel approach. They did pull Why Knot out of the water and instead of putting it up on jackstands, they left the boat on blocks in the travel lift just up on shore from the haul out well. So, when, in the title of this, I said we are hanging out in Annapolis, I literally mean it. We are on our boat hanging in the straps of the travel lift. (Truth be told, I feel more secure with the boat in the travel lift instead of on stands.)

With that problem solved, our attention turned to how we would live with this situation. Our biggest problem was that we somehow hoped we wouldn’t be isolated at the marina. This was where Rob and Michelle came to the rescue. They had an extra old beater Toyota pickup truck at their home (almost mere blocks from the marina) and they loaned it to us gratis.
So, we had a place to stay, a car, and a big event to enjoy; The Annapolis Powerboat Show. The stage was set for a very interesting weekend.
Our first impressions of the boat show was that it was very bright, colorful, and an interesting juxtaposition from what we knew the inner harbor of Annapolis was like. On our first day there, Friday, the weather was warm, crystal clear (but breezy), and all of the boats and displays were bathed in sunlight. There were flags of all different kinds fluttering in the breeze, and the temporary docks crisscrossed all of Ego Alley, the shore, and out into the harbor itself. It was an odd feeling to walk on the floating piers over waters we knew usually had boats cruising in and out of. We met up with friends Bill and Nancy, and Gary and Brenda, and cruised around the boats and exhibition tents.

It was crowded, and everyone, all of whom were boat-y kind of people, wore the typical boaters cool weather gear (cool, as in temperature, that is.); jeans, some kind of nylon insolated windbreaker, and deck shoes.
Every boat had a row of shoes on the dock near the egress points of the boats, some of the sales crews tightly controlled how many people were on board at one time, while others were just an open house kind of thing. And the boats came in every shape and style. There were the fancy salon open deck large run-abouts, mega-fancy cruisers, and small run-abouts. As a trawler crew, we were most interested in what other kinds of new trawlers there were, but were disappointed. American Tug and Nordic had a few of their pocket trawlers there (small, trailerable trawlers), and North Pacific had a forty-footer on display, but otherwise, the trawler community was underrepresented. There weren’t very many power cats there either. There were no large yachts. We did get an opportunity to crawl around on a 55 foot Fleming, a boat we have always admired from a distance, and while it was very nice, it was similar to many of the bigger boats there. It felt cramped. Now, we admit that our 45 foot Nelson is not monstrously big, but our floor plan is much more open than those newer boats, which all seemed to have a helluva of a lot of fixed partitions and settees. But then, we’re biased.
Many of those boats were, in fact, not passagemakers. They are built for weekend jaunts from point A to some nearby point B and back. One thing I paid attention to were the technical specs of the boats, mainly how powerful the boats were compared to their fuel capacity. One boat had twin 400 horsepower engines in it with a cruise speed of somewhere in the twenty-five mile per hour range and only a 200 gallon fuel capacity. How far were they going to go?
There were then the myriad of booths set up trade-show style in three large tents and numerous little alleyways that meandered around on shore. You name it, it was available: engines, gens, water purifiers, heads, charts, clothing, tools, navigation technology, anchors, furniture, dishware, lines, sunglasses, hats, carpeting, jewelry, stabilizers, accessories, engine components, education resources, pots and pans, and even ginsu knives. And, of course, there was a chiropractor there with his skeleton giving free shoulder rubs.
After using Saturday as a provisioning day, we went back to the show on Sunday and met up with friends Bill and Michelle, along with a friend of there’s, Allan. It was much cooler on that day (Lisa wore thermal underwear. She is just so classy.), and the place to be was out on the sun-warmed docks in the harbor. But we had a great time. If you remember, we met the two Bills, Michelle, and Nancy in Baltimore and they’re terrific people. Allan seemed to enjoy himself, and Brenda and Gary are a hoot.

Our overall experience with the boat show was that it was very, very interesting, but not overwhelmingly cool or wonderful. The boats were neat, but after awhile they all looked the same. The booths were fun, but having extensive experience working tradeshows, Lisa and I figured out that most of the participants were doing it wrong, and we question if they feel they’re getting much a return on their investments. (Too many exhibitors think that the trade show is a selling opportunity. It’s not. A trade show is for creating interest and building rapport. The key is to gather leads and follow up post-show.)
Now, this sounds weird, but the coolest part of the show was at the very end. Lisa and I found a perch at a rooftop bar area and watched the mayhem of when all the boats cleared out of the area at the end of the show.
Let me explain … To get all of the boats in the harbor with dock access, the show’s producers provide a buttload of temporary floating docks that are hodge-podged in a pattern of enclosed rectangles. When they are setting up, they bring a group of boats in, surround them with floating docks tugged in by several little aluminum tug boats, then bring in the next batch of boats, surround them in, and so on. The smaller boats go down into Ego Alley, and the larger boats stick out into the harbor. At 5:00 pm on Sunday, after the show is closed, the reverse happens. The little tugs come in and pull the floating docks away, releasing the captured boats to scramble out of the harbor. It’s pretty comical. One of the funniest aspects is that the high-performance boats with uber fancy maneuvering capabilities, do little ballet steps when the pull out. They spin on a point and do boat pirouettes to the applause of the hundreds of onlookers. That was very impressive.

Our overall experience with the boat show was a very positive one. We’re glad we attended. It’s a big social experience and everyone, including us, enjoyed the vibe of it all. The boats were very cool, the weather was amazingly good, but, as usual, it was the people that made it fun. Bill and Michelle, Bill and Nancy, Brenda and Gary, and Allan, are delightful people, and we enjoyed their company immensely. But then, the greatest blessing of this lifestyle always has been the people.

One more thing; after seeing all of those brand-spanking new boats just reaffirmed what we’ve always said; Why Knot is the best boat in any marina, every time.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

So, like, here's what's happening....

As I write this, Lisa and I are still in Denver, but good news abounds, we have our Frontier Airlines reservations in hand to head back to Annapolis on Tuesday the 14th. Yee Haa!

Why Knot has been up on the hard at Holiday Pointe Marina since September 4th. The generator has been successfully changed out, as well as some other repairs made. So she's ready to go ... twelve miles back up to Annapolis Landing Marina.

The Annapolis power boat show starts on the 16th and we are just too darn close to it to pass up the opportunity to see one of these things. So, when we get back to the boat, courtesy of new friends John and Gloria, and with them as our new day crew, we will head back to Annapolis for a week and take in the shindig. Again, new friends Bill and Michelle, and Bill and Nancy, will be there also. (Hmm. John and Gloria, Bill and Michelle, Bill and Nancy, another couple that the Bills, Michelle and Nancy know, and Lisa and I. Hey, I think we have the makings of a party.)

After that, we will point the bow south, push the throttle lever all the way, and get as far south as we can by around mid-November, when we must again head back to DEN and STL to take care of some business. Fortunately, that trip will not involve any labor (he says, crossing his fingers) other than signing documents. Then we'll head straight back to the boat, and then we'll figure out what the hell we'll do then. The only thing that we know for sure is that we are going to earnestly try to get sons Bryan and Kevin down on the boat with us, if we can get them to pry any of their vacation time from sitting around and binge watching the first four seasons of Game of Thrones for the umpteenth time.

One last thing -- ask me what I did  here in Denver. Go ahead, ask me. Glad you asked. I painted and painted and painted. I also did some painting. Lisa had it worse. She had to listen to me bitch and moan about incessantly. She's a saint.

Friday, August 22, 2014

R.I.P. Our Onan MDKD 8kw Generator, and It’s About Damn Time

Okay, so here’s the story about the demise of our persnickety generator. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that our relationship with our genset has been, shall I say, challenging.
We left Baltimore under great boating conditions; no winds to speak of, and the tides and currents were going in our direction. It was only a short thirty-one mile hop down to the mooring field in Annapolis. We were going to stay there two nights to let a storm system pass before we would cruise to Hampton in two long legs that each ended at anchorages. We tied up without any problems and spent the entire day onboard just lazing around. The generator performed just like it was suppose to; running smoothly and obediently. All was well.       
The next morning, as usual, I woke up around 2:00 am. The first thing I did was go down into the engine compartment and check the oil and coolant of the gen. No problems. All looked good. I climbed back up into the salon, closed the engine room hatch, preheated the generator, and pushed the start switch. She fired up. I then went down into the galley and started to make a pot of coffee.
Less than a minute later, the generator died. There is a fault switch that trips open whenever there is fault with the engine, most likely due to low oil pressure or if the engine is going to overheat. The switch tripped. I rechecked everything, closed the fault switch, and tried again. Same thing happened. After several attempts I did finally get the gen to run for two hours. At that time we went ashore. When I returned to the boat (Lisa went shopping), once again, the switch kept flipping and it would not run for more than twenty or so seconds. Uh-oh.
We moved the boat back over to Annapolis Landing Marina, our home away from home, it seems, and called Rob and Michelle of Dependable Marine Service. We had used them in the past and they have a rock-solid reputation. They came on board and Rob determined that one of two things were wrong, both having to do with oil pressure. Either the sensor was bad and needed to be replaced, which isn’t so bad, or the oil pump was failing, which is fatal to the generator. Well, at least fatal to a very old generator that had a history of unreliability. Fortunately, they had a replacement sensor (though Rob wasn’t sure it was the correct one) with them and installed it. The gen fired up and ran. Maybe we dodged a bullet.
We had every intention of leaving the next morning, thinking our generator woes were behind us. When I woke up that morning I had received an email from Rob and Michelle confirming that the sensor was indeed the correct one, and that I should run the gen for a couple of hours, just to make sure. Well, I’m glad I did. Not only did the engine not run, even for a few seconds, it wouldn’t even turn over. It’s dead. Their opinion, and an opinion we share, is that the generator is not worth repairing an further.
Back in Savannah, Georgia, a year ago, we had a certified Onan technician come on board and give the generator a look over. I asked him to state the condition of the generator in terms of an elderly person’s health. He said that he would be very old, in a nursing home, but doing sort of okay. I guess the condition of the patient has deteriorated to the point where hospice care is needed.
Our upcoming cruising plans include locales where we will not have any access to marinas, let alone electricity, so having a generator that works reliably is absolutely essential. No generator = no electricity.
 I think we have a few mixed feelings about this. Obviously, if the damn thing is broke and irreparable, it needs to be replaced. But then again, the pump, if that is the culprit, could be fixed. But then, would we only be applying a bandaid to a patient with much greater injuries? Lisa said that the generator is experiencing ‘cascading failure’. (I love it when she talks techie.) That is, when things start going wrong, everything eventually starts going wrong. I think that is certainly the case with the Onan. And, applying an adage I coined, leaks never get smaller. But, it is a hefty expense. But, if we don’t replace it, we could end up nickel and diming ourselves to death. Also, being in the Bahamas or some backwater anchorage off of the ICW in Texas is no place to have it fail. So, we’re going to suck it up and replace the generator.
Getting the gen replaced is a pretty straightforward affair. In about a week or so we will move the boat to a marina a hair south of Annapolis. According to Rob, they have all the facilities there to do the job. I spoke to the marina master and he says they will want to pull it out of the water as soon as we arrive there. So, we will be packed and ready to leave when we get there. We will then head to BWI and catch a plane back to St. Louis and Denver for our fall shore leave during September instead of October. We will then, hopefully, return to the boat in early October and start our trek south.
Now, this does kind of screw up our short term cruising plans. To what extent, we still have to determine. For instance, we have friends (Rick and Margi, I’m talking to you!) whom are at Barefoot Marina in North Myrtle Beach awaiting our arrival for a long overdue reunion. We were thinking we would see them in September. Now it looks like October some time.
But, we are in Annapolis, and if there is anyplace better to have this happen, I’d like to know where it is. After all, we love Annapolis.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Baltimore ... Finally!

One of the unusual things that we experienced during our time in Chesapeake Bay is what I call the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Effect. That is, there can be a distinct difference between the conditions above the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (on the Baltimore side), and below the bridge (on the Annapolis side). This came into play twice last summer when we made two attempts to go to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from Annapolis, and got turned back both times when we crossed under the bridge. Both times the conditions changed from near calm on the south side of the bridge to turbulent and impassable on the north side of the bridge. And I’m not the only person that has noticed this. We have talked to other boaters that experienced the same thing.
After our wonderful visit to Philadelphia, the only major attraction left for us to visit on the bay (and I’m including Philadelphia) was Baltimore, and we were determined to make it there. I say ‘we’ when in fact it was ‘me’. I’ve had a bug up my stern ever since last summer about getting there. I was not going to give in to that SOB bridge and it’s dastardly sea condition machinations. My solution to the problem was elegant in its simplicity. If we couldn't get to Baltimore from the south – from Annapolis – we’d attack it from the north. Brilliant!
After spending a couple of days in Fredericktown on the Sassafras River, we steamed down to the Patapsco River channel and up into Baltimore. Our goal was to get to the Inner Harbor, the upper most end of the river, to one of the long finger docks operated by the city. The pictures we had seen of the area made the harbor look bright and inviting, with the downtown skyline right down on the water, and lots of attractions to explore and experience.
Baltimore delivered on all of that.

The city docks themselves were long and solid, and we were able to bite off a big chunk of the center dock (there are three docks that jut out into the harbor) so that our exit was simple. As we've said about some of the marinas we felt particularly comfortable about getting in and out of, it was a Why Knot friendly place. No problems.
Now, if there had been any apprehensions on going to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, it would be similar to those we heard and read about from other boaters. You and your boat are right in the middle of downtown and there is nothing that would prevent hooligans from making trouble. In the very near past, there had been a lot of difficulties with criminal elements lurking around the docks and the boats. But apparently, Baltimore took this problem very seriously, and with ever present police patrols, combined with a very robust downtown redevelopment push, we had no problems at all. The Inner Harbor is very much a family-friendly area with lots of attractions. It’s all very clean and vibrant.
The attractions were many and varied. There was the National Aquarium, notable ships moored along the side that we visited, the B & O Railroad Museum, several great art museums; all with a very convenient FREE bus service connecting them all. (Boaters take note: there are several grocery stores along the free bus lines, so provisioning is possible. We did.)

The highlight of the trip was that we made some new friends there. On Friday morning, a new boat pulled into the next of the three docks and tied up for the night. It was named The Good Life, a very nice fifty-two foot Carver, crewed by Bill and Michelle. Boater friends of theirs, Bill and Nancy, were on board too.
Now, the spaces between the docks are very wide, so there is room for another boat to pull past your boat and tie up, if you are tied up on the outside end like they were. While I washed Why Knot late Saturday afternoon, I saw that a Mainship trawler with an obviously inexperienced crew on board, was doing just that past The Good Life, and they were having a lot of trouble. I ran over to their dock to help with lines, or lend whatever assistance I could. Bill, Bill, and I caught lines and instructed the Mainship’s crew on how to maneuver their boat successfully onto the dock.
After we had them tied up, the two Bills, Michelle, and Nancy gathered around me on the dock. They had seen out gold AGLCA burgee and asked me about the journey. We stood on the dock for something like twenty minutes until I excused myself to go back to Why Knot, finish my chores, and go in and take a shower. While I was in the shower, there was a knock on our door. Lisa answered it and it was Bill and Michelle. They invited us to come over to their boat for dinner, which we gladly accepted.
We had a wonderful evening on board The Good Life. They all wanted to know as many of the details about the Great Loop as we could remember. And they were interested in what we had experienced in the cruising seasons since. We also learned a lot about them, and what they had done. It was great fun. They’re lovely people. As we've always said, the thing that makes boating such a great way to live is the wonderful people we meet, like Bill and Michelle, and Bill and Nancy.
Our stay in Baltimore was fantastic! But, there was one incident.
We had heard about this happening to others that were docked at the city docks, but, frankly, I thought it was the stuff of boating urban legends. The city docks are open to the public and lots of people walked down to the ends to take pictures of the city and seascape (it is a beautiful vista) and it’s packed, especially in the evenings. People also like to have their pictures taken in front of the boats tied up on the dock, including ours.
The urban legend had it that some people, and for some reason most of these people are said to be Asian tourists, apparently don’t care much about personal boundaries, and have climbed up onto the boats to have their picture taken on deck. Again, I thought it was a legend. I was wrong.
On the Friday evening that we were there, Lisa and I were sitting in our galley just hanging out. Amazingly, we heard the distinct, unmistakable sound of hard soled shoes walking on our deck. We looked at each other in astonishment and said together, “There’s somebody on our boat!” I quickly dashed through the doorway and there was an elderly Asian woman standing on our foredeck getting her picture taken by her husband who was standing on the dock.
My reaction was immediate. I yelled, “GET THE HELL OFF OUR BOAT!” She jumped down through the gangway and looked at me like I had a third arm growing out of my forehead. Then the two of them walked off of the dock. I was flabbergasted!
There was a very nice man and his daughter that approached me and said that they were native Baltimorians and apologized on behalf of the city. He was also a boater himself and explained that what had happened to us did indeed happen all of the time there. He also said that even though he didn't want to stereotype, it always seemed to involve Asian tourists.
We’re proud of Why Knot. She’s a good looking boat and has always been approachable. We wouldn't have minded it if they had knocked on our door and asked if they could have come on board to take a picture. I would have said yes. But to just climb on deck and walk to the bow takes a helluva lot of gall. The lady certainly wasn't dangerous, or the least bit hostile or destructive, but there are boundaries in life, and some people just don’t give a crap, I guess. Bottom line, if you come to the city docks in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, be prepared. It’s not an urban legend. There are people that will climb on board your boat to get their picture taken. It happened to us.

Anyway, back to Baltimore. It is a great destination! It’s beautiful, convenient, fun, bright, and well worth the effort. Baltimore calls itself the Charm City. It’s a well deserved moniker. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Boating to Philadelphia (with apologies to Mark Knopfler)

One of Lisa’s favorite songs is called Sailing to Philadelphia, by Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), along with James Taylor. It’s the story of Mason and Dixon, the two English surveyors that surveyed the borderline between Pennsylvania and Maryland, which also became the imaginary boundary between the North and the South. The whole Philadelphia thing is that they arrived in America in 1763 at the port of Philadelphia, rather than someplace like New York, Boston, or Baltimore.
It is very easy to think that Philadelphia is not a seafaring city, went in fact, it has a long history as a major eastern seaport. All ships had to do was go up Delaware Bay and then up the Delaware River a relatively short distance (30ish miles) from the top of the bay to the city.
We made the trip ourselves, and are happy to report that it was a terrific experience. And the reason we made the trip there was simple; we were invited.
When we were all the way back in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, we were fortunate to get back together with Dick and Deanna of Sareanna. While we were at dinner Dick asked us what our cruising plans for the summer were. We told him about going to the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, spending a month in Annapolis, and finally getting to the inner harbor of Baltimore. He simply told us that we should go to Philadelphia also. We were a little perplexed by the suggestion because, frankly, we didn’t know we could get there by boat. We didn’t think of it as a boating destination. He told us about the easy boating to get up there, Penn Landing Marina (where we stayed), and all of the wonderful things to see and do in the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love.
We looked into it, and I was apprehensive about it. First, I wasn’t sure about the marina. Active Captain’s information about it was up to date, but the satellite photo was woefully out of date. The marina is actually a nice one, located in a sheltered (sort of) manmade bay right next to downtown.
The cruise up to Philly from Delaware City was easy enough. The Delaware River is wide and deep and did not present any challenges whatsoever. Now, there is definitely a current that can be substantial, and unfortunately, no matter how well you plan your route, coordinating the times you make the run compared to when the tides go in and out, you are going to hit some head on current at some point. One tip I have is to plan your trip immediately after a new moon, when tides are less.

Penn Landing Marina is a three star marina. The slips are long, wide and easy to get in and out of. The only downside to it are there are no dedicated shore side facilities like showers or flushable bathrooms. There isn’t pump out available there either. (There is pump out available at another marina a bit further up the river, but they want forty freaking bucks! No thanks. I can hold it.) But you won’t have to worry about your holding tank because you will not be on your boat very much. That’s because you will be spending all of your time in the city taking it all in. And there’s a lot to take in.

The biggest reason I was apprehensive about going to Philadelphia was that I had a preconceived idea of what the city was like. I thought that it was going to be a rough and dirty place, without nice amenities or interesting things to do.
I was wrong.
Philadelphia was a terrific city. It was clean, bright, shining and very exciting. There were a gazillion restaurants, stores, attractions, and museums to visit. Let me give you some of the highlights.

Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell — They are the centerpieces of the city, and very worthy of the pilgrimage. It was truly inspiring to stand in the footsteps of our founding fathers. The Liberty Bell is just that, a bell. But it is iconic and almost spiritual in its context. There are all kinds of other revolutionary period things to see too. Helpful hint: Go to the visitors center around 8:00 am and get in line early. (The center opens at 8:30 am) You need a free ticket to get into Independence Hall, and get in there for the first tour that starts at 10:00. You do not need a ticket to see the Liberty Bell, but the line outside the hall where it is located starts early and is very slow. There is a security check point inside the front door. We were second in line. By the time we got in there the line outside went all the way to the end of the building.
City Hall — Visit a city hall? Absolutely! Philadelphia’s city hall is a massive French design building that is very ornate, and, according to some residents, ugly. But the party piece is the 540 foot tower at the north entrance. You can get tickets to go all the way to the top to an observation platform. The views are breathtaking. Call the city hall visitors center for reservations.
Museums — They have a oodles of them. The Franklin Institute is a science museum (lots of kids). The Rodin Museum (Lisa’s favorite), The Barnes Museum (another art museum), the City Art Museum (the one that Rocky ran up the steps at), The museum of American Jewish History, the U.S. Mint, Ben Franklin’s print shop, and on and on and on.
Philly Pass — The Philly Pass is a prepaid three or five day card that pretty much lets you into everything without paying any additional ticket fees. Worth it. We bought five day cards at $95.00 each and definitely got our money’s worth.
The Big Bus — The Big Bus is a double-decker tour bus that zooms around downtown. Lots of fun. Hop on / hop off. Covered in the Philly Pass.
Duck Boats — They are the amphibious bus/boats that you see in some cities. It’s fun. Covered in the Philly Pass.

 Reading Terminal — The former train station, now a convention center. The street level is the market with eighty food vendors of every type and taste. Historic and tasty.
All in all, we had a terrific time in Philadelphia, made all the better by being with Dick and Deanna again. We also went out to dinner with them and two of their friends, Ron and Patty Weingrad. They were hysterical! All the two of them and Lisa and I wanted to talk about was baseball. They are died-in-the-wool Phillies fans, and I am a Cardinal fan, so we had a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, Lisa is stuck with the Rockies. It was a fun evening that again proves that the true reward of living an on board life is the wonderful people that we encounter.
Now, there is an issue that I want to talk about that I am afraid may make me some enemies; Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches … I'd rather have a sack of White Castles.