Entering the ICW

We left Hampton, VA on November 4th in very light winds. Motoring across Hampton Roads on a Sunday was incredibly quiet. Just a few other pleasure boats about, one large container ship, and a couple small tug & barge combinations.

It was such an easy passage that we decided to carry on past Hospital Point; the beginning of the Intracoastal Waterway, referred to as ICW.  We were surprised we made such good time and were soon directed into the Dismal Swamp Deep Creek lock just before 2:30.

There were 4 other boats in the lock with us.  The lock master was real nice and provided lots of information about the canal and options of places to stay.

We stopped for the night directly after the Deep Creek bridge around 4PM.  It now gets dark around 5PM, since the time change today!

This bulkhead tie-up was our first non-anchoring or sailing night since leaving home.  We do not often dock as our vessel is a trimaran and too wide (22′ 6″) for most slips.  We vastly prefer the freedom and peace of mind of being at anchor versus tied to a dock.  However, the canal was quite still and narrow.  There is certainly no room to swing at anchor.  Street noise was loud, but not bothersome and subsided before bedtime.  Tom made a quick run to a local Food Lion for fresh food as this was a very good supply stop and a short walk away.

The next morning, we started at 7:00AM to continue motoring through the Dismal Swamp.  We wanted to catch the Mill Creek Lock for the 11:00 AM opening.  This part of the man-made canal is straight and often runs right beside a highway.  When the road curves away it is so quiet and the only sound is nature.  The overhanging trees although contributing to this beauty are also a hazard to navigation when they fall in the canal or when a mast rubs against a low hanging branch and it rains pinecones, leaves and nuts all over the deck.  We heard a few bumps from sunken debris as well, truly not a good feeling.  The weather was warm and overcast with occasional drizzle or a brief downpour.  We were very thankful for our enclosed cockpit.  We caught up with two other sail boats around 10:30AM; it was perplexing as they often slowed or stopped.  Finally discovered via VHF that they were not sure of the height of the fixed bridge ahead.  Six boats arrived at the lock almost a half-hour late.  Luckily, the lock master still let us through the lock and the bridge.  The lead boat was a catamaran, they were directly ahead of us in the lock when eight feet of water was rushing out of the lock.  They managed to get a mooring line jammed under a cleat and had to cut it.  Scary to see the boat scrape along the lock wall and suddenly drop three feet.  Lessons learned: handle your lines continuously and have a knife handy.

Very shortly after the lock, we heard another thunk under the boat.  Anita quickly put the engine in neutral and saw a large submerged log under and moving with Lone Star.  We hooked it.  After a half minute of drifting Tom suggested trying the engine. It made a loud noise and stalled.  We then drifted to the side of the canal and the trees rained down on us.  We shouted to the boats following us to pass us as we were disabled.  The last boat, Jade East was very kind and threw us a floating line to tow our bow to the center of the canal while we dealt with the 30′ tree.  Tom managed to tow it to the side of the canal with our dinghy once it was free. Thankfully the engine did start after that and we were able to get on our way once again.  We noted that our speed was slower at the same RPM and the steering was off center, but still responsive.  There were no leaks inside the boat and no vibration of the propeller so we continued on with Jade East following.  We decided to anchor before the Elizabeth City opening bridge due to the South winds predicted; more protected on the North side of the peninsula.  Glad those two motoring days of hand steering in close quarters are over!

A look in the water with the GoPro the next morning revealed blackness; the fresh river water is the color of iced tea due to the tannin from the trees and roots.  Tom would need to dive over the side to check if we have any damage from the submerged log.  He used his wetsuit and dive tank so it took a while to setup.  In the meantime, Anita continued to sweep the debris off the deck.  You guessed it!  Tom couldn’t see under the brown water either.  He felt around and removed small twigs and debris from the rudder and discovered the tips of all three propeller blades were missing.  Tom did not feel any dings or dents in the hull or rudder and we are not taking on water anywhere, yeah!  The rudder is now back to normal.

We moved through the Elizabeth City opening bridge and anchored off Pelican Marina. We looked at the sea walls that offer free dockage and didn’t like the current wind conditions that would push the boat against the dock.

Pelican has a dinghy dock and let us do laundry and take showers. We also walked to town and had a very delicious lunch at Hoppin’ Johnz; smoked meats with southern barbecue flavors.

We have ordered a new propeller and some spare parts and they will be delivered to a Marina on Roanoke Island about 50 miles south of here.  We are scheduled for a short haul next Wednesday morning.  We continue to work on our project list.  Tom finished the installation of the ham radio and has listened to the waterway and weather nets, but has not transmitted yet. He also installed the EPIRB bracket, the radar reflector, and tidied up some loose wires.

We plan to sail about 40 miles south to Manteo on Roanoke Island tomorrow.  Yes, sail!  Across Albemarle Sound, a nice stretch of open water.

Hanging Out in Hampton, VA

We made an exception the morning we left Fishing Bay in Deltaville VA; we woke to an alarm clock at 6:00 AM.  Then readied ourselves with warm oatmeal, hot drinks and layers of warm clothes. Then Tom hauled the anchor just before sunrise.  We wanted to take advantage of the early morning winds for our last trip south in the Chesapeake.  As the day wore on the winds diminished.   We motor-sailed to maintain boat speed of over 5 knots.  The southern part of the bay narrows, there are strong currents, tugs and barges, BIG container ships, and many fishing vessels.  After alternating 2 hour watches all day, we were both on deck for the last two hours.   We motored all the way up the Hampton River and anchored across from Hampton Public Piers along with four other boats.

A side note here to explain the process of researching and choosing our next destination.  We are sailing to places we’ve never been before.  First, we check the weather using at least 4 different applications (Intellicast website, Predict Wind, Storm, and Windy) or the weather radio on the VHF when there is no cell service.  Knowing our weather window, we estimate how far south we can travel in the given daylight hours.  Next, we research locations within that distance using online and paper cruising guides.  Finally, Tom researches our likely destinations on Active Captain, a crowd sourcing app that cruisers use to rate and discuss harbors.  We have one other valuable source of information.  Fellow yacht club members and friends, Dan & MaryAnn Crouch have shared their logs of the past 7 years of sailing Cutting Class to FL and the Bahamas.  They are already in Florida this year!

Active Captain had told us there was room for 3-4 boats across from Hampton Public Piers.  Before heading up the river Tom called to verify there was room for us and there was.  The irony is a few storms have brought a lot of wind and this past weekend 11 boats were anchored here for the Nor’Easter.  The highest winds hit us between 10PM Saturday and 1AM Sunday.  We ended up staying up until 1AM as three boats were dragging their anchors and attempting to reset them in heavy winds, rain, and thunderstorms.  So glad our anchor held!  The small monohull on our port side that dragged had no engine so was getting a tow from another dinghy.  It took them two hours and at least six attempts at setting and hauling the anchor to get it to hold.  The much larger monohull on our starboard side gave up and moved way down river after 5 or more attempts.  The next morning, the 47′ catamaran that was now close in front of us dragged and reset his anchor.  This one made us the most nervous as he has a lot of exposed surface area (more windage) and if he dragged it would be into our three bows (we’re a trimaran).  Well we made it through that storm and another blow here, all is well.

We are very close to downtown Hampton and many conveniences are near.  We are taking this opportunity to receive mail and packages, do laundry, stock up on food, boat supplies, and prescriptions.  On Monday, we walked 2.7 miles to a super Walmart and used Uber to get back.  Today Tom borrowed a bike from the Marina as he had to go in multiple directions to pharmacies and a small hardware store.  We do carry a folding bike on board, but borrowing one saves time and energy.

Tom has started the next big project – installing the ham radio, tuner, and antenna.  All will be located in, or through, the aft cabin which we currently use as our storage area.  The first task was to empty out the cabin so he could install a ground system under the large bunk.  The ham radio also functions on the Single Side Band frequencies and will be a source for weather information as well as communicating with the cruising community and friends and family once we are outside the U.S.  Tom studied Morse code and radio intricacies, took the Ham test in St. Thomas in spring of 1988 and received his call sign; N1FUN, while we were on our first cruise onboard Sundsvalla.  He’s looking forward to being on air again soon.  Any other ham radio users out there?  What ‘nets’ do you listen to?

Installing the antenna by sliding it up the aft stay was very difficult. The casing had to be spread and much force applied. Tom first tried from a bosuns chair, then hip harness. What finally worked was removing the stay (after replacing it with a halyard) and tying it down next to the mast.

Saturday, we took a half day to visit the VA Air & Space Museum. It was educational and fun. Great displays and awesome volunteers; lunar module simulator engineer and a ham radio operator were memorable. The view of the harbor entrance from the rooftop was beautiful:

Heading south in the Chesapeake

Picture:  Nice and warm on a cold windy day in Deltaville, VA once the Captain and Engineer cleaned and repaired the cabin heater!

From the beautiful and quiet Goodhands Creek on the East Shore of the Chesapeake we motored in light winds straight south to St. Michaels.  We toured the local maritime museum using a reciprocal agreement with the Mystic Seaport Museum.  Nice place with friendly staff, it was quiet as it’s their off-season.  Well done exhibits with lots of info about the history of the local area.  One noteworthy highlight was the round lighthouse that has been restored.

We had an occasional cell signal of one bar so were able to send email and text on and off.

Bad weather was predicted, so we decided to head back to Annapolis four days before we could pick up our new dinghy.  We chose Weems Creek that borders the Naval Academy as it is well protected from all sides and has good holding.  Real nice place!  We were entertained by the Navy crew teams practice a couple times.  There was a convenient ramp to bring the dinghy ashore and we enjoyed several walks into town from here; once for exercise and to see Annapolis, another time for boat supplies at West Marine.

WEEMS Creek and Lone Star are in the background here:

We look forward to a return trip to this lovely anchorage.  Our “lay” days were filled with boat projects.  Tom tackled a big one; mounting the chart plotter in its permanent home.  It looks good right behind the steering wheel and it’s easier to read and manipulate as it is closer to the helmsman and no longer blocks the view when it was resting on the forward dash area.

On Sunday, October 14 the last day of the Annapolis Power Boat Show we motored around the corner to South Anchorage in the Severn River.  This is a wide-open bay.  We did NOT stay here over night, just attended the show, picked up our new Ports-bote 10’ dinghy, towed it back with the old 12’ Porta-bote and Torquedo electric motor. We then motored Lone Star around the corner into Back Creek for a four-night stay.  You guessed it, another cold front with rain and wind.  Nice to have the option to stay put when the weather is less than ideal.  We enjoyed several walks from here to the Post Office, Laundry, Hardware store, West Marine, and Giant for groceries.  Fun to meet up with a fellow SSCA cruiser at the hardware store and again at the grocery.  We shared an Uber to get back to the dinghy with more than we could carry.  The project in this harbor was outfitting the new dinghy with davit lift points, a drain plug, registration numbers and such things as must be carried: anchor, locking cable, engine, oars, ladder, etc.  We like the new smaller dinghy, easier to lift on davits and it seems to go faster.

Finally, on Thursday, October 18 we had a nice NW wind to push us 45 miles south to Solomons, MD.  Ah, it’s a few degrees warmer, but not for long.  A very large cold front stretched from Canada past Florida took a few days to pass by and brought lots of wind again.  We walked the boardwalk and local streets for exercise when it was too windy to sail.

Our last evening in Solomon’s, we finally caved to the cold weather and attempted to start our Dickenson diesel cabin heater.  Oh no, it won’t start!  Tom inadvertently twisted and broke a short piece of copper tubing while cleaning and dismantling the heater.

Wouldn’t you know we have a LOT of tools and spare parts on board, but no copper tubing.  We contemplated staying here another day to locate some, but the urge to press southward and seek warmer weather won out.

VIRGINIA

It was a long day of motor-sailing.  In the afternoon we were heading into the wind and sun as we were approaching Mill Creek, VA.  At one point, we had to quickly turn the boat to avoid a long fish trap: many sticks drilled into the bottom in a long row; we thing there is an underwater net between the sticks.  These were not marked on the chart, yet there are areas that say Fish Trap where there is no evidence above the water, confusing to say the least.  We arrived in Mill Creek about 20 minutes before sunset.  A few more boats came in after us.  There were about a dozen boats anchored in this beautiful and quiet place.  Only private houses here, no cell service, no dinghy access and no hardware store.

The following morning, we pressed on to Deltaville, VA.  This is a large spread out yachting center, second largest in Virginia we are told: Norfolk is larger. There are many creeks and many Marinas.  At first, we planned to go in Jacksonville Creek, but another cold front is approaching and Tom preferred the shelter and swinging room of Fishing Bay.  Darn, no cell service here either. A friendly member of the local marina gave us a ride to the hardware store a couple miles away.  Yippee, we were able to find copper tubing and a few other essentials on our list.  Despite the offer for a ride back, we opted to walk the two miles back for two reasons.  The first was for exercise and the second was to be able to stop at West Marine; not that we bought anything – this time!  We were looking for a “fishing yoyo” that the hardware attendant told us about.  We think it may work to store and control the downhaul line for our jib.  Eventually we will order it from Amazon or online at least.  Upon returning to Fishing Bay Marina, we spotted a couple cruisers on computers and cell phones in a lounge area.  They shared the WiFi password and we stayed for an hour or so to catch up on communications and check the weather.  Yup, another cold front coming through tonight; no rain just wind up to 30 miles an hour primarily tomorrow morning.  We’ll stay another day and fix the heater!

We leave tomorrow Thursday, October 24 tentatively heading for Hampton, VA.

Adventurous Day Sails

We left Maryland Yacht Club on Friday, October 5th heading for St. Michaels about 30 miles away.  Unfortunately, our late start (12:45PM), light winds, and squally looking skies had us changing our plans and looking for a closer quiet anchorage.  Captain Tom spent more than an hour below researching a new location on the fly; thank you dear!  We ended up motor-sailing up the Chester River on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay.  There is a large Wildlife Refuge on the east side of the river.  Really quiet place!  All the way up the river Tom kept asking, “How’s the cell signal?”  Anita would check her phone that was plugged in near the helm station.  Answer: 3 bars; a bit further up the river, 2 bars; upon entering Reed Creek, MD, 1 bar.  However, once at anchor “No Service” and it is 4:45PM, too late to choose another location.  Tom was able to send out a position report to immediate family to let them know we were out of touch for a night.  The blog will have to wait!

This was a very beautiful anchorage, nice big bay only one other small moored boat in it.  A few big houses on shore and a small creek or two nearby.  The evening was spent researching our next location without the use of the internet.  That means look at a chart and try to find a town, with roads near shore, and perhaps the label TWR; which may mean cell tower.  Tom described the next port as having a very narrow mile long channel with 4 foot draft (our minimum required) and having to pass under two bridges.  One fixed bridge with 10 feet extra of mast clearance and one that was an opening bascule bridge; the opening is reported to be 48 feet wide (um, we are 22.5 feet wide). Tom particularly liked the anchorage beyond the bridges as there was a boat launch where we could tie the dinghy and walk to West Marine and a grocery store. Anita responded with a hesitant, okay.

The morning was a time to work on projects.  Tom finished fixing the broken cockpit seat and he installed the new ladder bracket in the port forward storage area.  Yeah, much easier to get in there now!  Anita repaired some stitching on the cockpit enclosure, prepared and cleaned up from meals and did a bit of reading.  We discovered two more boats had joined our quiet anchorage in the late morning. Right after lunch we motored south down the Chester River toward Kent Island.

On the way in the narrow channel, we discovered the depth was a bit deeper than reported, whew, that’s good!  Lot’s of small power boat traffic here, absolutely no other sailboats.  Anita’s thinking, “Let the Adventure begin, this is out of my comfort zone.” After winding around a few corners the view final opens up and the bridges were VERY close together, like 500 feet maybe. There was a 1 knot current against us and we had a 25 minute wait until the next bridge opening. It was actually easy to maintain station by powering forward and drifting back with the current.  Once the bridge opened, we had to let one small sailboat going down-current go first.  We followed another boat into the channel from our side.  Then saw just how narrow that opening was, oh boy, and there are dolphins (a grouping of vertical wooden piles shaped like a teepee) inside the opening to close it up some, yikes!  The boat wakes were bouncing off the solid walls; great more turbulence.  Anita pushed the throttle ALL the way forward (never did that before) and quietly swore like a sailor, then prayed her thanks we made it through okay.

Picture: Looking back at the two bridges; the narrow opening of the lower bridge is the tiny light blue area in the center of the picture, above the O in Lone Star.

We still had a few more miles to go winding around in a marked channel, then following chart depths into Goodhands Creek, MD.  There were about six other anchored and moored local boats here and a bit of traffic from small trailerable motorboats and fisherman. It’s also Columbus Day weekend.  We are right next to a very tall cell tower and have full cell service, yippee!

On Sunday, we took the dinghy ashore and walked a couple miles to West Marine and a SafeWay grocery.  We found Talenti ice cream on sale – 2/$6, and bought too much other stuff,  so we used UBER to get a quick ride back to the boat launch ramp.  Well worth it!

We had purchased chicken and pork chops so took out the new Weber propane grill and had us a feast.  We love to grill large quantities than cut it up and package in vacuum sealed bags to store in the freezer for later use.  Time consuming now, but well worth it later when making a quick stir-fry, casserole, or perhaps sandwiches.

Today we finished up a quick project with our current anchor before leaving for St. Michaels.  We have 30 feet of chain and the rest rope.  We needed to replace two shackles with one new one and swap ends of the line.  We tend to use about 50-80 feet of the 240 feet we have.  Tom had spliced a new thimble on the new chain end of the line last night after dinner.  While Tom worked on hardware replacement, Anita measured and moved the anchor line markers to read correctly so we will know how much line we have out.  Once the new anchor windlass is installed, we will put on a bigger anchor and new chain and line.  Yes, the windless and new anchor are on the project list too.  We love that we can get more done when we are on the boat full time.

Annapolis Sailboat Show

This is my first blog after opening up the site to the public.  There should be no more login needed.  Hope that makes it easier for all.

HOT!  Wow, it was the hottest day we’ve had yet.  92 degrees and it felt hotter.  We ended up keeping Lone Star anchored at Maryland Yacht Club and caught a ride with the folks on a neighboring boat, “At First Sight”, that rented a car.

What a treat to ride and visit with another cruising couple of a similar age and experience.  We ended up working together at the SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association) booth for a couple hours at the show in the afternoon.  There were a lot of people at the show even though it was the first day.  Glad we did not volunteer for a weekend day when it will be overcrowded.  It was fun to have people stop by and really want to chat and learn about this cruising organization.

We had time to see the show and find half the things we hoped to research.  Most important we saw the demo 10’6″ Porta-Bote dinghy that we purchased and will pick up at the end of the Powerboat show.  We will be selling the 12’8″ one as soon as possible.  We are researching Balmar high-output alternators for our Yanmar engine and lithium batteries.  This time of year there are fewer hours of sun to charge the batteries with solar.  After a few cloudy days in a row, we need to run the engine for a couple hours to charge the batteries.

The picture is of Tom visiting with Tony Smith at the sail boat show; former owner of Gemini production catamarans, now demonstrating a prototype of Zephyr, a 15′ three person, 8′ wide, light-weight trimaran with an angled sail.  Really cool!  He’s looking to find a young entrepreneur that wants a startup company, interested?

After the boat show we drove most of the way back to Pasadena, MD and went out to eat at a popular restaurant: Two Rivers Steak & Fish.  Great food and good company!  Anita had her first crab cake on a roll; she won’t be afraid to try others.  This one had no filler, just honest crab and grilled to perfection.  Tom had a Caribbean Jerk chicken sandwich that he really enjoyed too.

Despite the heat we had a lot of fun, meeting new people, seeing the show, and a yummy local dinner out. Amazingly the next day is the coldest one we’ve had yet; it was only 62 degrees with clouds and drizzle.  However, we finally left the beautiful Maryland Yacht Club.  More about this in the next blog…

Sailing to Maryland Yacht Club

I’ve delayed writing this last day sail from the Sassafras River to the Maryland Yacht Club as we became very busy with cruising friends and activities that the Seven Seas Cruising Association provided here at the Maryland Yacht Club.  Wow!  What great people, so much useful information, and such a fun time!  However, we slept for 10 hours last night. to catch-up.

Okay, so the last sailing day to get to this beautiful spot.  This was our shortest day sail so far, only 35 miles.  It was still mostly overcast.  Rain, thunderstorms and a cold front were predicted later in the day.  As we did not have any cell signal, we decided to press on before the weather hit.  We were directly into the wind for the first 10 miles or so.  As we traveled further south the bay opened up and we were soon under full sail on a close reach.  We decided to get out of the main channel and make a straight line course over some shallows to our destination.  All was great until…

… we snagged a dark colored crab pot.  Our speed suddenly went from near 7 knots to 3.2.  Normally, we can back off of these by turning into the wind.  We tried that about six times with no luck.  We were definitely dragging something.  Anita was standing on the port hinged cockpit seat when Tom was on deck raising the port dagger board.  When she reached over to tighten the dagger board line, the seat hinges ripped out of the bulkhead and sent her feet flying backward (seat and all) onto the cockpit floor.  So lucky it was only a skinned shin!!  Next boat project – repair seat hinges.

We discovered we were not caught on either dagger board.  It was either on the propellor or the rudder.  The water in the bay is not transparent, meaning one cannot see through it, so putting a camera in the water would not help.  After 40 minutes or so we finally came up with a plan.  We dropped an anchor.  Tom donned his snorkeling gear and dove over the side with a line attached to his waist.  He used a suction cup to hang onto the boat and was able to free the buoy in three quick dives.  After he was back on board, he divulged there was a current pulling him away from the boat.  Good thing he had the suction cup and line!

The remainder of the trip we both stood watch and Anita hand steered around numerous dark colored crab pot floats.  Reminds us of Casco Bay Maine!  We anchored in the well protected cove behind the Maryland Yacht Club.  (See picture above)

The thunderstorm arrived after dark.  Gusty winds, lots of rain, thunder and lightning too!  The wind also shifted 180 degrees.  It was hard to tell for sure, but we were thinking the anchor had dragged.  Amazing how calm it became once the storm passed. We re-anchored in the morning as we did not like the new location, nor trust that the anchor was set properly.  Anchor’s been fine for the past five nights. Then it was time to setup the dinghy and venture ashore.

We plan to move Lone Star closer to Annapolis Sailboat Show tomorrow as we will work at the SSCA booth for 3 hours on Thursday afternoon.  We hear the anchorages are filling up, so wish us luck!!

Transiting C&D Canal

Picture: approaching a bridge as we transit the Chesapeake/Delaware Canal west bound.

Tuesday morning, September 25th.

Ah, what a difference a full night sleep and a nice hot breakfast of egg sandwiches make.  Lone Star was beginning to roll at anchor as the wind had shifted to the southeast.  We were ready to continue our trek into the Chesapeake Bay by 9:30AM.  Winds were southeast 10-20, still some southerly swells in Delaware Bay.  We were able to sail the 30 miles or so to the beginning of the 14 mile canal, then motored.  The wind dies in the narrow canal and they require the motor on anyway.  It’s ok, we don’t mind making hot water with the engine seeing there is very little sun for solar to provide it.

We only saw two other pleasure boats in the entire canal.  It is really quiet around here!  We expected to see more pleasure craft heading south at this time of year.  Upon exiting the canal we motor-sailed into head winds and a contrary current to the Sassafras River.

The anchorage we chose in the Sassafras River was near Turner Creek and across from Money Creek.  Seemed fitting as last night we were near Money Island so why not stay near Money Creek?  We were once again the only boat anchored there.  Arriving around 5:30PM we decided to leave the sails uncovered as they were wet from occasional light rain showers throughout the day and it was almost sunset.  Have I mentioned we really like our enclosed cockpit!!  Neither one of us needed a rain jacket yet, besides the rain is warm!  We had hoped for a lay day here.  However, the weather forecast was okay for the next day and lack of a cell signal encouraged us to press on to our destination: the Maryland Yacht Club in Pasadena, MD.  We will be attending the Seven Seas Cruising Association gathering (SSCA GAM) there.