Days 5 and 6, Year 1: A Little “Bump” in the Road
Date: Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and October 23, 2005
Weather: Sat–Winds 25-35, Gusts to 48 knots; Sun–Beautiful and Cool
Location: Town Dock, Lewes, Delaware

We arrived here in Lewes, Delaware, yesterday morning, Saturday, October 22, and here we will be for the next week or two, or possibly longer. That’s because of the little “bump” in the road. That transmission v-drive problem I mentioned in earlier logs is the bump and it could turn out to be a bigger problem than we had thought. I’ll let that unfold as I tell the story of the past two days.

I sent the Day Four log at about 5:00 pm on Friday. If you read that log, I had described the unbelievable day with the birds. As night approached, a couple of the little birds decided that they were going to spend the night in the cockpit or in the main cabin. They kept flying in and we kept chasing them out. Finally, we closed the hatch and decided to let them stay in the corner of the cockpit floor where they were huddled. Their persistence was stronger than ours, and soon it became apparent why they didn’t want to fly out into the night. The winds got stronger and stronger. At first they were the predicted 15-20 knots but with unpredicted gusts to 30. We double reefed the head sail and the main, checked the weather again which again did not predict these strong winds, and flew into the night. The winds kept building. While I was on watch from 10:00 pm to 1:30 am, the winds settled at 25 knots with gusts to 35. When I came back on watch at 4:00, the winds were 25 to 35 knots with gusts up to 48 knots! The winds were still behind us and we hoped to keep them that way. The boat was handling the wind and waves very well, but as the waves built and we got closer to land, anything and everything that was not well battened down ended up in the floor. (A note for our friend Claire: No worries. The clementines were safe and sound in the new tiered basket.) I have to say that the two hours from 4:00 to 6:00 am were two of the longest in my life. Since the winds just kept getting stronger and the drizzling rain became a down pour blowing into the cockpit from behind and we were getting closer and closer to the entrance to the Delaware Bay, I dared not think what might happen next. When you are on watch alone in the middle of a blustery night, you really have to think positive thoughts. But those little birds were still huddled in the cockpit floor and I was thinking I just might like to cuddle up with them. At 6:00 am it was time to wake Mark and change course to go into the Delaware Bay. I came below as it was so wet in the cockpit, but I was not going to be able to sleep. I finally laid down, but soon Mark asked me to man the radar. We were in the Delaware Bay shipping channel and even though it was daylight, the pouring rain caused visibility to be almost nil. A cargo ship had come up behind us but luckily Mark had seen it in time to get out of the way. He did a securite call on the radio to alert other boats of our position and the Coast Guard radioed us to verify our position and alert other ships in the area. It is always a good feeling to have the Coast Guard looking out for you.

Now I’ll add the sad story of the v-drive transmission problem. Earlier in the evening when we were motoring, it had became apparent that we were not going to be able to keep up with the loss of fluid. As fast as we could fill it, it would disappear. We had to continue filling it through the night evening though we were not running the motor. That was because we were literally flying through the water which was causing the propeller to turn the drive shaft and the noise was not a pretty one when the fluid was low. By morning when we found ourselves in terrible weather conditions in the Delaware Bay we were reminded of just how important it is to have a reliable transmission. Once in the bay, the winds settled back to 25 knots but the wind was now coming against us. We were not going to be able to make it to the C & D Canal by nightfall without the engine to help us, so we had to make a decision. We could go in behind the breakwater on Cape Henlopen or we could try and make it to the C & D Canal without the help of the engine and go through the canal during the night. However, you have to be under motor power in the canal. What further damage might we cause if we tried this? We were exhausted and hungry, so we decided to eat breakfast while we were deciding. I left my post at the radar screen to walk into the galley and almost stepped on a little bird fast asleep on the main cabin floor! I checked with Mark and there were no birds left in the cockpit. Then when I reached in the basket to get a banana, I found two more little birds cuddled in the bottom of the basket. I picked up the bird on the carpet, put it in the basket, and handed the basket to Mark. I don’t know how they got in, but it was time for these little guys to make their way to land.

At about 9:00 am we made the decision to go into Cape Henlopen. In doing this, we knew we might not make it to the Chesapeake this coming week as the weather reports we had read were for nasty weather all week. We needed to get the boat to a mechanic. And then there was Wilma. What was she going to do? We wanted to go on, but common sense told us to stop. So with heavy hearts we tucked in behind the breakwater. We were both exhausted and we needed to find a safe place to anchor and rest. I looked in the Waterway guide but found no radio or phone numbers for anything in Lewes, so I got on the radio and called for the Cape Henlopen harbor master. I called a couple of times and got no answer, so we decided to just anchor and figure things out later. Our charts showed less than 6 feet of water in the Lewes (pronounced loo-is) and Rehobeth Canal, so the anchorage basin looked like the only alternative. Then someone called Windbird on the radio. It was a guy named Steve Smyk with the Delaware River and Canal Police Department. He had heard my call for the harbor master and wanted to let me know that there is not one, but that he would be glad to help us with information. He was unbelievable. He kept me on standby while he called a marina in the Lewes and Rehobeth Canal. He found that there is really 11 feet of water at mean low tide if you stay right in the middle and that the town dock had enough water for our nearly 6 foot draft. He even called Tow Boat US to be on standby in case our transmission failed before we reached the dock. And then he called us back later in the afternoon to make sure we had made it in. It is wonderful to know that there are such caring folks out here. Thank you, Steve.

We tied up to the town dock and tried to figure out what to do next. I had the number of the Towboat US contact, so Mark called him to thank him for being on standby for us and asked if he could recommend a good mechanic. We called the guy he recommended and he said he would come by Monday morning to check things out, but he couldn’t promise he could do the work right away. He’s the mechanic for all of the fishing charter boats across the canal from the town dock and he would have to fit us in between any work he would need to do for the charter boats. I hooked up the hose and started spraying off some of the salt we had collected on Windbird and found that the town dock is a very busy little place. People started coming down to check out the new boat in town. People also fish from the dock and a couple of guys who had been fishing stopped to say hello. I told them our sad v-drive transmission story and one of the guys told me his favorite transmission story. He is a commercial fisherman and has a 43 foot aluminum boat built by a local guy. Not long after it was built, he was hauling in traps and got the line wrapped around the prop. But he didn’t know that. After pulling up the traps, he put the boat in gear and revved the engine. The strain on the transmission caused the gears to actually blow out the side of the gear box. He called the guy who had built the boat and before the end of the day, he had repaired the gear box and was back in business. He suggested we call this guy to see if he could help us. So we did.

An hour and a half later, David Laux and his wife arrived. He came with a stethoscope and asked me to start the engine and put it in gear while he listened. His diagnosis is that there is probably not too much damage, but at the very least the seals and bearings need to be replaced. The problem is that the v-drive is attached to the transmission gear box and that is attached to the engine. The v-drive box has to be removed to be worked on, and that could possibly require the entire engine to be removed. We did that in 2002 when we had the engine rebuilt and it is not an easy or a cheap task. David is checking to see if the box can be removed without taking out the whole engine, but his recommendation is that we buy a new engine. When he said that, I thought I might faint. And I’m not faint-hearted. He feels we made the wrong decision in getting the engine rebuilt in the first place and will be happier and safer in the long run with a new engine. We have lots of thinking and technical checking to do before making such a decision, but if it will require taking out the engine to fix the v-drive, we will probably not put this engine back in. If we can get a new engine here in the next couple of days, David thinks he can get it installed and running in a little more than a week. We won’t make it to Hampton by boat for our emergency medical class this next weekend, but we might still make it there by Friday, November 5, when my family is planning to come for a send-off. But again, not only the work that needs to be done will determine this, the weather will have to be with us as well. We’ll just have to see.

For now, here we sit in Lewes, Delaware. It is beautiful today, but cooler than yesterday requiring fall jackets. I’ll post a log tomorrow once we know what we will be doing about the engine. Until then . . .

051023 Day 6 Boston to Norfolk, USA–Windbird on Lewes, DE Town Dock