The Journey Thus Far

17 Nov

The Journey Thus Far

by Andy

It is amazing to me that it has been over two weeks since we left Herrington Harbor and our dock lives that we have enjoyed for the last year and a half. I must admit that I have been woefully bad at updating the blog but I promise to be a better blog steward. I have been a ball of stress for the last couple of weeks and I don’t operate well, prose wise, under stress. More about stressful situations later on in this article.

Our departure from Herring Bay was not stressful in the least. Our good friends and neighbors, the Robertsons, showed up bright and early to give us a warm sendoff. As Robin has written about earlier, the generosity of the people we have come across, both on land and sea, has taken several chinks out of my cynical armor.

Our first stop was Solomons Island, Maryland. A small tourist centered town at the confluence of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. We had visited Solomons late in the summer season so we knew what to expect. We enjoyed a couple of nights at dock to decompress from all of the planning and preparing we had been doing for the last year. Some yummy food at a local restaurant was a welcome treat. (The bottle of wine helped too!)

Our next leg of the journey brought upon the first stressful moments. I should back up and say that November in the Mid-Atlantic region is a tricky affair, weather wise that is. We would find, especially the girls, that cruising is not always a most pleasant experience when the winds whip up on a large body of water. We started today sailing due south out of Solomons. The winds were about 15-20 knots out of the NNE. It was chilly but sunny, and Tango was flying through the water, surfing on a following sea, between 6 and 8 knots. For a sailboat, this is really really fast. The problems started when we approached the mouth of the Potomac River. As my northwest friends know, the Columbia River bar is one of the most treacherous places to find yourself on any watercraft. I’m not comparing the mouth of the Potomac to the Columbia because the two are completely different with regards to size and scope. The science of two bodies of water meeting head on is the same however. We were tossed and turned in the mixing bowl of currents for about two hours. The girls were trying to do their schoolwork and both became somewhat seasick. Robin was feeling off as well. I was a little queasy but I think when you are at the helm it takes some of the edge off because you are constantly scanning the horizon and it is easier to anticipate the wave action. All was not lost however, because at the end of this leg of our journey was a most welcome destination.

Before we bought Tango back in the Summer of 2011 we searched and searched for a boat that had what we needed to be safe and comfortable but was not half a million dollars. Enter Sailaway Catamarans in Edgewater, Maryland and especially Bill Hagy. Bill worked exhaustively to help get Becks and boats together. He is one hell of a nice guy too. I say all of this because we ran into Bill at the Annapolis Boat Show back in October. He was excited to hear about our journey and graciously invited us to stop by his house on the Little Wicomico river. He has a catamaran of his own that he is restoring after a fire gutted it. He got a great deal on it but it is going to take a lot of work. Bill is the guy to do it though. Very talented to be sure. Anyway, after our “mixing bowl” experience his dock was about the prettiest sight we’ve ever seen. The weather was going to be snotty for the next couple of days and Bill told us that we could stay and wait  out the weather with his family. We had a wonderful time getting to know the Hagys. His wife, Pam, is a most talented writer and it was fun listening to her tell us stories about the Chesapeake Bay and the environmental issues that are so very real and affect us all. The girls also made a friend in their son, Isaak. They would spend evenings laughing and playing “Minecraft” in front of the fireplace. (I miss fireplaces)

Our gracious hosts.

After a couple of days we decided that we needed to press on. It was sad to leave newfound friends but we had miles to check off between Virginia and Florida. We took off the morning after election day, which I was still giddy about. Out of the Wicomico we took a right turn at the Chesapeake and pointed Tango’s bow to the South. Next top on our sojourn, Deltaville, Virginia.

Deltaville, Virginia sits at the confluence of the Rappahannock River and Chesapeake Bay. I say this to save some words and just convey to you that we basically repeated our Potomac River crossing. (Except with stronger winds this time…ugh) After bashing into four foot waves for the better part of two hours we called on the radio to Dozier’s marina and chugged our way up the narrow channel to the safety of their floating docks. I had a puff of pridefulness as the dockhand said that I brought Tango in like a pro. If only he knew where all of the scrapes on the side of the boat came from.

While in port, our favorite Herrington Harbor neighbors pulled in to Dozier’s a few slips away from us. Hank, Lisa, their friend Kim, and their awesome dog Sydney, are heading back to their hometown of Southport, North Carolina. We all had a wonderful dinner aboard their beautiful sailboat “Haanli”. Southport is right on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) so I think we shall see them again soon. I hope so anyway.

The trip from Deltaville to Norfolk, Virginia was a welcome change from the previous week. Light winds, calm seas, and temperatures in the low 70s helped to cheer up our spirits. We motored the whole way, which to a sailing family is kind of a drag. However, it was nice to have a day to veg out in the cockpit even if the smell of diesel exhaust permeated the air.

We pulled into Norfolk around 4PM and everything I have read about this gigantic port came to life right before my eyes. Massive tankers, freighters, and naval vessels made our little Tango look like a tiny piece of flotsam. The nautical charts in this area are cluttered with danger zones, restricted areas, and shipping channels. After a few minutes I gave up on the charts and just followed the other sailboats. Surely they know where we are going right? As luck would have it, this time they did. We made the turn into the Elizabeth River and past the long line of aircraft carriers to our next stop, Waterside Marina in downtown Norfolk.

We are city slickers now.

Norfolk is a beautiful city. Treelined streets and lots of cute little shops and restaurants dot the downtown area. Our marina was literally in the heart of downtown. It was strange to look out of our windows and see big buildings and lots of lights. Our friends on Haanli arrived the day prior and were preparing to depart the next morning. It was neat to get to see them enjoying time with some family that they have in the area.

We put on our tourist hats and visited “Nauticus”, a very cool nautical museum. We got to tour the battleship Wisconsin. Amazing feat of engineering and a testament to our resolve during WWII. Visiting the ship on Veteran’s Day made it extra special as well.

Touring the USS Wisconsin

When we arrived back at Tango I decided that I would keep up on the maintenance and perform an oil change on both of our diesel engines. It’s an easy but dirty job. I lifted the hatch to the starboard engine compartment and was shocked to see about six inches of water on the floor of the compartment. Did we have a hole in the hull? Was there a hose that was leaking? If I hadn’t decided to check the oil we could have been in some real trouble as we, at this point, were essentially sinking.

After cleaning up the water and performing some troubleshooting it was decided that the source of the leak was either a  bad seal on our sail drive (really bad news) or a bad gasket on our raw water pump (not really bad news but a potential annoying fix). We decided to press on because the weather window for the planned departure day was literally one day and we didn’t want to get stuck in Norfolk for potentially up to 7 days. We would be entering the Great Dismal Swamp canal and we didn’t want to do that in the 25 knot winds that were predicted later in the week. We would motor on and monitor the leak.

The next morning we departed Norfolk before dawn. It was creepy motoring in the dark past all of the massive dry docks. We passed a couple of barges making their way down the river. I finally realized why radar is so important as some of these massive ships are practically invisible in the foggy darkness. We arrived at the Deep Creek Lock about an hour before their first scheduled opening at 8:30 AM. I checked on the leak and was satisfied that it was slow enough to motor on. The lock master called us on the VHF and we motored into the lock where we would be lifted up the 8 feet to the level of the 22 mile long canal that we would be transiting.

The lock master was super friendly and, as the lock was filling he told us all a little bit about the canal and its history. The canal was the idea of none other than old George Washington. Construction was begun in 1793 and completed in 1805. We all found one of the most interesting things about the canal to be the water. It is the color of a really dark cup of coffee. We came to find out that this is because of the high level of tannins in the water which is the result of the 35 foot deep peat bed at the bottom. The water looks kind of gnarly but is actually some of the purest water in the world. The high acidity caused by the tannins won’t allow bacteria to grow in the water. As such, this water was prized by sailing ships of old because they could fill up their barrels with this water and store it for years and not have any issues with water quality.

After a lesson on how to play a conch shell, the lock master opened the gates and we throttled into the canal, along with five other boats. The canal is only about fifty feet wide so sailing is out of the question. The weather was absolutely perfect and I was glad that we made the decision to make this our canal day. The fall colors and the warm weather made this a day for the record books. We will all carry this memory as long as we have heartbeats I think.

Gorgeous day on The Great Dismal Swamp Canal


Locking in North Carolina

We locked out of the canal and continued into the Pasquotank River in North Carolina. The landscape is reminiscent of the bayous in Louisiana and Mississippi. Cypress trees and the first appearance of spanish moss made us feel like we were truly in the South now. Because of our engine issues I decided to slow it down a bit and kept the engines at about 2000 RPMs. This made for a bit slower journey and the caravan of boats that were cruising with us slowly left our view ahead of us. We were all alone now and it was just amazing to feel so free in such a beautiful place. Our next stop was Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Because of our slow speed we arrived in Elizabeth City right at rush hour. I was a little concerned that we would have to wait an hour until 6:30 PM to have the one bridge in town lift for us to get through but the bridge tender was kind enough to let us through. I’m sure that the commuters didn’t appreciate it…but we did!

We made reservations for four days at the Pelican Marina in Elizabeth City so that we could rest up, take care of the various meetings that our REAL jobs required of us, and so that I could fix whatever problems the starboard engine was giving us. I won’t bore you with all of the details but all of that water was the result of a broken seal on our raw water intake filter. It’s kind of a glass bowl with a filter inside of it that keeps bits and sea creatures out of our engines. I’m not kidding about the sea creatures…one time I found a shrimp swimming around in it. Regardless, I fashioned a gasket out of some rubber sheeting material that we had and, as of this writing, it is working well. No more leaks!

Dawn before our Albemarle Sound crossing

Yesterday we left Elizabeth City and sailed across Albemarle Sound to our current location of Manteo, North Carolina. We are staying at a condo for the week. We are big Thanksgiving people and, since we don’t have an oven on the boat, we like to celebrate this holiday in the luxury of an land bound dwelling. Robin wrote earlier about the kindness of the owner of this property and I can’t express how grateful we are for his generosity. When he found out that we were going to be arriving four days ahead of time and that the reason that we couldn’t rent his place for the full week because, quite frankly, we can’t afford it, he threw in these four days for free. Wow wow…a hundred times wow (more chinks in my cynical armor).

As of this writing I am freshly bathed (bathtubs are amazing) and I took extra time to savor a good shave. We ordered takeout chinese food last night and we will be doing some shopping for Thanksgiving goodies later today. Our friends, the Robertsons, are going to drive the five hours from Deale, Maryland to celebrate with us. It will be great to see them again. Even though we only left two weeks ago it seems like ages.

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