November 2012 - Chesapeake to Florida

1 November 2012    Portsmouth, Virginia
We picked up the hire car and drove to Deltaville to get my tooth fixed.  As usual the hardest part of driving in the States is getting out of the local area and onto a highway – we drove around for 20 minutes until we escaped from down town Portsmouth.

We stopped off at Yorktown which is where the British General Cornwallis finally surrendered to the American rebels (who were helped by the damn French of course.)  We didn’t have time to justify spending $20 to get into the museum and go on the guided tours, so we wandered around and just got a flavour of the place.  The battle field is a wide open space and the National Park has preserved the earth works that, manned with cannon, were the primary defences of the British.  The historic down town area is very twee with old seventeenth century buildings which are well preserved - it’s like being in a museum just walking around the town.

First time that I've walked out of a dentist with more money than I went in with...

We drove to Gloucester and went to the Wal Mart store to buy provisions and a few other goodies.  I bought a small fan heater for $17 which is exactly the same model as Jim lent us and will no doubt come in handy if it’s cold and we have mains power.

Thankfully, the new crown had arrived at the dentist and they soon fixed it in place.  I asked to keep hold of the old temporary crown in case the new one falls out again.  The dentist thinks that the whole tooth will fall out before the new crown falls out – we’ll see.  The dentist apologised again and offered to pay any extra expenses that we’ve incurred as a result of having to wait for the new crown.  I told him that the only thing was the hire of the car to drive up here, so he gave me a $100 bill to cover the cost.  This is the first time that I’ve ever walked out of a dentist with more money than I went in with!

While I was in the dentist, Glenys was in the supermarket stocking up on food and we had a well packed car as we drove back to the boat.

2 November 2012    Portsmouth, Virginia
I dropped the hire car back, while Glenys took advantage of the laundry room.  While waiting for the heater part to arrive, I went up the mast and removed the VHF antenna, so that we can fit under the 65 foot bridges that we’ll encounter when we leave tomorrow. 

Glenys started to look at places that we can visit on the way down to Key West in Florida, while I sorted out our 15hp outboard.  I took the fuel filter off and found that there was water in the bottom of the bowl, which proves that water is the latest problem.   I chatted to a Mike from “Wind Song” and he said that the water is caused by the ethanol that is added to petrol here in the USA.  Apparently the ethanol turns into water (or attracts water) when fuel is stored for a long time.  They don’t put ethanol into petrol in the Caribbean, which is probably why I’ve not had this problem before we came to the USA.

I emptied out most of the petrol from the dinghy fuel tank carefully into a petrol container and then put the last pint into a jar.  After letting the fuel in the jar settle, I could see that there was water in it.  I put fuel back in the dinghy fuel tank, stripped the carburettor and magically it all works again.  I’m going to have to keep an eye on the fuel and make sure that I never use the last pint from a petrol container because it will probably have water in it.

Up the mast again

The technician arrived at lunchtime and installed the dummy temperature sensor and the heater fired up and seemed OK.  We ran it for an hour and it was bouncing inside the boat.  I turned off the heater for an hour, but when I went to restart it wouldn’t fire up again.   I got the engineer to come back with his computer interface and we could see that the internal sensor was at 48°C simply because the heater itself was very hot.  The maximum temperature that I can set the thermostat is 35°C, so the heater won’t turn on again until it cools down.  We proved this by blowing a fan on the heater for five minutes to cool it down and the heater started OK.  

It’s a bit quirky, but I at least I know how it works now.  I really need to buy a proper room temperature sensor, so that it will operate as a normal central heating system.  I’m going to look on the Internet to see if anyone has been enterprising enough to design a home-made sensor.  Otherwise I might be able to buy one from Germany directly and cut out the 300% mark-up from the distribution chain. 

The people have been really friendly here and have been very helpful.  Every so often, we come across a place like this which is populated by interesting characters.  Jim from “Seascape” worked for the Coast Guard for seven years, then skippered tugs and worked as a Pilot.  Mike from “Wind Song” is a clock maker, has a master’s degree in music and has worked on fishing boats on the Grand Banks for many years.  He runs his clock repair business from a wooden shed in the boat yard.  It’s an amazing place, ram-packed with pocket watches, grandfather clocks and jewellery and kitted out as a clockmaker’s workshop with small presses and lathes where he makes his own cogs and shafts.

3 November 2012   Portsmouth to Great Bridge, Virginia
It was cold again last night – definitely time to head south.  The cabin heater fired up in the morning thank goodness.  We motored around to the town dock in Portsmouth to pick up a parcel for “Eye Candy” – they headed south two days ago and the parcel arrived yesterday.  It must have been the shortest time that a yacht has used the public dock because I ran to the chandlers to pick up the parcel and we left two minutes after we docked…

Portsmouth is at “Mile Zero” of the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) which is a dredged canal/ inland waterway that weaves its way 1095 miles down to Miami in Florida. All the places in the guide books are referred to by the number of miles from Portsmouth.  The ICW winds its way down the east coast through the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.  It’s difficult to sail along the route because it meanders around so much, so it requires motoring everywhere and doesn’t really appeal to me.

We motored down the Elizabeth River following a couple of other yachts.  We were all heading for the first of a series of bridges that only open at a specific time each hour.  When we arrived at the bridge there were already four other boats there.  We had to wait thirty minutes for it to open, so there was lots of circling going on in the gusty winds.  It was a right little flotilla of ten boats that rushed through the bridge and onto the next one three miles away which opened thirty minutes later.

Great Bridge, North Carolina

It was a lovely sunny day, but the wind was bitterly cold and I was very cold by the time that we pulled up at the Great Bridge public dock at midday.  It was wonderful to go down below to a nice warm saloon.  I put up our “Cockpit Tent” cover which shields the cold wind and makes it much warmer.  

We walked into the small town of Great Bridge, filled up a propane tank and went to a few shops.  There’s a great Dollar store where we managed to spend $28 on various stuff.  We've started to buy small things to give away when we get to Cuba, like toothpaste and small things for kids.  In the evening, we went to a Mexican restaurant and drank too many margaritas.  We had the cabin heater on for over eight hours today.

4 November 2012   Great Bridge to North River,  North Carolina
It was a miserable, overcast day.  We went through the bridge when it opened at eight o’clock and motored south through another couple of bridges.  I totally mistimed the North Landing Bridge and we had to wait for 25 minutes, which was frustrating.

After fifteen miles of the ICW, I was very bored.  There’s not much to look at, but you have to keep a constant watch on steering as the canal weaves about.  It started to rain and we tried to motor along with the Cockpit Tent in place, but we found it too claustrophobic.  We started to have one hour watches, so the one of us could be down below in the warmth and doing something useful rather than sitting and staring at the trees and reeds that edge the waterway.

We were cold and weary by the time that we anchored in the late afternoon in the North River after 46 miles of remorseless motoring through swamp and more swamp.  The anchorage is in the middle of nowhere and is just a convenient 3 metre deep anchorage on the way through this dismal place.

Glenys rustled up a nice late Sunday lunch of roast chicken with roast potatoes, stuffing and apple sauce – how does she do it?

5 November 2012   North River to Pungo River, North Carolina
We were up before dawn because we had a long 75 mile day ahead of us.  The anchor was up and we were away before the sun came up – a lovely clear day, but damn cold again.  

As we were motor sailing across Albemarle Sound, I went below to try to see if I could solve the mystery of the water that had been appearing in the bottom of the engine bilge.  I’d mopped it all out last night and mortified to see that there was about a pint of water sloshing around after only an hour of motoring.  There was no sign of a leaking pipe, or dripping water, but I did notice that the pumps on the side of the engine room were wet.  

The only unusual thing that we’d done that morning was to motor along at 2500 rpm for ten minutes (before we decided it was too noisy.)  I asked Glenys to increase the revs to 2500 and almost immediately water started to pour from the ceiling of the engine room.  I quickly found that water was coming from a vent pipe attached to the new PSS stern gland.  Glenys dropped the revs back to 2200 rpm and magically, the water stopped.

More Swamp, ICW, North Carolina

The vent tube is only there to allow air to escape from the stern bearing, so why was I getting water shooting out?  I rang Mack at Deltaville Boat Yard and after a bit of head scratching, we think that when the boat speed gets high, the water pressure in the stern tube is enough to raise the water level in the vent pipe so that it effectively overflows.  We could only surmise that this is happening now because the vent pipe is clear and there are two small scoops on the cutlass bearing housing designed to increase the flow of water into the bearing.  These were full of antifouling and I cleaned them out when we hauled in August.

Mack suggested two options – lengthen the vent tube and put the opening higher or put an anti-syphon check vale on the top of the vent tube and place it as high in the engine compartment as possible.  It’s another little project for me to do.  In the meantime, I’ve clamped the end of the vent tube shut – as long as I make sure that there is no air in the stern gland, it’ll be okay for a while.  I’m relieved that I’ve finally found the problem – it been driving me crazy for weeks.

The rest of the day was boring - motoring along a dredged channel sometimes in wide open bays and other times down narrow canals. I didn’t know whether to be impressed or bored by the Alligator River – Pungo River Canal which is 18 miles long and straight as an arrow apart from a single 15° bend in the middle.   We continued to run watches – one hour on and one hour off.

We anchored in a lovely place just to the east of Haystack Point on the Pungo River.  It’s well protected from the north and we were the only boat in sight – very peaceful.

6 November 2012   Pungo River to Oriental, North Carolina
Up early again.  We motored south with another ten or so boats of various shapes and sizes.  There aren’t many boats going north.  It started to rain as we approached Oriental and we anchored close to “Eye Candy” in the small anchorage just outside the marina.

Oriental, North Carolina

We delivered the parcel that we’d picked up for “Eye Candy”, chilled out for the rest of the afternoon and then went to “Eye Candy” for dinner with Andy and Clare.  Like us, they’re not sure where they’re going to stop on the way down to Florida.  It’s so cold here now that we all want to get south.

7 November 2012   Oriental, North Carolina
It was a horrible grey, rainy, cold day.  I nipped out of bed, turned on the cabin heater and ran back to have a lie-in while the boat heated up.

Glenys went to the supermarket while I wandered around the small town of Oriental looking for something to fix the vent tube on the stern gland.  I couldn’t find a vent valve, but bought 15 foot of tubing so that I can place the end of the tube higher up away from the water line to see if that will help.

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to plan where we’re going for the next month.  Our friends Mike and Rona have hired a house in Vero Beach, Florida until the end of December, so that’s given us something to aim for – we’re planning to get there for the first week of December.  That gives us four weeks to travel down South Carolina, Georgia and the northern coast of Florida.  

We’re planning to sail for two nights down to Charleston in South Carolina, then spend a week on the ICW going to Beaufort and then onto Savannah.  After that it’ll be another couple of nights sailing to get to Florida.  We’re not looking forward to sailing at night in these cold temperatures, but we’ll have to grin and bear it.

Steve from “Celebration” picked us up and took us to their marina for drinks and nibbles with around twenty cruisers.  Most are heading south, but like us many don’t seem to know where they’re going to stop.