4 July - Hotter than July in Reedville!
The passage to Reedville was unremarkable as there was no wind and the navigation is pretty straightforward. We passed a few small fishermen and as we entered the Great Wicomico River (pronounced ‘wi-COM-i-CO’ as far as I can tell) there were some old-fashioned looking pound nets rigged across the shoal ground. A pound net is the fisherman’s equivalent of a sheep pen; reliant on his knowledge of how the schools of fish swim, he rigs a series of nets on posts driven into the mud which gradually corral the fish into an area they cannot escape from.
Reedville is a major fishing centre for America, not just the Chesapeake. The principal catch is a rather dull little cousin of the herring, called ‘menhaden’. You are forgiven if you haven’t heard of it; but the chances are good that you’ve used or consumed it at some stage. It is particularly high in oils such as Omega-3 and is widely used in the pharmaceutical industry, for fish meal, animal feed, crab bait and (apparently) by the French in their croissants. I find the latter claim slightly surprising as I sit here dreaming of eating a decent early morning croissant fresh from a Normandy bakery, rather than some artificially enhanced copy peddled by the coffee chains on this side of the Pond, but in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I’m loathe to accuse the Virginia fishermen of ‘fake news’. They are big men with big trucks, so best leave that to someone more qualified!
Typical Menhaden boats at Reedville. Most are ex-oilrig support vessels. Note the two purse seine whalers on the stern.
Anyhow, the menhaden is THE smell of money in Reedville. The town was established by Elijah Reed in the nineteenth century to provide fish oil substitutes for whale products. Quite a lot of people became very rich on the back of this trade and many of the houses in the small, sleepy town reflect that. The fishing boats are big and deploy purse seine nets operated by a couple of open whalers to encircle a school of fish located by a dedicated spotter aircraft. They catch about a million fish at a time, with almost no by-catch at all. The mother vessel then literally hoovers the catch out of the net and the processing factory uses every single part of the fish for something commercially viable. Apparently, it’s sustainable too. Sounds too good to be true? Probably. There’s only one factory here now, whereas there used to be half a dozen. Perhaps this is ‘efficiency’, or is it down to diminishing stocks? Some US States have banned menhaden fishing, but not Virginia. The smell of the rendering process is pretty pungent… is there a moral here?
The harbour is pretty much picture-perfect once you get north of the fish factory. Like a miniature Salcombe, it’s classic Virginia: a complex pattern of estuaries providing miles of waterfrontage, not all of it developed by any means. The bits that are, look great: classic Colonial style clapperboard houses with matching garages and outhouses, docks with speedboats on lifts, patriotic flags prominently displayed, several vehicles per household, lots of sit-on lawnmowers, not a weed in sight, verandahs with Adirondack furniture and perfectly plumped cushions. I think that hanging out the washing might be a crime punishable by exclusion from the local ice cream parlour (which is brilliant, by the way). The undeveloped bits are dominated by wonderful woodland and low-lying marsh grasses. We loved it and dropped anchor off the ‘marine railway’ – a small, classic-looking boatyard specialising in traditionally built small wooden fishing boats.
The water supply with a typical ‘deadrise’ Chesapeake crab boat in the foreground. You can have one in any colour, so long as it’s white.
As it was Friday night and the July holiday week about to start, there were plenty of people out in their boats, ‘cruising’. Everybody waved, some stopped to chat, fascinated to see a British boat so far from home. One boat, owned by Scott Taylor, reappeared the following morning laden with eggs, eggplant and zucchini (aubergine and courgette for the British reader) in case we got hungry. And an invitation to cool off in their swimming pool. After all, it was HOT, damned HOT.
Not as hot as the engine though. When I conducted my weekly check on Saturday morning, I found a couple of pints of coolant in the bilge and signs of a leak around the header tank cap. Escapade’s engine is ‘fresh water cooled’ (well, mostly antifreeze actually) but instead of the big radiator you get on the front of a car, we pump sea water through a ‘heat exchanger’ which draws the heat out of the sealed fresh water system. Except that we clearly had a leak. Two, in fact. We also had a leak on the sea water exhaust: I could see a build up of salt crystals on the exhaust pipe and when I wiped them off, a tiny hole emerged underneath. So when I ran the engine, salt water gushed out of that new hole and fresh water/antifreeze pushed its way out of the header tank. Not good news.
The salt water problem was simple to repair with some ‘Chemical Metal’, so at least we would not sink when running the engine. I would need a replacement part, but this problem could be managed. The loss of coolant was more of a worry. The filler cap was only a couple of years old, so it should not have failed. As I scratched my head and dived into the literature for some inspiration, there was a knock on the hull. Neil Langford is an Australian member of the OCC who, together with his wife Ley and their boat Crystal Blues, are about 14 years into a cruise around Australia via South East Asia, the Indian and Atlantic oceans! They were moored a bit further up the creek on a dock belonging to another OCC couple, Walter Keith and his wife Mary. The OCC Chesapeake Rally (which we missed in the end) had started here at Reedville on their verandah. Walter and Neil took a close interest in our engine problem. Neil’s thermometer showed that there were no hotspots or blockages in the cooling system. Walter’s Wi-Fi system reached us out at anchor and through the Aussies, we had use of his truck to get to the nearby town of Kilmarnock. Both men had some engineering knowledge and I know enough to sense when I’m being bamboozled. One plausible theory was that the cylinder head gasket had blown, forcing exhaust gases into the coolant which in turn was being forced out of the relief valve on the filler cap.
There’s a test for this, so we arranged to acquire a suitable kit from NAPA (Halfords equivalent) in Kilmarnock. I contacted Perkins, the engine manufacturer. Not only do they have a big distribution operation in the US, but their Virginia parts place was only an hour away, near Gloucester (home of my new friends at Enterprise Car rentals!). The only remaining challenge; could we get the parts we might need and find an engineer before America shut down for 4th July.
The Marine railway at Reedville
As we pursued this, the owner of the dock nearest to our anchorage came out to us in his boat and offered us the use of his alongside berth for as long as we needed it. Dave and Carol Godwin typified the fantastic welcome and generosity of spirit we have encountered everywhere here. With the support of the Crystal Blues team, Walter and Mary and now Dave and Carol, how could we fail?
The view from Walter’s verandaha at Reedville. Escapade is just right of centre on Dave & Carol’s dock
Julie and I arranged a hire car and Enterprise agreed to collect us from Kilmarnock. The Perkins agent, Transatlantic Diesels, had all the parts in stock. The owner, Marcus, is a friend of the legendary Harry Pound, Portsmouth’s marine salvage king and he used to buy old Ton Class Minehunters from Harry, before moving out here 40 years ago. He happens to be a wizard on everything Perkins and advised that cylinder head gasket failures on the M90 diesel are rarer than a rare thing. Equally rare, but worth considering, was a leak in the exhaust manifold (in addition to the one I had already fixed). He and his team were superb.
By Tuesday evening, we had everything onboard and had arranged for an engineer to be available from first thing on Monday 9th. Whilst we tried to track down someone to visit sooner, Julie and I decided to go by car to Annapolis for 4th July, partly to see the festivities but also to ‘tick it off’ in case we were delayed leaving Reedville well into the week of 9 July and thereby risking the New York family reunion. As we hatched a plan, Walter came up with the goods on an engineer, putting us in touch with a branch of the Cockrell family, who are major players in the marine industry around this part of Virginia. Andy Cockrell agreed that his man would visit Escapade on 5 July and if the problem was a cylinder head gasket, it would be replaced that day. Later that evening, Julie and I tested the coolant using the NAPA kit. The result was slightly inconclusive, although there was clearly some contamination present. Was this enough to change a gasket? We flushed the system through several times, refilled the tank with fresh antifreeze and fitted the new filler cap.
Sensing that we had the initiative back, we set off for Annapolis on Wednesday morning in pretty good heart. The roads were almost empty and we enjoyed seeing this part of rural America, where the corn is high the living looks easy. We found an excellent chandlery, Fawcett’s, on the south side of the city. The place is far superior to any West Marine we’ve come across, not least because of the professional knowledge of the staff. We were looking for a pilot book and planning charts for New York and Maine; the lady who helped us is a well-established yachting journalist from that part of the US who was also closely involved with the Star Class (a 22 foot long veteran Olympic class with 2 crew designed in 1910). When we told her about the extraordinary Italian sailor Dario Noseda who we saw off Tenerife and again in Cape Verde was sailing a Star singlehanded across the Atlantic, we all became gloriously sidetracked. His story is a fantastic one and I thoroughly recommend looking at for more details, albeit in anglo-italian waterspeak! Suffice to say he crossed the Atlantic, is still alive, but wrecked his boat on the northern end of St Lucia.
Armed with pilot book and chart, we found free parking right in the heart of downtown Annapolis and spent a lovely afternoon wandering around this historic maritime city, the state capital of Maryland and the capital of the fledgling United States for a year or two. We arrived too late to visit the Naval Academy, so settled down in a slightly tawdry fast food joint at the bottom of Main Street to watch the 4th July Parade.
State House, Annapolis, the seat of early US Government in 1783-4
The people watching was far more interesting than the parade itself. We were expecting something like the Notting Hill Carnival, I think, with decorated floats and street performers. We got the Annapolis Navy Band (HMS COLLINGWOOD Volunteer Band are as good – keep it up, lads!), some out-of- step standard bearers and a poignant march by the survivors of the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette and their fellow journalists which drew loud cheers from the large crowd… but after that it went a bit flat, I’m afraid. It’s Election season in Maryland, so the majority of the Parade was made up of political activists and candidates smiling and waving at their relatives in the crowd. Some of the Harley Davidson bikers on parade were so fat they could barely see the handlebars. I particularly liked the dark green truck advertising pest control services. We decided to beat the rush and left early, so to be absolutely fair to the fine people of Annapolis we might have missed the best bits...
4th July Parade, Annapolis: the team from the Capital Gazette followed by a chap campaigning for election to the Maryland Senate.
Heading south, we found some fireworks near the Potomac River. They were so close to the road that I pulled over to avoid being blinded by the spectacle. Turns out, most everyone else was doing the same thing, except that they had clearly planned this excursion, possibly to avoid the queues in the car park – or the entry fees? The fireworks were very good though!