Staying in Solomons

Solomons, MD is a resort town located on the Patuxent River just off the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It is boater friendly and most of my favorite stores – Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Belk, Marshalls, and Ross – are just across the Thomas Johnson Bridge in California, MD. Lowe’s and Ace Hardware are nearby so Steve has what he needs. We’re going to stay in Solomons a while, but we don’t want to stay at Beacon Marina. They have a great monthly rate, but it’s just a little too rustic for a long term stay

We go marina shopping and decide to stay at Solomons Harbor for a month, maybe two. It’s a Holiday Inn property so we get hotel amenities – pool, exercise room, free breakfast, free ice, and cable TV at the slip.  We even get discounted room rates if anyone wants to come visit!  Young Son lends us a car so we have everything we need. Except Wi-Fi. Surprisingly, Wi-Fi on the docks is not reliable and addressing that issue that has consumed quite a bit of our time, but that’s another blog.

Once settled in, we fill the water tanks. Since we’d filled them on our way up here using water that’s a little more “mineraly” than what we are used to, I want to siphon the water that’s in the tanks out and clean them before filling them. With two inspection plates and not much sediment or rust stains, the big tank is clean and filled in no time. Not so with the small tank. When we put an inspection plate on the small tank, we forgot about the brace that holds it and the diesel tank in place while we’re traveling. The brace has to be removed to unscrew the inspection plate.

Annoying but not annoying enough to fix it…yet.
We need to move that brace….

We empty the tank and wipe it out. Steve goes up on deck, takes the fill plate off, and turns on the water. I watch as the water enters the tank.

M (banging on the portlight): Turn off the water!

S: Are you sure? It can’t be full already.

M: There’s stuff floating in the water.

S: Oh, God. Not again.

Steve sees the stuff floating in the water. We don’t know what it is but we both know that I don’t want it in our water tank. It must be the fill line. We siphon out the water and wipe out the tank. We fill the tank a couple more times to see if we can flush out whatever’s in the fill line. Fill, siphon, wipe. Fill, siphon, wipe. No luck. The floaty stuff is still there. We’re not going to tackle replacing the fill line today so we drag the hose into the salon to fill the tank.

Siphoning away...
Siphoning away…

WHAT??? The floaty stuff is still there. This makes no sense. Logically and systematically, we begin ruling out other possible sources of the floaty stuff.

Is it the hose hooked to the faucet?  Fill, siphon, wipe. Is it the hose hooked to the water filter  Fill, siphon, wipe.  Is the water filter?  Fill, siphon, wipe.  Is it the water line itself?  Nope.  The floaty stuff is still there so we add a little bleach to the tank and hope that the water filter under the sink will remove the floaty stuff.  The next time we fill the tanks, there is absolutely no floaty stuff.  Makes no sense but we’re not complaining, and since we expected to spend most of the day replacing the fill line, we use that time to move the brace on the small water tank.

Annoying brace relocated.
Well, at least, getting to the inspection plate is no longer an annoying problem.

Dealing with the controller on our A/C unit has also been annoying. We have a Crusair water-to-air system and a SMX digital cabin control system. It’s basically a heat pump. There are two discharge ducts, one in the main salon next to where I sit and one in the V-berth next to where I sleep. The factory setting is for the fan to run all the time. I don’t like air blowing on me all the time so I get the manual out and set the fan to intermittent. Problem is, it doesn’t cool as well if the fan is not running all the time. I did read something that said if you select intermittent fan operation, you may have to relocate the thermistor from the return air duct to an inside wall, but may is not must so I just ignored it. And then, weird things started happening. The unit turned itself off. It switched to heat. It went into dehumidification mode. We clean both the return air intake filter and the raw water intake strainer filter. They are both pretty nasty, but cleaning them doesn’t resolve our issues.

Steve calls the company. We have two issues he says. The system doesn’t work as well when the fan is set to intermittent and our controller randomly switches modes.

Crusair Guy: Do you have a TV remote?

S (knowing where this was going): Yes, but I don’t have a remote for my controller.

Crusair Guy: The remote is optional but there is an IR sensor on your controller and your TV remote is probably changing the settings on your controller.

The Crusair Guy told Steve where to find the sensor and since we didn’t have any electrical tape handy, he covered it with painter’s tape. Annoying problem solved.

But, just so you know, painter’s tape does not block all IR signals. That sensor’s gotta be covered with electrical tape.
Just FYI…painter’s tape does not block all IR signals. That sensor’s gotta be covered with electrical tape.

The second issue requires a call back from a more knowledgeable technical rep. Bottom line, the manual is wrong. If you select intermittent fan operation, you must relocate the thermistor from the return air duct to an inside wall.

Location is everything especially when it comes to climate control.
Location is everything especially when it comes to climate control.

Another annoying problem solved.  Thank you, sir.  May I have another?

Steve is responsible for most of the boat maintenance, but I am going to take responsibility for cleaning the return air intake filter and the raw water intake strainer filter. Steve says it needs to be done once a month. Sounds good, I say, but let’s clean the raw water intake strainer filter again. I want to be able to do it all by myself so I take notes.

  1. Remove flooring covering the bilge.
  2. Close the seacock.
  3. Unscrew the cap on the strainer.
  4. Pull up on the handle to remove the filter.

M: OMG! There‘s something nasty in here.

S: It can’t be that dirty. We just cleaned it.

M: Jellyfish. It’s full of jellyfish and pee-YEW! They stink bad!!

There's jellyfish in that there filter.
There’s jellyfish in that there filter.

The Chesapeake’s most common jellyfish is the sea nettle, a white, umbrella-shaped yucky-looking thing. We’ve seen them in the water and apparently, the hot, dry conditions we’ve had this year have increased the temperature and salinity of the water, creating an ideal breeding ground.

Have you ever seen so many jellyfish?
WOW!  Have you EVER seen so many jellyfish?

Sea nettles are nearly 90 percent water but that doesn’t stop them from being sucked into our raw water intake valve.

Cleaning the raw water intake strainer filter is now an almost daily chore. I pull the filter out, put it in a bucket, and hand the bucket to Steve. He takes it outside and cleans the jellyfish guts out of the filter. One day, I decide we need to flush the bilge. There are jellyfish parts floating around in it. I ask Steve to bring me the hose when he’s done. No answer. I ask again, a little louder this time. He appears in the companionway.

M: Did you hear me? Please bring me the hose. I want to flush the bilge.

S (Dangling the handle to the filter and obviously pissed): Yes, I hear you, but we have a bigger problem to deal with.

M: Where’s the filter?

S: Where do think the filter is? Stainless steel does not float. I’m going to West Marine.

M: Okay. Hand me the hose.  I’ll stay here and flush the bilge.

Steve returns with the filter still pissed because he knows better than to wash things off over the side of the boat but even more pissed that he had to spend $48 on a new filter. Thankful it wasn’t me who dropped the filter overboard, I fix him a drink.

A few annoyances? Maybe, but we’re retired, living on a boat and staying in Solomons. It’s what we signed up for. It’s Zen on a Boat.

Sailing (some) to Solomons

July 5, 2015
Where to from Portsmouth? Solomons is at least 2 long days or 3 easy days away. Anchoring out in Mobjack Bay might be fun. Nah. It’s going to be in the 90’s again. During the day, we can take the heat but at night after being on the water all day, A/C feels really good. We set our course for Deltaville.

We leave Portsmouth around 7:30 AM. There’s quite a bit of activity on the river for a Sunday morning especially a Sunday morning after the 4th of July holiday. Shipping lanes are busy. We see cranes taking containers off barges, and fishing, lots of fishing.

It’s a lot quieter in the Chesapeake Bay. We eat a bowl of cereal. Steve turns on the auto helm, gets himself situated on one of his noodle lifelines, and keeps watch. I practice my cleat hitches and help Steve look for markers.

Steve almost always sees the markers first. There it is, he says, pointing. I can never tell where he is pointing so I ask where. He just keeps pointing and says there.

I get frustrated and start reading the Waterway Guide Magazine. Ironically, there’s an article in there about on-board communications called “Boat Whisperers”, and I read this to Steve.

“Always point out landmarks, other boats and particularly the next navigation aid using color descriptions and a clock reference.”  I demonstrate this when I point out York Spit Light as we cross the entrance to the York River.

M (pointing): There it is.
S: Where?
M (still pointing): There’s a black blob at about 1:00. See it?
S (adjusting our course): Yes, I do.
M: You’re welcome.

Neither one of us have trouble seeing Wolf Trap Light as we pass Mobjack Bay before turning left into the mouth of the Rappahannock River.

Wolf Trap Light is off the west shore of the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, northwest of the mouth of the York River
Wolf Trap Light is off the west shore of the Chesapeake Bay, northwest of the mouth of the York River

I am at the helm heading into Broad Creek. Steve is navigating but takes the wheel when I tell him I am going to slow down because I am only in about 3 feet of water. In my defense, it’s a narrow channel and it shoals quickly so that’s to be expected when you pass an oncoming boat.

We stay at Deltaville Yachting Center for the next two days. A well-taken care of, friendly marina. Good, clean facilities. Excellent Wi-Fi signal. Pool.  Loaner car. We provision, do laundry, watch a few episodes of Longmire, and that’s about it. Yep, I can live in a marina.

July 7, 2015
We’re going to Tangier Island. A straight shot across the bay, it should be an easy trip. Like us, the diesel is a little slow to start, but once she warms up, we motor on out into the bay. Winds are blowing 10 – 12 knots on our nose and it’s a little choppy so no sailing today. Steve is keeping watch and I am in the main salon reading. I look out the hatch in the quarter berth and decide I better go out on deck. I am not feeling quite right.

I like to sit in the companionway and look out over the deck so I sit there for a while. A few ujjayi breathes help (see link below) but I am not going down below anytime soon.

We get to Tangier Island around 1:30. I feel better. We call the marina on the VHF radio. No answer, but that’s okay. We’re in a quaint little harbor with lots to see so we’re in no hurry to dock.

We call again. No answer. We pull into a slip after our third call goes unanswered.
The wind is blowing us into the slip but I get a line on a piling before we ram the pier. Steve starts tying the boat up. Two lines on and here comes Mr. Parks riding down the dock on his scooter. We had read about Mr. Parks. He’s the 80-some year old marina owner.

Mr. Parks apologizes for not being there to meet us and then tells Steve that he is tying up wrong. Amazingly, Steve is speechless long enough to realize that cussing out an 80-some year old man is not in his best interest and dutifully follows the often conflicting orders that Mr. Parks is barking from the dock without blowing a gasket.

A small close-knit community, Tangier Island residents make their living off the water. We spend the afternoon walking the streets of this small village and listening to the locals speaking to one another in what sounds like the High Tider dialect spoken in Hyde County, North Carolina.

No Trepassing
This sign may be about as old as Mr. Parks himself…
Nice Boat
That’s a nice boat. It needs work but it’s a nice boat.

We eat an early dinner and with no Wi-Fi to stream Netflix, we turn in early.

No Service
No service? This is one remote place!
Verizon Sign Edited
Wait, I am confused. How can I not have service if there’s a Verizon on the island??

July 8, 2015
We talk about dinghying over to the beach on the south end of the island, but we’re ready to move on. For us, Tangier Island is one of those places we’re glad we visited but probably won’t go back to. We’re underway by 8:15.

With winds blowing 15 – 20 knots, it’s a rough ride. Steve lets the headsail out and things smooth out some. Having felt not quite right the day before, I took a Dramamine before leaving and even though I took the “less-drowsy” formula I still get sleepy so I take a nap.

The highlights of our day are realizing that the ship we’re approaching is a target ship and trying coconut water.

I don't remember seeing a target practice zone on the chart.
I don’t remember seeing a target practice zone on the chart.

We like water and we drink a lot of it. We drink Gatorade every once in a while, but if I am going to drink empty calories, I prefer they be the fermented kind. I’d read about coconut water and bought some a while back thinking it would be a nice change of pace. We try it. BLECK!  Not good. YUCK!! Not good at all. In fact, coconut water reminds me of Tangier Island. I’m glad we tried it but it is not going to be our change of pace drink.

This stuff tastes so awful...
This stuff tastes awful.
Coconut Water2
Bye-bye, coconut water.

Solomons is just inside the mouth of the Patuxent River.

Welcome to Solomons
Welcome to Solomons!

We plan to stay at Beacon Marina on Back Creek. The dock master is not answering our VHF radio calls or his cell phone so we tie up to the end of a T-dock. The marina is affiliated with the nearby Comfort Inn. The young man at the front desk there tells us that the dock master is gone for the day but we can stay where we are until we talk to him. What do we owe you? Wait until you talk to the dock master, he says after he gives us the Wi-Fi password and tells us that there’s a free breakfast in the lobby and gives us directions to the bathrooms and free laundry. Sweet. Not bad for $1.50/foot/night, we’re thinking. Nothing fancy. Basic accommodations. Docks are in okay shape. Could definitely be cleaner but we can make this work for a few days. We settle in for the evening. Tomorrow, we’ll get the lay of the land.

We’ve traveled between 250 and 300 nautical miles since leaving Oriental. FNR has proven herself to be mechanically and structurally sound. We’re gaining confidence in our vessel and in ourselves, but we’re still figuring things out so Solomons is going to be home for a while.  We plan to stay cool, work on a few projects, hang out with Young Son, and decide when and where to go next.

FNR Goes to the Dismal Swamp

We’ve all done it because it’s the polite thing to do. Ooh’ing and aah’ing over someone else’s photos even though we’re not really impressed with what we’re seeing. It’s hard for us amateur iPhoneographers to capture what we’re seeing on our screens. I know that’s true for a lot of the pictures I’ve posted on Zen on a Boat, and that is definitely the case for pictures I took as we traveled up the Dismal Swamp Canal. Still, please be polite and take the time to look at them. At the very least, I hope they will inspire you to make the trip yourself one day. It’s one of those places you just have to see to believe.

We leave Lamb’s Marina around 9:00 Thursday morning. Once in the river, we put both the tarp and the screen house up. It is supposed to be a hot and buggy day. Everybody’s been warning us about the flies. Steve just smiles at me as we watch them bombard the screen house.

We get to South Mills Lock around noon. The next opening is at 1:30. We’re still not very good at figuring out how long it takes us to get someplace. We call the lock operator. He says he’ll let the water out so we can tie up to the pilings outside the lock. A few minutes before 1:30, we see the lock operator in the lock house. We’re the only ones there. We untie and wait for the lock to open.

Steve spent the last hour and an half telling me what to expect when we enter the lock. It really doesn’t sound like a big deal. The lock operator wants us to tie up on the port side and all I have to do is hand him my bow line. Easy-peasy, I’m thinking. And then, the lock opens. I am concerned. Steve neglected to tell me that FNR was going to be about 10 feet below the top of the lock which is where the lock operator is standing.

M: How in the world am I going to hand that man my bow line?

S: You’re going to use the boat hook and once he has your line, you’re going to hand me the boat hook so I can hand him my line.

M: You didn’t tell me about this.

S: I didn’t know there was going to be an 8’ lift.

I am doubly impressed. One, I hand my line to the lock operator like I know how to handle a boat hook and two, our boat rises 8’ in the water in 3, maybe 4 minutes.

We continue up the canal to the Welcome Center and anchor for the night. The lady there is very helpful. She warns us about the flies and tells us a dryer sheet tucked in a pocket will help keep them away. She gives us two of them but Steve tells her that we should be okay because we have a screen house draped over our cockpit. She says we are smart to have one. Steve just smiles at me.

Fine. The screen house is a good idea. I never said it wasn’t. All I said is that it wasn’t a good idea to be sewing on it in 100+ degree heat. You can quit smiling at me now, dear.

A couple of thunderstorms come through and cool things off but, even so, we’re in a swamp and it is HUMID. We’re the only boat at the Welcome Center so we’re okay with turning on the generators and running the A/C for a while to cut the humidity a bit. We eat dinner in the cockpit, and since no one’s around, we hook the water hose up to the faucet at the dock and shower there, too. We get clean and so does the cockpit.

We decide NOT to get up early enough Friday morning to make the 11:00 opening at Deep Creek Lock. We figure if we leave by 9 AM, we can make the 1:30 opening. Surprise. We miscalculate. We’re there at 11:30 and we laugh because if the guys dredging the canal, moved their pipes when they saw us coming instead of waiting for us to call them on the VHF radio and ask them to move them, then we could have made the 11:00 opening. No worries. It’s a cool day on the swamp and the screen house is still up. Life is good.

We are joined by a catamaran around 12:30. We chat for a bit and learn they’ve been cruising full-time for 8 years and are on their way to Maine. They ask us to keep an eye on their boat while they grab a bite to eat at the nearby Mexican restaurant and then run across the street to the Food Lion. That couple has obviously traveled this stretch of water a time or two!

The water is in the lock when we enter it so we are close to the top of the lock. Instead of taking the line that I am confidently handing him, the lock operator grabs his boat hook, snatches my line off the deck, flings it around the piling, hands it to me, and tells me to hold on tight because FNR is about to drop 8 ½ feet. I am amazed and concerned. I look at Steve.

M: I don’t think my line is long enough.

S: It will be if you stand up.

M: Ohhhhhh, that makes sense.

Out of the lock, we make our way up to Norfolk. We are actually staying in Portsmouth which is on the opposite shore of the Elizabeth River. We see lots of shipyards, both military and commercial, and a few marinas before pulling into Tidewater Yacht Marina.

Talk about culture shock. This is a happening place. A little too happening for us though. We thought about staying a week but two nights is enough. The fireworks over the river are the best we’ve ever seen but for where this marina is located and what we are paying to stay there, we are disappointed. Oh, well. Live, learn and post reviews on Active Captain.

The free dockage at Dismal Swamp Welcome Center gets five stars.

The $2.00/foot plus electricity Tidewater Yacht Marina gets two.

Hopefully, the video will earn a star or two.  Enjoy!

Oriental to Elizabeth City

We set sail from Oriental on Monday, June 29 at 8 AM.

Up the Neuse River, into the Bay River, through the Hobucken Cut, across the Pamlico River and into the Pungo River, we are in Belhaven by early afternoon. We discuss stopping for the day but it makes sense to continue on because the next stretch – up the Pungo-Alligator Cut and into the Alligator River – is a long one. Getting some of that behind us today, will make for an easier tomorrow. Averaging about 6 knots, we motor most of the way but get in a couple of hours of sailing. I have no idea how far we’ve gone. Steve says we’ve gone 75 nautical miles. We have a GPS and I’ve been using an old fishermen’s paper chart book to follow along. Seeing as how we navigated across 4 pages of those paper charts that sounds about right.

Coast Guard Tender off the starboard bow.  ICW Channel Marker 55.
Coast Guard Tender off the starboard bow. ICW Channel Marker 55.

At 8 PM, we drop anchor in the Alligator River. The Coast Guard Tender that passed us earlier is anchored on our port side and we see a catamaran off our starboard side. We fix dinner and have drinks in the cockpit.

Anchoring in Alligator River - a long, hot day, but a good day.
Anchoring in Alligator River – a long, hot day, but a good day.

We up-anchor around 8 AM and make our way up the Alligator. Our passage across the Albemarle Sound is uneventful. Steve entertains himself swatting flying ants.

Motoring up the Pasquotank River, we pass the Weeksville Dirigible Hangar. It’s one of eight remaining blimp hangars built by the Navy during WWII. It is currently used as a commercial manufacturing and testing location. First (and probably last) dirigible hangar I’ve seen so I’m impressed.

Weeksville Dirigible Hangar
Weeksville Dirigible Hangar

The shoreline approaching Elizabeth City is absolutely gorgeous.

I log onto Active Captain once we have cell service again and check out Mariners’ Wharf, the free docks in Elizabeth City. They look nice and the reviews are great but I am hot and they don’t have power. Pelican Marina does and at $35/night, we decide that air conditioning takes precedence over the Rose Buddies’ wine and cheese welcome party at the city docks. We call Pelican Marina and tell the dock master we’re on our way.

We pull into the slip around 4:00. Steve secures the boat and washes all the dead flying ants off the deck. I stay down below to unsecure all the things we had to secure while traveling, catch up on email, and get cool. After an early dinner, we are ready for a shower. Oh, my. These docks have low, short, narrow, fixed finger piers, and the wind is blowing the boat off the pier.

Remember me blogging about how Finley and Rootie had trouble figuring out how to get on and off FNR? Well, I’m right there with them. Should I climb over the bow pulpit or can I pull the boat close enough and then climb over the lifelines? Either way, it’s a long way down to the pier. I am a little freaked out. No, I am a lot freaked out. I can’t get off the boat. Steve stands there looking at me like I am an idiot. He finally gets the boat positioned in such a way that I can grab hold of the piling and jump off. Luckily, climbing up on the boat is not as intimidating as climbing off. Otherwise, Steve may have left me on the pier.

Yes, I know it doesn't look low, short and narrow, but trust me, it is.
Yes, I know it doesn’t look low, short and narrow, but trust me, it is.
Maybe I can get it close enough to hop off??
Maybe I can get it close enough to hop off??
That piling is my new BFF!!
That piling is my new BFF!!
Okay, I got off.  Can I get back on?
Okay, I got off. Can I get back on?
On is a breeze!!
On is a breeze!!

We walk around downtown Elizabeth City the next morning. There is not much going on. From what we understand, the folks here really cater to boaters but we have missed the snowbirds’ northward migration. Still, we enjoy walking the waterfront and spend an hour or so in the Museum of the Albemarle.

Mariners' Wharf Docks
Mariners’ Wharf – Elizabeth City’s free docks

Later that afternoon, we head up the Pasquotank a bit and turn into Lamb’s Marina for the night.

They make it easy to find!
They make it easy to find!

We may end up spending a week or so in this area when we head south later this summer and want to check out possible places to stay. A friendly little marina in a protected harbor, we enjoy sitting on the front porch of the restaurant and visiting with the locals. I like their docks!

Every marina should have docks like this.
I think every marina should have docks like this.

Just a few days underway and we’ve met quite a few characters. A dock master from Newfoundland with an English bulldog whose lineage can be traced back to the 1400’s (the dog, not the dock master). A live aboard in Camden County who used to sell real estate in New York City. We are looking forward to meeting more people and sharing their stories.

Today, it’s a trek up the Dismal Swamp Canal. Steve has talked about this leg of the trip since we started planning it. Happy Birthday, Captain! What a great way to celebrate your 64th birthday.