All things considered, sounds like it was a success. Those big boats are a little scary at first, but you learn how to stay out of their way. They can be even scarier in the canal, because there's less room to give way, and their wakes will bounce off the rocks and create standing waves that can follow you for an hour or more. Actually, lone tugboats make much worse wakes than the big boats.
The engine decides 1/4 throttle was its new max and any attempt to adjust up or down would stall it....correctly diagnoses the problem as the "light" pushbotten at the controls for the atomic four having been pushed in accidentally. Pulls it out, problem solved. ...
Could you clarify this? Is the button a choke for starting the motor when cold? BTW, make sure that you run your bilge blower properly before starting your motor - critically important for a gas motor.
...Handheld vhf is a must. The one in the cabin does no good with one person at the helm and another chained to the sheets...
A better option may be an extension mic "RAM mic" in your cockpit. You'll have the superior transmission power of the fixed VHF and masthead antenna vs. a handheld. You just need to verify that your radio has a socket for it, and determine what model is compatible. I have the Standard Horizon RAM3 for my GX2150.
If you decide to get the handheld instead, you should spend the extra $$$ for a model with built-in DSC. That's a huge safety improvement because you can press a "Distress" button that sends out a mayday with your exact GPS coordinates digitally embedded. The Coasties will know exactly where to find you. Standard Horizon HX851 is around $250 - a little pricey for a backup IMO. I found the Uniden MHS135DSC for $125 last Christmas and bought two - one for me and one for my son who crews on others' race boats in Seattle. I wanted him to have a distress button attached to him if he falls overboard. Cheaper than an EPIRB, but similarly effective for close to shore. The Uniden is about $150 on Amazon right now.
If your fixed VHF has DSC built in, be sure to register the MMSI (might need to get the info from prior owner), and interface a GPS puck or chartplotter to it to enable the same Distress button capabilities.
...We had mapped a route, bought the chart, downloaded the nav app...Smartphone apps are too small. At least get a tablet and mount it somewhere so you have both hands free...
For the past three years, I've used a netbook with OpenCPN on a RAM mount in the cockpit. This year I'm upgrading to a Miix2 8" tablet with OpenCPN. It's not waterproof, but things stay pretty dry on the river. I have a pouch for wet weather, or I can mount it down in the cabin. There's also lots of software and cases for iPad, if you prefer those.
AIS is very helpful for dodging the large traffic on the Delaware. A transponder will tell them where you are, and you can interface a computer with OpenCPN to view where they are, how fast they are going, etc. You can also see their names, so you can hail them on the radio. My GX2150 gives me AIS receive capabilities, but no AIS transmission. There's a new model with built-in GPS.
Here are some pics of the Netbook, OpenCPN (old version), and new tablet (still under cover on the hard).