We left Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth on July 27th around 8:30, and headed up past the Norfolk Navy Yard. It was amazing to see all the ships and submarines that are docked and/or being working on as we cruised past. We passed a Destroyer coming home with flag flying and sailors on the deck. We saw three aircraft carriers, including the USS Gerald Ford, which has not been deployed yet. It was dramatic and humbling to cruise by these giants.
The rest of the trip to Mobjack Bay, which is on the west side of the Chesapeake was smooth and uneventful. The Chesapeake is HUGE – we could not see across it. The day was beautiful; humid and hot as we were still in the midst of a “heat dome” covering the country, but it was wonderful to be out on the water again. And we saw dolphins!
We turned off the Chesapeake into Mobjack Bay, on the western shore. From there, we entered the East River, which is a BEAUTIFUL quiet off-shoot of Mobjack, with picturesque homes, private docks, winding “fingers” ripe for exploring on the paddle boards and even a (now-defunct) tidal mill. The biggest noise makers were the great blue herons, with the ospreys running a close second. We explored an anchorage at “Put In Creek”, but we decided to keep looking as the crab pots were too close and the water depth uncertain.
Consulting our chart, we went to the next suggested anchorage and declared it good. Turning the boat into the wind, we dropped anchor and secured ourselves.
A few things made this day less than perfect. Neil had injured his back (not exactly sure how), which left him tired and hurting. The river water temperature was hovering around 90 degrees, not exactly refreshing. And jellyfish – everywhere. We did manage to jump in and out a few times (OK, maybe Neil didn’t jump, but he did get in and out as quickly as he could) and we avoided being stung. We stayed at this anchorage for a few days, during which Kathleen was able to inflate the paddleboard and go exploring a bit. The peaceful scenery harkened back to another time and another era. Kathleen was reading Michener’s “Chesapeake” and may have been “slightly” influenced by his beautiful prose and artful storytelling. Still, it’s a rare gem to visit, with egrets, herons, bald eagles, ospreys, ducks on the land, in the trees and the sky, and fish of every ilk bubbling around the board, occasionally leaping out of the water. And yes, the jellyfish pulsing by, hauntingly pretty, but scary.
Our air conditioning unit for the saloon started displaying a high pressure warning, and tripping off. The most often cause for this failure is a sea water line restriction in the ac compressor, or as Kathleen likes to call it, “gunk in the line”. We tried flushing it out with our on-board fresh water hose, but didn’t have any success. So, on Friday the 31st, Neil contacted Zimmerman Marine, which was less than a mile away. Zimmerman is a service yard with some dockage, not meant to host transient boaters. We were told to come on in, soon if we could as the water depth is too shallow for our 5ft 8in draft except around high tide. We hauled anchor in record time (seriously, the fastest EVER for us) and cruised down to the buoy to turn into the channel to the marina.
Although it was a little nerve-wracking with so little clearance, we made it to the dock with no mishaps, and tied up, unfortunately on our port side, the side WITHOUT a full passageway or an exit door. We met Max who is the manager here, and the epitome of a gentleman with charm and hospitality. He offered any help that he or his crew could give, and told us we could stay as long as we needed, no charge. We connected to their water but unfortunately were still unable to remove the blockage. Neil broke out the Barnacle Buster to flush out the sea water line, worked in no time flat. The plan was to flush all four of the compressors to ensure all was working well (this should be done at least annually to remove marine growth). As it was in the 90’s with 60-85% humidity, aircon was crucial.
When Neil started to walk up the dock to go purchase additional Barnacle Buster, he very quickly returned to a confused Kathleen. He enlightened her by pointing out the very long snake that was currently sunning itself on the dock. After quick research and comparison of pictures to the snake (using binoculars), it was with relief that we realized the offending reptile was a non-venomous water snake – it could bite if provoked, but it’s worst attribute apparently was that it could emit a foul odor from its mouth as a defense. Not to be bested by a snake, Neil put on his thick rain boots and grabbed the hose. As he approached the snake, he encouraged it off the dock with some water spray. No harm, no foul, Neil 1, snake 0.
Once he returned to the boat with his bounty, he asked Kathleen to help remove the boots as his back was still very painful. As Kathleen tried to leverage the boot off without hurting herself, she realized that Neil did not have any socks on. 90 degrees. 80% humidity. Bare feet in nearly-knee high rubber boots. Good times. Another lesson learned.
Max advised that we were welcome to stay the weekend at the dock so Neil could complete the ac compressor flushing work. We’d all been watching a slowly approaching hurricane/tropical storm (Isaias) working its way up the eastern seaboard. Max also told us we were welcome to stay to ride out the storm if it looked like it was going to hit.
We spent the weekend calmly, for the most part. Neil supervised and taught Kathleen how to change the oil, oil filter and fuel filter on the generator. We went for a short walk, and mostly we tried to get Neil’s back to calm down. We met some really nice folks, Deb and Louie, who have their catamaran, 360°, hauled out for some repairs, maintenance and bottom painting. Louie loaned Neil his inversion boots, and offered to go to the grocery store for us. We have a lot of paying it forward to do after our stay here.
As Monday arrived, it appeared that Isaias was going to be more than just a dust up and was heading right for us. Max confirmed that we were welcome to stay. We spent Monday preparing the boat for the storm, bringing in anything that might blow off, securing our lines, putting out fender boards with the fenders. About 4:30, Steve Zimmerman founder of the yard, dropped by to say hello. Neil had previously met Steve at the 2019 Stuart FL Trawlerfest show. He had taught a diesel engine course. Steve gently suggested that we move our boat over to the slip next to ours so that we would be pushed off the dock, not onto it by the storm. This advice was gratefully heeded, as in addition to protecting our girl, we now would be tied up with our starboard side access door to the dock – MUCH easier to get on and off the boat. We walked through our plans to move the boat, having to wait until the tide came in as at low tide we sat on the bottom. There was a heavy thunderstorm at 6:30 that seemed too early for Isaias’ arrival, and was probably just the outer bands of the storm, but the intensity was ominous.
We got Granuaile moved and secured, and we waited. Going to bed was easy; sleep proved elusive. Both of us got up throughout the night to check on things. At about 5:30 in the morning, the winds were picking up and the water started rising. By 8:00 the winds were around 40-45 kts and the tide was still rising. We had a brief discussion about leaving the boat and seeking shelter in the marina bathroom until the storm blew over, but decided to stay on board. High tide was not for another two hours or more and was to rise by another 1.5-2 feet. The water was inches from the top of the dock.
Then the wind began to shift from southeast to northwest as the storm passed to the west of us. This did two things – decreased the wind, and the wind began pushing the water out. By 10:30, the rain had stopped and the sun was peeking through. Our first Tropical Storm was in the books and we did great.
After the rain stopped, we inspected the boat – all was well, just some minor debris to clear. We had lost shore power, as had everyone else in our vicinity, but our generator was working, so we were fine. Then power was restored, we shut off the generator and hooked up shore power – only to have our breaker trip. Even with no loads it would trip as soon as shore power was applied. Neil determined that the relatively new ELCI breaker that had been installed during our stay in Vero Beach had failed. He contacted Max to request some help from one of the electricians.
In the afternoon, Neil went to start the generator. It would not start. Feeling like we were under a cloud of failure, Neil reached out to Clayton, the previous owner of Granuaile, asking for his input. Clayton immediately got back to us, with a suggestion to check the connections to the breaker and fuse in the generator controller enclosure. And sure enough, two spade connectors to the resettable fuse had worked loose. A quick fix – and the generator started like a charm – one disaster averted.
Bob the electrician confirmed what Neil suspected, the ELCI breaker was defective. A replacement was ordered, but it needed to be shipped from the West Coast, and it was Friday – so more days here at the marina. We cleaned, walked, and rested; Neil’s back slowly recovered. We pulled the boat away from the dock (with Kathleen paddle boarding across the slip to the other dock with a line, and Neil pushing the boat off the dock) so we could launch the dinghy and see more of the environs.
We had two beautiful outings, so peaceful and picturesque – it was hard to believe that a storm had just come through a few days before.
On Sunday evening, in anticipation of leaving on Monday afternoon if the ELCI breaker replacement went to plan, we loaded the dinghy back onto the boat. As Neil was putting the davit away (the crane that is used to raise and lower the dinghy to and from the boat deck), he stopped suddenly, noticing that a part inside the davit’s extension arm had come loose, interfered with a hydraulic line causing it to be pinched between the davit covers. We were beginning to feel like we were cursed. Neil went to work reaching out to the manufacturer and someone who had serviced the davit for us when we were in Florida.
Monday we awaited the arrival of the UPS truck. After sitting around for a few hours, we decided to hit the grocery store to replenish some food as well as some other errands. We ran into Max on the way out, and requested more help for the davit issue. We also had an unexpectedly amazing lunch at a restaurant called Olivia’s in Gloucester – highly recommended for food, service and price. Returning to the marina, we passed the UPS truck just leaving. Unfortunately, the part was miss-shipped to a retailer’s store in Annapolis – and wouldn’t be delivered until Tuesday.
We did have some good news. Neil spoke with the technician who had serviced the davit in Vero Beach and was told that the part that had slipped loose was not necessary, was apparently a fairly common failure point in this Steelhead davit model, and could just be removed, which we did.
Bob came over Tuesday morning to remove the damaged hydraulic line, and ordered a replacement to be delivered the next day.
In the meantime, lots of amazing wildlife continued to astound us. We saw so many great blue herons, egrets, ospreys, cardinals, and myriad other unnamed birds. Beautiful luna moths that look like large leaves are around us when we stop to notice.
A young box turtle was swimming near the boat and then pulled himself on the muddy bank for some sunning. The stars at night in all their grandeur took our breath away. And we had beautiful quiet paths to walk to stretch ourselves anytime we wanted. There are definitely worse places to be “stuck”.