Travel 2015-2016

Planning for July 4th in Norfolk

We’d like to leave July 2, Thursday night, and do an overnighter down the bay to Hospital Point. It’s 36 miles. Rate×time=distance, right? How hard to can it be?

The basis for all of the planning is to work out the departure time. We don’t want to arrive before sunrise, July 3. Nautical Sunrise (the earliest possible arrival) is 05:13. Actual sunrise is 05:53. Call it 06:00. This is important because we could simply leave the dock and sail all night. If we did this, we might arrive too early. We don’t want to navigate the Elizabeth river in the dark. 

So, 36 miles. Arrive at 06:00. Simple, right?

There are more complexities.

We don’t want to depart Jackson Creek in the dark, full moon or no. And we’d like to leave on a rising tide, closer to high tide if possible. With a full moon, (or new moon) high tide is midnight, low tide is 18:00-ish.

It looks like this may be our schedule based on leaving work at 17:00. We arrive Deltaville at 19:00. The tide is rising and we have daylight until 20:35. We prepare and depart the dock sometime before 20:00 and chug down the creek in daylight. It’s less than ideal, since we’re only a few hours after low tide. Too early and the creek is too shallow. Too late and we’d run out of daylight to make the move.

We can then drop the anchor in the Piankatank, eat dinner, and figure out what to do next.

The weather is predicted to include wind from the S at 5-10 kt. This spells out two ways to make the trip.

  • We could try beating our way down the bay. Tacking stretches the journey from 36 to at least 62 nm, perhaps more. At 4 knots, that’s 15 hours of sailing: If we started at 20:00, we'd arrive around 11:00. That’s potentially workable.
  • We could motor straight there at 6 knots: 6 hours of motoring. Leave at midnight, arrive at dawn.

The uncomfortable part of sailing at night is tacking. Every two to three hours both of us have to be on deck to tack. It’s possible to do this single-handed by setting Mr. Benmar on a new course and then hustling around the cockpit furling and unfurling the big yankee headsail. In the dark.

We could try on the easier-to-tend stays’l. But it’s tiny. And with 5-10 knots of breeze, doesn’t develop much speed.

The leaves us with anchor until midnight, and then zoom down the bay at six knots, and arrive at right around dawn. Two three-hour watches and we’re there.


On Wednesday, the NWS forecast includes a preliminary sense of weather on the Sunday return. We’ve got two weather zones to look at:

ANZ631 “ Rappahannock Light” 

Thu Night SE winds 5 kt. Waves 1 foot. A chance of showers and tstms in the evening...then showers likely after midnight.

Sun W winds 5 to 10 kt...becoming S in the afternoon. Waves 1 foot. A chance of showers and tstms. winds and waves higher and visibilities lower in and near tstms.

ANZ632 “Thimble Shoals” 

Thu Night S winds 5 to 10 kt. Waves 1 foot. Showers and tstms likely in the evening...then showers likely after midnight.

Sun W winds 5 to 10 kt...becoming S in the afternoon. Waves 1 foot. A chance of showers and tstms. winds and waves higher and visibilities lower in and near tstms.

Okay. Rainy and Flat. Sounds like we’re motoring to Norfolk.

The return, however, might involve sailing in the AM on the predicted W wind. When it backs into the S, that helps push us N to Deltaville. The Sunday  forecast is too far into the future to mean much. 



We met folks finishing their circumnavigation of the planet.

On Red Ranger, we did some jobs. CA fixed our red sail covers. I played with Epifanes. CA broke a needle. There it is — shattered needle from serious stitching.

Safety note. D-rings must be stainless. The non-stainless D-ring was rusty as hell and had cracked. It’s not safety critical or anything. But. Non-stainless is a mistake on a boat.

Did I mention Gromit

Around the World?


I think I did okay on getting the Epifanes thinned properly.  It’s a complicated schedule with each coat being less thin: 50%, 25%, 15%, 10%, 5%. When you’re coating something small, it’s like 2 oz. of Epifanes and — um — .2 oz. of thinner? 1.2 tea spoons? How about “a splash”?

Did I mention Gromit? Circumnavigators?

This is the real story:

Read and enjoy.

2008 to 2015. 7 years. 35,000 miles.


Around. The. Planet.

Family of Five.

The boat, by the way, is a Ted Brewer design. Gromit is a 47' Olympic Adventure Bluewater “Ketch/Cutter”. It's designer, Ted Brewer, created the Olympic Adventure by stretching the Whitby 42 and adding an extra 5', a single cabin, a larger rudder and the Brewer Bite.

(I’ve heard that Brewer preferred “double-headsail ketch” to “ketch/cutter” or “cutter/ketch.”) 

This makes Gromit is a sister-ship (in a way) to Red Ranger. Details of the boat are here in “Gromit Classified”.

The family — more or less — started from Deltaville in 2008. They returned to Deltaville in 2015. We had a dock party.

There was a family starting an extended cruise. And another family who were on their first vacation on their new sailboat. Three cruising families at three stages in their journey in Deltaville on the same weekend.

CA made absolutely sure that they all met each other. She made sure they all knew when the other folks were going to the pool so that the three different families could maximize their time together. How else can the new cruisers learn except by hanging out by the pool with the experienced cruisers?

Cape Charles

Tall Ships. Fellow Sailors. Beer. Food.

There’s nothing quite so good.

Defeating the Arch-Enemy. Even better.

Video: Red Ranger in the Chesapeake.

It’s about 25 miles from Deltaville to Cape Charles. With a fair wind, it can be done in 4-5 hours.


With a contrary wind, it can also be done in 4-5 hours, it just involves a lot more diesel fuel. 

The trip down had some favorable wind. Briefly. The trip back would have taken over 12 hours beating into to the 6 kt breezes from dead ahead.

(Our 60° tack angle means we sail twice as far when beating to weather: 50 miles at 4 knots.)

CA’s posing in front of the famous Picton Castle.

The town Cape Charles is impossibly cute. It’s a day sail from Norfolk. And a day sail from Deltaville. It’s a great resort town with some good restaurants, some shopping, some beach. 

We’ve been to Cape Charles twice now. 


We’ve noticed something about the trip.

The Bay is getting smaller.

The same thing happened to 1065 miles of the ICW between Norfolk and Key West. 

After we'd seen it once, the second time around, it made more “sense.”  It begins to form an overall pattern. We suspect that the third and fourth times will get even smaller.

The marks are more familiar. The shape of the land — the shape of the trip overall — isn’t a stressful series of waypoints and timelines. It becomes “oh yeah, that mark,” and “oh look, Stingray Point already.”

The Arch-Enemy

CA’s Arch-Enemy are balloons. Mylar balloons, like all cast-off plastic, are an environmental disaster. See Balloons Blow and The Effect of Balloons on the Environment.


Coming in to Cape Charles on Friday, we caught sight of what could only be the highly reflective surface of a mylar balloon out in the 3ʹ deep mud-flats that guard Cape Charles harbor. We couldn’t get close to it; CA was fuming that a balloon was loose in the wild.

Returning from Cape Charles on Sunday, I caught sight of a similar (perhaps the same) balloon out in the Bay.

I suggested we do  our COB (Crew Over Board) exercise.

CA suggested that we harpoon the thing: she’d be Queequeg, I’d be Starbuck and the mylar balloon was Moby Dick: she’d harpoon the thing and we’d bring it aboard to prevent any further environmental damage.

CA hooked it on the first try.

No Nantucket Sleigh Ride.

[Yes, stabbing a whale is gruesome. Stabbing a balloon is a benefit to everyone. I’m well aware that there are only vague similarities between harpooning a balloon and  the horrors of whaling.]

For a proper COB, we’d need to carefully walk it aft to bring it up the ladder. Or hook it with block and tackle from the mizzen boom to haul it up to the deck. In principle, an unconscious victim may require the dinghy with one tube deflated. More information on COB at Sailor’s Choice and RYA.

For hauling in the Arch-Enemy, she just flipped it up onto the deck, and then stamped on it to keep it from blowing overboard. Secure the boat hook and we’re back underway. 

One less mylar balloon to pollute the Bay.

A good way to close off a great weekend.

Yet More Pumps

Today, we rejiggered the deck wash down system. And solved two mysteries. One was a mystery that could have sunk Red Ranger. The other was just mysterious.

The bilge system involves a secondary use case for deck wash down. The deep bilge pump normally pumps bilge water overboard. We can, however, switch four valves and pump raw water from the sea chest to a deck wash down fitting up by the anchor. Essential for getting Chesapeake mud off the chain.

This had plastic valves. Valves which are hard to turn and difficult to inspect visually. What mode is it in? Bilge mode? Wash down mode? 


Can’t tell? Turn all the valves to the position you think they should be in. 

These valves are awkward to operate because they're in the engine room and there are (usually) spinning engine parts a foot or so from your hands.

On the right is one “manifold” with the two outlet valves. One end directs water to the wash down. The other end directs water overboard. I’ve lined up the (slightly larger) new valves beside the manifold tubing and the old plastic valves.


On the left is the other “manifold” with the two inlet valves. On the left edge of the picture is a biggish black chunk of copper. It has a 90° elbow. It seems like overkill for a system that’s almost entirely plastic

What is it?

It has a cap that points up at a 45° angle. Of course, it won’t move. And the thing is packed with what appears to be mud or foam or foam filled with mud. I have no clue. At first.

Replacing the plastic valves with metal valves was pretty simple. The cool part of this is that there’s not much pressure involved in the bilge system, so a quick twist with a wrench and it’s good — nothing drips.

There’s a subtlety to this, however. 

The valves don’t have an orientation per se, but the handles do. If you assemble everything neatly, with the handles all arranged consistently, each valve has a symmetric 90° turn: from 9 o’clock clockwise to 12 o’clock to open or maybe from 12 o’clock clockwise to 3 o’clock. Consistent.

If you don’t assemble everything neatly, one handle is awkwardly reversed and you use it anti-clockwise to open the valve. Sigh. 

The handles can be reversed. And it comes apart easily.

The 5 F’s — Flooding

An interesting side question is this.

“What stops the water from the sea chest from draining into the bilge?”

If the source selector valves were above the waterline then the water couldn’t easily siphon because it won’t often run uphill. Interestingly, if the hoses are completely full of water, that will start a siphon. They make anti-siphon fittings for this, but, they’ll bleed air in, making the pump less efficient.

If the source selector valves are below the waterline — even infrequently — then water will simply run from sea chest down to the bilge. Filling the boat. Quickly.

How can you be sure the siphon can’t happen?

I did check the water level in the hose coming from the sea chest. This is easy because the sea chest is open to Jackson Creek. Water in this hose is always at the level of water outside the boat. 

I could lower the hose until water came out. This means that the valves are above the waterline when Red Ranger is sitting flat. 



And this is important: the valves are probably not above the water when she’s heeled. 

And — more importantly — if you have both sources open to pump from both bilge and sea chest, you’ll fill all of the hoses with water. Stop the pump: instant siphon.

This is not a theoretical consideration. 

I did it this afternoon.


After testing, I switched the pump “off” — from manual to automatic. I heard a gurgle and wondered what is was. Then the pump kicked on. Ah. That was water siphoning from water box to bilge. Which then started the pump. 

This cycle could continue indefinitely. Pump the water level down until the pump can stop. Siphon water back in and start the pump again. Two cycles were enough for me to begin to guess at what was going on.

Deep Questions

This can’t be right. No one would design something that required extreme supreme care to be sure one valve was closed before the other was opened. 

(Of course, gybing a sailboat requires supremely extreme care, but that’s different somehow.)

I don’t recall ever having seen any siphoning in the past. I turned the valves in no particular order, and never noticed a problem. Maybe I was just lucky. That seems unlikely.

Which leads me to the mysterious black copper fitting with a 90° elbow in the picture above.

After picking the foam (foam?, WTH?) and mud out of it, I  can see that it’s a check valve. It has an arrow cast into it. Water flows one way. It’s an older version of one of these: Red White 236A. It prevents water going down into the bilge. 

Some bilge systems can’t have check valves, since it reduces the volume and limits the pump’s “head” or height it can lift the water. The Rule centrifugal pumps, for example, can’t tolerate a check valve. The pump we’re using (PAR max) is a diaphragm pump, so it can handle the restriction caused by a check valve.

Add a replacement check valve and the problem is solved. Sinking prevented. Nice easy-to-see 90° valves replace the old plastic valves. A new check valve replaces the old valve. And the foam is gone.

The foam? 

Good question. The new check valve had a small brick of foam inside it. It looked like shipping material. I took it out and threw it away. Reading the installation guides online for expensive check valves shows that the metal-to-metal contact is machined very precisely and even a tiny nick means it will drip. The installation guides warn plumbers about accidentally nicking the surfaces. I’m guessing the previous installation was by someone who left the little brick of shipping material inside the valve when building the bilge system. Really. 

ty  © Steven Lott 2020