June 1 to 17, 2018: Norfolk to the Hudson River

After an enjoyable break at home in Hilton Head for a few weeks, on June 1st we again collected a rental car and drove back to Great Bridge, a town south of Norfolk, Virginia. We had left the boat in a highly regarded repair facility, with a long list of small jobs that required a more specialist approach than Dick could expect to do himself.  Most of the work was completed, although one or two small items were forgotten.  Dick was pleased that the bill was considerably less than he had mentally braced for, and I am pleased that the forward air conditioning, while still not as effective as the unit aft, is definitely working better.  We spent the morning at the grocery store getting in the provisions we would need for the next few weeks, and Dick was able to get our propane bottle refilled.  We use propane for the galley stove, and also for the grill, and there is no gauge on the bottle, so we don’t really have a good sense of how much is left at any time!  I had done some baking at home for the freezer, so with that and the groceries safely stowed we were ready to depart.

The plan was immediately changed.  We had intended to travel north as far as Deltaville, just off the Chesapeake, and anchor for one night.  However, a look at the weather suggested it would probably be better to stop for the first night in Hampton, and then make a fast run on the only good weather day through the weekend and get to Solomons.  Hampton is at the north end of the huge Norfolk harbour.  Dick had in mind that we would stay at the city run town dock, but they were fully booked for a pirate weekend, so we stopped at another marina.  Looper gossip the other day suggests this was no bad thing.  Someone who was staying at the town dock a few weeks ago had a bullet go through their cockpit and embed itself in their ceiling while they were sleeping!  Police were called, but what exactly had happened is a mystery.  The boaters slept through the incident, awakening in the morning to broken glass and said bullet in the ceiling!

Our ride up Chesapeake Bay to Solomons was pleasant and uneventful, just the way we like it.  We were welcomed on arrival with a fly-past by the Blue Angels.  You may recall that they also welcomed us to Norfolk last month!  The town sits across the river from the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and our arrival happened to coincide with their annual air show.  Solomons is a pretty little town, settled since colonial times and very boating oriented.  We walked around the harbour and enjoyed several nice meals at different restaurants.  We also launched the dinghy and did a harbour tour past all the marinas and up a couple of the channels to see interesting houses and nicely kept gardens.

After waiting an extra day in Solomons to avoid some nasty winds on the bay, we set off for Annapolis.  Although we stopped there last year we didn’t really explore, this time we stayed long enough to see some sights.  We docked at one of the large marinas, and because we are 19 feet wide, they decided we would be best in a slip where they put the mega-yachts.  Talk about playing with the big kids! We walked into town and took a boat tour up Spa Creek. Annapolis is a very historic city, with buildings dating back to before the Declaration of Independence. It was briefly the capital city of the newly formed United States in 1783. It is also the home of the United States Naval Academy.  We would have liked to visit the naval base, but there wasn’t enough time.  We walked to the top of the main street, which is very lively and a nice mix of boutiques and interesting restaurants.  There had been a lot of rain, and we were surprised to see one of the parking lots full of water.  It didn’t seem to worry the visitors, they just drove right through the puddles and parked regardless!

We enjoyed a visit with Marge and Fred Conroy, Dick’s former boss from his Prague days and his wife.  After docktails and a tour of the boat we went for dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants in town. Fred regaled us with stories of his days as a midshipman in the town.

We are very conscious of the weather this year, and far more careful about our planning.  After Annapolis we decided to miss Chesapeake City and go straight to Delaware City, as the long range forecast was deteriorating.  Delaware City is such an interesting little town.  The marina is situated along the original Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.  The 14 mile ship canal connects Delaware Bay with Chesapeake Bay, and gives cargo ships access to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington without having to travel 500 miles around and all the way up the Chesapeake.  The original canal was dug by hand by 2600 men earning an average wage of $.75 a day.  In the 1920’s the canal was bought by the Federal Government.  The entrance was moved a few miles south, all the locks were removed, and the entire canal was deepened and widened.  The remaining piece of the original canal is now used by Delaware City Marina.  Tidal currents and a narrow fairway require careful maneuvering, and this is one of the few places that Dick does not make any adjustments to the way the dock hands have tied us! The evening briefing on expected winds and currents is well worth attending, and as a result, we decided again to cut our visit short and leave the next morning for Cape May, rather than be stuck there for several days.

We had planned a 3 or 4 day stop in Cape May, but this time it wasn’t weather that frustrated our plans, it was a shark fishing tournament!  Every marina was fully booked through Saturday night.  We anchored in the river, not an entirely pleasant solution because although it is a clearly marked no-wake zone, local fishermen ignore the signs until they are much closer to town (and the Coast Guard Station).  Last year we took the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway north from Cape May towards Atlantic City, and we had thought about repeating the adventure in spite of having run aground 4 times.  However, the tide times would have meant a 6am start, and the weather forecast for the Atlantic the next day was quite benign.  If we had any thoughts of changing our minds we discarded them as a fellow Looper who had decided to take advantage of longer daylight and travel with the afternoon tide turned around after running aground several times and returned to Cape May and the anchorage.

It was a very pleasant fast run to Atlantic City.  For most of it the water was like glass, with just small and gentle swells.  Nine Lives loves to run at her best speed (18 knots, just under 21 miles per hour for the landlubbers) in these conditions, and we arrived well before noon in Atlantic City.

This visit we stayed at the huge marina in front of the Golden Nugget Casino.  It is one of the few casinos still operational in Atlantic City, and has a great choice of restaurants with no need to leave the complex.  We explored the Boardwalk and the town last year, so we just relaxed and caught up with reading and emails.

Much of the trip so far has been a case of zip between destinations on carefully planned weather windows.  We were determined to try the northern part of the New Jersey ICW this year, and Dick was able to get excellent detailed advice from one of the experienced Loopers who lives in the area and travels the route regularly.  We got up at 5am (there simply has to be coffee before we start out!) and were underway by 6am.  This meant we were travelling on a rising tide for the first part of the trip, and it was happily uneventful.  Our depth sounder never showed less than 4 feet below our keels, and the trip was considerably less stressful than our previous experience!  The area is very pretty, with peaceful marshes, lots of osprey nesting, and clusters of beachy houses between the ICW and the Atlantic.  Travelling during the week means the yahoos in speedboats do not trouble us, and the keen fishermen in their big Viking Trawlers are already out at sea.

The excitement for the day all happened at the end, just as we were breathing sighs of relief that the trip had been so uneventful.  There is a canal between Barnegat Bay and Manesquan River and Inlet. It is extremely narrow, and highly affected by the tide.  We entered the canal on an outgoing tide, and Dick had the engines at idle speed (the slowest speed that still turns the propellers and allows control for steering).  Our idle speed in calm water is about 4 knots (4.6 mph), and yet we shot through that canal at about 9.6 knots (11 mph).  It was like whitewater rafting without the fun. We had already been warned that locals seldom give right of way, so it was a nail biting 2 miles until we shot out the other side into the Manesquan River.  The excitement was not over.  There is a railway bridge just before Manesquan Inlet that we had to pass under to get to our marina.  The gap spanned by the bridge is only 31 feet wide.  We are 19.  The helpful Waterway Guide suggests, “Favor the north side of the channel.” Right.  Dick was hard put to keep us in the centre with the swift currents!  Arriving at the marina we were instructed to tie up at the fuel dock and await instructions.  This is never a favourite practice, but for once there was a very good reason, as maneuvering the boat into a slip in the currents requires highly experienced dock hands to give good instructions and catch lines.

The next day we again took advantage of a single day weather window and headed out into the Atlantic for the passage to Staten Island.  The conditions were at the upper limit of what an experienced Looper describes as “marginal”.  That is, winds 15 to 20 knots, and seas up to 3 feet.  On this occasion, the winds were going to be behind us, and the tides in our favour, so we decided to go.  It was quite an experience.  The instruments showed the boat travelling at 15 knots as she climbed up a swell, and then up to 18 knots as she slid down the other side.  I can’t say it was a pleasant run, but it was short, and we were into Great Kills Yacht Club on Staten Island well before noon.  The next two days would have been miserable to travel, as the winds switched to the north.  The main lesson learned last year is that opposing winds and currents are always going to be unpleasant.

We enjoyed our visit to Great Kills last summer, and we glad to return to the friendly welcome and quiet harbour.  We took out our bikes and rode to the Italian grocery.  Last year I wasn’t allowed to buy much because we were in “eating up” mode, but this time I could browse and fill my cart!  Imported tins of tomatoes, pasta of every shape and size, useful tubes of concentrated garlic paste and onion paste, and some very nice frozen vegetables that are always good to have on a boat.

Yesterday morning was the first time we did not quite get the forecast right.  We left Great Kills shortly after 8am to head towards New York Harbor.  The hope was to be there after rush hour, so to avoid some of the water traffic that creates wakes from all directions.  We knew we would have the tide giving us a push up the river, unfortunately we did not expect the strong wind from the north.  Opposing currents and winds make for heavy chop, and it was a very uncomfortable trip.  Dick’s bike on the front of the boat kept jumping up and crashing down, and at one point he had to put on his life jacket and get out and retie the knot before the bike flipped over the lines.  He had to hang on with both hands, and it was scary for me to watch, let alone for him to do it! There were no water taxis and only a few ferries, but the heavy waves continued long past the city and only settled down a few miles from our destination at Croton-on-Hudson.

The first day here was a very enjoyable sightseeing break.  We collected a rental car, and drove first to the nearby Croton Dam.  This dam creates a reservoir that forms part of the New York City water supply.  It was built between 1892 and 1906.  It is unusual in that it is built of masonry rather than poured concrete.  It also incorporates a spillway that is partly man-made and partly a natural cliffside waterfall.  We walked around in the park at the base, and then were able to take a road up to the top and walk up and see the construction in more detail as well as the reservoir above.

After the dam, we drove to the interesting town of Mt Kisco. Like much of Westchester County, it is a bedroom community for New York City, and is surrounded by lovely estates and many well kept acreage homes, some obviously built in the 19th century or earlier.  The town is full of tiny restaurants of all different ethnicity.  We chose a creperie, and enjoyed a very nice lunch.  A nearby Asian food market offered a few more treasures for the pantry.

The highlight of the day was a visit to the Culinary Institute of America in the evening.  We had heard that to eat in one of their restaurants you must book months in advance, and being on a boat and subject to weather we couldn’t do that.  On Friday I decided to just see whether there might be an opening, and to our great surprise we were able to get a table for 8pm in the Italian restaurant, Ristorante Caterina de Medici. They are trying a new offering, after pressure from the public to be open on weekends.  After a glass of Prosecco we were brought a beautiful plate of antipasti and a Caesar salad to share, as well as a basket of bread.  Next, they brought round five different pasta dishes, ranging from gnocci, shrimp bucatini, a risotto, and two others that escape me!  You could have as much or as little as you liked of each offering, and seconds if you happened to still be hungry. The evening finishes with an interesting dessert.  Ours was a polenta cake with strawberry sauce and mascarpone.  We weren’t sure we liked the polenta cake, but the sauce was delicious! The wines were very nice choices and moderately priced.  It was a highlight of our trip, and any time we happen to find ourselves nearby we will make an effort to return.

We are booked in here at Half Moon Bay for 5 nights.  Dick has rented a car, and left this morning to  drive to Toronto for a reunion with his friends from his early years with Ingersoll Rand.  I will leave tomorrow (another rental car) and visit friends on Long Island.  We will reconvene on Tuesday evening and head north again on Wednesday.  Meanwhile this is a popular stop for Loopers, at least 7 boats in tonight and likely more expected in the next few days as the weather allows them to travel up from the Chesapeake.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

 

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