Heading South in 2011
After spending the summer of 2011 back on the Chesapeake Bay, mostly on the Patuxent River, I decided to head back to the Ortega Yacht Club Marina (OYCM) on the Ortega River in Jacksonville, FL.  I had a pleasant and productive stay there the previous winter.
Before heading south I decided to earn a few dollars at the U.S. Boat Shows in Annapolis, MD.  As it turned out I earned very few dollars from this job over the cost of keeping Sarah on a mooring in the harbor.  It also delayed my normal departure south by two weeks.  That delay became very important once I finally started south.
Patuxent River to Norfolk, VA
Norfolk, VA to Elizabeth City, NC
The Dismal Swamp Canal
Elizabeth City, NC to Oriental, NC
Stopping in Oriental, NC
New Damper Plate
Continuing South
Charleston, SC to Jacksonville, FL
Patuxent River, MD to Norfolk, VA

Pax River to the Great Wicomico
I returned to the Patuxent River from the Boat Shows on Oct 21, 2011 intending to spend only a few days provisioning before heading south.  Because of weather and a few other issues I did not actually get started south until Monday, Oct 31.  I woke that day before dawn only to discover my decks covered with frost and a pea soup fog in the creek. 
I waited until about 9:00 AM to get under way to let the fog lift a bit and the frost melt.  The fog was still pretty thick as I motored into Solomons to fill my fuel tank at the Solomons Yachting Center.

Then I headed down the bay to the Great Wicomico River just below the mouth of the Potomac River.  The photo on the right shows the Smith Pt. Lighthouse that marks the southern limit of the mouth of the Potomac.

Smith Pt. Lighthouse

Menhaden Boat out of Reedville, VA
I anchored for the night in the Great  Wicomico and then got underway shortly after dawn for Norfolk. 
On the way out of the Great Wicomico I was escorted by one of the Menhaden fishing vessels from Reedville, VA. 
That evening I anchored in Willoughby Bay, just inside Norfollk Harbor. 
Great Wicomico River to Willoughby Bay
Norfolk, VA to Elizaberth City, NC
The next day I headed down Hampton Roads and the Navy docks to the Elizabeth River and the Atlanic Intra-Coastal Waterway (AICW).
U.S. Navy Station Norfolk

USS Wisconsin at Nauticus
I passed the Nauticus museum in Norfolk, which includes the battleship USS Wisconsin.
On the right is a picture of the Nauticus facility, which I have been told is an excellent maritime and Navy museum.  I've never stopped in Norfolk long enough to take a tour.
Nauticus - Norfolk, VA

USCG Buoy Tender
In the Elizaberth River I passed this USCG Buoy Tender that was performing a test on a tow cable attached to shore.  I was able to get by the ship before the test began.
Further up the river I passed the former location of the Jordan St. bridge.  This was the first of many lift and bascule bridges in the Elizabeth River.  The Jordan Bridge was torn down a few years ago and a fixed, 65' bridge is being constructed in its place.
Now the Gilmerton is the first bridge on the ICW that must be openned to allow southbound vessels to pass.  Because of repairs to this bridge, and the beginning of construction of a fixed replacement, the Gilmerton opens only once an hour on the half-hour.  The bridge previously openned on demand.
I just missed an unscheduled openning of the bridge, but only had to wait another 20 minutes for the normal openning.

Jordan St. Bridge Construction
The Dismal Swamp Canal

Deep Creek Lock - Start of the Dismal Swamp Canal
This year for the first time in 5 trips down the ICW, I decided to use the Dismal Swamp Canal route rather than the Viginia Cut route.  Cruising friends had finally convinced me this was a much more pleasant route.
I turned off the Elizabeth River into Deep Creek and arrived at the Deep Creek lock shortly before the 1:30 PM openning.  This lock raises vessels 8' to the water level in the canal. 
I went through the lock with one other vessel, but the lock keeper told me 17 vessels had passed into the canal that day.
The canal is long and straight through very pleasant fall folliage.
Dismal Swamp Canal

Dismal Swamp Canal, Looking Back
This is the view from astern.
I couldn't complete the trip through the canal in one short fall day, and I stopped at the Dismal Swamp reception center, just below the North Carolina state line.
This is a free facility made available by the state, which also serves as a highway rest stop for those driving on Rte 17.  The dock is only 150' long, but eveyone cooperates in rafting off the dock.  I was the last boat to raft up that evening, 5-deep off the dock.

Rafted at the Dismal Swamp Reception Center
The next morning all of the boats got underway just before dawn inspite of heavy frost on the decks.  We left the canal at the South Mills lock then continued down the Pasquotank River to Elizabeth City where we tied to the free docks provided by the city.  A strong storm system (Tropical Storm Sean) was forming off the coast and would bring gale force winds to Albemarle sound for the next two days.  So all of the boats stayed put in Elizaberth Cit;y for the next three days until the storm moved well off-shore.

Elizabeth City, NC
Elizabeth City, NC to Oriental, NC
By Sunday, Nov 6 the storm had moved well off-shore and the winds in the sound were less than 25 kts.  Most of the boats in Elizabeth City departed for the Alligator River.
Many of those boats stopped at the Alligator River Marina, just north of the swing bridge.  Sarah and about a dozen other boats continued through the bridge and Alligator Pungo Canal to the anchorage at the head of the Pungo River.
During that trip the tachometer on the engine instrument panel started to malfunction.  Also, for most of the trip from the Chesapeake I had noticed excessive engine vibration when the engine RPMs were above 2000.  I decided to have these items checked before going much further south.  I called Deaton Yacht Services in Oriental, NC and got on their yard schedule. 
I previously had work done by this yard and was very satisfied with the quality of the work and the professionalism of the staff.
Stopping in Oriental for Drive Train Service
Late Monday afternoon I put Sarah in one of the slips at Deaton, and the next morning the chief mechanic was onboard to go over the issues.  He found serveral items with the alignment of the shafts, but before taking any action he had me start the engine and put it into gear so he could note the amount of vibration.  The first thing we both noticed was the loud gear backlash at idle RPMs.  This was the major symptom of a damper plate failure that led to my transmission having to be re-built the previous winter.  That backlash noise had been largely eliminated by the replacement damper plate.  I couldn't believe the replacement plate had gone bad.
Before attacking a possible damper plate problem, Deaton recommended a short haul to inspect the Maxprop propellar and the shaft alignment in the Pilot Tube.  So the next morning Deaton put Sarah in the travel-lift slings. 

Sarah in the Slings at Deaton Yacht Services

MaxProp and Propeller Shaft After Cleaning and New Zincs
There were a few barnacles on the Maxprop, which might have contributed to some of the vibration.  All of the zincs were replaced and the Maxprop was greased.  That required a surprising amount of grease.  The prop had last been greased at this yard about 18 months ago, which is within the time frame specified by the manufact;urer.
On the right is a close up of the shaft and the pilot tube from the port side.
Below on the left is the view from the starboard.  The position of the shaft at the bottom of the tube indicated to Deaton that a re-alignment was required.

Pilot Tube From Port Side

Pilot Tube From Starboard Side

So Sarah was put back in the water, and the re-alignment was scheduled for the next day to let the hull settle in the water.
The re-alignment did not reduce the gear backlash, so the next step was to remove the transmission and the damper plate and determine if the damper plate was defective.
This type of damper plate (from Centa) is fairly new and very few mechanics, including the those from Deaton, have a great deal of experience with them. 
The Deaton mechanic noticed that the labels stamped on the center part of the plate did not reflect how the plate had been installed.  The plate face installed toward the engine was stamped "Gear" and the face toward the transmission was stamped "Engine".  In the picture I took right after the damper plate was installed, if you click on the picture to expand it to full resolution, you can clearly see the "Engine" stamp facing away from the engine.
The yard spent the rest of the day and the following morning attempting to get some resolution of the problem.  The manufacturer of the plate confirmed that it was installed backwards, which caused the failure, and Mack Boring confirmed that it cannot be installed correctly without some shims, and the shims currently on the engine would not work with this plate.  At a minimum some custom shims would have to be fabricated.
The New Damper Plate
It took over two weeks to identify the correct damper plate and the shims necessary to properly mate this plate between the engine fly wheel and the transmission.  The yard worked with Mack Boring to develop the configuration and test it on the same engine and transmission.  Thanksgiving fell in the middle of this period which didn't help expedite the process.
Finally on Nov 30 the plate, shown on the right, and the new shims arrived and the yard started the installation.
This is another plate that only turns in one direction.  That direction is indicated by the arrow stamped on the plate and visible in the lower right corner of the picture.  You will need to click on the thumbnail immage to download the full resolution picture to see this detail.

The Vulkan Damper Plate

Two Shims that attach to the Fly Wheel
On top of the engine are the two shims that will be installed on the engine fly wheel.  The shims are actually ring spacers.  The bottom shim in this picture is one of the two original shims installed for the original AISIN damper plate.  The other shim from the original configuation will not be used.
In the picture on the right, partially hidden by my shoes, is the new shim that will go one the transmissioin.
The Third Shim that goes on the Transmission

Damper Plate and Transmission Installed
The new plate and the shims were quickly installed and the transmission was back in place.  The change in the shim configuration has moved the transmission forward about 3/4".  The original shims (1/2" and 3/4") and been replaced with three shims (1/2", 1" and 1/2").

The following day the jackshaft (blue object on top of the engine) was installed and aligned.  Then I started the engine and put it in gear.  Nothing, no gear backlash noise, no noise at all.  I hope to be on my way south this weekend. 
Heading South Again
On Sunday, Dec 4 I finally pulled out of the Deaton yard and resumed the trip south.  I stopped briefly at the Oriental Marina to take on fuel, then headed across the Neuse River and re-entered the AICW at Adams Creek.  I had thought to anchor at Beaufort and then either head off-shore to Cape Fear or to continue down the AICW the next day.
I checked the weather and there was a storm forecast to form off the Carolinas in two days.  If I anchored for the night I probably would not have an acceptable margin of safety for the off-shore passage.  The next section of the AICW is not very appealing.  Lots of bridges and very few places to anchor for the evening.  So I continued past Morehead City and entered the ocean through the Beaufort Inlet around noon.
I had been up since around 6:00AM and had a voyage of about 20 hours ahead of me.  At least on this leg there would be very little commercial traffic.  I used a kitchen timer as an alarm to let me doze off for as much as 30 minutes at a time.  I never dozed that long, but it put an upper limit on a snooze should I fall into a deep sleep.  By the next morning I was approaching the Cape Fear River Inlet, dead tired.  The current was running out of the river so it took me several hours to enter the Cape Fear and arrive at the Southport Marina around 08:30 Monday morning.

Oriental, NC to Southport, NC

I needed at least 36 hours in port to rest up enough for another all-nighter and the storm was forecast to arrive Wednesday night.  So I signed up for 3 nights at the marina, expecting to depart on Thursday for Charleston.  At this time I was really worn down by the trip from Oriental, and I was seriously considering going inside to Charleston.
The storm arrived Wednesday night as forecast with wind gusts to 50 kts.  I was glad to be tied to a solid dock.  The next day I was feeling under the weather and decided to spend one more day in Southport.  That afternoon a Canadian boat arrived and tied up on the other side of my berth.  They invited me aboard for dinner that evening and we had a good time telling our respective sailing stories.  They were heading for the Bahamas, but planning to sail off-shore to Charleston the next day.  Talking with them I realized I truly didn't want to go down the AICW.  That would take 3-4 days, given the limited daylight hours, and I would be tied to the helm most of the time. 


Southport, NC to Charleston, SC
The next day our two boats departed around 10:00 AM and headed out the Cape Fear Inlet.  There was a 10-15 kt breeze out of the NE, which put the wind directly on the stern.  I unfurled the Genoa and motor-sailed the rest of the day.  In the afternoon the sky became overcast and brought a light, misty rain.  Just before sunset the rain stopped and the sky partially cleared.  That night we had very pleasant weather (it actually felt warmer than during the day) with a nearly full moon.  For much of the night I furled the Genoa as it was collapsing and filling with each roll of the boat.

With the motor running continuously it was clear we would arrive off Charleston around 3:00AM.  I planned to stop at the Charleston Maritime Center, but there would be no one there until at least 6:30 AM.  So I slowed Sarah down to under 5 kts. 
Container Ship Departing Charleston as I Arrived

Ft. Sumter
When I arrived off Charleston the tidal current was ebbing, which slowed me down even further.  The result was Sarah entered Charleston Harbor a little after 7:00 AM and I arrived off the Maritime Center an hour later.
Another storm was due off the coast Sunday and Monday, so I took a berth for 3 nights expecting to depart on Tuesday, Dec 13. It was very cold and wet on Sunday and Monday, clearing Monday afternoon.  I decided to stay one extra day to let things warm up a bit more and for the seas off shore to settle down a bit.

The Charleston Maritime Center and the Cooper River
The picture above, a panorama of the Cooper River, was taken from the Maritime Center office balcony.  Ft. Sumter is on the extreme right and the Ravenel bridge across the Cooper is on the left.  Opposite, berthed on the other side of the river is the WWII aircraft carrier Yorktown.
Sarah is berthed on the left side of the marina, infront

Sarah, Berthed at the Charleston Maritime Center
Charleston, SC to Jacksonville, FL

USCG Cutter Entering Charleston as I Departed
I departed the Charleston Maritime Center around 8:45 AM on Wednesday, Dec 14 at slack tide or nearly so.  I did pickup a little push from the start of the ebb as I exited the harbor between Ft. Sumter and Sullivan Island.  I continued out the shipping channel until I could set a straight course for the sea buoy off the St. John River, then headed SSW toward that destination.
There was a light N wind and the seas were farily settled, so I raised the mainsail and unfurled the genoa.  Of course the wind soon shifted to the NE, directly over the stern.  I sheeted the mainsail in and centered it as it wasn't providing much push and I would need to rig my preventer if I left it trimmed for down wind sailing.  The wind was forecast to shift to the East and then ESE overnight and I expected to be able to resume sailing when that happened.  So I decided to just leave the mainsail up,  fluttering slightly in the very light apparent wind.
Shortly after mid-night the wind did shift to the East and I begain to trim the mainsail for a broad reach.  Then I noticed I could see light from the bow mast light through the luff of the mainsail.  That light fluttering (or really light flogging) of the mainsail had opened a tear in the forward edge of the sail just below the level of the 2nd reef.  I needed to lower the sail below the level of the tear, but a double-reefed sail would do me no good in these light conditions.  So I dropped the main sail and furled it to the boom, and continued motoring to the SSW. 
Also about this time I realized the the St. John River might be a destination a little too far for the timing of the tides and the amount of fuel I had on board.

Charleston, SC to Fernandina Beach, FL

When I departed Charleston I had a fuel level of about 7/16 of the tank.  I had motored from Oriental to Charleston on the other 9/16 so I thought I whould have plenty of fuel to motor to the St. John River entrance and re-fuel in Mayport.  However I forgot the bottom of the tank is beveled to conform to the shape of the hull and the last 1/4 of the tank, by the guage, does not contain as much fuel as the three other quarters.  I had never run this tank below the 1/4 level, so I was not sure if I really could run it down close to the "E" level.
Also, by this time, I had a fairly good idea of when I would arrive at the entrance to the St. John - just before the maximum Ebb current.  So I would have to fight the 2 kt current to get into the river as far as Mayport, and if the East wind kicked up to 15 kts or more it would be a rough entrance.
I decided to exercise Plan B, which was to enter Florida at the St. Marys River and stop to refuel in Fernandina Beach.  I would arrive off the St. Marys River at the end of the flood or nearly slack water.  Plan B would also cut about 6 hours off the trip and give me a little more margin for error on the fuel available.
I only had to turn 5 degrees further to the west to head for the St. Marys.  I entered the river with the last of the flood tide and got a 1/2 kt push to the Fernandina Harbor Marina.  I arrived at the dock with the fuel guage showing 1/8 of a tank remaining.  I could put only 60 gallons in the 80 gallon tank, so that guage reading indicates that there would be a reserve of about 10 gallons when the guage read "E".   I would likely have had plenty of fuel to get to Mayport.  Of course I don't know how much, if any, of that reserve would be available or when the pickup tube might start sucking air and shut down the engine.  At least I know I can run it down to 1/8.
I wanted to get underway early the next day so I could catch the end of the ebb current on the St. John, and ride it most of the way up the river to Jacksonville and the Ortega River.  The Fernandina Harbor Marina gave me a berth at the end of one of their facing docks so I stayed overnight at the marina.
The next morning I got underway as the sun was rising, but I had to stop before I had gone more than a mile.  Just below Fernandina Beach the AICW was covered by a pea soup fog.  This portion of the AICW is very winding with lots of shoals if you drift out of the channel.  In this fog the channel markers were invisible to my eye from more than 100' and they did not return a target on my radar.
So I stopped in the Amelia River for a little over a half hour until the fog started to lift.  Once underway again the trip down the AICW to the St. John was uneventful and I entered the river with the ebb still running.
By two that afternoon I was off the Ortega River.  The bascule bridge at the entrance of the Ortega was under repairs.  One of the bridge spans was open and the other was closed.  This provided a 25' wide entrance into the river,  While  that is nearly twice Sarah's beam it was not a comfortable entering of the Ortega.  Glad I won't be going through that bridge again until next Spring.
So as of December 17, 2011 Sarah is once again comfortably berthed at the Ortega Yacht Club Marina.

Frenandina Beach, FL to Jacksonville, FL