10 November 2021: Engine Dramas!


10 November 2021

Departure point

Urbanna, VA, USA

arrival point

Norfolk, VA, USA

distance (NM)

68 NM

Cumulative Mileage (NM)

655 NM

Crew on Board


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



8 knots, wishing for more!


Nothing notable.


Still very cold with the winds coming from a northerly aspect.


Dry, thank goodness!


In planning this passage (all passages, really), I was still nervous about signing up for too much wind.   That meant that more often than not I ended up with not enough wind.  Something especially easy to do if you forget you are sailing downwind which really affects your apparent wind speed.  

But I was sure I would keep experimenting with forecasts and finding the sweet spot of what I liked to sail in with Tala. 

I was a little sad to leave Urbanna.   Oysterfest was fun, despite being one of the most touristy things I have done in my life, and I got to spend that valuable time with Ellen and Arjuna.   Including a double date. 

I had matched a fellow on Tinder and I am really drawn to the “up for whatever” kind of attitude.  But I had dinner plans with Ellen and Arjuna.   Given they had taken such a keen interest in my dating life and this guy was keen to get together, I figured why not combine the two.   Worst case, everyone gets a bit of a laugh and best case I meet the love of my life.   

Now I normally take every precaution in online dating and do not invite people to the boat/my house before I know them.   But, Ellen and Arjuna would be there.   Ellen was making dinner and I was supplying the wine, so I planned to pick him up at the dinghy dock after the three of us were already on Tala.   He was driving an hour and because we had pre-existing dinner plans, we had everything sorted.   But he still insisted on wanting to contribute something and so I said “want to bring some firewood?”

And he did, a lot.  I was ecstatic because it was FREEZING COLD, I had Arjuna there to make sure I did not burn the boat down the first time and we had just done the two mile trek to the Ace Hardware only to find out they had no firewood.  

The date was a dud.  I consider myself very open-minded politically, spiritually, emotionally… you name it.   But this guy was very small town, Virginia with strong conservative views.   But he was a very nice person so it was still a good evening, just not a love match (nor any sort of true friendship material).

But the fire was great and Ellen made a peanut ramen that blew my socks off.  Easy and delicious and I would most certainly be stealing the recipe.  

I also had the chance to meet friends-of-friends-of-friends, Jeff and Malia, a couple who now lived in Chesapeake and sailed but had a lot of stories from their decision to cruise for a couple years back in their 20’s.  Before GPS and social media and all of that.   And as I talked about some of the big learning curves, they gave me a tip I was keen to try out.   My least favorite task of raising the mainsail seemed to take forever.  I would raise anchor, motor out of whatever anchorage I was in, then turn into the wind (usually off-course) and raise it (always a lot of work winching it up, I could never pull it) and then turn back on course and carry on.   

Jeff and Malia suggested raising the mainsail at anchor before I departed.   They said have the mainsail ready to raise, then pull the anchor up until you are still holding on but just barely.   Winch the mainsail up (since at anchor you naturally point into the wind unless there is strong current) leaving the mainsheet loose so you do not get any momentum or wind in your sail.   Then finish raising and stowing the anchor and go.   

I promised to try it and otherwise enjoyed a beautiful cheeseplate made by Malia while asking what I am sure was a million annoying questions!

And then I got one more treat!

Behan, part of the dynamic duo of Sailing Totem that is my sailing coaches (ah hell, I practically wanted them to be my overall life coaches at this point) had a really good cruising friend who lived in the area, Nica.   I knew of her mostly through her involvement in the Boat Galley podcast but had also seen her around our Women Who Sail Facebook group etc.  

She offered to come and help me sort out a propane refill.   So she picked me up one and morning and we chatted and visited away while finding a place to get a refill.   She knew how much this kind of help means to cruisers – and especially to this solo cruiser – but I still had made her some chocolate brownies to say thank you.   My favorite boat baking recipe from Women Who Sail.   And we made sure to send Behan a picture so she knows that we did make it work to meet up!

One thing I had hope to get earlier in Annapolis before heading south was an oil sample kit.   I had gotten my last one at Safe Harbor Cowesset in Rhode Island before buying the boat as part of the purchase/survey and given the results showed there was diesel in my oil, the plan had been to change the oil upon purchase and then sample it again after about 50 hours.   I thought another Safe Harbor in Annapolis would surely have one and it was around the time I needed to take another sample, but I was wrong.  

Once I was in Urbanna I figured I should probably check my oil levels etc even if I did not have a sample kit.   And let’s be honest, I probably should have been doing this all the way down form Connecticut somewhat regularly.   But I had a lot  going on and I neglected it.  

So you can imagine my surprise when my absorbent oil pad was soak with oil completely through.  

The oil levels were so high that it was all the way up the dipstick, nevermind the markings indicating acceptable levels.   It did not take a sample kit to realise there was probably still diesel in the oil.   

I ended up pumping out the excess oil, nearly a gallon extra (my engine takes three gallons total) into a couple of disposable containers.   And after speaking to Jamie about it, decided to pump out a little more and top it up with some fresh oil for the moment and carry on to Norfolk.  

Jamie had a friend in Norfolk who lived on his boat with his wife and kids and he was a bit of an engine guy.   And Michael and Amber were happy to stick around another day to see if they could help!  Angels!

The Sailing Totem network did not just have it benefits in the coaching aspect, but the clients were really a family with everyone willing to help each other out.  Generally cruisers are, but the Totem connection created an extra special bond and had open communication in the Facebook group.  

And so I left for Norfolk but in light winds.  I sailed as much as I could and motored the rest, keeping an eye on my gauges the whole way.  

  It was so slow going that I would be arriving in the dark.  I considered an anchorage shortly before Norfolk (where friends I had met briefly in Rhode Island were thinking of anchoring who I would have loved to catch up with again) but I did not want to hold Michael and Amber up any longer than necessary.  Plus I would probably still arrive there in the dark and I did not know the anchorage.   At least I had been to Hospital Point anchorage, where Michael and Amber were on their boat SV Islay, in Norfolk before.  And it was a big navy area with so much boat traffic and a well defined channel.  So 

I had a little more confidence entering in the dark.   Generally I had a rule against it, but occasionally there were valid reasons for exceptions.

I was grateful for AIS, something I consider a luxury not a necessity, because there were so many commercial vessels around Norfolk that any extra information did not hurt.   I passed by a few big ships on the move and a couple of dredges and barges as well and radioed them as necessary to ensure there were no troubles.  

As I thought, the channel was well marked and the charts accurate.   The only things I was worried about were a full anchorage at Hospital Point – which sounded like from Michael and Amber there was a spot for me – and buoys and fish pots as I neared the anchorage.   But with friends at the anchorage spotlighting my way in to highlight buoys, 


and the bright lights of Norfolk to boot, I grabbed one of the last spots at the anchorage and settled in.   I was glad the engine made it there with no apparent issues and was ready to tackle it first thing in the morning!

Bonus: to my surprise the friends that I hoped to meet up with at the other anchorage had decided to come here too.  J&J as I call them on SV Windy.   Two birds with one stone!

“Consider that all accomplishment is constituted by a series of resolved breakdowns.”

 – Werner Erhard

2 Responses

  1. The universe answered your need for warmth and sent the wood you needed; the date, although not your match, was only meant to deliver. ;-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *