5/17 – 29/2016 Summary: We returned to Life’s TraVails on May 17th to find her still in “the cave” but dry. The next morning we rented a car so we could get supplies and do some sightseeing. The first project was to replace the leaking holding tank, and after the hopeful try with a 35-gallon tank, a 20-gallon tank was installed without much hassle.
Then it was time to see the sights of Virginia Beach. We visited the VA Aquarium and Marine Science Center (along with 500 screaming school kids), and walked the Virginia Beach boardwalk with its sculptures almost every block along the way before touring the Coast Guard Museum. Up to Norfolk, we walked the historic downtown area and drove the neighborhoods of Victorian homes, many with their original cobblestone streets.
Hoping to get out of the cave and on our way the next day, we were confronted with a forecast of 3/4 of an inch of rain and more wind than we willingly traverse, so we spent another day in the cave working on the list along with some serious planning to determine if we could finish the Loop this year considering all the delays we’d had. We decided that if we “blasted” through the Chesapeake and up the NJ coast, we could still get to Chicago by early September.
In the Chesapeake, we didn’t set foot on land other than when we had the boat hauled out to check the running gear for a vibration. Finding nothing obvious, we were back in the water 2 hours later, unfortunately with 8’ of the teak toerail damaged due to improper blocking of the sling (see below for details). We did determine we wanted to come back to explore the region at a leisurely pace sometime in the future.
We spent 2 nights in Cape May and Bob and CJ Breidenback joined us for lunch and took us shopping. Then we walked the town of Cape May, which is designated as one big historic landmark, with street after street of Victorian-style homes.
From there the next segment was about 150 miles out in the ocean up the NJ coast to New York City. We made one stop along the way at Atlantic City, which was disappointing due to the number of closed businesses, including some really big casinos; disappointing that is, other than the buffet at Caesar’s Palace!
The big adventure of this leg was the fog between Atlantic City and New York City, but you have to read the details to hear that story.
So 8 days and 400+ miles later, we anchored off the shore of Coney Island, NY with anticipation to visit “the city that never sleeps.”
If you care to delve into the details, read on. They are really as much for us as anyone, but you are welcome to tag along on our adventure. Thanks for stopping by!
Details – We arrived back at the boat the evening of 5/17. The next day, was overcast and rainy. We got Enterprise to pick us up and began provisioning and bought a 35-gallon holding tank at West Marine (whose price was, abnormally, in line with other boating stores). Paula went to work inventorying and storing all the provisions while Tom removed the old leaking 17-gallon holding tank. He immediately discovered replacing it with a 35-gal tank had been only wishful thinking. The bottom side of the old tank was curved to fit and the boat curves did not allow room for the rectangular corners of the new tank. Disappointed, we went to bed.
First thing the next day, we exchanged the holding tank for a smaller 20-gal tank, did a few more errands, and Tom went back to work. The installation went well (all things considered) and soon the job was completed. Paula, meanwhile, began learning what our Chesapeake route would look like.
The following day dawned without rain and we took a break from our readying and drove to VA Beach to visit the VA Aquarium and Marine Science Center. Though nice, it was difficult to escape the too-loud school kids who swarmed the place. We lunched at an Irish restaurant followed by a walk on the Virginia Beach boardwalk (which should have been called a “concretewalk”). Public art decorated the intersection at each street, the showpiece being the 34’ tall King Neptune statue, and we continued until we reached the Old Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum. It chronicled the lifesaving efforts through the years of the US Life-Saving and Coast Guard Services and showed shipwrecks on the Virginia coast.
We then headed for downtown Norfolk and after picking up some information from the Visitor’s Center, walked Old Cannonball Trail through 400 years of Norfolk and American history. We passed St Paul’s Episcopal Church, the only structure in the Norfolk Borough to survive the bombardment and fires of Jan 1776. A visible cannonball was left embedded in the wall of the church as a reminder. Windows on History, 16 exterior display windows in MacArthur Center, traced Norfolk and the surrounding area from the earliest settlements in 1585 to the late 20th century. Across the street was Gen Douglas MacArthur’s final resting place.
Then it was on to the Ghent area, with the cobblestone streets of West Freemason and its turn of the century homes, including one where a large reception was held for Gen. Robert E. Lee in 1870. Around town we also saw 10 of 25 mapped Mermaids on Parade, a public art project which raised money for the arts in Norfolk (see images here). (We’ve seen bears in Vancouver, BC, dolphins in Clearwater, FL, and now mermaids in Norfolk. And we hear there are cows in Chicago.)
Checking the forecast for our departure the next day, we were sadly disappointed to see that overcast skies were again forecast, with 3/4” of rain. Oh well, more time to work on the list. Consequently, we did more departure preparations (filled water, washed clothes, and sealed the new bimini top for the 3rd time, etc) while it rained. Though we were more than ready to get out of the “cave” of boat-shed #2, we passed another day dry in the semi-darkness under the tin roof.
There are only 2 major time constraints for the Great Loop. The Erie Canal closes down during the winter and opens in early May. Due to debris which accumulates over the winter, one does not want to go through the Canal until mid to late May. Then, one should be past the Great Lakes and through Chicago headed south by around Labor Day to avoid winter weather. While home in Phoenix, we had sat down with calendars to see if doing the Great Loop yet this season was even a possibility. We knew we would be away from the boat almost all of July due to other obligations, and we weren’t sure if the engine delay had caused the window of opportunity to slip by us. But…we determined if we could average 25 miles per day with the days we had available with about a week buffer, we should still be able to make it this season. Losing a few more days in Norfolk, we made the decision to blast through the Chesapeake when we could finally get leave in order to make some miles and return another time (200 miles long with 11,000 miles of shoreline, some boaters take a whole year to do the Chesapeake). Gunkholing the Chesapeake (look that one up) would have to wait another year.
Though it was far from a “nice” day, at least the next day was only forecast to have .3” of rain so once the dockmaster and Tom moved the boat in front of us that blocked us in, we motored out of “the cave” for the 0800 opening of the Great Bridge bridge and lock to head north toward Norfolk (12 miles) and the Chesapeake Bay beyond. (Scroll to the very bottom to watch the bridge open.) Interestingly, we locked through with A Capella, the DeFever 53 owned by Active Captain, the boater’s information database we are using to do the Loop! Going through the busy Norfolk harbor in drizzle, with all its navy yards and big ships (one had an honor guard gun salute as he passed us), we wondered if we had made the right decision to leave, but it began to clear a little and we pressed on.
In the dreary cold, we put in a long day of 9.5 hours and 57 miles, passing the James and York Rivers, Mobjack Bay, and into the Piankatank River, arriving at “Duck Blind” anchorage. For about 7 of those hours in the Chesapeake, we felt like we were riding a bucking bronco, taking 2-3’ waves directly on the bow.
One nice observation was we were out of the dark ugly water that had surrounded Life’s TraVails since we left the gulf coast of FL. Finally, it was just a normal “lake-like” color. Another difference was we had lost the “magenta line” mapped on the charts all the way from the start of our trip through Norfolk. Now we had to read a chart without “guidance” of a pre-mapped route. Total wildlife for the day: 2 pelicans…proving the weather wasn’t even fit for ducks.
The next day, we had planned to cross to the east shore to visit with a retired America West captain with whom Paula had flown, but again, the weather (both chop and visibility) prevented us. We stayed in our anchorage and Tom repaired bilge pumps in the morning and they were not even on the list! The weather broke a little in the afternoon and though still in thermal underwear and on an only slightly smoother hobby-horse for a second day, we motored about 25 miles, passing the Rappahannock River and Sandy Point and found a quiet little calm anchorage called Mill Point. We saw both stingrays and jellyfish in the anchorage.
Unfortunately, after anchoring and having dinner on the aft deck (at which point it began to rain again), we discovered a leak from the V-berth starboard window which had wet both mattresses and the storage unit below. By the time we went to bed, the salon looked like a hurricane had gone through as we emptied the V-berth area and spread stuff out to dry.
Tuesday dawned and overcast skies gave way to scattered clouds and by afternoon, we had shed some layers. We planned our biggest day ever – 70 miles. We passed Tangier and the Smith Islands, crossed the state line into MD, the Potomac River leading to Washington, DC, to Kent Island on the east shore. Though we were slowed by an ebbing tide, the weather had finally broken and the calm water was a most welcome change. Radio stations were hailing the weeks of rain and cold coming to an end and predicting temperatures of 85 for the following day (18 degrees higher than the day prior)!
It seemed we had developed a bit of vibration and Tom was concerned about the open water approaching on the Jersey shore without knowing what was causing it. He got in touch with the AGLCA Annapolis Harbor Host, Becky Standberg, who gave him a recommendation on a marina just south of Annapolis in Edgewater where we might get the boat hauled out. We went to bed tired but happy to have accomplished our goal of a 70-mile (11-hour) day.
Wednesday, 5/25 was an eventful day. At 0800, Tom talked with Jeff Abell of Abell Custom Yachts and determined he could haul Life’s TraVails out of the water as soon as we could get there (about 2 hours, once again across the bay). At 1015, the boat was lifted in the webbed straps. The good news – there was no damage to the running gear or propellers, and the bottom appeared to be relatively clean (free of barnacles and other free-loaders). The bad news – the boat was not padded properly before being lifted, it shifted, and a piece of port teak toe rail approximately 8’ in length snapped (cosmetic only). *%&^#. We made a financial “arrangement.” We paid nothing for the haul out (normally between $500-$1000 for a boat our length) or replacing 1 zinc (a sacrificial element that keeps running gear from corroding), Jeff paid for a replacement teak piece which Tom would fix, and we were on our way, in and out of Abell’s in about 2 hours. It only cost us about half a day; and we had the peace of mind there was nothing amiss.
Perhaps because the foul, cold weather had finally broken, as we motored out of Edgewater on South River boats swarmed about us like mosquitos, all seemingly headed north toward the Blue Angels airshow about to begin in Annapolis. We could easily count at least 50 boats at once. After about 30 minutes, we were glad to get back into the bay to quieter waters, about 10 miles wide at that point, quieter that was until the Blue Angels flew by us in formation a few times – beautiful!
We crossed the bay once again to the east shore as we motored 30 miles north, ending our day in a peaceful cove a little north of Baltimore. While eating on the aft deck and then dangling our feet in the water, we observed a pair of bald eagles with their young, and 8 great blue herons “fishing” on a fish trap. Due to the outside temperature and cleaner water, we even contemplated taking a dip. Finally…a truly warm day (83 degrees).
We passed some beautiful lighthouses along the way.
We arose early for another big day, as we had discovered we could still meet our friends in a few days on the Jersey shore. It was clear and hazy as the Chesapeake narrowed at its northern end. We motored into the C & D (Chesapeake and Delaware) Canal, a 14-mile, 450’ wide canal built in the 1820s for $3.5 million and were almost immediately greeted by a full-size ocean-going tanker. Along the side, we saw nice homes and pedestrians and bicyclists on a paved path with resting benches. We got a great push in the C & D Canal by the incoming tide, and our normal 7 knots rose to 9.6. All of the sudden, the canal ended and we were dumped into the wide Delaware Bay. We turned southeast, again joined by large tankers and commercial boats. A few hours later, we anchored at one of the few resting places along the Delaware Bay in the Cohansey River. A bald eagle welcomed us as we entered.
We pulled up anchor at 0600 on May 27th to cover the 5 hours to Cape May in time for lunch with Bob and CJ Breidenbach who were riding the DE ferry from their condo in Ocean View, MD. In the bay, we saw dolphins 2 times, then as we neared the Cape May Canal, we saw about 20 dolphins in 1 pod. The ferry captain even mentioned dolphins and a whale sighting earlier in the morning to his passengers.
A very narrow entrance with a 90-degree turn, wind, and narrow fairways made Paula nervous as she bowed in to Utsch’s Marina. Bob and CJ found us about an hour later and walked to a delicious lunch at Lucky Bones across the street (gluten free pizza with shrimp and lobster; crabcakes). Bob kindly drove us to Walmart to pick up some provisions and then to downtown Cape May after touring the boat. They returned to the ferry for their 1630 departure and we had a lovely walk through the pedestrian shopping street (immediately finding a nice yarn shop) and then one of the greatest concentrations of Victorian homes in the nation. The homes were adorned with ornate verandas and crowned dormers, some almost looking like large 3-story gingerbread houses. The entire town of Cape May was designated a National Historic Landmark city in 1976. The streets and beaches were filled with visitors kicking off their summers with the perfect beach day of the Memorial Day weekend.
We departed Utsch’s Marina at 0600 on Saturday for lighter winds and seas (S to SSW at 5-10 knots, 1-2’ swells, 7 sec intervals) and were glad we did. The conditions we desired were wind direction out of the W and low swells with intervals of ≥6 seconds. The south winds meant we weren’t as protected by the land, but it also gave us a bit of a push along our way. The seas were just rolling but by the time we turned into the inlet at Atlantic City, small whitecaps were forming and the ride was becoming more uncomfortable. We saw dolphins 3 times, a total of about 35.
After arriving at the large Farley State Marina (oddly enough, owned and run by the Golden Nugget Casino), we took the jitney ride to the boardwalk (this one was really made of boards) and walked to Caesar’s Palace on very hungry stomachs for their lunch buffet. We did it right too. We arrived at the lunch price and 30 minutes later, the dinner items came out. That meant Paula attempted to eat her weight in crab legs, smiling through every bite! The head chef even came out when Paula asked about gluten-free items on the buffet line (she sadly recently found out she is allergic to wheat, gluten, eggs, and about 10 other foods) and walked the entire spread with her. After our 2-hour lunch, we waddled down the boardwalk to burn some calories and passed the Miss America competition area. There were all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages of people. We decided Atlantic City was a duplicate of Las Vegas (with the same large casino hotels) with the addition of a boardwalk and ocean on the side.
After sitting in the “wine and wifi” lounge for a couple of hours to catch up on emails and internet, we visited with Thad and Cindy Harvey on Glorious Dei who were flying a Loop flag in a slip near us. They had been to the AGLCA Rendezvous and shared some good Loop information with us. We found many common interests and really liked them and hope that, with a similar trawler, we can buddy boat some on the Loop with them. They also knew some of the same other Loopers and Cindy had even heard (from Pam Kertsch) at the rendezvous about “the female airline pilot who docked the boat.”
We arose before daybreak for an early departure, leaving the slip at 0520 along with Glorious Dei just before the sun broke the horizon with seas of 1’, swells of 8 sec, and a SSW wind at 5-10 knots. Once past the entrance to the inlet, which was quite choppy with opposing seas and currents, it was a lovely morning. It was calm with a very comfortable ride and we were making such good time (at least 8 knots), we began thinking about skipping the inlet at Manasquan and pressing on to Sandy Hook (northern NJ) or Coney Island (southern harbor of NYC). It seemed the perfect day for an ocean transit and with tropical storm Bonnie headed for SC, the farther north and closer to the Hudson River we could get, the better we would be.
Until…suddenly…we were enveloped in fog, which got denser by the minute until it was only about 1/2 mile visibility at times. Captains were announcing on the radio “fog as thick as pea soup”, advising that no one come out. It was not a time for Memorial Day weekend recreational boaters to be out on the seas! (Note, the “images in the picture are not ghosts playing in the fog, but a reflection in the flybridge cover.)
At that point we were about an hour from Manasquan. After much consideration and prayer, we decided since the weather report was “patchy fog,” it would be better to continue on and hope it would be short-lived than enter the Manasquan Inlet where boaters were verbally fighting on the radio with each other about not knowing what they were doing. It sounded like a terrible traffic jam. Someone asked Paula if it wasn’t similar to flying in the clouds. She responded, “Yes…but our boat doesn’t have auto-dock.”
“Patchy fog” it was not. Glorious Dei ahead of us was still in it. We pressed on, using our radar to warn us of other boats nearby and sounding our horn one long blast anytime one showed up on the radar screen. Twice we had to take evasive action (the equivalent to a TCAS maneuver, pilot friends; autopilot off, turn) to avoid a collision course with another boat, one of which was a NYPD boat. Eventually, the fog got denser until we were down to ¼ to ½ mile of visibility. Then we heard Glorious Dei had broken out of the fog at Sandy Hook and had adequate visibility. Praise God! But we were still 1.5 hours away and prayed it would hold until we arrived.
Sandy Hook came and went…but we never saw it. Finally we were within 45 minutes of Coney Island, but we still had 2 shipping lanes to cross. We took a 90 degree direct path across them to minimize our time in the lanes, blowing our horn at regular intervals. We heaved a sigh of relief when they were behind us, continuing to keep our head and eyes on a swivel as we had done the previous hours. (If you had given Paula a choice of 10 things she could have been doing, including a root canal, she would have taken anything but where she was right then! As one pilot friend said, that was a lot of IFR (instrument) time.)
We were within ¼ mile of Coney Island when we saw it. It was the most welcome sight of the whole day! Off to our side, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge between Staten Island and Brooklyn was half clear, half fogged. Our anchorage was on the back side and just as we got slightly around the tip, the visibility cleared and within 2 minutes, we could see everything, including pleasure boaters out fishing and kids playing on the beach and in the water. Staten Island fireworks completed the day. We hoped it was a day never to be repeated.
In 8 days, we had traveled about 400 tiring miles – the Chesapeake, C & D Canal, Delaware Bay, Cape May Canal and the NJ shore up to New York City. Though it would have been good to spend time exploring the Chesapeake, we were glad to again have a bit of a buffer in our Loop “schedule.” Since the Loop is not about the boating for us but about the sightseeing, we had no intention of speeding through, but felt is was right at the time. Now we can slow down a bit and “smell the salt air.”
Next stop – New York City!
Click below to watch an unusual bridge-opening.