Friday, December 24, 2021

Aliens Adrift in a Landlubber World

To say we're suffering from culture shock is putting it mildly.

Our drive across the country was quick. From Maine to my sister's house in Northern California Gold Country was 3166 miles; we could have done it in 5 hard driving days, we booked the rental car for 10 so we could pause here and there if something caught our attention, and to get some laptop work done as needed.

We ate so much garbage on the way. Fast food. Drive through. Mmmmm how we've missed it. At first it was a treat, something we rarely access as sailors, but so very convenient from the highway for our whirlwind drive.

Chicago Style Deep Dish, in Chicago

By day 4 we'd had our fill of junk and were craving some good fresh fish and vegetables so we hit the pause button in Laramie WY, settled into a decent hotel to explore the area for a few days, catch up on some laptop work and get in some salads and sushi. We've found there's always affordable healthy food in college towns, and downtown Laramie is home of the University of Wyoming. Right across the street from the football field was some excellent sushi, and fresh salads and tasty tacos could be found anywhere in town.

The University of Wyoming football bleachers, as seen from the main drag

Our rental car came with all the bells and whistles. Seat heaters meant we wrestled less over the dash temperature controls, adaptive cruise control was most helpful on the lonely highway, bluetooth connectivity meant books on tape and unlimited Amazon music. We were well rested, warm and dry. Culture shock.

We gobbled up the miles and arrived to my sister's in comfort, a day early, with a milkshake in the cupholder and french fry rubble on the floor.

Bonneville Flats, Utah

My sister was heading out to the grocery store and asked what she should add to the list. I'd noticed the bagels and the toaster (yes... toast!) but no cream cheese so asked her to bring some home. Here's what she bought. The picture doesn't really do it justice, it's a huge tub of cream cheese - 48 ounces.

Now, keep in mind that the groceries are my responsibility to stow on the boat and it's a perpetual challenge to eat everything we bring aboard before it goes bad. Not only does it require additional strategy to retrieve groceries without a car, but there's a process to storing them too, particularly for refrigerated items like cream cheese. Her casual point was this: she was at Costco already, this giant tub costs $7, and a little bar at the grocery store would be $3.50, so this was way more cost effective. She didn't need to mention there was plenty of space to store it in her cavernous refrigerator, or that with two teenagers in the house who also enjoy toast the five of us were likely to eat it all long before it started to grow fuzzy. She is right, her way makes sense. Even knowing these things I couldn't stop my hands from sweating at the sight of it. Culture shock.

In no time we were surrounded by family and friends. We jumped right into planned activities: Halloween, Thanksgiving, birthday parties, house projects, visits with long-time friends. All good stuff. One day I realized a whole week had gone by without us witnessing a single sunset, that I hadn't checked the weather app for days and in fact hadn't even set foot outside the house in two days, food had been delivered and my nose had been stuck in my laptop, catching up on work postponed during our whirlwind drive. What was going on outside? No idea. Culture shock.

Malfatti, a Napa locals tradition, cannot be found in restaurants. You have to pick it up from the local liquor store.

Lance commented he felt like we were in an alien world, but after a month or so we realize we're the aliens. We don't fit. All around us people are going about their normal, everyday lives and we're just not used to doing it the same way. We're the freaks.

Here are a few of the things I'm appreciating anew, and by which I am quickly becoming spoiled:

Every morning I start my day with toast. And coffee. I can prepare them both at the SAME time.

After every meal I rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. No dish drainer required. I do not worry about the quantity of water used for this process (well, maybe a little bit, we are in California after all).

My sister loaned us her spare car, which is awesome. With it we fetch massive amounts of groceries. We don't worry about how many we can physically carry because neither of us has to wear them on their back. No Uber or other public transportation is involved in the grocery process at all.

Chloe testing out the powder near Donner Summit

Laundry... we carry it down the hall, wash it and put it away at our convenience. No quarters and no laundry carts are required, it fits right into the normal day around everything else and the process does not require onsite monitoring.

Internet is constant and fast. It does not require cursing, moving the house, or going elsewhere to access for the workday.

Amazon is not wearing a new path to the door, they were already coming here today anyways and it's fairly predictable what time they'll be arriving.

Food delivery is easy - at no point does our discussion with the delivery driver sound anything like "turn left when you see the boats on stands, we'll meet you at the top of Ramp E" or anything along those lines. A simple address is all that is required. I don't have to monitor their progress, they'll ring the doorbell when they arrive.

Wind? Rain? Dark early? Who knows. We drew the blinds three days ago when getting dressed and forgot to open them back up.

We are definitely the aliens adrift here. When we are reunited with Minerva we'll have some adjusting to do for sure. In the meantime, we're getting fat and lazy living the landlubber life.

Yes that's really the name of this little gas station convenience store chain located throughout the MidWest. Makes me laugh every time.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

A new motor, a cold winter, and another epic road trip

Low tide at the MYC exposes the old dock legs, which remind me of chess pieces

The new motor is on its way. They are building it as quickly as they can. I can't magic it here any faster.

Once it gets here, the mechanics will work on it when they can. We can't jump over other people who have had appointments for months. I can't control how easily the swap goes. It might be smooth as butter, but more than likely it will require additional parts and problem-solving. Rushing any of that isn't wise.

The winter weather is coming. I can't do anything about that.

Foggy morning view 

Our plan was to get the new motor in and high-tail it South in November, catch up with friends and sail to the Bahamas for the winter. The soonest the shop could commit to releasing us is Thanksgiving. So... LATE November. Mmmmm OK... Possibly Sketchy between Maine and Virginia.

Every local who heard my plan made the same face. Eyebrows way up, chin tucked, lips pursed or in an o-shape. So maybe high-tailing it outta here in late November isn't a good idea.

After seeing this face on yet another local for the umpteenth time, I realized that my desire to stick with the plan, to be in the Bahamas for the winter, was potentially putting Minerva and us in danger. Oh. The PLAN again. Once again I've somehow become attached to a PLAN. Haven't we learned this lesson yet?

Lance and I must have both gone to bed thinking on it and we both independently woke up with the same solution. The smart, safe thing is to leave Minerva in Maine on the hard, and let the shop do the work at their leisure. When we reunite with her in May we'll get the added benefit of sailing Maine for the Summer of 2022. We can break in the new engine properly and slowly, no pressure attached. We'll get to sail the summer with Al. We'll be close to the shop that did the engine work, in case the relationship between the new engine and the old prop needs tweaking.

So we reluctantly signed the winter storage contract, gave away all our canned food (apparently cans explode in a hard freeze), and picked up a one-way rental car for California. Cross-country road trip here we come.

Minerva on her way to winter storage

As it turns out, it's possible to feel everything at the same time. Mad because the motor failed us - we were expecting another couple of years of service on the rebuilt engine and wanted to schedule the replacement at our leisure with our favorite mechanic in NC. Happy because our friends will sail on to warm water snorkeling adventures this winter. Sad because we won't be with them and we miss them already. Excited to see our West Coast peeps.

Starting to get excited about the road trip itself but haven't had the bandwidth to give that any energy yet.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Hard Decisions

In Portland Maine we booked a marina which happened to be attached to a shop. The folks were friendly. One evening we struck up a conversation with Bryan and Polly who were having extensive work done on their 1979 C&C. They had only great things to say about the work quality at the marina. It's so rare to hear good things about shops nowadays, we filed it away and went on about our sightseeing. I logged Bryan and Polly's information in my phone and wished them well on their journey - when their boat splashes they'll be sailing to Bermuda.

Portland has a farmers market, bicycle paths, and some interesting food: hot honey which they put on pizza and waffles, and donuts made from potatoes.

Weird fruit we picked up at the farmers market, similar to lychees

There are a lot of lighthouses, and an antique train runs along the waterfront across from the marina a few times a day. I love that old train horn. The train swing bridge behind the marina has been abandoned in the open position for some time, evidence that once upon a time this old track used to connect to the cities in the North.

Train swing bridge in Portland, our quiet neighbor

It's been so long since we were connected bow-in to a solid marina dock, the anchor is right over the dock and there's plenty of elbow room to move about, so... seemed like the perfect time and place to put new markings on the anchor rode. The yellow paint we applied in Oriental didn't stick well, and there's been a few times I've questioned whether I had 25 or 50 feet out and had to either pull it up and start over or just err on the side of caution and put out potentially extra scope. That's less convenient when trying to fit in between lobster trap floats. As usual a simple task such as painting the rode became complicated by "project before the project"-itis, and we ended up doing a deep clean on the anchor locker to relieve it of some old mud that had been accumulating.

Chain rode in need of repainting

On departure day Lance was doing the usual engine check and noticed a little sludge in the coolant overflow. Otherwise all was running smoothly, so he cleaned it out, topped off the coolant, watched it for a little while, all appeared OK and off we went.

Adorable home on Harpswell Sound with a matching mailbox

For the first time in recent memory we sailed all day, through the lobster pots to our destination. We swung on the hook near Harpswell Sound for the Labor Day holiday, and then island-hopped to Rockland Maine.

Rockland Maine

We were very excited about finally arriving in Rockland because it meant we could finally catch up with our friend Al who we met in Oriental and had been sailing Maine for the summer. We've been chasing Al for 11 states. Unfortunately, we only got one evening with him as FEMA called him in to work that same week. The day we arrived was the day he'd just put his boat on the hard, retrieved a rental car, and started his journey South.

Shiny new heat exchanger alongside old one

Lance had been monitoring the coolant situation and noticed it bubbling out the overflow tank, even when cold. We called our trusted mechanic in North Carolina, and his belief was the same as Lance's - a failed heat exchanger. Somehow Lance found one in the little berg of Rockland, and so we spent the day swapping it out. Our pockets were $850 lighter for the new parts and we spent a whole day doing the swap; the problem was still not solved.

Swapping out the heat exchanger

So this means head gasket, cracked block or cracked head. All major repairs.

Minerva's engine is a Perkins 4.154 and it has 8196 hours on it. I looked through copious notes from the previous owner and found that this was among other issues he fought, and likely the reason for the engine rebuild he'd had conducted at 7100 hours. My suspicion is that the mechanic that did this service is likely the same one that "serviced" our transmission, the same transmission we spent last year fighting and ultimately replacing. That mechanic tended to forget small but important details. Throwing more money at this engine doesn't make sense; she's served faithfully but is 40 years old, and with our doubts about her prior care, we decided a smarter investment would be to just replace the engine.

Adorable architecture in Rockland

We seriously considered sailing directly to our favorite mechanic in North Carolina, Foster's Marine, where we know the prices are fair and the work is done properly. Then we imagined the actual logistics of that... we still have no autopilot so that means we are hand-steering all the way - making an outside passage difficult without time for sufficient rest. Harbor hopping down the coast means passing through the Cape Cod Canal, Hells Gate, and a whole lot of swing and lift bridges on the ICW which sometimes require Minerva to dance in place against the wind and the current while waiting for an opening. Any of these scenarios becomes quickly deadly without a reliable motor. Other people may be brave enough to try it. We are not.

Lobster, lobster everywhere. Even in the hotel parking lot.

It's September in Maine. The full-time sailors are already heading South. Those that live here are hauling out their boats and winterizing. They've been pushing their boats hard all summer and have reservations at their favorite yard for a winter of storage and repairs. All the shops are running as fast as they can to keep up.

There was that yard in Portland... the one that folks brag about...

They said "leave her with us for the winter, we'll do the work over the winter, you can have her back in the Spring". Around here that means after Memorial Day - EIGHT months away. We tried to get an appointment for an engine swap at other shops near Rockland but they either wouldn't return our calls or offered the same winter storage plan. In a smaller town like Rockland services like rental cars, Uber, hotels or a winter apartment for us just didn't seem likely. Without a car our lives quickly become difficult when the snow arrives.

We decided to top off the coolant, cross our fingers and motor back to Portland where Minerva could get the attention she needed and we were likely to find housing and transportation. Winds were expected in the afternoon, so our plan was to motor as long as we could, sail it in if possible, and call for a tow if we must. By leaving at first light and arriving as sundown we were able to make one long day out of it, where it had taken us three days to island hop there we were able to pick our way through the lobster pots and make it all in one day. Thankfully the motor held it together all the way and we landed safely at the shop in Portland. Communicating with Todd & Lorri, good friends in Florida who monitored our progress by satellite and were ready to lend a hand, greatly relieved anxiety.

We crossed paths with this beauty on our way to Portland

The night we arrived we were talking with another boat owner and he suggested a bigger shop in town that might be able to get it done faster, and get us on our way before the hard winter sets in. They came out to look over Minerva, and they think it might be possible. So the engine is on its way, and if we can get it in time there's an outside chance we might be able to get it swapped and get moving South ahead of the winter weather.

That's where we are. Nothing for us to do now but sit tight and wait for the engine to arrive, worry and wait.

We arrived in time to witness the recommissioning of Bryan & Polly's C&C. They had to bring in a special crane to reattach the 96' mast. They'll be splashing today and heading for Bermuda soon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Let it Go, Let it Go!

We departed Boston for Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the most beautiful day. We could clearly see that we were surrounded by lobster pots. Everywhere.

Eventually we picked our way up the Piscataqua River against a strong outgoing current. There was one anchorage we were looking to settle in for the night, on the Maine side of the river. When we got there we discovered it was covered end-to-end with lobster traps.

We found a spot in the middle and dropped the hook. It didn't grab, which is highly unusual. We backed up a bit, being mindful not to back over any lobster trap floats, and never did hook. It was marked on the chart as "hard". I believe it may have actually been granite. So with nothing to hook onto, we called the nearby yacht club and asked to rent a mooring ball for the night.

One morning we awoke to find this lobster pot in the MIDDLE of the mooring field. Minerva barely had enough room to swing and miss it.

The mooring balls are completely round, and spin wildly against the strong current. The mooring ball we were directed to had wrapped its pennant line all the way around its rode, giving me about 2" of line to try to grab with the boat hook. Lance was having a very difficult time keeping Minerva still in the current and wind, and it took me several tries to finally tease out enough line to pull back towards the bow.

Twice the boat hook was ripped out of my hand. Twice we had to chase it downstream and retrieve it with a backup hook.

Many houses in Maine are decorated with the tools of the trade.

Finally I caught the looped line with the boat hook and teased out enough of it to almost reach Minerva. In my right hand was my bridle line, connected to Minerva's bow.  In my left hand was the looped pennant line. I was just about to loop my bridle through the pennant when a gust slapped Minerva to the side and tried to rip the mooring line out of my hand. But we'd worked so hard to get to this point, I was NOT going to let it go. All I needed was to just get my right and left hands a tiny skooch closer. Then the current caught Minerva and started pulling her away again. I was still determined not to let it go, but my hands were getting farther apart until another shifty gust caught us and then I was violently slammed against the rail. I was still reeling from the shock and trying to catch my breath when Lance shouted "LET IT GO!" and I did. Odd that it never occurred to me until right at that moment. He told me later it was like watching a horror show in slow motion and he thought for sure I was going to get pulled over just like the boat hooks had been.

So I earned some new bruises. And the folks sipping cocktails at the yacht club on the hill got a show. Probably one they've seen before, I expect they have a scoring system setup at the bar.

Once we were safely secured we caught a ride with the water taxi to the Maine shore and had a lovely lobster dinner on the patio. We find Maine to be weirdly uptight about some things, such as dogs at outdoor restaurant patios, and unusually loose about other things such as letting the kids run through the restaurant and bar, BYO alcohol to restaurants, and forgetting to ask for money at their restaurants. We've had to chase down more than one waiter to settle up.

The locals know: bring your own table mat, place setting and alcohol. Order the lobster from the restaurant. Relax with friends. Let the kids run wild around the patio.

Finally, we made it back to Maine. One year and a couple months later than planned, the lobster is just as sweet.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Boston and Hurricane Henri

We were very excited about our planned stop in Boston. Our RV visit in 2018 was way too short and were excited about exploring the city more thoroughly. With a little research and some persistence I landed us a marina right in the middle of downtown, right next to the aquarium, the Greenway and just blocks from some great food.

The Greenway

The storm in the middle of the Atlantic had just earned a name: Henri. I watched it with mild interest, but it wasn't predicted to become much. And we were in the Northeast. After all, the reason we came here was to avoid the hurricanes of the Southeast. How ridiculously unfair would it be to get hurricaned anyways - after all the traveling we'd done to escape?

Hand-held Boston creme pies at the Quincy Market

We settled into the marina and were greeted by the sounds of a sea lion barking at the aquarium. We hadn't heard that sound for so long, we immediately felt right at home. Chloe of course barked right back, a feature the neighbors surely appreciated at sunrise when they were both most active. Each time we couldn't stop laughing long enough to chastise her for it. I wonder what they were saying to each other.

Sea Lion: "Help, I'm a prisoner"

Chloe: "I can't free you. I don't have any thumbs." or "I don't speak sea lion, I don't know what you're saying."

The Boston Aquarium bordered our marina to the North

Boston is a friendly city that seamlessly balances parks with city, a harbor both working and pleasurecraft populated, and architecture from four different centuries that stands in harmony together. In the '90's they demolished the elevated highway along the waterfront and dug up a tunnel to route most of the traffic through. This was known as the "Big Dig" and was recognized widely as a failure because it took significantly more time and money than planned. I'm so glad we missed the messy part, but equally glad we are here to enjoy the aftermath - a public space called "The Greenway " that was placed right on top of the tunnel and runs along the waterway for many blocks, and ties the waterfront to the financial district and Little Italy. There's always something happening on the Greenway; live music, kids playing in the fountain, a beautiful carousel, walking and bike paths, food trucks, art installations. Chloe sniffed it all, and was well walked on the Greenway.

Paul Revere's house. The cobblestones out front, and throughout much of the waterfront, are original ballast stones from ships of the era.

After watching for a couple of days, it became clear that Henri was in fact going to make an appearance, so we extended our stay at the marina and prepared Minerva for the hurricane. In the end the abuse we took from Henri was less than our average daily South wind beating on the A Dock in Oriental, so we'll gleefully accept it as a win.

Our all-around favorite drybag. One day a hurricane ditch bag, the next day a grocery-fetcher.

Nothing quite like a fountain frolic to celebrate the end of a hurricane

Friday, August 13, 2021

The Mystic Seaport Museum

The voice on the radio told us to tie up to the granite wall. My stomach turned a cartwheel. We haven't had good luck tied up to walls, they tend to try to abuse Minerva. And I didn't imagine granite would be gentle to her fiberglass.

We inched slowly into the marina and discovered several dock crew standing around in helpful places. In no time at all they had Minerva spider-webbed in with a fender board between our big fenders, safe and sound from the granite wall and yet securely tied to it. We had arrived.

The Charles W. Morgan is the oldest still float-worthy wooden whaler, built in 1841. Currently on the hard for a planned 3-year refit, her new copper bottom glistens in the setting sun

At the Mystic Seaport Museum and Marina the slip fees include admission to the park. Even better, we were invited to roam freely throughout the park at night after the daily guests had been ushered out. Perfect!

The convention center was a conundrum for the museum. They needed a new space to house conventions, artwork, and other power-hungry media, but didn't want to be disingenuous to the existing actual antique buildings by updating any of them. In the end they created this beautiful building which fits harmoniously alongside the North edge of the museum property. Minerva was right in front of the building and it is a beauty, feeling somehow like a wave and a wooden boat at the same time.

The first thing we tried was the infamous Mystic Pizza. Best of all, they delivered right to the boat. The next couple of days were a blur of good food, fascinating history, some basic chores in the heat, and top-notch people watching.

The Mystic Bank in the foreground of the Village

The marina gave us a sign to post on the window: "Private Yacht Do Not Board". And we were grateful to have it as Minerva was the very first boat people coming in from the North entrance encountered. Naturally they all assumed she was part of the exhibit and stood around to gawp at her. If they got too close or hung around too long Chloe the security dog grumbled until they moved along. We decided to give her free range of the topside during the daytime, after all she was doing important work.

Step one of making new rope: twine becomes cord

The Rope Walk, by the end of which the copious reels of twine are solid rope

The marina has a deal where you pay for four days and get the fifth one free. We tried to extend into the weekend to take advantage of this but they were sold out because of a large fleet coming in. Friday morning I was tidying up with 2 hours to go, and Lance simply commented to the dock crew how it was slack tide and how easy it would be to remove the lines and the next thing he knew they had retrieved their fender board and thrown all our lines onto the deck. Well... time to go, apparently.

Lance and Chloe in a whaleboat. It blows my mind that men chased whales in these low little boats. It must have been exhilarating and terrifying.

This has been one of our favorite stops so far and we will definitely come back.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Chloe and the Cat Burglar of Connecticut

As the dinghy powered silently towards the island in complete darkness Chloe was dancing from one side of the boat to the other, leaping up on the pontoons and peering down into the inky blackness. There was just the tiniest sliver of a moon and it was doing little to clarify if our chosen landing was going to be effective.

With a sigh I glanced down at the Luci light lying deflated at my feet. Ordinarily it proudly tops our Torqeedo motor and announces to everyone that we are a dinghy under way in the dark. Tonight it wouldn't even light up. We had blown a small hole in it on a high mountain pass in the Rockies long ago, and multiple repairs had scarred it over the years but held it together, until last night's rainstorm infiltrated its lighting system, finally leaving it unable to illuminate. RIP good and faithful equipment.

Armed with the brighter-than-the-sun boat flashlight, Chloe and I ventured out for her last shore break of the night, heading for a small island close to where we had anchored Minerva. There was a house on it but it looked uninhabited at least for tonight. I reluctantly turned on the powerful boat light to examine the shoreline as we approached, the rock face was clearly too high for us to successfully land. It took a while after extinguishing the light before I could regain night vision. Damn that light is bright.

OK, redirect to landing location #2. On our way in I had noticed a pile of kayaks on a beach further away, a beach appropriate for kayaks would be a good landing for the dink. Chloe whined as I pressed the tiller and we veered away from the little island. Yes she was past due for her evening shore run. The day had not gone as expected. Our first, second, and third planned overnight landing locations stops did not pan out because the areas listed as anchorages turned out to be inhospitable for a boat of Minerva's size in such strong winds. In the end we selected a safe spot with some room to swing on the anchor, but it made for a long day and since it wasn't part of the plan we were somewhat unprepared for the evening shore break. Chloe still refuses to use her lawn patch on the boat. Which is how we got here, dinghying in the dark to an unknown shore location.

The shoreline along this part of Connecticut is mostly fancy homes. Private beaches, how nice. For someone, I suppose, but not for us. What we really needed right then was a friendly beach, a boat ramp, a dinghy dock, a public park. Any of those would do nicely.

The kayak beach was quite far still and we were heading there when the noise on the rocks alongside us changed, softened a little bit, sounded like the waves were slower somehow. I turned on the power torch for a quick moment and confirmed a rocky beach with a slow surgey inlet. The dinghy bottom is aluminum, she could take the abuse. I turned in, twisted the Torqeedo throttle to goose her into the channel then lifted the propeller out of the water just in time as the hull bounced over the first of many smooth round rocks. We had arrived. I jumped out and pulled the boat onto shore, Chloe didn't even wait until the boat stopped moving to bound out and run off to pee. My eyes were still adjusting to the darkness again and I lost sight of her fuzzy tail quickly.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?" boomed a man's voice, low and clear and way too close in the darkness, "are you trouble?"

I about jumped out of my skin, remembered the huge homes we had seen lining the coast, and concluded I must be talking to a homeowner. "Nope, just bringing the dog to shore for a quick pee break before bedtime." My announcement was met with silence. After a few beats I called for Chloe and she bounded across the rocks and into the dinghy. I pushed the little boat out with the next wave set, slipping on the slimy round rocks, jumped in, lowered the propeller just barely into the water and twisted the throttle, and away we went, ping-ponging in the surge between the rocks until we were deep enough I could put the propeller all the way down, sit properly in the boat and catch my breath. As we passed the bluff I could barely make out the outline of a person standing there, hands on hips. Still silent, but the disapproval rolling off his posture spoke volumes.

After we were safely aboard Minerva I relayed the whole story to Lance, and he pointed out that I must have looked like a thief; approaching from an unexpected direction, lights out, with a super stealthy electric motor.

Yep, that's us. Chloe and the Cat Burglar.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Chesapeake City: dragging anchor, battling a storm, an anniversary to be remembered

Lickety at rest in the anchorage, she's a real head-turner

Mother Nature smiled upon us and sent us a tailwind. What a lovely anniversary gift. We picked our way through the crab pots of Still Pond and out into the channel, and set the sails for downwind sailing to Chesapeake City.

We'd read all the warnings twice and selected our approach into the city's harbor carefully. We were advised to stay to the left at the entrance and hug the commercial pier for the deepest water, which we did and even so we scurfed a little soft mud on our way in. We looked longingly at the free town dock pier on the right side - if the rumors were correct it was shallow. So we proceeded on to the anchorage.

Once past the entrance the rest of the harbor is pretty consistently 10' deep so we motored around a little while between the boats at anchor to pick our best spot. The first time down the Mantus didn't hook. Odd. We moved a little closer to Lickety and successfully set it there. We were in 10' of water and there was not much room to pay out enough scope. We were a little closer to everyone than we liked. But the weather was perfect and the boat was resting right over her anchor and all was peaceful. What could possibly go wrong?

Lickety is a HH50 owned by Catherine and Todd, friends we made in Annapolis. It's a huge and absolutely beautiful custom catamaran. Catherine warned me that Lickety moved differently at anchor than the other boats; because of its tall catamaran nature it tended to respond quickly to wind and not so much to current. We decided our best course of action was to reef the mizzen and leave it up, so Minerva would respond more quickly at anchor to changes in the wind too. On our other side was Clarity, a DuFour 460 sailboat, which moved in the water much like Minerva does naturally. We watched for a few hours while tidying up and our trick seemed to work perfectly, striking a nice balance of movement between Lickety and Clarity. All was peaceful and smooth.

There was not a cloud in the sky, all the hatches were open to take advantage of the fresh summer air. For the first time in recent memory I put on a real dress, we hopped in the dinghy and motored into town for an anniversary dinner celebration. Our table was right in view of the dinghy dock and the bridge, we enjoyed a cocktail and appetizers, and waved to Todd of Lickety as he cruised their dinghy into town.

Stormclouds approaching

As the main course arrived the air changed, the feeling became electric. Out of nowhere a great wall of black sky approached from the North, from the other side of the bridge. It was moving quickly. We asked for the check and our dessert to go and waited impatiently, considered running out on the bill, threw some money at the waitress and snatched our cheesecake when she looped back around, ran down to the dinghy dock, jumped aboard and high-tailed it out to Minerva.

Being chased back to Minerva

I quickly tied the dinghy to the back of Minerva and hopped aboard. Lance handed me Chloe and everything else in the dinghy and he was about to climb aboard when the first wave of wind hit us with a side slap - hard. The mizzen that we'd left up responded by tilting Minerva on her side. Less than a second later the anchor popped free and we were free-sliding downwind towards a blue trawler tied to the wall. Lance shouted "release the mizzen" and "start the motor" while he was climbing aboard but I was already in motion, throwing all the loose dinghy items in the open hatches and releasing the mizzen lines on my way by.

I double-checked to be sure we were in neutral and pressed the start button for the usual few seconds. The wind was howling so loudly I couldn't hear the motor running, and had to trust that she had started as asked. With a deep breath I put her in gear and we stopped sliding. Oh good, the motor was running after all - whew. Quite unlike our previous tropical storm experience, the wind was coming from every which way so holding it into the wind wasn't possible, the direction kept changing. We were no longer sliding backwards but also we couldn't make headway with the anchor down and other boats were also dragging around the anchorage, we needed to be able to move freely if we had any shot at avoiding damage. Lance must have been thinking the same thing because he appeared at the anchor and started pulling it up. While he was wrestling it into position I stole a quick glance over at Catherine on Lickety. Her  face - her whole body - was 100% focus, wrangling Lickety every which way and somehow keeping her running in place despite the shifty winds. What a bad-ass! I crossed my fingers and hoped that Todd had made it back aboard safely so they could get their anchor up too - it's a two person job, especially with a catamaran.

Minerva's anchor was up and Lance gave me a thumbs up. The wind shifted again and I applied power and bow thruster to avoid Clarity as she swung our way, and then Lickety as she swung back our way. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed we were within inches of the blue trawler, we needed more room to maneuver. When Clarity swung away I powered Minerva into her just-a-moment-ago-slot and then Clarity swung back. John was standing on Clarity's bow and gave me a thumbs up as we passed by, we cleared by inches. Now we had a little elbow room, time to find a safe landing.

The big blank spot in the middle of the anchorage was a no-go. That was where we failed to hook the first time - for whatever reason the holding wasn't good there. The commercial dock was an option for a temporary landing spot until the storm cleared, I steered towards it and the wind shifted again, slapping Minerva's tail away. And again a second time. It was then that I remembered the open spot on the free dock between a sailboat and a trawler. It might be shallow. We might get stuck there, or on the way there. Well, it wouldn't be the worst thing to happen at the moment. We were on a rising tide - high tide was at 8:00 - we'd studied it for our approach earlier - so even if we got stuck it wouldn't be for long and there was elbow room there. Lance and I switched seats and I readied the lines for a stormy approach. At some point when I had my head in the anchor locker retrieving extra fenders a gust of wind blew my dress up over my head exposing lacy special occasion panties to everyone in the anchorage and at the restaurant.

Then the skies truly opened up. Buckets of rain hit us with real force. While holding the lines on the approach I wondered briefly if we had closed any of the hatches and figured no, we probably hadn't. The rain soaked through my dress, clinging it against my whole body, resisting my movements. Everything was going to be soaked. Oh well, we'd land the boat safely first then deal with that next.

The boaters that were already tied to the dock waited for our approach, also soaked through and shouting that they were ready for me to throw them lines. Lance and Minerva fought the gusty wind as the lines I tossed fell short two times (yes I need practice with this). Eventually we landed on the dock, thanked our now-thoroughly-soaked new neighbors and took in a big breath.

That was when I noticed my knee complaining. So I must have tweaked it at some point on the slippery deck. Considering all the damage that could have happened, I'll accept some ice and heat therapy with minimal grumbling. Ice, mop up the inside of the boat, ice again, hang up wet clothes, ice again. This is the adventure we signed up for. And cheesecake to go, topped off with sweet raspberry compote we picked up in Annapolis is just as sweet. All is well.

The next night we were rewarded with the most beautiful cotton candy sunset. The morning after that most everyone left with the high tide and we found ourselves alone on the dock, with a slightly surreal feeling that we might have imagined it all. Nope, the knee still hurts and we both have strong feelings about our new boating rule.

We will never, ever, EVER anchor with insufficient scope again.

Chesapeake Inn the next day under cotton candy skies

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Leaving Annapolis: a little motoring, a little sailing, a little terror

Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Chesapeake Bay Bridge

The squeal of the engine overheat alarm went from subtle to shrill quickly. We exchanged a worried glance and wordlessly switched positions. While I settled in at the helm, studied the current and our best options for a safe landing Lance cracked open the engine compartment. A quick glance overboard showed the exhaust water was spitting out at a half-pressure dribble. We had just departed Back Creek channel from Bert Jabin's Yacht Yard after a restful and magical month of sight-seeing, puttering around on little boat projects, and a path-wearing parade of Amazon packages. The engine had seen some lovin' and we were both surprised at its unhappy noises. Lance pulled apart the raw water strainer, hoping to find the offending blockage but all we found was a little sludge. Not enough to cause the alarm, we rinsed it clean anyways. More troubleshooting required. We were in the middle of the busy channel with a slow current pushing us towards shallow water. I deployed the anchor so we could buy time to gather our thoughts.

Lance double-checked the ball valve, all good there. Something was definitely in the pipe or the hose blocking the raw water from coming in to the engine.

On Wednesday Nights the Outdoor Dine & Music on West Street is in full swing. It started off as a way to keep restaurants running during Covid but is on track to be a permanent good-weather standard.

I volunteered to be the one to go overboard and remove the offending blockage. I started thinking through everything I would need and where to find it - snorkel, mask, fins, all readily accessible. Oh - and I'd need something to poke with. Something like a long metal coat hanger. Wait... there's that one that came with the boat - it seemed like an important thing left behind by the previous owner and so we'd been moving it around the boat instead of discarding it. Lance remembered it the same time I did and brought it up with a grin. He removed the strainer cup and shoved it into the pipe and felt a pop and a freerun out of the boat. Plastic bag, wood, schmutz, octopus, snails, whatever it was that was blocking our precious raw water, it was then released back into the Severn River. He put the strainer back together and I restarted the engine which cooled right down, the anchor came up, we were on our way. Total delay 10 minutes. Best of all I didn't have to take an impromptu swim in the dark brown waters of the bay.

Chloe keeping an eye out for marauding ducks in Annapolis

Bert Jabin is the premiere boat yard in a city well known for boating. While we were there to take advantage of the marina itself and not necessarily for any professional work, we did pepper with questions all the pros we could keep up with as they speed-walked around the property from job to job. All month we'd heard woeful tales from other boaters as they worked through their own boat issues. For a minute we worried we'd be turning back to become one of them, landing on the working side of the yard instead of the fun side this time. But with cool heads and a moment for a breath we solved it ourselves. This time. Whew.

We had a destination in mind: Chesapeake City, 50 something miles away. It was hot and windless and so when we got bored with the sound of the motor and the heat we anchored in peaceful and lonely Still Pond. Well, our end of it was peaceful and lonely anyways. The shallow end had jetskis, powerboats and the constant thrum of generators. But other than the occasional wakes as they flew by they left us alone. The breeze eventually made an appearance as the sun went down and made for a restful night.

Chloe's run-crazy beach, an easy dinghy ride away

The thing about swinging on a lonely anchor is this... the world slows down and takes on an aspect of timelessness. It's easy to become completely absorbed in thoughts, a book, a phone call with a friend and it becomes all-encompassing. In hindsight I suppose many of my favorite hobbies are like this: motorcycling, scuba diving, road bicycling. Moments of terror interspersed among vast amounts of singular focus. No chance for the outside world to butt in. Some free space for the head and heart to recover from the daily onslaught and regain focus.

Lance was reading a book and humming to himself. Chloe was relaxing on the deck, the breeze in her fur. I perused the weather apps. The storm I'd been following online was adjusting course and the new projections showed it missing us and also our friends in North Carolina. Chesapeake City - we're coming for you.