Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Getting Caught Up

Out of Hampton Roads and on to Deltaville

Thursday was our get-away day and the weather looked good for our first experience on big open water. The forecast was for winds of five to ten knots with seas of less than two feet. We pulled out of Waterside Marina and got on our course and headed out. The biggest point of interest leaving the harbor was passing the navy base. There were numerous cruisers, supply ships, an aircraft carrier and four docked submarines.

Out in the bay the conditions were fine. It was cloudy but the winds were calm with southerly winds and the waves were at one to two feet. Very doable and the boat plowed its way north. My initial set course was a bit too far out in the bay itself adding miles and time to the cruise so I cheated towards the shore some. After a while the sun came out and with about a third of the fifty miles to go the winds actually died down some and it was a pretty smooth ride.

We approached Deltaville, Virginia about 2:00 and slipped our way up the narrow and somewhat shallow inlet up to our docking destination for the night, the Deltaville Yacht Center. Lew and Onna, the owners of the marina are extremely nice and the facilities are very good, but it is a bit cramped. We tied up at one of the T-head docks. It will be a bit tricky getting out of here.

It is now Friday, May 25 and we are going on to a popular anchorage called Horseshoe Bend on the St. Marys River. St. Marys River is actually a tributary on the north side of the Potomac River near the bay. Depending on weather we could stay there one or two nights as from there we have three more legs of travel to get to a marina in Alexandria VA to take in the sights of Washington DC. 

Up to St. Mary’s. MD

We got out of the Deltaville Yacht Center without a hitch. It was calm so getting untied and out went well. The weather was kinda AOK. The forecast was for the typical calmish, partly sunny conditions…winds from the southeast five to ten knots and waves of a foot or two…and of course the ever present “slight chance of showers and thunderstorms late in the afternoon.” Deltaville is very near the bay so we were on our way cruising north in a short time. Our destination was an anchorage on the St. Mary’s River near St. Mary’s, Maryland.

The cruise up from Virginia was without incident except that the sky looked rather foreboding pretty much the entire morning. Big clouds were sweeping in from the south but they seemed to stall out at Smith Point, a lighthouse at the south peninsula marking the entrance of the Potomac River. Once we made the turn west everything seemed to change. It got sunny, the winds were low or nonexistent and the waves disappeared. We would have to cruise about 15 miles up the Potomac to get to St. Mary’s and the afternoon’s conditions made the cruise delightful.

St. Mary’s is a boater favorite because there is a very unique fun-like opportunity there. In St. Mary’s there is a college called, you guessed it, St. Mary’s College which is located on one of the small tributaries of the river. Boaters have access to a daytime only sea wall and anchorage that we can go over to the school cafeteria for lunch. Pretty nice. We weren’t going to stop this time but we will give it a shot when we come back down from Alexandria, VA. Our anchorage was going to be a boater favorite called Horseshoe Bend just a mile or so up the river. That is where we were going to go but once we got there, though it was nice, it was a bit too deep for us. Really it’s too deep for Lisa because though we have a power windlass to pull the anchor chain and anchor up, Lisa is the windlass down and much more than 10 to 12 feet of depth is hard. So we checked out the charts and went a bit further up the river to a very nice anchorage at a lovely little spot near Martin Point. We dropped the hook in 12 feet of water and we were settled for the night.

The AGLCA Rendezvous Group Picture. Can you find us?

Our next three cruise days are to go to a marina at Colonial Bend for one night, Aquia Creek Marina for two nights (Margi and Rick, we’re coming to see YOU!), and finally ending up in Alexandria, VA for a week to see the capital.

Par-tay at Colonial Beach

The weather for our cruise to Colonial Beach was beautiful. The skies were blue with cumulus clouds in every direction. We pulled out of the St. Mary’s River and headed up the Potomac River with our next destination being the Colonial Beach Yacht Center in Colonial Beach, VA.

I know that in writing a blog like this I am supposed to write about interesting occurrences witnessed along the way. Alas there is nothing of note to write about our cruise on this day. It was by all standards very routine. The weather was nice. The water was nice. So the cruise was nice. It was so routine in fact that for a large chunk of the time Lisa was at the helm and I curled up on the futon in the salon and took a nap.

The scenery had changed a bit. On the south side, the Virginia side of the Potomac, the shoreline became a little more vertical. About five miles downbound of our final destination there were tall bare cliffs along the shore, some with majestic homes on top keeping watch over the water. And the shores were getting closer together. The Potomac is a very wide river narrowing the further north you go. At the mouth the distance from shore to shore is 6 miles wide. (Or more like 8 miles wide depending where you interpret the mouth to be.) By the time we reached Colonial Beach that distance was down to three.

We pulled into Colonial Beach Yacht Center and were surprised what a bustling marina this is. First, it’s a big marina with at least a hundred slips, maybe more. And it was packed. We did have a reservation and made our way to a T-head dock that was made to order for Why Knot which made getting in and out a snap.

And this place was rockin’. There was a rendezvous party of boaters that all came down from the Washington DC area and they had a whole section of the docks to themselves. They had those tent like covers put over their docks to give them shade, music playing and even a buffet set up with chafing dishes. One guy was even wearing a tuxedo. We’re not exactly sure but we think there was a wedding reception tied in with this group as there was a flower trellis set up over a ramp from one area of the dock to another. They were loud and having a good time.

There is a shuttle trolley that runs around the entire Colonial Bay peninsula that we hopped onto at its stop at the marina, as we needed to take a few provisions. The driver was a very nice elderly gentleman who doubled as a tour guide, describing any fact about this town that he deemed important, even pointing out that the town had its own bank and 7-11 store. Fortunately one of these important landmarks was a Dollar General store, a favorite destination of ours for quick mini-provisioning needs.

One of the oddities that I find interesting is where the border between Virginia and Maryland is on the Potomac River. It is at the shoreline of the south, that is the Virginia side of the river. If you stand on the edge of the shore on the south side you are standing in Virginia. Take one step into the water and you are in Maryland. (Not like what would seem the norm such as the border between Missouri and Illinois that runs right down the center of the Mississippi River, pretty much equal distance between the two.) This weird arrangement makes for an odd tourist attraction in Colonial Beach. Gambling is not legal in Virginia but is legal in Maryland. There is a casino boat in Colonial Beach…Virginia…sort of. Our tour guide said that they had keno and off-track-betting. The parking lot is in Virginia but the boat itself is tied up a bit out in the river in Maryland. So locals and tourists alike can vacation in Virginia but lose their money in Maryland.

One of the fun things about our boat is that it attracts attention. Nelson trawlers (and their direct ancestor Thompson trawlers) are unique looking boats with a raked bow and long graceful lines. It is very common to catch people stopping and looking at our boat. This happened in Colonial Beach marina as a couple that were attending the aforementioned party stood outside our boat and were conversing together and admiring Why Knot. I poked my head out of the main portside door and chatted them up. They told me that they had one of those high end speed boats but they were wanting something different to do some long range cruising. I told them about our exploits and they had lots of questions. We invited them on board and gave them the standard tour and told them about why we like our boat so much, how live-able it is, how it cruised and things like that. Two of their friends joined us a few minutes later. As they were getting ready to head back to their party I gave each of them a boat card. So if you, our visitors, our reading this post remember what I told you at the first, this is the best boat in the marina! ...and it always is.

All in all Colonial Beach was a fun and interesting stop along our way to our next destination – Aquia Bay Marina. This will be an interesting stop as the marina is up Aquia Creek that has a reputation of being very shallow if you stray outside the channel too much. So it will be an interesting day indeed.

Aquia Creek, Aquia Bay Marina and Rick and Margi

It was the Memorial Day weekend and the next leg up starting in Colonial Beach was on Sunday May 27. The weather was spectacular. It was a very hot, bright, sunny day with just enough of a breeze to keep the humidity down. The cruise was a delight with very low waves to the point that there were stretches that were completely calm. Starting out from Colonial Beach did get a bit hairy because of the onslaught of big power cruisers that were also heading north with their big wakes and waves. I had to take evasive action several times to turn the boat into the waves rather than having the waves either hitting us from behind or broadside. So for about a mile Why Knot looked more like a sailboat tacking into a heading wind rather than a cruiser on a straight line course. But you gotta do what you gotta do. So on up the Potomac River we pushed.

Cruising like this can change a person. One of the ways it has changed me is that I am less concerned about the events of the world. One of the sayings that I have about all of this is that water makes a great insulator from the world and due to the intermittent wireless connections available on my T-Mobile phone I have not had the ability to plug into the news and information websites that were always my daily compulsion. Right now sitting here at Aquia Bay Marina early on the 29th of May I could not tell you anything about what is happening outside of this boat. We’re near Washington but I could not tell you what’s happening in politics and I have gotten to the point that I don’t really care. I have always tried to stay on top of the news back in St. Louis on (St. Louis Post Dispatch) but as far as I know it could have all been swept away by a tornado. The only thing that I really need internet connection for is to get weather reports, update this blog (This has been tough recently.) and to stay in contact with my sons Bryan and Kevin.

Anyway I digress.

Aquia Creek inlet is charted to be pretty shallow with depths of only four or five feet. That’s doable by Why Knot with only a 3.5 foot draft but its cutting it pretty close. While still out about a half of mile I got on the radio and hailed any boat that was coming out of the entrance. A boater did respond and I asked him what depths he was getting. He told me that we were hitting it right at high tide and should have six to eight feet to work with. And this was the case. As we inched our way up to the marina I never sounded anything less than three feet, and this was using the sounder on the fly bridge which always seems to show a foot less than there actually is. So getting to our t-head dock at the Aquia Bay Marina was no problem.

This is an odd marina. In some ways it is a very good marina. Its facilities such as bathrooms, showers and lounge are first rate…very clean, modern and well maintained. But in other ways it is kind of decrepit, such as the fixed wooden docks which are certainly serviceable but a little behind the times and the competition. The price at $1.50 per foot per night is not out of whack but seems a tad pricey when compared to other marinas. George, the dock and marina manager is incredibly helpful and nice and is certainly working hard to get people to like this marina. I think he does everything here and he works hard. I would grade this marina a strong three stars out of five. I think that it is fair to point out that boater’s marina opinions are extremely subjective. For me this marina is a 3-star, while another boater that is used to uber-posh marinas would say this is a 1-star, or someone that is used to more pedestrian facilities would give this a 5-star rating. I guess for me, not having logged much time at any one marina as a life style choice, I tend to look at things more moderately. Does a marina provide a valuable service (docking for a night or two) with safety and convenience? If the answer is ‘yes’ I think that it has done its job and that’s good enough for me.

We were particularly happy about being here because we got to see our friends Rick and Margi Decatur who live right here on the creek. As we entered the creek the radio crackled with Rick’s Virginia drawl welcoming us into the inlet and telling us to look to our right to their house right on the water. We saw their beautiful Endeavor 44 foot power cat trawler, Journey, docked at their dock house. We docked at the marina with plans of them taking a short dinghy ride over to our boat a short time later. It was great to see them again and we visited for a while on Why Knot. Margi made plans with us to come pick us up Monday morning to take us to a grocery store for provisions, then to their house for Memorial Day along with fellow loopers Rusty and Jan Carlyle of Sea Bay who were docked at the other side of the marina.

This was a great Memorial Day break. Rick and Margi’s house is beautiful and from the veranda we could see all of the boats passing us in both directions. Aquia Creek is a heavily used inlet by boats of all shapes and sizes but mostly on the smaller, shallower draft level. I even got to get out on one of their jet skis which was a blast but I had to cut that short due to a low oil light that kept flashing on the dashboard.

It was a wonderful day. The weather was picture perfect and we had a great time. And, as it always seems to be the case, the company…the people, was the best part of all. Rusty and Jan were delightful. And Rick and Margi are awesome! They are the closest new friends we’ve made out here on the loop and being with them on Memorial Day 2012 was the perfect experience.


 Next stop – Washington D.C.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sightseeing in Norfolk

(Hi all. I want you all to know that I am back loaded on posts due to the lack of coverage on my TMobile smartphone. To be frank the coverage has pretty well stunk since somewhere in South Carolina. If you are planning on doing the loop and want to have good phone and internet connection...GET VERIZON. )

Well, we had a few days to kill in Norfolk waiting for a different technician to pay us a house call on Monday so we had some time for sightseeing in Norfolk. I will be the first to admit that though I love these travels I am a lousy tourist. Lisa is determined to show me how.

First stop was the Chrysler Art Museum. After consulting the varied resources of the Hampton Roads Transit system, all of whom had different levels of understanding of their own system, we made our way to this smallish but wonderful museum. Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., the son of the car magnate and owner of the Chrysler Building in New York, was a world class art collector of all different kinds of art but he particularly loved art glass of all kinds. And it was all very beautiful, especially the largest collection of Tiffany art glass.

The next day we went to Nauticus, a maritime museum just a stone’s throw from our marina. The flavor was very much like a modern slightly commercialized science museum with exhibits sponsored by different corporations and organizations. The emphasis was on the Hampton Roads harbor and its importance to the region. The centerpiece of the museum was the World War II era battleship Wisconsin. This is the real deal! It was big and bad and in its day packed a wallop. We took the guided tour that got us into the ship itself where we saw some of the compartments and other guts of the ship. We then wandered around on the deck for awhile. Very interesting.
The Battleship Wisconsin
Click on the photo album tab above for more pics from Nauticus.

Now by this time we had gotten our repairs done. We did get a big shot of good news about the generator. The first guy we had come on board a week earlier had pronounced that the problem was that the fuel pump had to be removed and be rebuilt which would take a couple of weeks because it would have to be sent to a company up in Maryland. Obviously we were unhappy with this so we started making some phone calls to other local companies and found one that was a dealer for our brand of generator, Onan. He came by on Monday afternoon and, low and behold, found out that the problem was not the pump but a linkage from a solenoid to the valve to let fuel into the pump was loose. That’s all. He buttoned that down, helped us to overcome the lack of electrical power to start the engine (Solved with the installation of a trickle charger) and it fired up without any issue. We figure we saved not only a bunch of money but a whole lot of time. We were ready to go then. But Lisa wanted to linger one more day to go to one other museum, the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News.

We had to take the buses to the museum which is located on the north end of Newport News which included several stops and bus changes, which in the end was a two hour trip each way. But we did get there and, I have to say, this was a great museum. There was an area dedicated to the Chesapeake Bay and its rich history and importance to the regional economy. It was very informative .
Lisa getting ready for battle inside the Virginia (mock up).

Darrell is now the captain of the Monitor...the life size replica at least.

Click on the above photo album tab for more pics.

The big attraction of the museum is the incredibly extensive and detailed exhibit having to do with the Civil War battle of the two ironclad warships the Monitor and the Virginia. (Though sometimes referred to as the Merrimack this was the name of the old wood hulled ship the ironclad was built on. The correct name of the ironclad itself is the Virginia.) And what an exhibit it is: lots of artifacts from the vessels and full scale recreations of the interiors and other points of interest, including a full scale “model” of the Monitor outside the building. But the biggest high point is some of the actual parts of the Monitor recovered during some recent exploration and salvage efforts. The Virginia is gone having been torn apart and burned by the confederacy during the war. The Monitor sunk in 230 feet of water off Hateras NC during the war and was discovered not too many years ago. Many parts of the ship have been recovered including it engine, cannons, anchor, propeller and its turret. Many of these parts have to be maintained in specially equipped tanks of water with special chemicals to keep them from decaying further but they were all on display. Fascinating.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Great Day in Norfolk, VA

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.
Stern In!!!!!!
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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I’m Glad We Like Norfolk, VA…Because We’re Going To Be Here For A While.

Ok, so let’s take a look at our situation. It’s kind of confusing. There are several things in play here.

Our Intentions

As the AGLCA Rendezvous ended our intentions were to linger here for a few days more so that we could get our head fixed, then start a float plan which would first take us to Deltaville, VA, which we hear is terrific, stay there for just a day or two, then start heading up the Chesapeake Bay, stop overnight at an anchorage point here and there, make our way up the Potomac River all the way up to Alexandria, VA so we could do the whole tourist thing in Washington, DC. Then we would make our way back out the Potomac stopping off to see our friends Rick and Margi along the way, then head up to Annapolis, MD for a few days at what are suppose to be terrific surroundings. That is as far as any charted plans went. In Annapolis we would then take a look at what our next waypoints would be to finish cruising Chesapeake Bay, make our way across the C and D Canal which connects to Delaware Bay, then down Delaware Bay, then making our way up New Jersey to New York Harbor, up the Hudson River and enter the New York canal system, namely the Erie and Oswego Canals which would get us up to start our trek into Canada where we would make our way to the west coast of Lake Michigan where we would put the boat up on the hard for the winter. Sounded like a good plan.
Sunset in Norfolk 5/15/2012
The Boat

The repairs to the head went very well. Don, our friendly neighborhood marine plumbing specialist, ably assisted by his lovely granddaughter Melanie, came in and did a very nice job to get the thing to run clearly and properly. No problem there. But we were also having trouble with our generator, namely it would not start and as our float plans included more nights at anchor in some of the wonderful inlets and riverlets along the way, especially up the Potomac River, this needed to be resolved before we set out from Norfolk. We could hop from marina to marina most of the time but that gets pretty pricey. So we called in a technician to take a look at that too with the hopes that it was a minor repair and we would be up and running so we could get out of Norfolk today May 16th.
Sunset in Norfolk 5/15/2012
The Weather

We were perfectly ok with us staying here until Wednesday the 16th as it was on that day that the weather window was the best and we could make the transit to Deltaville in relatively good conditions. We were very aware that the day after the rendezvous ended six or seven boats of attendees left the marina here to make the same trek with winds ten to fifteen kph and two to three foot waves and they got pounded very hard. We would wait until conditions were more favorable and for several days the forecast was looking good with winds less than ten knots and waves less than two feet, most of the time at a foot or less, especially in the mornings. We could also see that conditions further north were in general better.
Sunset in Norfolk 5/15/2012
The Reality

Unfortunately the repair of the generator did not go well. It turns out that the fuel injector pump is kaput and needs to be rebuilt. And apparently there is no service in Norfolk that can do it, which seems odd to us. But there is in a small town in Maryland on Chesapeake Bay called Grasonville. He, the technician, said that for him to pull the pump, send it to the service in Grasonville to get the work done, get it back and reinstall it we would be looking at an eleven day window. Then the technician came up with the idea that since he would take the pump out and send it to Grasonville anyway why don’t we just cruise up to Grasonville, hire a technician there to remove the pump and take it to the diesel place in Grasonville to rebuild it, reinstall it and we would be on our way in less days than if he would do the work. Sounded reasonable to us. But it would also mean that our plans to go to Washington and explore some of the wonderful places on the west side of the bay would have to be scrapped because we would not be able to anchor out more since there were big gaps where marinas would not be available.
Sunset in Norfolk. Looking to Portsmith 5/15/2012

While we knew that this plan (the one going directly to Grasonville in about 4 days hopping from marina to marina) was very doable we were a bit bummed out about missing all of the sights along the way that we have always been told makes the trip the most memorable and enjoyable. On top of that the weather window on Wednesday that we would take advantage of to get to Deltaville was beginning to disappear. On Tuesday the weather in Norfolk and the lower portion of Chesapeake Bay was pretty awful with heavy rain and thunderstorms almost the entire day, but the Wednesday window was still there. That is until we woke up Wednesday morning to the sound of rain on the fiberglass above our heads. Our first glance of the weather forecast for Wednesday now said “S winds 5 to 10 kt. Waves 1 to 2 ft. A slight chance of showers and tstms early in the morning...then scattered showers and tstms in the late morning and afternoon.” (NWS Marine Forecast) – not so good, especially the bit about rain in the morning. As I dug deeper into the detailed text explanation of the forecast it was also saying that the chance of rain and thunderstorms existed for pretty much the entire day. Furthermore the forecast for every remaining day of the next week said, ”NE winds 10 to 15 kt. Waves 2 to 3 ft.” which in NWS speak means, “We really don’t know what the heck is going to happen, but it kinda sucks, and doesn’t look too good.” And looking a bit further into conditions near Deltaville the forecast for today is more favorable but the next couple of days after today is at best questionable with slightly calmer winds but higher waves of 3 feet predicted – not good for our continued trek north to Grasonville. Then on top of that while we have had favorable southerly winds for the last few days that is going to change to northerly winds over night tonight. Frankly, I did not know exactly what to make of the weather. It seems all very unsettled and confusing. I don’t like it. (Oh, and by the way, right now - 6:45am, Wednesday May 16 - as I poke my head out of the galley to take a look around the bay, we are socked in with fog. Hmmm.)

So, here is what we are going to do. We have decided that we do in fact want to see the sights of the west side of Chesapeake Bay: Deltaville, St. Marys, Washington DC, Reedsville with its ferry to Tangier Island, Annapolis, and maybe even Baltimore, and Grasonville sounds like a good place to stop as a staging point to start heading up the C and D Canal. But we need to be able to anchor out so we need a working generator. We will stay here in Norfolk while the injector pump is getting fixed as Norfolk has plenty of things to do and see to keep us occupied and it will allow us to wait for more favorable weather conditions to head north. We will put all of our sightseeing plans back in place (Rick and Margi, we’re coming to see YOU) and enjoy our time in Chesapeake Bay instead of rushing through it.


Friday, May 11, 2012

The AGLCA Rendezvous has come to a close

The AGLCA Rendezvous has come to a close and it has been a great week.

The seminars were excellent. We learned a lot of valuable information about all different kinds of subjects. For instance, I attended a presentation about risk assessment that I found very helpful. It was presented by a marine insurance specialist. He was able to steer clear about insurance-y kind of things making it more about how to identify areas that would impact a boater’s risk profile. Helpful. I also found the presentation on boat construction basics fascinating. Of course the majority of the presentations were about cruising the Great Loop. There were presentations specifically about the Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware Bay and New Jersey up to New York, the New York state canal system, the Trent Severn Canals in Canada, other routes to take in Canada, Lake Michigan, and the western rivers (Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, etc.). All this information was important and we are better equipped to go on with our adventure.

But the presentations were not the best part of the rendezvous.

We saw lots of really great boats in all shapes and sizes: mono-hull trawlers, cats, old, brand spanking new, luxurious, modest, power monsters, simple single engine boats (Why Knot), short and long. And boats are really cool to look at. Every evening there was a boat crawl where different boats on different days would be open for visits. That was fun. Of course, as we always say and it’s always true, Why Knot was, and always will be the best boat in the marina.

But the boats were not the best part of the rendezvous.

As a setting Norfolk is beautiful. Our marina is right on the Elizabeth River and the surroundings are great with sailing vessels, trawlers, sport fishing cruisers, all kinds of military craft, and a beautiful vista over towards Portsmith. And Waterside Marina is a very comfortable marina and very accommodating. The Sheraton Hotel was nice also as was the weather except for a thunderstorm on late Tuesday night through Wednesday. But hey, that’s ok.

But the accommodations were not the best part of the rendezvous.

So what was the best part of the rendezvous? The people. Wonderful people.

We formed a little circle of close friends in which we shared the event together. We generally all sat in the back of the room so we could make our little comments to each other without disturbing others. Also we were closer to the buffet lines.

Rick and Margi Decatur of Journey are from just up the Chesapeake in Stafford, Virginia, on Aquia Creek off of the Potomac River and we had met them back at Barefoot Landing Marina in North Myrtle Beach, SC. They pretty much live on their Endeavor cat trawler. While they are experienced cruisers they are still in the planning stages of their Great Loop cruise. One funny aside about them…at different times the different groups of cruisers, “In Progress”, “Completed” or “Gold Cruisers”, and “Planners” or “Wannabees” had to stand up, introduce themselves and tell everyone about themselves. When it was Rick and Margi’s turn I yelled, “Come on, Rick. Let’s go!” I could see that he was a little bit embarrassed, but it was fun. They’re terrific.

Ross Perrone and Laura Ross of The Zone are from New York but they started their loop down in Hollywood, Florida which is a short distance from Pompano Beach where we started. The Zone is a big Jefferson trawler and Ross is a very experienced boater and Laura is a crack first mate. She has a lovely sense of humor and came up with some of the most memorable lines of the week. Lovely people.

Jim and Mimi Mitchell are from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and they came down from Baltimore with their boat for the convention. Now afterwards they will head back up north to do the loop.  Norfolk is their starting point. Every time someone would make a comment about any challenges with dealing with Canada, such as currency or cell phone coverage I could hear Jim mutter something like, “No, that’s not right” slightly under his breath. Funny, delightful couple.

And there were many others: Rick and Betsy Johnson from Topsail Beach, NC, Jim and Joy Pankey from Savannah, GA, Bernadette and Donald Burton from Ontario, David and Barbara Doyle from Jacksonville, FL  (we first met them at the Alligator River Marina), Bob and Lynda Krueger from Middletown, CT, Dale and Peg Janssen from Joplin, MO, Wayne Hullett from Henderson, NV (going single handed) and many more. There was even a couple from Sweden that had been sailing for five years and sailed two thousand miles just to attend the event to see if they could do the loop themselves. (Seven foot deep keel. Could be tough.)

There was such a wonderful sense of camaraderie, friendship and warmth with this group. Everyone was willing to share and to help. There was a sense of genuine interest in each other and what we all have done, are doing or are going to do.

As I write this it is Friday morning on May 11, 2012, about 7:15 am. By my count six trawlers of event attendees have already pulled out and headed up the Elizabeth River to head to the Chesapeake Bay and go north. The weather conditions are iffy. There are some northerly winds in the 15 to 20 knot range further out in the bay with two to three foot waves but an early morning start will avoid much of that. For some that’s ok. For others it’s marginal. Others are waiting until tomorrow where the wind and waves are suppose to flatten out some. At times I can hear the winds picking up and rustling through the boat riggings and we here on Why Knot are beginning to gently rock.

We will be here until Tuesday as we’re waiting for some things to be shipped to us and we’re bringing on a marine technician to fix our errant head. We want to anchor out more and you have to have a working head. Unfortunately, like today’s forecast, the five day forecast on into next Tuesday is also iffy. The winds are predicted to be coming from the south at five to ten knots which is good but there is some possible thunderstorm activity along with it. We’ll see.

So here we are sitting drinking coffee and taking care of small details as they come to mind, very content with where we are, what we have just completed and rifling through the wonderful memories of the wonderful friends we have made here in Norfolk, VA.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Spring AGLCA Rendezvous, Norfolk VA, 2012, Part 1

There are two reasons that we are in Norfolk. First, it is the location of Mile 0 of the Atlantic ICW, the end, so to speak, of the first big leg of the entire Great Loop. There are seven more or less distinct legs or regions on the trip: The east coast (Chesapeake / Delaware Bays, New Jersey, New York harbor and Hudson River), The Erie Canal and a small chunk of Lake Ontarios, The Canadian Canals, Lake Michigan, the Western Rivers (Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Tombigbee), the Gulf Coast (including the Florida Keys), wrapping it all up with a sprint up the ocean side of the Keys and south Florida to cross our wake at the 16th Avenue Bridge in Pompano Beach, FL. The second reason is to attend the spring rendezvous of the American Great Loop Crusiers Association.
At the Rendezvous
Monday, May 7th was a light day with only a time for registration, a cocktail party and a dinner. Everyone was incredibly friendly and we met a lot of great people. Part of this introduction was for all of the current loopers to stand and introduce themselves. When it was our turn I used the opportunity to ask if anyone knew how to fix a Raritan Crown head. Sure enough when the festivities ended another looper gave me the name and number of a guy right here in Norfolk that only fixes marine heads. Bingo! Just what was needed.

On Tuesday, May 8th, the first full day was filled with seminars that were very useful indeed. Lisa and I attended the first two seminars together: The Chesapeake Bay, and the Delaware Bay, New Jersey and New York harbor. After lunch we split up. Lisa attended a seminar about what is called The Down East Loop, a smaller sub-loop exploring the more eastern provinces of Canada including Montreal. I attended a seminar about boat construction. After that there was a boat crawl where boat owners opened up their boats for other loopers to visit. Why Knot is on the crawl schedule for today, May 9th.

So far so good.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Up to Norfolk and the End of the Atlantic ICW

It is not unusual for me to wake up early. I usually roll out of bed about 5:00 am or so. That’s typical really. But the morning of May 5, 2012 saw me popping up about 3:00 am. We were in Coinjock and there was a good internet connection there so I made some coffee and sat down at the galley table and got all of my computer stuff done. I keep the ship’s log on an Excel spreadsheet so that was brought up to date. I uploaded all of the latest pictures to Picasa for the blog and wrote that day’s blog entry. I could hear birds nearby and the weather was pleasant so it was going to be a good morning.

I went out on the dock about 5:30 and things were beginning to happen. Crews were waking up and prepping for early departures. In short order boats starting peeling away from the dock heading in both north and south directions on the canal. I helped several boats untie from the pilings and get cast off. The big green hulled Krogen trawler directly behind us was able to drop back a half a boat length so he could get out easy. Bob Wilkins in Ocean Breeze, another Krogen trawler, directly in front of us was able to easily pull up and out as the long dock opened up in front of him. By the time 8:00 am came Lisa and I had a clear shot for a very easy time of getting away also. Jim and Dale in Sweet Pea took of just a few minutes ahead of us, and since they cruise at nine or ten knots compared to our seven-ish knots we did not expect to see them again until we came in to Waterside Marina in Norfolk at the end of the day.

We were at the upper helm on the flybridge for the day as the forecast was for very pleasant conditions except that rain would develop up towards Norfolk after 5:00 pm or so. In nice weather the flybridge is the place to be.  The only downside to being on the flybridge, at least at this time, is that there is not any navigation gear on it so Lisa did all of the navigation working off of charts and guidebooks which worked just fine for us down in Florida.
A room with a view.

There were several drawbridges and a lock ahead of us and it was due to this that we found ourselves surprised that we caught up to Sweet Pea and Ocean Rose at one of the bridges entering the Albermarle and Chesapeake Canal. They were both running slower so as to try to time their cruises to hit the bridges on or very near scheduled openings. So we were very content to slide in behind them and let them lead the way.

The Albermarle and Chesapeake Canal is long and I think very pretty with tall trees lining the way. The conditions were ideal: sunny, clear and calm. If we did get to a bridge early we could just come to a dead stop put the boat in neutral and sit there without having to dance around to stay in some semblance of a ready position. I had posted some time ago about the horrible hectic experience we had waiting for an opening at the Surf City bridge with its high winds, narrow shoaling channel and lots of boats franticly trying to stay safe and ready. On this day waiting for bridges was the exact opposite, being able to calmly sit very still without too many engine bursts or rudder corrections, if any.   

It seems that every daily cruise up the ICW there is something new that we would work through, accomplish and tuck away in our bag of learned experience. Today it was our first lock called the Great Bridge Lock. There is a drawbridge right in front of it. We waited in line for the bridge and the lock to open and as they did we slid in to the south (port) wall. Lisa went forward to hand the lock hand her line. I scampered down off of the flybridge to handle the stern. While every new experience has some nervous anticipation attached to it this turned out to be almost something of a non-event. The water level in the lock dropped maybe a whooping 18”. As the other boats secured their lines and got under way so did we.
Ocean Rose and Bob Wilkins

After a few more bridges and some twisties we could easily see that the complexion of the river was beginning to change. Trees were replaced by construction and loading cranes. Large wharfs and factories lined the shore now. It smelled oily and mechanical. We passed several navy ships including an aircraft carrier. We could see the predicted storm system starting to slide in from the west and there was a new sense of urgency in my intent to get to the marina before the rains came. By this time I had opened the throttle up as high as I have every pushed it. I don’t know what my speed was since the gps with that info was down below but I was keeping up with Sweet Pea. (Ocean Rose diverted off to another marina.) We did back our speed down as we passed a Navy security zone. Then as soon as we came around the nose of a frigate we could see the marina just up ahead and a bit to the starboard side of the bow. Sweet Pea radioed ahead and pulled in. We chirped in and told them we were there too. They asked us to stand by to be hailed in when they were ready for us. As soon as they did we slid into a nice piece of facing dock right at the entrance. The marina was very full which tightened up maneuvering room making a slip a non-option for us so they put us on a facing dock near the entrance which is just fine with us.

After getting settled in we went to the marina office to pay our bill. We then paid social calls on Journey with Rick and Margi, meeting another Rick and Betsy of Rick and Roll. We then stopped by Sweet Pea seeing Jim and Dale again and meeting Lynda and Bob of Erika Lin. Lynda said she felt like she knew us because she is a follower of this blog. Lisa and I then walked back to Why Knot for a rest before meeting everyone at 6:00 pm for dinner at Hooter’s directly on shore by the marina.

As a little funny aside, a few weeks ago Lisa ordered a new sleep number bed for the boat that was shipped to the marina awaiting for our arrival. So the marina was very glad to see us and give us our four large boxes of stuff as they had run out of places to keep them. As soon as they heard out boat name calling out they were very eager to schlep them over to us dockside and for us take them off their hands. This kind of became a marina joke as boaters wanted to know who was getting a new bed and the marina kept asking if the boaters were on Why Knot.

So we’re in Norfolk. We’ve reached the end. Well, actually we reached the beginning as the mile numbering system of the ICW starts here at Mile 0 and goes up going south. Its kind of like we’ve been going backwards the entire time counting down to zero. According to my log we have travelled 1150 statute miles since taking delivery of the boat. This includes the 1055 marked miles of the ICW from Pompano Beach, Florida, as well as a few daytrips and pump out station runs.

We started in narrow canals lined with high rise buildings giving way to multi-million dollar mansions and multi-million dollar mega yachts, palm trees and manatees, the vehicle assembly building at Cape Kennedy that we could see for days, porpoises, comical cormorants, lots of pelicans, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, marshes that seemed to go on forever, beautiful anchorages, quaint small towns, large inlets with crystal clear water, beautiful sunny skies that gave way to violent outbursts of fury, beautiful marinas with every kind of vessel imaginable, crab fishermen and their ever present floats dotting the water, an elephant playing in the ICW, the sounds of nature all around as well the splash off the bow of the boat and the Caterpillar 3208 humming peacefully beneath our feet, and horizons that would make us stop and stare. We learned to love our boat, Why Knot, knowing all of her joys and foibles. We learned how to handle her and how she would just keep giving and giving us more pleasure safely and surely. But most important and most enjoyable are all the wonderful people we have met and the new friends we have made. There are too many to name. We have learned to love Why Knot as our home along with everything that goes with it.

But from here a new chapter of our Great Loop cruise starts. We leave the mostly protected confines of the ICW and venture out into new things that we are confident will be even more glorious and challenging than what we've experienced so far

1150 miles down, 4850 to go.

This is awesome!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Crossing the Abermarle Sound, On Up to Coinjock

From the Alligator River the next route would take us into the biggest body of open water that we had yet encountered, The Albermarle Sound, about 18 miles of open water connecting the Alligator River on the south and the North River in the north. We would then take the North River on up to our next destination of the Coinjock Marina in the town of the same name. 

We were stuck in the Alligator River Marina an extra day. Our initial cruising day, May 3, was scrubbed due to a heavy fog that just would not burn off until past 11:00 am or so. This did not leave us enough time to make the crossing of Albermarle Sound and make our next stop and Coinjock in daylight. Also, there were stiffening breezes from the north across the sound that would seriously slow our speed down and make the crossing somewhat uncomfortable. We did have a nice day at Alligator with our new boating buddies, Jim and Dale of Sweet Pea and Ross and Laura of The Zone.

Waking up on May 4 again found a heavy fog on top of us. We all kind of stood around the dock evaluating the situation and around 10:00 am we all decided that it was as good as it was going to get. So we set out. Fortunately the prevailing weather was very good indeed: partly sunny with no wind to speak of. Why Knot was the first to set out of the marina followed by The Zone and then Sweet Pea. The two of them quickly caught up and passed us. The Zone led the way through a “S” turn route out of the Alligator River into the sound. The calm conditions were holding. Once in the sound I set the auto pilot onto the course I laid in on the chartplotter and the crossing to the North River was straight as an arrow except for a small bit of maneuvering to avoid some crab pot floats. We then followed the North River into a short straight canal that took us directly to Coinjock Marina which is a very busy, strategically positioned marina 50 miles south of Norfolk VA, our eventual destination.
Entering Albermarle Sound
Entering Albermarle Sound

In the sound. Lots of water.

Coinjock Marina is what I call a LAD – Long Ass Dock. It is 1050’ long and all of the boats are packed in end to end just inches from the boats fore and aft. The dockhands are top-rate and made docking easy. The marina has a full service restaurant with a reputation for great prime rib steaks. Ross made a dinner reservation for the six of us and we had a great meal. Lisa and I had the 16 ounce steaks and it was plenty to eat. Ross had the 32 ounce steak and it was huge. The bar and patio area was jam packed with a local high school reunion. All in all a very pleasant experience with some great people. Very enjoyable.
Coinjock Marina

Coinjock Marina
Darrell, Lisa, Jim, Dale, Laura and Ross

Dale, Laura and Ross

Darrell, Lisa and Jim

Why Knot resting comfortably in Coinjock

Big party at Coinjock

Our next leg is an important milestone. We will reach the end of our cruise on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway when we pull into Waterside Marina in Norfolk, VA.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Alligator River Marina

They call these big bodies of waters "rivers" but I think the term "oceans" is just as appropriate. The Neuse, Bay, Pungo, and Alligator rivers in North Carolina are very, very big. Not so much in length but certainly in width. The Neuse even claims to be the widest river in America. Could be. And you don't just drop yourself into the middle of one of these and say, "Welp. Here I am!" You have to plan for it, especially the wind directions. For our purposes getting out of Dowry Creek Marina we wanted a wind from some southern compass direct. That is just what we got. We cruised east on the Pungo, North on the bay, then east and north again on the Alligator river with a moderate South / Southwest wind which worked with us well enough.

Between the Bay River and the Alligator River is the Pungo River / Alligator River Canal which is about 15 miles of straight X 10 water. Actually there is a slight bend in the middle of it but it is otherwise straight as an arrow. The surrounds were beautiful in an odd kind of way. It was lined with tall fur trees most of the way with swirling winds kind of going in one direction and a current going in the opposite direction. But some parts were smooth as glass. This is a great time to be aboard Why Knot. In calm waters at a cruising speed of about 6.8 knots the wake coming off her bow barely makes a sound. The only real noise is the engine.

Upon exiting the canal we entered the Alligator river where we would navigate right down the center of the thing for about 15 miles. It was an uneventful passage. The last obstacle of the day's cruise was getting past the Alligator River Swing Bridge, then make a sharp turn to the port side and head into the Alligator River Marina. This is a very nice marina too, but not one that we would stay at for too long. It was intended to be a one night stop over on the way to our next stop, Coinjock, NC, then up to Norfolk the day after that.
This canal is what you call...straight.

Big wide rivers with lots of open water.

Open water.

Open water.

A navigator's work is never done.

Just another day at the office.

Alligator River Marina


Why Knot snug as a bug.


Me with my weapon at the ready.

We met up with Jim and Dale, two new friends we met in Dowry Creek. We had a great meal together and talked all about boating and whatever else we could come up with. Very pleasant.

We also met Ross and Laura of The Zone. They are also loopers on their way to the AGLCA Rendezvous in Norfolk.

As I write this now it is Thursday, May 3. We were suppose to set off for Coinjock this morning but a thick fog and a bothersome wind from the north latched onto the area for the morning. By the time it cleared it was too late to set off. Besides even if we did there was still the north wind to bug us. Tomorrow's forecast is for sunny, warm, light winds from the south (Yay!) and an easy passage over the big ol' Albermarle Sound, the first real open water navigating and cruising we will have to do.