Doing the Ditch - Returning to the Chesapeake
6/28/02 - 8/1/02
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The next leg of Duet's journey was from Charleston, SC to the Chesapeake Bay, which is a major landfall for us, as it was our starting point in October of 2001.  But before we began this significant trip there were several projects to be done.  First, and most important, was Tristan's surgery to remove another cancerous lump.  This lump was smaller than the last and there was only 1 lump, instead of 3, so the operation was simpler and the recovery shorter.  All of us were glad of that. Tristan did very well; he had only one uncomfortable night right after the surgery and was his old self within 24 hours.  We unreservedly recommend Dr. Cindy Smith of Old Town Vet to any pet in need of care in Charleston.

While Tristan was recovering Ron set to work on the steering system.  While preparing for that project, however, he identified another one; a leak into a storage closet above the hanging closet in the guest stateroom.   This is typical of boats, go looking for one thing and find something else to do.  Fortunately Ron is a compact size, as accessing this leak was somewhat tricky.  It turned out that the tank access fittings on the boat deck step were leaking, so water ran into the closet. They need to be rebedded but covering them in duct tape did the trick for the short term. 

Back to the hydraulic steering.  The leak was discovered on our arrival in Charleston, which was much less stressful than finding it while we were offshore, although it had probably been leaking then.  Ron checks the steering before every major journey so it must have started after we got underway.  New seals and a large quantity of hydraulic fluid were ordered, as the system had to be drained, and refilled to change the seals.  This project also required the purchase of a larger torque wrench as our previous wrench couldn't produce the forces necessary to close the system up again.  As an aside, when we started this journey, Ron was unsure of the use of the most basic of wrenches so this is an impressive demonstration of learning while underway.  The steering system came apart relatively easily, with a minimum of pounding (unlike the rebuild of the windlass last summer) and the entire project was completed in the estimated time of one week. During this period lots of other things happened in Charleston, including super 4the of July fireworks fired right off Duet's bow so we didn't even have to go anywhere to see them, multiple Coast Guard visits to the marina, and Ron's birthday (celebrated at Magnolias, one of Charleston's finest restaurants).  We continued to very much enjoy the Charleston City Marina, which definitely lives up to it's reputation as one of the best marinas on the east coast.  We stayed in Charleston for a fun filled 3 weeks and, while we were excited about heading north, we were sad to leave and look forward to our return in the fall.

So early one Sunday morning we departed Charleston, bound for an anchorage some 70 nautical miles north, as the next step upon our journey back to the Bay.  As our regular readers will recall, we tend to go offshore rather than up the ICW, as we don't like the shallow water, the bridges, the traffic or the locks.  In this case, however, we decided to go inside rather than wait another week or more for an offshore weather window.  We hadn't traveled this leg of the ICW before, primarily because of a section known at the Rock Pile near North Myrtle Beach, which has a very bad reputation for holing boats.  We know a number of boats, however, which have made it through, so we figured we'd give it a try. 

After about 10 miles that morning, the main engine was running hotter than normal.  This is very unusual; our main engine (a Lugger L668) has had very few problems.  In the past it occasionally suffered from air in the fuel lines but the engine didn't overheat, it just stopped.  Ron fixed that by rebuilding the fuel manifold. Duet has a keel cooler, which, unlike the standard boat exhaust systems, doesn't pump water in from the outside to cool the engine, instead the cooling water runs through a closed system, which passes through a series of tubes attached to the keel, hence the name. Hot water cools down as it is exposed to cooler sea water while traveling through these tubes. It then returns to cool the engine on the next cycle. This is similar to a car radiator.

Duet also has a dry exhaust system, through which the hot exhaust gases produced by the engine are sent out a stack mounted on top of the pilothouse, like the exhaust pipe on a car. The exhaust stack on Duet produces many comments because most boaters haven't seen one before. Dry exhausts aren't commonly installed on recreational vessels as they are more expensive than the wet exhausts. Most commercial fishing boats and large ships use keel coolers and dry exhausts as they are more reliable (they don't suck in plastic bags or jellyfish, which jam the pump, for example) and require less maintenance. All Nordhavn 46's have them, as do the 40 foot models and many of the 50, 57 and 62 foot designs.  It is very reassuring to have the keel cooler when sitting in shallow hot water full of sediment and waiting for a bridge to open, knowing that your engine isn't going to overheat.  Keel coolers do have a weakness though, which Duet demonstrated. They are prone to marine growth on the cooler section as it can't be painted with antifoulant paint, which reduces marine growth on the rest of Duet's bottom. The marine growth (mainly small coral and barnacles) reduces the cooler's ability to cool the water passing through it and the engine runs hotter.  You end up with an overheated engine and baked barnacles, neither of which are particularly useful.

Ron diagnosed this problem quickly, and we anchored in the nearest available creek.  He donned his scuba gear and over he went to clean the keel cooler.  Nancy sat in the dinghy, making sure bubbles were still coming up and glaring at any boat that came too close.  We also flew our dive flag, although we're not sure if it helps anywhere but Florida, where it is required whenever a diver is in the water.  Nancy figured that, at the very least, if Ron was chummed by a passing motorboat, she could make a case for negligence.  Fortunately for Ron, the motor boats kept their distance and he surfaced none the worse for wear, having cleaned the keel cooler and the main propeller.  

As an aside, we have experienced considerable marine growth on Duet's bottom during our sojourn in southern waters.  Part of this is due to letting her sit for long periods (more than a week) in one place, which is guaranteed to cause growth.  Secondly, our bottom paint was over a year old when we left. In retrospect, we should have repainted her bottom before we left, but we had no experience with the rate of marine growth in southern waters.  The Chesapeake is mild in comparison.  We did have a professional diver clean her bottom twice during the 6 months we were down south, in the future we will have it done once per month whenever we are tied to a dock.   Also we will try to keep her moving more, as the ablative paint works much better when the boat is moving than when it is at rest.  While Ron does dive on the boat to change zincs, inspect the bottom and fix things , we've decided he won't scrub the bottom as the ablative paint is toxic.  Also we only have 2 scuba tanks and would probably need to buy an air compressor or generator to provide enough air for a complete bottom cleaning.

The next morning the main ran cooler than it had since we left Maryland, so Ron obviously had an impact.  That night we reached the anchorage we had originally planned to reach the day before, clearly demonstrating another one of Nancy's cruising principles, namely plans are an outline of what won't happen.  We also ran aground that morning, having committed a basic navigational error.  This reminded of one of the reasons we don't like the ICW, as our regular readers will recall, we ran aground with irritating regularity on our trip south the previous year.

While this grounding was due to a navigational error, it did focus us on the depth sounder, which we don't pay much attention to offshore.  Our depth sounder is a combination depth sounder/fish finder.  The transducer is installed on aft third of the boat.  As we ran up the ICW this time we began checking the depths the sounder gave us with our hand held depth sounder (one of the best tools we have, it's made by Speedtech Instruments and worth every cent of it's $165 price).  We found considerable discrepancies, for example the depth sounder would read 6.5 feet and the hand held unit showed 16 feet.  We also got lucky and met a Nordhavn 40  named Atlas. In one of those funny boating coincidences, we had seen her several years before, when we were considering buying a new 40 (before we bought Duet).  She was on her way to her new owners, who will keep her in the Chesapeake.  So we'll probably see her again.

Anyway, Atlas traveled behind us for nearly a day on a very shallow section of the ICW (Bogue Sound) and was able to give us independent depth readings from their sounder.  It turns out that our depth sounder is also a fishfinder.  Our numeric display was really an average of the sea bottom depth along with more shallow disturbances such as fish and air bubbles.  Thus, the number we saw was often much more shallow than the reality, which made navigation confusing and difficult.  After some time with the manual (gee, what a concept: read the manual), Ron was able to replace the 'number' with a graph of echo density versus depth.  Now we can 'see' the sea bottom, and read its depth, separately from more shallow disturbances  that do not matter to us.  After a year of cruising, we now know how deep the water is!

Back to the cruise.  We reached the Rock Pile several days later, after staying in some nice anchorages in South Carolina. During this part of the journey we ran into "Tortuga", a Defever 48 traveling the same route.  We exchanged bona fides, addresses and information.  They are based in Panama City, Florida, and planned to spend the summer in the Chesapeake.  Since it was their first visit we were hopefully able to offer some good anchorages and they, in turn, gave us some advice on the Rock Pile.  They are also looking to move up to a Nordhavn 57, so we were able to give them information on the boats in general.  All in all, a classic cruisers' exchange.  Unfortunately we never ended anywhere together in the evening, but we have plans to get together in the Chesapeake.

During one of our stays in a small anchorage we developed a new way to use the radar (at least for us), namely to take bearings on the land and make sure we're staying in one place.  We also began to use it while underway, to judge the middle of the channel when the marks were few and far between.  In areas with significant tides, such as Georgia and South Carolina, it is hard to see the edges of the channel when the tide is high.  One night in particular we were in a very small creek and were concerned about how close to the edge we really were.  The radar showed we were 80 feet from shore, after subtracting the length of the boat behind the radar dish.  Nancy felt it was more like 20 feet, so Ron decided to test it by designing a measuring device, consisting of a length of line, a tennis ball and a lot of duct tape.  Deploying this device proved that neither Ron nor Nancy can throw a ball 80 feet, but we did manage about 40, which was about halfway.  Next time we'll believe the radar.

We approached the Rock Pile with considerable trepidation, given it's reputation.  We chose to travel through it at the beginning of the rising tide, the idea being it would be better to see the rocks at low tide and if, heaven forbid, we ran aground, the rising tide would help us get off.  The worst part of the Rock Pile is about 7 miles long but the entire channel is about 22 miles, so we had a tense 4 hours or so. The biggest risk is meeting a large barge, as there is no room to pass.  Fortunately, Tortuga was transiting about an hour ahead of us; we kept in touch by radio for advance notice of problems. All large barges seemed to be on a lunch break, so both boats made it through unscathed. We tied up in a marina just past the danger zone and took the afternoon off. Tortuga, whose crew is apparently made of sterner stuff, continued on to Southport.

The worst of the journey past, or so we thought, we continued the next day past Southport and on to Wrightsville Beach.  Wrightsville Beach has a very nice anchorage.  On the way into Wrightsville, however, we nearly met a rather nasty end.  The entrance to the Wrightsville anchorage involves a very sharp turn off the ICW in a congested area.  Boats are going in all directions.  During our last trip through we nearly ran over a dingy, which unwisely pulled out in front of us just as we were making the turn.  Fortunately, he saw us coming and was able to scoot out of the way. On this return visit the situation was to be reversed.  At the turn, taking up at least half the narrow channel, was a very large dredge, which looked like a small building on a barge with a crane on one end.  Our experience with dredges to date indicated they are always fixed in one place.  So we watched the boat ahead of us turn around the dredge and then followed him into the narrow space between the dredge and the dock.

At this point we learned there are dredges which don't remain stationary, have long cables under the water and turn from side to side to dredge the bottom.  This one had already begun it's swing back towards the dock, and us. Fortunately, we realized something wasn't right quickly enough for Ron, in a feat of close quarters boat handling, to turn Duet and back her out of the way.  We regrouped in the fairway, did what we should have done the first time, namely call the dredge on Channel 13 and ask when we could pass through and then passed through while the operator moved the dredge out of the way.  This was a very close call, which could have been ugly. That evening we set a new policy of always monitoring Channel 13 (in addition to 16) and always calling commercial traffic if we had the slightest doubt about what they're doing or planning to do while we're in the vicinity.  This new policy paid off several times later in the journey when we talked to tugs along our route.  All were pleased we called and happy to explain their maneuvers so we could transit their operating area safely.

The next morning we started off again, considerably wiser.  We talked to the dredge on the way out, passed him easily and continued north.  After Wrightsville the journey was familiar as we had come this way in the fall.  We skipped Beaufort, as our friends Donna and Ray (who incidentally bought a larger boat and moved aboard soon after we met last fall) were off selling their house.  We planned to meet them later in the Chesapeake,and anchored further north. We then moved on to Belhaven, one of our favorite anchorages, where last year we weathered 3 days with a 30 knot northeaster.  Belhaven lived up to it's history; we were hit by a large thunderstorm packing upwards of 40 knots. This is the most wind we have withstood at anchor and, while impressive, it didn't budge Duet an inch.  When we anchor, we back down at 800 RPM.  We don't really know how much wind that represents; based on this now we think it must be at least in the 30's.  Far more frightening was the lightening, which went on for what seemed like hours but was probably only about 45 minutes.  Lightening is frightening anywhere but particularly so in a boat, where a strike can do exciting things like blow out the thru-hulls (plumbing fixtures which allow water to pass into the boat for air conditioning, etc.) thereby sinking her at her mooring or fry all the electronics and shock the crew (which happened to a friend of ours).  Fortunately Duet was unharmed and we spent a pleasant evening after the storm passed.

During this journey we ran our generator almost continuously to power the air conditioning.  We have found that if the crew is comfortable the trip goes more smoothly.  The only problem with all this is the gennie needs it's oil changed every 100 hours, which works out to be every few days if it runs nonstop.  To change the oil, the gennie, and hence the A/C, must be shut down.  Further, the engine room is about 125 degrees, with the main and the gennie running all day.  So Captain Ron took a page out of Tom Neale's book (Tom is an editor of Cruising World and has been cruising the ICW and the Bahamas for 25 years) and started doing all his oil changes and other engine work in the nude.  Nancy (for whom the scenery improved dramatically) was forbidden to photograph this, so you'll have to take her word for it.  Ron was relieved to find that he wasn't alone, as the Australian on the catamaran next to us in Norfolk did all his dishes in the nude off his transom.  Cruisers are an interesting group; during our journey north we also met a Swiss family cruising with little local information and limited English.  They clearly depended on the kindness of strangers so we did the best we could for them, giving them the bridge times and possible anchorages along their route to Norfolk. 

After Belhaven we traveled to Coinjock, a favorite stop for the prime rib at Coinjock Marina.  The next day we continued to Norfolk, which is in many ways where it all began for Duet last fall.  We anchored at Hospital Point, after transiting 6 opening bridges and one lock.  On our journey down that seemed like a major achievement but now, having done18 bridges a day for two days while traveling through Fort Lauderdale, it seemed like just another day on the water to us.  It's amazing how far our boating skills have come, but, as we continue to demonstrate regularly, we have a lot further to go.

So Duet is back in the Chesapeake Bay. We spent our first few nights at anchor in Virginia's Northern Neck, on the Corrotoman River, which is a truly stunning place we'll visit again.  We then moved up to the Solomon Islands where we had two encounters, one good and one bad. The good one was with the crew of Egret, a new Nordhavn 46, Hull #76, which was having some work done at Washburns Boatyard.  We enjoyed meeting Scott and Mary and were only sorry we didn't have time see their new boat, which has a flybridge, a rare feature among N46's.They had some great suggestions for modifications to the stock 46, which we are going to seriously consider.

Our second encounter was less positive.  This year the Chesapeake is loaded with jellyfish. Within our first several hours at anchor two of Duet's air conditioners and the deck washdown pump ate jellyfish and jammed.  The jelly fish usually get stuck in the thru-hull; cleaning them out is a loathsome chore, involving buckets, foul smelling water, high potential for jellyfish stings and plenty of general mess.  Scott and Mary changed Egret's underwater thru hull fittings from the standard scoop, which readily admits those jellyfish, to  covers with cleanable screens that supposedly keep the jelly out.  They have had good experience with them, so we'll be asking our pals at Washburn's to do the same for us. 

We'll be here through the end of October, based at Herrington Harbor South.  Duet is being hauled at Washburns Boatyard for a bottom paint job, teak treatment and some fiberglass repair work.  We hope to get in some serious cruising on the Bay, and have plans to meet with various cruising friends as they transit the area.  The Annapolis Power Boat Show in October is on our agenda, as is TrawlerFest in the Solomons.  All in all a busy summer for Duet, before we start south again at the end of October. 

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