Sunday, June 29, 2014, Atlantic City: On a falling tide we make our way out of Utsch’s into the Cape May Canal and harbor bound for Atlantic City. We were sorry we didn’t make AC our destination the previous day as it is only 37 miles from the Atlantic end of the Cape May Canal. Once out of the shallows we encounter the hordes of fishermen speeding out for the catch of the day. The Ocean was calm and less than 90 minutes later we are turning into Absecon Inlet with the Farley State Marina at the Golden Nugget Casino in view.
The Golden Nugget is hopping but the marina is well kept and serviced. MarinaLife gives us a nice discount and we have the run of the hotel and casino. We were planning only an overnight here but we got the two-step from Liberty Landing in Jersey City. They failed to tell us that they were booked and couldn’t take us for the week. We had the choice of going directly to Port Washington or staying here for the week. We are staying in AC for the week then to PW and to destinations on Long Island Sound. Maybe we’ll catch the Big Apple on the way back but we want to be in Newport, RI, for July 10 to meet son Judah.
Saturday, June 28, 2014, Cape May, NJ: Once again, the water was flat all the way, even Delaware Bay. No shortage of yahoos on America’s boating day. We suffered a brief but unpleasant encounter with a commercial party barge. From 200 yards to starboard the captain decides to cross ahead of us at about seven knots as opposed to our 22—no sounds, no radio hail, nothing. “I’m goin’ and I’m commercial so get out of my way.” We skid to a stop in plenty of time but he is on deck shooting down all the birds. The pity is, had we been unfortunate he had made us the burdened boat!
Utsch’s at Cape May proved to be a big disappointment and not a repeat. Hurricane Sandy was unkind to the marina, which had all the appearances of being long in the tooth for the last few decades anyway. Our bow bumped bottom at low tide during the night, the shore water was foul, the electricity finicky, and the entrance shoaled in. Not a repeat. I don’t know why Active Captain lists the place as a top choice. We have stayed at the others in the same area. They are definitely nicer, especially Canyon Club. I posted Active Captain and didn’t I get a call from Utsch’s apologizing. They will try to make the marina better. As an inducement to return the offered us a refund for the night.
zlzWe met the crew of Corryanne, an oceangoing sailing yacht next to us. The couple had been in Utsch’s before and agreed that they would choose elsewhere next time. They are old salts and anyone could tell they had been around. The other crew was John and Amy Hanzl who had just picked up a slightly used Sabre 38 in Jupiter, FL, and were pushing it home to Providence, RI. They weren’t happy with Utsch’s either.
Friday, June 27, 2014, St. Michael’s, MD: We depart Onancock for the 100-mile run up to St, Michael’s, MD. I gave up on NOAA and used a commercial weather map service plus an eye on the sky. The morning dawned crystal clear and cool and not a breath of wind. Out on the bay the water was flat. Once out of the flats we put the pedal down and flew to our destination in four hours. St. Michael’s Marina was hopping. We left the boat at 12:45 to walk the town, pretty, colorful, and well kept. We had lunch at the C-Street Pub—pleasant and adequate tuna wraps. The marina was jammed when we returned and promised to be that way all weekend. We decide to head to Cape May, NJ, about 140 miles distant the next morning as long as the weather was cooperating.
Thursday, June 26, 2014, Onancock, VA: We say good-bye to Judy and Mike and make loose plans to meet on our way back south. The weather is fine and calm. NOAA tells us the bay is quiet, too. We head out of Lynnhaven and set Captain-Pilot Blackthorne on a course for Onancock on the eastern shore. We take the direct route across the bridge-tunnel into the bay proper. As we travel north the bay gets rougher and rougher in a freshening northeast wind and incoming tide. Before long we are slamming into steep fours and fives, luckily on the nose. Onancock is only 50 miles distant and we make for the creek leading into the town. The channel is well marked but there are shifting shoals to get through. Once in the water is flat for five miles.
We tie up by 12:30 and bolt to the local pub 200 feet away to watch USA play Germany in the World Cup soccer matches and dine on fish and chips washed down with a cold beer. Ain’t much to Onancock! Scott, the dockmaster of the small marina, is a pleasant and helpful young man. It turns out that we dined at one of the two restaurants in town!
It takes about 15 minutes to walk Onancock. Nothing doing!
Tuesday and Wednesday in Virginia Beach: We do housekeeping chores and play with friends Judy and Mike. At the Cavalier Golf and Yacht Club we have the run of the club, a beautiful facility on a saltwater lagoon connected to the Chesapeake at Lynnhaven Inlet and well sheltered from every quadrant. Mike’s diver, Rob Rice, pulled the props within moments of our tying up in Mike’s slip. One slightly bent blade on the starboard aft prop! That must have smacked a piece of debris when Albemarle Sound kicked us around. Lots of stuff floated in the sound—construction debris, two by fours, deadhead logs, and stumps. We never heard or felt the boat hitting anything but then we were riding through tall steep surf.
The girls go shopping for the Hechtkopf son’s wedding on September 1. The boys boat shop and I go back to cleaning up from days on the water. Later, I practice a little medicine for Rob, the diver. The Coasties have mandated that he carry a huge inventory of emergency supplies. I teach him how to resuscitate, take blood pressure, administer CPR. I suggest a portable defibrillator because he has all the airway stuff he needs. He needs a jar of meat tenderizer for the jelly stings since the Chesapeake is full of jellies. We take Judy and Mike to supper at a tasty Italian restaurant in Virginia Beach, Il Giardino.
On Wednesday Mike takes me down to Chesapeake, VA, to fetch the newly minted props at Bay Propeller. Max Allen, the owner, knows Nelson Durant, the prop guy who does the tuning for me in Charleston. Max is a jolly fellow and expect to get hosed but he says only the one prop was bent and he charged me for that and balanced the other three. Rob meets me back at Sequel where he remounts the props. He refuses payment as he is grateful to barter for my services in giving signed approval of his emergency kit for the Coast Guard.
Monday, June 23, 2014: We met friends Judy and Mike. They live in Virginia Beach, closer to Chesapeake than Norfolk. Our AC died, again. They offered to take us back to stay with them but I was too preoccupied with problems I thought I had solved. We dreaded not having AC through the night. Providence smiled on us once again. The night turned cool after the front weather passed. We opened every hatch and port light and found that we needed a blanket.
The AC—I discovered that the top of the raw water sea strainer was dripping. I could not remove the top, which is very thick plastic. Atlantic Yacht Basin, a very well stocked yard, did not have a replacement. We could get one in 3 days from the factory or Defender Marine but West Marine came through. They had a complete new strainer that matched ours and agreed to cannibalize the top. Mike picked it up at their store near their house and West took the delay to replace the top to their part. Thank you West.
We are now in Mike’s slip at the Cavalier, Yacht & Golf Club in Virginia Beach. Mike’s boat is on the hard, bad sick! I hired a diver to pull the props and one was bent but not badly. Upon our arrival I went to work on the AC. Marsh, at Marsh Marine in Charleston advised using a spanner to remove the old cap. For a hand-tightened piece the top required all of my strength to loosen. Marsh had just completed an AC raw water cleanout. I discovered that the threads on the cap had broken. The cap is old and the replacement fit as designed. It cured the strainer leak. Priming the pump restored AC.
Monday night Judy lays out a gourmet meal at their house overlooking the lake around the bend from the club. Mike has picked us up in his runabout from the club dock. Mike’s 100-year old mom, meets us at the Hechtkopf abode. She acts like a 60-year old! She would still be golfing regularly were it not for a vision challenge.
Sunday, June 22, 2014: This must be Dowry Creek. This is close to wilderness, North Carolina. The nearest ville is Belhaven. We have been to Belhaven once before and it can be described in one word—nothing. Despite the nearby medical services there is no commerce. We use Belhaven’s empty grain silos as our landmark the turn to the east in the Pungo River. The place once thrived on farming and fishing. Since we import veg and fish who feeds from America’s breadbasket and waters anymore? Pity
Mary, who owns the marina facility in Dowry Creek, makes no apology for the Belhaven. “One eatery,” she says, “and it isn’t very good.” The supermarket is 3 miles out of the town. Mary and her friend Nick run a first class facility—pool, clubhouse with TV and a swap library that is well stocked, laundry, bath house—all clean.
We were treated to nature’s fireworks through the late Saturday afternoon and evening. The protected creek served us well. The winds came in ferocious gusts. The rains, though brief, came in squalls like the Almighty was emptying a barrel of water on us. Luckily, the docks were substantial and on piles. We broke one line but everything else held. Examining the line later, I have to say that I should have retired it long ago! After the storms passed, the sun shone beneath the cloud layer creating a kaleidoscope of color in a phenomenon we recognize as storm lighting.
Today, our plan is to negotiate the Pungo River, the manmade Pungo-Alligator River canal, Alligator River, Albemarle Sound, and the Alligator-Chesapeake Canal, to Chesapeake, Virginia. This passage, 120 miles in length, is picturesque. The predicted weather, courtesy of Mr. NOAA, was fair and it started pristine, clear, cool, and mirror calm. We came across Ragtime II, again. They had intended to be in Coinjock but held back the previous day because of the impending weather. We discovered later that they pulled up in Coinjock because of a bent prop.
All of the aforementioned waterways are in the safekeeping of the USCoE. I hate to keep ragging on them but the waterways are in poor shape. The canals are not well marked and very shallow. We passed one barge tow after another. The captains are all very helpful. They tell us of the bad spots, the better side to choose, and where the shoals are this week. How they negotiate the S-turn of the Alligator as it flows into Albemarle Sound remains a mystery. The waterway is less than a 100 feet wide and less than two feet deep on either side.
As we emerged from the Alligator River the clouds thickened, the wind shifted to the northeast, and freshened to about 25 knots—not a NOAA prediction. This is the exact condition to avoid when crossing the sound but we were committed. Anchorages are too shallow and would have ridden it out if there was an available anchorage. We forged ahead across the sound into the wind. We bashed through 5-footers buttoned up and used our speed and trim tabs to even out the 10-mile ride into the more sheltered Chesapeake Canal. It was a cocktail shaker of a ride with substantial below decks redecorating. At 22 knots the worst was over in about 30-minutes but we both felt like we had a workout.
Coming into the flat calm of the canal Sequel picked up a new shudder. I recognized it as a bent prop. We got into shallows but did not feel as though we grounded the props. Albemarle Sound is full of dead heads, logs, and building debris. It is possible we dinged the props during the raucous sound crossing but we never felt it.
We pulled up in the Atlantic Yacht Basin in Chesapeake, Virginia, just a few miles from Norfolk. We were 100 yards upstream from the Great Bridge Bridge and Lock System that begins the slow 12-mile passage through the highly controlled Elizabeth River that flows past Portsmouth and Norfolk Navy Yards.
I tried to free dive on the bottom but couldn’t see the tea colored water. There is a scrape on the keel at the bow that suggests we plowed into some debris on the sound.