At Norfolk and now even wetter

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Tue 6 Aug 2013 20:51
In position 36:50.80N, 076:18.00W
Warning - not to be read over a good meal - or any meal come to that!
Just checked the calendar - yes, it's definitely early August but this morning, after spending a pleasant evening devouring fish and chips of the oven variety we awoke to skies just itching to dump tons of water over everybody beneath them.  Well, go ahead then, we don't care. Just another woe in the tale of woes since leaving Oriental last Friday.
Apart from the weather (which to be honest we shouldn't really complain about but being British comes to us naturally as a birthright) we have the small matter of a grounding last Sunday whilst navigating a slight bend on the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal. The lead up to this event is roughly as follows with 'Skip' on the helm....
Admiral to Skip..... "Have you got that tree stump sticking up out of the water to your right?"
Skip..... "YES! I have seen that tree and I have a small barge ahead of me, it's a bit tight and there's crab pots to port"
10 secs later...
Ajaya..... "Bang, crash, wallop, bounce, another wallop and a thud" (abbreviated version)
Admiral to Skip...... "!!!%***£££$$$$$ !!!! ....what shall we do?" (polite version)
Skip to Admiral..... "Go forward while we try and reverse off"....................
Well, without drawing this little drama out we did manage to get off to our utter relief. With no apparent damage to the boat (inside) that we can see attributing to the grounding - but careless all the same. This little contretemps with the bottom signalled the start of more misery to come.  For instance a night of minor terror at the Little Alligator River anchorage having negotiated 3 million crab pots getting into the river mouth. Then finding our two charting systems onboard disagreed as to the exact location of a reported wreck in the channel with the nearest alternative anchorage five miles away. Meanwhile, the nasty thunderstorm that welcomed us into the area moved off the coast to make room for another one that was queuing up in it's wake to terrorise us during the evening. But, at least we were in a good spot to get across the notorious Albemarle Sound early the next morning before the wind was due to shift into the north later in the day. HA! In fact to say the next day was not enjoyable for Ajaya's crew would be like saying that General Custer had an unfortunate skirmish with a few Indians at Little Big Horn! 
So the next morning we were up with the lark and underway across the Albemarle Sound when the 'Admiral' spotted lots of steam coming out of the exhaust on the port engine. In fact there was steam from both as it was a slightly cooler morning. A check on the cooling water exiting with the exhaust revealed there wasn't much water to be seen so the port engine was shut down for investigation. We continued on starboard because the breeze had now already clocked into the north about eight hours earlier than had been predicted and so was more of a nuisance than a help.
The port engine was definitely out of sorts so the raw water pump was pulled off to ascertain the condition of the impellor. Apart from one lobe of the impellor being about to detach itself there was no real reason for so little water being pumped through. The impellor was replaced with a new one and refitted to the engine but still the condition prevailed. The intake hose was detached from the pump and lowered below sea level which should produce a frightening amount of water ingress but there was very little flow. So it was definitely a blockage then.  We continued limping across the Albemarle hoping the starboard engine wouldn't give up the ghost either. It didn't and we anchored just off the ICW channel south of Buck Island where we've stopped before. Skip figured the cooling water intake on the saildrive leg was gummed up from two months sitting idle whilst busy little barnacles did their stuff. Or maybe a jellyfish had committed suicide by loitering by the intake just waiting for the moment the engine would be started. Either way it was a trip into the murky water to see what was going on.
'See' turned to 'feel' as the ICW water clarity in this part of the system is to be likened to scuba diving in a vat of strong Indian tea. The tannin content reduces visibility to virtually zero, well let's say 5 inches which was where 'Skip' lost sight of his hand in front of the mask as he descended into the abyss (not really an abyss as we were only in eight foot of water!). Groping under the hull to find the port drive leg was somewhat disconcerting but after a while and knowing where everything was situated the leg was found adorned with barnacles which started to succumb to the plastic scraper. 'Skip' cleared the holes on both sides of the leg and hoped that would do the trick. Meanwhile the 'Admiral' was on the satphone to home - usual Sunday routines to be followed regardless of course - we're British you know! 'Skip' surfaced to see if he could hear words like 'idiot' and 'liability' being mentioned but could hear neither so re-submerged and continued to take the day's frustrations out on the resident barnacle population. Both saildrive legs were cleared around the water intakes and the props were also scraped clean as they were heavy with growth. One barnacle did cause minor wounds to 'Skip's' leg but otherwise it was a 'home win' for the Ajaya crew.
Whilst underwater it was time to try and clear the blocked holding tank line to sea which had been bunged up since Mexico. This was a delicate operation as 'Skip' would insert a length of wire into the through-hull fitting and thread it as far as possible towards the blockage.  Then if and when something ghastly began to head in his direction signifying the blockage having been cleared three loud taps on the hull would signify the wire had been withdrawn enough to close the seacock (as of course it's not permitted to pollute any of the USA waters we are navigating through). Also 'Skip' didn't fancy being immersed in a cloud of 'you know what'. Well, nothing happened meaning the blockage was quite substantial and had probably called up reserves from the tank so as to 'hold the line' during the unwanted prodding from without! So diving operations ceased (with the loss of one diving fin!) but at least the port engine water intake was now hopefully clear?
No it wasn't, as precisely no water came out of the intake pipe when removed from the strainer. So, having just used the air pump for diving ops it was now used to blow through the intake line so as to blow any jellyfish or whatever out of the system. After a few tries lots of air could be heard bubbling from under the boat as if there was a Buster Crabbe memorial service taking place. So success was claimed. But the holding tank blockage was still a nagging itch to be scratched and so, adorned with multiple pairs of rubber gloves 'Skip' proceeded to attack the outlet pipe in the tank with the wire prodder. Still no movement but it was now more obvious as to where the blockage was and there was only one thing to be done - disconnect the pipe from that area in the starboard engine compartment and stand well clear. The 'Admiral' retired to the cockpit with a good book as the hose clamps were slowly unscrewed......the pipe slowly prised apart.....bucket at the ready.....GUSH, all over the engine compartment.  What a mess said Pooh Bear to Piglet.  Well, we put all that 'stuff' straight back into the holding tank (due to USA regulations of course) and we'll bid it all farewell at the next pump out station.
Monday dawned bright and clear.  A beautiful 'good to be alive' sunny morning as we started engines to head towards Norfolk. Anchor up, underway, wait a minute, the port engine's not putting out any water! Out with the 'Cousteau' air pump, blow down the intake line, just a few bubbles but nothing more as we proceed once again on one engine as 'Skip' rigs up a bypass for the cooling water using the nearby port heads intake valve. Success, we now have a working port engine but only one working head so need to coordinate matters in the mornings for a while and re-dive the leg when the water visibility is at 'Jasmine Tea' strength somewhere in the Chesapeake. Things can only get better now we're in Norfolk and yes those skies did dump copious amounts of water as we negotiated the various bridges along the way.