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Diving for crabs – Norfolk and northbound to Deltaville VA

Norfolk VA…and north to Deltaville VA On the Chesapeake Bay 4/20-4/21/08

Sunday 4/20/08 Norfolk VA

The lower Chesapeake Bay weather forecast was predicting east winds for Sunday 4/20 (which would be good for us). Unfortunately, the forecast was also calling for severe thunderstorms and even tornado warnings. Not sure I really needed to write another survival story due to tornado activity — so we opted to stay the day in Norfolk. We would make good use of our time here – by experimenting with how to operate the emergency tiller — our final backup plan in case whatever is left of our steering completely goes kaput.

Steering problems re-evaluated. The emergency tiller is a heavy piece of 6 foot pipe – that you fit over the shaft of one of the rudders. Once on the shaft, you should be able to push or pull on the pipe to turn the rudder with relative ease – thus being able to steer the boat. We weren’t sure which rudder it should go onto — so we first positioned it onto the port rudder. It seemed pretty hard to turn (to me), but the biggest problem – was that we were prevented from turning the tiller rod sufficiently in both directions. The tiller was obstructed when turning to port, by a post used to hold up the wind generator. We would have to remove the wind generator in order to use the emergency tiller on the port side of the boat. Hmmm. Obviously whoever installed the wind generator – wasn’t thinking about emergency situations. Ok, we’ll give this a try on the starboard side. So, we positioned the emergency tiller rod over the shaft of the starboard rudder….and much to our surprise….it would not turn AT ALL.

The starboard rudder was supposto be the “good” rudder (so we thought). However, the starboard rudder was completely stuck – and even with 6 feet of leverage – you could not budge it. I think we just discovered our steering problem – and it is completely opposite of how we have been attempting to steer the boat for the entire trip north from Charleston. Smooth. We did a few more tests to prove out which rudder was causing the steering problem. First, we disengaged the starboard rudder from the hydraulics. The steering wheel turned smoothly and easily – moving the port rudder in the direction that you turned it. Then, we re-engaged the starboard rudder….and disengaged the port rudder. The steering wheel turned hard, clunked and it was difficult to turn the rudder. Time for a new plan for steering the boat.

New steering plan. Apparently the bearings of the starboard rudder are completely locked up – preventing it from turning. Our guess, is that since it is so hard to turn — it keeps blowing a fuse on the autohelm. The autohelm controls the starboard rudder only. By removing the starboard rudder from the mix — we should be able to hand steer using just the port rudder. We disengaged the starboard rudder from the hydraulics, and pulled the rudder completely out of the water. Unfortunately, the rudder was too heavy to remain upright – so we would have to let it just “float” back in the water — aligned in the center. Guess we’ll see how she steers when we depart Norfolk.

But first, a little R&R in Norfolk. We are docked at the Waterside Marina in the revitalized section of downtown Norfolk. The place is crawling with tourists and humans so it is a bit of a culture shock to us. It didn’t take long to locate the nearest grocery store (about 5 blocks away) and sushi restaurants (two of them within 5 blocks – so we were pretty happy! Spent some remaining time getting caught up on computer work, along with various boat prep tasks – as we were carefully watching the weather for a potential departure early Monday. I was feeling better knowing that we may be able to steer Cat Maudy…albeit partially handicapped…north up the Chesapeake.

Monday 4/21/08
Norfolk…to Deltaville VA

Winds were predicted from the east (10-20 knots) in the lower portion of the Chesapeake Bay, and waves estimated to be in the 3-4 foot range. Three and four feet sounded pretty tame as compared to the 9 foot waves we encountered on the ocean coming into Beaufort NC – so I wasn’t too concerned.

The only aspect of the forecast that would be a question for us — was the stormy weather part. From what we could tell — it was only rain. We would just deck out in our high-fashion foul weather gear — as rain would not be a problem for us. As you can see, I’m feeling pretty “salty” these days….would have never had these thoughts 6 months ago. We departed the Norfolk harbor by 7AM with overcast skies and light winds. We had to stay out of the shipping channel – to make way for a variety of tug boats, barges and war ships. Yikes – war ships. It’s really one thing to hear about “war” stuff in the news — and another to see the warships close up.

There is a military dockage in the harbor with at least 50 dark gray super high-tech warships & aircraft carriers of different sizes — ready to go to war somewhere. OK…a little green observation here. Our war budget must be downright huge just fueling up these big flotillas. May I suggest (incase the NSA is reading my boat logs) that you add some wind generators, solar panels and perhaps some sail power — to keep the costs of running these down?

Maybe then, considering the current price of diesel – all countries will have to fight each other using sailboats equipped with solar powered cannons.

Fighting would occur only on sunny days – and you’d have be in close range of each other. May the greenest country win!

…back to the moment.

As we leave the protected harbors of Norfolk and Willoughby Bay and enter into the mouth of the Chesapeake – the winds and waves pick up considerably. I went forward to hoist the main – and would need a little extra time to remove all of the reef points leftover from our last ocean sail.

The winds were kicking up – so there was a fair amount of force on the sail — when suddenly a loud POP! It sounded like something had broken on the main sail — but we couldn’t see where.

We didn’t notice (until some time later at dockside) that the line holding up the boom (topping lift) had severed — and all that was remaining was a thin core with far reduced strength. The braid of the rope had separated — exposing this thin core. If the line had completely broken while at seas, the boom would have crashed on top of our bimini. We got lucky!

We did notice that our yellow sail pack was limping toward the back of the boom. Appears that one of the sail pack lines had broken free. Oh well. We could fix that later — as it didn’t interfere in the operations of the sail. We continued on, and unfurled a full jib sail. We were cruising up the Chesapeake Bay now. We were making 9 knots of speed – and decided to turn off the engines — no need to motor sail anymore with all of this wind! In order to get out of the shipping channel (and away from the war ships) – we decided to head north into shallow waters. It didn’t take long to realize this was a mistake — as we became engulfed in a minefield of crab pots.

Our general rule, is to avoid the crabpots – and never go over the crabpots, as the lines can easily get tangled in your props or rudders. We learned this the hard way from past experience. However, one crabpot in particular came a little too close to our port side – and it looked like we had run directly over it. Rut-row….It is harder to make quick turns to avoid crabpots — with only one good rudder. I kept looking back to see if the surface float would pop up (indicating that we weren’t dragging a crab pot) — but I couldn’t see it. Finally, off to the right – I saw a green and white buoy — and guessed that was the crabpot that we ran over.

We were now sailing at nearly 10knots, and began to have all sorts of grandiose thoughts — that at this good pace – we might be able to get to Solomons Island by dinner time. But alas, the wind began to fade out – and it was time to turn the engines back on. I noticed a tremendous vibration in the cockpit when we were under motor. This doesn’t seem quite right. Within a minute — the port engine cut out. We tried to restart — but she wouldn’t go into gear. Pat did a quick check in the port engine compartment – and everything appeared fine. Aiiii….Why won’t the port engine go on?

Upon a visual inspection over the port rudder — it confirmed we were tangled on a crabpot. The crabpot that we ran over and thought we had left behind — was indeed wrapped around the port engine prop — along with a basket of crabs far below. We had actually sailed, dragging a crabpot wrapped around the engine prop for nearly 10 miles. I’m guessing those crabbies were having a grand ol time checking out some new scenery further up the bay!

Uh oh…what are we going to do since there is only 1 engine that is working? Captain Pat had it in his head that the only way to set the crabpot free — would be for him to dive under the boat – and cut it free. OH MY this is like a bad dream. The waters are NOT warm this time of year and I was not liking this idea — of having Pat get into cold waters, possible hypothermia, and me not being able to haul him out. NAY NAY. Very bad things COULD happen – and as First Mate, I did my best to try to talk him out of it. However, I was overruled by the Cap – so, we need to make the best of this.

The first step — was to take down the sails, and motor back into shallow waters (with more crabpots) — so that we could be as far as possible from shipping traffic. Pat proceeded put on ½ a wetsuit that the previous owner had left on the boat. With a rope tied around him — and the other end of the rope tied to the boat – Pat got in position to jump off the stern of the boat. I was prepared with towels and blankets for when he got back out of the water — so that we could quickly warm him back up. OH MAN….I am sooooo not liking this idea. Pat jumps in to the cold bay waters — and the shock of the cold water nearly brought him back up onto the rudder platform. “OH GOD THIS IS COLD” he yelled out. Actual path – shows deviation to shallow waters in order to rescue port prop from crabpot

I’m stressing big time. “There must be some other way to release this dang crabpot — can’t we try using a boathook” – I pleaded? But no, the Captain insisted that the only way to release the crabpot was to take the Jacques Cousteau route.

After about 7 or 8 dives — Pat was finally able to get the crabpot released from the prop — and the line, buoy and crabpot – went floating off. I wasted no time helping Pat get back onto the boat. He was exhausted and cold. Got him back into the cockpit – where we quickly dried him off — and then wrapped him up in a blanket to get warm. Geeeez louisey! Once he appeared OK…I went back to the helm, fired up the port engine — and motored Cat Maudy out of the NEW crabpot field that we had floated into. Could have done without the diving-4-crabpots drama today. After about 10 minutes of motoring, it appeared that the lull in the wind was over…and the winds were picking back up again. Time to hoist the sails. By now, Captain Pat was back at the helm, drinking a large mug of hot tea. I went forward to prep the main sail.

Hoisting hoisting hoisting….more hoisting hoisting hoisting….and suddenly my Rambo battery powered drill that I use to hoist the big sail (which I’ve named Jane Rambo) — ran outta juice. I would have to hoist the remaing 30% of the main sail manually. Oh joy. By the time I had finished, my body was drenched in sweat. I immediately returned to the cockpit — and started re-charging the Jane Rambo battery. Guess I need to work out more (or get an extra battery for Jane Rambo)!

As we continued sailing north on the bay, it became apparent that the wind direction had changed. Instead of projected winds from the EAST — the winds had shifted to be more out of the NORTH. This means we were getting the winds nearly head-on. In the Chesapeake Bay — when the winds come out of the NORTH and you are trying to travel NORTH….well, good luck. Get ready for a bumpy ride & no speed. The waves were increasing to about 4 feet — which wouldn’t be so bad– with the exception that in the Chesapeake Bay the waves come at you in rapid intervals. So, when Cat Maudy goes down into the trough of a wave…the next wave is already over her bow. I don’t remember EVER having so much water come crashing over the entire topside of the boat. We were drenched.

Bailout plan…heading to Fishing Bay

Somewhere around the mouth of the Rhappahannock River (50 miles north of Norfolk)– it became obvious that we would not be able to get to Solomons Island with the winds and waves coming at us from the north. We needed a bailout plan. I quickly scoured the navigation software to see if I could find a creek or small cove with deep waters that would provide protection from north and east winds. We were getting bounced around pretty good by the waves, so it was a bit of a challenge operating computer software thru this. THANKFULLY, I located at the southern mouth of the Rhapphannock River — an area called Fishing Bay. Fishing Bay appeared to have plenty of deep water, and great protection from the winds.

We changed course to head for Fishing Bay — which meant for 6 miles we would get smacked around from large waves in rapid succession hitting our beam. What fun! We dropped the main sail. Since the sailpack had gotten torn — a large portion of the main sail drooped over the back of the bimini. I tied up the main sail with extra rope the best I could — so that the sail wouldn’t decide to open back up in the winds. Finally, we made a turn into Fishing Bay from the mouth of the Rhappahannock River — putting us on a run with the waves. This was much more comfortable riding.

After a few quick turns thru a well marked shipping channel — we found ourselves in a delightful cove that was well protected from northern or easterly winds. It almost seemed like different weather in here! I hailed a marina called “Fishing Bay Marina” (of course — what else would they call it?) — and they had room for us to dock up. It was a bit tricky docking — partly due to the wind direction and use of only 1 good rudder — and also partly due to the fact that the marina guy helping us was having trouble tying a knot that would hold. He would get a wrap on the piling for the bow line….run back to tie up the stern line…and by now the bow line had come undone. He then went to retie the bow line…and the stern line came undone. This went on for a few minutes. It would have been comical if it wasn’t for the fact that Cat Maudy was drifting toward other boats in the marina. Finally, Captain Pat threw a 3rd line to him and instructed him to put it on a cleat….and Pat used the winch to bring the center of the boat to the dock. Pretty nifty trick – winching the boat to the dock. Anyway, we’re in safe harbor now…and I was looking forward to unwinding!

Finding this little harbor at the mouth of the Rhappahannock River is like finding a pot of gold. The folks at the Fishing Bay Marina (Deltaville, VA)– are the most delightful down-to-earth people you could ever hope to run into. Deltaville is a rural community with lots of farmland, which used to boast up to 20 boatyards in its prime. It is one of those rare places that you think doesn’t exist anymore….and when you find it, you want to just stay for awhile and take it all in. The folks at the marina are soooo friendly, soooo helpful, soooo very kind….we couldn’t have asked for a better ending to our day

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