Friday, July 19, 2013

7 Things They Didn't Tell You About Cruising The Great Loop That You Wish They Would Have

We have been on Why Knot for eighteen months now and it has been a great experience. And as we have finished our loop and become laze-bag coastal cruisers this has provided lots of time to consider it all through the safety goggles of hindsight. Early on there has been plenty of opportunities to meet with more experienced boaters from whom we have learned a lot about the ups and downs; ins and outs; and the dos and don'ts of the adventure. But there have been some things that we had to learn for ourselves – things that were not covered at the rendezvous or during chance meetings with others. So in the fashion of many websites here is my list of 7 things that we had to learn on our own.

1 Radios are not used by everyone
Big power boats use them. Commercial boats use them. Many larger sailboats use them...and that's about it. No one would expect someone on a jet ski to use one but why don't more of the smaller boats have at least a hand held radio on board? Maybe its too much to expect but, boy, wouldn't it be great if they did? At least it would give us a chance to yell at them for being so inconsiderate and oblivious to the general safety and well being of the entire boating community. And what about Canada? It's such a great country. I'm sure they've discovered radio waves by now, haven't they?

2 Middle aged men are ugly
Ok, I'm 58 years old so I have to take my medicine like the rest. But guys, come on! The last thing anyone needs to see is us without our shirts on. Now if we all had six pack abs that would be a different story, but we don't. Even someone like Harrison Ford (a five star stud, at least according to some of our admirals) looks like a bum in a bathing suit.

3 Paddleboarders are stupid
Oh, where do I start? First of all the idea of paddling a surf board while standing on it does not make sense from a physics point of view. There is no leverage and the center of gravity is up around the paddler's ears. If they are hit by even the tiniest of waves or wake, lets say from the ripple from some fish jumping, down they go. Not smart. Second, since they have little control they end up in the middle of the channel right in front of you. Again, not too smart. Last year when we were transiting a drawbridge on the ICW some poor paddler ended up right in the middle of the bridge when it opened. We, along with four other big boats, had to wait, wait, and wait some more before she got out of the way.

4 The best fishing is apparently smack dab in the middle of a busy channel
I must admit that this is a pet peeve of mine. If I had a nickel for every tiny fishing boat that plopped their anchor down and dropped their lines right in the middle of the channel I would have, well, a bunch of nickels. To make matters worse this fishing sweet spot usually is on a blind curve in the channel. I know that as loopers we are all very courteous and conscientiousness boaters....but once, just once...

5 Marina courtesy cars are...special
One of the best features for any marina to promote is that they have a courtesy car for provisioning, errands or sightseeing. But be warned, these cars are not showroom fresh! Most of them are not even used car lot fresh. Most of them are odd beasts that groan, shudder, squeal, heat up, slow down, rumble and otherwise make driving them an adventure all their own. Recently a group of us was taking a loaner mini-van out for dinner and the sliding side door (the one that supposedly worked) was stuck. To get it open I had to apply a little muscle to it. The handle broke off in my hand. Some of them are huge land yachts with a ride that reminds you what it's like to be in three to four foot seas. Some smaller cars have rides that will knock the fillings out of your teeth. Don't get me wrong. Having access to any car is a good thing. But a word to the wise is enough.

6 Have lots of quarters with you
One of the land lubber activities that carries over to your cruising life is doing laundry. In our experience there was only one marina that had free laundry facilities. (St. Joseph Municipal Marina, St. Joseph, MI) Otherwise they are all pay machines that must get fed a steady diet of quarters. For us every time we do laundry we have to shell out about $10.00, all in quarters. So have a special quarter bowl or jar to accumulate the quarters you get in your spare change. Most marinas will be able to provide a roll to you but not all of them. So have a roll or two available. (Gosh, this tip is actually a handy one!)

7 Boat cleaning supplies will comprise 75% of your boating budget
Ok, so maybe not 75% of your budget, but it sure will feel like it. We all want our boats to look sharp and the market is drowning in different products to get the job done. To make matters worse we get deluged in emotional wording in the online product descriptions. They use words like “super-easy”, “like new” and “effortless”. Baloney! But we all fall for it, don't we. A few stops ago I cleaned out all of the supply tubs in our engine compartment and I discovered a heretofore undiscovered stash of cleaning products that the previous owner had bought, tried, then put aside. I have told Lisa that we are not going to buy anymore such things. I don't care if they turn the boat purple we are going to use them!

Hope this helps. I'm your pal.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Annapolis! Finally!

We made it to Annapolis right on time. But for awhile it seemed like we never would. The weather has just been disgustingly difficult. A pattern of being able to get out and cruise on one day and then sit in a marina for four days had become the norm. But things finally opened up and we made the jump to Annapolis Landing Marina on July 15th, the day that our month long reservation started.

We finally got out of Deltaville on Saturday, July 13th and made it up to Solomons, Maryland where we were reunited with Ross and Laura of The Zone and, as an extra added bonus, Rick and Betsy of Rick and Roll. The last time either of us had seen them (Rick and Betsy) was when I attended the AGLCA Fall Rendesvous in Alabama. It was fun catching up with both crews over dinner on Saturday night and a barbecue on Sunday. But getting to Annapolis was the goal.

On Monday the 15th Lisa and I departed Solomons early, about 7:30 am. Ross and Laura still had a few chores to do and left about 8:45 am. We thought it best to get scooting as it was expected that the lower portion of the trip might get a bit rolly if we lingered much later than we did. The Zone, being a bit faster boat, would be able to catch up with us. It was a very hot and muggy day with a heat wave settling in over the entire northeast. This was made worse by almost calm winds which is great for boating conditions but made for a pretty drippy and uncomfortable afternoon.

We just kept plugging along at what felt like a slower speed than what I thought we should be cruising at. I have been suspicious that we may have dinged the propeller or something like that, or at least we need to get a good bottom cleaning. We are also still carrying a lot of fuel and that can be holding us down too. We'll hire a diver to go down and clean the hull and check things out below.

Anyway we are in Annapolis! We are going to settle back and enjoy this great city for a month. Annapolis Landing Marina appears to be a very nice marina with all the amenities that we like. And for the price tag it better have. The monthly rate is a full $1000.00 which is pretty steep for out tastes but we are taking this being a very special situation, kind of our reward for all the cruising we have done in the last eighteen months: just shy of 7000 miles. Also son#2 Kevin is going to spend a week with us which ought to be an absolute hoot. Both son#1 Bryan and son#2 Kevin are great young men and fun to be with. But Kevin is just a bit more...I don't quite know how to say this...hysterical, energetic, effervescent?!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

More Pleasant Things

or Be Gone, Oh Specter of Discontent!

The last time I posted I said that I was taking a break from posting. I was in a rut. I was in a funk. It seemed that all I was doing was complaining. I said I was not going to blog until I had more pleasant things to say. (Lisa said with her eyes and roll of her head, “Yeah, right.”)

Well....I have more pleasant things to say! 

We are at Hampton Roads, Virginia during the week of the Fourth of July. It is a pleasant place to be and the specter of uncertainty is disappearing. Our goal of reaching Annapolis for an extended holiday is within reach.

We finally pulled out of Great Bridge very, very early on July 1. When I say early I mean like-before-the-sun-was-up early. The reason for this is that our next leg to Hampton Roads was a short one, only twenty-four miles, and there would be a weather window open to us from before sunrise to only about 10:00 am. We pulled away from the dock at 5:00 am to the fuel dock for a pump out, then request an opening of Great Bridge bridge and go through the lock. Then we would slowly motor to Steele Bridge for their 7:00 opening. This was critical as this was a weekday and Steele bridge does not open at 8:00 am. Missing the 7:00 am opening would force us to either go back, go to an alternate dockage (the free dock at Dismal Swamp channel) or face the possibility of getting pushed around pretty hard heading out of the Elizabeth and James river to Hampton Roads which is right at the mouth entering Chesapeake Bay. But we made the opening at 7:00am.
Great Bridge bridge from the lock

lock watching

Big and small make their way through the lock

After Steele Bridge the coast was clear to head directly to the greater harbor. We motored up through Portsmith and Norfolk pretty aggressively. The water conditions were ok-ish but we could tell that it was beginning to chop up with the winds freshening from the southeast. There was one very odd thing that happened. The NWS warned that there could be patches of what could be called flash fog that would almost instantly appear as thick as soup then disappear just as quickly. This did happen. When we made that big right turn from the Elizabeth River onto the James River (right before the navy base) we had almost unlimited visibility. Then all of a sudden we were socked in. We could not see a thing! I went to radar. Then no more than five minutes later it was gone! It was so weird.

The cruise out to Hampton Roads was also made interesting by the company we kept. We had to negotiate two freighters, a myriad of tugs, security patrol boats, fishing boats, a Coast Guard cutter and two Navy warships. 

We pulled into the Hampton Roads Public Pier at 9:30 am. Jake, the very able dockmaster, helped us get tied up. Then at 10:00 am, just like the NWS predicted, the winds picked up a bunch, the clouds opened up and it rained. A little later while talking to Jake in the office he checked conditions out in the harbor and the winds were blowing at around twenty to twenty-five knots with two to three foot seas. Our strategy for the short day worked.

On the Fourth of July Lisa and I made some big decisions about our cruising future, both short and long term. Short term it's about getting to Annapolis. From Hampton Roads its only three or four more days. We have a months reservation at a marina there that starts on July 15th, but that is flexible. We did want to get up to The Solomons in a bit of a hurry to see Ross and Laura but they head to New York City for a few days. Dockage rates at the marinas north of Hampton Roads like in Deltaville and The Solomons are more expensive, especially the short term transient rates. (Our monthly rate in Annapolis is very much beyond our normal tastes and budget but we are making this a special situation as son#2 Kevin is joining us for his summer vacation.) The weather is just stuck in pattern of a good day here followed by three or four stinkers. What we have decided to do is to stay put here in Hampton Roads until at least July 8th (even though it pains us to miss some good cruising days). The dockage rates here are much more affordable and it seems to be a nice place. I have two different plans for making the way north from here: a plan with more short hops mostly with anchorages, or two longish legs stopping at Deltaville and Solomons. These two plans are completely modifiable so that legs are not so long that they can't be combined are even skipped altogether to fit within the conditions presented. We'll meet up with Ross and Laura at The Solomons a day or two before we need to run the final leg up to Annapolis.

Our long term thinking is a bit more complicated, but we are happy with what we have come up with.

There are several factors that affected our decisions. First, we do have to take two shore leaves of about six to eight weeks each, one in the fall and the other in the spring. Second, we do have some destinations we want to make, such as the Bahamas, the Florida Keys, New England and even the entire Gulf Coast ICW (Texas by boat. What a concept.). Third, we do have some investments in the boat we would like to (or have to) make which could preclude us from doing the other things. Lastly, I find that at least for myself, I like to keep on the move. The investments in the boat are divided into two categories: things we would like to do (petty cash expense) such as new flooring, upgrading some of our salon furniture and adding satellite tv, and things we might have to do (capital expense) such as getting a new bottom job with the same heavy duty covering that we have on now, new top canvas of which there is a lot of, and maybe even having to get a new generator. Our current genset was evaluated back in Savannah with the diagnosis that its probably got a year left on it, which to us is totally believable. 

So here's the plan. (all dates are flexible)

We know we will be in Annapolis until August 15th. From there we will then explore the east side of Chesapeake Bay through the end of August. During the month of September we will start heading south with ending up at Myrtle Beach as our goal. We will leave the boat there for our shore leave during the month of October. We will then return on November 1-ish to continue on south to Florida someplace to jump over to the Bahamas for the month of January, 2014. We will then go back to Florida to either Vero Beach or Titusville to leave the boat for shore leave from February 1st-ish to the end of March. We will then start the trek back up north perhaps for New England.

Of course this is all predicated that we do not have any major repairs such as the generator crapping out on us and needing to be replaced. Or that as we have the boat pulled out at some point for a bottom inspection and we are confronted with having to get a complete bottom job done. Or when we consult with a marine canvass company (most likely in Myrtle Beach. The canvas does need to be replaced. We probably won't be able to avoid that expense.) and it costs a zillion dollars. If any of these things occur, especially the generator needing to be replaced, our cruising plans are pretty much going to get scrapped in favor of the repair. That's life. That's boating.

Anyway, we are very comfortable with our thought process. We are also comfortable with our plan. We have met quite a few boaters that never have a plan from one day to the next even so much as to where they are going to spend a night and that's fine. Lisa and I can be very spontaneous but we pretty much are planners. We have a motto: We are very flexible so anything is feasible. So we start with a plan and modify, modify and modify to fit what new challenges confront us. 

Anyway, back to Hampton

Our stay at Hampton Roads Public Pier was very nice and comfortable. Jake and Maxwell, the dock masters, are superb. The docks are in terrific condition and the facilities are very good. As we discovered in our extended stay in Norfolk last year there is a ton of cool stuff to do in the area. But unlike last year when we depended on public transportation to get around we rented a car this time.
There are two major points of interest that we visited.

We made the drive up to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia to get a glimpse into the past. It is however a rather odd place. To me it was straddling the line between being a living museum with all of its shops and docents, and a modern attraction of some sort. It was better at the former than the latter. But it was very interesting and educational. There were hourly reenactments of the town folk (docents in period costumes putting on little plays about revolutionary incidents), a parade with two different fife and drum corps, and docents
Stinkin' Redcoats!
walking around helping visitors learn as much about the times as possible. We were extremely impressed with the level of expertise that these people had. When we visited the millinery shop (dressmaker) there were three young ladies sitting around actually sewing pieces of garment. Never being one to pass up an opportunity to learn a thing or two more about something I asked her some pretty detailed questions about cloth importing during the war. She was quickly able to make a full explanation about how it all worked – about how the colonialists had lots of time to place and receive large quantities of fabric from England before the imposed embargoes when into affect. We also visited the print shop. As both Lisa and I have a background in the printing industry we were eager to see this. The craftsman there was very knowledgeable about the subject. One interesting aside from our meetings with the craftsmen and merchants was their use of the phrase of the “art and mysteries” of their professions, as if this was the way the people of that time period would describe the assimilation of their knowledge about their chosen craft. 

We highly recommend that when you cruise into the Hampton/Newport News/ Norfolk area that you rent a car and make the trip to Colonial Williamsburg.

The other attraction of note is really not an attraction per se but the quasi-historical Fort Monroe that guards the entrance of the Norfolk harbor on the north side of the entrance. I say quasi-historical because it is certainly historical being one of and the largest of the many shore protection forts that line the east coast from Maine to Florida, but it was also up until September of 2011 a fully commissioned and operating US Army base. It is now run by the National Park Service. Driving to the fort from Hampton takes only ten minutes.
A Moat!!!
The very first thing you notice are the beautiful homes that border the the outer road. These were the homes for the top brass on the base. There is also a very formidable main street where the main buildings used for the commands at the base were located. But the main attraction of the area is the old fort itself. The walls are massive with only a few narrow bridges and wall openings in which to enter... and of course it is surrounded by a massive moat. Yes, a moat...just like a castle. Inside the fort walls there is the Casemate Museum. A casemate is the fortified artillery placement within the walls of the fort. It is a foreboding place with low ceilings with heavy stone construction. (One piece of history fact – during the Civil War it was always under Union control.) Also inside the walls of the fort are more homes and condos that are for lease. Imagine, living in a fort with a moat. I like it! It is a very cool place. 
Yes you too can lease a home inside a fort, inside a moat!

The Casemate

"Honey, I'm going to cut the lawn and change  the water in the moat!"

We finally left Hampton on Monday July 8. It was a bit rolly but otherwise a good cruising day. We are at
Dozier's Regatta Point Marina in Deltaville. Of course the weather is being a bit problematic. There is a stark dividing line at the Potomac River which is just north of here. South of the Potomac the conditions are ideal. North of the Potomac and up past The Solomons, our next destination, it is not so hot. Friday looks like the next good day to go. So here we will wait.

Anyway, like I said at the top, I had more pleasant things to say.