Saturday, September 22, 2018

September 2018: From DC to Annapolis

Fort Washington Sits on the East Bank of the Potomac
Just a Few Miles South of the DC Area
We departed National Harbor just before 0900 on Saturday, 15-September, and pointed Ghost Rider south down the Potomac River.  The weather was a rerun of the previous week’s humid gloominess, with air temperature at the 70F mark and a northeast breeze of about 8 knots.  Up on the fly bridge it felt a bit chilly and we both wore light jackets for most of the day. 

By early afternoon the winds had clocked around to the east giving us an apparent wind speed near 20 knots on some headings, along with a healthy wind chop at times.  It wasn’t a particularly relaxing cruise as constant vigilance was required to avoid all the flotsam floating in the river – mostly tree branches but there was the occasional entire tree as well.  In the northern half of the river the water was the color of chocolate milk, although once we got below Quantico we saw less debris and the water color was more its normal greenish-brown.  We saw only four or five boats the entire day.
Some of the Big Homes (Estates) on the West (Virginia) Side
of the Potomac River

Towards the end of the day’s sortie we encountered some light rain showers and the strong easterly breeze also provided some increased two-to-three foot chop.  We chugged 60 nautical miles down the Potomac and then turned north into the Wicomico River around 1630 as the rain stopped.  A couple miles upstream from there we dropped the hook just off the eastern shoreline in 15 feet of water, let out 150 feet of chain and got a good anchor set on the first try.

Temps had warmed slightly to around 80, and we actually got an occasional glimpse of blue sky and a hint of sun in the early evening.  We ran on batteries/inverter for a few hours, but cranked up the generator and closed up the boat before we retired as rain was likely overnight.

Our Anchorage on the Wicomico River Looking to the West....There
Would Be No Sunset Glamour Shot On This Leg
The weather forecast for Sunday, 16-September wasn’t stellar – NWS was calling for a 70% chance of thunderstorms and stout winds from the east.  We weren’t buying into the TRW predictions, and regardless this was still going to be the best window for making the next marina before the remnants of Florence reached us.  So we yanked the anchor around 0915 and got back underway, heading down the Potomac and back into Chesapeake Bay.

The prognosticators definitely got the wind prediction right….we had 15 to 20 knots out of the east and the mouth of the Potomac was an absolute mess with an outgoing current bashing into the bay’s wind-driven waves.  We saw three to four footers for a while and took a lot of spray, some of it up to the fly bridge.  Conditions improved when we finally turned north and put the short interval square waves on the beam, letting the stabilizers smooth it out somewhat.  But it was still lumpy and rolly, and a day to steer from the comfort of the pilot house for most of the sortie.
Zahniser's Yachting Center is Big and Busy -- Good Service Yard, Too.
You Can Also See How High the Water Has Been Getting Here.

Around mid-day Rick pulled a bona fide bone-head move after completing an engine room check.  As he was sizing a socket to be used later for motor mount tightening he dropped the ratchet wrench and, per Murphy’s Law, one end found the positive stud on the #2 alternator and the other end found a ground via the engine block.  That made for a very unhealthy short circuit and a fairly spectacular shower of sparks.  Pyrotechnics can be fun, but not in the engine room.  And as one would expect, the output of that alternator promptly went to zero.  The #1 alternator picked up the load and kept the batteries charged, but that did not soften Rick’s curse words any.

A while later we were getting concerned with the remaining alternator’s operating temperature – it was working hard as a solo act – so we cranked up the generator for the last few hours of the leg and let it handle the charging duties until we got into port.  Having the A/C available didn’t hurt either, as we had closed most doors and hatches to keep the spray from the bay out of the boat's interior.
Ghost Rider Tied Up to Zahniser's T-Head

Around 1600 we departed the Chesapeake Bay and turned up the Patuxent River, and by 1630 we entered the protected channel for Solomons Island and Zahniser’s Marina.  It was good to get into the lee of a protected shoreline, and while it involved a bit of a zig-zag maneuver to reach our assigned t-head dock and avoid a shoal area, it all went smoothly.  We got Ghost Rider tied up, hooked up and washed down in short order.  The skies has mostly cleared by this point – no thunderstorms anywhere in sight the entire day – although we knew the weather would turn nasty again soon enough as Florence made its northeast turn.

Before we called it a day Rick went down to the engine room to troubleshoot the alternator issue; thankfully the solution turned out to be simple, replacing a blown Class-T 300 amp fuse with an on-hand spare.  Yay! 
The Class-T 300 Amp Fuse for the #2 Alternator....Always Carry Spares
The early morning weather on Monday, 17-September actually wasn’t too bad….high scattered clouds and some sun peeking through; but that did not last long.  By early afternoon the radar display was getting messy….the low pressure system that had been Hurricane Florence had made its northeast turn and was dragging plenty of precipitation with it. 

We had pretty much planned on that and just tinkering with the boat while waiting out the weather, so we got to work…..topping off the water tanks but also addressing a list of routine preventive maintenance items that were due.  The boat’s bottom and running gear were due for a cleaning, but we could not find a diver in the short term, so that got deferred – we would readdress at Annapolis or Baltimore.  (And as it turns out, Zahniser's doesn't allow bottom cleaning, only running gear can be serviced there....supposedly because it's a "clean marina."  Odd.)  We cleaned A/C filters, checked motor mounts and thruster apparatus and scrubbed some ugly rain stains on the exterior.  Rick also called out an A/C technician to take a look at the pilot house A/C compressor – it had been intermittently misbehaving over the past two weeks. The diagnosis was a thermal breaker trip resulting from an internal compressor malfunction – likely requiring a replacement of the entire unit.  Given its age the process of finding such a thing was going to take a while.
The Remnants of Florence Made Their Way Into Our Area as Predicted

That evening – in between rain showers – we walked over to the marina’s restaurant, The Dry Dock, for a late dinner.  Service and food there were excellent; we can highly recommend their beef tenderloin and the baked crab & scallop dishes.  The single malt scotch, which goes with everything, wasn’t bad either.

We weren’t expecting any kind of weather break for Tuesday, 18-September, but we got a little lucky, with the last rain bands of Florence holding off until late afternoon and early evening.  So we were able to walk the mile or so to the local maritime museum to enjoy a tour of their historic lighthouse (LINK) and stroll through the informative displays depicting the long seafaring history of this area.  Boat building has also been in the bloodlines here for a long time, and we were fortunate to get an impromptu tour of the Patuxent Small Craft Guild.  The small wooden vessels they restore and build there are works of love, art and skill.
The Drum Point Lighthouse.  It Was in Service from the 1880's Until 1962 and Was Originally Located in the
Middle of the Patuxent River.  It Was Rescued and Relocated to this Museum Location in 1975.  The Two
Story Cottage Structure Above the Screw Piles and Below the Lens at One Time Housed a Family of Five.
The Calvert Marine Museum on Solomons Island Documents This Area's Long History.  Its Modernization Started
With the Outbreak of World War II....When It Became a Strategic Training Ground for the U.S. Military,
Especially As Regards the Critical Capability for Landing Amphibious Forces and Establishing Beachheads.
Touring the Patuxent Small Craft Guild.  The Art of Wooden Boat Building & Restoration is a Passion Here.
Afterwards we grabbed a late lunch at the nearby Angler’s Seafood Bar & Grill, where Rick discovered their crab sandwich is made with a whole softshell blue crab…which can still be a bit crunchy despite its name.  Chelle stuck with the calamari.  By the time we walked our way back to the boat the rain had kicked in again, but only for a few hours.  Just after sunset the rain stopped and the skies began to clear.  Florence was finally gone.

For the first time in ten days we had the pleasure of waking to a fair weather morning on Wednesday, 19-September…winds were light and had clocked around to the north, with clear and sunny skies and temps in the lower 70’s.  It was a welcome change and the forecast looked good for the next few days.  Around 0930 we untied Ghost Rider from Zahniser’s dock and negotiated the tight quarters to get back into the channel and back out into the Pax River.  Our destination was Annapolis.
Departing the Solomons Island Inlet

Shortly thereafter we were out in Chesapeake Bay and motoring north.  It didn’t take long for the winds to pick up to around 15 knots and we found ourselves punching into two foot waves at one second intervals, with the occasional three footer….the proverbial washboard ride.  But the sunny skies and pleasant temps made it quite bearable. 

We had another Nordhavn sighting along the way, passing N40 Uno Mas as she was making her way south, and had a pleasant chat with them on the VHF.  By early afternoon the winds dropped to below white cap velocities and the seas calmed considerably.  Overall it was a decent ride up the bay to the Severn River, where around 1500 we turned Ghost Rider to the northwest.  A short while later we approached the Annapolis entry channel and there was a lot of boat traffic to negotiate…we weren’t the only ones enjoying the overdue good weather, even if it was mid-week.  The vast majority were sailing vessels (of all sizes and hull forms) and that situation required considerable jinking and throttle work to maintain safe clearance.
A View from Annapolis Harbor Back Towards the Entry Channel
We Had Just Negotiated....They Don't Call This the "Sailing Capital of
the U.S." for Nothing.

Finally, with Chelle at the fly bridge helm, we got past most of the traffic and around a small craft sailing regatta and into the Annapolis harbor.  She nosed us up to a mooring ball and Rick grabbed its pennant with a boat hook, ran two bow lines through it, and by 1540 we were securely tied off.  Shortly thereafter we completed our postflight checklists, cranked up the genset and A/C, and lowered the dinghy.

While Rick tended to squaring away the boat (and himself) for the evening, Chelle took the tender to explore the area.  Her scouting report confirmed what we had heard previously….a plethora of dinghy docks surrounding the harbor area, numerous restaurants, bars and taverns nearby, along with a couple of museums and of course the U.S. Naval Academy.  Another couple in their tender stopped by that evening to introduce themselves – they were also moored nearby in their Hatteras and coincidentally also called Legacy Harbor in Fort Myers their home port. We planned a get together.

Given the pleasant temperatures and dry forecast we shut down the generator and slept comfortably with the boat open to the night breeze.
Looking Southeast from Our Mooring Ball Across the Harbor
Looking Northwest from Our Mooring Ball....Some of the Naval Academy Facilities, in This Case
the Visitor's Center and Lejeune Hall
Our plan to sleep a little late the morning of Thursday, 20-September got interrupted by construction noises at the nearby Naval Academy – it appeared they were adding on to their athletic facilities.  But it was still quite pleasant if a little cloudy.  After troubleshooting a generator start issue (as in it wouldn’t even crank, but somehow mysteriously fixed itself 10 minutes later) we jumped in the tender and went ashore.
Looking Up Main Street in Downtown Annapolis

First we walked up historic Main Street, a one-way and brick-paved avenue loaded with landmarks, shops, pubs and restaurants, all with a charmingly uniform architecture reminiscent of colonial days.  From there we hoofed it a bit further to the visitor’s center and hopped their 1 ½ hour trolley tour, a great way to put all the interesting sites into a broader context and see a great deal in a short amount of time. 

We got to see much of old town Annapolis, as well as Eastport just across Spa Creek, a side trip that got more interesting when they started closing down roads due to high tide water incursion from the bay, including the only bridge that goes back to Annapolis.  At one point Rick got off the trolley and moved the traffic cones off to the side of the road so we could continue; the police were not amused.  (What little water we saw on the road was only a few inches deep.) On the walk back to the harbor we stopped at O’Brien’s Oyster bar for a drink and some of their hot crab dip – some of the best we’ve ever had.
That's the US Naval Academy Campus on the Other Side of the
Severn River....Shot Taken from the World War II Memorial

We went back to the boat to take a short break, and then around 1730 dinghied over to visit with Jim and Joanne aboard their 53 Hatteras, Ocean Spirit.  They are now full time live-aboards and it was fun to hear their boat stories and see how they’ve renovated their vintage 1971 vessel.  It was a beautiful evening so around sunset we took our tenders to shore to enjoy dinner at Pusser’s Caribbean Grille on their outdoor deck.

Both we and the forecasters got surprised by the weather the morning of Friday, 21-September….instead of sunny and dry we saw overcast and light rain.  Although that didn’t stop Chelle from taking the tender to shore for her daily walking exercise.  But by early afternoon the showers had moved on, so under cloudy skies we dinghied back to shore and walked over to the U.S. Naval Academy’s visitor center to sign up for their afternoon guided tour.  Bottom line: this is a couple of hours well spent.
Bancroft Hall, the Largest Single Dormitory Structure in the World,
Houses 4,500 Midshipman at the US Naval Academy.

Our tour guide (Diane) was extremely informative and knowledgeable, amiably relaying not just many interesting facts, but also conveying a very real and believable picture of life as a midshipman at the Naval Academy.  Enrollment at the USNA hovers around 4,500 annually, and like the other military academies, their applicant qualification criteria and acceptance rate properly define a warrior elite.  The institution was founded in 1845 with the mission of developing the best naval officers in the world, and largely has succeeded at that.  The campus is expansive, covering 340 acres and packed with uniformly immaculately kept granite buildings, built in a Beaux Arts architecture, all very precise and symmetrical.  The largest of those is Bancroft Hall, which is the (only) dormitory where all 4,500 midshipmen live during their undergraduate tenure here.
The Crypt of John Paul Jones Below the USNA Chapel

Of special note is the Naval Academy Chapel, a beautiful domed structure that hosts multi-denomination services, but also is home to the crypt of John Paul Jones, generally accepted as the “Father of the American Navy” based on his daring and successful naval exploits during the Revolutionary War.  (When asked during one battle to surrender, his infamous reply was “I have not yet begun to fight”….which, to the Brit’s dismay, turned out to be quite accurate – they got waxed.)

By the time our USNA tour concluded we were tired and hungry….we walked a mile or so back down Main Street to the waterfront for a very late lunch at The Middleton Tavern, a famous pub initially established in 1750 and patronized by the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin…and now, us.  We returned to the boat around 1700, and found once again the generator refused to start.  Nuts.  
The Middleton Tavern....Good Food, Drinks....and History

Rick messed with various troubleshooting activities, taking voltage readings at numerous wiring junctions, loosening and re-tightening those along the way, eventually stumbling across a blade connector on the starter solenoid (not documented in any of the wiring diagrams we studied) that seemed to provide the solution – disconnecting then reconnecting it resulted in a generator start.  We were not at all certain that was the final fix, but for now we were content that we were able to recharge the batteries and call it a done day.

That evening on the mooring ball was a bit rolly…we had swells invading the harbor and variable winds that caused continuous swinging and a lot of bobbing going on – we could have used a flopper-stopper this night.  Nonetheless, the constant movement was gentle and after shutting down the generator with a full charge back into the batts, we slept quite well in the unsettled conditions.
Ghost Rider on Her Mooring Ball in Annapolis Harbor
The U.S. Naval Academy Swimming Facility....It's Not a Requirement to be Able to Swim to Enter the Academy,
But It IS a Requirement to Graduate.  You Can Imagine the Drills Conducted Here.

This is "Captain's Row" at the Naval Academy....On-Campus Housing That is Reserved for Faculty & Staff,
Occupants Must be at the Rank of Navy Captain or Higher to Be Billeted Here.
This is "Dahlgren Hall" at the US Naval Academy,,,,That is an Early Wright Brothers Biplane Hanging
From the Rafters, the First Flown by a US Naval Aviator.
The morning of Saturday, 22-September dawned dry with a broken cloud cover, temps and humidity in the mid-70’s and a very light easterly breeze.  The bouncy waters had settled down and the genset fired up on the first crank, so we were off to a good start.  A cold front was close by and would be moving in overnight, likely bringing rain showers and cooler temperatures with it, but by late morning the clouds were dissipating and for now it was quite pleasant.

We planned to depart the next morning for Baltimore so Rick spent some time on our usual preflight tasks and also gave the water maker a workout.  (That turned out to be unwise….the raw water filter fouled fast enough to verify that this is a harbor in which you don’t want to swim.)  Chelle took the tender into town for her daily walking exercise and to run a few errands, but otherwise is was a lazy final day in Annapolis. 

A few more pics from the Naval Academy tour are below. Next stop is Baltimore and the Trawler Fest gathering there.
The Front of the Navy Chapel...This Stained Glass is Tiffany.
Another Shot of the Chapel (Right Side)
The Entrance to Memorial Hall
Inside Memorial Hall is This Tribute....Every Midshipman That Has
Been KIA is Honored and Listed in the Case at the Base of the Plaque.
By Saturday Evening the Annapolis Mooring Field Was Fairly Full....the Maximum
Allowable Boat Length Here is 55 Feet.

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