Dawn at Piley Point, Potomac River
Living the Dream
Six moons in the USA
30 August to 5 October 2007
This month commenced very happily for us with the arrival of our good friends, Paula and Simon, who were dropped off on ‘Light Blue’ by the Annapolis water taxi after their ‘arduous’ trips to New York and Las Vegas and drive from Washington International Airport. They were looking forward to a couple of quiet relaxing days of sailing with us out of Annapolis. We were doubly delighted to be able to accommodate them as it had been a long time since we had seen them and it was a novelty to have guests on board actually sailing with us. Not since my son Adam left us in early January this year have we had sailing visitors on board, apart from the many pleasant and enjoyable lunches, dinners and sundowners spent with various fellow cruisers.
As soon as they were settled, we gave them the safety briefing and sorted out their life jackets and harnesses, then we raised the anchor and sailed away from Annapolis Naval Academy. With so many choices of destinations, we decided to keep the first day simple and enable them to familiarise themselves with the boat and systems. We therefore sailed out of the harbour and into Chesapeake Bay, passing under the Bay Bridge and north to Magothy River. We passed through the narrows and decided to head up towards Sillery Bay and finally anchored beside Little Island. It was only when we were anchored that I realised that I had been here on ‘Archrival’ with our cruising friends John and Lyn, 11 years ago. I think it was probably the loud engines of the motor boats tearing past and causing wake that reminded me. Nothing had changed apart from the number of anchored motor boats, of which there were about fifty.
It was pleasant later that night when they all settled down and we could relax calmly and drink our sundowners without having to raise our voices. Later we ate a delicious meal prepared by Siobhán and slept very peacefully without disturbance. The following day after an unhurried breakfast we raised the anchor and sailed back out into Chesapeake Bay. The wind had thankfully piped up and we enjoyed a cracking sail, which included close-hauled tacking through the central span of the Bay Bridge with Simon at the wheel and Siobhán and I tending the genoa sheets. Paula calmly supervised from her port quarter viewing seat.
Breakfast at Tiffany's?
No, at the Marriott
At the end of our sail we returned to the anchorage off the naval academy and Paula and Simon returned to their hotel for showers and to change for the evening. We joined them shortly after, having secured the boat, as we were staying ashore that night at the Marriott on the waterfront along the corridor from Paula and Simon. We went for a walk together and found an unusual restaurant, which sold steaks from corn-fed beef, which were thoroughly delicious, washed down with a couple of bottles of wine. We finished off the evening in Mulcahy’s bar with Jameson whisky and beer chasers. Finally to bed in our king-size bed, which was a fantastic treat for us, as we hadn’t slept in a double bed since we stayed with our New Jersey relatives two months before.
We breakfasted together at the Marriott before saying sad farewells and thanking them for their company, enjoyment of sailing and shared love of good food, drink and LV munificence. We returned to the hotel room and relaxed together until about 11 a.m., then visited the naval academy and took the very enjoyable and informative guided tour, which lasted about two hours, before we returned to the boat and prepared her for the next stage of our Chesapeake adventure.
The following day we left Annapolis and sailed to St Michaels on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay and anchored in virtually the same spot in which I anchored with John and Lyn. It is still as quiet and rural with the sound of crickets and lawnmowers wafting across the narrow stretch of water. A Chesapeake skipjack sailed out majestically as we were anchoring. A cool breeze is cooling the saloon and reducing the 85º heat to a more liveable temperature thanks to Siobhán’s handiwork in making the wind scoop, which works perfectly.
While here, we visited the waterfront museum with its working boatbuilding sheds, the former lighthouse and various working boats, sneak boats and floating duck hides. Visits to such places mean a lot to us, because the artefacts portray the previous and present life of the bay. Interestingly, the crab harvest this year has been the lowest in living history, as the crabs do not seem to be reproducing as prolifically as usual.
I couldn’t resist visiting the crab house there and sampled three crabs, which were delicious, but still not up to the Devon crab standard for quality, quantity and taste. Siobhán, who is not a seafood eater was horrified when the waitress just dumped the crabs unceremoniously on our table and then I proceeded to rip them apart and taste the dainty morsels within. At $2.50 each, a bargain!
Venturing further, we visited Oxford, anchoring just off the yacht club and walked ashore among the beautiful residential houses to the town high street and store. We had a very interesting chat with the librarian about the changes in the residential population in this very quiet backwater town, where many of the houses are being purchased for holiday homes, producing a recent price hike.
Annapolis Ritual Column
It is also very surprising to meet strangers in the street, who will stop and talk to us for ages about themselves and our travels, so refreshing and reminiscent of England in the past. We met a couple unexpectedly as we were walking back to our boat. They were cycling along towards us about 200 yards away, when suddenly the man, who was in the front, went headlong over the handlebars. Virtually immediately his wife who was about 20 yards behind did exactly the same. We walked swiftly towards them and helped them to their feet and as they were cut and bruised we walked their bikes along to their house while they hobbled beside us talking about what we were doing and what they were doing in the town. A large book had gone into his front wheel causing him to crash and his wife had been so shocked that she too had lost control. By the time we reached their house they were a little calmer and we left them to carry on our way.
Our next stop was Easton up the very winding peaceful river, with some shallow spots on the chart, which had not been dredged. It became an adrenaline rich sail as we went aground on two occasions, the first time reversing off very swiftly and the second time driving through the very soupy bottom until we reached deeper water.
It was worth the trouble as we had a couple of restful days at anchor just off the dock quay near the local marina Irish bar, which was teeming with many colourful country characters, all of whom were interested in where we had been and where we were going.
Across the bay to the Patuxent River
When we raised the anchor both it and the chain were filthy with thick oily mud. It took about 15 minutes to clean with dozens of buckets of water. We then had to wait for a large barge loaded to the gunnels with gravel, pushed by a tug to pass our anchorage before we travelled carefully down the river without mishap as we were on high tide.
From the Little Choptank River we sailed across the bay to the Patuxent River and anchored in a tranquil anchorage called St Leonard’s Creek. We had no sooner settled down to a cool beer when a friendly motor boater informed us that later our anchorage would become very uncomfortable because of the mussel boats, which would be descending from the bar at the top of the creek. We thanked him for his advice and stayed put and we underwent one of the most peaceful evenings and nights in our travels. The following morning during breakfast we were delighted to see schools of fish jumping along beside our boat before we headed towards our next destination, Washington DC.
We sailed towards and up the Potomac River intending to venture all the way up to Washington DC, some 80+ miles. However, upon researching, we found that there is a bridge about 60 miles up the river that only opens for pleasure craft between midnight and 5a.m. and then only with 12 hours notice, so we decided we would anchor off Piney Point for the night. There had been a small craft warning and this anchorage was protective against the forecast strong winds.
We had had a near disaster during this part of the trip but, luckily, Siobhán had detected a strong smell and believing it to be the Sodastream gas bottle leaking investigated that locker. Feeling heat emanating from the port lockers we opened up the engine battery locker and found our 3-month old engine battery exceedingly hot and appearing to be sweating. Our voltmeter showed the engine battery reading at 16 volts. The battery took all night to cool down. In the meantime I changed it for a spare fully charged battery I had. I discovered that in trying to start the engine during one of our difficult to start days, I had changed the isolator switch to BOTH and then I had inadvertently changed it back to 2 instead of 1. When I changed it back to 1, the problem was solved. Since having a relay fitted at Solomons Island, Patuxent River, we have had no problem starting the engine first time every time.
What a happy crew!
We decided to stay in Solomons Island for a further four days and hired a car for the weekend and spent a wonderful couple of days in Washington. We saw the White House, the Capitol, the National Art Museum and the Air and Space Museum. We also treated ourselves to a bus tour of the city, which was highly memorable.
On the Monday after the weekend, Siobhán went up the mast to check the mast-top instruments, the mainsail car tracking and the standing rigging, all in good shape. Using the combination main halyard and topping lift provided Siobhán and me with safety and reassurance. Then to cap the weekend, our sailing pals, Gillian and Graeme arrived in ‘Kathleen Love’ and came aboard for a quick drink and stayed to dinner till midnight, which gave all of us an excellent chance to catch up with our separate news.
The following morning we both left to sail further down the Chesapeake and endured an elongated beat down the bay, tacking and beating into a southerly force 5, but finally anchored in peace and tranquillity in Coan River. Within a few hundred yards of our final anchorage we nearly came unstuck, when we interpreted a danger sign on the confusing chart in between two port hand marks as a need to zig zag around the wrong side of it. When I had driven us forward`slowly and the depth below the keel read 0.1 metre (i.e about 4 inches), I hastily put the boat into reverse and we continued to our chosen spot and anchored without further ado.
Kathleen Love leaves
It may seem to our readers that we are frequently encountering shallow waters and this is perfectly true. Chesapeake Bay is about 200 miles long and is fed by 150 rivers, creeks and streams, several of which are very large rivers (Susquehanna, Potomac, Rappahannock, York and James, which provide 90% of the bay’s fresh water). The bay’s bottom often shifts unpredictably and this problem is especially acute in side creeks and coves otherwise suitable for anchorage. In many channels dredging does not keep up with shoaling and in many of the rivers, government budget cuts have stopped the dredging altogether. When one considers that the average depth of water throughout the bay and its tributaries is only 6 feet and ‘Light Blue’ draws 6’6’ at least, we watch the depth instrument more than any other. It does not, however, spoil our fun or stop us exploring creeks.
The following day, 27 September, ‘Kathleen Love’ departed and we stayed on and rested for a day. Well we didn’t actually rest, but relaxed by stitching up a few gaps in the stitching on the light weight genoa, sewing on new tell tales, re-siliconing the toilet bowl and checking over the new Trojan battery, while topping up the batteries with distilled water, and checking the water filters for the engine. These are regular chores, which keep us occupied on a regular basis, are not regarded as arduous, but are good housekeeping.
Satisfied with our day off, we set off for the south and our next destination along the western shore of the bay, anchoring first in Mill Creek on the south side of Ingram Bay in the Great Wicomico River. As we left Ingram Bay the next day en route for Fishing Bay in the Rappahannock, we were delighted to be accompanied by a pair of dolphins. It had been a long time since we had seen our good luck omens and we enjoyed the company for a few miles before they disappeared into the depths.
National Geographic felines
We were eager to visit the three towns of Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg before we departed from the Chesapeake Bay because of their historic significance to the United States, so we didn’t dally in Fishing Bay but headed the short distance south to the York River and having negotiated the narrow and shallow passage into the marina, tied up at York River Yacht Haven, where we stayed for four days in comfort. They had every facility for the transient cruiser, including showers, swimming pool, chandlery, captains lounge with wifi, water and electricity and a courtesy car, which one could borrow to do one’s shopping.
Additionally they drove us from the marina to the Yorktown Victory site and collected us later in the day, for the two days we did sightseeing at the Yorktown and Jamestown sites. It enabled us to relax and enjoy our days out there.
Both sites were set out differently, with Yorktown relying upon a time line to describe the development of the town and surrounds, followed by a film and museum of archived exhibits. Outdoors was an authentic farm, where we saw costumed actors enacting the roles of farmhand, cook and weaver in a simulated farm settlement.
The highlight for us at Jamestown was when we joined an organised walking tour with a period costumed resident actor, who enacted his role in the settling of the district. A former trial lawyer, he was superb in his role and we enjoyed the question and answer session afterwards, because of his enthusiasm and knowledge of his subject. From there we went to the fantastic Archaeorum, which contains thousands of artefacts recovered from the original site, and which is still being excavated. From there we went to the Settlement where we saw the three ships from London, England which had brought the original settlers and the Powhatan Indian village, complete with costumed native Americans in role.
Goodbye, Chesapeake Bay
The days we were at York River enabled us to re-stock the galley and prepare for the next stage of our American adventure, which is to be the trip down the Intracoastal Waterway from Norfolk, Virginia to Miami, Florida. The waterway is a means of travelling down the east coast of the USA without actually sailing in the Atlantic Ocean. Its 1,200-mile journey passes through canals, swamps, lakes, bays and rivers and promises to be as interesting as our last four months, if not more so.
We will be sorry to leave the Chesapeake Bay as it has proven to be diverse, complex, a navigational challenge, a melting pot of friendly peoples and a beautiful cruising ground. We have realised that with a smaller yacht with a smaller draft one could spend many years exploring the 2,500 miles of creeks, rivers and bays. We have sampled its many pleasures and have left it with fuller minds, and happy hearts and memories.
As we sailed out of York River on 5 October we were accompanied by two more dolphins and pelicans were flying everywhere. Blue sky, temperature in the 80s, main and lightweight genoa filled by the easterly force 4 wind. Life is good.
Lots to you all
Lawry and Siobhán
15 October 2007
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