“But wait,” you say, “Richmond is inland. And has a class IV rapids. Red Ranger can’t get that far up the James River.”

Fan 2

Yes. That would be true.

This chapter of Red Ranger’s cruise is drawing to a close.

Our tenure as full-time liveaboard cruisers is ending. We put our toe in the water, fitting out and living aboard Red Ranger. We can recommend liveaboard cruising as the single best way to see thousands of miles of shoreline, salt marsh, ocean, and coastal cities.

Cruising involves self-discovery. We’ve discovered how much we like big cities. The high points of our two years of cruising (in order):

Scott's Addition 1
  1. Annapolis. The city is Right There.
  2. Norfolk and Portsmouth. The cities are Right There.
  3. St. Augustine. Um. Same reason.
  4. Coconut Grove. Get the pattern?
  5. Charleston. The city is a little awkward to get to, but the cool factor makes up from the logistics.

The draw of urban life slowly grew into our consciousness. We found ourselves measuring our progress by the cities, neighborhoods, bars, and restaurants. We like the modern conveniences: wifi, groceries, laundry, beer.

We also measured the things we missed: in-depth exploration. The cruising life is one of permanent transience. Some people like that. We found it unsatisfying. We felt the urge to move more slowly and look into an area more deeply than seasonal migration allows.

For some sailors, the ICW and the long stretches of wilderness are the goal. The voyaging is what they treasure. Wilderness is what they crave.

We liked to travel through the coastal wilds. Few things are as gratifying as a well-handled boat. Going somewhere new and dropping the hook in a different place each night is — I think — something that’s wired into our brains.

Discovery appears to be an essential human thing. We can’t stop ourselves from doing it.

Were do those stairs go?

Experienced cruisers will tell you that our two trips were merely scratching the surface of what’s available along the ICW. 

For example, the Wacamaw river was spectacular beyond belief. It has branches and oxbows that invite deeper exploration. The Albemarle and Pamlico sounds (and the Neuse river) were very inviting, also.

Outside the ICW, our offshore legs were (mostly) wonderful. The legs that weren’t a delight, were still something we managed successfully. The Bahamas is a challenge, but were up to it and did quite well for ourselves there.

Fan 4

More than that, we discovered that we really like sailing in the Chesapeake Bay. The idea of weekend excursions to the anchorages within a day of Deltaville appeals to us a great deal. The 50 nm circle includes everything from Solomon’s Island, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia.

For the crew of Red Ranger, a paying job and a relatively smaller range of travel is our next chapter. 

We also have to fix the things we broke. And there are some more upgrades we’d like to do. 

We really like the idea that we could cruise on our own terms. There were no emergencies. No crisis. No breakdown on a foreign shore. 

Our voyage of discovery revealed a desire to go back to high-tech work in a big city.

Celestial Navigation Baby Steps

We have a sextant on Red Ranger.

I think it might be adjusted properly. The index error appears to be 6.8′. I fiddled around with the mirrors a little and got a single view of the Sun through the various sunshades.

On the way N from Norfolk to Deltaville, I tried some sun sights at about 12:45, through a break in the clouds.

I did the sight reduction calculations. 

And I wasn’t even close.

The math is right. I have correctly solved book problems with the spreadsheet. I have unit test cases to show that it’s right. And the math isn’t all that complex, really.

So, I’m left with operator error. Failing to get the sun’s lower limb on the horizon. Failure to get the image centered. Failure to read the time correctly. Failure to read the instrument angle correctly. 

I have to review the chapters on sextant operations in the Celestial Navigation in the GPS Age book. I also have The Sextant Handbook. Somewhere on the boat.

That will keep me busy for a while.

Northbound to Deltaville

Started Hospital Point 36°50.61′N 076°17.93′W

Docked Deltaville Marina C Dock 37°32.95′N 076°19.78′W

Log about 42 nm. Time 9 hrs. Engine 6 hrs.

We had a sail that was simply amazing.  I credit two things.


We started at 05:30 — just before sunup — to make coffee, start weighing anchor, and generally getting under way. The wind was S 10-15 with 1-2′ seas. This was one of the reasons why the sail was so perfect. 

There are three kinds of wind: too little, too much and wrong direction. We had none of those winds. We had a reasonable amount in a direction that wasn’t useless. That makes for an amazing sail on the Chesapeake. 

Amazing because it’s so rare.

We started the day motor-sailing under mizzen and yankee. We’ve seen folks sailing on the Elizabeth River. There are tugs and navy ships. We think power is more prudent. Once out in the Bay, the winds were light and the current was fair. We “made hay while the sun shone” hustling along at a gentle 1800 RPM making 7 kt (almost as fast as Red Ranger can go.)

At about 11:30, we realized that we were about two hours from Deltaville. So we cut the engine. Speed fell to about 3 kts. That pushed our arrival time back. Temporarily.


Winds of 10-15 kts on the quarter have baffled us in the past. The waves tend to come at an angle to the wind, so the boat rolls from side to side.

Coupled with the unplesant rolling is the presence of the dead-downwind “situation”. When the wind is on the quarter, the main can be eased well out. 

If the wind shifts or we have to make a course change, this can lead to wind dead astern. First, wind astern is ineffecient. Second — and more important — a small error in steering, a small course change, or a small shift in the wind and it’s now blowing on the wrong side of sail

That means the sail can be lifted across to the other side of the boat. The sail might swing through 120° of arc from well out on the starboard side to well out on the port side.  This can be sudden. Consequently, it can be dangerous.

It seems odd that a small wind shift can raise such havoc. It’s a question of chaos and strange attractors. 

Wind can be chaotic. Wind flowing past a sail — on a beam reach, for example, is laminar. It sticks to the sail and flows smoothly. (If you’ve trimmed the sail properly.)

Wind blowing straight onto a sail turns all puffy and swirly as it blows around the edges of the sail. Puffs and swirls on the forward edge (the side toward the mast) are just inefficiency. Puffs and swirls on the leech of the sail move the sail around. Pushing the leech further away the wind is just a loss of power.  The boom rises and falls as the sail flutters. A device called a Boom Vang prevents this.

But. When a puff gets behind the leech of the sail and lifts it toward the wind instead of away from the wind, we’re into the realm of chaos. Now the wind “sees” the edge of the sail instead of the flat face of the sail. Wind puffs and swirls can find it easier to push the lee side toward the weather. 

Once the leech of the sail starts moving toward the wind, the odds of another puff getting behind the leech change for the worse.

As the sail changes shape, the boom lifts. The sail develops a big backwards wrinkle. We call it sailing “by the lee”.  The lee edge of the sail is starting to do some work when only the weather edge should be seeing the wind.

One possible outcome is an accidental gybe. This is prevented by rigging a preventer line to hold the boom out.

When hand steering, the helmsman can head up — turn the boat toward the wind to try and optimize the course. 


In Miami, wiser heads on Janus gave us some schooling in ketch-rig sailing. I credit these lessons as the second reason why the sail from Norfolk to Deltaville was so amazing.

Today, we were applying that advice. We had only the mizzen and yankee. The main was still laying on its boom doing nothing. 

Part of the schooling was to change our perception of the main. It should be looked at as a light-air booster sail. The real work is done by the headsails. The main is suitable for winds under 20 kts. In 10 kts it should be reefed once. At 15 reefed again. At 20 it should be down on the boom.

When we killed the motor, our speed dropped from 7 to 3 knots. We discussed the main. And decided it was too much work to put it up. Our ETA was still well before the 2-bell signal to break out the beer (17:00).

Then the wind started to build.

By 14:00 we were making 6 knots in winds that were gusting to 20. And the relative safety and comfort were acceptable. We didn’t have to mess with the main at all. It was already down. 

The sailing was a bit on the sporty side. If we had further to go that day, we might have reduced sail from yankee to stays’l. 

C Dock

We’re (temporarily) on C Dock. There’s a narrow fairway and a well-executed 90° turn required to get in there. It’s very secure, but we’re not happy with narrow fairways and well-executed turns. Red Ranger is just too big for this. We really want to be back on D Dock where it’s more forgiving.

Norfolk Harbor Fest

Wait! There’s more! 

That’s a guy with Rocket Pants.  You’ve heard the Elton John/Bernie Taupin song: “Rocket Pants, burning out his fuse up here all alone.” 


Raftups. Lots and lots of raftups. This one grew to over a dozen boats.


And the “Tug Busting” wrassling among the work boats. Pushes. Rope Toss. More pushes. 

Yes. Head-to-Head tug pushing. Tons of power. Not figurative tons, either. Literal tons.


On the left is this year's winner, Miss Gil. 

We listened on VHF channel 78 to the competition among the tugs. The ease and casual skill these skippers displayed was breath-taking. They had friends and families all over their boats, and could pivot them, back them down, push with them, and toss lines onto a floating platform. 

One of the pushing contests got a little heated, so they broke out their fire suppression equipment and started hosing each other down. Just amazing. Kids. Wives. Husbands. Friends. Having a waterfight between two huge workboats.

Last night was fireworks.

Today is deadrise racing. Yes. Classic cheasapeake workboats, mostly wood, with huge engines flying down the waterfront. The rumble of all that diesel with all those shabby old exhaust systems is huge.


Here’s a deadrise without so much wake. They’re all similar in shape to this: plumb bow, long sweep aft, a little pilot house forward and a steering station aft, too, so you can drive and work.


Sometimes, they’re called Buy-Boats, instead of Deadrises because that was the role they filled along the Chesapeake. I think that buy-boats often had a mast and a crane, where deadrises don’t usually have them.

Norfolk Harborfest Parade

Viewed From The Water!

Wow! It’s a spectacle from shore. But from the water — listening to channel 72 where the safety boats converse — was a riot.


I’m sure that the fireboat crews call it “training” not “playing with the super-high-pressure equipment.” 


Summertime has officially arrived in Hampton Roads, conveyed by sailboats of every kind.


This is the right kind of insanity.

Monday, we leave for Deltaville.

End of an Era

We’ve finally struck our old colors and replaced them with new.


The old flag served us well for several years.

It made Red Ranger easy to find because it was a big flag.

The end of the flag, however, took a beating against the backstays.

You can see where the flag changes from “flag” to “snarl”. That’s the exact spot where it would flog against the backstays when the wind was from almost any direction other than dead ahead.

We had to get a much smaller flag that wouldn’t beat itself to death on the rigging.


There were other kinds of stitching failures, too.


Next step: Find a Boy Scout Troop to handle proper disposal.

I vaguely recall that some troops do it as a community service.

Portsmouth North Landing

Red Ranger snuggled into the North Landing.


We’ve moved about 700 hundred yards from Hospital Point. Lighthouse Inflatables is working on Scout. Jeremy has a theory that maybe some of the MEK they used to clean up the excess adhesive might have gotten under the patch. 

We’ve said hello to our dock neighbors. That means we’ve also moved forward to accomodate the two trawlers astern of us. We’re not quite at the end of the dock, but we’re close. The bitter end of the dock looks about to collapse. We’d rather avoid that last bit of rotten wood if possible.

In principle, we’re only here for a day or two. Then back to Hospital Point. 

This is the view from the ferry to Norfolk.

Ripped Out Her Stitches

Scout came back from the dinghy doctor on Friday.

With some difficulty, we pumped out Red Ranger’s holding tank. The wind was blowing directly off the pier. The pumpout area is bounded by two gigantic dolphins. Instead of easing up to the dock at a gentle angle, we have to put the bow right into the pilings.

Perhaps forward power while turning away from the dock with an aft spring secured up near the bow might bring us parallel to the dock. Might. We didn’t try it. Instead, we muscled her in just hauling the spring until the stern got close enough.

After that excitement, we were pleased to resume our anchorage near Hospital  Point.

Saturday, we could take Scout into town again. The water was flat so we could come up on plane and roar across the river in the cool morning air. The dock is a convenience. But an early morning dinghy ride is a delight.

Last night it seemed like Scout’s patch wasn't holding.

Today, we found the place where her newest patch is not holding at all. 



Harborfest is coming up. Getting to the Waterside dock is impossible: they’re booked.

Not sure how we’ll get her to the dinghy doctor when all the docks are full. I think we’ll be pumping the port tube for each trip until we find a marina that’s not booked solid for the next 10 days.

Maybe it’s time to go to Hampton where the dockage is cheaper and less likely to be booked solid. Or maybe we can push the envelope at North Landing and spend a week there where we’re supposed to be limited to 24 hours.

© Steven Lott 2021