With the high recommendations we received about the skill of the Merri-Mar crew, we decided to have some engine work done while we were there. A small fuel leak needed some attention, and our injectors were overdue for cleaning and a compression test. In addition to this maintenance, we decided to upgrade to a dual Racor 75500 MAX fuel filter installation, which allows you to switch fuel filters while the engine is running, effectively taking one of the filters off-line to change at your “leisure” (even while the engine is running). This set-up has much less expensive filters, which are far easier to change than our previous Racor R20S. It also has a vacuum gauge to better indicate when the filters should be changed. Since most fuel emergencies take place while underway in rough conditions, being able to easily change the filters can make a huge difference.
With some consultation with Jay from Merri-Mar, we mounted the new filters ourselves, which are in a much more convenient location than their predecessor, high on the port aft wall of the engine compartment. This caused us to lower the raw water strainer down about 3 feet and slightly change the routing of the water and fuel hoses. It also freed up some space on the starboard side of the compartment where the old Racor R20S filter had been.
Dave didn’t let any grass grow under his feet working out a way to fill the hole created by removing the old fuel filter, installing 2 6-volt golf cart batteries that a friend no longer needed after just a year of use. This would give us a spare “house” battery bank to use when equalizing the primary house bank and for emergency use. Having used Merri-Mar’s resources to determine that our previous spare starting battery was no longer any good, the timing was just about perfect.
Other Boat Stuff
Our extended time in port also gave us time to clean the ugly brown stain from the hull and wax it as best we could, using the dinghy as our scaffold. To see us both perched on different ends of our small dinghy trying to do the wax-on wax-off thing at the same time was a bit comical.
Cathy also used the time and access to Pat’s sewing machines to create some covers for the metal struts supporting the bimini where they now touched the new strataglass enclosure. These covers prevent the glass from being damaged by such close proximity to the heated metal. Since Cathy had never used a sewing machine before, this was about as comical as the dinghy experience, even though all she had to do was sew a series of straight lines. Luckily, Pat is a patient teacher and, if no one looks too close, the resulting covers look presentable.
Up (or is that Down East) to Maine
As our time in Newburyport was coming to an end and the most we had done to see anything outside of Newburyport itself was a trip to Wal-mart, Fred took pity on us and invited us on a “road trip”. His stated destination was an appliance store in New Hampshire, but Dave found he could justify the “time off” from working on the boat, by including a side trip to the Fastener Warehouse to get some bolts needed to attach the anchor chain hole plate. It also didn’t hurt that our route would take us by the Lindt Chocolate outlet store.
We got to see a bit of the Naval yards where Fred had worked in Kittery, Maine and the historic Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth, NH. Dave’s purchase of 3 bolts for the anchor plate at Fastener Warehouse expanded into 3 boxes of various sizes of screws, nuts, and bolts, which he swore would pay for themselves in short order by replacing just a few trips to West Marine. We’ll see . .
At any rate, we can say we made it to Maine on this trip, although we did cheat just a little. Fred explained away our confusion about the reference to going “down east” to Maine, which is clearly north east, so wouldn’t that be “up” east? The expression comes from the prevailing easterly winds, which make a sailing trip to Maine all down wind. That’s where the “down” in down east comes from.
Although our tentative plan for returning south had been to join Fred as he re-positioned Marianna to the Chesapeake Bay, it became clear that Fred would need more time to finish his projects, causing him to change plans and wait for Pat to finish her work in early October. We then decided to hook up with Dave and Donna on Merlin as they made plans to head south the 2nd week of September.
The next day, we got a later start, but made it to Newport, RI by mid-afternoon, in time to raft together on the last available mooring in the harbor. You see, the Newport Boat Show was underway and the harbor was very busy. With high winds promised for Saturday, we decided to stay 2 days on the mooring and leave Sunday for either Block Island or Cape May, if we could do it. Since the fuel docks were blocked by the temporary docks for the boat show, Dave made 2 long round trip dinghy runs from Brenton Cove, where our mooring was to the fuel dock in the main harbor and the one in Goat Island to ensure Orion was topped off with 10 gallons to spare. Merlin was planning to get fuel at Goat Island as we left.
As Saturday’s winds were calming down that evening, we got together with Dave and Donna to discuss the plan for travel on Sunday. The forecasts were for winds from the NE 10-15 knots all the way down the coast to Cape May. With seas forecast for 2 to 4 feet, the conditions seemed just right to try to go straight from Newport to Cape May. The only problem was waiting for the fuel docks to open in the morning. This would put us into Cape May after dark on Monday. Dave and Donna said they had enough fuel between their 2 tanks to make the trip, so we decided to head out early the next morning.
Over the course of the first day, the roughest conditions were in Block Island sound. The ocean was smooth as glass. With a little help from the headsail, we were making good time, looking to arrive in Cape May before 5pm the next day.
When, all of sudden, Merlin came to a stop.
They had a clogged fuel filter on their forward fuel tank. Dave was below busily changing filters. Although he made quick work of the change, given a history of problems with the forward tank, he didn’t think he could rely on it to get Merlin to Cape May. Also, there wasn’t enough fuel in the aft tank to get there either. Wediscussed alternatives and decided, since Orion had 10 gallons in cans on deck that we would not need for the trip to Cape May, to pass a can from Orion to Merlin. Even though the ocean conditions were ideal, the mild swells still made this a delicate procedure. With fenders over Merlin’s side, Cathy edged Orion alongside while the two Dave’s proceeded to make the handoff. Cathy got a little too close to Merlin’s outboard propeller, but otherwise we made the transfer unscathed. We agreed to checkpoint in the morning to see if Merlin would need to turn in at Atlantic City to get fuel or could make it on what had been transferred.
Overnight was mostly uneventful. Our bow navigation lights were out, so Dave rigged our dinghy lights in their place. The canvas kept us warm and toasty unlike previous passages. There was no moon, but that gave us a night sky filled with stars.
When morning came, it was clear that Merlin needed more fuel. We briefly considered another transfer, but the seas had built, making the transfer treacherous for both boats. Merlin altered course for Atlantic City, planning to meet up again a few hours after us.
We arrived at Cape May to find both Jadera and Shango and (unfortunately) about 10 other boats anchored next to the Coast Guard station. This was our worst nightmare of anchoring conditions. Tired from 34 hours underway, facing limited space with a 20 knot wind, and, to make matters worse, the windlass started acting up. After about 5 failed attempts and almost 2 hours of trying, Dave’s fatigue was growing and Cathy was feeling like the nightmare wouldn’t end. However, we finally got a good set. We joined Jay, Debra, Roger and Amy on Shango a little later just after Merlin arrived and (quickly) set their anchor.
Although the other boats decided to wait a day for better weather to travel north, we looked at the favorable currents and the tight anchorage and decided to head north the next day for the Bohemia River. After an easy trip through the Cape May Canal -- this time at low tide with an eye on the depth sounder (we saw nothing less than 9 feet), we entered the lower Delaware Bay. Aided by a beam wind up to 25 knots, we had a fast ride up the bay. Within a few hours the wind speed dropped and the angle became less favorable for sailing, but the current picked up, keeping our average speed at almost 7 knots for the full trip. We dropped anchor in the Bohemia River at the top of the Chesapeake Bay before 5pm. Both of us had the inexplicable feeling of being “home” now that we were back in the Bay, even though we’d spent little time this far north.
We can’t say enough about the trip north. It was a great time and we enjoyed the people we met tremendously. We also learned a bit about traveling in these northern waters, which we’ll summarize for those who are interested below:
- Lobster pots, unlike crab pots, know no depth limitations – and they come in pairs. Don’t try to cut between them.
- Mooring balls are plentiful. Many have double pennants, which make for a better ride on the anchor, but are harder to attach in high winds, which can result in some yelling and swearing.
- Yacht clubs aren’t limited to members and many have launch service, which allows you to operate under the illusion that you actually deserve to be pampered this way.
- Currents are a fact of life and need to be heeded. With that in mind, if docking on the Merrimac at max ebb current, it’s better to let Jay drive the boat.
- The large tidal range (9+ feet) above Cape Cod and the presence of some nasty looking rocks means you need to pay careful attention to where you are in the tide cycle.
- No matter how hot the daytime, the nights are always cool.
- The warmth of the reception is unaffected by the higher latitudes and cooler temperatures.
We’ve also got to get that windlass fixed . . .