Russia Invades!

This is the first time we have spent any time on a body of water where the infamous Zebra mussels have successfully invaded.  And there is no other word for it than “invasion”.

Zebra mussels are a tiny, fast growing, fresh water shellfish. Originally native to the large fresh water lakes of southeastern Russian and Ukraine they have hitchhiked around the world in the ballast water of commercial ships. They grow so fast, and in such large numbers they have actually dragged navigation buoys to the bottom with the weight of their tiny, evil, fast-growing, shells.

Full grown–and they grow fast–they are about the size of a fingernail.  They grow fast, and they are amazingly prolific.  Did I mention they grow fast???  I suspect that the unusually rainy months here have diluted the normal salt concentration of the bay to the point where they are growing in parts of the bay that are normally too salty for them.

Harmonie‘s air conditioners are cooled by seawater that is pumped through the boat.  That water comes in through a large strainer in the engine room. Checking and cleaning that strainer is a routine task. We occasionally find chunks of seaweed, maybe some miscellaneous debris.  It has never really been much of an issue.

Since arriving in Annapolis, and staying in a marina, we have been running the air conditioners more than at any time we have owned the boat.  It has been hot and humid almost every day.  It has been about three weeks since we cleaned the strainer basket last. The water here is a bit murky, but there is not a lot of floating trash, or seaweed, or jellyfish.  Things that normally clog the strainer. So we were rather horrified to see…


Words fail me…

21 days ago this was a shiny clean plastic basket.  I did happen to mention how fast these miserable little buggers grow?  The inside of our cooling system is the perfect environment for them.  Rapidly flowing water bringing food and oxygen they need to grow–really fast.  Yes, they do grow fast!


The strainer itself was an ugly mess, but it is easy to remove and scrub clean. Unfortunately, these nasty little slavic buggers had infested the entire air conditioning cooling circuit, clogging everything. Basically, all our pipes and tubes looked like that strainer basket!

It wasn’t going to be long before the water flow dropped below the minimum the air conditioners needed to run.  No air conditioning means Karen melts in the heat and humidity.  A melting Karen is an unhappy Karen.  An unhappy Karen, means an unhappy Bill. Something needed to be done–and fast!

A little creative temporary plumbing, and I routed the overboard exit of the air conditioner cooling circuit back to the strainer.  Now, when I run the cooling pump, it just moves water around in a circle.

Barnacle Buster to the rescue!

Trac Ecological’s Barnacle Buster

Barnacle Buster is a phosphoric acid based cleaner designed exactly for this kind of cleaning. It actually dissolves the shells and flushes all the gunk away. If you have occasion to use this, be aware it comes both in a concentrate (4:1) and pre-diluted form. Since one gallon of the concentrate makes five gallons of cleaning solution, it is a lot cheaper to use, and takes less space to store.

After an hour circulating this around the circuit, all the evil invaders have been vanquished. Unfortunately, I am sure there are fast growing reinforcements waiting in the wings. A few weeks, and we’ll have to be back at it again.  We just replenished our supply of Barnacle Buster in anticipation…

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Sailing Entertainments

There is no end of entertainment around boats.  Sometimes the entertainment is intentional, sometimes it is not…

Learn to Sail!

There are a lot of sailing schools in the world… so why exactly would I chose to learn from these people who use a picture in their online ad campaign that indicates they have not the remotest idea how a sailboat works…

Learn to sail

And… Oh yeah… and learn Basic Keelboat Sailing, Basic Coastal Sailing AND Bareboat Cruising–in a week! Wow! At the school where I taught sailing for 7 years that progression would have taken you at least three weeks of full days on the water instruction time, at least a dozen hours of classroom time, AND more real experience on the water.  Few people could finish in less than two months. I wonder what we were doing wrong?

Anchoring in Hurricanes

This is an actual author blurb posted on a website selling the author’s book on how to anchor your boat:

[The authors] first began cruising in 1997…  Relevant to this book, they have seen their boats successfully through seven hurricanes, anchoring through five of them, in addition to numerous tropical storms and countless gales. They cruise primarily the east coasts of the U.S., Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas, with a trip to Bermuda along the way.

Now, we have been cruising that same area.  The idea that you could find yourself in the middle of “seven hurricanes… numerous tropical storms and countless gales” strikes me as either total advertising puffery, or a total lack of weather and seamanship skills. The FIRST rule of how to survive anchoring in a hurricane is BE SOMEWHERE ELSE!!

Think about it… there is no one place you could possibly have chosen that would have been hit by that many hurricanes and “numerous” tropical storms. What do these people do?  Go looking for them?

This is like selling a book on how to drive from a guy who has survived a long string of crashes–because he is still alive to write it.

Boatyard Follies

Walking through a busy boat yard can show all kinds of strange things.  Here is the keel of a nice 42 foot racing sailboat that has had the boat lifted off and set aside. It is made of solid lead, and probably weighs close to 10,000 pounds.


If we look a little closer we can see the problem…

_8030028Somebody hit something so hard that the solid lead of the keel has been peeled back like a the skin from a banana.  In addition, there are chunks of cement or limestone deeply embedded into the metal.  It’s not clear where this might have happened.  The Chesapeake is famous for its soft muddy bottom.  You’d have to go looking for something hard to hit!



Whatever they hit, they hit so hard the keel cracked up near the joint where it connected to the hull.  This is an expensive repair.  I hope their insurance premiums were up to date!



Every boatyard has a “back corner” of boats in various stages of decrepitude.  Someone’s dream that has gone south from lack of money, time and/or interest.  But sometimes you find a contrast in one boat that is baffling…

A large sailboat with a shiny paint job was parked in the yard.  It did have some collision damage down one side,  but that wasn’t the odd thing. We had actually walked past this boat several times before we took note of the anchor hanging on the bow….


What the….????  Truly amazing.  The only thing I can think of is the anchor is not easily visible from deck, and this is a case of “out of sight, out of mind”–for many years! In any event, not a boat I’d recommend.


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Chilling in Annapolis

Well, if you have spent time around the Chesapeake Bay in the summer, you know that “chilling” is, in this case, strictly metaphorical!  With the heat and humidity here, we have rarely been more grateful for Harmonie’s efficient air conditioning.

We are taking some time attached to land to get some boat projects and other things sorted out.  Despite our relative radio silence in blog postings, progress is being made!

By way of example:  We had an issue with the engine temperature readout suddenly and intermittently indicating that the engine temperature was way, way high.  Since the alarm (with is triggered by a separate circuit) did not go off, and it is almost impossible for the engine to go from 180º to over 240º in zero time, and there was no other evidence of overheating, I decided that the problem was in the temperature measurement circuit itself.  Sure enough… the problem was the actual temperature gauge; an easy fix. Since we had the engine instrument panel apart I took the opportunity to clean up some pretty ugly wiring back there.  All is now much more better.

We are adding an emergency shut off for the electric winches, and swapping out the aging buttons that actuate them. This is an important enough project, I’ll likely add a detailed article just about this.

One of the things we most love about the design and construction of the Amel is that the boat is DRY inside. Seriously, NO leaks of seawater or rain water—none. The deepest part of the bilge in the main cabin is literally dusty all the way to the bottom, without a trace of even a water stain. Because of that, a small leak from the main saloon hatch has been highly annoying.  It turns out the hatch is in two parts. The frame and the hinged lid are attached to the deck separately. The hinges had come loose from the deck preventing a good tight compression of the main gasket. Some epoxy, and some installed heli-coils to reinforce the threads, and we are hopeful we have a long lasting repair.  Certainly–for now–the leak is gone!

The leak from the hatch caused a secondary problem… it soaked the overhead cabin light fixture in the main saloon.  Rather than try to cobble together a repair, we deep-sixed it and replaced it with a fixture from AlpenGlow Lights (  An amazing improvement in the lighting quality in our main cabin.  We should have done this long ago!  I used this brand of light on my last boat too, and can’t recommend them enough.

A list of projects practical. cosmetic, and personal will keep us here for a few more weeks.

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Ospreys, Bugs, Mud, and Calm

The Chesapeake Bay is a beautiful place to have a boat.  There are thousands of miles of coastline, you could cruise here for a lifetime and still see a new anchorage whenever you wanted to.

This time of year is the beginning of breeding season for the Ospreys.  In the last few days we have seen far more of these amazing birds that we have seen seagulls.  Not that there is anything wrong with being a seagull…

Every daymark and fixed navigation light on the bay has its resident osprey nest, a huge pile of large sticks.  Once the eggs are laid, the nest is under constant surveillance by one parent of the other all the time.  I imagine an unattended osprey chick would be just the thing to attract one of the local Bald Eagles.


We get the stink-eye for sailing a bit too close to the channel marker this osprey calls home.

The Osprey, and a whole host of creatures here in the bay are here because of the huge number of menhaden, a large herring like fish that school in these waters in huge numbers.  Depending on where you are from, they are also called mossbunker, bunker, pogy, bony-fish, hard-head, Bug-fish, bug-head, Fat-back, Yellow-tail, yellow-tailed shad, green-tail, and probably other names.

There is a large fleet of 170 foot long purse-seine boats that roam the bay scooping up menhaden by the ton.  They locate a school of fish, frequently with the help of a spotter airplane, and use a pair of small boats to pull a net around them.  The bottom of the net is snugged tight, and the whole school is then winched onboard.


A menhaden purse-seiner recovers her dories after pulling in her nets.

Anchoring here in the bay is different than we have gotten used to in our months in the Bahamas. In the islands we were always anchored in clean sand.  The anchor typically came up cleaner than it went down.  Here the bottom is sticky, cohesive mud. It clogs the anchor chain, and requires careful attention to rinse off before it gets into the chain locker.  Another complication, is the bottom is frequently composed of a layer of very soft gooey mud on top, with hard, dense pack silt under.  It takes time for the anchor to find a bite in the underlying layer, and the top layer is too soft to hold.  If you pull on the anchor right after you drop it, it just plows through the soft layer on the surface, but after sitting overnight, the windlass struggles to pull it free of the deeper layers it has sunken into.

When we visited here in the ast, it has always been in the fall.  With the approaching usmmer, we are picking up new cruising skills.  We are learning to be SURE that we have the boat buttoned up and fully screened at least an hour before sunset.  The number of mosquitos here is pretty spectacular.  I have seen places where they are thicker, but not as far out on the water as we usually anchor.

Another aspect of summer on this bay is there is little or no wind–except in the thunderstorms.  Now, to be fair I am exaggerating–a bit. But we have put more hours on our engine in the last week than we have in the previous three months.

Any negatives aside, the scenery is beautiful, the grocery stores are well stocked, the anchorages are delightful, and the people are friendly.  Can’t get any better than that (unless they kill the mosquitos!)

We are waiting out a rainy, blustery day on a mooring off downtown Annapolis, and will be moving to Back Creek in a few days, once again we are going to run through our project list and skim off the cream.

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We arrived and anchored off the short of Norfolk in a drenching rain yesterday afternoon. We are anchored off the large Navy base here.  We can see three aircraft carriers from our deck and during the day we are entertained by a steady stream of helicopters to-ing and fro-ing from the airbase.

Once again, as soon as we arrived, we tried to check in with Customs and Border Patrol. Once again we found the staff friendly, but completely ignorant about what to do with a private boat arriving from a foreign country.  This time we decided not to fight the system, but accept the word of the Customs officer we spoke to that we had complied with the rules, and we were done.

He first asked for our cruising permit number.  I explained (again) we were a US flagged vessel and neither had one, nor needed one. He asked for the name of the boat, and our decal number, proving that we had paid our annual Customs fee, and… that was it!

Not one question about what goods we had on board. Not one question about who, or even how many how many people were on board, if they were all US citizens, or—anything! Now, I am all for reduced government interference in my life, but this really makes me wonder what the heck we are paying these people to do!

In every case we have gone through this process–outside of Florida and Puerto Rico–I have known more about the procedures and rules than the Customs officers I was dealing with.  We filed all our required online notifications, and made the calls we were required to make, and fully complied with all of the instructions we were given.  But I know the proper procedures were not followed.  If our next blog post is datelined Fort Leavenworth, you’ll know why…

With that rant done…

We said good by this morning to our crew so they can head on to Maine to get back to work.  It was a real delight having Alicia and Annie along.  Hopefully we can catch up to them later this summer in the cold waters of Maine.

Karen did a quick swing by the grocery store this morning to restock the galley.  We will be heading up the Chesapeake to Annapolis where we will be having mostly minor boat repairs and maintenance done before we head further north.

Now the part you all have been waiting for…  Pictures!

First a short slide show of Karen’s photos from Cape Eleuthera, including one of her favorite shelling beaches:

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And then photos from our passage north with Alicia and Annie:

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Closing in…

Time 27May18, 1430 local
Lat N 35° 14.1’
Lon W 75° 07.0′
Nautical miles from Cape Eleuthera Marina, Bahamas: 627
Nautical miles to Norfolk Harbor, Virginia: 118

We covered miles quickly riding the Gulf Stream north. With a variety of sights to see. We have just turned the corner around Cape Hatteras on our final reach toward the entrance of Chesapeake Bay. We should be anchor-down in Norfolk this time tomorrow.

In the category of new phenomenon observed was a miniature waterspout. The weather was settled, some scattered clouds, and moderate winds when we saw a swirling spray of wind whipped water about 100 feet across and similarly high. It lasted for about 15 minutes moving on a course parallel to ours.

[…Insert writing break here to land and clean a 25lb mahi-mahi…]

We sailed past a feeding school of small tuna, who left our trolled offerings unmolested.

Yesterday we also hooked, fought, and lost boatside a nice mahi-mahi. Today, we put one in the freezer. Hooked once again on our go-to lure: a 4inch plain cedar plug.

Our return to “civilization” is apparent by the suddenly crowded ocean. Cargo ships, commercial and recreational fishing vessels, cruise ships, military craft of various sizes, suddenly it doesn’t feel like our own private ocean anymore.

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Stepping on the conveyor belt

Time 26May18, 0830 local
Lat N 31° 59.8’
Lon W 77° 09.5′
Nautical miles from Cape Eleuthera Marina, Bahamas: 432
Nautical miles to Norfolk Harbor, Virginia: 301

Yesterday’s excitement was when we supplied about 15 minutes of entertainment to a school of a dozen spinner dolphin. I think we noticed them first as they were lounging on the surface dead ahead of us. When the boat got within about 100 yards they suddenly darted toward us and set up station bow-riding. They had fun riding along with the boat, we had fun watching. Definitely a win-win for everybody!

Within the past couple of hours we have moved onto the eastern fringes of the Gulf Stream, which is now adding about one knot to our boat speed. For most of the remaining miles north we’ll be riding it for a significant speed boost.

At this point all of our routing models have us arriving at the mouth of the Chesapeake on the afternoon of the 28th.

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