Saturday, July 8, 2017

Home Sweet Summer Home

The morning after my last post, the coolant pump for our engine finally arrived and I spent the day putting the engine back together. It now runs perfectly, leak-free, and quite a bit cooler than it ever did in the past - no more than 170° F, under load on a hot day. It was a really great feeling to fix it myself and gain a much better understanding of our engine's cooling system in the process. My other projects came together nicely, too, and I finished my ambitious to-do list only an hour before I left for my work trip to Lagos, Nigeria on June 24th. It had been an extremely busy, productive four days off work.

Dawn did a wonderful job of provisioning and readying the boat for departure while I was gone (and driving our Xterra north to MD!), and we were ready to leave as soon as I got back into town on Tuesday, June 27th. We said our goodbyes, did our final checks, and cast off the lines at 2pm. We had been in Georgetown, SC for a month and two days, and had come to really enjoy the town. It felt great to be finally moving on, though - the itinerant cruiser lifestyle agrees with us both, it seems. We left on an strong ebb tide and were steaming out into the Atlantic only two hours after departure. We had a benign weather window for rounding infamous Cape Hatteras offshore, sparing us from days of droning up the Intracoastal Waterway, but it wasn't a great sailing forecast for the first few days: no wind Tuesday, light to moderate northeasterlies Wednesday.

We put up the mainsail and in fact there was just enough northwest wind to keep us steady in the swells as we motored east through the night. During my 10pm-1am shift the engine began faltering; I shut it down, rolled out the headsail, and called Dawn up to take the helm while I changed a rather filthy Racor filter, a quick ten minute job. Our first offshore leg in a month had obviously churned up some sludge in the tanks. In the morning, shortly after we passed Cape Fear, the predicted headwinds filled in, right on the nose with a short ugly chop that slowed our progress below three knots. It was only predicted to stay NE for twelve hours and shift SE as we neared Cape Lookout, so we just tacked back and forth and kept the sail driving us through the chop. Unfortunately, the wind didn't shift as forecast, and we were continuing to beat as night fell. It finally shifted, suddenly and decisively, just after midnight, but it also quickly faded so we kept the engine going at a reduced power until 10am Thursday, when the wind finally filled in enough to sail after 44 hours of motoring and motorsailing. We rounded Cape Hatteras in the early afternoon with a big course change from NE to NNW, and we ran with the wind for a while. Sure was nice to have the downwind pole back! The wind faded at sunset; it still would have been strong enough to keep us moving under spinnaker, but we didn't feel comfortable flying the kite at night (with solo watches to boot) so we started the engine again.

Friday morning found us with land in sight again as we passed Virginia Beach, crossed the Chesapeake shipping approaches, rounded Cape Henry, and finally passed over the northern gap of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The wind picked up enough to sail into the Chesapeake, abruptly died, and then filled again rather strongly first from the east and then shifting south. We enjoyed a fast, rollicking downwind sail the rest of the day, alternating between a broad reach and wing-on-wing, surfing down short steep waves that took us astern. By 5pm we were getting a bit overpowered and the autopilot was having real difficulty keeping up; for a while I hand-steered, and then we rounded up to drop the mainsail. As we did, the clew came loose and the sail whipped viciously until we could get it down. At first I thought we had ripped the clew out of the sail; closer inspection showed merely that the pin securing the clew to the outhaul car had somehow come out. No worries. We continued northward under yankee alone, which resulting in a fairly rolly ride but a much better steering job by the autopilot. Late that night the wind shifted more SSW, and I called Dawn up a bit early for her 1am-4am shift so we could gybe - a slightly lengthy process when the downwind pole must be gybed as well.

While we were offshore there had been absolutely no traffic for the first 36 hours - I actually thought our AIS was broken - and then a few ships that passed no closer than four miles and a single sailing catamaran that overtook us just off Hatteras, passed within a mile, and hailed us on the VHF for a friendly conversation somewhat shortened by our horrible reception (I had just replaced a faulty PL-259 connector on our antenna coax, but it clearly hadn't fixed the problem). Now, in the Chesapeake, there was a steady procession of large cargo ships, both north and southbound. We quickly learned to stay just outside of the shipping channel. At least they all had AIS. During Dawn's shift on Saturday morning we started to cross the channel, and right on cue a big white oiler appeared coming up our stern at 20 knots. Dawn wisely woke me from my morning nap (she seldom rousts me on her watches, but has proven smart about when to do so), and I hailed him without result - maybe our faulty VHF, maybe he wasn't listening to 16. Just to be sure we turned 30 degrees to port and scooted out of the channel. The oiler was still several miles away, but the extreme disparity in speed means our changes have to be early and decisive to make a difference.

I napped for another hour and then it was time to roll up the Yankee, start the engine, and head into Herring Bay. It was 10am on Saturday, July 1st, the start of a four-day holiday weekend, and there was already a steady stream of boats coming out the entrance channel for Herrington Harbor Marina and Shipwright Harbor Marina, the latter of which is our new home for the summer. We had covered 477nm, a new record for us, which took us 92 hours for an average of 5.2 knots. I hadn't realized that our fixed-dock slip has a very short finger pier, making it necessary to back in. I tried a few times but the westerly wind was making it very difficult to back into our west-facing slip, so we ignominiously retreated to a nearby T-head for the night and relocated to our slip the following morning when it was calm.

I was originally supposed to work July 1st-4th, but was somehow able to trade for a trip on the 7th-11th, so we had a few days to settle in and get more boat work done. The morning that we arrived we spent a few hours washing the boat and putting her together from the passage, and then explored the marina and environs. Shipwright Harbor consists of five docks arrayed around a point of land that divides two rivers; the much larger and fancier Herrington Harbor North Marina is arrayed along an opposite bank. Sailboats outnumber powerboats at both marinas - a big change from South Carolina - and both feature nice amenities, regular events, and lively communities of liveaboards and cruisers. There are a number of smaller marinas around plus several lively dockside restaurants, a large West Marine at Herrington Harbor, and a decent hardware store in Deale; otherwise the small town offers very little. Groceries and most other things are in larger towns 5 to 15 miles away, but the drive through the beautiful green wooded hills west of the Bay is quite pleasant. Washington DC is only 30 miles away (making DCA very convenient for my commute to ATL), but you'd never know it. Annapolis is 20 miles north. Those who warned us about the summer heat and humidity of the area weren't exaggerating; we're very thankful that Windbird has working air conditioning. Our slip is extremely sheltered, which will be a good thing if any hurricanes head our way, but it doesn't get much breeze.

Our good friends Dan and Isabelle on Epiic beat us north by a few days; their boat was already on the hard at Herrington Harbor. They had decided to come back to the US to sell Epiic and upgrade to a catamaran, but on arrival CBP decided their three months in the Bahamas didn't count as a "meaningful exit" and they're being banished back to Canada until this winter. We had two last nights with them, though. On Saturday we all went up to Annapolis, showed Dan & Isabelle around town, and then met up with our friends Roy and Christina on Moor Passages, whom we had met and buddyboated with in the Exumas and narrowly missed in the Abacos (we sailed into Marsh Harbor as they were pulling up anchor for the passage to Annapolis). They were departing for Maine the next day, but we had a wonderful time catching up. And then Dan & Isabelle came over to Windbird for sundowners on Sunday night, which ended up lasting wayyy after sundown...I felt bad the next morning as they had to be up early to drive to Ottawa! We'll miss those two and hope they'll come sail with us while they're between boats.

A whole new project list sprouted once we arrived in Deale, and we made pretty good progress on it this week even though we basically took the 3rd and 4th off. I found out it was our VHF radio that was the problem, not the antenna; a replacement is on its way. I rebuilt our Racor and replaced fuel hoses, clamps, and the low-pressure aux pump in our engine room; we'll be getting our tanks cleaned & fuel polished later this summer. I troubleshot our faulty wind instrument (which was dead all passage, thank God for our new bimini window so we could at least see the masthead fly) and tracked it down to a faulty wireless reception box, which Garmin is replacing. I've tweaked our bimini solar system and will be installing digital monitors for our solar controllers next week. Our new Solarland fixed-frame solar panels (160W each) for the davit arch have been ordered, and once they arrive a local welder will be modifying our stainless angle brackets to accept them.  Our fairly new VSM-422 electrical system monitor died due to water ingress (an adjacent hose that came loose) and I am in the process of replacing it with a Victron battery controller and Blue Power Panel, which will also serve as the remote switch for our new Victron charger/inverter. I even designed a new custom Blue Seas Systems circuit breaker panel, though the $1700 price tag and abundance of other projects will probably dissuade me from ordering it this summer.

I'm trying to get these projects done fairly quickly because we're planning on spending the bulk of August with family in Minnesota & the Dakotas. And then at the end of August and beginning of September, we're now planning to take a two-week trip through the C&D canal, down Delaware Bay, up to New York, and down Long Island Sound to visit Judy Handley and Windbird's old haunt of Falmouth, MA at the base of Cape Cod. We had toyed with doing the trip before but it's now been rendered necessary by the discovery that Maryland imposes a 5% use tax on any vessel that spends more than 90 days in a calendar year in the state. Dawn's mom is actually going to come out and do the northbound cruise with us, which is really exciting. But this definitely means we have to get our projects done sooner rather than later, and it might limit the amount of cruising we actually do in the Chesapeake this summer. That's ok; our real focus is on getting the boat completely ready to go for the Bahamas and Caribbean this winter. We're really getting excited for that.