Norfolk, Virginia

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Norfolk, Virginia

From the Potomac River to Norfolk, Virginia
21 November 2005  

We left St. Mary's River on 21st November, and made the 45 mile journey to Deltaville on Jackson Creek off the Piankatank River. The entry to Jackson Creek was entertaining. The channel is very narrow, with a couple of 90 bends, one of which is only a few yards from shore. We stayed one night in Jackson Creek.

As we left Deltaville the following morning, we experienced some slipping of the transmission in forward gear. We topped up the fluid and it seemed okay, so we decided to carry on, intending to make one more stop on the way to Norfolk as we knew that a heavy cold front was approaching. However, the water was calm, we had some westerly wind and were making good time to start with, so decided to continue to Norfolk. The visibility was poor due to low cloud so we had to keep an eye on our radar to identify anything more than a mile away. It also drizzled all day making it a miserable journey.

All the way down, we heard US Navy warships and large commercial vessels on the radio, heading in or out of this very busy port. Norfolk is the world's largest naval base. The entrance to Elizabeth River, on which Norfolk sits, is at Hampton Roads, one of the busiest sections of waterway in the world. Visibility had further reduced as we came closer, and even though we were motor-sailing with genoa raised, we were losing speed as the transmission started slipping again.

As we entered the Elizabeth River, it started to rain more heavily, so we dropped the genoa as this partly obscures our forward vision. Then we heard a radio call from an aircraft carrier coming in behind us. We could not see it due to low visibility and it was probably still 5 miles away, but that was enough for us to open 30% of the genoa again to give us some extra speed. Once through the Hampton Roads entrance, the river opens very wide into a huge commercial anchorage. We headed for this area knowing we would be well clear of the aircraft carrier there.

All vessels have to stay a minimum of 500 yards from any US Naval vessel and as we motor-sailed through the anchorage with large commercial vessels to the right, we could see the line up of naval vessels to the left. At least 6 aircraft carriers and one more behind us. Once past those we were able to come back in towards the main Elizabeth River channel as it narrowed towards Norfolk, watching out for tugs with barges, US Coast Guard vessels, commercial and private vessels of all types coming from all directions.

Heading up the Elizabeth River amidst this traffic, the transmission was deteriorating rapidly and we were only making 3 knots. Suddenly, a squall blew through, the water picked up and we had cross winds of over 20 knots with regular  29 knot gusts.

By this time it was almost dark, the rain was falling very heavily and with so little speed these gusts regularly knocked us off course, but we managed to stay in the channel with the wind at 60 off our port bow. However, just before Norfolk, the river turns 50 to port. We tried to cut the corner to give us as much distance up the river before succumbing to the head wind and taking in the genoa. As we passed the wider part of the river where the western tributary separates, a gust of wind caught us just as the transmission finally gave out. We were very close to the traffic lanes of the main river and the western branch and much too close to the Maersk container terminal, so we dropped the anchor and with no way of obtaining any more forward action from the transmission, (reverse was still working), and called Tow Boat US.

Two hours later we were towed up the river, past the Norfolk water front on the left and into the Ocean Marine Yacht Center on the right, in Portsmouth, right opposite the naval shipyard of Gosport.

Portsmouth, Virginia
22 November to 21 December

Out with the old.....

A change of engine and gearbox was in our short term plans as both are original and have accumulated many hours. We intended to make this change at a time of our choosing, rather than be caught out with a failure at sea. However, despite some adrenalin moments coming into Norfolk, we were never in danger, nor was Dream On.

We decided to replace both engine and transmission and chose to go for a Westerbeke unit. So, instead of our 2 day planned stop in Norfolk, we spent a month in Ocean Marine Yacht Centre in Portsmouth, across the river from Norfolk. Facilities there were very good and reasonable winter rates were offered. The free courtesy car provided by the marina was invaluable to us during repairs. Ocean Marine also have tremendous workshop facilities and good technicians.




Ready to go!

20 December.2005 with the new.

A month after the failure of our transmission on the way into Norfolk Harbour, the new Westerbeke engine and transmission are in and sea trials completed.

We had to haul Dream On out of the water briefly to re-pitch the Maxprop propeller to match the new power and transmission. A diver had tried this a few days earlier but he could not obtain the right setting. Neither of us were ready to volunteer to dive in cold brown water!

While waiting for the new engine, we managed to knock a few other jobs off the never ending to-do list.

Planning to head south on 21st December, up the Southern Elizabeth River, into the Virginia Cut and the North Carolina Cut to Coinjock, then on to Oriental and Beaufort, North Carolina.

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