s/v Felix—Delivery leg Norfolk, VA to Belhaven, NC

Posted on Tuesday 5 January 2010

Earlier this year I was asked by John and Lorie if I could help them with moving their boat, s/v Felix, south for the winter.  Since the sailing season here in New England was over, and they are good friends, I volunteered to help with the leg from Norfolk, VA to Belhaven, NC. After discussing things, we decided to leave Massachusetts on Friday, December 18.  The plan was to drive down to the Tidewater Yacht Marina, with a possible stop in Princeton to visit John’s father and step-mother.  Given the weather, we decided to stop for dinner in Princeton and then continue down to marina before the storm hit the next day.

  • Scenic view overlooking the Hudson River, just north of the Bear Mountain Bridge.
  • Driving route from Newton, MA to Portsmouth, VA, with a detour to Princeton, NJ.

Instead of taking the normal route to the Tidewater area of Virginia, which passes through New York City, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Richmond, we decided on a slightly different route, which used the Palisades Parkway to bypass New York City and then cut down the DelMarVa peninsula to avoid Baltimore, DC and Richmond, as shown above.  While this route is on slower roads, it can actually be faster, since there is far less traffic on them—and allows us to avoid New York City and Washington, DC’s very congested traffic.  The photo above was taken from the scenic overlook just before we crossed the Hudson River at the Bear Mountain Bridge.

Our dinner stop in Princeton was at an old-fashioned pizza place called Conte’s Pizzeria.  The pizza there is excellent, and if you’re ever in Princeton, NJ and looking for a bite to eat, I’d highly recommend it. From there, we headed south to the Tidewater Yacht Marina.  Given that the forecast was for freezing rain, sleet, snow and winds gusting up to 50 mph, we really wanted to get in before the storm really started going.

  • Detail photo of ice on s/v Felix’s port side deck.
  • Detail of another boat at the Tidewater Yacht Marina, decked out in Christmas holiday cheer.

The storm, as it turns out, really wasn’t all it was forecasted to be.  While the water levels at the marina were exceptionally high, the wind wasn’t very strong and we didn’t see much in the way of snow.  The boat did have a thin layer of ice on deck in the morning, but the ice was soon melted by the rain.  The marina was decked out for the upcoming Christmas holiday, as were some of the boats.

  • John watches as Chris plays on a ramp elevated by the abnormally high tides, as the fixed piers fall below the floating piers.
  • Flooded streets near the Portsmouth Naval Hospital, just in front of the Tidewater Yacht Marina.

The ramps between the floating docks and the fixed docks were at odd angles as the fixed docks became submersed by the exceptionally high water levels at high tide, as seen above.  Some of the local streets were flooded as well. Saturday was spent running errands and dealing with a few small projects on the boat. Trips to West Marine and a few other stores were in order to get needed parts and gear.

We also spoke with Art and Amy, on s/v Morning Glory, a Catana 431, seen below on our way to the Great Bridge Locks the next morning.  They were looking to head south and we asked if they’d buddy boat with us, at least as far as the Alligator River Marina. They thought it was a good idea, and we planned to touch base with them on Sunday morning, so we could get our departures coordinated.

Chris and Lorie were driving down to meet us at the Atlantic Yacht Basin, leaving John and I to move the boat. While the scenery of this section of the ICW is very beautiful, there isn’t a whole lot of sailing, so it wasn’t much of a loss for Lorie and Chris.

  • Art and Amy Hoag’s Catana 431 s/v Morning Glory buddy boating for the trip down the ICW.
  • s/v Morning Glory takes the lead.

Sunday, Art and Amy had a problem with their autopilot.  Apparently, the autopilot had not been sealed properly after a recent repair and the control head was full of water.  Art disassembled it and dried it out, but wasn’t able to get a good seal on it.  I went over to see if I could help.  After looking at the autopilot control head, I suggested using some butyl tape to seal the head.  I knew that John and Lorie had a roll of it on their boat, as I had gotten them one the day before they left Marion back in October.  Cutting off a couple of feet of butyl tape allowed use to make “gaskets” for the case and s/v Morning Glory was once again ready to get under weigh.

  • US Navy ship in drydock along ICW near Portsmouth, VA
  • US Navy ship docked along ICW near Portsmouth, VA
  • s/v Morning Glory passing through the first of the railroad bascule bridges along the Norfolk-to-Belhaven section of the ICW.
  • s/v Morning Glory drops back to let s/v Felix take the lead along the ICW, north of the Great Bridge Lock, as the sun sets.

Sunday’s goal was a simple and short one.  We wanted to get to the Atlantic Yacht Basin, just south of the Great Bridge Lock, at the beginning of the Great Bridge Canal. It was only about 12 nm, but would give us a good jumping off point for the later bridges on this section of the ICW.  To get there, we would pass by some of the shipyards used by the US Navy.  We would also have to pass through several bascule bridges. Fortunately, these bridges were normally kept in the open position, since they were for railroad, not road traffic.

  • s/v Morning Glory ties up to the northern wall of the Great Bridge Lock.

Just before sunset, we had taken the lead from s/v Morning Glory, as they didn’t have a chartplotter at their helm.  Approaching the lock after dark was interesting.  The lights of the lock can make it somewhat hard to see what is going on, as they are very bright and tend to blind you. We set fenders out to the port side and tied up to the northern side of the lock.  Tying up to the northern side has several advantages, the primary one being that the lock personnel will help you with the dock lines. The lock is followed by a bridge, but getting through the bridge is fairly simple, as the lock personnel coordinate the bridge opening with your lock passage.

Once through the lock and bridge, getting to the Atlantic Yacht Basin is very simple.  It is about .5 nautical miles past the bridge.  The Atlantic Yacht Basin has a long fuel dock and we were told to tie up to there for the night.  One major advantage of this was it simplified our departure the next morning.  Lorie and Chris were waiting for us there, having easily gotten there ahead of us by road.

  • Sunrise detail photo of s/v Felix heading down the ICW, in the Albemarle-Chesapeake Canal.
  • s/v Morning Glory follows s/v Felix along the ICW, north of Coinjock Bay.

We left very early the next morning.  We wanted to leave early so that we could get into the Alligator River before dark.  Frank, s/v Felix’s previous owner, warned us that attempting the Alligator River entrance at night was ill-advised. During the very first leg of the Great Bridge Canal, we hit a stump or log, but didn’t realize until much later that evening, that we had damaged the saildrive leg on Felix.

With Frank’s warning about the shoaling at the entrance to the Alligator River, we were able to get to the Alligator River Marina easily.  The Alligator River Marina is in the middle of nowhere, and if you’re ever stuck there, you’ll realize that there is very little in the way of services or anything else there.

  • Detail photo of the Sillette sail drive leg on s/v Felix shoing the sheared drive leg yoke. The steel pin in the center bottom of the photo is the port side pin. Just above and to the right of it is the sheared section of the yoke casting at the main vertical pivot pin of the drive leg.

Lorie and Chris had gone down to visit John’s brother Chris, near Durham, and didn’t meet us at Alligator River. However, Lorie was able to send out a call for help on the Gemini forums, as we needed a replacement drive yoke.  The drive yoke on the Sillette saildrive leg is a sacrificial part and it had performed as designed when s/v Felix hit the stump or log earlier in the day, saving the drive leg from serious damage.

The question was whether we should move the boat or stay at the Alligator River Marina. We decided to attempt the trip to Belhaven, as it was only about 45 nm from where we were.  In Belhaven, we’d have Frank as a resource, and access to tools, supplies, and vendors that were not available at the Alligator River Marina.  Considering Felix’s performance the previous day, crossing Albermarle Sound, making 7.3 knots in some vicious 3–5′ chop, I didn’t think that Felix would have a problem with the trip to Belhaven.

  • Pre-dawn photo of the Alligator River, after leaving the Alligator River marina and passing through the Alligator River Swing Bridge.

The next morning, s/v Felix and s/v Morning Glory headed out.  While Art and Amy weren’t going to stop in Belhaven, hoping to make Oriental instead, we decided to buddy boat for at least the first part of the trip.  It was reassuring to know that they were fairly nearby should the drive leg fail.

  • Alligator River shoreline along the ICW, leading to the Pungo River Canal.
  • Looking aft (north-northeast) along the Alligator River on the way to the Pungo River Canal.

The trip through the Pungo River canal and down into Coinjock Bay was uneventful.  Each mile of progress we made was one less that SeaTow or TowBoat US would have to travel to get us.  John had gotten SeaTow as a result of the chaos-filled night in Cuttyhunk harbor earlier this year.  I have been a TowBoat US member since getting the Pretty Gee, and look at it much like I do my AAA membership… don’t want to need it, but want to have it around if I ever do—and the first use will pay for the membership for several years.

  • Entering the Pungo River, leaving the Pungo River Canal behind.
  • interesting swell and wave pattern on the Pungo River. Almost no wind.

Once we got to the more open sections of the ICW, south of the Pungo River Canal, s/v Morning Glory left us in the dust.  While Felix does okay for a 34′ boat, Morning Glory had a lot more waterline and is much faster.   There wasn’t a whole lot of wind, as you can see from the photos.

  • A picnic table umbrella stands in for a Christmas tree at Frank’s dock.
  • Morning evidence of a four-footed visitor.

We tied up at the dock Frank uses.  It isn’t actually in Belhaven, but the next creek down the Pungo River. The picnic table umbrella was setup as a faux Christmas tree and we had a four-footed visitor there.  We had dinner with Frank and Debbie at a small cafe in Belhaven.

John asked if I would postpone my flight to Boston and help out with the drive leg repair.  Knowing that there was little time to finish the repair, I decided to stay and help, so that Felix could leave on the next leg of her trip south on time.

  • s/v Felix tied up to Frank’s dock. Frank’s new boat, a Kady-Krogen Trawler, Fat Chance, is just behind Felix.
  • s/v Felix gets hauled out by Travelift at the River Forest Marina.

Early the next morning, Frank drove John and me into Washington, NC.  On the way into Washington, we picked up the drive leg yoke from George.  George had bought Frank’s first Gemini catamaran, Cat’s Pause, while John had bought Frank’s second Gemini catamaran.

Frank brought us to a place to get AMSOIL for the drive leg and then Frank lent us a GPS and dropped us off at Enterprise to get our rental car.  We then headed back to the boat and moved it to the Forest River Marina, where they would haul the boat so we could repair the drive leg.  Let me say that Frank went way beyond the call of duty.

  • Hauling out s/v Felix so the drive leg can be repaired.
  • Detail photo of gas cylinders at Pungo Machine. These guys were fantastic.

While examining the new drive leg yoke, I noticed that the yoke wasn’t tapped for the hydraulic piston that is used to raise the drive leg out of the water.  We mentioned this to Axson, who owns the marina, and he told us he’d call a local machine shop and get us help there.  Frank drove us to the machine shop and then took John back to the dock to get the rental car.   The machine shop drilled and tapped the leg for the hydraulic cylinder, and helped remove some cotter pins that were frozen in place, as well as removing the key pin and the main pivot pin from the drive leg.

To remove the main pivot pin, they had to get a 10 mm x 1.5 pitch bolt.  This wasn’t a part they stocked, as all of their work is in Imperial units, rather than metric.  Mike, the owner of the Pungo Machine company, ran out and got them so a slide hammer could be used to remove the pivot pin.  My kudos to these guys and if you’re ever near Belhaven and need some good work done, I’d highly recommend the Pungo Machine company. I’d also highly recommend River Forest Marina, if you’re ever in the area.

  • Captain John and his giant Margarita at the mexican restaurant after three very long days. Believe it or not, this isn’t even the largest margarita they offer.

Once we were done at the machine shop, we headed back to the marina and put the leg and yoke back on.  We didn’t quite finish before we called it night.  We headed into Washington, NC, and got dinner at a mexican restaurant called El Tapatio.  The food there is reasonably priced and quite good.  The restaurant had some of the largest margaritas I’ve ever seen…John had one, and it wasn’t even the largest size they offer, but it was huge.

Since Felix was on the hard, in the travelift slings, we couldn’t stay aboard her, so the next stop was a hotel for the night.  The Comfort Inn had free WiFi and hot water… what a bargain.

  • Detail photo of s/v Felix with the newly repaired drive leg.

The next morning, we had breakfast at Blackbeard’s Restaurant.  After a good breakfast, we headed back to the marina to get the boat back in the water. After popping two cotter pins into the drive leg, it was ready to go, and we had the marina splash the boat.

  • Dan with Penny, the four-footed visitor and dominant life-form at Frank’s dock, awaiting the arrival of s/v Felix.
  • s/v Felix arrives at Frank’s dock once again. Captain John is doing his best prairie dog imitation.

John took Felix back to Frank’s dock, while I drove the rental car and met him over there.  I got to the dock and waited to hear from John.  Penny, the local ruling feline, kept me company while I waited. It wasn’t long before I saw John and Felix headed in.

We rinsed off Felix and closed her up for the Christmas holiday.  Then it was off to RDU for my flight back to Boston.  We stopped for dinner on the way to RDU at a chinese restaurant.  Trying to find an open restaurant on Christmas Eve in Raleigh is really difficult.

1 Comment for 's/v Felix—Delivery leg Norfolk, VA to Belhaven, NC'

    January 5, 2010 | 9:14 pm

    Very interesting post! Loved the pictures and repair details.

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