A Capital Idea

Coming up to Washington DC has proven to be a great side trip. The marina is right in the middle of one of DC’s newest growth neighborhoods, and is just a few minutes walk from the National Mall. Five minutes by foot from the Jefferson Memorial, and 20 from the US Capital.

The Wharf Marina is handy, and mostly OK. It has some rough spots. The transient docks are literally a mile away from the office, and get very little attention. The restrooms and showers are funky. The only laundry is all the way over at the office. Not really very helpful.

It is also a corporate owned marina, staffed with people who are very nice, but really aren’t “boat people” with all the arcane knowledge that comes from a lifetime around the water. On the other hand, it has the “location, location, location” part down pat!

So far we have “done” the National Botanical Garden, the Library of Congress, the Air & Space Museum, and miscellaneous other monuments. More awaits…

If you have an Amel, you might be interested in checking out my newest project post. A couple months after the fact, but better late than never! Fixing a Cracked Mainsail Foil on a Super Maramu

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Welcome to DC!

Today we set a record for the greatest number of miles we have ever done in Harmonie, nonstop, under engine. About 75 nautical miles from our anchorage near the mouth of the Potomac, up to downtown Washington, DC. There are relatively few places to anchor a boat the size of Harmonie on this river, so we needed to make it all in on day’s run. We got underway at 0630, and tied up in DC at 17:30.

How calm was it today as we motored up the Potomac? Really calm…

For most of its length, the Potomac is a rural expanse of wooded shorelines, sprinkled with the occasional small town of large homes. It seems every single structure on the river with a scrap of horizontal surface has a nesting pair of ospreys. It wasn’t so very many years ago that these were rare birds, here they are more common than seagulls.

Osprey nests are huge piles of sticks that the same pair return to year after year, adding to the pile each breeding season.

One of the landmarks as you approach DC is the stately plantation house at Mount Vernon, home of George Washington.

The architectural masterpiece that is Mount Vernon.
As a boat who’s real native environment is the open ocean, Harmonie doesn’t often share water with boats like this…
On final approach to the Capital City, was Harmonie, and the air traffic in to Washington National
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More Great Stuff

It’s time once again to update our list of really cool stuff for a cruising sailboat. All these are things we love, and most of them we use every day. If you buy them through the links here we get a small commission at no cost to you. If that bothers you, buy them elsewhere. No matter. All of these products are things we can recommend without reservation.

Pictures!

We have a variety of was of capturing the pictures we use on our blog. At the high end, we have a Nikon DLSR with a brace of great lenses, and at the low end we have our iPhone cameras. There are a lot of times we need something “in between.” Something we can keep on deck where it might get wet, but with more versatility and capability than an iPhone.

This Olympus camera has filled that gap perfectly. It is totally waterproof, has a reasonable zoom range, and does a passable job at video. The images are way better than a phone camera, but of course not up to the standard of a professional grade DLSR. For you fellow photography nerds out there, it can store its images as raw files. Take it snorkeling, take it to the beach, when you come home just wash the salt and sand off under the faucet.

It has a great feature set, with more capabilities than the average point and shoot, and also with the fully automatic modes that let you just grab and shoot without thinking. There are other “rugged” cameras on the market, but Olympus has done the best job with capability and image quality.

If you go with this camera, I have two suggestions. Get a small case, and get a screen protector for the rear viewscreen. You’ll be using this in a rough and tumble way, and the one part that suffers is the anti-reflective coating on the screen.

Coffee!!!!

Having tried a lot of different ways of making coffee on a boat, this has been the way I have settled on. Melitta is a premium German company, and this product is no exception, yet the price is very reasonable. The carafe is very well insulated and will keep your coffee hot all day. The wide base means that on a rolling boat it stays upright, even when the filter is full.

It’s not magic, it’s not anything but very well designed and very well executed. If you love (or need!) coffee as much as I do, this is an invaluable item.

Sparky

Almost all gas stoves and BBQ grills that are used on boats have a built-in spark system to ignite the gas. These ignition systems are highly unreliable, and fail fairly quickly leaving the cook to light the stove manually.

We have used piezo-electric spark tools, and butane lighters. They work… but this tool is the bomb. A plasma lighter. Seriously. At first glance it looks like any other spark generating lighter–but it’s not. The plasma spark it generates is more than hot enough to light candles–or anything else that will burn. It is battery powered, and rechargeable with a USB cord. Elegant, high tech, functional, and really cool. Sometimes the cheap and simple pleasures are the best!

Let There be Light

Mantus Marine is a company that whose products show a dedication to value, design and functionality we really appreciate. Best known for their anchors (we trust our boat, and our safety to a Mantus anchor) all of their other products are nothing short of awesome.

There are a bizzillion LED headlamps on the market these days. I can not tell you I have tried all of them, but I have tried many. The Mantus headlamp is the best. Hands down. Period. It is rugged, it is bright. It is well designed. It has a replaceable battery if you should ever wear it out. It is a rare day on Harmonie that we don’t use at least one of the three or four we have on board. Trust me, you’ll be happy with this headlamp, even if you only use it as a handheld flashlight.

Battery Monitoring

Nobody is more “off the grid” than a cruising sailboat. We generate all of our own power, and have the battery bank to store it. Taking care of a battery bank means understanding how “full” it is.

This is a complex topic and has lots of variables, but our SG200 battery monitor from Balmar has proven itself to be a useful tool. It tells us how charged our battery is, and this is not a simple thing. It goes one step further, and tells us the state of health of our battery bank. It is fairly new to us, but both the product and the tech support from Balmar have proven to be excellent. If you have questions about this, feel free to shoot me an email, and I’ll do my best to answer, but this is the best way to monitor your battery’s health I have found.

I don’t have a sponsor link for this one, but its not hard to find.

Clean and Shine

For the care of Harmonie’s exterior we use two products that have proven their worth.

Imagine for a moment you have a wooden surfboard with a beautiful varnished finish. It sure is pretty, but when wet is far too slippery to stand on! This was the original application for “Woody Wax.” The properties that made it great for giving bare feet traction on wooden surfboards, make it great as a wax for the non-skid deck surfaces on a boat. We have seen the great job it does protecting surfaces on Harmonie. Painted, stainless steel, anodized aluminum, fiberglass gelcoat, all look better and corrode less when given a coat of Woody Wax every 6 months or so.

The perfect partner product to Woody Wax for boat decks is Starbright Deck Cleaner. It does a fantastic job of getting all the mess and dirt off fiberglass, vinyl, and metal surfaces without a lot of scrubbing. Using these products together we find the boat just stays cleaner. Dirt (even sunbaked fish blood and guts) just doesn’t stick.

The great thing about these products is they leave your boat’s non-skid deck, well, non-skid!

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You know you are almost to the Chesapeake when…

The first real sign that you are approaching Cape Henry at the mouth of the Chesapeake is when the cloud of insects descends on the boat. Some are interesting, and beautiful, like this large dragonfly:

Unfortunately, the largest number of the invading hoard are bitting black flies, that need extermination. Their favorite place to grab a bite is your ankle, and they go right through heavy cotton socks! Dozens of them landed on the boat while we were still 15 miles offshore.

Karen on the hunt for the evil invading flies, hopefully killing them before they can get in their painful bites. She is a traditionalist, and uses the old-fashioned flyswatter.
Bill prefers the high-tech approach with the electric hand held bug zapper.



Other signs you are approaching the bay is you see strange vessels on the water.

A US Navy hovercraft out on maneuvers. I am not sure exactly what its real mission is. It seems to be little more than a floating engine to move really fast. We clocked it on our radar at almost 50 knots.
A Navy submarine is way, way bigger than it looks. If you look really closely, you’ll see two tiny little people on the conning bridge. Until they are well out to sea they travel with a pack of small patrol boats to keep everybody at least 500 yards away.

Strange flying machines, doing strange flying stuff are also common.

The unmistakable shape of the V-22 Osprey
If practice makes perfect, the Navy fly-boys must be pretty good. they spend ALL day in the air here in Norfolk performing exercises like this…

Despite the insect invasion, we are happy to be here. We’ll be making our way up the bay where we hope to visit some friends and family and do the tourist thing in Washington.

Here are some of the pictures we took underway that went along with the posts from the trip…

Where’s the rest of it??? A shark made off with most of this Almaco jack.
A 38 pound amberjack. These are the toughest fighting fish I have ever tangled with. They are strong, fast, and have amazing endurance. On twenty pound class tackle, boating one this size is a challenge!
A 30 pound gag grouper.
Not the knock-down-drag-out fight of the amberjack, but much better tablefare.

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Filling the freezer

Our passage north was interrupted a couple times today by stops to see if we could put more fish in the freezer. As the sun was coming up, Karen was in bed asleep after her night watch. The winds were light, and we were sailing slowly when I noticed the telling signs on our sonar display of large fish near the bottom in 200 feet of water.

I figured it was worth a try, so I furled sails, and stopped the boat, figuring I’d give it 15 or 20 minutes, and then move on. I dropped a jig to the bottom, and tried a couple slow pitches with no response, so I tried moving it fast. In an instant, I was tied to a freight train. Once I was sure I was hooked tight, I needed to wake Karen, who was quite soundly asleep. A couple yells of her name got no response, some pounding on deck—still nothing. Finally, knowing I was probably going to frighten her awake, I yelled loud enough to wake the dead. She had time to come up, check out the situation, and get dressed, and still had to wait while I fought with the fish. Eventually, we brought to net a 38 lb amberjack. Not at all a bad catch in deep water on 20 lb tackle. While an impressive catch, amberjack are not impressive as table fair, so we released him to continue terrorizing the smaller fish in the neighborhood.

With the first fish of the day taken care of, we got underway again, moving out to the edge of the Gulf Stream trolling an assortment of lures for tuna and wahoo. Although we missed a wahoo strike, we didn’t hook a fish. We sailed further north, and had one more fishing spot I wanted to try.

We stopped at an area known as the “Charleston Bump” where the continental shelf juts out into the Gulf Stream diverting it eastward. The temperature contrasts, swirling currents, and nutrient rich water make a rich fishing ground.

A couple initial drifts resulted in a lizard fish, and a Bank Sea Bass, both hardly longer than the jig I was using. Moving out into deeper water, at the shelf drop off, and I hooked a large fish near the bottom. It wasn’t the fast and repeated runs of the amberjacks, but a steady, stubborn pull. Karen had plenty of time to get the net ready, and eventually we saw a 30 lb gag grouper come to the surface. Our freezers are now full with some of the best eating fish in the ocean!

The wind is picking up, and we are now sailing at a much quicker pace. Most of the late afternoon we were hosts to a large group of spotted dolphin who had as much fun as a dolphin can have riding our bow wave.

We want to be in a secure anchorage in the Chesapeake by Friday morning, since the next front is expected then. The weather continues delightful, although a bit cooler at night then these two tropical sailors are used to.

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Fishing day

The morning started calm and clear. We got underway from Charleston at the turn of the tide, and motored east, toward the fishing grounds. My objective was to basically try a repeat of what we did last week and see if our new fishing technique was going to be consistently successful, or if we just had a lucky spell.

Two and a half amberjack, a small shark, and a king mackerel later, and I think I have convinced myself that this “slow pitch” jigging is a useful tool in our fishing box.

I know, all you careful readers are wondering about the “half an amberjack” comment I threw in above. Actually, it was probably more like a quarter of the fish that made it to the boat. A large shark got the rest.

The amberjack and shark were returned to the water, and the king mackerel was issued an invitation to dinner that he just couldn’t refuse.

Amberjack are one of the toughest fish per pound that I have ever tangled with. On this relatively light tackle, they really are a challenge to bring to deck. In Florida they are sometimes called “Reef donkeys” because of their strong and stubborn fights. As much fun as they are to catch, they are pretty poor table fare. King mackerel, on the other hand, are exceptional.

As the afternoon passed, a bit of breeze pick up, and we are now sailing north, headed toward the Gulf Stream. In about 3 1/2 days and 450 miles, we should be rounding Cape Henry and entering Chesapeake Bay.

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Weather Delay

We are here in Charleston still enjoying being tourists while we wait for the next serious weather to pass. A strong cold front approaches and is due to pass through the area this afternoon with strong winds, rain, thunderstorms, and such. It looks like we’ll be headed out of here on Monday.

New Neighbors

The Swedish tall ship Gunilla is here for a week.

In addition to the Gunilla, The Spanish tall ship JC Elcano, the third largest in the world, is anchored out in the harbor doing as we are and waiting for weather to pass before continuing North.

Charleston Garden Tour Review

The local historical society runs a huge number of tours of this city. We were looking forward to the tour of the downtown gardens. It was expensive, but it seemed like a great way to spend a beautiful day. Our suggestion is to skip the garden tours, and just have a nice walk and admire the architecture.

It is organized as a walking tour in the historical district of eight private gardens. It is well run, and very organized with lots of helpful volunteers who can answer architectural, gardening, and historical questions. Unfortunately, the gardens are really not worth the trouble.

Each of the gardens is beautifully maintained, to be sure. They are just amazingly, boringly, the same. Karen and I can be kind of horticultural snobs, so we might have had higher expectations than many. Many of the gardens on the tour were small spaces, so the design options were limited, but a tour of 8 of the best gardens in the city really should show more creativity than we saw. Especially in a small space, carefully chosen and creatively used plants can standout. Unfortunately, each garden used the same very limited palette of plant varieties. In this climate there is no excuse for this. Almost ANYTHING will grow here.

My take-away was that none of the homeowners were actually gardeners. They hired a “garden designer” who gave them something that was pretty to look at, but dull and unimaginative to anyone who actually loved plants.

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