Today, on a special edition of She is a Ship Wreck, I write to you from Norfolk International Airport, en route to LaGuardia.
If you remember, when I left you guys, we were happily sailing off into the sunrise toward Coinjock, NC, only a 4-hour cruise away from Chesapeake, VA.
So—before we get into it—just a fun fact. Apparently, you aren’t supposed to have bananas on a boat. It’s bad luck. Now, I have my fair share of superstitions, but this is not one that I previously shared with A, who may or may not be the actual subject of the Stevie Wonder song.
It’s actually one of the first things that A said to my mom upon boarding for this trip of ours. Bananas hung in my mom’s cute little galley on their cute little banana tree, and A said, bluntly, “You can’t have those on the boat.”
Now, if A is on one hand of the superstition spectrum, my mother is the absolute opposite. She thinks it’s complete nonsense, and refused to remove the bananas, and actually, just to tempt fate, bought more after they started to brown. [The first, brown bunch was placed in the freezer so I could make a delicious Pinterest-inspired frozen concoction with them sometime in the future.]
Having my fair share of accidents happen on stage after someone accidentally [or purposefully—you know who you are and I still don’t forgive you] said the name of the infamous Scottish King in the theater, I find myself somewhere in the center of the spectrum. I would be happy not having bananas on board, but I do enjoy them with some PB.
Alas, I let A have her superstitions, and I let my mom scoff at them.
But you know what, guys? Before I left for the airport today, without my mom knowing, I dug those frozen bananas out of the freezer and dumped them overboard. Just as a little offering in exchange for safe passage.
OR ACTUALLY ANY KIND OF PASSAGE AT ALL WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED.
Maybe you all remember your boating lesson from two entries ago, where I told you about the options for spending a night in port. Any volunteers?
[VIMH©: Docking, mooring, anchoring.]
Good job, VIMH©! Haven’t heard from you in a while.
The Voice in my Head got it right. Those are the three options.
Except that—guys—there’s totally another option. You can also choose to get stuck on a series of massive Cypress stumps in the middle of the ICW channel, just an hour outside of your previous port. [Not recommended]
The portion of the ICW that starts in Norfolk and moves into North Carolina is called The Virginia Cut. It is well known to be a particularly tricky stretch of the Intra-Coastal because it is extremely narrow, and the channel [the channel is the path along which it is safe to travel], is incredibly specific, leaving little room for error. If you aren’t sticking right to the center of the channel, you are liable to run aground, and, here, when you run aground you aren’t cushioning up on a sandy beach waiting for the tide.
The Virginia Cut is further complicated by the Cypress trees that surround the canal. Over time, the canal has widened (believe it or not) due to rising water levels and boat wake and the riverbanks have eroded, leaving dead tree stumps behind to mark the place they once loomed large. Cypress is a notoriously strong and resilient wood, and, therefore, these stumps have survived, sometimes much farther into the canal than you would expect, outside of the channel, but only just.
It is as virtually impossible for the Army Corps of Engineers to mark all of these hazards, as it is to remove all of them, so boaters are warned to watch.
Although this part of the ICW is not affected by moon tide, wind tides do affect the area, and can cause varying water levels, sometimes by as much as a foot of depth.Wind tides are much more difficult to predict and once again, therefore, cruisers are warned to keep out a sharp eye for stumps that, due to a rising tide, may be virtually invisible only a few inches below the murky black water [crawling with snakes, and, according to some scientists, as the species is apparently moving north, possibly an alligator or two—watch out NYC, they’re coming for us]. Comforting.
Finally, as if things can’t get complicated enough, the channel is highly commercial, and is host to many tugboat & barge couples that, any given point, could either be careening towards you or creepily sneaking up your aft, expecting you to yield them the very, very narrow channel.
So. Sunny morning. Post-Father’s Day. About to head to my favorite place in the world [Coinjock]. Happiness abounds.
We come up to our next bridge, North Landing, and we are 15 minutes away from an opening. So, we idle in front of the bridge in the channel waiting for the grumpy old bridge master to open up [pretty sure he may have been the troll from Three Billy Goats Gruff: “Trip trap trip trap who is it that wants to go under my bridge? I’ll gobble you up!”].
When it does open, we see that a MASSIVE barge is coming at us from the other side of the bridge. No biggie—luckily, we happen to be in a spot in the canal that has a little tiny bit of extra depth, so we watch the depth finder carefully, and idle waiting for the barge to pass.
When it is just about past us, 7 ft of water on the depth finder [remember we only draw 5], all of a sudden there is a bump, another bump and then finally a complete stop.
Commence Lady Pirate panic.
The engines go off, my mom calls Seatow [AAA for boats] and we wait for a tow off. Now, at the time, we assumed it was a stump, but couldn’t quite rectify in our minds the feel under the boat. It felt as if there was a large mass that stretched from maybe 5 feet back from the bow to about mid-ship, slightly less than halfway from the starboard side. Felt larger than a stump, but what else could it be? [AN ALLIGATOR MONSTER CARCASS? A WHALE? THE LAIR OF AN EVIL SNAKE MONSTER THAT WOULD GOBBLE US UP FIRST CHANCE HE GOT?]
The good news: We did everything right, and so there had to be minimal damage. First, when we hit, we were idling, so there was no way we hit hard enough to bust a hole in the hull. Second, the engines went off immediately, and we didn’t try to get ourselves off with power, so the chance of damage to the propellors was slim to none.
The tow arrived [from Coinjock!] and this guy and his 225 horsepower outboard tried as hard as they could to tow us off that goddamned stump. After about an hour and a half of pulling from various angles and various cleats, stress fractures had occurred on the port side in the aft, causing both interior and exterior damage. Since we weren’t taking on any water, all parties decided it was time to quit to avoid causing any more damage, and move on to plan B.
Plan B consisted of getting together a salvage team, including a diver. They take large airbags, situate them under the boat in places specified by the diver after his recon mission, and blow them up in order to float the boat off the obstruction. Problem was, daylight was quickly waning, and it wouldn’t be until the next morning that the salvage team could ASSSSSEEEEMMMBLLLEEEE just like the News Team in Anchorman, obviously.
So, we were hung up on this stump. Troll bridge in view, but literally nothing else. Trees.
OUR LIVES WERE SO HARD. God, we could only run the generator for a little while to cook dinner and finish the laundry and we had NO AIR CONDITIONING. #firstworldproblems
In reality, it was actually a beautiful little cove we were stuck in, and, aside from worrying about pirates and bears and alligators [oh my], it was a beautiful night. [Click below to see 360º of Black Powder Landing at sunset on Stump Day.]
It was a Full Strawberry Moon, and it was quiet—OH wait but then there was the AIR SHOW.
Not like an actual, cool air show with like tricks and stuff and cotton candy and lots of gratuitous American flags. Just like, we happened to be in the vicinity of a Navy airfield and they decided that that day was perfect for practicing landing.
Since we’d been drinking since about noon, my mom immediately assumed that they were circling us because we were a suspicious ship near to the base and our name was Black Powder and that’s VERY SUSPICIOUS and that one girl totally almost waved at the border guard when they were going through Norfolk and OMG they have signaling cannons so they must be noise terrorists!
However, in reality, they were practicing landing. They must have been good at it because they didn’t crash. So, the sun started to set, my mom fell asleep at her 6pm bedtime, and A and I settled it for a vicious game of Cribbage. The cove was pleasant and silent and—AHHHHHH WTF THEY’RE COMING BACK. Over-head, fast and loud, zoomed no less than 25 [or maybe 3 or something] war-plane thingys with wings and loud engines [technical term]. Did I mention how loud they were and how they completely disrupted our Cribbage game for at least 15 minutes. Don’t they realize how RUTHLESS A is when it comes to Cribbage? I mean, I need to have my wits about me.
Jeez. Well, at least that’s over. We continue to play cribbage and I obviously beat A because I’m better than her at everything [except most things]. I obsessively fail at taking great pictures of the gorgeous moon [Above. My family is full of photographers. Unfortunately I am not one of them.] and then we start to head to bed in the quiet, beautiful, cove which we’ve now aptly named Black Powder Landing and—
WHAT THE EFF ARE YOU KIDDING ME WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM AND WHY ARE THEY TRYING TO TORTURE US DON’T THEY KNOW THE KIND OF DAY WE’VE HAD I’M ALREADY SO ANXIOUS ABOUT SOMEONE WITH NO TEETH BREAKING INTO THE BOAT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT WHY ARE THEY TRYING TO RUIN MY LIFE.
Apparently, the drills are performed during daylight, sunset, and nighttime, because idk I guess flying a tactical aircraft is difficult or something whatever you try sleeping on a stump and tell me which you think is more difficult jeez.
Anyway, I did eventually sleep and, determined to not live like animals, made a delicious Eggs Florentine for breakfast because who knows we might be stuck on this stump forever and the generator can’t last until the end of time so we might as well eat like the bourgeoisie before we have to resort to spearing water moccasins and eating them raw.
Right on time, the salvage crew ASSSSSEEEEEMMMMMBBBLLLLEEEDDDD and arrived at 10am to save our asses. The diver went into the black water [I’m not kidding–the water’s tannins turn it BLACK, mainly derived from those damned Cypress trees], and, devoid of sight, felt his way around the bottom of the boat, resolving that it was not one stump, no, but a series—nay, a family of stumps [Papa, Mama, Baby?], existing solely to ruin everything good in this world.
The wind had brought the water up a whopping 10 inches overnight, and, whereas, our bow was protruding 18 inches from the water the day before, it was now less than half that. The diver explained the situation, and concluded that if the team tried to tow the boat from this particular angle [based on feel WTF what a rock-star], it should come loose. And come loose it did, as if it was so easy we could have lassoed some water moccasins to do the job.
It was already decided that, even if the engines started, we’d have them tow us back to Chesapeake (our previous port) because the boatyard there was probably the best we would encounter for another 200+ miles. Better safe than sorry, right?
So, we enjoy a pleasant, work-free cruise back to Atlantic Yacht Basin, where they haul the boat [out of the water] and we look at it and all laugh together about how silly we were to come back here because it was just a stump and how much damage could that do oh except the huge chunk taken out of our hull. WHATTTTTTTT
Luckily, the damage didn’t breach the actual structure of the hull, so it would be a relatively quick fix. They would put us up on the hard [on the ground, in the boatyard, bummer], fix the hull and the stress fractures and we’d be on our way in two days. [Side-note: The guys here at AYB are ROCKSTARS. I really can’t say enough about how fast they work, and how kind and courteous and cool and professional and skilled they all are. The next time you guys find yourselves on a stump, get towed here.]
These guys worked so fast, it seemed like we were going to be back in the water within two days. Except, it rained. And rain was forecasted for the next couple of days. So they couldn’t finish painting before the weekend. The hull patched, they put us back in a covered shed, in the water, so we’d at least have AC. [The boat AC utilizes seawater because duh.]
I mean we’re talking 95+ and humid, folks. I had already legit evolved into Humidity Monster, which is worse than Hangry Monster, to which my restaurant co-workers will attest, as they have had to spend time with me slinging mac & cheese and burgers to over-privileged a-holes outside on an NYC sidewalk in a million degree heat wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and jeans.
The shed was dry. AND ALSO INFESTED WITH SPIDERS. LIKE THERE WAS A SPIDER COLONY OUTSIDE MY WINDOW. Also the shed was shielded from any light or happiness. We ended up setting up a redneck dock party with folding chairs at the end of our dock, which protruded from the shed and had approximately 6 feet of sunlight between the hours of 3 and 6pm.
As they were nearly finished with the work, we were slowing dying of Vitamin D deprivation, and we needed diesel, we cried and begged and they eventually pulled us out of the shed and onto the dock, where we could get fuel and water and sunlight and they would finish their work.
The next day, we surmised, we would be on our merry way. We mapped out the next couple of days, and decided to try to make it to Charleston, SC for the 4th of July, with 8 days of travel, since we obviously wouldn’t be making our originally intended stop in Fort Lauderdale for the 4th. [HAHAHA. Yeah OK.]
Best to do an engine check first. Just in case.
Starboard engine: wooooooooooooOOOOEEEEEEE LET’S BLOW THIS POPSICLE STAND! Coinjock here we cooooooooooome!!!!!!!!!!
Port engine: woo. woo. meh. sputter. fart.
Port Engine: fart fart fart fart. nope. i like Virginia.
That’s right, folks, the day before the rest of our lives, the port engine wouldn’t start.
Luckily, we were at Atlantic Yacht Basin, and these guys are Detroit Diesel [our engines] superstars. They were bound to get us up and going again. They diagnosed it as a bad starter, removed it, and on Friday, sent it out for service. Unfortunately, we’d have to wait until Monday for it to be re-installed.
We spent the weekend having a few adventures [which I will tell you about in a series of other posts following], and when Monday finally came, we were ready to GO.
While re-installing the starter, our mechanic did another couple of checks in the engine room, and let me tell you. One thing you do not want to hear a mechanic say from the engine room is, “Oh. Well, that’s not good.”
Water. In the engine. No bueno.
After a long and complicated diagnostic process, and days of taking apart the engine, the true source of our problem was discovered.
On Stump Day, while the first tow boat attempted to make our lives suck a little less, in fact, our lives were made to suck just a little bit more. [Through no fault of theirs, those guys were awesome.]
Most likely when he was pulling us from the stern, water managed to get in the exhaust of the port engine. With each pull, the boat heeled quite a lot. [So much in fact that, unprepared as we were, we hadn’t thought to secure the cabin and therefore, our Keurig was thrown to the floor and shattered, and furniture and other items were displaced throughout the cabin. Oops.] Because the engines weren’t running at the time, they weren’t sending out any exhaust, which left the pipes prime for H2O intrusion.
I don’t know if you know this, but engines aren’t made to combust water. When they try to, bad things happen. Like really, really bad things. Take that piston, for example. The sleeve has been cracked and OMG look at that bend.
So, what do they have to do in this case? Oh NBD just a complete engine rebuild.
Yup. Two-three weeks.
So, here I am. At the airport. Headed back to NYC for a week-long way-lay, and to spend the 4th with my husband, instead of with the black waters of the Virginia Cut.
You guys, I don’t think I’m ever going to eat a banana again. Not in my cereal, not with peanut-butter, no banana bread or Chunky Monkey. Screw you Chiquita, and the fruit-adorned headdress that rode in on you.