Bermuda to The Chesapeake
Chris Parker was right: it was a safe time to leave Bermuda for the Chesapeake; there was no wind for more than 600 miles. So, in preparation, we filled up with diesel at the local Rubis station. And with a full main tank and another 100 litres in cans, we knew we had enough fuel to motor all the way to Bermuda if we had to. And we had to.
Motoring for six consecutive days is, frankly, a pain in the arse. The deep thrumming noise of the diesel engine displaces the soothing sound of seabirds and the gentle rush of waves against Lady Jane’s hull. Even though our engine is relatively quiet, as far as diesel engines go, it still gets on your nerves by day two.
And to compound the misery, the wind instrument packed up along the way. I don’t know why, because it was hardly overworked. Then the chart plotter touch screen decided to follow suit. Both are an inconvenience rather than a disaster, though. We sailed for years without an electronic wind indicator, and we can still control the chart plotter with its buttons and dials. We’ll get them fixed somewhere in the US.
Bermuda Triangle? Perhaps there’s something in it after all.
On approach to the Chesapeake on Sunday 10th June, I was worried. The fuel gauge was unhelpfully misrepresenting the level of fuel in the tank (it was showing full). So, I unscrewed the sender from the tank and plunged a stick in there to test the depth, finding about 1/4 of a tank of fuel left. Not bad, you might think. But, we had already emptied the contents of the diesel cans into the main tank and having only this level of fuel was an unknown quantity.
We usually never let the level drop to less than 1/3. And the Chesapeake, especially the area around Norfolk, VA, is full of giant ships, from coal carriers to aircraft carriers. I didn’t want to lose power with that lot around. So, with that in mind – and mindful of the adage that caution is the better part of valour – I used the satellite phone to call Boat US for help.
Captain Byron Is Our Hero
Less than 40 minutes later, Captain Byron arrived on his towboat, armed with a fantastic southern US accent and two 20 litre cans of diesel. After expertly bringing his boat alongside, he passed the diesel over to us, complete with a funnel and some absorbent cloths. “Just poke a hole in the cloth, put the funnel in the hole and pour the diesel straight in”, was his sage advice. With that, he stood clear of Lady Jane while we filled up, then returned so that we could throw the cans and the funnel at him. The only charge was for the fuel, and at less than £1 per litre, that was cheaper than in the Solent.
The first thing that struck us on arrival was not another ship, fortunately, but the size of the bay. It’s beyond huge; so big that it isn’t possible to see both sides. And of course, this is reflected in the time to get somewhere. Before this revelation, we intended to go to a marina near Norfolk, but that would have added hours onto our journey. So, we decided to join Eve at the Bluewater Marina in Hampton instead.
Now that we could confidently motor on, I phoned the Customs and Border Protection folks to tell them we were arriving, and they said they were more than happy to meet us at Bluewater at 2100 that evening.
This was our first time entering a marina with slips – poles to attach the bow or stern lines to – and I hope it’s our last. These things are terrifying for those of us who wish to preserve our gelcoat. Local sailors have this sussed; they have boats with rubbing strakes or hulls that have a V shape so that the poles can’t grate along the side of the hull. Entering was bad enough, but leaving was a military-style operation consisting of extra help from Eve and a row of fenders tied lashed horizontally to the toerail. Fortunately, the fenders weren’t needed.
The marina is a nice one. The staff are delightful and helpful; there are a swimming pool and a restaurant on site. And there’s a complimentary ferry service from the marina to downtown Hampton. But we couldn’t use any of that on the first day. We had been instructed to stay on the boat until cleared in.
Eve, having arrived earlier, had already received clearance and was free to roam. And she kindly roamed over to Lady Jane with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne to celebrate our safe arrival, leaving just before 2100 when the customs officer was due.
2100 came and went. I phoned the out of office CBP number, but there was no reply and no way of leaving a message. But I caught the on-duty officer in the office. Drawing the short straw, he explained there had been a mix-up and insisted that he would drive out to see us, and would be there in 40 minutes. Two and quarter hours later, there was a knock on the hull. He apologised profusely for being late – due to an accident on the bridge-tunnel between Norfolk and Hampton. He was very friendly, and after around 20 minutes we were done, and he was off to his next job.
We had a mission. This was my third month without an iPhone, so I made an appointment with the genii at the Apple store in Norfolk to try to get mine fixed. One complimentary water taxi and a reasonably-priced Uber ride later, we arrived at the MacArthur Centre shopping mall.
Although the folks at Apple couldn’t fix the phone, they could sell me a replacement. So, I walked out of there $300 lighter but with a working iPhone 6 (I’m waiting for this year’s models to upgrade). Then, after a quick stroll around the city, we called for another Uber to take us back to Bluewater via the grocery store.
We struck lucky with Ray the Uber driver and Subaru salesman. Not only did he also need to go shopping, but he also offered to take us from the grocery store to the marina at no extra charge. And he knows that store like the back of his hand, which reduced our usually ponderous shopping time to less than 20 minutes.
Back at the marina, we said goodbye to Ray, who was leaving next week for Seattle to start a new job – selling more Subarus – and met up with Eve and her new friends for a fun-packed dinner at the Surfrider restaurant.
Upwards to the Potomac
Who’d have guessed it eh? The pronunciation of Potomac is not Potomac – it’s Pertomic. To my embarrassment, I learned this from the staff at the fuel pontoon at the Bluewater Marina, arriving there with Eve’s help with wrangling our way out of that slip.
We took the opportunity to replenish our fuel supplies here. Out came the cans and in went reasonably priced diesel. And, as well as learning the correct pronunciation of Potomoc, we learned that the woman in charge of the fuel pump was Captain Byron’s daughter. How’s that for a coincidence?
Sadly it was time to say goodbye – at least for now – to Eve who is staying here a while to get some repairs done. We had to speed on up to the Potomac to catch up with the OCC crowd as we were already two days late.