In Hampton, bound for Antigua

I can’t believe that I am finally here in Hampton and nearly ready to head out to Antigua.   It seems like forever that I have been thinking “sometime I will go back” but here I am, with departure only a few days away.

The original plan was to depart on Monday the 1st and that date has been engrained in my head for months now, counting down the days and wondering what else I have to do to get Pandora ready to go.

When I left CT last Friday, the goal was to head directly to Hampton, a trip that was supposed to take about two nights and three days, a rum that I have done many times.   It’s not a particularly long distance, certainly a lot less than the 1,500 miles that lie between me and Antigua.

In working with Chris Parker, our weather router, he wasn’t sure when I would get a decent “window” to make the trip and for the week leading up to my departure last week, every day the weather seemed to be somewhat more uncertain than the last.  Finally, after a week of back and forth, bugging Chris on a near daily basis, he told me to head out on Friday afternoon and plan on rounding Montauk point at midnight.  No, don’t round Montauk, at 23:00 on Friday or 01:00 on Monday, but midnight as that would allow the adverse winds that had plagued the run to shift to the northwest and the seas to settle down before I was out in open waters.

As we rounded the point, indeed, the seas were still pretty choppy but after a few hours they laid down and for the next 24 hours we were able to sail along nicely less a few hours of motoring.

Unfortunately, Chris felt that we would not be able to make it much farther than the Delaware river before the wind would really pipe up, perhaps to gale force, albeit a gale from a favorable angle.  With that in mind, we opted to head up the DL river, through the Chesapeake and Delaware canal and then back down the Chesapeake to Hampton.

We were to sail more than 100 miles out of our way to avoid the last stretch of water off of the DelMarVa peninsula and that decision was going to cost us a few more days.

So, up the river we went.  It was fine and while things were snotty out on the ocean, we enjoyed an easy motor up the river, stopping in Chesapeake City for the night before continuing down the Chesapeake Bay the following day.

I enjoyed showing Steve, my crew for the run, around Chesapeake City, one of my favorite stops along the way.   We were able to snag a spot on the free town dock.  Pandora was tied up immediately adjacent to the lovely town green. We hiked up the tall bridge that looms over the tiny city.  The view of the harbor and Pandora in the foreground on the dock, was impressive. It was a nice break but when we left the following morning we ran hard aground, or should I say “soft aground” in the sticky mud near the city dock, a spot that we were able to get into at the high tide when we arrived.  We left the dock but only got 200 feet when we “smooched” to a soft landing.

Fortunately a friendly boater, Alex from Boston, heading south with his family, stopped by with his dink and offered to help.  He took a line from us and tied it to a piling on the dock.  We wrapped it around our anchor winch and between the pull of our powerful winch and the engine, we were able to ease our way along and back to the dock where the water was deep enough to float us.

However, the shallow area that we had landed on extended way farther than I had expected and we ran aground yet again.   Not to worry, as I have a hand held depth finder so I handed it to Alex who used it to “chart” a path for us to pick our way out and get us on our way.Cruisers helping Cruisers, it’s the way of the world, well at least the way of the cruising world, with folks that spend time voyaging in small boats always willing to help out.  Having Alex show up at a critical time made all the difference.  Thanks Alex, I owe you.  They are heading to the Bahamas for their first visit.  I hope that they call me for some free advice.  After 4 seasons cruising there, I have plenty of fun memories to share. Our run down the bay was uneventful with about half of the trip motorsailing hard on the wind until we reached Annapolis where we encountered a pretty impressive line of rain and squalls that stayed with us for hours.   Once that cleared out it ushered in a very nice fresh westerly wind to carry us the rest of the way to Hampton on a beam reach.

So, after heading out of our way by a full two days, we were happy to finish up the run on a very comfortable point of sail, often moving along at more than 9kts.

Oh yeah, almost forgot.  That bow thruster that didn’t work all season and was finally fixed just before leaving CT.   It turns out that a nut on one of the cables on the battery had become loose and when I used the thruster to dock in Chesapeake City, the lead lug began to arc over that loose connection.  One of the lead terminals on the battery burned, along with the plastic boot that covers it.

Later in the day in Chesapeake City, I had gone forward to use the forward head and smelled a nasty odor.  When I opened up the area where the batteries are held, I was horrified to see that everything was coated with a fine black soot.

Well, I won’t go into much detail except to say that it could have been worse, much worse.  The thruster draws hundreds of amps when it runs and when I used the unit, the battery with the loose lug “sparked” badly and in the process melted the lead as well as part of the plastic body of he battery.  It looked and smelled, terrible.

The fact that the entire boat did not burn was just another example of the fact that God is looking after me.  Well, someone is, and while getting the place cleaned up and new batteries purchased and in place wasn’t a picnic, it could have been a LOT worse.

And to make a bad situation way better, Steve is a strapping guy and offered to install the new batteries.   What a savior.  Thanks Steve.

So, we are back in business and I was happy to use the thruster to move Pandora into a slip yesterday after anchoring out in the harbor for the night while we installed the batteries, or should I say Steve installed the batteries, while I cleaned up all the items that had been nearby and were coated with black soot.  The entire process took several hours and we had to launch the dink so we could ferry the new batteries out to Pandora and lug the old ones back to the dock.

Fortunately, the marina was able to order the exact size we needed.  And, as they are a “full service yard”, true to form, they charged me a very “full price” for those precious batteries.

So, here we are in Hampton, none the worse for wear, mostly, after a run that took an extra two days, five instead of three, to get here.

Next steps, final provisioning, some weather briefings a few happy hours  with fellow Dawgs and hopefully, we will be on our way over the weekend.

Chris says that the best window to depart will be between Saturday morning through Monday morning, a pretty wide window by historical standards.

Of course, he had to add, “and you want to be as far away from shore as possible by Thursday evening as it will really get nasty if you aren’t”.  Oh fun…

More to come as we have a weather briefing this evening to see if that window holds.

Today off for a PCR covid test that I need to show the folks in Antigua when I arrive, some last minute provisioning and I wait.  Peter and George, my crew, arrive Saturday afternoon and hopefully we can depart first light Sunday.

Before I break, one more thing.  We all talk about how different sailors are from power boaters.  You know the “stinkpoters” verses the “blow boats”?  Well, this sportfishing boat named “Reel Tails” sort of says it all.   Subtle right?  Wonder what sort of a guy this owner is?  I’ll bet that if he fell in the water the weight of his gold chains would pull him to the bottom.  And, that would probably be a good thing…Last evening we had an impromptu gathering around the marina pool.   A nice turnout given the fact that I only gave them an hour notice.   A very nice group and it was fun to see some of the same folks I spent time with in Maine. Flags flying proudly aboard Pandora here in her slip. So, after months of preparation, I’m finally in Hampton and soon… bound for Antigua.  :}


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