Sunspot Baby Logo

Sunspot Baby Logo

Monday, July 13, 2015

July 11, 2015

Well here we are, back at home.

Some highlights of our first Chesapeake Cruise on M/V Sunspot Baby:
We left in mid April, during a spate of warm weather in New Bern, thinking we didn’t need jeans and with only shorts and capris (for me), we shivered our way to Maryland where we bought jeans, then the weather warmed up and we didn’t need them.

We had planned to anchor in Fishing Bay, Deltaville, northbound, but the weather was so cold and rainy we opted for Fishing Bay Harbor Marina and had a good several days taking advantage of laundry, courtesy car, exploring Deltaville and staying warm plugged into 110.

Combs Creek Marina, off the Potomac near Leonardtown (where our Cypress, CA family is about to end a temporary assignment), turned out to be the perfect spot for us for the first month of our trip. It’s a small boat marina, and we had a private tie-up with our own personal osprey nest to welcome their one offspring of the year. It was great fun watching them come and go, constantly tending the chick and the nest.

More on the wildlife front, we were introduced to our first barn swallows at Fishing Bay, and while in Dowry Creek I watched a very determined cormorant kill and eat a snake while swimming in the water.

We are used to dolphins in our home area, and just when we thought we wouldn’t see dolphins in the Chesapeake we had a pod of about 20, with a preview of one the day before. The rays seem to be bigger up here, and are easily identified by the tips of their two wings barely showing above the surface. Later in the season the rockfish feed from below on small fish, creating what looks like a silvery breaking wave on the water. It’s a spectacular sight on a flat calm day and we saw this over and over again.

The lighthouses all have a story. The first one we came across was Smith Point, near the entrance to the Potomac. The outhouse teetering on the rail was a sight to behold. Then in no particular order there was Point No Point, Smith Island Light, the charming Thomas Point screwpile light, the listing Sharps Island Light (we have to resist the Photoshop “straightening” feature because it really is tilted), Wolf Trap Light, and numerous others.

Food was fabulous and although we ate mostly seafood, we enjoyed the traditional delicious prime rib dinner at Coinjock, northbound and again southbound. The owners of Combs Creek Marina gave us some highly seasoned and very tasty steamed hard crabs, we ate at the Crab Claw in St. Michaels (where we had visited 28 years ago on our 25th Anniversary sailing trip), and we had a crabcake tasting spree during our time at Solomons. In little Leonardtown, family owned Kevin’s seafood can’t be beat. We watched a thunderstorm roll over the Patuxent River while we had hard crabs with the family at the Seabreeze. A personal favorite was soft shell crabs at Stoney’s in Solomons.

As usual when you are cruising, things happen. Sunspot Baby is sporting a new forward hatch, a rebuilt racor filter housing, and the dinghy motor is really not fond of ethanol laced fuel which is the only gasoline available in Maryland. We have acquired and will soon install a replacement mid bilge pump for the temperamental one, just replaced during last spring’s haulout. And I’m not saying anything about the overhead hatch at the helm station. That’s on the list, too. Apparently in the early spring and fall, when the water temperature reaches 71 degrees, a barnacle bloom happens. When we weren’t getting good speed it turned out that sheets of these little rascals had attached themselves to anything metal below the waterline. A prompt and efficient diver in Annapolis cured this problem in short order, and we know if we were to home base in these waters, we would need to add protective paint on these parts.

There was good weather and bad weather, cold and rainy, and sweltering, and absolutely perfect. We spent three lovely days anchored at the end of Back Creek in Solomons, and on our way home we anchored four days over the Fourth of July weekend in 80 balmy degree temperatures, only going ashore to get ice every now and then. We spent three really nice days in Annapolis in the mooring field just past the Spa Creek Bridge. The best meal I had in Annapolis was at the touristy Pusser’s, a curried jerk chicken lunch that I will definitely order again.

We took a lovely photograph of the Fishing Bay Yacht Club’s boats with a full moon, George sent it to their webmaster and it was posted on their website. It is very popular, at last count it has had about 2,500 views.

One highlight of the trip was attending grandson Jack’s high school graduation and seeing all of our grandkids from that branch of the family, as well as meeting one of my former Girl Scouts, Edye, who has maintained a friendship with daughter Becky over all these years. We took her for a boat ride on Sunspot Baby, ate seafood (of course), and did lots of catching up.

The trip from Leonardtown in Breton Bay with daughter Becky down the Potomac to Solomons was very special. The water was glassy flat, the scenery was spectacular and it was great to have her aboard.

We learned long ago that it’s a small world among cruisers. We met numerous folks from our Fairfield Harbour Yacht Club (Karl and Elaine, Elliott and Ina, John, Paul and Linda, and Scott and Darlene), and saw several boats that we have known in the Bahamas.

Two days ago, when we were crossing Albemarle Sound in nasty conditions, I was telling myself “I am never going to get home.” But yesterday we had a boisterious but lovely trip. The boat was covered with salt spray, and even though it was 95 degrees, we had a refreshing breeze blowing into the helm station as we sped toward home. I told George I had changed my mind, maybe we should spend one more night out...
818 NM miles traveled.

Thanks to everyone who made this trip possible. For our Maryland Family, soon to be a California family again and especially son-in-law Chuck for checking on our boat when we were off-site, to neighbor Bob who watered our new trees and other plantings while we were gone, to folks at FHYC who filled in during our absence, to Bev and Arne for shuttling vehicles and the delicious welcome home dinner, and especially to George, the Captain of our little ship.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Arriving Northwest Creek Marina
Sunspot Baby is back in her home slip in Northwest Creek Marina. We arrived yesterday afternoon about 1600 (4:00 pm). Conditions were good.

No matter how enjoyable the voyage it is always great to get home.

There is a long to-do list for the boat and equipment. Listing it all here would make for more detail than any reader would like to see but they start with some major unloading.

We had too many objectives to achieve them all. A priority was to spend time with Becky and family before they move back to California. I think we did pretty well there but regardless of how much time you have with your kids, it’s never enough.

There are a lot of locations in the Chesapeake on our wish list, and we didn’t get to most of them. The places we did visit were great and now we have some new places to see on the next trip to the bay.

Departure was April 17. The voyage was one week short of three months, A little longer than we initially planned.

Driving back to be at monthly meetings broke up the trip and had some plusses and minuses. On one of those trips we had some repairs done which was very convenient; we weren’t on the boat while a hatch was being replaced. It would have been miserable if we had been.

There is one more Maryland drive on our agenda. We will bring the canoe and some other loaned items back and of course the Volvo.

The yard has been kept well watered by neighbor Bob but otherwise largely neglected except for an occasional mowing. In addition to the long to-do list for the boat, my live in master gardener will add plenty of items to keep us both busy the rest of the summer.

Remember to hit the more photos link. There are many more in the album that we have posted in our reports.

Lynn will add some final comments. Except for those, this blog is complete. Thanks for following us.

George and Lynn Stateham

M/V Sunspot Baby

We are in Dowry Creek Marina. Normally we are tied up on the outside of the fuel dock so we can get in and out easily but this time we are tucked in to a tight little spot on the other side. Getting out could be a little tricky.

Winds were forecast to be 10kts in the Albemarle Sound but they under estimated. Waves were to be one to two feet. Particularly in the early going as we came out of the North River boat handling was a distinct challenge. Seas were easily four to five feet. There are 3 axes of rotation, pitch (nose up or down), yaw (twisting left or right) and roll (laying over left or right). We had all three at once. The term cork screwing comes to mind. The rudder was only intermittently effective and with spoil bars on each side of the channel, we couldn’t change direction to head into the weather.

I have to add that Lynn was very good through this; not one complaint or even a whimper. We both gained a lot of respect of our little boat’s capabilities. Yesterday, I commented about one of my un favorite stretches of water. The Albemarle will always be one of Lynn’s.

Keeping things in perspective, while we were wondering what the heck we were doing out in this stuff, we look over to see a crabber bobbing along tending his traps. He is out in it no matter the conditions. If you don’t work your traps, you don’t feed the family.

Once into the sound where we had more leeway and could avoid taking the seas right on the beam it wasn’t as bad and the wind and sea conditions moderated as we crossed. By the time we entered the Alligator River it was becoming pretty nice and seas were about the one foot forecast.

Because we got away early and made good time in spite of the conditions, we chose not to go into the marina there but to press on to Dowry Creek. We arrived just before 1700 (5 pm) so a little over 10 hours underway and covering about 80 statute miles.

Going under the Alligator River Bridge
The Alligator River Bridge has 14’ of clearance; with the antenna down, we passed under. We did call the tender to let him know our intentions. He told us, winds were down to six knots at the bridge. Maybe if we had not left so early our crossing would have been better.

There were some good stretches where it would have made sense to crank her up and make better time, but after two fuel issues on this trip I was reluctant to trust. After we get her home, and unloaded, we will start making some progressively longer runs to regain confidence.

We took a quick shower and headed to the pool. The pool was downright warm but felt great floating around with a cold beer in hand.

We called Arne and asked him to take our pickup to our home marina because we might go all the way home tomorrow.

Again Wi-Fi is to slow to mess with. Cell phone coverage is weak so I will put off posting until we have better conditions.

Leaving Great Bridge
We all have favorite and least favorite stretches of water. On e of my dislikes is the stretch up the James River, through the ship yard to the lock. Ships, tugs, no wake zones, dirty water, noisy ship yards and tons of wakes from recreational boaters combine to raise my ire. But now, that’s behind us; once to the lock it’s fine.

Currituck Sound was windy with chop. The wind carried spray over the bow so except for the area cleaned by the wipers, it was hard to see out the windshield. Thankfully there is not a lot of fetch or this could be a nasty piece of water.

We have done our last bridge openings of the trip. Approaching the dock at Coinjock was easy despite their warnings of strong winds and current. We have had showers and an outstanding prime rib dinner.

Wi-Fi is free but dead slow. I tried uploading pictures and it just ground on forever so I will post this later.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Wolf Trap Light
The definition of cruising is working on your boat in exotic locales. Well, I wouldn’t exactly describe Portsmouth, VA as exotic. We are virtually in the middle of the Navy shipyard. Our engine failed coming into the Norfolk channel, about ½ mile north of Hospital Point with lots of boat and ship traffic, currents and wind.

We immediately put out a security call then with the depth gauge showing 45’ I put out 160 feet of chain to keep from drifting into one of the ships or an oyster shoal surrounded by floating “crime ribbon.” I got her running a couple of times after installing new fuel filters but she is now unwilling to pass any fuel through the Racor primary filter housing.

We have about ½ tank of fuel, and looking in with a flashlight, it looks reasonably clear. I was concerned at first that I might have miscalculated the fuel burn and run out. We have never run her really low and don’t know how far to trust the fuel gauge. We do know when she’s full the gauge only reads about ¾. I miss the stick we used on the old boat to check the level. It may be time to bring a piece of dowel aboard.

We are tied up at Ocean Marine Yacht Center, only about a mile from where we had the first indication of trouble. They have an excellent service facility and had a mechanic on the boat by about 0815 this morning. Unfortunately one of the parts kits needed to fix the problem is not available locally. We have ordered them overnight for morning delivery so hopefully, we will be mobile by tomorrow afternoon.

Our plan yesterday had been to anchor at the Severn River off Mobjack Bay but we were making good time with excellent weather and decided to keep going. A lucky decision, if this fuel problem had occurred in that remote location, we would have had a lot more trouble getting qualified help.

Last night, we walked a few blocks to a sports bar on High St. and watched about ½ the Women’s World Cup Finals. Go USA! We saw the first 4 of their 5 goals.

Afternoon thunder storms have become the norm. We came into the dock in a real down pour yesterday, then it quit raining shortly after we were both soaked to the bone. It is raining hard now. I expect to hear our sticky bilge pump kick in and stay on soon. I will have my upper body crammed in a tight spot after the rain to shake it about until the switch comes free.

We have no set time frame to get back to Fairfield Harbour but as soon as we do, we need to get in the truck and get back to Maryland to help with the Darrahs’ move. Time’s a-wastin’ up there as they prepare to head back to California.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

We haven’t completely avoided wakes. A few of the locals are towing kids on tubes but generally it’s pretty calm.

After we got in on Wednesday we noticed crab boats coming in with traps stacked aboard. They started stacking them on the town dock and hauling them off in trucks and trailers. This continued through Thursday. We don’t know if they’ just getting them out of the water for the July 4 weekend, if the season is over, or what.

Today the town dock is empty of traps, it has been washed down and was the turnaround point for a 5k run. We dinghied to the dock and asked the folks washing it down. Very friendly folks. They even told me it was not to late to enter the run. Very funny.

We also asked if there were a community dumpster nearby where we could put a bag of garbage. They said it wasn’t close but that they would take if for us. Very convenient since we had it in the dink and were headed to the marina that wants $5 to leave trash.

Days on the boat, hanging out on the hook are some of our favorite times. Reading books and doing light maintenance are low stress activities.

The generator began refusing to shut down after running. It would almost stop and then keep chugging along. The problem was intermittent but was becoming the norm. Yesterday I found and adjusted the throttle stop screw. Now it has shut down correctly three times in a row.

Tomorrow we plan to get underway again but for today we are just enjoying Independence Day. We hope you are doing the same.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

We are at Jackson Creek in Deltaville, VA. It’s a great anchorage surrounded by nice homes and a couple of marinas.

The trip down the bay from Solomons was lumpy and crossing the mouth of the Potomac we had 4’ seas in confused directions. Once past Smith Point Light, they were coherent and abated gradually as we worked our way south. By the time we got here, conditions were great.

We have launched the dink and set up the barbecue. We plan to stick here until after the 4th. Maybe we will avoid most the fleet of fast boats fueled by beer and testosterone leaving big wakes. Of course to be anchored out we need reliable dinghy and generator.

The dinghy has yet to regain my confidence, but I have changed the fitting on the fuel tank that leaked and removed the complicated fuel demand valve from the line. I have added an additive that STP promises fill fix problems related to ethanol in the fuel. We shall see.

The generator has not been playing nice. The problems are centered around the fuel control solenoid. By climbing into the engine space and manipulating it manually I can get it to start and or stop as needed. No generator would not be a big problem if it weren’t for our all electric galley.

We will probably start moving again Sunday afternoon when most of the holiday weekend fleet will be sunburned and headed for home.