41 Hours: spotter and spottee

The weather window opened and we jumped…. oh if only we did not have to make any overnights- and THEN we nearly lost our senses and turned the trip to Norfolk into two overnights. See what happens when you’re out at sea (well not quite)? The mind is the first to go.

We slipped off our mooring ball at 5 am Monday and found the Lower Bay waters calm. Rolled up one of the front panels for better visibility. 45 mins later we reached Sandy Hook Channel; wide and well lit with large buoys it was empty of boat traffic and we motored at 8kts with the current helping us along.  Once around Sandy Hook, seas were a friendly 1-2 ft and by 8am the wind allowed us to raise Ortolan’s sails and scream along at 9-10kts. Average speed for the first 45 nm was 9kts; much better than the 7.2kt ave we needed to arrive at Norfolk by 6:30pm Tues.  As you know, good things don’t last and by noon we were motor sailing with plans to drop the main as soon as the wind and waves calmed down more. You know, like the forecast predicted. Wrong. Not only did the wind pick up to 15 +, our angle to it worsened so that we couldn’t even motor sail. I wouldn’t let Russ go up on the roof to do his usual assist the main down and fold into the stack pack.

So if the story is starting to sound like we’re not going to arrive on time; you are right about that. By sunset we decided that in order to leave the main up and not damage it, we’d need to tack. Great, lose more time.  Dodged around another s/v and a few commercial fishing boats, then finally (can you sense the relief?) the wind died down to 11kts, we dropped the main. Amazingly it dropped on its own nicely into the stack pack and Russ secured the reef lines near the end of the boom without having to go up on top. We’d make it pretty later.

Jumped back on that straight line course and spent a very long time getting by the Delaware River entrance. Several shipping channels converge there with ships on the move or anchored out waiting for a pilot. AIS let’s us keep track of them and radar shows objects and vessels without AIS. All buoys are large and lit; thank goodness.

Once past the Delaware entrance, Russ caught a nap. I was too wired to sleep but managed to catch a couple hours after he got up.

The final leg, along the coast of Maryland and Virginia is unremarkable. No big cities, just 100 miles of basic coastline devoid of pots. This part would be ideal for nighttime; very worth doing considering for the Spring trip.

Now I’ll get to the point of the title. At 10:10 am, with a 10:11 pm arrival time displayed on the chartplotter, I looked over and was delighted to see- no not a whale- a dolphin! In fact a bunch of them who put on a great show, mostly while I was down below getting the camera- naturally. They didn’t follow along and the waves cause so much motion, making photography difficult. Dolphins this far north- wow. Looked at the big paper chart- well wouldn’t you know it; we were on the edge of Porpoise Banks!

This next part needs some background. I know you’ve all good imaginations so I’ll toss out a few key phrases then get to the good part. Ready? Night time, passing the Delaware, Coast Guard calling s/v Golden Eye, calls other vessels in area asking if they’ve seen s/v Golden Eye.  Sounds like an overdue boat situation. Fast foward to 1pm Tues. The Coast Guard calls “sailing vessel southwest of sea buoy suchandsuch.” Um, us? Check the chart. No we aren’t SW of any buoy we can see on the chart, but then again we are 5 miles off the coast and the chart only goes shows a few more miles out. A few minutes later we hear the distinctive chopper sound and the CG is hailing us, “This is the Coast Guard Helicopter calling the s/v off suchandsuch inlet”. Yep, sure is us. Within seconds they are 60 ft behind us, the sound so loud we can hardly hear the VHF as Russ responds and tells them our boat name. I look up, camera nearby and forgotten, and can see the men at the chopper door looking at our stern through binoculars. They tell us we aren’t the boat they’re looking for and fly off.  Since I didn’t have the presence of mind to grab the camera, here’s a pic I found on-line showing pretty much how it looked to us.


Later, more announcements confirmed that s/v Golden Eye had departed Sandy Hook the day before us with 3 men on board, bound for New Bern, NC. We hope they turn up safe and sound and only had communication problems.

Night fell as we began the long 4 hour trip around Cape Charles and up into Norfolk. More ship channels, more well-lit buoys, more vessels of all kinds. Fortunately, the water smoothed out a bit, helping us do 6kts against the outgoing tide.

Dropped anchor at 10:15 pm Tues, in Point Comfort anchorage. A medium-sized, mostly protected spot next to a military base. Five other boats anchored and still plenty of room for us in 13 ft.  No pots like we found in the Spring; thank goodness.

Exhausted, we slept well and uninterrupted except for that one time I made Russ get up to check the anchor because I’d heard a few new chain noises. hey, better safe. ..

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