What a whirlwind of a weekend we had at home. It was great to see some of you and to spend a little time with family and our house. But were we ever busy with little to no downtime. Mark left Sunday and flew back to Baltimore. He was picked up by Greg Franklin Sr. (AGLCA Harbor Host for Baltimore area) and managed to have a good dinner with him before getting back to the boat.
On Monday (6/1), Denise flew to Atlanta and worked at a client until Tuesday (6/2) night when she joined Mark at the Maryland Yacht Club. During her absence, Mark was loaned Greg’s truck, was able to get a few groceries and do a few errands. Denise finally joined him late Tuesday night, but not before being stood up by the cab who was supposed to meet her at BWI.
Wednesday, 6/3/15 – This was probably the hardest and worst day we have had on this whole trip. We said goodbye to Maryland Yacht Club amid high winds and cool temperatures with rain possible. However, it was predicted to be calmer later in the day. The wind was out of the NE and we were headed into an area that offered a lot of protection, so we made the decision to continue our trip as originally planned.
We got out onto the Patapsco River and we were taking a bit of a beating for about an hour and half. At the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay we had to stop the boat to tighten up the dinghy as the waves were crashing in on it. As we continued heading north, the Bay got narrow and the land blocked the wind, so the waves calmed a bit. Still, it was rainy and cold. The Maryland coastline on both sides here is quite different then in the lower Chesapeake; it is more mountainous and has lots of farmland. There are pockets of housing areas, but much of it is rural and really quite pretty.
On the water, there were no there cruisers and we felt kind of out there alone…except for the barge traffic. Although you can see these barges for miles, you should stay clear from them as they push a tremendous amount of water and can create a huge wake even when they are going slow.
We finally passed two of them before entering the C&D Canal (Chesapeake & Delaware Canal) and we were grateful for not having to negotiate doing so in the very narrow canal.
Once in the C&D Canal we passed Chesapeake City, a small community that is actually split in two by the water.
To the South (Starboard) side is the downtown area that has a city marina and anchorage that many cruisers stop at before going on to Cape May, NJ. We too should have stopped here….but we pressed on as it was only lunchtime. On the North (port) side is the Army Corps of Engineers dock, a restaurant, and then homes or rural roads along the way. Further up the canal there is also the North Summit Marina – another looper stopping point….and we should have stopped here too, but we pressed on.
The canal is 12 miles long, averages about 100 yards wide, and has 6 bridges that pass over it, none of which are low enough to require an opening by most vessels. This is key as this canal is used by commercial and pleasure craft alike. But today there was no boat traffic to speak of. One cruising yacht blew past us, we passed a slower trawler, and then there was an Army Corps of Engineer’s Boat doing depth soundings. That was it. But the water was flat and the wind blocked by the land, so we were quite happy! At this point we also entered our seventh state: Delaware.
Around 1:00 we left the C&D Canal and entered the Delaware River, feeding into the Delaware Bay. It is a very large waterway that takes commercial vessels up to Philadelphia, so needless to say it was very busy. We saw container ships after container ships, and therefore were anxious to get out of the channel and run parallel to it on the New Jersey side of the River. Although it is shallow near shore, the River is quite wide and outside the channel there is still plenty of water. This would prove helpful to us later as we made our way through our eighth state.
For the first hour or so, the wind was blowing, but the seas were tolerable and we made good progress. Eventually, we came to the area where the river becomes the Delaware Bay and it is quite wide (with land barely in sight) and the seas started to build. Worse, the wind had shifted and instead of waves crashing on the bow of the boat, they were knocking us on the side and had our boat rolling. We tried to run closer to the shoreline without losing our heading too much but it was difficult to do this and still make a direct heading to the western channel of the Cape May Canal. We were less than 10 miles (25 minutes) from the entrance and couldn’t wait to get there. It was miserable and we were really taking a beating……and then the engine died!
One of the worst fears of a boat owner is that something bad will happen to the boat. When you have a single engine, your worst fear is that your only source of power will fail you, and this was certainly Denise’s. When the engine dies and you are in such seas, everything gets tossed around and you cannot control the boat. We had dishes flying out of the cabinet, books sliding off the racks, and anything that was not super securely tied down ended up on the floor. Fortunately, Mark is an experienced captain; he knew exactly what to do. We immediately put out an anchor and pointed the boat into the wind. This helped with the rolling and with keeping Denise from getting seasick. Fortunately, we were running outside the shipping channel and we were only in 25 feet of water so we could anchor.
We quickly deduced that the problem was most likely a clogged fuel filter. We had had this same problem on our sailboat and it occurs when the rough seas stir up any sediments on the bottom of a fuel tank and causes the filter to not be able to handle it all. It gets clogged and won’t feed fuel to the engine. The difference on a sailboat is that you can hoist a sail and settle the boat while you change the filter. Unfortunately, this was not an option and we were not going to be able to change the fuel filter with the wave conditions we were in. To add a further complication we notice a small puddle of water on the floor in the galley. We thought it was coming from the sink but it wasn’t and we went into search mode. No water was filling in the bilge and it wasn’t very much, so we were not panicked, but we did want to know where it came from. However, our bigger concern at this point was moving and we needed to get into port before we could address the water issue. (We later determined it was from the refrigerator that had its contents tossed about when we were in the heavy waves.)
So, we called TowBoatUS and they dispatched a boat which arrived within the hour. Thank goodness we were close to a port. The TowBoatUS captain (Benny) was awesome telling us what to do each step of the way. He towed us through the Cape May Canal, and right to the South Jersey Marina where we had a reservation (and had been in communication with). Once there, the dockhands (who stayed late and waited for us) were superb in helping us tie up the boat. The best part was that our TowBoatUS insurance (less than $200/yr) paid for the tow which otherwise would have been $860. If you ever buy a boat, get the unlimited towing option insurance; it is well worth it!
Once at the dock we quickly went to work to put the boat back together again and get a good night’s sleep. It had been a very long day, we were very tired, and we knew we had a maintenance issue facing us the next day.
Thursday, 6/4/15 – We got up to high winds and overcast skies. Not a great day to do much but fix a broken boat. Mark quickly realized that the spare primary fuel filter (not the spare engine fuel filter from Solomon’s – see prior post) was the incorrect one. Fortunately, the marina ship store had one and they didn’t gauge us too badly for it. We replaced it on the boat, bought a second one for a spare, and ran the engine, which started up right away. We immediately noticed the fuel pressure was back in the normal range and the boat was back in running order. In hindsight, we learned a thing or two about “signs” that our boat had given, but we didn’t understand what it was telling us. Like a sick child or puppy, there are things that start going on before real sickness actually happens. Now we know the signs for this issue on this boat.
The marina had put us on an end dock when we came in under tow, but they were not going to let us stay there. Scheduled to come in was a 90’ yacht and we were going to have to move to an actual slip. Normally this would not have been an issue, but with the wind blowing like crazy and fears of our engine stalling, Denise was nervous. However, with the help of the dockhands (Nick actually got on our boat to help grab the lines) we got moved ok and the boat ran great. This helped to assuage fears of a major boat issue.
After the boat was moved and we cleaned it, we were able to finally get showers and settle in a bit. The first thing that we observed was that we were at the best marina. The staff is incredibly helpful; there is a great marina “ship store”; it is within walking distance to most of anything you want to see in Cape May, and their shower facilities ROCK. They are without a doubt, the best shower and laundry facilities of any marina on the East Coast.
We had read that they were the best, and now we got to experience this first class set up. We have stayed in hotels that were not this nice, and these are definitely nicer than the ones in most people’s homes. After yesterday’s harrowing experience, we welcomed this little bit of pampering. We also noticed that this is where all the “big boys” pull in, and there were plenty of big yachts that docked here too.
Earlier in the day we had met a couple whose boat was a few slips away from us; they were on a Sabre 38 (Sabre owns Back Cove). Bob and Ginny (“Quattro”) are from Newburyport, MA and they used to have a Back Cove. Their boat is so named because they have 4 grandchildren, but recently learned that #5 is on the way; they are refusing to rename the boat. We went to dinner with them at a place across the street from the marina called Lucky Bones. It was good and we had a nice time getting to know them and discussing their (come to find out) purchases of several Back Cove/Sabre boats over a handful of years. Additionally we learned that Bob was in medical device manufacturing and he and Denise had a lot to discuss.
Friday, 6/5/15 – We woke up to cold, rainy weather and the wind blowing like crazy. We spent the rest of the day trying to figure out our next steps. It was clear that the weather was not going to be favorable for a few days and we needed to rethink our plans to get up the coast of NJ and into NY. Denise had to fly to Houston on Monday and we needed to make sure there was a place for Mark to stay with the boat. With two days left to go if there was a chance to get to Staten Island, NY we really wanted to be there. It would offer easier access to an airport and get us back on our original schedule. We researched and looked at all the options, including taking the slower, shallower route up the NJ ICW. We asked the opinion of a local fishing Captain (“I would never take my boat up the inner route”) and if we got it to Atlantic City where would he stay (he wouldn’t – too seedy a place). We listened to an AGLCA’s podcast regarding going up the NJ ICW and it was suggested that you should never attempt it on a weekend; there are just too many boaters on the water. Here we were facing a weekend of ICW if we chose this route, and uncertain we could make the final leg into NY before Monday.
While we were sitting there discussing our options (and cussing the weather gods), we noticed looper friends Lynn & Jonathon (“Zendo”), whom we met in Norfolk were docking in the slip next to ours. What luck! After they got settled we had a chance to talk with them about their plans. They were leaving the next day to go the inner route (ICW) to Atlantic City, and then had to fly home to close on the house they sold in Ponte Vedra Beach. In addition to selling this house and doing the loop, they are relocating back into their old house in Miami. What a challenge they have. They had come from Delaware City, across the Delaware Bay that morning and had a rough ride. Fortunately for them they made the passage with another boat and had not had engine issues like we did. They introduced us to Cornell & Alice (“Red Ranger” – a little Ranger Tug boat – red of course) who docked a few slips away. We had a great opportunity to discuss our plans to go north and how the weather was holding us all back.
Unfortunately, because of Denise’s work, we needed to make a decision and purchase a plane ticket so she could fly out of some nearby airport. Also, this meant Mark would have to sit somewhere for the week and not move the boat by himself. We already knew that the marina would only allow us to stay past Wednesday as they had a big shark fishing tournament starting then and they were sold out. As luck would have it, their sister marina (Canyon Cove) was only 1 mile away in the harbor and they could accommodate us for the week. Based on that, we decided to stay in Cape May for the week, explore the area on Saturday, and move the boat to the new marina on Sunday. Then on Monday, Denise could fly to Houston from Philadelphia (1.5 hrs away). Mark got a rental car starting Saturday and will return it after taking Denise to the airport on Monday morning.
Our friends Bob and Ginny (“Quattro”) decided to rent a car and make the drive home for the weekend; coming back on Tuesday or Wednesday to move their boat further north later in the week when the weather breaks. They had things to do at home and asked us to keep an eye on their boat.
With these affairs settled we were able to finally enjoy ourselves a little bit. After cocktails on board we joined with Lynn & Jonathon and Cornell & Alice and went to the famous “Lobster House” for dinner. It is an institution in Cape May as they have some of the freshest fish around. The shrimp and crab boats dock right behind their restaurant, and they have a fish market in the front of the restaurant. Our food was good, but not great, but now we can say we have been to this famous establishment.
Saturday 6/6/15 – Up at the crack of dawn with a beautiful sunrise in the making, Denise went for a run into the town of Cape May and along the shoreline. It was amazing to see all the beautiful old Victorian homes and the famous Cape May Inn. The asphalt boardwalk made for a very comfortable run with no cars to contend with and a beautiful flat sea to look at most of the way. There were a few runners out and a few people walking, trying to get it all in before the weather turned ugly during the day.
Because we had pristine laundry room at the marina, we chose to get a couple of loads done in the morning until the rental car from Enterprise was delivered. Then we made a run to the local Wal-Mart for a few items, but discovered a Five-Guys in the same shopping center and made it our lunch stop for the day. Of course while we were eating it started to rain and within 5 minutes it was pouring with lightning and thunderstorms. We made our way down to Wal-Mart and hung out in the store for a while until the weather subsided. This delayed us a bit and as a result we bagged the idea of going to an afternoon movie; something we had been considering since we had the rental car. (Thanks for the recommendations Susan G).
Instead we decided to go back to the boat and drop off our purchases and then make 4:00 pm mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea (yup, another one –seems to be the common name for catholic churches near the beach). From there we walked down the Cape May Mall (strip of unique shops) and then around the block to Mario’s where we ordered a pizza and some delicious garlic knots. We drove around the town of Cape May a bit to see the sights. We went by beautiful large homes right on the water that are clearly rental homes for large groups. We also drove by the Coast Guard station which is a training center and has dorms, and around a few older neighborhoods that clearly catered to the retired crowd.
Eventually, we went back to the marina and along with a handful of other boaters crowded into the laundry room to watch the running of the Belmont Stakes on the large flat panel TV screen. It was a glorious Triple Crown victory for American Pharaoh and fun to celebrate this exciting moment with others.
Of course by now the sky had cleared up and the storms were gone, but the wind was still blowing quite a bit. We watched several boats come into the marina and needed every amount of help to dock. We watched one fishing boat get so turned around that the dockhands eventually had him attempt entering into a different slip on a different pier. It was pure chaos and the dockhands earned their wages this evening. Of course all the boaters were trying to avoid hitting the large yachts, especially Aphrodite, a fully restored 1939 wooden boat located on the end of the first pier. It was a beautiful vessel docked perpendicular to our boat, so we had front-row seats to check her out.
Sunday 6/7/15 – The storms from yesterday ushered in cool weather again, so we woke up to needing sweatshirts, at least until the morning sun was able to warm things up a bit. Although the sky was blue and there were not clouds, the wind was still blowing a bit with forecasts of increasing throughout the day. We eventually moved the boat to Canyon Club Marina and got them to take Mark back to South Jersey Marina so he could retrieve the rental car. Although this marina is nice and has a pool (not that we will be putting our toes in the frigid water), it is still not as nice as SJM. We will miss the very good dockhands there, the wonderful amenities, and the closeness to the town. It is also a huge fishing boat marina, so there are not as many cruisers to hang out with. Mark will just have to get by!
We spent the afternoon on the boat doing work, prepping for the week ahead and making advanced reservations for marinas up the Hudson Bay (if we ever get there). Mark talked with our new friend Bob (“Quattro) to advise him that all was well with his boat when we left, and that we had moved marinas. They also discussed the possibility of having one of their friend’s ride along with Mark and following them north at least to Sandy Hook, should the weather window open on Wednesday as it looks like it could. Of course this will present a whole logistics issue for Denise on Friday as she will be flying into Philadelphia, but we will fix that only if Mark can get the boat up to Staten Island, and not by himself. Also a factor in all this is that Jacob (Mark’s nephew) is supposed to be joining us for the leg up the Hudson Bay and he too will be flying into Philly and meeting up with Denise, unless we are able to reschedule his visit out a week. Oh the joys of planning around the weather when you are on a boat!
All in all we have been pleasantly surprised with our stay in Cape May. Although it is a beach town with typical beach things (surf shops, arcades, putt-putt golf, ice cream shops, etc.) it is not as ticky-tacky as we were expecting, and in fact it is quite pretty. This is especially true in the downtown area where the Victorian homes are on tree-lined streets with beautiful gardens and parks. We found the people incredibly warm and friendly, and very welcoming. All the locals we talked to were genuinely glad we were there and were helpful at helping us find things we needed or wanted.
Tomorrow (Monday) Mark will take Denise to the airport and return the rental car. We will have no further posts until next weekend at the earliest while we both work and try to figure out our upcoming schedule of stops. We know some of you are anxious to meet up with us and want to know when, but right now we are at the mercy of the weather and cannot predict anything until we get up to New York.
Wishing you all a terrific week and hope that you will be safe in all your adventures.