Monday, November 17, 2014


Monday, November 17, 2014

As you know if you read our last blog entry, we were delighted to get back to the Chesapeake. We could finally do some sailing without worrying about going aground or clearing bridges. We looked forward to visiting the little Eastern Shore towns and anchorages where we had been before and exploring new ones. We stopped first at one our favorite anchorages, Mill Creek in the Wicomico River in Virginia, then crossed the river to visit Reedville, up Cockrell Creek. Reedville is a tiny village with not much to offer except a fish processing plant and a marine museum. But it is an attractive anchorage and we had some a great crabcake lunch at a little waterfront seafood shack. And fortunately for us, we were upwind of the fish processing plant. Our next stop, one of convenience more than anything else, was in Solomons Island, a favorite destination for Annapolis area sailors. We were not particularly enthralled with Solomons, but they do have a Tiki bar that serves some of the most powerful rum drinks you will find north of the islands.

From Solomons, it was an easy day's run up to La Trappe Creek on the Choptank River, where we enjoyed our first (and only) swim of the year, and from there to Oxford, one of our favorite Eastern Shore towns. In La Trappe creek we got our first sighting of stingrays swimming in formation. With their fin tips out of the water they looked like schools of miniature sharks. We decided to get some boat maintenance done in Oxford before heading across the Bay to Galesville, where we had reserved a mooring. That included getting our fuel “polished,” a process we felt was necessary because we had been going through fuel filters every fifty or sixty hours. To polish the fuel, they pumped it from our tanks into two fifty gallon drums, then ran it through filters back into our tanks. This supposedly removed any debris and water that had made it into the tanks. We also foolishly believed that they would clean the tanks while they were empty.

We arrived in Galesville toward the end of June. The renters who had occupied our house for the past year were moving out, and we wanted to go home and take care of some house updating. We had decided we would become part time boaters, and since we remembered how we had suffered from the heat the summer before while getting Bel Canto refitted, and that the Chesapeake is notorious for its lack of wind in August, we thought this would be a great time to enjoy Ann Arbor and do some painting and wood floor restoration on our house. (Of course, this summer was the exception and the weather in the Chesapeake was ideal.)

Reedville, Virginia

Back in Ann Arbor we relearned why we like the town so much. We heard lots of great music at the Kerrytown Concert House and the Zal Gaz Grotto, topped off with the Detroit Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend. Angie got to play Upwards with her friend Ruth, Jim got in some chess with his friend Dan and with the “old folks” at the Turner Senior Center, and we got to spend time with all of our Michigan friends and family. We also took advantage of having removed all of our personal stuff from the living area for our renters to get a start on having some of our wood floors refinished and interior walls and cupboards painted.

We returned to Bel Canto in September (on the hottest day of the year) for what we expected to be another two months of sailing before we put Bel Canto to bed for the winter. The boat was in good shape after being on the mooring for two months, except that the bottom had become pretty foul from the growth in the brackish water of the upper Chesapeake. We also discovered that some water had leaked in around the compression post—another problem that we would have to solve. We made an appointment to have the boat hauled for bottom cleaning, and in the meantime we began to think about what she needed and what we wanted from her. We knew that we didn't want to take her down the waterway again, and that short handed ocean sailing wasn't our cup of tea either. We loved the anchorages and the little seaside towns we had visited, and enjoyed the friends that we made along the way. But Bel Canto was made for ocean voyaging, and that wasn't for us. A smaller boat, with a shallower draft and a shorter mast would have been a better choice. Bel Canto needed a few more things if we were to sail her up to Maine—radar, a life raft, a new whisker/spinnaker pole, and perhaps a new main sail. These would cost a fraction of what we had put into her, but would still amount to quite a few boat units. Winter storage and maintenance could easily amount to four or five thousand dollars. We both came to the conclusion that it was time to sell Bel Canto. We contacted a broker in Annapolis who was delighted when he saw her. He thought that even though the average time a sailboat was on the market before selling was 304 days, we had a good chance of selling her during the October Annapolis boat show. We gave him a slide show that we had put together showing the boat and a list of its features, including all of the improvements we had made in her. 

Cockrell Creek Crab Shack, Reedville

In the meantime, we decided to sail back down to Virginia to avoid overstaying our welcome (that is, the three month limit Maryland places on non-resident boaters) in Maryland. We had a great sail, one of the best of the year, sailing from Oxford down to Solomons Island. Bel Canto loves a beam reach, and at times we were hitting over eight knots (with a little help from the current). From there it was a couple of short hops down to Fishing Bay and Deltaville, Virginia.

Coming into Fishing Bay the engine started to flag and surge and we knew we were in trouble. After only thirty hours our fuel filters were clogging up. Since we were so close to port, Jim decided to put in a call to TowBoat US rather than try to change the filters and bleed the air out of the fuel lines at sea. TowBoat US didn't answer our call, but a good Samaritan on a nearby sailboat did. Skip Wylie, out for a sail with his family, came up alongside and said “I'm a mechanic. Can I help? Skip tied up alongside and together we changed the primary fuel filter and bled the fuel lines.

We made it into the harbor without incident, the engine running smoothly once again. The next morning turned out to be a beautiful sailing day. The wind was steady out of the east, which meant that we would have a beam reach all the way up to Solomons. Bel Canto would be in her glory! But we were barely a half hour out of the harbor when the engine began to flag again. We made it back into the harbor and put in a call to Skip. Once again we changed filters and bled the injectors, all four of which were full of air. Since the filters were obviously clean, we decided that the culprit was an air leak caused by a piece of grit on the filter gasket that Jim had missed when cleaning the filter cup. 

While testing the engine, Jim discovered something sparking in the engine compartment. He found that a wire pinned against the engine block by a hose had worn through and was creating a fire hazard. We didn't have the equipment (spare wire, connectors—we should have had them) to make the repair, so Skip came to the rescue again. In the process we discovered that even with all of the battery switches off the wires were “hot.” Skip thought that the problem might be a fault in the new inverter we had had installed in Southport. Since Zimmerman's Marine, the outfit that had installed the inverter, has an office in Deltaville, we thought we would get it checked out. To do so, we had to take the boat around Stingray Point into Broad Creek in the mouth of the Potomac River.

The weather turned against us. We sat at the dock in Broad Creek for two days, pounded by the North wind that barreled right into the harbor. It was the most uncomfortable two days that we had experienced as the waves continually pounded Bel Canto against the dock. Finally the winds moderated enough, though still out of the north, that we thought we could make it up to Reedville, which would put us within striking distance of Solomons Island. Jim had used our last fuel filters in our battle with apparently contaminated fuel. None had been available in Deltaville, and we would have had to wait two more days for a special order to arrive, so instead we called ahead to West Marine in Solomons and bought all they had on hand on the spot, to be picked up when we arrived. We hated to travel without spare filters, but we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. It was an uncomfortable motor boat ride to Reedville, bashing into two and three foot waves for four hours, but we finally made it into the very quiet and protected anchorage. 

Our plan had been to make it up to the Seven Seas Cruising Club Gam being held in the Rhode River, just south of Annapolis, at the end of September. The gam is an annual event where cruisers from all over the world meet up to attend seminars, share experiences and eat, drink and be merry together. But the wind stayed strong out of the north, with constant small craft and gale warnings, and we gave up all hope of making it in time. After four days, the winds calmed, but were still out of the north. We decided to make the best of it and motor up to Solomons. By late afternoon on a Sunday afternoon we were anchored in Back Creek. We raced to get the boat anchored and the dinghy launched, trying to make it to the West Marine store before it closed. When we arrived, somewhat breathlessly, Angie opened the bag that the clerk had handed to Jim—and discovered that they had given us the wrong filters!

The next day was calm and we headed north again under power. Now we just wanted to make it back to Galesville in time to make a quick trip to Ann Arbor to help celebrate our friend Lou's 100th birthday. What's more our broker called tell us he already had a an offer on the boat, and we had to get her back for a sea trial and survey. Incredibly, a couple that had already sold their home and were living out of their car while they looked for a boat had made an offer, sight unseen, based just on our slide show and description of the boat.

Angie: I was nervous about making the trip without spare fuel filters. Fortunately we have TowBoat US insurance. They will tow you to a harbor if you have problems. We had never had to use that service, although they did help us get off a sand bar in the intracoastal. It was 42 nautical miles from Solomons to Galesville, about a seven or eight hour trip for us under power. We were moving merrily along, about half way there when Jim went below, leaving me at the wheel. As he came back up into the cockpit, I heard a change in the engine rpm's. The engine slowed without me doing anything—not a good sign! We still had over 20 miles to go. I mentioned what I had heard to Jim, and he began listening too. The engine seemed to be running OK, then it began to slow again, and Jim shut the engine off. We were now adrift out in the middle of the Chesapeake, watching the big ships come by and hoping that they would see that we couldn't move out of their way.

We put in a call to TowBoat US, and in about an hour Captain Rob came to our rescue with the towboat Reliance. He towed us right up to the dock at Bert Jabin's, with me at the wheel and Jim handling the lines, ready to jump onto the dock and brake the boat with a spring line. We didn't have to worry, it was a soft landing and soon we were secured to the dock at Jabin's Yacht Yard. We had picked Jabin's because we knew Ted could help solve our problems. We had come full circle. A year earlier Ted had worked on Bel Canto for four months getting ready to sail, and now he would be helping us get her ready for her new owners. 

 Ted checked out the fuel tanks and we discovered that they had never been cleaned. He cleaned them and polished the fuel again. He also repacked the stuffing box, where the prop shaft goes through the hull. We had had that job done by the same people that supposedly cleaned our fuel, and that job hadn't been done properly either. With the help of Dave, our rigger, we learned about the drain hole at the base of the mast. With every heavy rain, water had been running down the compression post that supports the mast into the cabin. I cleaned the drain hole and water poured out of the mast, solving that problem. When we left for Ann Arbor, the boat was ready for inspection.

Back in Ann Arbor, we waited nervously for the results of the survey and sea trial. We had to wait for the banks to reopen after Columbus day for the closing, and we were on pins and needles, but all went well, and Bel Canto went to her new owners.

Do I feel bad? Yes and no. It wasn't the adventure I had expected, nothing like our year aboard Escapade 29 years ago. Jim and I both got tired of the maintenance and expense of repairs. Bel Canto is a great boat, but she is thirty years old, and that means she will always need something. And the stress of going up and down the waterway had taken its toll. We might have been happier with a different boat, one more fitted to what we were actually doing rather than what we thought we would be doing (that is poking around on the coast and hanging out in harbor towns, rather than ocean sailing). But on the other hand, we learned a lot, had some great times and made some great friends along the way. I will miss the boating life and when we visit harbors I will think about going to sea again. Then I will do a reality check and be happy with where I am. Now, if I want to, I can go to New Orleans and buy a custom made hat at Fleur de Paris rather than radar or a new anchor for Bel Canto

Liquid Energy #3