Maine is Foggy

Our view, almost every day

Now that we have reached Maine, we have been able to slow down our break-neck pace to rush northwards and have generally been staying in places for a couple of days at a time. It has been nice to be a bit lazy. Snow Island was a great stop – we were the only boat anchored around the island and we were only disturbed by a few lobster boats coming out to check their pots.

We dinghied my pole to a little island off our stern and David took some shots of me from the drone

After Snow Island, we headed to Booth Bay and dropped anchor in the middle of the harbor. The weather was predicting to be moderate for the first night and then the wind was supposed to pick up for the next two days. We decided to stay on anchor and then see about moving to a mooring buoy for the next few days if we’d need it. The was a lobster wharf/restaurant on one side of the bay, so we headed over for dinner. We shared lobster roll and fresh haddock (which you can’t see in the picture because I devoured it before I thought to take a photo!).

The night was rocky, but it turned out that we were pretty well protected in the bay, so we ended up staying on anchor there for a few nights, rather than moving to a buoy about 200 yards to the side. The weather remained pretty nice for our stay there and we even had a good sunset one night.

Sunset at Booth Bay

The town on the other side of the bay had a free dingy dock, which we used when we did a grocery run and also on our last night for a meal at a mediterranean restaurant overlooking the bay (outdoor patio) that was absolutely delicious!

When it came time to roll out of Booth Bay, the fog had again crept in and we spent the entire cruise to Port Clyde, our next destination, with only double digits of visibility in front of us. This makes dodging the lobster pots even harder to do!

We dropped the anchor at Port Clyde and spent one night in the fog before we decided to move on.

When we arrived into Tenants Harbor, we knew we needed a pump out and that there would be a mobile floating one somewhere in the middle of the bay. We figured we’d have to meander around through the fog until we came across it, but luckily it was right in front of us when we pulled in. This one was manually operated, and apparently I drew the short straw…

This photo describes itself

Arriving in Tenants Harbor, we needed to refill with water, but as we approached the marina we saw that the dock was full. Luckily there was a couple on a 35ft boat, so we asked if we could tie alongside them in order to fill up and they obliged. As a thank you, I cleaned off an enormous bird poop from the back of their boat. Apparently it was just my day to get poopy :).

We picked up a mooring buoy off the marina and spent 2 days in on-and-off fog. The primary attraction of this place was a restaurant called the Happy Clam, which we had been instructed we needed to visit in order to be truly part of the de Regt sailing clan. Sadly they were closed on Monday and Tuesday nights, so we weren’t able to make it out.

David tried flying the drone to see how high the fog went, but let’s just say it went higher than the FAA allows drone flights and leave it at that. On the way down, some sensors in the drone freaked out and David had to do a fast catch that cut up his finger a bit. We had to go ashore and do a full re-calibration on solid ground before it would want to fly again. I even learned how to hand-launch-and-catch the drone!

In the evening, we played a virtual escape room game with Matthew. It was pretty hard and took us an hour and a half to solve!

We pulled out of Tenants Harbor in – you guessed it – more fog. Our next destination was Camden. For this leg as it was a very high tide, and many of them were sitting slightly under the surface of the water.

This is a common view of Maine, as far as we can tell

Somewhere on the short trip, we picked up a vibration, so when we arrived and tied up to the dock at Wayfarer Marine (our first dock in several weeks!!!), we wanted to figure out what was wrong. For a couple of hours in the middle of the day, the fog burned off enough for me to hop in the water to see if I could see if anything was wrapped around the prop. Let me tell you – I’m already somewhat skittish about “the unknown” below me when swimming, so it was super freaky to try to dive below the boat. The water was about 60 degrees, so not terrible, and it took me a little while to get the courage to dive down and look at the props. I didn’t see anything obvious, so we’re a little concerned.

We are waiting for the Wayfarer folks to give us an assessment on a few things we’d like to get taken care of on the boat, so we’re not sure yet how long we’ll be staying here. But so far both a diver and the main project coordinator have been delaying us for an extra day, so we’ll see how long we’re stuck here waiting…

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Maine!

A pretty old schooner welcomed us to Portland, ME

Expecting heavy wind the next full day, in the morning, we decided to head into the Marion harbor and pick up a buoy with Barden’s Boatyard. We pulled up the anchor, went to wash it off, and … nothing. Apparently the washdown pump had decided it was a good time to give up the ghost. Noted. So we grabbed a buoy and started calling around for a spare part. No one nearby had one, so we gave up for the moment, since it’s not super critical that it works. While the day didn’t turn out to super windy, at least in the harbor, it did rain a bunch, so we just hunkered down on the boat and worked, never leaving the boat.

Tuesday morning was our anticipated (short) early morning weather window to make it through the canal and as far up the coast as possible. We were hoping to be able to make it over to Provincetown and spend a couple days anchored there, but the rest of the week looked really nasty (25+ kt winds basically continuous for ~48 hours), so we decided the plan would be to wuss out and go spend a few days in Scituate, another of John/Joan’s suggestions.

We woke up at 7am, and had a pretty uneventful drive up and through the canal. There was a huge mess of fishing boats right on the exit of the canal, which we were able to navigate around, but we heard boats going the other way complaining about it on the VHF all morning. We hit the canal right at peak eastwardly current (5 kts), and the canal has an absolute speed limit of 10 mph, so we literally had to idle through the canal (our idle speed is 4 kts) and still bumped through the limit a few times. There were even police boats patrolling the canal, so we didn’t try to push it.

Exiting onto Cape Cod, we turned northward and did something we haven’t done much in the last few months: set the autopilot for a heading and then stare at the horizon for a couple hours, periodically dodging lobster pots. I’d picked out a spot to grab diesel an hour or so short of Scituate, and as we entered the harbor, despite the charts showing lots of depth, I started getting scary depth alarms of 4 ft or less. Apparently, according to the person running the fuel dock, the harbor shoals regularly and they need to dredge it every few years. Like, maybe right now would be a good time, to avoid another code brown.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We arrived in Scituate, called the suggested launch service, they directed us to a buoy mid-harbor, and we ended up hanging out there for 3 full days while the weather passed. And that was a good call, it turned out. It rained like hell on and off, blew like crazy for the predicted 2 days straight, and was generally uncomfortable, even nestled fairly deep in a harbor, much less if we’d been anywhere actually exposed. In the gaps in the rain, Hannah ran ashore and got a full load of laundry in, some grocery shopping, and picked up a new overpriced washdown pump from a local parts place. On the last night, we even had a great meal eating outdoors at a nice Italian restaurant in town, Riva. Sadly we forgot to take any pictures of our time in Scituate!

Friday was our next semi-weather-window. With this much unseasonal wind, we have to pick any vaguely decent window and go for it. I was planning on making a short early morning stop to Gloucester, but as we went to bed, the weather showed a longer hole of around 4 hours instead of 2, so we made a quick change and decided to try to go all the way to the Isles of Shoals. Our route would take us right by Gloucester anyway, in case the weather simulations were a lie (happens), so we could easily bail. We made it the next 20 miles up to the Isles of Shoals, with moderate chop, and grabbed a buoy.

The Isles of Shoals! We’re in that central harbor there.

The Isles of Shoals are the largest part of a small archipelago about 8 miles offshore from New Hampshire. It was originally a popular-ish harbor back in the 1600s, and has been on the downswing ever since. These days, a few of the islands have a few houses on them, and Star Island has a big conference center run by a religious cult that also lives on the island. There’s a little harbor protected from the ocean on 3 sides by a few islands and some artificial breakwaters that connect them. The harbor is usually a pretty decent tourist spot, with daily boat+walking tours from several companies out of Portsmouth (the nearest city in mainland NH), but with C19, everything’s shut down, and Star Island has a big “ISLAND CLOSED” sign on it.

The harbor, fortuitously, has several mooring buoys owned by a few yacht clubs, all of which are listed as, basically, “first come first serve for non-yacht-club members, and if a yacht club member asks you to leave, get off.” So, even with it being Friday midday, and an afternoon crowd of yachters heading in later on, we risked it, and grabbed a PYC buoy. We figured we’d drop anchor if we had to.

In the end, we got lucky and actually were able to stay on the buoy for 2 nights. The islands are gorgeous. We were treated to two lovely sunsets, lots of 70 degrees and clear sunny skies, we took a dinghy ride around in the ocean swells to check out the other islands, and generally had a great time. Finally some decent weather.

Sunday, with passable weather predicted, we decided to go the 50nm all the way to Portland, ME, to fill up on the cheapest diesel within hundreds of miles, and then see how the weather was doing. It was a pretty choppy morning all the way up, and required a lot of lobster pot dodging, but as we arrived in Portland, we were greeted by a really pretty harbor, ringed with old forts, and a bunch of sailboats out to enjoy the weather.

We stopped at DeMillo’s marina, and Hannah immediately ran off to the grocery store while I slowly filled up on diesel, gas for the dinghy, and fresh water, and emptied a couple weeks of accumulated recycling. I didn’t actually check the news for updates, but with the number of people walking around without masks and eating at restaurants, I assume Maine must have lifted any quarantine restrictions since we left Rowayton.

A 200 year old shipwreck monument

Stocked up for a week or so on the hook, we slow boated our way over to another John/Joan recommendation, Snow Island, 20nm east of Portland, thoroughly enjoying the scenery. Coastal Maine is so pretty. I haven’t been here in decades, and that was a mistake. Everywhere you go is picturesque islands with small cliffsides facing the ocean, waves breaking over rocks, and pretty houses overlooking everything. We even passed a 200 year old “shipwreck monument”, which is really just a hollow pyramid with supplies inside, so if you got shipwrecked nearby, you could go there and possibly not die from exposure. As the sun fell, we arrived, and dropped anchor in an empty bay, with 30 of our closest lobster pot friends.

We’ll see what our plan is from here — probably stay here for a couple days, enjoying the scenery. We’re trying to coordinate getting some work done on the boat by Wayfarer marine, so we’ll try to hook up with them early this week to get some preliminary estimates/dates, and plan our schedule from there.

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Starting a Side Trip to Maine

Hannah demonstrating the rapidly-extinguishing sunlight, and our questionable decisions, to her parents over video chat as we head toward the Marion anchorage

We headed out from Rowayton on Tuesday morning, before work, heading east. For the next month or so, every bit of travel will have to be undone to get back to the main loop, so now we’re off on a really long side trip. We’d spent a bunch of time hearing stories from John/Joan about the trip to/from Maine, and Joan wrote us up a great doc with a bunch of their favorite spots. They tend to cruise longer days at 7kts, and, on weekdays, we tend to cruise short morning trips at 14kts, so their daily “hops” tend to match ours pretty well.

Our first stop was a small archipelago ~40nm away called The Thimbles. They’re all private islands, owned by rich folks who mostly put big houses on them. So, we parked right in the center of their islands and ran our generator on and off for 2 days.

WSJ shot of the Thimbles, not mine. It was windy and/or rainy the whole time we were there, so I couldn’t get the drone off the ground.

The weather was bad on Wednesday, so we just stayed in place, and in the afternoon snuck in a quick dinghy tour of the islands while it rained on us and 2-3 foot swells threw us around when we ventured out of the protected center bit. It was a cool spot, with some neat islands that reminded us of some of our more tropical trips in the past.

The closest we got to a sunset in the Thimbles. Notice the swells rolling through our anchorage.

Thursday, we headed over to Mystic, where there’s a ship restoration company plus museum that I’d remembered from living here as a kid. The entrance to the city has a bridge that you have to wait for, which only opens at 40 minutes past the hour, but there was a protest going on even in this tiny town right next to the bridge, so at least we got to watch that and honk as we went through.

If you squint you can see all of the people with signs protesting to the right of the bridge

While the museum buildings are closed due to C19, the grounds are all open, and you can wander around the top deck of several ships. Staying in their marina, they let you have the run of the grounds after hours, so it’s pretty cool to wander around with no one to bug you. There’s several large period-correct old ships around, undergoing restoration (just ignore that several of them have camouflaged radar domes hiding up in the masts), and while I’m not as much of a historical navy buff as my dad, it’s still hard to not be inspired looking at what mariners used to have to work with.

Mystic also had a nice restaurant with outdoor seating that we walked over for, and managed to sneak in a great meal in between rainy periods. We could get used to this outdoor eating everywhere for restaurants thing.

The next day, in the early afternoon, we walked around the museum while it was open, to chat with some of the volunteers about the ships. Weather was predicted to be fairly bad overnight, so we were going to be cheap and head to an anchorage just outside of Mystic to ride it out. Walking back to our boat to head out, the dockmaster caught us and offered us a good enough deal to stick around for another night that we took it, and the windy night was much easier attached to a dock.

In the morning, we crossed into Rhode Island, topped off on some cheap diesel at Point Judith, and headed into Narragansett Bay. As we left CT, we were heading into somewhat unknown territory with regards to quarantine periods. Some parts of RI had just announced that quarantine requirements were rescinded, but other parts were more unclear. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine had all not said anything about rescinding their requirements yet. So, we had no idea whether we’d be able to get diesel, groceries, or even water once we started into the other states. So, we’re in a mode where we want to keep all of our supplies as topped off as possible in case we do get stuck in a partial or even full 14 day quarantine period along the way.

We stopped for the night at Wickford, another favorite of John/Joan’s, and picked up a town mooring buoy just inside the breakwater. We were going to dinghy into town and try to get some dinner and a drink, but a weather warning popped up saying that a thunderstorm had changed direction and was moving into the area at 90kts, with up to 0.75 inch hailstones possible. So, instead we hunkered down on the boat on the buoy for the night. Fortunately, while it rained and blew like crazy for a short period, the storm didn’t really turn out to be that bad, and the sun even peeked out for a nice sunset after it moved on.

Highwind is just below the middle, with the Wickford breakwater nearly submerged at high tide.

Later in the evening, unfortunately I noticed that the fridge didn’t feel very cold, and some quick temperature readings with a cheapo infrared thermometer confirmed that the fridge was at nearly 50 degrees. We poked around and apparently the cooling plate at the top had made nearly a solid inch of snow, with a quarter inch sheet of ice underneath the drip tray, all of which was nicely insulating the rest of the fridge from the cold generation. Looking like the situation was a little past a normal defrost, we chipped away at the ice and snow for a while, filling our kitchen sink with the results. We’d noticed that it was starting to smell a little bit in there, and this explained why. So, we unfortunately threw away a bunch of meat and dairy before it killed us, and went to bed.

It’s possible that we should not let it get that bad again…

After a lazy morning, the weather was looking good, and so I called around and found a hardware store with a fridge thermometer, so we dinghied into town and made a day of it. We ate lobster sandwiches at a restaurant on the water, walked out to the hardware store and picked up some stuff, and even stopped at a wine tasting room doing outdoor tastings, where we ended up restocking our wine supply a bit.

In fact, we lost track of time doing the wine tasting, and had to scurry back to the boat to head out. We were planning on taking advantage of an evening weather window to make it most of the way up Buzzard Bay to the town of Marion, but we definitely cut it a bit close, with the sun dropping below the horizon with us still 10 minutes out from the anchorage. We pulled into a wide open anchorage to the south of the town with some lingering light reflecting from the clouds, dropped a pile of chain, and called it a day.

In the morning, when we can see something, we’ll pull further into the town’s proper anchorage, behind an island, as the weather is supposed to get nastier in the afternoon/evening, so we’ll want to be protected. From there, we wait for another weather window to finish out Buzzard Bay and head through the Cape Cod Canal into, well, Cape Cod.

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Side Quest to Oyster Bay

John and Joan’s sailboat Starlight at sunset at its mooring on Five Mile River

John and Joan offered us amazing hospitality over the last week and we have really enjoyed spending the week in Rowayton. We borrowed Joan’s car to do a couple of provisioning runs including topping off our propane tanks for the stove and BBQ. Driving a car after 3 months was weird! Since we were moored on the bow and stern buoys, we had a short dingy ride every day to get into town up the Five Mile River past quintessential east coast architecture houses. The weather this week was fabulous (finally!!) and I even spent the better part of Friday afternoon working from the back deck and waving at the boaters passing by.

Open-air outdoor dining had just been allowed in Connecticut, so we took the opportunity to eat at a restaurant just down the street from John and Joan – our first dining out experience in several months! This restaurant had a cute patio where half the tables had been roped off to account for social distancing, and we wore masks whenever the servers came to our table and removed them only for eating.

It’s a little hard to eat with these on…

Since some packages that we were expecting were delayed and we knew we would be extending our stay into the following week, we decided to go for a weekend overnight to Oyster Bay, just across the Long Island Sound and invited John aboard to see if we could convince him to come to the dark side (power boating) :). We had a fantastic short trip and the weather continued to hold, so David even brought out the inflatable toys and drank a margarita off the back of the boat.

Our final package arrived and we determined that Monday would be our last night in Rowayton. We have spent the last two nights with David’s family watching the developing news of the protests sweeping across the country. David and I are very aware of the privileges of our lives, and not just that we are in a position to be on this adventure this year (regardless of how it has been affected by the global pandemic). We are horrified by what has happened and is happening in our country and we stand in solidarity with those who believe in equal rights and justice for all.

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Open Water

Our 5 day stay in Delaware City waiting out tropical storm Arthur was uneventful, which is all one can hope of a week with a predicted storm. We pulled out Gloomhaven (board game) again, and otherwise spent the time working, relaxing and doing laundry. David also decided to install the fixed monitor stand on the desk so that in rough water we would not need to stow his monitor as we had been doing. This was the longest time we had stayed in one place since arriving on the boat back in February.

We also needed to do a lot of planning as our next legs of the trip would take us into our first open water on the east coast, and our first passage on the ocean in Highwind. The ideal plan for us would be to head from Delaware City down the Delaware River and around to Cape May for the night. This trip needed to be timed with the tides to ride favorable currents. Ideally the next leg of the trip would be 120 nautical miles from Cape May all the way up to Sandy Hook. This would have us ‘skip’ the entire New Jersey shore and avoid any passage up the New Jersey Intercoastal Waterway, which is controlled only to 4ft from Cape May to Atlantic City and then only 6ft to Sandy Hook. Even though this is protected water, we draw 4ft, so that first stint is a non-starter for us, and after our trip up the Dismal Swamp, we aren’t eager to spend much time in 6ft either. Since both of these legs were going to be over 4 hour cruises we knew that we needed to wait for a weekend. Since they are both in open water, we knew we did not want to be doing them in any kind of appreciable wind.

While Arthur was drawing to a close, we were keeping a close eye on the weather reports from Delaware City, looking for our chance. We started noticing a bit of a gap in the weather up the southern NJ coast centered around early Saturday, but then increasing winds for the rest of the 10 day forecast making the coast trip a nonstarter. As it got closer, the weather forecast firmed up with Saturday morning having nearly zero wind, not awful ocean swells from the SE, and Friday was at least passable to get down to Cape May. David had Friday off work, which helped, so we locked in the tentative plan, with lots of escape hatches if we ran into surprising conditions. Whatever ended up happening, if we didn’t make it all the way to Sandy Hook by Saturday afternoon, we’d be stuck in place for another 7+ days.

Friday morning, we cast off from Delaware City near the middle of the day (timed according to the tides) and began the journey to Cape May. The weather wasn’t great (with some intermittent rain), but the good news was that the wind was minimal. However, we spent pretty much the entire trip (5ish hours) going into head-on rapid chop, some of the worst waters we’ve been on to-date, the waves regularly splashing all the way up to our flybridge windows. At one point the nose dipped so violently that our anchor chain break popped free, so I had to don a lifejacket and head out onto the bow to fix it, while being sprayed in the face with salt water repeatedly. Once we got into the Cape May canal, the water was calm and we pulled in to our marina with no problems.

The view for most of the day on the Delware River

That evening we checked the weather reports again, and everything was still pointing to the next day being our only viable option for the journey north, with winds predicted 0-5kts and predicted 1-1.3m waves from the SE for most of the day. We planned to wake up at dawn, 5:30 in the morning (oh-dark-thirty, as my parents say), and immediately head out into the Atlantic Ocean for the first time since we started on this trip.

At 5:30, it was pouring with rain, but there was little wind, so we cast off and headed out of Cape May. The water was as predicted – large rollers evenly spaced coming at us from the beam. So while the day before had been a lot of up and down from the head-on waves, this trip was a lot of side-to-side rolling. For the first couple of hours of the day, it absolutely poured with rain and there was thunder and lightening in the distance. We were nervous enough about things that we grabbed the dingy key, portable radio, and the flares to keep nearby in case we got rolled over and somehow got the dinghy loose!

In order to make it all the way in one trip, we knew that we would need to plane for some of the trip, but for the morning, we needed to stay at displacement speeds, as planing with the beam waves was dangerously rocky. Our bug-out plan in case we did not feel we should go further was to duck in at Atlantic City. We could then take the rest of the trip up the NJICW (going on a rising tide for the deepest possible water) up to Manasquan, and then figure out a time to do the last 25 miles in open water later in the week (hopefully). However, eventually the rain stopped, and the conditions, while real crappy, were not dangerously bad. After 5 hours of that, we passed by Atlantic City and turned to port by about 10 degrees, so the seas were not straight on the beam, and the conditions greatly improved. We shortly thereafter were able to keep the boat safely up on plane without having to manually steer, and our ETA dramatically dropped.

After a couple hours of planing, we knew that, even if the waves turned worse and we had to stop planing, we would be able to make it to Sandy Hook with an hour or two of sunlight to spare. We actually ended up managed to stay planing all the way up. As we got further north and slowly turned further and further to port, the waves kept going more and more aft, making it safer and comfier as the day went on. We ended up getting into Sandy Hook early enough in the evening to fill up on diesel before settling in for the night on anchor.

The next morning, we would be heading north from Sandy Hook, up the East River past Manhatten and into the Long Island Sound where we would tie up in Rowayton, Connecticut to spend some time with David’s aunt and uncle. Our original Loop plan had us spending several days in New York City, but obviously now is not the time to be a tourist in NYC, so we are cruising on by and hoping that on the way south things might be open enough that it makes sense to stop.

It was a surreal and amazing experience to be driving our boat past such a recognizable skyline. We had no trouble navigating the New York City harbour, which in more normal times must have 5x the number of boats that we saw. We pulled in close to the Statue of Liberty and took a couple of selfies from the bow. Since the skies were pretty grey and it was quite windy, we decided not to drop the dingy to get the “money shot” of Highwind with the Statue in the background (we’ll give it another shot on the way south). We then headed under the Brooklyn Bridge and through Hell’s Gate (a section of water near the entrance to Long Island Sound that is best navigated at slack tide).

About half way up our passage on the Long Island Sound, the clouds finally burned off and we were greeted in Connecticut by amazing blue skies and a warm welcome from John, Joan and Brian (David’s cousin). John had secured a mooring spot for us at the mouth of the river where they live and luckily John and Brian had come out in their dingy to help us get moored since this was a “bow and stern buoy” type mooring. This is where you have to hook up both your bow and stern to two mooring buoys that are connected by a line. What I didn’t realize is that you do not use your own lines (like we do for traditional mooring buoys), but instead there is a “pennant” line that is already connected to the buoy that you are supposed to pick up and tie to your boat; all while making sure that you do not drive over the line connecting the buoys, so that it doesn’t get caught in your propellers. Unfortunately, there was a decently strong current pushing us right into/over the line! After a bit of a struggle, we finally got tied up and were able to drop the dingy and head further up the river where John had secured us a spot to tie our dingy for the night, just across the street from their house.

We had socially distant “streettails” with some of their neighbors and a delicious home cooked (that I didn’t have to cook!!) meal. Also, I didn’t have to do the dishes!! For Memorial Day, we had streettails again, this time with David’s other uncle and aunt and cousin – Paul, Nancy and Mike, plus a phone cameo with David’s cousin Jen.

We are planning to stay here probably for the next week and properly re-provision the boat for heading north up to Maine. Also to come up with a plan, since John and Joan are coastal experts up here, and we know essentially nothing about these waters, since they’re not part of the Great Loop.

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Logistics: Waiting for Arthur

Late last week, my laptop had broken and decided to stop charging, so I’d been stuck using my desktop (a bit power-hungry when on anchor…)  Being on a moving boat, with repair shops all closed due to Coronavirus, there’s essentially no way to get a laptop repaired and back in my hands in a reasonable amount of time. After much hemming and hawing, I decided to just pick up a new Macbook, and whenever I can manage to finish a swap with Apple to get the old one repaired, we can sell it.  This forced us to make some awkward timing decisions, which were already awkward due to the upcoming tropical storm Arthur.

The next major segment of our journey involves two big hops: from the C+D Canal, you get dumped out onto the Delaware River/Bay, which is a pretty big “river” with a large tidal swing. From the exit to the canal, it’s about 65 miles out to Cape May, which is the southern tip of New Jersey, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean. So, you have to time that to go with the tide or you have a long day ahead of you.

Once you get to Cape May, you have two choices to get north: the New Jersey ICW, or going up the “outside” and running the open Ocean the whole way up. The ICW has been incredibly poorly-maintained, so even with a 4 foot draft like we have, it sounds like a questionable journey at this point, worse so than the Dismal Swamp. However, the outside run is a solid 125 miles up to Sandy Hook. So, that’s a long day. You can theoretically break it up by stopping in Atlantic City, but even that involves a bit of ICW.

So, having day jobs, you can imagine that we’re trying to plan these two hops for a weekend — one day to get out to Cape May, and then a day (or two) to bomb all the way up NJ to Sandy Hook, and then it’s smooth short-hop sailing through NYC to CT. We knew were going to miss the window of the 16-17th weekend for this, since we didn’t want to hurry our way through the Chesapeake. However, tropical storm Arthur is spinning up and is planning to make the middle of this week rather lively, which isn’t leaving us with a lot of options.

When push came to shove, we decided to receive the new laptop in Delaware City, which is just north of the east end of the C+D canal, on the Delaware River, on Monday morning (the soonest it could get shipped). So, after a nice day and night hanging out in the Chesapeake City anchorage, we headed the rest of the way through the canal (which was very boring), and put in at the Delaware City Marina, where we filled up with diesel for the upcoming big legs, emptied the holding tank, and had a lovely 6-foot-away brunch with some friends of ours who live in Philly and drove down to see us.

This morning, when the laptop arrived, we had to make a call on a plan, and the weather forecast had taken a bit of a turn for the worse. Tuesday through Saturday was now forecast to be windy and/or rainy, solid. We asked nicely and the marina owner gave us a discounted weekly rate to spend the week here, so we’re going to just wait out the storm. If all goes well, over the Memorial Day weekend, we’ll hopefully jump down to Cape May on either Saturday or Sunday (depending on weather), and then bomb all the way up New Jersey on Sunday and/or Monday. So, our next update will hopefully be an all clear report from the anchorage inside the nook at Sandy Hook next week. Or some adventure stories about why we’re not there. One way or the other…

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A Week With A Stowaway

Sunset dinghy ride on the Sassafras River

The next day, our friend Peter joined us for the week. He had been out east on a work trip when everything locked down, and he ended up just staying with his mom outside of DC while things blew over. Two months later, he was still there, and desired rescue. They’d been really good about quarantining, and essentially hadn’t left the house the whole time, so we felt safe having him aboard. Ask us in a few days if that was a good decision or if we’re struggling to breathe. His mom dropped him off at the boat in the afternoon, bid him a sad goodbye, and he moved into the front bedroom (or, as we had been treating it, the quarantine-changing-room and pantry.)

The restaurant right at the marina was actually quite excellent, and it was raining on and off, so we were feeling pretty lazy. So, we had a great takeout meal, followed by a nice evening playing games and planning out a rough sketch of the week.

We’d planned out spending a couple nights on the Miles River, on the east side of the Chesapeake. There’s a bunch of various little rivers/inlets feeding it, all with various anchorages. As will be the theme of the week, though, we had some pretty stiff winds expected for the next couple nights, so we found a nice east-facing anchorage (we were expecting a westerly wind) at Long Haul Creek, and set up shop for the night.

Anchored at Long Haul Creek, anticipating heavy wind

It was a pretty little spot that we’d found on Navionics. The anchorage we were aiming at, however, was super shallow (it’s further up the inlet straight into the above picture), so we backed out to the center of the bay there and set up shop for the night. The wind turned out to not be so bad, and we had a pretty calm evening and overnight here. I set the anchor alarm up on a super tight circle (since we didn’t have much drifting room until hitting docks and shallows), so some overnight current changes made for some quick wake-up-and-assess moments, but they all turned out to be okay.

The next day, we went a little bit north into a more open bay by Drum Point, expecting to spend the night there. It turned out to not be that pretty, but the anchor set up well and we had tons of wide open room to circle around and/or drag in the expected wind that night, so we were excited about an uninterrupted evening of sleep. Unfortunately, after setting up anchor and getting to work, we quickly discovered that the cell reception there was useless. Phones had zero reception, and the giant antenna was able to get just enough to hold audio calls, but really not enough to do much else. We struggled for a couple hours until we had a break in meetings in the afternoon to head to another spot.

That turned out to be a giant mistake. The wind was expected to pick up overnight, but it came a little early. Re-entering the main channel, we immediately were in the worst seas of our boating lives. 4+ foot irregular waves with 6 foot randoms, directly from the beam (right into the side of the boat — the worst angle for a boat to take waves from), forcing us to go back and forth at alternating 45/135 degree angles to the waves (causes much less rocking and instability than taking them directly from the side). Waves were regularly bouncing off the hull and splashing over the roof of the bimini (~15 feet off the ground). Hannah and Peter tied down everything they could, but one big rogue wave swept us badly and tossed pretty much everything from the kitchen shelving onto the floor. Amazingly, nothing broke, and the wood floor just has a few battle dings. We had to eat that pineapple pretty soon after that, though…

Everything that launched off the shelves in the waves, gathered on the floor of the kitchen.

We were originally headed for an anchorage just southwest of the Kent Narrows bridge, to avoid the wind, but after a couple hours of battling the terrible seas, we were pretty drained and didn’t want a crappy anchoring session followed by a long stressful night of shallow windy madness in the anchorage (there’s a pattern of everything being shallow and narrow on the Chesapeake). We decided to call a couple marinas right at the narrows, and one had an opening, Harris Point Marina, so we took them up on it.

Sunset at Harris Point Marina. The winds were way too strong to fly the drone, unfortunately.

The narrows township area blocked a bunch of the wind, and we got a lucky gap just as we went to anchor, but the marina was the tightest/shallowest/scariest we’ve ever entered as well. The depth alarm was constantly tagging less than 3 feet under the middle of the boat the whole way to our slip, and we had to back into the slip because it was less than one boat length between the slip entrance and a muddy shore, so you couldn’t turn around, and if you had the props facing the shore you’d run aground (since boats are deepest at the back side). The slip was only about one foot wider than the boat, so I basically backed the boat kinda into the slip and then Hannah and Peter helped bounce us the rest of the way back to the dock. We quickly got lines on everything, and then cheered and broke into the liquor. That was a hell of a day.

Eating a delicious dinner from the Harris Crab House after a long stressful day

Peter actually grew up in the area, so he had bits of local knowledge. When he realized where we were going to spend the night, he got super excited, because there was a restaurant that he and his mom used to love going to once in a while, the Harris Crab House. So, of course, we got takeout, and Peter, with a bottomless stomach, decided to get pretty much everything on the menu, so we ate like kings for the evening.

The next day, the winds had died down and we were expecting a few days of calm weather to enjoy. After sleeping in, we headed not too far north to a nice-looking spot at Hart’s Point. It’s a little inlet with a marina inside, and a shallow spot with several anchorages marked on Navionics with good reviews. We set up at one of the anchorages with a bunch of reviews, and didn’t really think too hard about it, but as the sun went down realized that, on the north end of our anchor swing, we were pretty near the middle of the channel. Fortunately, only two boats came by all evening, but we felt a little bad about it. Lesson learned.

Sunset over our anchorage at Hart’s Point

We’d found a nice looking spot on the Sassafras River for the next day, so we wandered up there in the morning. We had another fun incident of checking internet like a half mile from our anchorage spot, it looking good, setting up anchor, and realizing the internet is unworkably bad. We then moved north 3/4 of a mile and had great internet. At least that anchorage was also solid, with plenty of swing room, and still quite a pretty spot, so it worked out.

We ended up spending two nights here, because it was way better than our original plan’s next spot looked like it would be. We had a great sunset dinghy ride way up the river to Fredericktown together, saw lots of wildlife, and by and large had a lovely couple of days there with mild weather.

Sunset over Chesapeake City. If you zoom in, you can see the three day boats rafted together chock full of a few dozen folks getting each other sick.

All good things come to an end, and we headed up to Chesapeake City for our last night as a group. There’s a man-made canal that connects the Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware River, the C+D Canal. About 1/3 of the way down the canal is this little “city”, which is one of those moment-in-time places. Cute little 2 by 2 block “downtown” area, big grassy park with open mic gazebo by the water, ice cream shop, the works. There’s a free first-come-first-serve dock for a few boats, with a 24-hour limit, so we spent one night there, and got a delicious take-out meal at the Inn on the water, which was definitely the happening place to be on a Friday night. Boats coming in and out all night, chock full of people partying. It was a bit different from the people working the Inn, who all had masks, and had the most pristine organization we’d yet seen for distancing, one way people-movement, and order pickup.

Spring Breaaaaaakkkkkkk, baby

In the evening, after dinner, I did my usual engine checks, and noticed some coolant leaking under the starboard motor. Some quick checks later, and I found that it was actually the exact same failure as we’d had on the port motor several weeks prior, a leaking coolant water pump. Fortunately, I’d gotten two new ones when the last one failed (since things tend to fail in pairs), so I had one ready to go. Peter was a champ and helped me out with the change for several hours. It all went fairly uneventfully.

Having fun draining 7 gallons of coolant to prepare for the coolant pump swap

In the morning, Peter took an Uber to the airport and headed home, and we moved to the center of the inlet to the anchorage to spend one more night there.

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The Patuxent (Pax) River

Drone shot over Herrington Harbor South Marina

We had planned an itinerary of a couple of places up the Patuxent (“Pax”) River for the next few days, so after a night at the mouth, we pulled anchor and headed north towards Battle Creek, a spot recommended to us by David’s uncle John and aunt Joan, who have done extensive boating on the east coast. This was a lovely spot and felt actually a bit like we had set up anchor in Meydenbauer Bay, where we used to live in Bellevue, since we were surrounded by houses and people’s back yards. We were wondering what people thought of us basically dropping anchor in their back yard.

Not the worst office view in Battle Creek

We had only planned to stay there one night, and to move a little south the next night to St Leonard’s Creek, but we drove by the spot on our way to Battle Creek, and it seemed pretty similar to this one, so we were skeptical it was worth the hassle of moving. After working from Battle Creek, we put the dinghy down to head over to go scope out St Leonard’s creek, a ~20 minute dinghy ride down the Pax, and see if it was worth going after all (and to put some time on the dinghy, since the battery had been getting low and I’d done an oil change recently).

David with movie-star hair in the wind on the dingy, moments before the skies opened up

We pulled out of Battle Creek into the main Pax, but the weather switched quickly from overcast-but-fine to windy-and-fairly-heavy-rain over the course of a few minutes, so we aborted the run, turned around, and headed back to the boat. When we got back, we changed clothes and settled in for the night. With the weather being not-great both nights, we ended up not actually taking any pictures while here. Oops.

Our plan after this was to head back to the head of the Pax to a marina on Solomon’s Island to spend the night. David’s aunt Jan and uncle Jim live not too far away, so we planned to meet them at the marina for lunch. Unfortunately, I had a string of back to back meetings that afternoon and was not able to join them…and David didn’t take any photos!! I did a late load of laundry since it would be our last shot for a while, but we also neglected to take any pictures here, with the sub-mediocre weather. We’re terrible bloggers.

The next day, there were pretty heavy winds forecast for the evening/overnight, so we headed north to Herrington Harbour South Marina, where we’d planned to hide out from the wind storm. We filled up on diesel, pumped out, and set up on an awkward side dock for the night.

Sunset at Herrington Harbour South

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Windy Weather and the South Chesapeake

We made it to a beach!

The next morning, about 30 mins after I woke up, I heard a horn outside of the boat and went out to investigate. A Norfolk Fire Department boat was coming over to see if everything was alright. Perhaps not too many people anchor in that spot? It was also pretty windy – so maybe they thought we were in trouble? Despite the wind, we seemed to have a good hold and our new batteries were not expected at our next marina for another day, so we decided to hang out for an extra day in this spot.

Obligatory sunset drone shot of Dare Marina. Highwind is at the end of the T-head at bottom right.

Next up, we cruised to Yorktown and tied up at Dare Marina. This was the only marina that was open to transients in Yorktown, and was more of a boating service marina than a standard marina (i.e. no laundry facilities!). We received the shipment of our 8 new batteries, and David spent the next two days installing them.

We knew there was an incoming wind storm on Thursday, but it was supposed to die down by the afternoon, so our plan was to head out to our next destination (a marina with laundry!) after work. The afternoon was so windy and it was still raining around 3pm, so we decided to extend our stay for one more night. As it turns out, everything did die down, and by about 4:30 it was extremely calm!

Sunset at Dare Marina

The next morning, we headed up to Deltaville, a stop that we basically made for the sole purpose of doing laundry, which we hadn’t had access to in several weeks at this point. We had an uneventful stay in the marina — so uneventful we apparently took no pictures of anything. Freshly laundered, we headed out again the next morning.

Next up, we decided to head to the east side of the Chesapeake for the weekend. Our crossing was a little choppy and required dodging literally thousands of crab pots. We knew that more wind was coming over night, so we chose a spot just south of Tangier Island, which we hoped would afford some protection. As it turns out, there are not that many anchorage spots around this cluster of islands, without going several miles up side rivers (which delays our ultimate progress north), so we picked the theoretical best of the available options. After much hemming and hawing about the situation, we decided to call it good here for the night and investigated our activity options.

We were really hoping the sandbar to the SW would provide adequate protection from the southerly winds expected that night. It did not.

Tangier Island is a bit of a sad story. In the 1770s it started as a farming community, and later shifted to oyster/crab fishing as the primary resource. It started out not much above sea level, and global warming has already reduced the available land mass by 67%. In another 50 years, it will essentially be entirely under water and will need to be abandoned. Ironically, the isolated community is heavily bible-thumping and climate-denying, but still laden with interesting history.

Drone shot of what remains of Tangier Island, with us in the bay.

The island’s facebook page has asked visitors to stay away from the town due to lack of medical care available for Coronavirus, so we decided to not even pick up takeout from one of the local restaurants. Instead, we just put the dingy down to head over to the isolated white sandy beach south of town – our first real beach of the trip!!

Our lazy dinghy tie-up

When taking the dingy to land, we use a bungee anchor system, where you boat close to shore, and toss an anchor off the back of the boat. This anchor is on a stretchy cord, so it allows you to continue to motor your way all the way into shore to hop off the bow of the boat (or at lease use inertia). We then have another long line tied to the bow. Once off the boat, you let the bungee cord retract so that the dingy is afloat (saves the bottom of the boat because you are not constantly beaching it in the waves for hours) and tie the bow line to something on shore so you can retrieve it. When you want to return to the dingy, you pull in on the bow line, stretching the bungee chain, hop on the boat, let the bungee retract again, pull anchor and you are off.

Now, I am explaining this because we knew we wouldn’t be on the beach for too long (Tangier Island was discouraging visitors to the town, though nothing was officially closed), the beach wasn’t huge, and the tide range is small, so rather than tying off the bow line to something solid, we dug an oar into the sand and wrapped the bow line around it a couple of times. We then went for a walk along the beach.

It was a nice day, so we decided to walk the entire beach, which took a while longer than anticipated. On the far south end of the beach, we looked back up and noticed a small white dinghy no longer on the beach, so we started working our way back. As the tide continued to rise, the dinghy had un-beached itself, and the oar had come free and taken the bowline with it, so now our dingy was happily anchored 50 feet off the shore in 3 feet of water. I had to swim out to the dingy to grab the line and bring the boat back to shore! Ooops. I guess we won’t be so lazy next time!

Hannah getting ready to go swimming

We returned to the boat and hunkered down for the evening, prepping for the overnight wind storm. It turned out to be a doozy – 25kt winds and constant rocking all night. It was probably the worst night of waves we’ve had on the boat before. Neither of us slept well in the irregular and heavy rocking, though the anchor held strong.

Sunset at Tangier Island

Our plan the next day was to head a ways north to the Honga River, and anchor in one more spot on the east side of the Chesapeake before heading back to the west side. As we approached the new anchorage, I did a quick check for the winds overnight and the following morning for the crossing. PredictWind (a wind app we use) was predicting headwinds up to 10mph in the morning, which is likely to add up to a bunch of chop crossing a body of water as wide as the Chesapeake. Right then, there was zero wind and we still had a few more hours of daylight, so we made a game-time decision to turn around and head across the Chesapeake. The crossing was glassy and the setting sun through the clouds made the best of a 1.5hr extension of what had already been a decent length cruise that day.

Smooth crossing west across the Chesapeake with atmospheric skies

We are now safely anchored near the mouth of the Patuxent River sitting in about 10mph winds that picked up after nightfall, so I guess we made the right decision! We are pretty well protected, so we are not being tossed around too much.

Our sunset view near the mouth of the Pax River

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Internet Connectivity

People ask us all the time what we use for internet access on the boat. It’s a vaguely complicated setup, so I figured I’d write it up in case others want to follow in our footsteps (or even better, have suggestions!)

The Cradlepoint COR IBR1700

The central router on the boat is a Cradlepoint COR IBR1700. It serves the wifi network on the boat that everything, including our cell phones, connect to. I’ve set it up to run off the 12V on the boat through a dedicated breaker switch that we leave on 24/7. The unit comes with an integrated dual-antenna (2×2 MIMO) cellular modem with two SIM card slots. You can add a second modem to it with an additional two SIM card slots, and if you have the antennae for it, you can split your bandwidth between the two modems. In all honesty, we’ve been struggling with this unit since we got it, and have had the whole unit RMA’d twice, and the second add-in modem RMA’d twice as well. The problems they’re trying to address are still unsolved, and our internet blinks out once or twice a day for several minutes while the modem spontaneously reboots. I’m probably going to call this wasted money and switch to another unit in the near future and sell this one off. For paying nearly 2000$ between the unit and the add-in modem, I’m not thrilled. But when it’s not spontaneously rebooting on us, it does work nicely.

A MOFI4500 router — simple and cheap, and does the job.

Our backup router is a MOFI4500. It only has one SIM slot, so you’re manually swapping SIM cards to change networks. It only has a single cell modem, which is slower than the Cradlepoint’s cell modem, and the Wifi is slower as well. But not by much. It’s also cheap and just works. For most boaters looking to get a reliable cell internet connection on their boat, this is what I tell them to get.

Our original GigaMIMO Lite cellular antenna. The new unit looks similar, the white pucks are just around twice as long.

The biggest piece of our connectivity puzzle is the antenna. We started with a WirEng GigaMIMO Lite, and while it was an improvement over just tethering, we wanted more, so we upgraded to the full GigaMIMO recently, and it was a pretty big boost. Both GigaMIMO units are 2×2 MIMO antennae, which means it’s basically two antennae in one, with orthogonal polarization, so they send non-intersecting wavelengths, for double the bandwidth (if you have a router that supports plugging in two antennae.) After upgrading, we now regularly get several megabits of internet when our cell phones show zero coverage or are just squeaking by on 1x. We have only lost connectivity in the absolute boonies for a few minutes on one day of the trip so far. The full unit is nearly 3000$, though, so you have to really want that internet to justify it, as well have somewhere to put what’s basically a 3 foot cube of antenna with an unobstructed-by-metal view of the horizon. But in even moderate connectivity, we usually have 20-30 megabits of download, and in good areas, we’ve cracked 90 before.

For actual data plans, we burn through huge amounts of data between work, gaming, streaming, and general browsing. We regularly use hundreds of gigabytes a month, which is far more than the standard plans will give you, so I had to get creative. We have three SIM cards on the boat: AT&T, Verizon, and Google Fi. The AT&T plan is through NoLimitData, and is a nearly unlimited plan (no throttling, 500GB a month warning line). The Verizon SIM is a no-longer-available prepaid truly unlimited plan (no throttling, no limits), though you can get something similar through UnlimitedVille. The Google Fi SIM is our backup plan and lightweight international roaming solution. On our great loop trip so far, AT&T has often had better bandwidth than Verizon, so it tends to be our default active SIM. I don’t yet have a solution for when we get to Canada. There don’t seem to be any actual unlimited plans there, no matter how much money you’re willing to pay, so we’ll cross that bridge in a few months as it gets closer.

The Wave Wifi Rogue Pro wifi booster

Lastly, if wifi is available anywhere remotely nearby, we have a Wave Wifi Rogue Pro wifi booster on top of the boat, across from the LTE antenna. This works fairly well if there’s wifi within a mile or so, though we’ve gotten signals several miles away before under perfect conditions. Under almost all conditions on the loop, though, our cellular setup works so much better than even good marina wifi that we don’t even bother using this. We’ve only bothered I think once on the trip so far, and it was merely academic, while I was debugging some issues with the Cradlepoint’s cell modems. I expect we’ll be relying on this a lot more in Canada, given the likely no-unlimited-data solution we’ll run into there.

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