Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Northward again, the Jersey ICW

from Cape May to anchorage near Ventnor City
Monday May 28th, Memorial Day

When you mention the New Jersey IntraCoastal Waterway (ICW), most cruisers either scowl and say it’s horrible (shallow, twisty, low narrow bridges, crowded with rude boat drivers) or they shrug and say they would never consider it (because of one or more of the above). On this one day of travel in the New Jersey ICW, we saw wildlife and beautiful nature scenes; we were helped greatly by a kind fisherman; and we also experienced most of the negatives too. It was a well-rounded day of cruising.

We joined a parade of boats, most of whom wanted to go faster than us, from the Cape May harbor to where the sea channel splits off from the ICW. At the meeting of the waters, we turned left & went under the highway bridge while the others headed between the jetties into the ocean. It was a calm day and it seemed like everybody wanted to spend their Memorial Day fishing. Some had good luck; we saw several people pulling in nice looking flounder.

Right after the Cape May bridge, a 25’ outboard fishing boat was blocking the channel. He was displeased at how close we passed to him and seemed unaware that other boats would have to squeeze between him and the marker or go aground. The other four fishermen in the boat gave us angry glances but went right on fishing. Business as usual.

After this, we had a long stretch of wilderness. The tide was falling, which meant the current was sometimes with us and sometimes against us. The NJ ICW channel snakes around through wetlands & shallow sounds, behind the heavily developed barrier islands. But often the high rise condos & summer rental McMansions were out of sight and certainly out of mind. A pleasant way to travel, and we even got some friendly waves from other boaters.

Running aground: not a big deal for us, usually. The Winnie W is built to travel on thin water, with 3 ½ foot draft & a fully protected propeller. We like to explore and we often bump a few times trying to see if we can get into little creeks & backwaters. One wouldn’t really think of the NJ-ICW as a “backwater” but we got slightly stuck a few times in Grassy Sound (just west of North Wildwood). A short time later, with an ebb current pushing us the wrong way, we got stuck hard aground where the Hereford Inlet sea channel meets the ICW behind Stone Harbor. The bottom must have been hard sand, and we hit with a solid ‘thump’ that stopped the boat short. Fortunately my policy is to run at idle any time we are in uncertain waters, and in fact I had been backing against the current just moments before. The shape of the sandbar & the current kept us pinned there and we needed to take extra measures if we didn’t want to spend the night.

The photo at right shows the spot this happened- if you've heard the rule "red right returning" that is nice & simple. but in this case the sea channel is to the left in the photo... the proper course is to make an "S" turn around the far side of the red marker (nun bouy #124) then left to right between the red & green.

We lowered the dinghy and prepared to kedge off. This means taking an anchor out into deeper water and using it to heave a boat off the shoal. Kathie was helping me lower the anchor into the stern of our dinghy so I could row it to the far side of the channel when two fishermen in a boat named the ‘Dennisville Princess’ came along. The captain stopped and pointed out where we had gone wrong, which I appreciated so that we weren’t doomed to get stuck a second time in the same spot. Seeing that we were about to kedge the boat off, he offered to take our anchor slightly upstream & across the channel for us. We quickly agreed and it took them very little time to drop the anchor in the perfect spot for us. We took a strain on the anchor rode, and our bow swung towards deep water. A little more winching and we were again floating free!

You can see shallow water doesn't bother Hank.

A few hours later, with the tide even lower, we were passing through a marshy estuary named Great Sound. No joke, the soundings on the chart are all less than 2, doesn’t sound so “great” to me! There was a straight line of channel markers but only a hint of an actual channel. We dragged our keel in the mud several times. Once during this passage, I actually left the boat stopped in the mud and rowed around in the dinghy, probing with a boat hook to find the deepest water so we could figure out where to go next! A greater misfortune befell two speedboats who got solidly stuck near us along this stretch (oddly enough, this happened as they zipped around us, steering *outside the channel* that we were stuck in!). Remembering the heroes of the ‘Dennisville Princess,’ we tried to pull one of them off but could not budge them. The people thanked us for our attempt and said they’d just wait for the tide to come back in.

And the tide did come back in, as it always does. As the water deepened, we relaxed and enjoyed our trip. We even got up to cruising speed again. The channel twisted & turned around the Great Egg estuary, with wide-open marshes and egrets stalking their lunches. Because we are in such close accord with nature, we had lunch ourselves and then set dinner to work in the crock pot.

The next section took us thru Ocean City. After our architectural tour at Cape May, we entertained each other by observing the different styles of the summer houses. Often the older, modest houses had the nicest docks & boats. In any event it was possible to see that the area had gone through several stages of development in different eras, from the fishing shacks of the 1930s to the summer cottages of the 1950s, side by side with the palatial rental units of the yuppie era.

Towards evening we anchored for the night in a natural basin just west of Ventnor City. During all these groundings and waiting for bridge openings, the pork roast simmering kept us cheerful with a promising aroma. Now we were finally ready to stop and relax. Dinner was as delicious we’d hoped! Now for a good night’s sleep, then more cruising tomorrow! The weather forecast is for calm seas in the Atlantic Ocean, so we will continue towards New York via the “outside route.” We’ve sampled the New Jersey ICW and this will give us more time with friends and family in the New York area and on the Erie Canal. This will also give us a reason to come back: to visit the shore areas that we couldn’t see this time!

Best wishes, Doug and Kathie

(last photo: 9th St Bridge at Great Egg Harbor, Ocean City)

Visiting Historic Cape May

Visiting Cape May by boat
May 27, Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
(written mostly by Doug)

Several nice things about traveling by boat: no waking up in strange hotel rooms, you don’t have to pack up your suitcase every morning, and when you arrive in a new town it shows you a completely different face than it shows the highway. We parked the Winnie W. alongside a dock right at the edge of the city, and it was a short bike ride into the historic town.

We spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday in Cape May, bicycling around the historic district when we arrived, and the next day toured the historic district by trolley, with a stop at the Physick House which is an interesting story and a good example of the Victorian homes popular in Cape May. We also bicycled to the Cape May lighthouse, which had excellent exhibits about area wildlife. Speaking of wildlife, Hank was happy to go ashore and run on solid land!

Cape May is the oldest seaside resort in the US; the upper crust were building summer “cottages” there in the early 1800s. You can see many different types of classic architecture although the Victorians get the most attention. The house in the photo was built in 1881. We took a trolley ride around town learning about Italianate cupolas and Queen Anne columns, then took a break for fudge & ice cream.

To burn some calories we rode our bikes out to the lighthouse (about 3 miles, not exactly Ironman competition). There is a large nature preserve & sanctuary, along with more historical exhibits about the Indians, whaling, and shipwrecks. The remains of a large wartime bunker & artillery battery can be seen. During World War 1 & 2, there were several sinkings by U-boats right off the Cape; and at the end of WW2 a U-boat captain surrendered by radio then came here.

Altogether this was a great stop.

Doug & Kathie

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A matter of perspective

Calm & foggy on the Delaware Bay [written mostly by Doug]

May 26th, Saturday of Memorial Day weekend: we departed the Chesapeake City basin at 6:55am to catch the tide. We have a light westerly wind, as forecast (see, those guys aren’t always wrong!). The tide is ebbing so the current is with us… a good thing, the water moves fast up & down the Delaware Bay. At times our speed towards the next mark is over nine knots… a nice boost from our usual seven knots.

There are clusters of fishermen in outboards, anchored or drifting; most of them would consider nine knots to be painfully slow. Their motive is to hurry up & get there so they can spend their time sitting, looking at their lines in the water. It's a matter of perspective.

We have seen some big ships coming up the channel, the photos show a Dutch ro-ro (a roll-on, roll-off cargo ship equipped with gates & ramps to drive trucks aboard) at the eastern end of the C&D Canal. The small boat in the first photo is a sportfisherman about 50' long. The second photo of the same ship shows it going under the highway bridge, which is 136' high.

Most people never think about the tremendous tonnage that is moved every day so that we can live the way we do. We all see 18-wheeler trucks on the roads & highways, but we don’t see ship traffic in the sea lanes & harbors. Traveling by water gives you an up-close perspective on these heavy haulers at work. Just like us, they have to thread their way through the clusters of fishermen, and it's a lot more difficult & dangerous for them than for us. Those big ships don't exactly turn on a dime.

The channel has numerous markers, red on one side & green on the other. On a foggy day like this, it's difficult to see them and even more difficult to distinguish their size & color. We have a radar set which works well, set for a range of six miles. This gives us a view of both shorelines in the upper Delaware, and will give about a ten minute warning of a big ship approaching up the channel. It is not so good for spotting markers because you can't tell whether a dot on the screen is a marker or a fishing boat. Sometimes, studying the chart will tell whether a channel mark *should* be in a given spot, and it's nice to see that there is a glowing radar dot there..... usually a whole cluster of dots. But it will not tell the mark's color. Some of the channel marks are easier to see & show up large & bright on radar, because they are lighthouses. The photo is Ship John Shoal marker about halfway down the Delaware Bay.

It’s true that America’s rivers, harbors, & waterways are an important economic asset. This is a basic lesson from our history, for example the Boston Tea Party…. but it is just as basic & important today, with millions of tons being delivered every year. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to visit the museum at Chesapeake City (arrived as it closed and it's closed on the weekends), but I can relay a little the history of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. If you want to read more about it, and see some pictures, here is a good resource:


Since New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore were all major ports very early in colonial times, there was considerable rivalry and also considerable traffic between them. To sail from Boston to New York required going around Cape Cod, to reach Philly from either meant braving the currents & shoals of Cape May, and to reach Baltimore required sailing around the whole DelMarVa peninsula. This meant delay as well as risking difficult navigation and exposure to storms… and in wartime, exposure to enemy vessels ranging from privateers to U-boats. Canals offered shortcuts for all these routes, an obvious advantage. George Washington and Ben Franklin were among early promoters of canals.

In the early 1800s, a canal was begun near the present C&D but excavation was too expensive. A canal was completed connecting the Susquehanna & Schuylkill Rivers so boats could move from the Chesapeake to Philadelphia and thus into the Delaware River, but this was a long and slow route. In 1829 the C&D Canal opened on its present route, mostly funded as an effort between the several neighboring states along with the federal government. There were several locks, which limited the size of vessel which could pass through the canal and required water upstream of the locks. Work continued to enlarge the canal & eliminate the locks, along with adding a steam pump to supplement water for lock operation thru dry seasons. In the late 1800s over a million of tons of cargo per year moved through this canal hauled by mules walking along the bank with towropes attached to their harnesses.

We’ll look at more canal history later, but right now that’s probably enough. As I type this, Kathie is piloting the Winnie W toward the entrance to the safe harbor at Cape May, at the southern tip of New Jersey. It’s less than 12 miles away and will complete a voyage of slightly over 60 miles along the canal, under bridges, past barges & ships & fishermen, over the fortunately calm waters of Delaware Bay. I feel very lucky to be able to see all this from such a safe & comfortable vantage, and have tried to share this perspective with you all.

For members of the Hank fan club, the photo at right shows how he spent much of the day contributing to our progress.

Doug & Kathie

Friday, May 25, 2007

Yep, it's getting hot!

Since our last writing, we came from the West River near Galesville (south of where this map starts) to the Rocky River and then Fairlee Creek yesterday, and today to the C&D Canal (take a look at the container ship in the upper Chesapeake!).

Now we’re in the Anchorage Basin at Chesapeake City (MD) on the C&D (Chesapeake and Delaware) Canal, and there’s plenty of traffic on Memorial Day weekend. The Basin at suppertime is pretty quiet so far, with 8 cruising sailboats and 5 trawlers, and a few go-fast boats anchored and more arriving; it’s the area west of us around the free docks and the marina that has music and boats with loud engines buzzing around, hopefully quieting down later tonight. But in an area known for revelry, possibly not! It is good prep for what it may be like traveling on the water on weekends in heavily populated areas. Although I’m (Kathie) not usually a fan of outdoor music in marina areas, it’s pleasant to watch the scene and hear the goings-on from our aft deck (back porch).

Suddenly, it’s gotten warm. We’ve taken four week-long trips on the Chesapeake in past years with our friends Dave and Sandi, when we had our trailerable Hunter 19 and they had their MacGregor 26; at this time of year, the temperatures have ranged the 50s to the 90s. Thankfully we’re heading north!

Yesterday (5/24) our niece Annie met us at the Maryland Yacht Club on the Rocky River just off the Patapsco River that leads to Baltimore; trying to make time, we couldn’t go all the way into Baltimore and she was kind enough to drive down. On 5/23 I had reviewed cruising guides and figured out where we could tie off the boat, within reasonable driving distance for Annie; we received gracious permission to tie up at the Maryland Yacht Club.

While waiting at MYC for Annie who was stuck in traffic, we had a great visit with Mike P, MYC Rear Commodore, who had tips about Baltimore plus local knowledge (non-boaters: info about water conditions, especially obstructions and other troublesome issues like currents), and news of the 99th Opening of MYC and 60th Queen of the Chesapeake coronation on the first weekend in June. We’d love to come back for those events at MYC in another year!

We had lunch with Annie on the Winnie W and heard about her family’s trip to Peru (*hiking* at altitude; the ladies trained to do this), and of course, talked about music and life in general. She has a summer job at a sushi and fish restaurant, and was kind to compliment me on my tuna macaroni salad (talk about taking coals to Newcastle). Wouldn’t it be great to know how to make sushi! She is a rising senior in conservatory, and shows every indication of a great career with wind instruments, especially clarinet.

We then (still 5/24) crossed to the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay to visit our friends Gaye and Denny (see photo) at their Bay house just off Fairlee Creek near Chestertown. We met in the British Virgin Islands several years ago, and although we’ve seen each other in various places, hadn’t been able to coordinate a visit with Winnie. Plus, we’d never been to their Bay house, which is as much “home” to their entire family as the homestead where Abby and Nathan were raised; it’s a terrific place, wish we could’ve stayed longer.

Today (5/25), we walked from the marina to their house which is in a rural area with fields and dirt roads. Hank had a great time; he has a great talent for living in the moment. We went shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables and milk, plus some staples and hardware items. We’re not in danger of running out, just replenishing my system of ship’s stores and Doug is refining the dinghy hoist. Plus I am evolving a laundry system and other household maintenance. It’s fun but all this does keep me surprisingly busy. I even got both the boat and Hank washed while we were in the marina.

This afternoon we came up the Chesapeake to the Elk River and the C&D Canal, hoping to find a space at the free docks at Chesapeake City. There was one possibility of “rafting up” (two boats tied side-by-side) which didn’t work out, but now listening to the volume of boat motors and music coming from that direction, we are glad to be anchored in this cluster of boats in the Basin.

So tomorrow morning we will complete our transit of the C&D canal and then continue to the Delaware Bay very early, to take advantage of a favorable current going down the Delaware Bay. Plus we are supposed to have winds from the west with calm seas so if luck holds, we’ll have a smooth trip. It will feel good to get this big body of water behind us. And starting with the Jersey shore, we’ll slow down and smell the roses. We’ll keep you posted- thanks for following our blog!

Kathie and Doug

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Heading north through the Chesapeake Bay

Yesterday (5/22) we traveled from Great Bridge VA to Fishing Bay just south of Deltaville VA, approximately a 60 mile day (remember: 7mph), plus some time spent with mechanical issues. The day started with a hustle!

On 5/21 we’d arrived late to Great Bridge VA, a few miles south of Norfolk. We stayed at a free dock just below a bridge that had restrictions (i.e., stays closed) during commuting hours (7-9am), with a single hourly opening at 6am that would enable us to transit the Great Bridge lock early; we’d get a good start and would start up the Bay during the usually calmer morning seas, before the afternoon sea breeze kicks up the wave action. Doug had his phone alarm set for 5:40am- didn’t go off. So, when I woke up at 5:54am, we rushed to get the engine checks done (2 minutes, everything OK!), engine started, lines off, and maneuver behind the single boat lined up to go through on the 6am bridge opening.

We headed out behind this boat which had positioned itself with its stern just ahead and to port (left) of where we’d spent the night, so we had to move into the channel to be able to make the bridge opening. When the bridge opened- a barge was on the other side! Heard a loud honk- but the barge wasn’t honking at us, it was honking at guys in rowing shells, right in the middle of the channel in front of the barge. The bow thruster that Doug installed last year paid for itself, as we spun around to avoid these various obstructions while not missing the bridge opening.

So, by 8:15am, we’d gone through a bridge, transited a lock, neatened up the lines (straightened and tied to the superstructure above the aft cabin) and fenders (hung neatly, tied to the same superstructure), had breakfast and cleaned up, picked up our bedding, and were calling friends in Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Norfolk is the second largest harbor in the world (photos are at the Gilmerton Bridge). It’s always interesting to watch the military and commercial traffic; on the radio, we could hear someone directing traffic away from a commercial diving project in the channel. Doug noticed that the engine temperature was 200 (usually 188-192 underway), so we ducked into the Lafayette River in Norfolk and anchored while Doug explored the possibilities. I was worried that it was that pesky lift pump; I’d just made arrangements to have the part shipped to my brother where we’ll see him next week. Sea-water strainer: some gunk but not enough to obstruct flow to cause the overheating. Impeller: a chunk was off one of the blades, and the good news was: it was easy to retrieve the chunk; I’ve learned from Doug that it’s bad when chunks are missing and obstruct flow of cooling water. 90 minutes after the start of all this, we resumed course.

We left the shelter of the Norfolk harbor for the Bay. Seas were confused but when we got beyond the harbor entrance with tidal and other currents, it wasn’t as bad as when we crossed the Albemarle Sound. We discussed continuing vs. turning back, whether the seas would build, and where we could duck in if this happened. We continued, and except for intermittent wakes from speedboats, the Bay was reasonably calm.

During an episode of bouncing, the engine lost rpms from 1500 to 1400, the symptom we’d had this spring before the lift pump quit last week. There is a common cause (the lift pump being more exotic) of this problem: bouncing stirs up fuel and grunge clogs the fuel filters. Doug made a cool two-filter assembly a couple of years ago, and he turned the valve to direct fuel through the other filter, and the engine resumed usual operation, hooray! Because this assembly is installed just below the entry hatch to the engine room from the aft cabin, he changed the fuel filter that was clogged, in case it happened again.

We proceeded to Fishing Bay just south of Deltaville without further incident. It was light enough when we arrived that we could test the hoist to lift the dinghy from atop the aft deck cover to the water, and Doug rowed around the anchorage looking at other boats.

Today (5/23) our goal is to anchor out near Mayo MD on the Rhode River or Galesville on the West River, about 10 miles south of Annapolis on the western shore of the Chesapeake. It’s been a pleasure to travel in the Winnie W, and we’re pleased with her stowage and accommodations. We are looking forward to transiting more slowly when we are north of the Chesapeake, in areas that we are less likely to visit again.

Best wishes to all, Kathie and Doug

Monday, May 21, 2007

Across Albemarle Sound, a big step

The day starts early on the waterway. There were three sailboats nearby. We had the engine started and were pulling up the anchor before 7am, still we were not the first boat out of the anchorage (and another trawler left just before we did). We were well rested, especially Hank who slept soundly on his bed which yesterday Pamela brought to us from our home.

After that, we had a long stretch of straight canal, bordered by tangled swampy wilderness. Traffic was occasionally a problem, as much bigger & faster boats are not always careful with their wakes. We talked on ham & VHF radios with fellow cruisers. There is also cell phone coverage much of the way. So the time went by as we ventured out of the Alligator-Pungo Canal into the Alligator River, which was glassy calm. It's also a long river, and it was noon as we approached the Highway 64 bridge. The wind was starting to build.

The bridgekeeper opened promptly for us, wishing us a good journey. We needed the luck, as the wind continued to strengthen as we zig-zagged out the channel of the mouth of the Alligator River (which is guarded by serious shoals) into the open Albemarle Sound.

Photos of rough seas usually do little to capture their size & power. Despite that, here is a dashboard view:

By now the wind was 25 knots out of the North-East. Waves were rolling along; fortunately our course took us almost straight into the seas instead of taking us on the beam. I realized at once we would have to slow down, as the bow dropped behind the crest of the first big wave and a waterfall burst over our windshield. Reducing RPMs so that the boat was averaging about 4 1/2 knots instead of our usual 7, the hull was not slamming but the motion was not pleasant. It's that 'elevator dropping from under your feet' feeling every few seconds, followed by bracing yourself against the surge. It was tiring, too.

Fortunately we only had to go about 12 miles until we'd be in the sheltered entrance of the North River, leading up to Coinjock. So all hands, including Hank, got a grip and waited for calmer water.

The North River is very pretty, bordered with marshes, wetland forest, cypress, and of course lots of wildlife. The photo is taken at the end of the river & the beginning of a short canal at Coinjock, where there is also a highway bridge taking thousands of vacationers to North Carolina's Outer Banks. This canal connects to the upper Currituck Sound, which is being developed rapidly. Here marshes & cypress give way to condos & McMansions.

The final part of our day's voyage took us into another canal leading to Norfolk, where we again had to open several low bridges... like the meeting of separate worlds, where commuters in their cars see us splashing along and we see them hurrying to the next stoplight.

As I'm typing this, Kathie is piloting the boat along the canal, as we still have some miles to go to the Great Bridge lock just south of Norfolk. We plan to tie up to the wharf just above (before) the lock, so we can make tomorrow's first opening and start putting more miles behind us.

Best wishes to all,
Doug & Kathie

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Where are we now?

Tonight we are anchored in the upper Pungo River, just above where the IntraCoastal Waterway begins to follow a canal eastward to connect to the Alligator River. On a road map, this is about 7 or 8 miles east of the town of Belhaven.

What a great day!

Today was just unbelievable (Kathie speaking). A terrific day, and it’s not over yet!

This morning, we went from Lower Broad Creek to Hobucken (distance about 15 miles around Maw Point) to meet our friend Pamela who was bringing Hank’s dog bed (how could we forget his bed? we have everything from paperwork to toys to food and medical supplies for the pooch). The journey that took us 4 hours yesterday plus 2.5 hours today was about 40 minutes driving time for her (one way) to meet us at the old crab house dock in Hobucken, along the Intracoastal Waterway… our cruising speed is about 7mph. Even with only a light morning northwesterly wind, the boat was rolling at Maw Point, salt water was splashing up to the windshield, and Hank didn’t like it a bit.

Doug pulled up the anchor, we navigated out into the Neuse River, and turned on the SSB radio. This winter we obtained ham radio licenses so we could participate in the Cruisers’ Nets, and hear the cruising scuttlebutt, weather etc. We fumbled a bit in selecting the correct station at 7:45am for the “Water Way Radio Cruising Club,” but are enjoying the ham radio on board! The moderator asked for newbies, and Doug chatted and reported our position, and then “met” a ham friend of Doug’s dad, who is a long-time ham.

We arrived at Hobucken at about 9:30am and enjoyed the beautiful day while we waited for Pamela; we watched the various boats go by, finished organizing our storage, and Doug biked around the area. Several boats had AGLCA burgees flying, which made us feel that we aren’t *so* far behind the folks proceeding in this year’s seasonal counter-clockwise rotation! We hope to be in Lake Ontario the first week in June where our cousins Bob and Sue will join us when they start the Loop; it has been so helpful to talk with them about planning this adventure!

Pamela, Hank’s godmother, arrived with Hank’s bed and sundries that will make us more comfortable. It’s been so warm recently that we just weren’t thinking about warm shirts etc, and her arrival with the bed, clothes, and odds and ends (including a metal hoist for our dinghy from our boat storage room) was a life-saver! We had a relaxed visit and lunch.

Hank has adapted successfully as the attached photos show, enjoying the view from the Winnie and relaxing both inside and outside, plus, learning to “do his thing” on the boat (we have a litter box with grass for encouragement).

So, we are proceeding up the Pungo River, expect to anchor here overnight, and continue our journey north tomorrow. We hope that you are well and happy! Kathie and Doug

PS: Doug would like to report that we saw dolphins yesterday on the Neuse River!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Our First Days Journey

Doesn't look like much, does it? Oh well we got a late start.
Follow the pink line from Northwest Creek (unlabelled) and Broad Creek near New Bern, down the Neuse River, to Lower Broad Creek near the mouth of the Neuse River. Tomorrow we plan to go around Maw Point, up the Goose Creek Cut and across the Pamlico River.

Now we are on the way!

This morning we spent some time thrashing around trying to figure out what paperwork we should bring along to try and "catch up." At first we were going to bring several briefcases worth, in the end we decided to only bring a few folders. Then it was time to clean up the house. That took up a lot of time too, but we certainly don't want to come home to a mess. And there's no way we're leaving the place like *this* for strangers to see if, you know, something should happen.

So at a little after 4pm, the engine was cranked up and we untied the docklines. Our good friend John was there to see us off. Perfect timing! John took a picture as we pulled out, and gave us his wishes for a bon voyage. About halfway out of the slip, I called back "We're having a GREAT trip so far!" We also called out farewells to several of our marina neighbors. Vinnie the wise guy hollered to us "Write if you find work!"

After several hours run down the Neuse River, we rounded Minnesott Pt. The autopilot was steering us well, although it had a slight tendency to yaw in the westerly chop. Hank settled in like home & fetched a favorite toy for me to play tug-o-war with him. Checking carefully on the chart & almanac, we realized that we could not pass out of the Neuse River until after dark. So, at the last anchorage before Maw Point, we pulled in for the night. The picture is of Hank supervising our navigation into the creek.

Here we are, securely anchored in Lower Broad Creek. We had a quick bite to eat and Kathie popped a bottle of champagne, gift from Pamela & Alex. Thanks! We are really loving our first day of the Great Loop!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

All Systems "GO" again

Back when we were young(er) and space launches were big news, most of the nation would eagerly watch the countdown on TV as the astronauts climbed in, the rocket was pumped up, and everything that could be monitored was being checked out by Mission Control. Every minute or so as the lift-off (hopefully) approached, a grave voice would announce "All Systems Are GO."

So you kids who never watched a live Gemini or Apollo launch, that's where this common phrase came from.

If a problem was detected, of course the voice never announced that all systems were STOP but we didn't need to hear that part.

After Tuesday's engine failure, our Great Loop was definitely a stop, or at least a "not going for a while." After what seemed like a million tries to find a stoppage in the fuel system or a problem with the lift pump, all systems are once again GO. We took a brief run out on the Neuse River, taking the engine up to higher power than we normally cruise at.... WOW eight knots is a rush! Still had a minor fluctuation at high RPMs which could be explained by many things, but at normal cruising RPM the engine seems to be running perfectly. I hope that the little happy-face picture doesn't jinx us.... too bad....

Last night we loaded on about a ton (literally!) of food, most of our other stores are aboard already. We still have some household chores ashore, and a few more things to load & stow. But we are getting pretty close to untying the lines.

This last picture is what the boat looks like when running... hopefully a view that will be common in the near future!

Doug & Kathie

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It's that 3 step forward, 2 step back thing

Major setback- engine died!

To make a long story short, we took a couple of friends out for a brief ride on the river. It was windy, but clear, after a long days work for everybody. Great way to relax! I offered one of our friends the helm, and he drove us around the open Neuse while we watched the sun set.

The engine gave no indication of impending trouble. Suddenly it hesitated. I moved toward the helm station and leaned over to see the guages, and for a moment the enginge resumed power. Then the RPMs began dropping, and in a few seconds- total shut down. Nor would it restart, although it sounded like it was about to catch. But it was no go... fortunately we were not very far from our marina, probably less than two miles from our slip & less than one mile from the channel.

"OK, folks, this has never happened before." I said. "But it shouldn't be a big problem." The engine room hatch was opened, I climbed down there to check things out. The only things a good diesel needs are air & fuel. It didn't seem likely there was anything wrong with the air, so I started checking out the fuel system. Valves aligned correctly, filters clear.... hmmm....

I had some help working on the fuel system... OK I was distracted by trying to get a tow, so Benny did a lot of the work himself. By massaging the priming lever on the engine-mounted fuel lift pump, Benny got the engine to start & idle for about 15 minutes. Enough to get us a lot closer to home, but we were still outside the channel into our creek. {double click to see our fuel system diagram in full size!}

I got cheerful word that help was on the way, thanks to Fairfield Harbor Yacht Club's marine assistance committee. I divided my time between cell phone, engine room, and radio; a lot of climbing back & forth. Fortunately our other guests were cruisers, so they not only understood but offered sympathy & encouragement. Bob & Julie also helped with the anchor & relaying messages. Not everybody is such a good sport about having a short boat ride turn into an endurance contest.

I spoke with Pete C, a past Commodore of the Fairfield Harbor Yacht Club, and he brought his 24' Parker out in a building choppy sea to pull us in. It was after dark as we saw his lights approaching, and Pete & his friend R.T. took our line aboard and made it fast to a yoke across their transom. The weather was deteriorating, and I had been so distracted by other things that I did not realize how windy & choppy it was until I watched Pete skillfully maneuvering close alongside while both boats were rolling & bouncing almost out of the water.

We owe Pete a tremendous 'Thank You' and a vote of great confidence in his seamanship.

That was last night. Today I spent slithering around the engine, in the bilges, and again on the phone to various diesel experts to diagnose & fix our problem. I have not started the engine yet but I have gotten the fuel system reassembled & primed. Now to get cleaned up (does this computer really have a faint scent of diesel fuel) and a good nights sleep.

Doug & Kathie

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Loopers, Discussion lists, Blog miscellany

Since we are still 3-5 days of prep time away from leaving the dock, I (Kathie) will fill in a few details about the trip, the prep, and the lifestyle for our ‘non-Loopy’ friends. At the end I’ll comment on some of the comments (all welcomed!).
The aft deck cover is in final stages and as soon as the fiberglass dust is removed from the aft cabin, we will load and leave, say, May 15; see the attached photo of the aft cabin configured as Doug’s workshop. The number of tasks to be accomplished, and the time and energy involved in choosing and assembling adequate stock for the boat (we will be in the US and Canada after all) has been astonishing. Our more seasoned friends who cruise seem to think that we are proceeding with dispatch!
The Great Loop folks (“Loopers”) include several hundred people each year who travel the Great Circle route in one of its various formulations; for example, we plan to go up the Hudson and use the Erie Canal to go to Oswego NY, then Lake Ontario and to the Trent Severn Waterway to cross Canada to Lake Huron; others may choose to go the full length of the Erie Canal to Lake Erie and then via Detroit to Lake Michigan. The Skipper Bob website and the Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (AGLCA; see links on this blog) provide excellent information about the routes and other issues.
Most people do the Loop in trawlers (read: slow but comfortable powerboats), while some may travel in go-fast powerboats or sailboats. People have even done the Loop on jet-skis, canoes, or other less likely vessels.
We read the Trawlers and Trawlering and the Great Loop discussion lists (both through the “samurai” group of websites; see links on this blog). Doug also participates in sailboat discussion lists. Also, I just subscribed to an AGLCA “real-time” discussion list which posts up-to-the-minute information about fuel prices, marinas and other facilities in specific locations, boats for sale, maintenance issues, and weather reports, including conditions in various places (Oriental NC downtown was flooded this week) and suggestions about how to weather ongoing storms. This is a friendly, helpful, and vocal group; the latest post is labeled “AGLCA-2007:3761,” which means as of May 10 (day 130 of 2007) there have been 3761 posts, or 20-40 a day. In mid-April we attended the AGLCA “Spring Rendezvous” which is a forum for meeting fellow travelers and hearing about upcoming areas that we will transit, and it is fun to recognize some of the posters on this discussion list!
Answers to comments and questions:
We will follow the Great Loop in the traditional counterclockwise fashion which takes advantage of the current flow in inland US rivers (Illinois, Mississippi, and Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterways); in a different example, boats usually go clockwise to complete the “Little Loop” (Erie and Oswego Canals to Lake Ontario and St. Laurence Seaway; then the Richelieu Canal to Lake Champlain and Canal) because of the current flow in the St. Laurence Seaway.
We will avoid wintering in the Great Lakes and hurricane season in the south, especially Florida. Our year is anchored by the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association Rendezvous (Charleston in April; Pentanguishine, Canada, in July, and Rogersville, Alabama in October), and other timing is determined by places we want to see, friends we want to visit, and other people we hope to meet along the way.
We don’t plan to spend time in Long Island or New England this year, because if we don’t get through Canada and the Great Lakes by shortly after Labor Day, we must store the boat for the winter and resume the Loop next year. In future years, we anticipate months-long trips to the northeast and also the Chesapeake in future years.
Technical issues: Several people have told us that they have had trouble posting comments to the blog. We have not fully mastered the capabilities of this weblog but are pleased with what this site can potentially offer. A more computer-savvy friend is working on straightforward directions for non-geeks like me, which I will post when I receive them. Thanks for visiting our blog!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Nothing in all the world

Nothing in all the world.... is half as much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Well for the last week or so we have been messing about in, on, with, near, and everything but underneath, the boat. A lot of little things, gathering supplies & choosing minor equipment, running a thousand errands... all this has to be done while keeping the household in some kind of order, of course. The trains run on time and we sit down to a nice dinner every evening, no matter what crises threaten to derail our day. After all, one must maintain one's standards or there is simply no meaning at all to life.

This job of building a hard top has (like all boat projects) stretched out to take up much more time than originally intended. Part of that is the difficulty in trying to work outdoors in a 40 mph wind... imagine laminating fiberglass while it is trying to fly up in your face, and you cannot put anything down for a second or it scoots enthusiastically off the edge into the water. The whole thing is a Zen Master lesson in patience.

A brief word on the three pictures, all of which were taken by Kathie- the 1st (upper) photo shows our boat in it's slip with the aft deck hard top in place, fiberglassing work in progress. The stainless steel frame, posts & braces, were installed by a previous owner and had a canvas top. The framing was wrapped in plastic & painter's tape to keep it from getting speckled with resin & scraps of cloth. The 2nd (middle) photo is the view from the cabin roof looking down towards the aft deck, with almost-completely fiberglassed hard top in place. You can see the square hatch for climbing to the upper deck. In the last photo, we see the next-to-last bit of fiberglassing being done by Doug (me) and our boat neighbor John, who was a great help. He claims he learned something in the process and his wife Terry says she thinks he can now build a hard top for their boat!

It seems this pile of foam core, funny cloth, & resin is claiming all our labors, but we are making steps towards actually leaving! Remember the goal has been to actually go on this Great Loop cruise, and to do so rather soon. For example, one thing I like to have is plenty of navigational information... a pilot book on the harbors, tide & current tables, stuff that isn't printed on the charts... so a minor errand has been to buy an up-to-date copy of Reed's Almanac. I threw away my old copy to save the embarrassment of letting people see how long it's been since we used an almanac. We ordered a large stack of charts & chartbooks covering almost all the journey, which have to come from different sources because the inland river channels are charted by the Army Corps of Engineers and the coasts are charted by NOAA or DMA. We have yet to figure out a way to stow this 100+ pounds of paper. And yes I do have charts & navigating software on the computer but if you can't do it the old fashioned way then you can't prove you really know how... plus paper charts are more fun.

This bitter nor'easter (on the satellite photos it looks like a hurricane!) is blowing itself out, cruisers up & down the East Coast are hunkered down safely in anchorages & marina slips, an adventure in itself. This is really "messing about in boats" on a grand scale.

Doug & Kathie