13 November 2021: Dates, Mates & Hilarious Mistakes


13 November 2021

Departure point

Norfolk, VA, USA

arrival point

Great Bridge Bridge, VA, USA

distance (NM)

11 NM

Cumulative Mileage (NM)

666 NM

Crew on Board


Skipper, first mate, chef, entertainment and more; I guess that is solo sailing for you!



Light winds, something that unless it was stormy would affect me much less now I was on the Intracoastal Waterway. 


Not a cloud in sight!


A sunny but cool fall day!




Dry, thank goodness!


My time in Norfolk was busy!

Since I arrived quite late, we – me, Amber and Michael – waited until first thing in the morning to talk engines.   They texted me in the morning and said whenever I was ready they would come on over!

I was ready to get this thing sorted so we got an early start.   And I was excited to cross paths with my first Totem boat!  They hugged me ‘hello’ like I was family, which I warmly welcomed as it was a comfort.  Sailing solo had been stressful and I was so grateful not only to have help with the engine but the company of new friends.  I was doubly appreciative as they were making time for me when they had FOUR kids onboard.  

Jamie and Michael and I had been talking engines together for a few days over Facebook Messenger before my arrival (and I had been talking to old owner Mike), so we already had a pretty good idea of what he suspected the problem was.  

Given the rate at which fuel was getting into my oil (an entire excess gallon), Mike, Michael and Jamie all suspected it was the fuel pump/mechanical lift pump.   Behind it there was a gasket/seal and on one side of the gasket the fuel flows and on the other side of the gasket you have the oil side of the engine.   If that gasket was faulty in any way that could explain fuel in the oil.   And given it was being ‘pushed’ by the pump, that could explain the high volume getting through.

The injector pump was a possibility as were the injectors themselves, but they two did not fit volume of fuel in the oil.  

So we pulled off the fuel pump and took a look at the gasket.  

Though there were no visible issues with the gasket there did appear to oil on the wrong side of the seal.   And if oil was on the fuel side, then it made sense that fuel could have gotten through to the oil side too.   Old owner Mike seemed to be the master of finding the right part numbers (somewhat trickier because you need to find the part number for Universal and then, if the nearest dealership was a Kubota dealership, you needed to find the conversion table to see what the equivalent Kubota part number was).

Lucky for me there was a Kubota tractor dealership in Norfolk (and a Universal engine is just a marinized Kubota), an long Uber ride away, so I called to see if they had it in stock.   They did not but they could get it overnighted from Georgia.  Though that added to the cost of the part, I felt it was prudent to get the part while I had Michael’s assistance so I paid for the overnight shipping.   Friends on SV Windy stopped by to see how I was going and I told them about the problem (sailors love to talk about these things).   My plan was to change the oil and oil filter that night and then go pick up the part in the morning to change it.

Jay offered to lend me his oil pump and reservoir to do it as I had three gallons of oil that needed a place to go while I pumped.  It could be transferred to the empty oil containers after the change was complete.   Cruisers are the best!

I completed the oil change (I had to do it cold because the fuel pump was off) so it took a while.   And then once all done and cleaned up went over to have a drink with Jay and Jialin on SV Windy – plus their two adorable dogs Windy and Breezy – and return their oil reservoir/pump.  It was so wonderful to see them again after a brief meeting in Rhode Island.  Jay was the brother of good friend Dave in Rhode Island and somehow the Rhode Island connection always brings me comfort. 

We visited as time flew by and I went to bed way later than I should! 

The next day I picked up the fuel pump without incident, the dealership was SO helpful and they ship international so I saved their details for any future needs.  I also disposed of my oil at an autoshop and got some groceries.   And Michael came over to help me install it as soon as I was back!

Michael and Amber and family were leaving the next day, south as well, and they offered to buddy boat with me for a bit to ensure the engine problems were solved.   So we got it done and ran the engine to make sure we were happy and prepared to depart in the morning.   

The Passage

The first day was a short day, around 10 nautical miles.   And because it was the Intracoastal Waterway that meant a lot of motoring.  Perfect for testing out the engine.  

We pulled anchor and set out on our way in the morning.  

There was at least seven or eight other boats headed the same way.   All of us motoring, stopping, making radio contact with bridge operators, idling while we waited for bridges, trying to hold position, then motoring again.   

With limited anchorage options in this first stretch of the ICW and some strong winds coming, our plan was to get through the Great Bridge Lock and stay on the free dock at Great Bridge Bridge.  

The day proceeded without incident and I was particularly grateful for the lack of issues with the engine.   I hoped we had solved the problem.   I had a long stretch of Intracoastal Waterway ahead of me and a lot of motoring.   I needed a reliable engine!

As we approached the lock, we had to wait quite a while.   They had to allow Northbound traffic in, raise them up and let them out.   Then once they were ready for Southbound vessels, they had the barge enter first and then allowed all of us ‘narrow beam’ vessels in next to it before filling up the rest of the lock.   

I was the second vessel going in next to the barge, right behind friends in SV Islay.   It was very narrow between the wall of the lock and the barge but I was headed in nice and straight.  I travelled the length of the barge leaving lots of room between me and SV Islay so that I can slow down.   I had all my lines and fenders attached and ready on the starboard side but was very nervous as I was solo and I had obstacles on both sides.   The comparison to the boat in front of me was almost comical with SIX of them dashing around sorting lines and fenders.  But I remembered my friend Ed’s advice when we docked his boat in Rhode Island together, slower is almost always better (less damage if something goes wrong).  

So I was going nice and slow!

As I saw SV Islay throwing lines, I knew where I would be stopping.   So I prepared to slow down, thinking my worse case scenario was to walk myself along the wall in neutral if I stopped too soon.   I thought a quick little bump into reverse and back to neutral would help me achieve the perfect speed.   But I forgot that reverse always affected my steering/orientation with prop pulling slightly to the side.   This made it impossible to go straight.    

I popped it straight back to neutral the moment I realised and dashed up to the centerline of the boat to stop myself from crashing into the barge.   My gut decision was to jump from the boat onto the barge as there was nothing for me to push off of from the height of Tala’s deck.

And so I leapt and pushed, stopping the boat and barge from rubbing up against each other.  Tala was in neutral and I help her lifelines and things were in control.   So I thought the best thing to do was just to walk her up – something I had planned to do on the wall of the lock, but now I was here I just strolled up the barge. 

I had a great little chuckle to myself at the situation but gave myself a pass as it was my first lock!

Once I was up and behind SV Islay, I jumped on board and threw my lines up the wall to the Lock tender.   I asked him if he had ever seen the ‘barge method’ used and he laughed and confirmed that this was a first. 

I had a good laugh with Michael and Amber and the boat behind me as well all waited for the lock to finish loading boats and filling with water.   

You will be pleased to know that the exit of the lock went very smoothly.   

With our bridge just ahead of the lock, I left the lines and fenders in place and pulled up.   I am great at docking Tala, boats in general, so my lock experience did not shake me and I had an easy docking experience.   Though I did spend an awful lot of time adjusting the fenders once I was tied up to ensure they would not rub in the coming winds. 

I checked my oil levels, still normal.   Though I thought it could take longer than a couple hours of motoring before I would notice any issues.   I vowed to keep an eye on it.

I spent the day tidying up after all of the engine work the last couple days, having a shower and getting ready for a last minute dinner date.   While I was waiting at one bridge earlier that day, I got a notification from my Tinder app.  A new match with a message.  I normally have very low expectations but I was shocked by the message: 

“Hey Cally, I think the last time we matched was in Fernie, British Columbia; I never forget a smile.”

I checked his profile and he was here in Norfolk.  And I had been living in Fernie, BC in Canada almost a year before (though I did not remember his profile).  But we exchanged numbers and then I realised I already had him in my WhatsApp.   I read our conversation from the year before again and realised I had stopped messaging, something I do often when I get too busy.   It seemed very serendipitious that he would now be in Virginia at the same time as me and the place where he was staying was only a few miles away so I figured I would cook dinner to make up for accidentally ghosting him in Canada.  

I went next door to SV Islay to tell them I was having a stranger over for dinner and come up with a signal in case (as I say, I do not take online dating safety lightly) something should happen.   But no signal was needed, it was a great dinner with a very interesting fella.   However, again, no romantic connection.   I was pleased that the opportunities to go on a few dates was still a possibility as a solo sailor though even if it had not resulted in me finding my prince charming (yet).  

And now to relax and start tackling the to do list while the couple of windy days passed.  


“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.”

 – Christopher Reeve

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