Thursday, October 24, 2013

Anchor Watch!

Fogg Cove, St. Michaels

On the Strand, Oxford
Sometimes it seems like the life of cruising sailors is 90 percent work and worry and 10 percent pure joy. We experienced a good dram of the joy on our trip down to Oxford, on the Eastern Shore, from Dividing Creek on the Wye East River. Even though we had to motor into the wind to clear the river and Eastern Bay, once we were out in the Chesapeake we had a fair wind and were able to finally make sail. For a little while we had a good breeze of about 12 knots and we were scooting along at six and a half to seven knots on a close reach. Bel Canto was in her element, and we were all smiles and high fives.

We anchored in a small bight off the channel in Town Creek at Oxford. There was one other boat, a pretty Hinckley yawl, already in there, so we couldn't anchor exactly where we wanted to. We were closer to some private docks and the shallow part of the bay than we liked, and the anchorage has the reputation of having a slippery bottom, but our new Manson Supreme anchor bit into the mud. Let's see, we're in 8 feet of water, and it's five feet from our bow to the water line. That's 13 feet total, and the right amount of chain to let out is five times that, or 65 feet. As the boat drifts back, I let out the chain. The depth alarm sounds, telling us than we're in less than our optimum eight feet. Depth sounder shows a little over seven. We check the tide, and it seems that we should be OK if Bel Canto swings to the end of her chain. Angie puts the engine in reverse and revs to 2000 rpm. The anchor holds. We're set.

As we were getting squared away and settled, a young couple rowed out to the yawl, waving as they went by. They boarded the yawl, and in a few moments, hauled in their anchor and left the anchorage. Now we had the decision of pulling up our anchor and improving our position or staying put. Out of inertia or laziness or whatever you want to call it, we decided that we were solid where we were. Even though there was a slight drizzle now and then, we decided that it was a good time to visit the village.
Lawn Decoration, Oxford

Oxford has pretty much closed down for the season. We went to a couple of boatyards, looking for lamp oil (our oil lamp does an amazing job of warming up our cabin a bit on these chilly mornings), bought a couple of spare fuel filters, checked at the small grocery store for lamp oil and bought a bag of our favorite Pepperidge Farm chocolate fudge cookies, and later in the day went back for a delicious meal at the Robert Morris Tavern, the only eating place in town that hasn't shut down for the season.

When we returned to Bel Canto, we found that a small cabin cruiser had joined us in the anchorage. She was anchored down wind of us, in the shallower water of the bay. She seemed to be a safe distance away, so we climbed into our snug little quarter berth for the night.

I don't know what caused me to wake up at a quarter after three this morning. Maybe sensing a change in the motion of the boat or hearing the gusts making the wind generator hum. Anyway, I lay there a few moments and then decided I needed to get up and check things out. It felt like the wind was blowing a good 20 knots with gusts to 30 or more. I opened the hatch to the cockpit and looked out. The little cabin cruiser seemed closer than it had the night before. I couldn't tell if it was because we had swung on our chain or the anchor had dragged. I turned on the nav instruments. The depth alarm began going off, and the depth meter showed between 7 and 6 and a half feet of water. It was low tide, so that in itself wasn't alarming, but I had to make sure we were still secure. I put on my longies and a fleece jacket and went out to the cockpit. Off to my right, on the boat's port side, I could see the docks we had been wary of yesterday when we anchored. On my left, on the shore across the bay, was a brightly lit mansion. I drew an imaginary line between them, which passed just aft of Bel Canto. If we reached that line, I'd know that the anchor was dragging and extreme measures were called for. Of course, these things always happen in the middle of night. For a long time I stood with my arms outstretched like a cormorant drying its wings, checking our position.

By this time Angie was up and had put on some warm clothes over her night gown. She started getting things together that we might need if we had to reset the anchor in the dark, specifically a spotlight and the headphones we use for communicating when she is at one end of the boat and I am at the other. As the boat swung back and forth in an arc of about 30 degrees, we increased our distance from the motor yacht, then watched it decrease again. I wasn't sure, as we drew closer, whether the decrease in distance was all because of our boat swinging on a longer anchor chain, or if we were dragging a bit. I started the engine, just in case. We spent a cold hour like this before deciding that we hadn't moved and that it was safe to go back to bed. By this time there was a red glow on the horizon from the morning sun.

Lessons learned: Have everything we might need in a nighttime emergency in a handy spot where we know where it is. This includes gloves for handling the anchor chain, pliers to open the sometimes balky shackle that holds the bridle to the chain, the handheld compass for checking the boat's position against objects on shore--and easy-to-don warm clothes!

Angie: I'm sitting in the quarter berth with a winter jacket and a hot water bottle getting warm after last night's excitement. I kept the hot water bottle and Jim from our last boat, Escapade. I also kept the 33 lb. Bruce anchor which I bought for myself. This time around, I insisted on buying a new one, either a Rocna or a Manson, although just about everybody tried to talk me out of it, and I'm glad that I did. I don't think this is how most people imagine our lives, but this is just another aspect of boat life. Where are those white sandy beaches, palm trees, and rum drinks?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Heading South! (poco a poco)

Wye River, Thursday, October 17

Yesterday morning we dropped our mooring pennant, motored over to the fuel dock to fill our fuel and water tanks, and headed out of Back Creek for good--or at least until next year (knock on wood). All the little projects which seemed to be threatening to keep us in Annapolis forever were finally completed. The part for the fuel gauge which had been misrouted to Shanghai had arrived and been installed. The plow anchor had been swapped out for a Manson Supreme. And two big ones to add to our creature comforts. While we were waiting for parts to arrive, we endured three days of the miserable cold and rainy weather, which prompted us to ask Ted to show us how the diesel stove worked. Of course, none of the original equipment on Bel Canto initially works quite the way it is supposed to. Ted decided that the electric fuel pump for the stove needed to be replaced.  After Jim bought the pump, we discovered that we needed a pressure reducing regulator (we sure could have used one of these last summer!), so that held us up another day. But Ted got it all hooked up, and now we are set to be warm and comfy no matter the weather. And the second big one. After disassembling and rebuilding, with Ted's help, the hand pump for the manual head (that's the toilet, if you don't already know), Jim gave Angie the gift of a brand new one. If you've only used a modern flush toilet all of your life, you probably can't imagine why Angie was so thrilled with a new pump for the toilet. Now we can flush with confidence.

So now we are anchored in Dividing Creek, on the East Wye River, Eastern Shore of Maryland. We are only about 25 miles from Annapolis, but it is a different world. As we came into the anchorage we were greeted by several great blue herons along the shore line and eagles soaring overhead. This morning flocks of geese, gathering for their flight south along the eastern flyway, lined the shore. We are the only boat in this small tree lined anchorage which could only be more beautiful if the trees, which are just starting to turn, were in full color.

Angie: This is what I dreamed of! Anchored in a beautiful, peaceful spot, the only boat in the anchorage. I remember the good times we had when we sailed Escapade in the North Channel of Lake Huron, the rocky coasts of  Maine and the colorful waters of the Bahamas, and I longed to do it again. My dream has come true.  There is little wind, a mist crawls across the water, and a bald eagle stands guard over us. What a magnificent bird. On the shore a great blue heron perches on a log just enjoying the peacefulness of the morning. The sun peeks out through the clouds, evaporating the water droplets on our cockpit cushions and dinghy. In my mind I am photographing all these visions, but in reality, I am just happy to be in such a beautiful place.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Almost ready to get out of Annapolis for good and start the long, slow trek down the waterway. Not much more can need fixing aboard Bel Canto, can it? So what happens when I check the gauge to see how much fuel is left in the starboard fuel tank. Empty? Can't be. I open up the tank and stick a measuring stick down into it. At least four inches left. Must be the "tank tender" gauge. We disassemble the tank penetration fitting, which works on a vacuum, and find out that three o-rings are shot. We call the manufacturer in Washington state and order the whole fitting, forty bucks plus forty three for two day shipping so that we can leave by this weekend.

That was Tuesday. By Thursday (today) it still hadn't arrived so Angie went to the UPS site and plugged in the tracking number. According to the tracking, our fitting was sitting in a warehouse in Shanghai. How it got from Washington, via Kentucky, to Shanghai is a mystery. Many more calls to Washington and Lisa, at that end, promises to send us another, which should arrive by Monday. She's as mystified as we are, and as compensation agrees to send us an extra, since we are monitoring four tanks and are sure to need another at some point. Shipping prepaid this time. So we are here at least until Monday, which is not too bad, since the remnants of tropical storm Karen are kicking up a fuss here, causing a nor'easter which is taking its sweet time moving up the coast.

So how are we spending our time while waiting for the weather to improve and our parts to arrive? Well, I just spent one afternoon and the next morning with my head in the head (toilet, that is), first rebuilding (with Ted's help) the pump for the manually operated toilet, because it was leaking, then replacing the whole pump because the rebuilt one still leaked. Not exactly the way that our friends view the life of liveaboard cruising sailors. It turned out that replacing the whole pump would have been cheaper to begin with, considering Ted's fee, and the new one works a whole lot better than the old. That makes Angie very happy.

And since we are held up here for a few more days, we figured that this would be a good time to get our diesel fueled heater working. The forecast of several nights with the weather in the 50's helped us with that decision. In the meantime a baked chicken dinner, garnished with potatoes, onions, garlic, and carrots, cooked in our oven which miraculously works without special attention, is keeping us warm and cozy.

Stay warm and keep on loving one another. That's what keeps this crazy world spinning.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


September 27

We had hoped, and told everyone, that we were leaving Bert Jabin's Yacht Yard right after Labor Day. We moved aboard the boat on June 8th, and before we knew it the whole summer had passed while we struggled to get the boat ready to sail. We'd get within inches and then we'd discover another problem which would put us yards away from the goal line. Like the manual bilge pump (last resort if the boat was taking on water and the batteries shorted out) needed to be replaced. And the generator, which was so cranky and loud that Angie hated it anyway, was going to cost so much to repair that it wasn't worth while to keep it (I should take note!) We (Ted and his crew, that is) yanked it out.
Ray, one of the crew
Gave us a lot more room for storing food and water. And the windlass, that we already told you about. Ted machined the faces on the brake, installed a new switch, and built new bow rollers for us, all of which should make anchoring a lot easier and safer.

But finally, on Wednesday, September 25, 2013, we took aboard all of our docklines, and with Ted and two other friends, Gord and Karen from Dancing in the Wind, giving a hand, we eased out of the slip for the last time.
Ted giving a hand off
The first leg of out journey was a short one, about 12 miles down the Bay to the Rhode River, where we are attending South Seas Cruising Association gam, a big social event built around a series of seminars on all aspects of the cruising life. Most of the sailors here are heading south like we are, either for the Bahamas or the Virgin Islands, and many of them have been doing that for 20 or more years, so we should learn a lot from them. It's a great sight in the evening to look out over the anchorage where about fifty other boats, mostly sail but a few trawlers, are anchored and see the anchor lights, like a constellation of planets, over the water. Anchoring, by the way, went off without a hitch, with Angie doing a great job bringing the boat to a halt at just the right moment and then backing down to set the anchor.

The Old Man at the helm
I must admit that I get a little nervous when I think about the trip ahead. We planned on the whole summer to get used to handling the boat cruising around the Chesapeake.
But we do get most of the month of October, a beautiful time for cruising the Chesapeake with the trees turning color and the ducks and geese on the flyway south, before we head down the Intracoastal Waterway. That journey, stretching over a thousand miles from Norfolk, Virginia, to whatever spot in Florida we choose for our hopping off place to the Bahamas, takes a couple of months. And though most of it is motoring down canals, and rivers, there are some bays where you can sail. And lots of practice anchoring along the way. There are also places where you can "go outside" for a day trip or overnighter on the ocean before coming back on the waterway. Doing that depends on finding safe inlets along with a safe "weather window" for the trip. I think I'd like to do that, but we'll see.

October 4

After the gam we went over to St. Michaels, a picturesque little fishing village and tourist destination on the Eastern Shore, for a couple of days. No wind so we had to motor all of the way. Well, I said we learned some anchoring techniques at the gam. We got lots of practice. First we decided to anchor in a little bight that called Dobbs Bay.
With Angie at the helm, we got the anchor set real well and had just got really relaxed when a guy came out on a big motor yacht and asked us to move because he was going to have to come too close to us when he went out later and then came back at night. So we pulled up and headed out to the main harbor, where we anchored just outside the channel. Again, got what I thought was a good set and settled down for the evening.
Tod, measuring mast height
The next evening, though, I decided to give the set a good test. We were interested in finding out how well the plow anchor was holding in the mud, so I started the engine, threw it into reverse, and revved it up. Well, there was a big jolt when the chain tightened, and the anchor came free. I waited a few minutes to let it settle down, tried it more gently again, and it seemed to be holding. I didn't want to pull it out again, and since there wasn't much wind predicted overnight I let it be. I wouldn't have done that, but I've got this great app on the iPad called DragQueen. DragQueen gives an alarm if your anchor drags and you move out of a radius that you have preset, so I set the alarm, and we went to bed. No problem, no wind. We'd swung 180 degrees but were still sitting pretty much where we started out. When we were ready to go and I raised the anchor  I discovered why it hadn't held before.  Our plow had snagged a Danforth anchor that someone had lost or abandoned. Good thing there hadn't been much wind, or we probably would have dragged again. Oh well, that would have been a good test of DragQueen.

October 7

Back in Back Creek, but this time at a mooring, not a slip at Bert Jabin's Yacht Yard. We came into the creek from across the Bay, after two nights at St. Michaels.  We were coming into Annapolis just before the big power boat and sail boat shows were about to begin.
Rob, with wood plaque he made for us
This is the biggest boating event on the East Coast, and Angie, at the helm as we came into the harbor, was nervous about threading her way through all of the boats anchored in the creek for the event. She was even more nervous about handling the boat as we picked up a mooring, something we'd never had a chance to practice with her at the helm. We'd tried this before with me steering, and it hadn't gone too well, partly because when I was calling loudly to Angie, on the bow, so that she could hear my directions, she thought I was yelling at her. So did the skipper of a nearby boat, who came out of his cabin and asked if he could be of any help. Really, I was just yelling so that she could hear me, not yelling AT her. So we decided that it would be better if she were at the helm. And we bought something called the marriage saver, a pair of hands free walkie talkie headsets. It required precision boat handling to stop the boat right at the big mooring ball, close enough for me reach down with a boat hook to grab the line attached to it and secure the boat. But with Angie's practice anchoring at Rhode River and St. Michaels and my much quieter participation, she carried it off perfectly.

We took advantage of being back in Annapolis for a couple of routine appointments to get the new
anchor that Angie has been wanting. Choosing an anchor is a religious act, and no one can agree on which one is the right one. But the one we chose, called the Manson Supreme, one of the "new generation" anchors, seemed at least one step up from our plow. Ted helped us swap it out, not a simple task while we are at a mooring, since the anchor, which weighs 45 pounds, had to be attached to the anchor chain out in front of the bow pulpit. Twenty eight years ago, it was Angie who bought us the 33 pound Bruce anchor, considered the latest, best thing, for Escapade.

Morning at St. Michaels