New Internet Setup

Warning: Nerdy informational post. Skip if you just want to hear boating stories.

We’ve been using the Cradlepoint, Rogue Wave, and WirEng setup for the last ~2 years on the boat, and while most of the time it’s been functional, we’ve basically constantly been fighting issues. The Cradlepoint requires manual intervention to switch between providers, the Rogue Wave basically never connects to marina wifi, and the WirEng antenna seems to not be very omnidirectional, so it changes signal drastically as we spin in anchorages. We’ve basically had nearly a year on the boat periodically apologizing during work calls for dropping seconds of audio periodically. During COVID, lots of people have bad internet, but at some point this is going to be a problem.

Knowing I wanted more antennas, as well as more solar, while we were in Maine this summer/fall, we had the bimini canvas modified to add velcro patches so we could move the solar panel setup over from the hardtop, freeing up tons of real estate for antennas, while also doubling our wattage. Since then, I’ve been on-and-off researching options for a couple months. I’ve been leaning toward switching over to a Peplink router, and had still been trying to decide how complicated of a setup to get, other antennas to try, etc., when Hannah ran across an article on SeaBits about his 2020 internet setup. He had a ton of details on his Peplink-based setup, and had tried a bunch of antennas. I exchanged a couple messages with him, posted a little on the Peplink forum, and after a bunch of research, hemming, and hawing, I decided to try a “cheap” version of his setup.

In the past, we had Verizon and AT&T SIM cards in the Cradlepoint that we’d switch between. I wanted to, instead, support at least both of those connections simultaneously, as well as possibly adding TMobile on top. Peplink has a whole slew of different routers available, supporting everything from a single CAT6 modem through to a 6500$ unit with four integrated CAT18 modems. I decided to hedge some of my bets and went with the MAX Transit Duo CAT12, which has two integrated CAT12 modems, for 1000$. The router also supports integrated WiFi-as-WAN, so you can pull in marina wifi and treat it just like another internet connection like the cell modems. It also has a single WAN port, allowing me the flexibility to add another single cell modem and use that as yet another connection to share, which I ended up using in the end.

I picked up two Poynting OMNI-402 2×2 MIMO LTE/3G antennas, which were the SeaBits suggestions, to support two CAT12 cellular modems. They don’t have quite as much posted gain as some non-MIMO antennas, but they effectively pack two fairly-high-gain antennas per unit, in a nice weatherproof package, with integrated cabling, so it should work even better than the GigaMIMO under 95+% of circumstances.

Next, I grabbed two Poynting OMNI-496 2.4/5 dual-band WiFi antennas. Again, these were the SeaBits suggestions. The Poynting antennas have a great marine mount, have sturdy weatherproof packaging, and very good omnidirectional characteristics. So even though they aren’t the best peak gain of all available options out there, in real-world usage they seem to hold up better than anything else.

The interesting revelation that SeaBits had that kicked me over the edge was that he actually mounts the router very close to the antennas, letting you use very short cables (less signal loss/noise). Then you run a CAT6 cable and power cable into the boat to a simple switch (Trendnet 8 port industrial) and wifi access point (AP One Rugged) to actually distribute the internet to devices inside the boat. Separating the purposes like this means that you don’t need to fish a bunch of 30 foot cables from the antennas way down into the boat, with a bunch of noisy crosstalk with other signal cables the whole way. So even though I have way more wires total in play now, the actual arrangement throughout the conduits of the boat is way simpler.

Fishing the four antennas through the hardtop was awkward, since Meridian really didn’t build the thing intending for you to send wires through it, but once we got all the cables through to the center of the hardtop, it was gloriously simple to hook everything up. The router is a nice compact little rectangle with sturdy connectors and a nice removable power junction block. I put everything together, and magically it worked right out of the box. Both cell connections worked simultaneously, and I connected right up to the wifi of our friends’ house we were staying outside, and started setting up all kinds of routing rules.

Four new Poynting residents across the back of the hardtop

Finally, a few days later, after validating that this setup was working well, I took our old MOFI4500 backup router, and hooked it into the WirEng GigaMIMO antenna that we hadn’t been using for the last week. After disabling wifi and a bunch of advanced settings, I stuffed a new TMobile unlimited SIM into it, plugged it into the WAN port of the Peplink, and immediately we were getting internet off all 5 sources (2 wifi, 3 cellular)! After testing this new setup, I hardmounted power to that as well, and now everything was nicely secured inside the hardtop.

Testing the final setup tonight from St. Augustine, I was able to pull 139 megabits down, with the laptop using wifi! And for days now, video calls have been rock solid, using the SpeedFusion Cloud redundancy setup, where it sends packets over multiple connections simultaneously and merges them in the cloud. For around 2300$ total, this setup is a huge step up from the old one, for less than half of the cost.

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Beaufort, Savannah and Sunbury

Sunset after the storm

Since the weather was pretty dreary, it was the middle of the week and we knew another storm was coming, we decided to head to Beaufort, rather than all the way to Savannah.

We actually did something unusual for this leg, which was to set out in the afternoon, rather than the morning due to the tidal schedule. This section of the ICW has a bunch of very-shoaled spots that, even with Bob423 tracks, you really don’t want to be going through at low tide. With high tides around 3am and 3pm, we didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter for timing.

While underway we called the Lady’s Island Marina to make a same-day reservation and discovered unfortunately that they were all full that night, but had room for us the next day. Since the storm would be hitting the next day, and no wind was predicted overnight, we decided to anchor near the marina and get tied up as soon as possible in the morning. As we pulled into the inlet with the marina (with about 10 mins to spare before we both had to jump on meetings), the area with “lots of space” according to the marina’s dockmaster turned out to be full! With little other choice, we drove past the marina hoping for a spot further into the inlet. There wasn’t much room, but since it was getting dark (darn winter) and we both needed to be on calls, we dropped the anchor, set up a tight radius on our anchor alarm and went back to work.

We moved into the marina in the morning, and the remnants of tropical storm Eta hit later in the day. We had some strong wind and some short-lived mini-monsoons, but were otherwise ok. We heard from some boating friends who were anchored outside of Charleston that they were dragging their anchor in 40kt winds, so we were glad to be in the shelter of a marina and a few more miles inland! After that, the weather started improving and we ended up being able to have outdoor dinner on the patio of the restaurant next door to the marina and I was able to walk to the grocery store to provision. I also managed to go for a run!

We knew we wanted to get to Savannah on the weekend, so on Saturday morning we did a fairly long cruise from Beaufort all the way to Savannah. When coming North we had stayed at a marina 8 miles south of Savannah, knowing that everything was closed due to Covid and there wouldn’t be much to do. With Georgia currently having few restrictions, we figured that there would be a few more options, so we decided to stay in a more expensive marina right in the heart of the historical part of town. This was great, as we could hop right off the boat; however late Saturday afternoon as we arrived, the area was crowded with tourists and almost no masks in sight! We decided to go for a walk to explore a little. There were several restaurants open with outdoor seating, but they were right in the middle of the sidewalk with pedestrians passing by 1-2 feet from the tables. We hurried back to the boat and ordered delivery for dinner!

The next day, I had booked us another walking tour of the city. Our tour guide clearly had a great love for the city and we learned a ton about its history from founding to present. It was very interesting to experience the differences in character between Charleston and Savannah.

On Monday morning, we did a short hop to an anchorage on the Vernon River and the next day in the Little Tom Creek. These were great little spots, where we were alone. Nothing too exciting happened here – we both had days packed with meetings. Since it’s winter, the sun usually sets while we are still on work calls. One of these nights, I was sitting outside on a call at sunset. It was very beautiful, but since I was presenting, I was only able to take a couple of bad shots with my phone through the boat canvas. My portion of presenting ended, so I just had time to stand up to get this shot of the last little bit of light with the moon over head, while still wearing my headset on the call!

On Wednesday, we reached the stretch of the ICW where, due to Georgia’s very restrictive anchoring laws, we would be only able to stay in marinas. We had wanted to revisit Sunbury Crab Co, a restaurant with a marina that is about 8 miles off of the ICW. When we stopped here on the way North, we had eaten the most amazing grilled flounder that either of us had ever eaten before. Unfortunately the restaurant failed to live up to our memories a second time – the founder was good, but it wasn’t the flaky, melty, deliciousness that we both remembered. Since our next leg is at least 40 miles due to anchorage restrictions and lack of marinas, we ended up staying on the dock at Sunbury for the rest of the week, so that we could make the next leg on the weekend.

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Charleston and the Election

Sunset over McClellanville

Zeta ended up not being a big deal in the end. A couple days in the marina with a fair amount of wind, but nothing to write home about. So we hung out, chatted with our neighbors, and when the weekend came, headed south.

With a full weekend of calm weather ahead of us, but needing to be in Charleston the following weekend, we had some mileage to put behind us this week. My work week was also packed solid because of quarterly planning meetings, so we weren’t going to make much progress mid-week.

This area of the ICW starts to get quite tidal, with regular inlets and short rivers that lead out to the ocean, leading to lots of shoaling (underwater sand buildup spots) from all of the daily water exchange. As such, charts tend to be out of date within months, as shoals pop up out of nowhere, causing very shallow spots in the middle of the charted route. We’ve been reading alerts in the past on various sources (activecaptain, mostly) to know when to be cautious and make sure to go through near a high tide, but this summer found out about a set of tracks released by Bob423 that are regularly updated and can overlay into Navionics (and other apps) to give the latest safest water as proven by Bob and his community of other ICW travelers. Their community data is significantly more up to date than anything else we’ve found.

Bob423’s proposed alternate route (upper) through Lockwood’s Folly (old route dotted)

Setting out on Saturday, we knew that, just west of Southport, was a notorious spot called Lockwood’s Folly, which I’d been seeing alerts for the past couple months saying it’s super-rapidly shoaling, and down to around 4 feet deep along the currently-charted (and buoyed!) route. While we were in Southport waiting out Zeta, we saw Bob put out a message with an updated “beta” track that actually followed some deeper water (charted that way, anyway) far off course that he hadn’t tried before that he wanted someone to try out. We knew we’d be heading out early in the morning, near high tide, and with a forward-facing sonar we were in a good position to give it a go. We veered off course at the right place, and never saw less than 10 feet under our hull! We reported the data back to Bob, and I exported track and depth data out of BoatKit, which he sent off to the coast guard, and next week they’ll be re-setting the buoys for the new route!

After the excitement of beta testing Lockwood’s Folly, Saturday was otherwise a fairly mundane long journey through rural North Carolina, on an ICW that was mostly an endless series of neighborhoods. Late in the day, we entered South Carolina, and made a pit stop at Osprey Marina, the cheapest diesel around for a while, before we headed into the Waccamaw River. Checking out, the plexi wall around the cash register was emblazoned with a large “TRUMP 2020 MAKE LIBERALS CRY AGAIN” sticker, so we knew what kind of country we were in. Why anyone can comfortably have a worldview centered around others’ pain is beyond me, but that apparently describes slightly under half our country right now, sigh. We’ve been trying to keep a list of proudly-Trump-supporting businesses to avoid when we come back up in the Spring, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to find diesel south of Virginia if we hold fast to the list.

As the sun set, we entered the Waccamaw River, a very cool winding swamp-like river system with limited civilization nearby. On the way north, we had a couple very peaceful days on anchor here, and heading back south, we were disappointed that timing didn’t quite work out to spend more time here. But we still set up for the night on a nice little side river and had a peaceful (but warm) night among the wildlife noises.

Speaking of warm weather, we’ve been having absurdly warm weather for weeks now. We’ve had 3 summers so far this year: February in Florida, July in Maine, and now another in November in the Carolinas. The average for the area for this time of year is highs of 70 and overnight in the 40s, but we’ve had weeks of 80 degree humid weather, with only a single cold night that got into the 40s. As I’ve started getting emails from ski areas talking about getting ready to open in WA, I feel so utterly disconnected from that world right now.

Waking up in the morning to head out, we decided to pull anchor during the only 10 minute window that it monsooned, so my drowned rat crew was not super pleased.

We spent another uneventful day winding through the rest of the Waccamaw River and emerged into the “low country” of central South Carolina. We were originally planning on picking one of the few semi-sketchy anchorages along the river for the night, but the wind forecast kept increasing throughout the day, for the next couple days, so we decided instead to pull in at McClellanville Marina and wait out the wind for a couple days.

Before the overnight winds came, we did get a nice sunset at McClellanville

In the afternoon, I had noticed the starboard voltages periodically spiking higher than normal, but it didn’t seem awful enough to do anything drastic, and it would come and go. Unfortunately, when we went into the boat after tying up at McClellanville, the inside of the boat smelled like a hot springs — one of the starboard start batteries (Lifeline sealed AGM) apparently did not like the overvoltage and had started off-gassing hydrogen sulfide. So we frantically aired out the boat to keep from dying, set up fans in the aft cabin bedroom to run for a couple days, and slept in the front bedroom for the duration of our stay. I pulled the coil wire off of the alternator so it would stop generating when under way until I could get a replacement (one of the few things left that I don’t carry a spare for, since it’s not a terribly critical piece of equipment, believe it or not).

Tuesday, before work, we left the marina and headed ~7 miles down the ICW to Awendaw Creek, a well-known ICW anchorage, and a spot we stopped for a day on the way north in the spring, to basically spend the week. No weather of interest was forecast, and it put us around 38 NM to Charleston, which would be an easy trip to knock out Friday (which I had off work after the four days of planning meetings). So we hung out there, for 3 nights, while the expected election madness played itself out.

I tried to work with the one place in Charleston that could theoretically replace the voltage regulator on my alternator, but after 2 days of repeatedly calling and failing to get them to figure out whether or not they could actually fix it, I gave up and had a new higher-amperage alternator shipped from Seaboard Marine to the marina in Charleston to pick up in a couple days. I’ll have the broken one fixed up at some point in the future and then keep it around as a spare.

A lovely sunset over Awendaw Creek

Several days of meetings and nights of great sunsets later, Friday rolled around, and we tootled on into Charleston to spend the weekend. The city was basically entirely shut down (early COVID times) on the way north, so we didn’t do much other than grocery shop the last time here, so we were excited to actually see some of the city this time around. We knew we’d be able to get food this time, which we were excited for, but after searching a bit for other outdoor activities to do, found that there’s a hojillion walking tours, which seemed like a perfect COVID activity. I researched several options, and found that one that seemed likely to be the most irreverent, and we signed up for a Saturday midday time slot.

The walking tour turned out to be excellent. The guy was a complete history dork and went into huge detail on the slave trade origins, the evolution of the city, and how all that still affects the composition of the city (and the state) to this day. It was both incredibly informative and entertaining. If you’re in Charleston, I highly recommend Oyster Point Walking Tours, they were excellent. Of particular highlight was, while he was talking about a church in front of us, the bells all started ringing, nowhere near a :00/:15/:30/etc. time border. We quickly realized that they had just called PA for Biden, and celebrations were starting to break out. Later that night, Hannah went out for an errand and saw celebrations downtown as well.

After the walking tour, we got an enormous and delicious tray of loaded fries, burgers, and drinks, and waddled back to the boat for the evening, not needing to eat again until the next day.

Today (Sunday) was, unfortunately, fairly gross out, with on and off rain and consistent heavy wind, so we are holed up on the boat to finish off the weekend. The alternator’s changed and we’re back in full running shape, as well. This week, we’ll head toward Beaufort or Savannah, depending on how weather holds up. We have yet another storm coming through, so we’re waiting to see how the forecasts solidify for Tropical Storm Eta before making final plans…

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North Carolina

From Coinjock, we headed south towards the Alligator River. Along the way, we ran into a problem getting up on plane; Highwind just wasn’t getting up to speed as she should be. We were getting to the right RPMs, but fuel usage was way high at those RPMs, so the motor was having to work too hard to maintain those RPMs. As such, we assumed there was some kind of an issue with the running gear – either we hit something or snagged something. I got on the phone and started calling around to find a diver that would be able to come and check out the bottom of the boat in any of the towns that we’d be heading through. We determined that the most sensible place to get a diver would be Belhaven, which is just south of the Alligator River. We’d be able to make it there doing trawler speed – it would just mean a couple of longer cruises than we expected. At the north end of the Alligator River is a bridge with very low clearance and as we were approaching, we discovered that the opening mechanism had broken earlier that day, and they had no ETA for opening. That left us essentially trapped (along with a handful of other boats); the alternate route around being much longer and not something we wanted to do without the ability to plane. We dropped the anchor north of the bridge and decided to wait and hope that it would be fixed the next day.

When we awoke in the morning, the boat was COVERED in bugs, but the bridge was planning to open at noon, so we pulled up the anchor and started heading south. As David was testing out the speed/planing issue, we discovered that it appeared to have resolved itself. We were now able to plane and reach our normal cruising speed, at normal fuel usage. This really implied we had been dragging a crabpot or something for a while, and while maneuvering for anchoring/unanchoring, had managed to eject it. We decided to still get a diver out to check out the bottom regardless, so we headed south down the Alligator River into the Pungo River all in one shot, basically taking the afternoon off work, since the Pungo canal is the one spot on the whole loop where we have poor internet, even with our giant antenna. We also read that the bug issue was common on the Alligator River and they were less prevalent in the Pungo, so getting out of the Alligator seemed prudent. This was a fairly long cruise and we dropped anchor in the Pungo right as the sun was setting.

The next morning we headed in to Belhaven, this time staying at the Belhaven Marina (last time we stayed on the town dock). The diver was there to meet us and found nothing wrong, besides a few fresh scuffs around the rudder suggesting that we might have snagged a crab pot recently, but no smoking gun. The marina host was extremely friendly and gave me a ride to the grocery store to re-provision and the laundry facilities at the marina were free, so I was very happy, domestically-speaking. Now that we are so far south, we seemed to have discovered a new Summer with the weather being warm and sunny (and humid). We were happy to discover that the restaurant we ate at before (the one that gave us free wine and flowers) was still open and we had another delicious take-out meal, since they had only indoor dining available. While waiting outside for food, we chatted with a local resident who told us about a rooftop bar in Beaufort (one of our next destinations). We also chatted with our sailboat neighbors in the marina – also live-aboards who cruise up and down the ICW.

After getting a clean bill of health from the diver, we headed south to Oriental. We had planned to stay here a couple of days, since we’d been on the move every day for a little bit. We stayed in the same marina, and its outdoor Tiki Bar was now open, so we had a happy hour cocktail and also ate on the outdoor patio of a restaurant that on our previous visit had only been open for take-out. Where the marina’s grass lawn/tiki bar/patio area had been deserted on our first time through, it was now very busy in the late afternoon through the evening. We also didn’t see any masks, so we ended up mostly staying to ourselves on the boat.

Us staying to ourselves in Oriental – me reading and David napping

Beaufort was the next stop and we planned to stay there for the weekend. We had not stayed here on our way up – we stayed at Moorehead City just across from it (which was actually an unplanned-storm-shelter stop for us). We had heard that there would be some boat races there that weekend. We went into the main street and located the rooftop bar for sunset drinks and dinner.

The next morning was pretty windy and rainy. Our plan had been to take the bikes out for a ride over to Moorhead City to see if we could see the boat races and to get some pastries from a bakery I found there. We decided to wait a little bit to see if the rain would stop. We also discovered the bakery was closed on Sundays…boo. After an hour, the rain had basically stopped, so we got the bikes out and rode to Moorehead City to do some errands. Unfortunately we couldn’t see any of the races, so we just turned around and headed back to the boat. But David got an unexpected stop at a Harbor Freight and picked up some new toys.

Our next stop was Swansboro – another town that we had skipped on the way north. You may remember that this was the period when coming north that we didn’t have an anchor bridle because it had snapped. This town turned out to be really cute, with many options for outdoor dining (more than some of of the larger towns that we’ve visited!). We were only staying one night, but I definitely want to stop by next time we pass through.

Looking at the weather, another tropical storm (Zeta) would be coming up north, so we knew we needed to get somewhere safe to shelter. David’s uncle also wanted us to check out a boat for him just west of Southport to see if it would be worth his time to drive down to visit. The marina that boat was in was surprisingly cheap to stay in, so we combined tasks and decided to hole up there for the storm.

We were planning on staying at Topsail Marina at Surf City, but when we called the day before, all of the marinas in Topsail weren’t accepting transient guests, so that screwed up our plans a bit. With no reliable anchorages in that stretch of the ICW, we ended up waking up at dawn to make it all the way to Wrightsville in one shot before work (which was going to be our 2nd day stop). We just stayed on anchor there without going into town, since we had (apparently incorrectly, from later investigation) remembered there being nothing to do there.

The next morning we had a leisurely jaunt into Southport, and then spent the rest of the week in the Southport marina tucked away safely while there were high winds. The storm brought no rain and it was actually in the eighties, so we took a short walk and found a park with a boardwalk out to a gazebo right on the ICW. We did laundry, provisioned, and met a great couple on Inquest, an Endeavour TrawlerCat (which we’re contemplating for possibly our next boat someday) that pulled into the marina the same afternoon we arrived, also to ride out Zeta.

We both have really busy work weeks this coming week, so we’re planning on getting onto the Waccamaw River this weekend, and then making little stops next week to get us to Charleston for the weekend, where we have a marina reservation.

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Solomon’s and Speeding Down the Rest of the Chesapeake

Our anchorage for several days of wind/rain on the Great Wicomico River

We spent Sunday night on anchor just up the creek in Solomon’s and pulled into the marina on Monday morning. Since it was Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day, I had the day off; however I’d forgotten to block off my calendar, so I spent the day doing interviews and 4 loads of laundry…fun! I’d managed to schedule an appointment with another orthopedic doctor for Tuesday morning that happened to be within walking distance of Spring Cove Marina where we’d be staying. Armed with my full medical records from Boston, and a CD of my MRI images, I headed over to the appointment and was able to get a cortisone injection for my shoulder. This has helped a little, but not completely and I’m still working on my PT exercises.

That evening, we met up with Jan and Jim (David’s aunt and uncle) for a lovely outdoor dinner. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take a group photo, but I did get a great sunset shot as we were arriving at the restaurant.

On Tuesday morning, we headed to Sandy Point and set up on anchor. We knew a rain storm was approaching, so we planned to be here for several days until that abated enough for us to keep heading south. Thus ensued a couple of relatively boring and quiet dreary days. The sun came out again by Saturday and after a lazy morning, we headed out to refuel at Ingram Bay Marina. Their fuel pumps were very slow flow, and we were pretty empty, so we were there for about an hour refueling! We spent the rest of the afternoon heading towards Norfolk and ended up chasing the sunset to an anchorage spot just north of the city and dockyards.

We woke up early this morning (Sunday) because we needed to get all the way through Norfolk to the Great Bridge Lock for 11:30am. Norfolk is the world’s largest naval base and since we forgot to take photos last time, we set up the GoPro on the bow and took a timelapse video of our morning cruise, in addition to some photos along the way. It’s a bit of a crazy experience going through miles and miles of boatyards filled with massive ships.

You might recall that as we came north, we came through the Great Dismal Swamp, which sounded much more romantic than it turned out to be. We’d decided that we’d never do that again (too many sunken obstacles), so going South, we are going the alternate route via Coinjock. South of Norfolk we turned left and headed towards the Great Bridge Lock. We timed the mornin g perfectly — topped off fuel with a Formula 1-worthy pit stop at Top Rack Marina, the cheapest fuel we’ll find for weeks, and pulled up to the lock right as they were opening the gates, and we entered with several other boats. The lock was only a drop of about 4 feet and then we were back in the ICW, which will take us all the way back to Florida over the next few months.

A long uneventful afternoon got us all the way to Coinjock Marina, which apparently has some famous prime rib, which we will sample later tonight. We spent the last of the sunlight scrubbing a layer of salt off the boat, and are kicking back with drinks for the sunset.

We’re planning a fairly ambitious schedule for the week. Weather looks like it’s cooperating, so we’re trying to get all the way to Oriental by next weekend, 115nm from here. With a known target several days away, we can receive our ballots and vote, and get some velcro to finish fixing up our solar installation.

But meanwhile, prime rib.

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Fleeing Fall

It’s only been a week since the last post, but we’ve clicked off nearly a quarter of the east coast in that time. With how long we lingered up north, and fall rapidly approaching, the weather has been quickly degrading, with days of sustained winds making travel difficult. We made the decision to bust south as fast as possible for a bit until we find better weather again, likely once we get back on the ICW.

Our day on the Jersey coast was, fortunately, incredibly uneventful. A little wind picked up in the afternoon, but as ocean crossings go, it was about as peaceful as you can get. The days are rapidly shortening, so even though we started at dawn and conditions were perfect, there just weren’t enough hours of daylight to make it all the way up to Delaware City on the same day. We pulled into Cape May in the late afternoon, parked for the night at Utsch’s again, got takeout from the same restaurant as last time (which was also just as mediocre as last time, so I think we’ll pass next time through here), and chilled out for the evening.

In the morning, we picked up enough diesel to make sure we’d make it through to the Chesapeake and headed out again. It was significantly less calm than the Jersey crossing, but still just fine. It’s possible that a summer in Maine has altered our baseline for “bad conditions” a bit. We timed it to have the current with us the whole way, and when we headed into the C+D canal, got a nice 2kt push the whole way through. We stopped early at Chesapeake City, since we liked our stop here last time through, and spent a lovely afternoon in the sun. Hannah went for a run, I did some boat cleaning, and in the evening we hung out and caught some live music and drank in an outdoor “rum garden” that had opened up over the summer. It was a lovely way to end a weekend that we’d been dreading for months, knowing how the conditions were our last time through here.

On Monday, we resumed our standard routine — make a short hop of a couple hours some time during the day either in the morning or between afternoon meetings. We headed onto the Chesapeake proper and up the Sassafras river, our favorite spot from our last time up the coast. We went deeper into the river this time, since it was super pretty up in there, and there was the cheapest diesel around in Fredericktown, several miles up the river. Unfortunately, cell reception basically everywhere in between our anchorage from the spring and Fredericktown was unusable, so we had to stay at an uninspiring (but cheap) mooring in Fredericktown to be able to work for the day, after filling up with diesel.

Wind was predicted for most of the rest of the week, so in the morning we headed down to what looked like a pretty protected hidey-hole at Fairlee Creek. It looks/sounds like this place is party central on summer weekends, with outdoor tiki bars everywhere on the beaches and dozens and dozens of boats anchored in the shallow bay. This late in the season, it was essentially deserted, and we had a peaceful few days on anchor while the wind tore through the main Chesapeake. A few boats passed in and out for a night here and there, but at least one of the nights we were the only boat in the bay.

Hannah’s shoulder results finally came back in, so we had to make a plan to find a doctor to get a cortisone injection, and miraculously, there was an office walking distance from the Solomon’s marina, where we were planning on meeting up with Jan and Jim again, with an opening on the following Tuesday. So that became the new plan.

Friday, we emerged from our cocoon and crossed over to the west side of the Chesapeake, just north of Annapolis, to a random anchorage I found on ActiveCaptain. It turned out to literally be a tiny river surrounded by solid houses with docks, and we felt more than a little weird just dropping anchor basically in their back yard. However, by the time we got in, we both had meetings coming up, so we were pretty committed. We had a peaceful windless day and night there with kayakers looking oddly at us periodically. We even had a quite good dinner at a waterfront restaurant a short dinghy trip up the river from our “anchorage”.

Today (Saturday), we’re making most of the trip down to Solomon’s, stopping at Hudson Creek, which theoretically will nicely protect us from some overnight wind from the southwest, and the comments say will deliver a lovely sunset over the beach, if these clouds clear a bit (unlikely). I guess we’ll find out. The raindrops starting to fall aren’t a great sign, though.

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Rowayton, NYC and the Jersey Shore

We pulled in to Rowayton and this time around, our mooring went much smoother than last time, now knowing how to use the system. John and Joan were returning home on Sunday, but had graciously given us access to their house to do laundry and to borrow their car for running errands. I drove the dingy solo on Friday afternoon while David was finishing up work meetings to pick up packages that we’d had delivered and to get started on a load of laundry.

Many of these included items for what are hopefully our last few boat-projects in a while. This included some cables for hardwiring our laptop chargers into the 12v system and the remaining solar panels for the roof.

The next day was our planned errand day, where we went to Costco, Total Wine and Stew Leonards, a grocery store that David has fond nostalgia for from growing up in this area (it has animatronic creatures singing throughout). It turns out that the owners, however, are not great people. This is something I myself have been struggling with over the past month or so as I am having a very hard time reconciling the increasingly obvious ugliness of JK Rowling’s views with, as anyone who knows me would attest, the incredibly special role Harry Potter has played in my life.

That evening, I mentally prepared to assist David in a boat project that involved me crawling behind our toilet into the cavity in the swimstep and wriggling my way all the way across the entire beam of the boat and behind the watermaker to unscrew the rear thruster relay for replacement, since it appears to have died. The space is smaller than a coffin and very dirty, and involved holding tools at awkward angles above my head. I have great appreciation for all the other jobs on the boat that David does involving similar discomforts; this particular task fell to me since this particular space was not big enough to fit him!

After about 45 minutes, I had clipped several dozen zipties that were attached in places even more inconvenient than the relay, and we had everything free. David opened the relay and discovered a load of salt-corrosion, so we hoped that a replacement would be all that was needed to get the stern thruster working again. This experience actually turned out to be good practice for my MRI on Monday!

I don’t have pictures of me in the crawl-space, so here’s a swan swimming on Five Mile River instead.

On Sunday evening, we gathered at John and Joan’s, and Paul, Nancy, Mike, Jen and Dan joined us for a socially distant outdoor family dinner (that’s David’s other aunt, uncle, and cousins). Jen and Dan live near Lake Champlain and we had been planning to visit them as we made our way North on the Loop. Coincidentally, they happened to be in Connecticut while we were passing through, so the timing worked great, and hopefully we’ll be able to visit them again next year when we actually Loop!

On Monday, the time had finally come for me to have my MRI. This happened fairly uneventfully (discounting the somewhat traumatic experience of not really being looked at, placed on the bed, and immidiately transported backwards into the tube while one of the attendants said “about 30-35 minutes, don’t move” and then I was left alone).

We’d been keeping an eye on the weather as our 100+ mile New Jersey open water leg was upcoming and requires a good weather window. I also really wanted to try to swing at least one night in NY/Brooklyn so that I could meet, for the first time in-person, the founders of my company. The weather seemed to be lining up for a weekend run down the coast, so we headed out of Rowayton on Wednesday with plans to spend one night in Brooklyn.

I know I already wrote about the surreal and wonderful experience of driving through New York on our own boat, and this second time, now traveling south down the East River was no different. The city has such a distinctive skyline and the novelty of knowing that we are doing this literally in our own home had not yet worn off.

We had organized to stay at a marina just south of the Brooklyn Bridge and were treated with an amazing view of the skyline visible right from the back of our boat. We hosted dinner with Nick, Steve and Lauren on the aft deck of the boat, with the windows open and had a lovely evening.

We decided not to stay longer than one night as the marina was incredibly expensive (the most expensive marina we have stayed at to date) and most everything in the city is still closed. I hope that when we next pass through, we will be able to do more.

The weather window seemed to still be holding for the weekend, so we headed towards Sandy Hook to fill up with diesel and drop anchor for a couple of days. The wind was blowing pretty strongly, so we had a couple of extremely rocky/wavy nights, but when we woke up this morning, the sun was out and the winds had died down.

We’re now cruising down the Joisey coast line, and unlike our trip north where we were in 6ft rollers all day, the water is smooth and it’s a beautiful day. Today’s leg will put us at over 3,000 nautical miles on our journey so far!

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A Lot of Wind; Long Island Sound (again)

Weather windows are becoming few and far between at this point, so we had a windy ride to our next destination – Cuddyhunk. In hind-sight, we probably should have given this spot a miss considering it’s not that well protected. The wind prediction was moderate, but reality turned out to be far worse as we got there. The wind was blowing waves over the top of the breakwater, which required a nice sideways drift into the narrow and shallow channel entrance.

The winds were bad enough that the harbormaster was not comfortable with us docking in the marina where we had made a reservation and suggested we rope a piling in their piling mooring field. Due to my lack of coordination, and current shoulder situation, I got on the bow with the bow line and prepared to sort of bear-hug/throw the rope around the pylon as we approached. The winds were blowing so hard that it was very hard to control the boat and even with our docking radios on we had a slight miscommunication which resulted in the bow railing being pushed quite strongly into the piling (understatement….). We did eventually get the rope around, but due to a combination of extreme wind and a short line, I wasn’t pleased with the situation, and worried about damage to the anchor, or further damage to our now-bent bow railing.

There was a mooring buoy field also in the bay (not owned by the marina harbor master), and I managed to convince David that we’d be safer there. So we carefully cast off the piling and headed to the mooring field. Again, we had a bit of difficulty in the mooring field due to the wind, but were able to run a set of lines. The wind was blowing us so hard that our stern was almost touching the buoys behind us in our swing radius.

That night, despite the winds, we were visited by the “Raw Bar” boat, so ordered some fresh oysters and clam chowder that was delivered to us a short while later – yum!

We headed out of Cuddyhunk for another rocky ride to Wickford and picked up one of their town mooring buoys just inside the breakwater (at high tide, when the break water was completely under water). This was another place we had visited on our way north, and found a winery with a wine tasting room in town. We knew we needed to stock up on wine, so we headed there as soon as we’d moored to do some more tasting! Since there was also a Walgreens in town, we also managed to get our flu shots.

At this point, I started arranging to get an MRI in Norwalk, Connecticut, since we already had a couple of days scheduled there to see David’s family again. As it turned out, on one of my many calls to the insurance, I actually had been authorized for that same-day MRI…frustrating! I was able to get scheduled in Norwalk and after about 3 hours on the phone over 3 days, between Norwalk, Boston and Insurance, I was finally able to get a new appointment scheduled and authorized. Phew.

After Wickford, we headed towards Mystic. This time, rather than going all the way up the river to the seaport museum, we made a reservation with Noank Boatyard near the mouth of the river. We stayed on a mooring buoy for a couple of nights here without even leaving the boat waiting for another weather window to get further west on the Long Island Sound. Both David and I have had extremely busy work weeks, with a lot of working late in the last couple of weeks, so our stay at Noank was relatively uneventful with not that much to write about!!

Another weather window presented itself for the ride to the Thimbles – another spot we’re revisiting. We dropped anchor with no problem (David doing most of the work himself while I was on a work call) and had another uneventful night, mostly filled with work.

Sunbreaks at the Thimbles

Next we are on our way to Rowayton, back to the weird stern/bow mooring situation on Five Mile River – hopefully tying up this time will go much smoother since John is not able to help us out in his dingy this time…wish me luck!!

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Boston!

After leaving Handy Boat, we headed back to Isle of Shoals for a night. It was a beautiful weekend day, so we were a bit nervous that there would not be an available mooring buoy for us to pick up, since our arrival was late in the afternoon. If you recall, there are two yacht clubs with several moorings each here that are free and available to the public, with members of the yacht club taking precedence. The bay was quite full when we pulled in, but luckily we found an available buoy and set up for the evening. We were treated to a lovely sunset while we prepared dinner.

About 3 months ago, I did something wonky to my shoulder and it had been hurting ever since. Being that we live on a boat, which means I’m always doing things with my arms, and after about 2 months of no improvement, I finally started doing some remote PT. After a couple of weeks of no further progress, it was recommended that I should try to get some imaging done. Turns out, when on the move, finding medical care is a logistical nightmare. We decided that Boston would be a good place to try, so we organized a marina in the middle of downtown and headed there on Sunday. As a side benefit, we had skipped Boston coming North, and I’d never visited before!

We arrived in Boston on Sunday night and, following the recommendation of Anna and Aaron (David’s sister and her husband), who had lived in Boston, we headed in to town to sample Mike’s cannolis – which were apparently a local favourite. Aaron recommended that we go for the classic ricotta flavour, and specifically not to order the “weird green one”. Well, you can guess which David ordered! They turned out to be delicious, even David’s green mint one! We also booked reservations for dinner on Monday night at a michelin star restaurant that had outdoor dining, Oleana; another boon!

On Monday morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn and enjoyed a lovely stroll trough the city to the hospital where I’d see a doctor. Boston is a very beautiful city and the architecture is very European. It was almost a surreal experience being in a big city, after being in small towns for so long. I could have spent a lot more time there, but unfortunately due to the weather turning bad pretty quickly, we could only stay for a short while…some day I hope to come back for longer!

The doctor recommended that I get an MRI, and miraculously there was a same-day appointment available! Unfortunately, there were several snafus with insurance and communication, and it appeared that I would not be able to get the required authorization in such a short turnaround. So, we did not cancel our dinner reservations and I gave up hope on making recovery progress.

We biked to Oleana for an absolutely delicious dinner! David took all the pictures that night and unfortunately most of them drastically distort my face…thanks, love! I had to include this picture though, because I had their famed Baked Alaska for desert which was a masterpiece!

The weather was turning pretty sharply to winter at this point, and we still had several more open water crossings before getting into more protected waters in the Long Island Sound. We tried to find new locations that we had not hit on the way North, but ultimately ended up back in Scituate for a couple of days riding out some strong winds and waiting for a clear day to get through the Cape Cod Canal. The ride to Scituate was pretty rough (and so were our next several legs of the trip), but after 2.5 months of being rocked daily by lobster boats that drive 10 feet away from our moored boat at full speed, the rough seas didn’t feel that bad to us.

It was around this time that the west coast was basically entirely on fire. The smoke even reached us all the way over here on the east coast, resulting in a few days with eerie orange sun.

After Scituate, we had a long leg through the Cape Cod Canal (another rough day) and anchored in the bay just outside Marion, another place we had stopped on the way north. We stayed here only one night, looking to make our way to Wickford for the weekend.

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Attack Sailboats, Electrical Fires, Old Forts, and More

Drone shot of Fort Gorges, one of the highlights of our Portland weekend

We headed out from Tenants Harbor a couple of days later than we thought we would due to work schedules. Now that the Summer is nearing its end, we are starting to make our way back down south. Our next destination was Round Pond, where we struggled in the wind for some time to pick up a mooring buoy with Padebco Marine. David did some excellent maneuvering to save us from being blown into the rocks before I was finally able to grab the line from the bow. We only stayed one night here and didn’t get off the boat!

Next we headed back to Boothbay, where we anchored out – about 200 yards further out than we had previously…we were very isolated. John and Joan were also there, so we managed to grab dinner with them one night. The weather was predicted to be fairly bad (the remnants of Josephine heading north through Maine), so we decided to stay put for the weekend and have a couple of lazy days on the boat.

The view from my desk window at Boothbay

The winds were fairly heavy on Sunday and late morning, after we had just rolled out of bed, David heard someone yelling. He went outside and saw a trimaran heading towards us on a collision course! They had lost their center board and could not steer. Luckily we already had the dingy down and it was just tied up to the side of the boat, so we quickly threw on clothes and hopped in the dingy. We were able to hitch a line from their boat to the dingy and tow them back in to shore! Sadly we didn’t have the wherewithall to grab our cameras during this exciting rescue adventure, so we don’t have photo evidence!!

Once the weather calmed down, we headed out towards Falmouth, just north of Portland. Our plan was to spend a couple of days on a mooring buoy at Handy Boat and then head into a slip in a marina in Portland for the long Labor Day weekend. We had also arranged for a canvas guy to sew velcro into the roof of the bimini as David had finally convinced me we needed to move the solar from the hard-top to the bimini out of the way of the shadow of our antennas and we’d be able to get more panels. The canvas guy would pick up the panels from us in Handy Boat and then drop them off to us in Portland.

[David Edit] For the past several days, with the generator running, we could on and off smell a faint whiff of an oily/plasticy smell, so we’d known that something was up. I had ordered an infrared camera to check all electrical connections but it hadn’t arrived yet. Wednesday night, with the generator running, I noticed that the smell had suddenly gotten a lot worse, and dug into the electrical panel, where it seemed to be coming from. I found a completely melted and smoldering bus bar and spent the evening fixing it. Whatever idiot had set up the AC wiring before we owned the boat had crossed the neutral leads between bus bars, so the power draw through the charger was running through an extra ~60 feet of neutral lead, to/from the inverter, through an semi-isolation circuit, and back again — an additional 4.4 ohms of resistance. The wires had gotten hot enough to melt the plastic supporting the bus bar and it was only a matter of a couple hours before it would have melted into the wood below and probably started a fire. Lacking a spare third bus bar at the moment, I joined the neutrals of the inverter output with the input, and everything worked nicely again.

On Friday morning, right after my first alarm went off, I felt a sudden jarring of the boat, that was not a normal boat-wake bump. I stumbled out of bed and went outside to see a sail boat perpendicular to Highwind. Turns out, he’d rammed into us. Luckily, one of the Handy Boat shuttles had been driving by and witnessed the action. He was able to point me in the direction of where contact had been made, and sure enough there was an imprint of the bow-sprit in our fiberglass. (The sailboat guy wasn’t saying a word). David had also woken up with my yelling, so he hopped in the Handy Boat shuttle and they and the sailboat headed in to the dock to exchange contact and insurance information.

By this time, it had been 6 months since we’d both had haircuts – back in Florida at the beginning of our journey!! – so I decided to try to find a hairdresser in Portland that would come out to the boat, since we are still trying to avoid being inside places. After several emails, I was successful and arranged someone to come out on Friday afternoon. Since the damage from the sailboat impact wasn’t huge and Handy Boat was not going to be able to fix it in the afternoon, we decided to put a piece of Gorilla tape over the hole, head to Portland for the weekend and then head back north to Handy Boat on Tuesday to get it fixed.

We had a lovely weekend bike-touring the city of Portland, which has a lot of Seattle Ballard/Freemont vibes. Saturday, we biked around town and did wine and beer tasting and visited a few distilleries, and ended the night with a great sushi dinner.

Sunday, we slept in (a little hung over), and in the afternoon dinghied across the bay over to Fort Gorges, an old harbor fort from the civil war era that is on a tiny island in the bay and now essentially abandoned. It was a neat spot and kinda spooky to walk around the decaying interior rooms in the pitch black, since the flashlights we brought turned out to not be great.

Monday, we rode out to Portland Head lighthouse and walked around the park and grounds. The park also had another fort from the same era, on the other side of the bay from Fort Gorges. We even ran across what must be a Portland scooter collective, as they rolled out in cinematic ironic fashion, meep-meeping the whole way.

After a great weekend, we headed back north to Handy Boat, where we learned that we’d need to be hauled out for one night for the repairs. The cleaned bimini canvas with new velcro attachments for the solar panels were delivered to Handy Boat also, so now we have a roof again, and will start assembling the new solar setup this week!

Luckily the repairs were completed with no issues and we were dropped back into the water the next day. We’re now ready to start heading south again!

For those keeping track, Canada is still showing no signs of opening up to plague-ridden US citizens until next year sometime, so we’re going to be heading back down the coast to Florida for the winter, getting ready to head to the Bahamas to claim asylum when the civil war breaks out in November. If the country stays intact long enough, we’ll give the loop another shot in the spring, but for this year, we’re just east coast boaters.

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