Friday, August 23, 2019

Day 2 - Long 12 hour run from Manteo to Solomons

It was cool enough out that we kept the generator off last night and slept with fresh air. I was so exhausted that I went to bed at 9:00 and was up and ready to go this morning at 5:00 a.m. Eating breakfast on the flybridge, I saw several fishing boats leave our marina for their early morning ocean trips. At around 5:45, I saw Jim get up, and we decided to get ready for an early departure. We cranked up the engines, removed the lines and headed out of Pirates Cove in Manteo, NC at exactly 6:05 a.m., just as dusk was breaking.
Manteo at dusk
It took us about 30 minutes to get through the narrow channel leading out to the Albemarle Sound. The channel curves around and gets really narrow in spots, and after my recent experience on the way to Charleston (which we shall not discuss) I was as vigilant and careful as can be, if not a little anxious.
Channel markers leading to the Albemarle Sound
We hit the Sound around 6:30, and it was pretty rough. Waves were at least 3 feet and hitting us almost directly on the nose, and the winds were head on and strong. Made for a bumpy ride. At one point, Jim noticed that our flag had gotten loose and was almost breaking off, and I stopped the boat to retrieve it. Well, when you are in rough 3+ waves (possibly more like 4), it's not a good idea to stop the boat. We started rolling pretty intensely, and everything on the boat flew from side to side. Once I got up some speed again, things straightened out, but it was still an unpleasant ride.

Happily, in less than an hour, the sun was up, and we were out of the Sound and into the river that makes up the ICW. Much more peaceful and relaxing. We were able to go full speed (today around 26-27 knots) in many portions, but anytime we saw houses, another boat, or marinas, we were required to slow to no wake speed, or 6 knots. The boat is running much better since the repair. My engines are synched perfectly, and I'm getting faster speeds at 90% load. I guess there's a silver lining to my mishap.
Cruising past Coinjock on the ICW
Beautiful Intercoast Waterway views
We were mostly alone in the portions of the ICW that winds around. However at one point, I was cruising at about 26 knots and caught up to a large sailboat doing 6 knots. There's a protocol for passing a slower boat, and I radioed to the sailboat. The name "Obsession" was written in large letters on the side of the boat, and Obsession and I executed the pass starboard to port, with him slowing down, me passing, and then him turning straight into my wake. It's a pleasure when someone actually knows what they're doing, and he gave me a friendly wave and a thumbs up. We sped back up and left Obsession way behind.

We were running great, and the boat was fantastic, but our timing was really off. We got to the first bridge and radioed for an open and were told it would be 16 minutes to open. So we sat and waited.
We went as quickly as possible to the next bridge but had to wait 20 minutes for that one. Once we cleared that bridge, we arrived at Great Bridge bridge (not a typo) at 15 after the hour, and that bridge only opens on the hour. So, we fueled up at the fuel dock with the best possible captive customer base in the world. I assume everyone who arrives early would rather fuel up than sit around waiting for the bridge to open. (I almost suspect the previous bridges timed their openings so that we'd have to wait and buy fuel and then the fuel dock pays a kickback. Never mind, getting off topic.)

Finally, we were ready to go through Great Bridge bridge and into Great Bridge lock. As we were waiting, a sailboat pulled up behind us, and we were shocked to hear them announce themselves to the bridge as Obsession. Seriousy?!? We passed them almost 90 minutes earlier at 26 knots, and now they caught up to us? They must have timed every bridge perfectly. While we wasted fuel running at 25 knots and then waiting for each bridge to open. Talk about the tortoise and the hare.

Jim and I tended the lines in the lock
Leaving the Great Bridge lock - Obsession is in the back
We took off out of the lock at full cruising speed, and pretty soon we were making good time again. Only a couple of bridges left, and after that, our pace was under our own control. We had booked a slip in Norfolk at Tidewater, and I was looking forward to eating in one of the restaurants I like in town there.

The ICW is full of all kinds of boats. Here we saw a tug boat pulling some very long cables, and I had to speak to the driver over the radio to make sure I was staying out of his way.
After losing a bunch of time on all the bridges, we were unfortunate to arrive at a railroad bridge that was closing. Strangely, there was no train. We radioed and tried calling, but nobody answered us. We sat there frustrated, waiting for the railroad bridge to open. After a while, a sailboat approached. You have got to be kidding. It was Obsession. Seriously, was there no way to shake these guys? As soon as Obsession radioed to the bridge to open, they opened it, and still no train every came. I had to test my radio to make sure it worked. Was this antisemitism? Anti-powerboatism? We will never know.
Railway bridge is closed - Ugh
Jim and I pulled through the bridge determined to leave Obsession behind once and for all. Ironically, I was becoming obsessed with this sailboat and its ability to catch up with us going 6 knots. I was starting to understand the boat's name.

After we made it through this bridge, I knew there were two more railroad bridges left. One of them was bridge #5, the one that was closed for 3 days of maintenance the day that Tony and I and the girls were trying to get to Charleston and ended up having to turn around and take the ocean. If that happened today, we'd be up the creek (were actually were up the creek) without a paddle. No turning to the ocean. We would really be stuck there with no options. Fortunately, both bridges were open, and we made it to Norfolk!
Yippee! The bridge was open

Downtown Norfolk
Well, we had arrived at Norfolk full of fuel from having filled up at the Great Bridge bridge waiting area. And it wasn't even 1:30 pm yet. It was a long day from 6 a.m., but hey, we decided to motor on. I wanted to get to Solomons, which would take about 4 hours, and then leave us only 3.5 hours tomorrow to get home. Jim was game, although probably a little less enthusiastic than I was.

We checked the weather, and it was questionable. There were thunderstorms in Solomons, but looking at the radar, we were pretty sure they'd be gone by the time we got there. Just North of Solomons, it was really bad, but those storms were not going to come South (we thought). Thunderstorms were projected for Norfolk, but not until evening. It looked very likely that we could squeeze in between weather patters and get to Solomons without too much risk of getting hammered. And after all, as the pillow my mom made me says:
So, we passed Norfolk and set the chartplotter route to Solomons. As I was leaving Norfolk Harbor and got passed the no wake buoy, I pulled up on plane to 24 knots. I saw that a huge, massive cargo ship was in the channel, and those things make me nervous, so I pulled parallel to the channel to run alongside the ship until I passed it. As I was trying to figure out how to get through this very busy harbor area at speed, I saw a police/military boat with a machine gun on the bow flashing its lights and blasting a siren coming towards me very fast. It went past me, and I turned to look and saw it turn quickly and head towards me from behind. That indicated to me that I was the subject of their interest, and I quickly stopped my boat.

The policeman admonished me on the radio that in front of the military base, I was required to stay inside the channel at all times. I explained that I was trying to avoid the massive ship, but he would have none of it. I apologized an assured him I would stay in the channel. And I did.

Once I passed the harbor area and entered the Chesapeake Bay, I set course due North and pointed Sababa towards Solomons. We had 3.5 hours left. The weather forecast was a little scary, but Jim and I were convinced that we could avoid the worst of it. I was learning a lot about dealing with and navigating in weather from Jim. For the first 90 minutes, the seas were flat, and we were going about 25 knots. I was loving life. I'd like to see Obsession catch us now!

About 30 minutes later, I noticed the air temperature drop about 20 degrees. I was actually feeling a bit cold all of a sudden. I figured this cannot be good. But, the weather still looked okay. Behind us, Jim and I noticed some serious rain was going on. But we were well past that. Ahead, the sky was getting dark. Uh oh. But, we were in the middle of the Bay, and with bad weather behind us and unknown not so great weather ahead, we really had no choice but to move on. Still, the radar indicated that we would be okay.
Raining behind us

We decided to drive from inside instead of on the flybridge because it was starting to rain, and the sky was looking ever more ominous. The waves were now getting bigger and hitting us straight on the bow. I slowed the boat to 18 knots to match the period of the wave and we stopped slamming into the water, except occasionally.

It then started raining very hard. I had learned how to make good use of the radar in low visibility in my Radar and Electronics course at the Annapolis School of Seamanship, and this came in handy, as I was going to rely on my radar and chart plotter now to supplement my dim view of what was going on outside that I was getting through the windshield.

Our biggest fear was that we would arrive in Solomon with a massive storm with 40-50 knot winds and thunderstorms. Radar did not indicate that was likely, but that did not stop that from being my biggest fear. As we approached the river towards Solomons, the rain got more intense, and visibility was lower, and for the first time today I wasn't entirely happy. I decided that if conditions were too intense to dock, I would pull into the harbor at Solomons and anchor. We would ride out the storm on the hook until it passed and then pull up to the fuel dock to tie up. That was our backup plan.

The turn towards Solomons was very good. The waves were much smaller inside the river, and they were hitting us on the beam instead of head on, since we had changed direction. I was worried about crab pots, since we had no visibility there, and I know that area is full of them, but we could only worry about so many things, and we hoped we wouldn't get unlucky. Furthermore, I was back up over 20 knots, and I think hitting a pot at that speed would probably just snap the crab pot line rather than wrap around the prop. Luckily, we never found out.

Amazingly, as we pulled into Solomons Island, the rain let up and practically stopped. Jim secured our lines, and I docked in very light to nonexistent wind. As soon as we were tied up, it started raining again, but not too badly. We needed fuel, and I expect us to leave tomorrow morning before the fuel dock opens. So, I used an umbrella to protect the tank as I filled it with diesel. You do not want water in your diesel. Bad combination.
Fueling in the rain after a 12 hour run
As I was fueling, I looked at my watch, and it was a bit after 6pm. We had run for 12 full hours. What a day.

Our reward was a great dinner in town followed by my favorite dessert: key lime pie from the island's specialty:

So that's it. Tomorrow, we'll head home, and Jim has a flight home from BWI in the afternoon. We are looking forward to an awesome dinner with great friends, and I'll be thrilled to have Sababa back home in Baltimore!