Whitehall to Hampton VA
It was 11:30am Thursday October 29 when we finally took the docking lines off the piles and headed out to the bay. The original plan was to depart early Tuesday to be able to stop on our way a couple of times and avoid sailing at night in the Chesapeake. A few weeks before we had attempted a non-stop trip to the Atlantic and back and it was not a very pleasant experience given the traffic that we encountered — from barges, to military and cruising ships –, and without a functioning AIS. Unfortunately, we had several delays with the work that had to be done on the boat, including adding one more coat of varnish to the teak and sealing the seams with silicone. So we were now up for another overnight passage down the congested Bay.
Carla and I had arrived to the boat two days before, on Tuesday afternoon, and started loading food and gear. Richard also came that night with his van to help us transport diesel jerry cans to the gas station and back. He also took the opportunity to buy some fishing gear in a store nearby. But he then headed back to DC; the plan was for him to drive to Hampton on Saturday with my wife Natalia. While Carla and I finished preparing the boat and sailed down the Bay, he would be cooking meals for the trip to Bahamas. It was worth it.
That night Carla and I finished the silicone work and then had dinner in the boat — left-overs from a Persian dish with rice, chicken, and curry that Natalia had prepared. It must have been 10pm when we went to bed feeling pretty tired. The nights were becoming cold but we had a brand new heater that I had purchased after our trip from Brandford. The next morning we got up early, Carla boiled water for coffee while I tried to catch-up on e mails from work and move conference calls around. We spent the day working on the boat and running irons. The last remaining tasks were to lash the jerry cans to the boards that Richard had installed the previous weekend and change the oil and primary fuel filters — both time consuming jobs in an old diesel engine. The guys at the marina also had to finish building a pipe berth that I wanted to have with me for the planned cruise in the Bahamas over Christmas and New Year’s, with Natalia, the girls, Juan David and my parents. The idea was to transform the starboard bert into a “bunk bed” that the two girls could share.
A young guy from the marina was in charge of changing the primary fuel filter and this became a drama. It is not possible to change this filter without letting large quantities of air enter the engine. The engine had to be bled, but despite many attempts it would not fire. During labor day weekend something similar happened to me after changing the RACOR (secondary) fuel filter — which I now know doesn’t require bleeding the engine. The problem at that time had been the injection pump. It had to be completely rebuilt along with the injectors — an, unforeseen, major expenditure. In the process we also discovered that the engine would sometimes not crank (see previous post) because a cable running from the starting switch to the solenoid was faulty (this only after having changed, probably unnecessarily, the starting switch). So, not been able to start the engine again was extremely annoying and worrisome to me. I was already thinking that something had gone wrong when they reinstalled the injection pump and that the whole trip was in jeopardy. The lead mechanic came to help, but towards the end of the day he gave up: “These engines are a fucking pain, I need to get out of here” he said while climbing out of the boat and lighting a cigaret. “I ll come back tomorrow.” I was unhappy and also ready for a drink. I wanted to get to Hampton on Friday to join the seminars organized by the Salty Dawg Rally, make final preparations, rest for a couple of days and depart to the Bahamas on Monday.
Carla and I went to have dinner at Red and Blue, a restaurant that specializes on southern-style BBQ ribs. The first Red Hot and Blue restaurant opened in Arlington, Virginia in 1988. The late Lee Atwater was an amateur blues musician and political figure that managed George H.W. Bush’s successful race for the presidency. The restaurant is full of memorabilia — posters of blues and jazz players and small statues of the Blues Brothers and Elvys Presley. I am probably the only one in the family who likes the place. For Carla it was the first time and I think she enjoyed the experience. We sat at the bar and ordered drinks and ribs. I was first chatting to a man in his late fifties who was sitting to my right. He was drinking an, apparently, very good but unknown to me Canadian whisky. He worked in construction in Washington DC (an electrician) and was a regular of the place; the perfect place to relax over drinks he claimed. He told me that his life was simple but that he was content: he had a job that more or less paid the bills, a large family that now included more than 10 grand children, a few friends, and no big ego or ambitions. Exemplary. When he left I joined a conversation that Carla had started with a middle age couple sitting by her left. The first supporters of Donald Trump I meet. They wanted him to win the republican nomination to “destabilize the system.” They didn’t take his ideas or policies seriously but considered that US politics needed a big shake-up. And they might get it their way. As I write, the guy, against all odds, continuous to increase his lead in the polls.
When we got back to the boat we went directly to our bunks; I had had enough gin and wine to sleep non stop until dawn. But I woke up feeling anxious and worried about the engine. I went outside to crank it one more time but it would still not fire. The lead mechanic at the marina had told me that he would be at the boat by 8:30. In the meantime I had coffee and left the dock to take a work related phone call. Over the last few weeks I had been neglecting a bit the office and this was adding to my stress. By 9:30 the mechanic hand’t showed up and I went to the marina’s office to ask what was going on. They told me that traffic was really bad but that they would meet me at the boat shortly. I also learned that the pipe berth was not ready; they had just received the poles and canvas. The lead mechanic and the young man who had installed the fuel filter the previous day appeared at the boat at around 10am. After trying to bleed the engine one more time it was concluded — this should have been obvious and I should have known better — that the filter was not properly installed. The lead mechanic could not contain his anger with the young guy and he took things in his own hands. While I finished lashing the jerry cans he reinstalled the filter, a real pain, and bled the engine again. We cranked and it started. We had wasted several hours the day before without reason. We were now almost ready to go. The young guy who just wanted to disappear went to get some products to clean/remove diesel from the engine and the bilge. I went to see if the pipe berth was finally assembled. It was not but I didn’t want to wait any longer. I told Erick, the manager, that we would discuss later about how to get the poles and canvas to the Bahamas and I left.
By early afternoon we had setup the wind-vane and were motor sailing south with a light wind coming from the east. Darkness came upon us by 6:30 but, now armed with the AIS, we were less worried about the big ships. Soon after the wind died and we turned on the autopilot. Carla fixed dinner and I served two glasses of wine. After cleaning, we started 2h watches. It was a beautiful night albeit a bit chilly. We had an almost full moon setting in the east and creating a cone of ivory light over the water. By midnight we had passed Drum Point and soon after we rounded Smith Point. From there we planned a straight shot over the Horseshoe to the north-west end of Thimble Channel to enter Hampton River.
I was sleeping soundly when Carla woke me up. It must have been 7am and the wind had picked up and was blowing from the north at around 20 Knots. We unrolled the genoa and changed course towards the entrance of Hampton Bay. But the seas were building up in the shallow waters and the boat was rolling widely. Fearing that things could get worse as we approached the land, we changed course towards the middle of Thimble Channel were we would find deeper grounds. This essentially implied reaching towards the east having a more comfortable ride but also adding miles. When it was time, we turned south again. By then the wind was blowing at 25 Kts with gust up to 30 Kt and we were surfing over waves that, although not too high and not yet breaking, had a very short frequency. When we reached the channel we turned west and the waves, now coming on our beam, started to become a problem. The boat was rolling from gunwale to gunwale and it was difficult to keep the course and stay away from the big ships coming in and out of the harbor. Eventually we went pass the breakwater and the seas, suddenly, settled down. What a relief. Carla started to motor in circles while I called Blue Yatch Marina on the VHF to get instructions to enter. It was 11:30am when we docked by the fuel pumps. A very nice guy came to help us and filled our tank. From there we brought Antares to her slip which was, unfortunately, in the ugliest part of the marina. After putting a bit of order in the cabin we walked to the restaurant for a drink and a hamburger. With our stomachs full we went back to the boat and took a long nap.