There is no name for it so I call it the ďThe Unspeakable.Ē Itís a malady that plagues all boaters but no one speaks of it or admits ever suffering from it. The symptoms are knots in your stomach, and the occasional sweats that soak your clothes and to some the uncontrollable urge to say fowl words, words nice people normally wouldnít say. Oddly your pain and suffering gives pleasure and sometimes glee and behind the scenes snickers to some unsympathetic observers though most likely Iíd be willing to guarantee they have suffered from the same malady many times. Others are sympathetic and say a kind word and the truth is no one escapes it, yet they will deny it, cover it up, make excuses for it and never, ever speak of it and thatís why I call it ďThe UnspeakableĒ.
It occurs in epidemic proportions amongst boaters and sadly there is no preventative measure to take, nor any off the shelf remedy such as a vaccine, antibiotic or pain killer. You just have to ride the course.
Itís fairly contagious too. It can be spread quickly to the rest of the crew just by the sight of your oncoming symptoms and actions. Yes, itís true; the sign of your first symptom can spread and create total pandemonium with the rest of the crew.
The only known remedy for this curse is to just to ride it out, let it take itís course and donít give up as eventually, that long awaited day, that joyous hour will arrive when you start feeling better, feeling more confident, more knowledgeable. Your stomach will suddenly remain calm and you will no longer break out in sweats or yell out some regretful swear words in your panic.
Since I can honestly say every one will suffer from it one time or another, some more and some less, so why then why is it I ask that NO ONE speaks of it or admits to it? Regardless that everyone gets ďitĒ, people will try to hide it, deny it and put on a false front as if it was some kind of shameful disease. It is I guess a humiliating disease and that can be the only rationale why they deny it.
The up side of this disease is that it is 100% curable. Yep, thatís the truth so donít get discouraged if you come down with it and donít give up. The down side of it is that even after a full recovery there can and probably will be annoying reoccurrences from time to time.
WHAT IS IT YOU ASK?
Well, itís nothing more than the unpredictable physiological and psychotic reactions that arise from the fiascos, humiliations and tensions that occur during the normal process of docking a boat....... And itís the reason Iím writing this, as Iíd forgotten, I too, had suffered from it in the past and the thought never occurred that Iíd have another occurrence.
EAST COAST SLIPS
I donít think my reoccurrence has anything to do with this particular boat but has to do with the types of docks here on the East Coast. So, to our West Coast friends, Iíd describe docking here as being somewhat similar to doing a Med Tie without the anchoring business thrown in. Instead you just add to it the frustration of the infamous posts and tight squeezes. In my opinion they are the most troublesome and labor intensive docks to get a boat into.
Did I say docks? Oops, EXCUSE ME, maybe I should rephrase that, as there is no dock to speak of, only space created by posts. Itís like docking inside the posts of a pier without the decking over head. We absolutely hate them. I can get myself into a panic every time we get within a few miles of our destination just worrying about the next scenario. Every situation is different, including the number and height of the posts, and the width and length between them. Thereís no common denominator and then if you throw in a few other ingredients, like winds, currents and boats that are very close in the next slip with nothing in between for protection, well it makes for a dish that is not too tasty for me, in fact not palatable.
I guess you could stretch the truth a bit and say that a ďdockĒ actually does come with these slips but it is nothing more than a stingy small wedge of a dock that projects out from the main dock, at the most, only about 3 feet. Even the stingy wedge has the pointed end nipped off so you have even less than a wedge. It functions only as a difficult way to actually be able to get on and off your boat without the contraption of a plank as they do in the Med.
DESIGNED FOR SAILBOATS?
I can only think these docks are mostly designed for sailboats as I watch them easily slip in with their narrow pointed bows. If they are coming too close to the posts, they just push themselves off one post after another with the slight of a hand or an extended toe. They casually throw the bow lines to the person on the dock who ties them nice and secure while pushing their boat back so their bow sprit wonít hit the bulk head. I donít see these sailors worrying about spring and bow lines that have to be slipped over the outer posts. Thatís because the dock hand is holding their boat nicely in place while the sailor leisurely gets the remaining lines on the poles. This is an easy task too because they can easily pull their boat this and that way to do so.
Our boat on the other hand has to back in and the dock hand canít reach down and push us off the bulk head if we happen to get too close. We are wider and bulkier too so we catch the wind and have more weight to do more damage.
FORGET THE FENDERS
I have to admit that my first fear when coming into a slip like this was that we might hit or rub the posts so I tried to defend the boat against them by putting fenders out before we backed in. I quickly figured out that wasnít a good idea because you can never get the fender in the right place until the boat is finally settled and if the boat comes too close to the post itíll pop your fender right off like a sling shot into the other side of the marina. Iíve done that already. So forget the fenders and bumping into the posts.
In my mind, my job can be likened to a puppet master. I am the puppet master and the boat is the puppet. I have to ďmanage the spaghettiĒ as our friend Norris would say. Iíve got at least six lines with which to animate this puppet. Thatís my sole job, nothing more and nothing less. Larryís job is to get the boat in the slip without hitting post, boats along the way, and God forbid the bulk head that we are backing in to. Thatís a lot in one act.
Why was it so different, so easy, when we had the big Nordhavn? Well, itís because we were so big that the marinas would just put us out on the end of something and there was no squeezing into something and lassoing posts. We also had bow and stern thrusters and the boat was big and heavy so she wasnít as vulnerable to the winds and currents. It was harder to push her around. This boat is smaller so it seems we consistently are put way inside the marina, crammed in someplace where it we barely have breathing room to turn to get into the slip.
SELL THEM SOME CLEATS!
For the East Coast people, on the West Coast the slips have at least one long dock on the side of the slip and they use things called cleats to tie your lines off to. 99% of the time you can just jump off your boat to the dock and take care of all your lines yourself lickety split. Maybe we should sell the East Coast these things called cleats? Thatís because I havenít found one yet. It seems they havenít heard of them yet.
Without cleats, that means these slips require a ropiní cowboy to be aboard. I have to take the eye of the line and slip the line through it to make a loop and than LASSO A POST as we are maneuvering into the slip! Yep, itís like looping a moving target. Sometimes the poles are close as you go by and you can reach over and drop the loop over the post but most of the time they arenít and if you miss a couple times you then better resort to looping it with the boat hook which makes for even clumsier maneuvers. If you are lucky to hit the mark and get the loop over the pole quickly you are not home free yet as you hope they have a nub of wood for a ledge or hook on the pole to keep your line looped up high so it doesnít fall down the pole into the water. If it does that you know it will be a difficult task to get that line off that post when you leave.
So, once you get the line looped on that first critical post you scuttle back to the cleat on your boat to tie it off but then, not so fast, you have to make sure you get it on the correct cleat to afford the proper spring to keep the boat off the bulk head. Now, if youíve done all that right you ďsort of cleat it offĒ but not firmly as you donít know how long the line has to be yet and you donít want to jerk the boat in the wrong direction. If you can, you now lickety split get another one on the opposite side of the boat, same way, and for a bonus, try to get two off the bow and now that done you really quick run back to the stern of the boat and throw two stern lines to the dock people to criss cross and tie to posts at the dock! Now that would be an excellent docking if you could manage all that with no glitches, but that never happens exactly.
While all this puppeteering is going on, Larry is hopefully and diligently doing his job backing her into the slip. If heís not exactly getting her in the slip perfectly, I have to keep an eye out and be ready with the boat pole nearby all telescoped out and locked tight to push us off whatever disaster might be upcoming including keeping us off any creosote smeared post.
So, if all of this goes well without any major mishaps you are almost home free. The next job is to get some fenders out to protect your boat from the splintery posts and the wedge shaped dock. Then you must go around and readjust all the lines that you lassoíd around the posts, tightening, adjusting, maybe changing and in some cases adding even more lines to get the proper spring line scenario. Whew! And then and only then can relax before you start worrying about when we will leave and the whole thing starts all over again except in backwards order.
PRACTICE WILL MAKE YOU PERFECT
By now though you are a wreck, you need a shower and deserve at least a martini. Of course, no of the above described scenarios even mentions other problems caused by weather conditions. Sometimes itís pouring down rain or the wind is blowing a good 15 Ė 20 knots or the current is changing. We havenít had an easy one yet. I guess the only thing that keeps me going is knowing practice will make you perfect.
RECOVERY ON THE HORIZON
So, I guess Iím a little under the weather with this malady right now but sure to recover soon. And since this writing, things have become better and more predictable. I guess Iím getting it figured out but not sure if I have a fully recovered yet.
Main thing is donít give up the ship and go ahead and SPEAK ABOUT IT!
FISHING BAY A PLEASANT STOP
Fishing Bay is a serene place to stop. Itís quiet and beautiful and has old charm. Thereís nothing here but beautiful views, classic boats at the dock and out on the water, lovely old homes and farms on the shoreline, and inland nothing but lush fields lined by thick gorgeous masses of mature trees. The marina is old and the wooden docks feel good under your feet, strong and sturdy with just enough unevenness to tell you of their history. The marina office is a semi-copy of a lighthouse structure and nearby are the buildings housing clean showers and restrooms and even a pool and lounge with a nice BBQ area. The only sounds you hear are birds chirping and a dog or two barking across the water.
WEATHER HAS BEEN A REAL MIX
The air is thick and steamy and in the morning has a thick coat of morning dew. Got to say the weather has been a bit uncomfortableÖsticky, sticky, sticky. Itís been all over the map since weíve come East to the Chesapeake. Some days itís unbearably hot and muggy, then it will quickly turn cold, cool, nice, windy, calm, sunny, cloudy, rainy stormy, etc. Good thing we brought a variety of clothes as weíve had to become flexible. But it looks like the big storm is behind us now so tomorrow we can head out with a comfortable ride for a change.
SO LONG FISHING BAY
No problem today getting out of the slip, only a few cuss words and one or two stuck lassos on the posts. It was a good escape.
The Bay is much smoother today but to be honest Iíll be glad to get inside the Intracoastal and to some flat water for a change, mostly for Ziggyís peace of mind. Heís had nothing but choppy, rough seas ever since weíve been on this boat and I think heís beginning to wonder why weíd want to do this.
HEADING FOR SMITHVILLE, VA TODAY
Yep, Virginia, didnít I mention weíre in Virginia yet? We crossed the state line yesterday out on the water as we crossed the mouth of the Potomac River. Itís amazing to me that within the distance of a few brief miles, accents, lifestyles and manners vary. Suddenly itís ďyes mam and no mamĒ and that great southern hospitality, charm and manners. Also, in Smithville we started to get a taste of that good Southern food. Mmm yum.
HAM? IíLL GO OUT OF THE WAY FOR HAM
Smithville, VA, of Smithville ham fame, is up the James River. Itís a bit out of our way as we head towards the Intracoastal and the Great Dismal Swamp. Larry really wants to go there and I think the reason rather than seeing more historical buildings and a river is instead is hoping heíll get a chance to eat some of that famous ham. Iím just guessing of course but when it relates to his stomach thatís usually the course we take.
OCEAN SWELLS FOR A CHANGE
So of we went headed down the Chesapeake in search of a ham dinner. The seas were much calmer today and the skies crystal clear. We passed the Rappahannock River and began to feel the swells of the ocean from the mouth of the Chesapeake for the first time. They were small but weird as they mixed in with the Bay and made for a washing machine type ride but on the slow gentle cycle.
We began to see freighters anchored along the way and heard lots of commercial traffic on the radio. We were monitoring Channel 13 for a heads up on what and where they were. As we passed New Point Comfort Light the swells evened out and it was a gentler up and down ride over the ocean swells. Soon we were running alongside the shipping lanes with lots of markers to look at and identify. We passed Hampton Roads and then made a starboard turn officially heading up James River.
Monstrous Naval ships lined the docks, getting repairs and modifications done, some draped under big tents with sounds of drilling and hammering echoing across the water. Workers the size of ants were moving about on the decks and the scaffolding structures that laced up the multi story sides of these monster ships and small craft like our Protector boat patrolled the waterways looking for suspicious boats. It was the fast red and gray Coast Guard boat with its big outboard motors racing around flashing lights and acting cocky like a feisty young stallion. Theyíve got a lot to protect around here and have to be on their toes.
HAMPTON ROADS BRIDGE TUNNEL
We went past the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel which is the weirdest sight. You see a road coming partially across the water filled with cars and trucks doing their work hour commute when suddenly they disappear as they drive into a big yellow building. Thatís because on both sides the traffic is diverted down under the river into a tunnel and come up the other side mid way across the river.
A JET SKIER FROLICKING IN OUR WAKE
Ahead we see the big James River Bridge. Under we go and now itís time to start looking for the markers to the Pagan River that will take us up river a few miles to Smithville. Weíre making our way nicely when I see some guy on a big powerful jet ski racing from shore to our boat, well not the boat exactly, but to our big wake. Weíve discovered that this boat puts out a pretty impressive wake and I guess this guy just couldnít resist having some fun with it. Zig and I watched him for about ten minutes as he criss crossed up and over the wakes behind us, flying high into to air at times. It was incredible! Finally we slowed down as we began to enter the markers for the channel to the shallow waters of the Pagan River and he came up beside us and gave us a big thumb up! I guess he was thanking us for the awesome time he just had.
Iíve got to say this ride up the Pagan River was worth the detour as this area is absolutely beautiful. The river gently meanders through marshlands and the river banks are dotted with picturesque houses and old oyster docks and warehouses and in the mix is abundant wildlife viewing. We saw white egrets, variety of unusual ducks, osprey, grey heron, etc. It is absolutely a beautiful trip.
Eventually we know we are almost to our destination as we get a glimpse of a picturesque light house structure just half of it emerging above the march lands. Itís not unlike the ones weíve seen out on the Chesapeake. Of Course this is a replica built as an icon for the nearby family owned hotel. Itís called Smithville Station. The complex includes a small hotel, restaurant and marina with shops and walk around decks. Itís a set right along the river overlooking the marshes, a very pleasant setting.
And to boot we got to side tie to some nice new floating docks! They put us in a spot right next to the lighthouse structure which we were told was the honey moon suite for the hotel. We had an unobstructed view of the marshlands and river, to watch the activities of many white egrets, grey herons, mallards and a slew of Canadian geese. It was as if we were docking cross from a wild life preserve with all the amenities nearby.
Everything was convenient and nice here. We ate our meals at the hotel, lunch out on the deck with Ziggy and dinner and martinis in the dining room at night. They provide good friendly service and delicious food just steps away from the boat. The restrooms and shower facilities were just up the ramp and spotlessly clean. The showers even came with hotel style complementary shampoo conditioner and hand soap. This was a good stop.
The nearby town is walkable and has some old town charm. Thereís not much to it except for the Smithville ham shop and a wonderful store called Wharl Hill. That is a great store with a tasteful collection of wonderful things and the most amazing displays. Who ever designed that store and maintains the displays and selection of goods is amazingly talented and it is definitely worth the trip just to see this store. They have antiques, dishware, bird houses, garden ornaments, sailing memorabilia, childrenís clothes and much more but beautifully selected and displayed.
The walk to town is a pleasant easy stroll from the marina and takes you past some grand old homes with views out over the marshes. We sure would recommend this detour.
TIME TO GO AGAIN
Time to go again. Larry is trying to figure out how to get through the Dismal Swamp with their inconvenient times for the locks. Weíre going to head for Norfolk and stay over night at the City Docks and leave at the crack of dawn to make the first lock opening at 9:00. We should just barely have enough time to make it. He hasnít had much luck getting information about the conditions, etc. of the Swamp but weíre determined to try it.