Sunday, October 27, 2013

Race to the “Pause Button” in Oriental.

Well, our first day out we made great strides despite the delays of Bridge openings and Lock schedules.  We anchored behind (South of) Buck Island. 

Up before dawn (which is what happens when the sun goes down at 7:15 in the evening and you are anchored far from civilization), there seemed to be no point in waiting around so we pulled the anchor up and were on our way before 0800.

With threatening skies and swells from the South as we entered open water, it did not seem likely that we would have an easy crossing of the somewhat notorious Albemare Sound.  While not great, it was uneventful.  Except for our passing of M/V Lady Catherine, the beautiful boat pictured below.  Tess hailed her for more details and learned that she is a 1947 Trumpy, built in Annapolis and chartering out of Newport, Rhode Island and Stuart and Ft. Myers, Florida.  Check her out at  

M/V Lady Catherine

While our “sail” plan had initially looked at an anchorage at the bottom of the Alligator River, we arrived there by 1400 so decided to continue on.  That meant entering the 22 mile long Alligator River-Pungo River Canal.  A mere ditch really.  Nothing there.  (Except stumps!)  A boat ahead of us saw a Black Bear swim across his bow and exit stage left.  Another, with a 64 foot height, queried everyone else about the upcoming Wilkerson Bridge.  All ICW fixed bridges were designed at 65 feet.  The builder of Wilkerson made a one foot mistake.  The ICW Chartbooks note that Wilkerson can be even two more feet off from time-to-time (we are 62 feet, so we might squeeze through anyway and have not previously had a problem there).  So the afternoon drama for our last three miles in the Canal was watching the 64 footer as they approached Wilkerson and snuck under (after what appeared to be a great deal of hesitation; and rightly so).  When we arrived, the vertical height board at water level showed a 64 foot height.  Too close for comfort and a day’s worth of anxiety for more than one boat.

Once into the Pungo River, we realized that we were among the last few boats still moving that afternoon.  The rest stopped before or at Belhaven, while we crossed the River to Pungo Creek where we anchored now for the third time.  Anchor set at 6:19.  Below for cocktails at 6:20.  Rain at 6:21.  And it rained all night.

By Wednesday morning the rain had stopped and we were off before breakfast for a short day to Oriental, North Carolina.  It was like being in a caravan as at least ten boats headed out of the Pungo at the same time and stayed in line all the way to the Neuse River.  Though the sun did peak through, the wind piped up and we had a consistent 22 knots into the Neuse.  Many sails went up, but we were now keen to make our destination and left the Neuse at Broad Creek for the River Dunes Marina.

River Dunes is a new 1,700 acre single family home development (only about 120 of a possible 1200 homes built to date), with a man-made lagoon designed for a 600 slip marina (130 now in place).  A long, beautifully landscaped canal entrance off of Broad Creek might qualify this as the Venice of “Down East” (that’s what they call it) North Carolina.  Very nice.  At North Carolina prices, as well. 

This place has the amenities one would seek for a vacation getaway!  Pool, underlit at night, with fanned cabanas alongside; piped music ready for the next episode of The Bachelorette; exercise room; steam showers….and that’s all I saw on my way to the Laundry!  I never went inside the main buildings.  This is worth checking out again, but there is a monthly fee for the clubhouse amenities…however, the best amenity we received was the electricity for the heater.  Oriental wasn’t any warmer than the rest of the trip south, and in fact, colder than New Jersey at the last check.  No need for fans in the poolside cabanas this week.

Endurance will call it home for the next 42 days as we head back home, and elsewhere, for a short while on an increasingly complicated schedule. 

At Home at River Dunes

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

First Day on the ICW…a.k.a. Bridge anyone?

Well, … we are off.  Yesterday, we left Portsmouth, Virginia on the Elizabeth River at Mile Marker 0 of the Intra-Coastal Waterway.  Only 1,095 miles to go before we hit the Port of Miami.  It will happen.  Eventually.

This first day of the ICW is the single busiest day.  Portsmouth, Norfolk, Newport News is just crammed with military, commercial and industrial shipping, channels and congestion.  In addition to dodging that traffic, within the first 20 miles we had three railroad bridges, two fixed bridges, five lift or swing bridges and one lock to get through.  But by Mile 35 we had left Virginia and were cruising South through North Carolina. 

Having left Tidewater Marina at 0830, we were at anchor behind Buck Island at Mile 57 in Poplar Branch, North Carolina (with virtually no civilization in sight) by 1730 (5:30 pm to Tess).  A good start to a long trip.  Our day in pictures should suffice….

Milling about on the Elizabeth River waiting for the morning's first bridge opening.

Still milling about.  Not 9:30 yet.  About 14 boats wait to rush past as soon as she opens.

Gilmerton Bridge, our first, finally opens.

Then Steel Bridge.

Finally to the Great Bridge Lock where Tranquility's crew awaits a letdown.

It's a small letdown.  Only about one foot.  But a gratifying one.

Then the Great Bridge Bridge.

And, finally, the North Branch Bridge.

A bit of military training on the ICW.

And more.

The Eagle has landed.

Our anchorage.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Where is Asheville NC on the chart??? (Thursday, October 17 - Sunday, October 20)

Every now and again mountain nymphs wiggle into our consciousness calling for a visit.  With North Carolina claiming “the height of foliage season”, we jumped ship for a little R&R in the highlands of NC with Jill and Bill Schoonmaker.  “Mile Marker 65” is just now in Bill’s rearview mirror, and Jill planned a fabulous escape to celebrate friendship, courtship, architecture and gastronomy!

The Schoonmakers and Friend

The trek inland was a good 7 hour climb past marshes, rolling fields, acres of exploded cotton buds, grazing cattle and finally into the ear-popping Appalachians.  

Mount Pisgah National Forest from one of the Biltmore's many verandas.

And from the Biltmore's roof.

Jill found a little bungalow in the very Hipster and Aged-Hippie intellectual enclave of Asheville.  We were in amid trees and parks, and across from some very well mannered goats in the neighbor’s yard.  This was not going to be a boater’s weekend!

Friday’s activity:  The Biltmore Estate general tour with a special “Architect’s Tour” in the afternoon.  The Vanderbilt family fortune, built on the shipping and railroad industry boom, has left many glorious landmarks, but truly, the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island DOES look like a summer cottage in comparison.  We spent eight full  hours at the estate, and could easily have spent another full day soaking in the rest.  By the way, at almost 180,000 square feet, The Biltmore is the largest private residence in the United States.  If not the world.

Views from the Biltmore's roof on the Architect's Tour...

Saving the vineyard and Olmstead’s landscape miracles for another trip, we sat on the veranda at the Biltmore Inn for cocktails and sunset.  It’s nice to feel like royalty now and again….

Royalty at The Biltmore Inn

Saturday we spent checking out the “what’s happening now” art and commerce scene in Asheville.  You name it, there’s a studio for it.  From boutique and high end clothing stores to artisanal coffees and organic goatmilk soaps….Asheville is vegan, gluten free, eco-forward…as Portlandia as Portland!

Dining was a treat.  Jill’s research and whimsy gave the four of us more than a few extra pounds, and some great memories.  Rather than give the mouthwatering details, find The Admiral, Seven Sows Larder, Tupelo Honey and most definitely, Biscuit Head. O.M.G.!

A Mountain Biscuit Recipe

Sunday we retraced our steps back to Norfolk, met up with friends Dennis and Kathy aboard Tranquility, and settled in for a final sigh over a weekend well spent.  Tomorrow, as Willie would croon, we’ll be On the Road Again….

Saturday, October 12, 2013

All Dressed up and Nowhere to Go!

Finally!!  All that repair and replacement work is done.  Tess arrives back to the boat from Chicago.  Tanks are topped off.  We are ready to go.  Yes, thanks for asking, the trip to watch Jake “graduate boot camp” or as the navy calls it “Pass In Review” was great.  

Pass In Review

He looks so strong and ready for his adult life.  Hurricane Karen is slowing his departure for Pensacola, and like a new sailor he is chomping at the bit to get a move on to his next challenge.  Good luck, Sailor.  Thanks for letting me be part of the celebration!

Our Man in the Navy

Sunday, October 6.  Basic chores and prep work.  Tomorrow we start heading South again.  Or, as Tess would say, a day to catch our breath, have a little time with Katie and Kyle, and see what the weather report says ….

Monday, October 7.  What happened to the weather?  A week of benign weather has turned into a week of rain.  We are Marina-bound.  Stuck as a Front moves through.  Dinner and pinochle with Katie & Kyle is our only bright spot in the day.  Joe, our WW2 vet and resident marine expert on many things said to me (Tess) “what’s the worry, you’re cruisers…if you don’t get there today, you’ll get there tomorrow.  Looks like it should be okay by Friday”.  Oh, Joe, you silly man…..

Tuesday, October 8.  We’re off the dock at 0649 before the 0708 Sunrise and hoping to make Solomons Island before Sunset.  We do.  Anchored in Mill Creek by 1610.  But a cool to cold day with large following seas and big wind from behind all day.  Motorsailing with the Staysail in order to maintain the rhumb line.  But, Mill Creek is a calm and quiet and pretty spot.  

Sunset on Mill Creek, Solomons Island

The Captain glosses over the day a bit…the weather is crummy, but so much worse for those headed north.  We watch their bows heave up and out of the waves, then thrust deep into the trough.  Our ride was tolerable, but I envision Joe  sitting at the dock, patiently waiting out the weather… We saw our first pelican pair of this trip.  Tony’s favorite bird as a signal of tropical climate and sea-faring mates for life.  Despite the periodic sideways skate down a wave, we smile.  We are lucky.

Wednesday, October 9.  We know that friends in Port Washington, NY and in Rock Hall, MD are tied down by weather.  But we are now mid-Chesapeake and in a different part of this continuing Low Front.  Off anchor at 0753 into big wind on the Bay, but a comfortable downwind ride.  Seven plus knots as we decide to skip the Potomac and head to Reedville on the Great Wicomico.  More of the Front is expected by 1400, but we think we can beat it into the river.  We don’t.  The last two hours are spent in 30 plus knots gusting to 39.  Five foot waves and rain, rain, rain.  Visibility.  None.  As long as we head South, its manageable.  As we turn West into the river,…YIKES!  A real bashing as we crawl into the river and then directly North into the storm in order to reach Reedville.  Can’t see a thing.  Lots of water on deck.  Desperate; if not so close to done for the day.  We anchor across from the Menhaden Processing Plant in pounding rain.  Six or eight huge factory ships docked at the plant.  The distinctive Reedville smell is present for a mere nanosecond, confirming we are “there”.  To our relief, the plant is not cooking fish.  We can breathe.  And we can just sit here and get pushed around by the wind.  Lest you be getting mighty jealous of our trip thus far, know that we crawled into bed at about 6:00 pm (maybe earlier) to escape the cold & damp, and to just rest.  Although Tony was up probably hourly checking the anchor (especially as I ALWAYS think the boat is moving…I seem unable to distinguish a swing on the anchor from ‘moving’….tomato, tomahto), we slept otherwise quite comfortably for 13 or more hours!

Thursday, October 10.  Not going out in this stuff.  The weather has gotten worse.  A long, damp and boring day at anchor in Reedville.  But, re-read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor” about a Columbian naval sailor’s ten days adrift in the Caribbean.  Well written and gripping.  Written in 1955 when Garcia Marquez was a journalist in Bogotá.  Well before his Nobel prize days.  And then started (I told you it was long and boring day) Jack London’s “The Sea Wolf” (1904).  London was a real sailor and it shows.  Starting with a fog-bound San Francisco Bay ferry collision by page three and then aboard a seal hunting schooner bound for Japan by page six.  And London’s Captain Wolf Larsen is a pre-Ayn Rand materialist of the highest order.  Better spoken than John Galt.  Better written than Rand.  Let’s keep this book out of the hands of the Free Staters.  Though it might convince them all to head out to sea.  Waterworld, anyone?  For me, it was another 20 hours of Pillars of the Earth on audible, with Stugeron by my side and cooking the more Prep Intensive meals…tacos and ??? where’d my memory go????

Friday, October 11.  Great holding for two nights in the mud of Reedville.  But, two nights is more than we (he) can stand.  The weather looks better today than it will Saturday or Sunday.  A chance to make a break for it.  We do.  Anchor up at 0926 into what we now consider calm conditions.  We sail.  We motor.  We motorsail.  We skip Gwynn Island on the Rappahannock since rain and drizzle is like sunshine to us now.  Into Mobjack Bay and up the East River to Put In Creek.  

Entering the East River, Mobjack Bay on what is now considered a Sunny day.

A quiet, well protected anchorage about three miles from Mobjack Bay and six from the Chesapeake proper.  Worth the extra effort, because….

Saturday, October 12, 2013.  No point in moving today.  Next stop is the hustle and bustle of Norfolk.  Might as well lay back and enjoy the sunless sky and intermittent rain from here.  Managed to fix the errant B&G Wind Speed indicator this morning.  Should have read the book first and saved 60 minutes of what became a 90 minute job.  Or listened to Charlie’s advice and merely replaced the one connector needing replacement.  A 10 minute job.  But at least we now know that we have a consistent 9 to 12 knots, gusting to 19.  Apple pie in the oven.  It’s not all bad. 

Smells great, too!

Truthfully, in between all this, Tony was “in the office” daily, even in the cockpit as we rolled down the Bay toward Solomon’s writing documents for a client. The weather is confusing…not really cold, certainly not warm…damp through and through.  The front will eventually find its way out, and we will hopefully be walking in the sunshine through the fall foliage in Asheville this time next week! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

What and Where of Late....

After the Admiral’s visit, both Tess and I spent a week or so back in New Hampshire for some housekeeping; both work related and personal planning.  Then back to Baltimore on September 29 for another charter cruise. 

This one with Charlie and his buddies Jeremy (from Minneapolis) and Stefanos (from D.C.).  A great weekend of weather promised an Admiral’s Cruise Redux.  But, being young professionals (rather than, ______; well, you can fill that in), this crew was sensible, if not serious.  Two arrivals on Thursday night via BWI and an early Friday morning train from Penn Station, allowed the crew to shove off by 10ish and hit the Bay.  While some attempt at sailing failed at the Key Bridge, we had a pleasant motor sail into Annapolis in time to pick up a mooring (all of which were to be removed or obliterated on Sunday morning to accommodate the set up of the Annapolis Boat Show.  Cruiser’s Tip:  The City Moorings marked “Keep Off” are actually reserved for boats over 46 feet.  An Island Packet 45, with dinghy on davits, certainly measures 50 feet, so we grabbed a Keep Off Mooring since they were the only ones available.

Our first stop was our newest “Best Place”; McGarvey’s Back Bar for raw oysters and clams.  While the youngsters couldn’t go mollusk-for-mollusk with the Admiral, they made a credible dent in the Chesapeake shellfish inventory.  Even the Minnesotan slurped some down.

A 2 and 2 dinner at The Federal House and then back to the boat for liquor, cigars and listening to young up-and-comers talk about work, work, work, iOS 7, work, more money please, and missing their young wives.  Generations come and go, but nothing seems to change.

A rather late morning start (I could hear from my training as a compassionate father: “If you don’t let those boys get some rest…” from 0600 to 0900).  Needless to say, I let them rest.  As the day progressed, that turned out to be prescient.  They would need it.

Being Annapolis, where everyone is watching, the sails were up immediately and we sailed out of the Harbor and into the Bay.  With Stephanos on the helm, Jeremy manning the lazy sheet and Charlie and I giving contradicting instructions, we somehow managed (after a mere 6? 10? 20? 100? tacks) to make it under the Bay Bridge.  At that point, knowing the most damaging structure in all of Chesapeake Bay was behind us, I went down for my nap with firm instructions to the Sailing Master: “Either get us back to Baltimore, or get us to an anchorage before nightfall”.  Under the tutelage of this Wind Whisperer, the crew took their turns at the wheel, on the sheets and in their bunks until our not untimely arrival back in Baltimore. 

The Crew.  Back in Baltimore.

Having been forewarned of our arrival, Tess had planned and prepared a sumptuous welcome home feast at the end of the dock for sunset.  Joined by Katie & Kyle, we had a nice end to two great days of being on the Bay.  Stephanos, off to the train for a much anticipated return to his beloved, was foiled by the fact that Mussolini does not run the MARC trains.  He came back to the boat to enjoy a two-plus hour delay in his travel plans.

Ahhh…., since those halcyon days, life aboard ENDURANCE have been filled with nothing but work.  Apart for real work, boat work had initially focused on tracking down that elusive water seepage.  The water pump coming on, or trying to, at odd times.  The mysterious appearance of water in the bilge each morning.  Living on the water is great.  Tracking down the source of water internal to the place you live; not so good. 

In a process that started in Maine, continued with Paul Casey’s years of sleuthing out boat problems and Charlie’s professional expertise aboard yachts of many descriptions (most better described than our own), I was certain that I was narrowing down the problem.  “It’s the water pump!”, I exclaimed one morning.  Aided and abetted by a waterlogged Accumulator Tank.  

The Old Accumulator Tank.  A bit rusty; inside and out.

The space to be filled.

The one gallon tank, to be replaced by one twice the size, I ordered.  Matching the water pump, not possible.  Convinced after talking to many vendors that I could fix the errant pump, I took it apart, cleaned out the debris and reinstalled it.  It ran.  It ran.  And it ran.  It did not pump water.  

Never to Pump again.

Rather than go without (water, that is), I broke down, purchased and installed the West Marine, Always Available, Loud As A Jet Plane Water Pump, Model # We Know You Are Desperate At This Point.  It was loud.  “I’ll replace it when the Accumulator Tank comes in”, I said.

Two days later, Tess is off to Chicago for the weekend (Jake’s Navy Training Graduation), and I have my Accumulator Tank.  Oh.  I forgot to mention.  After the Admiral’s visit, I made that quick return to New Hampshire.  Not previously planned.  Not well thought through.  As I’m leaving the boat to head to my 9:50 PM flight, I sit at the electrical panel and think, “What do I need to keep on?  Surely, just the Refrigerator”.  All other switches off.  Good power management?  No.  No.  Really no.  Without thinking things through, it seems I also turned off the Shore Power.  That means that the Refrigerator was running only on the House Batteries for over a week.  Not really though.  Sometime during this period, there were no more House Batteries.  Fully discharged.  Kaput.  Uh, oh.

It doesn’t take an expert to know that when you have a dead battery (or two), you recharge it.  That’s what I did.  Wow!  The Charger is pumping in over 100 Amps into a 240 Amp Hour Battery.  This will take no time at all.  A couple hours later, the Charger stops.  What?  I fear that I have blown both the Batteries and the Charger.  The next morning, some useful dockside advice: “Read the Manual”.  I did.  It says that the Thermal Fuse in the Charger caused its shutdown.  Too many amps.  The Batteries get to hot.  The Charger shuts off.  I gain access to the Charger.  Hit the Reset Button.  Back in business.  Charlie’s Cruise to Annapolis goes off without a hitch.  On our return, Tess notes that a storage locker next to the Battery Locker is really hot.  So, it seems, are the Batteries.  Busy for several days thereafter, just before Tess’ departure to Chicago, I get out another manual.  On the Batteries, this time.  Have you ever heard of Thermal Runaway?  The next sentence in the manual says something about Explosions.  And then, just, “Run Away!”

It seems that if you try to recharge a fully discharged battery with more than 50 Amps, you will likely warp the plates in these AGM Batteries.  They will short out.  The remaining cells, if any, will still take a charge.  All of it.  And overheat.  At a certain yet to be determined temperature, even these AGM High Tech Batteries will dry out.  Then, merely explode.  Again, dockside discussion recalls the Swiss boat he saw in Gibraltar.  No foredeck.  Batteries had exploded.

The decision is made to replace them today (the day that I had planned to install my new Accumulator Tank).  

Many calls were made.  These Batteries are expensive.  Few people keep them in stock.  Except… you guessed it.  West Marine, two stores over, has the two I need.  Twice as expensive.  But, the cost versus risk analysis was already done.  I put them on hold for an afternoon pick up.  Then a return call from Stevens Battery Warehouse in Pasadena, Maryland.  Joe says he can have exact replacements on Tuesday.  “Not good””, I say.  “Today’s the day.”  Joe says, “Let me send a Tech over to assess your problem”.  “Okay”.  Any advice is better than the voices in my head.  At 2:00, the Tech confirms. “You fried them my friend”.  And, “they are not the high-priced, brand name Batteries you thought you had.  They are the West Marine higher-priced batteries that we sell (at half the cost) without the WM label”.  By 6:00 my new friends have returned and installed (at 128 pounds each) two new Batteries and a significant cost savings.  

In the meantime, I have installed the Accumulator Tank.

Shiny new Accumulator Tank.

The new plumbing installation.

A busy day.

So all is well aboard?  Until 0400 the next day.  The water pump goes on.  Okay, no big deal.  At 0420, the water pump goes on again.  This means we have lost two gallons of water in twenty minutes.  Uh, oh.  Again.  Big deal.

There is clearly an extra two gallons of water in the Bilge.  I pump it out.  I then, for the umpteenth time, since I have already scrutinized every other source of water at least a million and umpteenth times, open the access panel to the Hot Water Heater.

Did you guess it this time?  Let me give you a hint.  Spraying water.  Lots of it.  From the Hot Water Heater.  The nylon hose fitting on the “hot” water side, dried up, shrunken, and leaking.  Again.  I replaced it in Deltaville, Virginia in September 2010.  Should have learned then.  

What an irritating pain in the neck you have been!

At 0800, when Ace Hardware opened, I replaced it with a brass fitting.  $4.89.  Plus tax.  No more leaks.  So far.  No more rampant water pump cycling.  So far.

As Katie would say:  “You’re a Cruiser?  What did you repair today?”