A Travellerspoint blog

Cape Charles, VA

sunny 65 °F

On Wednesday morning we planned to get underway. The maneuvering space was cramped in the marina and getting out required taking the stern to starboard, something that boat and captain do not do very well. So, I referenced the handy-dandy Annapolis Book of Seamanship for a clue; got a clue, set the lines, coached Carol up and before the motor was even in gear, the wind was doing about ten times better than I ever could have. It's good to be lucky and nice to start on a positive note. Carol noted that in the few days we were at that marina she had the number of irises go from one to many; I saw the first robin of the season, a sure sign of Spring. All the trees are putting out buds so even if we haven't crossed the climatological hurdle, we are over the psychological one: IT'S SPRING!

It was a beautiful day for a "drive down the river," little wind, tide not a factor, sunny, warm and pleasant. If the ride itself was not interesting, all of the stuff that we saw was, to us at least. In sort of order in which we saw things: DSCN2066.jpgDSCN2069.jpgDSCN2074.jpgDSCN2075.jpgDSCN2076.jpgDSCN2077.jpgDSCN2084.jpgDSCN2087.jpgDSCN2088.jpgDSCN2098.jpgDSCN2104.jpgDSCN2099.jpg

  • I did not count the number of derrick/gantries that there are in Norfolk for unloading containers; there must be 50, probably more. It was disturbing to see so much capital deployed and so little of it being used. There was one ship being handled and we saw one more along the way.
  • I had never before seen a hospital ship. Pretty distinctive and easy to spot.
  • We saw the third one of those ships with the two big tower things. From this angle it was clear that they must have something to do with helicopters; the rear deck is open and flat and there is a big "garage" door to put the choppers inside the boat. None of this explains the twin towers.
  • We saw one ship get underway and exit for the open sea. It looked like a war ship, bigger, faster and far more lethal than S/V Ziveli.
  • There were several more of the, seemingly, same class of ship moored; I think I counted more than six. All had a nominal turret and gun forward.
  • There were several aircraft carriers there with no apparent activity aboard, 4 or 5, although one may have been for helicopters. I have read that we don't have enough carrier groups to be able to project power around the globe and all of these things sit idle.
  • When we exited Hampton Roads for the Chesapeake we saw the two markers of 18th century planning: a lighthouse to mark the entrance and a fort to defend it.
  • In our cruising experience, these are unique to Chesapeake Bay. It is a lighthouse, some 55-ft. tall marking hazardous water, Thimble Shoal, out in the middle of the bay. I assume that it is weighted and that it rests on the bottom. I have seen drawing of old ones, maybe 100 years ago, and they were occupied by light tenders. Now, solar panels seem to do the job.
  • Two pictures of some sort of Darth Vader catamaran. A very strange vessel; US Naval color, haze gray, but no US Naval markings and the finish was in a state of disrepair which no naval captain would allow.
  • The last is a USCG vessel called a buoy tender, probably the only USCG ships with black hulls. I have seen many over the years but never one that was actually messing with buoys.

This is an interesting marina, certainly the premier one for sailboats in the area. It's about a 15-min. trip to the point where the sails are up and the motor is off. Today was a good evening for sailing and we probably saw 20 sailboats leave and return. We are used to a cruising world where 95% of the time one boat means two people and most of the rest is one boat, one person.


The traffic we saw today was quite different. Small day sailers had 4~6 people and larger boats had 6~10 people. The one crew we were able to observe looked quite practiced in knowing mooring procedures which got me to thinking that maybe these crews/friends also race the boats so that they are regulars on a given boat. Anyway, the other weird protocol here is that boats always back into their slips. We are the only boat on this dock that is bow in; of course, we are also the only boat on this dock carrying a dinghy and O/B motor on the stern which complicates things. We watched several boats back down the long runway between the docks and, then, back into their slips doing so, as the French would say, with cran. I would have been intimidated were I concerned about peer pressure. Being old and somewhat slow, I don't really care about all of that and Carol and I were able to look out over the stern and amusedly watch the parade go by. The other interesting thing is that the marina(s) share Little Creek with the US Navy. Private boats enter the channel and turn right; the Navy ships go straight. It may be 200 yards from the end of this dock to the nearest Navy vessel. The Little Creek area is also on the flight path of both the Naval Air Station and the public airport.

In retrospect, we should have headed across the bay on Tuesday or Wednesday, which we could have easily done. But, we were both tired from the trip and the preparation; the idea of some downtime seemed like a good one. Now, in retrospect, maybe a little too much down time. If we get to Maine, the earliest we would want to arrive in 07/01/2013 which gives us almost three months for the Chesapeake and Long Island Sound. That sounds like a lot of time but, probably, will not be.

There is a rhythm on our boat that is familiar to any farmer: early to bed and early to rise. It is a rare evening when one or both of us is not nodding off, book fallen to the bed cover, by 9:00 pm. Carol has, at least once this trip, been snoring by 7:00 pm. Regretfully, we have both been able to watch the first fingers of morning twilight clutch the horizon every day of the trip, so far. Sleeping late, i.e. past 0500, just hasn't been part of any day's planned activities. As for the rest of the aphorism, healthy, wealthy and wise, forgetaboutit!

In the downtime we have been doing tasks, necessary, fairly easy things to accomplish without much investment in energy or time; we're trying to avoid projects for now. While working on a task yesterday, I needed something from the very bottom of the starboard lazarette, which required a fair amount of "digging" to access. When we brought the storage bag up it was dripping, a bad sign because this is an area where I have done some work, and if the work had been poorly done it would have compromised the water tight integrity of the hull, not a pleasant thing to contemplate. The absolute first thing to do in such a situation is to taste the water, fresh or salt. Having the better sense of taste, Carol declared it to be fresh water, the better of the two outcomes. The only obvious source of fresh water there is the swim platform shower plumbing, which we tested, and which did not leak. Everything else in the area was bone dry save this one small cranny. The only other guess is that somehow during a fresh water wash down water got inside and settled there. Several days later came the EUREKA! moment: Carol was the last person to have used the 75-ft. garden hose, topping off the water tanks while still in Oriental. Since she never worked for a 250-lb. cigar chewing 2d class Bos'n's Mate named Nails nor had she ever done any firefighting, she didn't drain the hose before stowing it. A fairly credible explanation that meets the test of Occam's Razor: it's the simplest explanation that fits all of the facts. I hope the hose was the source of the water; the alternative scenarios stretch from bad to terrible.

Friday was rainy, as predicted. Carol did laundry and I decided to do the 100 hour engine stuff 15 hours early; it was just that kind of day. One thing I check during every scheduled engine cycle is the tightness of the many bolts that hold the motor mounts to the stringers and the engine to the motor mounts. A lot of the boat maintenance is fairly interesting; much is tedious and mindless. This job is the only one I hate to contemplate and detest doing. The bolts to the stringers are impossible: three of eight are moderately accessible with enough room to get two wrenches, one for the nut and one for the bolt, onto the business ends and to turn the wrenches. Four of the eight are very difficult, access to the nut or bolt, but not the other. The eighth is simply impossible for me with old hands, a weak grip and an inflexible body. In Nassau, when I had the engine aligned, the guy and I together spent almost 30 minutes on this one nut/bolt combination with only moderate success. The problem is that these nuts always seem to have an eighth of a turn of available thread, so they always demand attention. Yanmar engines have a reputation for solid reliability but also for being vibration prone. So, I always worry whether the engine has gone out of alignment and I become hyper sensitive to the feel of the vibrations through my feet. An issue without any apparent resolution.

On Wednesday Norfolk hit 89o breaking the record of 87o set in 1922 but this efflorescence of summer was evanescent. With the storm front and the rain came more normal, if less appreciated, temperatures in the 50's and 60's.


I woke up about 0300, the boat was rocking, the lines were squeaking, the shrouds were singing and the wind was still from the south. Got up at 0530 and the wind had shifted about 180o in those couple of hours as the front passed through the area, calmer but still pretty breezy. The 0700 departure plan was tabled in favor of breakfast and a 0900 departure which we made. For all the wind, when the front passed there was not enough to push the boat, so we motor sailed the 20 miles of open water. A cruising guide had cautioned that there was a 1.8 knot current in the Cape Charles area, neglecting to mention direction or location. We discovered both, traveling at an average of 7.5 knots for the last 90 minutes, frequently exceeding 8.0. There was not enough wind, the engine RPM's were too low, the boat's waterline to too short and the captain is not good enough to account for all that pace. Regardless, it was fun while it lasted.

I expected a mad rush of boats exiting the marina on Saturday morning. We were the only vessel underway from the marina; we saw just two freighters and a crab boat underway the whole trip. The marina had told us that we would be the only transient boaters over the weekend but while here three other boats did arrive. Based on the dates of local festivals and events, I guess that we are about two weeks ahead of the normal weather curve.

Cape Charles is the southernmost community on the Delmarva (an acronym for states of DELaware, MAryland and VinginiA, arranged both in alphabetical and north to south order) Peninsula on the eastern shore of the bay. We arrived by boat to what was a railroad town but is no longer that.


They have the makings of a fairly interesting train museum on site, on rails over which few trains has moved, since all the rails were well covered with rust. The original Eastern Shore Railroad built homes for their workers, in various stages of repair each pushing 100 years old, and sent rail cars onto ferries headed to Norfolk. The Bay Coast Railroad, according to Wikipedia, still operates in Cape Charles; the state of the tracks belies that.


I had been watching this for many miles as a point of reference for holding course to Cape Charles. From a distance it was "obviously" a lighthouse, one which I could not find on the chart. Turns out that it is only a water tower done up to look like one of the old time lighthouses; from the water it sure fooled me.

What Cape Charles does now have is a cement plant which dominates the southern side of the harbor. The cement is shipped throughout the Chesapeake area for construction.


No bougainvillea here, so Carol with her favorite flowers, the purple iris.


We went to a nearby restaurant last night, Carol having her heart and mouth set on fresh crab only to find out that the water temperatures have been so cold that no crab was available. We did have some raw bay oysters, truly delicious, even better than the ones we had in New Orleans in January.

The ubiquitous sunset across the dunes and the bay.


Today, Sunday, the only task at hand is fueling, no more than a half hours work. We've been testing fuel-filter funnels, trying to come up with a way to reduce the contamination of anaerobic bacteria in the fuel. We've always had some minor issues but the bad fuel in the Bahamas caused us to get serious about keeping any water from the fuel tanks. These filters work very well, keeping out water and other particulate matter. The problem is that they are awkward to use and add too much complexity to the process of transferring fuel from jerry cans to tank; it would have been impossible to use them underway on the open water. So, we're back to the old, reliable super-siphon by itself, straight into the tank. The fall back measure is that we will not fuel from pump directly to tank, always filling the tank from the cans. This way, at least, we can see what's going into the system through the clear siphon tubing.

Tomorrow, Monday, if the weather holds, we will head north to Tangier Island, our jumping off point for the trip up the Potomac River to WDC.

Posted by sailziveli 11:06 Archived in USA Tagged boats bay boating chesapeale

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