34 Camp LeJeune, NC to Hampton, VA

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From Jekyll Island to Norfolk we traveled every day for 14 straight days. Up every day and off before 7 AM. We stop around 4 or 5 PM giving us 9-10 hours of motoring. We trade off every hour, but even with that it’s 5 hours of steering. When we hit Norfolk, we settled into the Waterside marina in the heart of downtown, kicked back and relaxed to enjoy a laid back lifestyle and the luxury of not getting up on a schedule.

The trip up has had its exciting points. The storm was such a major event that it got it’s own journal entry. However there were other events that merit telling.

Coming back we elected to go to Elizabeth City and from there up through the Dismal Swamp. Elizabeth City has a unique welcome. The Rose Buddies, a group of retired people welcomes boaters who tie up at the city docks. The Rose Buddies provide each arriving lady with a rose and throw a wine and cheese party for the boaters if more than 4 boats arrive. For us it was a major party. 10 boats showed up.

We had quite a reunion. Cheshire Cat a boat we had traveled with from the Erie Canal, and then tracked their progress as they bought a RV and explored in that during the winter showed up. Our friends Rita and Jim drove down from Auburn, NY to spend some time with us. Don on Liefde, who we had met on Lake Superior, came in, and of course we were traveling with Samum. We had quite a party with just the people we knew, but also got to know some of the other boaters. In our ongoing unique encounters, we found a couple who lived in the condo complex we had lived in, in Fairport, NY.

All the cruising books comment that the Elizabeth City docks are not comfortable when the wind is from the southeast. That’s where the wind came from and the guides were right. The dock was extremely uncomfortable. The waves came in and reflected off the steel retaining wall and rolled back out interfering with the incoming waves. When they were in sync, a 2-foot wave became a 4-foot wave. A storm rolled in and we were seeing 4-6 foot waves at the dock. Needless to say it was extremely uncomfortable on board as Tranquility hobby horsed at the dock. As the wind came up we worried about the lines chaffing through because of all the motion. In the middle of the night I got up and doubled all the lines.

One couple found the conditions to be so uncomfortable that they left their boat for a motel. Unfortunately they had not made sure that the boat was well secured away from the finger pier. During the night, their lines stretched in the wind and their bow roller, part of a major bow weldment hit the dock bending and causing major damage to the bow. One other boater reported pitching so much that they were taking water over both the bow and stern. Tranquility came through without damage, her crew however was well shook, but survived with only some mild seasickness on the part of our guests.

There was no question the next day that everyone was leaving. Samum was still planning on making major miles and pushed off before 7 AM. We said our good bye’s and plan on seeing them a year from now when we come back into the Great Lakes. Rita and Jim decided to take a calmer course and headed for the ocean to relax in a motel after their rough night. They joined up with us again in Norfolk. Ruth and I headed up the Dismal Swamp Canal with the majority of the boaters who were planning a slower two-day passage of the canal.

As we approached the lock, Ruth shifted to reverse to slow us down. She reported: “I’ve lost reverse.” Shifting to forward to power Tranquility around in a circle she announced: “I’ve lost forward too.” I figured the shift linkage had come loose, but a quick check revealed that wasn’t the case. A quick radio call resulting in Cheshire Cat taking us in a side tow while I sorted out the problem.

Something that is never supposed to come apart did. The engine output coupling had come free from the engine. The engine output coupling is what the propeller shaft flange coupling attaches to with 4 large nuts and bolts. I dug through the engine service manual and learned there is a special notched nut that is tightened with special tools that holds the coupling onto the splined crankshaft. The nut had either failed or was loose.

Leaning over a hot engine to take apart the propeller shaft coupling is not fun. Got a temporary fix and we went into the lock under our own power. Going forward is not a problem. The propeller pushes the propeller shaft into the engine. However, when you go in reverse, the propeller then attempts to pull the shaft away from the engine. Sure enough, as we pulled into the swamp visitor center landing, the temporary fix failed and the coupling again came apart from the engine. We had no reverse coming into a tight landing. Lines were secured quickly to prevent us from hitting the boat ahead and we hit the dock hard. Somewhere in the process we broke the welds that hold the bow running lights to the bow pulpit.

More work and I got the coupling attached, and so far my fix is holding. We’ll continue to monitor to see if we can prevent another surprise when we shift into reverse. I was going to order the special tools, but decided $280 was a little steep. We’re now looking for someone who has the tools and can do a proper job tightening the nut. We pulled into Norfolk, VA without incident. The temporary shaft fix using Loctite supplied by Cheshire Cat is holding.

It was time to slow down. We decided to stay two nights, relax and enjoy ourselves. We celebrated our arrival by having lunch out in a nice restaurant overlooking the marina. It’s the boater thing to look for a place to eat with a water view. The food was excellent, but we really enjoyed the bread dipped in olive oil. Liked the bread so much we bought a loaf from the restaurant for a future meal.

There was going to be an art fair in the park next to the marina. We were debating about staying another day to catch it when the weather made up our minds for us. The south wind we had enjoyed for over two weeks went to the north, the temperature dropped and it started to rain. We didn’t mind. It was nice to just stay in one spot for awhile and explore the town.

After 4-days in Norfolk it was time to move on. The weather was still marginal, wind from the north, rain and temperature still in the 50’s. We headed out into the river listening to the Coast Guard reporting that they were escorting the aircraft carrier George Washington and there was a 500 yard exclusion zone around the carrier. We hadn’t realized they were in the river until we came around the bend and came face to face with the George Washington, the 8 tugs helping her maneuver up the river and the Coast Guard cutter serving as the guard boat. We talked with the Coast Guard and received permission to hug the green buoys and pass the flotilla to port. It’s very exciting passing that close to an aircraft carrier on the water. We only had a few hundred yards clearance.

As we reached the mouth of the river it became very evident that this wasn’t the day to move. Visibility dropped, the wind got stronger, it was raining steadily and the temperature was only about 55. We bailed out and headed for Hampton, VA which was only about 10 miles from our starting point. Our call to the marina prompted a flurry of calls. Most of the people who had started out on this gloomy day headed for the marina. In all a total of 10 boats gave up on the weather and pulled into the Hampton marina with us. It was a busy place getting all the boats tied up.

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