As we've done twice in years past, my brother Dave and I embarked on a one week vacation sailing around the Chesapeake Bay.Trip Map
SATURDAY - "A 'Vous of 2" or "Eric and the Dinky Clam"
The trip started last Saturday with a Columbia Yachts rendezvous at Shaw Bay on the Wye River. Rendezvous attendance was just a bit thin, so to speak. In the end it was Fitz on Sunward, his C-26 MkII out of the South River and Dave and I on Pelago.
Dave and I had less distance to travel than Fitz and we got a head start on him, but about halfway across the Bay the wind dropped off. We kept sailing. We contacted Fitz and he elected to start the motor to try to catch up. We spotted him passing us to the north, but we couldn't raise him on the radio. He rounded Bloody Point Light well ahead of us and cruised up into the Eastern Bay trying to figure out why he couldn't catch up.
Dave (who's sailed a Hobie Cat across all the great lakes except Superior - and all but Huron single handed) opined that if you stay out long enough the wind will come. He was right, and we cruised up into the Eastern Bay trying to catch Fitz. We never did. We did manage to hail him just before he reached Shaw Bay. Not surprisingly, it took a little bit get him to understand that we were behind him.
We finally caught up and rafted up. We then set up the grill on the lazerette, burned some beef, and feasted.
So what do you do on a raft up besides eat and drink? How about "build boats?" I store a friend's folding dink for him and I brought it along for the trip. But as I drove to work Friday, I realized that I left the seats at home. Since they act as the thwarts, you can't use the dink without them. It's too far to go home and then to the boat, so I left work, picked up some wood and tools at Home Depot and took them along on the trip. Saturday evening's entertainment was me making seats. First I had to unfold the dink. It has four panels - two for the bottom and one for each side. The plastic wants to maintain its folded shape. I pried the sides open and crawled in to measure for the seats. It looked like something out of a bad science fiction movie - the dink was trying to swallow me.
I overcame the carnivorous craft and made some servicable seats. We dropped the dink in the water and I rowed around just a little to make sure it was OK. Then we hauled it back on deck, broke it down, and stowed it away.
SUNDAY - "Dun In" or "Kedging Your Bet"
Sunday dawned early. We fired up Pelago's 2-burner pressure alcohol stove (my sister calls it the Easy Bake Oven) and made coffee and breakfast. Fitz headed off for home and Dave and I made ready to go. We motored out of Shaw Bay, rounded the day mark guarding the bar off Bennett Point and sailed north up the Eastern Bay. We rounded Tilgnman Point and headed southeast into the wind towards the Bay proper. Pelago settled in and it took relatively few tacks to work down the Eastern Bay.
Dave and I have done two previous one week cruises in the past. Both were on Binary and in both cases we explored destinations north of Galesville. This year we were going south, so when we reached the Chesapeake, we turned south and set a course through Poplar Island Narrows. Word has it that 10 years ago, Poplar Island was an island. Now it's about six little islands and a lot of shoal water. At their most constricted point, the narrows are almost a mile wide, but the channel necks down to 20 or 30 yards at on spot. My brother, the motorless Hobie sailor, was at the help pinching up as high as possible. I was navigating.
You never really know how much leeway you are making until you try to beat past a day mark in light wind. I have a lot of trepidation about running aground an 18,000 lb, 40 ft, full keel boat. I would feel really stupid hitting a daymark.
Dave managed to miss the day mark and the bottom.
Just south of Poplar Island Narrows is a channel through Tilghman Island to the Choptank River called Knapps Narrows. This is such a famous spot on the Bay that when they recently replaced the drawbridge, they put the old one on a barge and took it to the maritime museum at St Michaels where it is now (or soon will be) on display.
I've never been through Knapps Narrows before, but I've heard the current can be swift depending on the tide. Luckily, there was little current and I was doubly fortunate that the bridge was already open. It opened wider as it saw my 47 ft off the water masthead. Dave was still at the helm and he motored through just fine.
Once in the Choptank we raised the sails again and headed north into Harris Creek. We turned left into Dun Cove and found that despite it being a Sunday evening in mid-September, there were already a few boats jockying for anchorage. I started the motor and let it idle in neutral while I rolled the jib in the light air. I told Dave we needed to turn up into the wind so I could drop the main. He elected to go around a boat and then point up.
We stuck. I tried full throttle in reverse - main in, main out. We were stuck good.
I killed the engine and we began assembling the dink. I got in and maneuvered under the 45lb CQR and Dave lowered it down. I began to row into the wind. The oarlocks don't have keepers and the oars kept popping out as the oarlocks flexed. Each time, I raced to get the oar back in before the wind blew me back. To make matters worse, the anchor was in the bow and the line trailing back kept turning the dink. Finally I got to the end of the rode and heaved the anchor and chain overboard. The wind blew me back to Pelago.
Dave had run the rode back to the cockpit and around one primary winch. He started cranking as I tailed, but it was hard work. Soon I ran the line across the cockpit to the other primary and we both cranked as I tailed.
Pelago has a long keel and the mud had a tenacious grip. But little by little Pelago swung. We would crank in some rode and sheet in the main to heel the boat and then let the tension in the anchor line do the work while we rested. We kept at it until Pelago was pointed into the wind and the anchor was dead ahead. We dropped the main and assessed the situation. There was little scope left on the CQR and we were afraid that if if broke loose we would might get blown back before we could reset the anchor. We broke out the Danforth and spare rode and I again began to row. I set the Danforth and returned to the boat. With a rode on each primary we both began cranking. Pelago started to move forward and finally started to rock. We retrieved the CQR, started the Westerbeke and winched/motored free. Dave retrieved the Danforth as I motored through the fleet (bowing and waving).
We dropped the hook and cracked open a beer.
We sailed down to the Choptank where we were greeted with two Skipjacks dredging for oysters under sail. Watching them work the waters was like a trip back in time. We turned southeast towards Oxford in light air. It was slow going, but eventually we reached the Tred Avon and the wind picked up a little. North we went up the river. We dodged the ferry, passed Oxford and wound our way up the Tred Avon to Trippe Creek. Again, being that it was a Monday evening, we were surprised to find other boats anchored out, but it was certainly a nice anchorage. We picked a spot, dropped the hook and a couple crab traps over the side and commenced to relax. Dinner was good, but we never got a nibble from the crabs.
We awoke Tuesday to ugly skies. Adding insult to injury, a waterman was running a trotline withing 50 yards of the spot where we found no crabs.
We had some breakfast, raised the hook, and headed for Oxford. About halfway there it commenced to rain. More boats were coming in from the Choptank seeking shelter. We decided that it made no sense to try to walk around town in the pouring rain, so we headed back for Trippe Creek. As we arrived in Trippe Creek the rain stopped and the sun tried to peek through. We turned around and headed back for Oxford. This time we made it. We cruised Oxford and eventually worked our way back into the Tred Avon to tie up alongside the ferry dock. There was another pier close by that looked better so I tied up there. It turned out to be the Tred Avon Yacht Club and the graciously let us tie up there while we visited town. We wandered around the quaint little town, had lunch, and bought a few provisions. By the time we got back to the boat the weather was turning nasty. The wind built as we made ready to head out into the Choptank.
We started to motor out and discussed our next anchorage. The wind kept building as did the waves. Our intended anchorage wasn't very well protected and I really didn't relish putting up sails and then negotiating a relatively narrow channel. I turned back to the Tred Avon and soon made our third entrance to Trippe Creek.
The wind blew hard for much of the night, but it had calmed down by morning and the sun actually began to shine. We sailed down the Tred Avon to the Choptank and the wind slackened.
We bobbed. We drifted. Did I mention that we bobbed?
Too much wind Tuesday, not enough Wednesday. We motored up the Choptank and into Cambridge. We motored up the river through the town and spotted a Columbia Sabre on the hard. We turned around just before the draw bridge and went back out to the City Marina where we got a slip for the night.
Just after we tied up a waterman pulled into the slip next to us. It was fun to check out his rig up close. I had heard there were small craft warnings predicted for the next day, so I thought I would ask the opinion of a professional. He said he had heard there was a front moving in. Then he opined that, "If the weather doesn't drown you it will starve you." Considering the nasty weather I saw watermen working in the day before, his comment seemed like an understatement.
We wandered around the town a little and had dinner on the outdoor deck of a restaurant right next to the drawbridge. It's an interesting show watching the bridge keeper on a sleepy little river.
We awoke to nice breeze, but heavy, overcast skies. I tried to get NOAA weather. The report was rain and lots of wind, but it was for the Southern Bay and the Atlantic coast. Figuring we needed to make some distance we wasted little time in heading out.
We beat around the first point and were now looking down the Choptank towards the Bay. Clear of the sheltering land, I expected the wind to pick up, but it held steady. Even better were the clear skies far out ahead.
We kept beating down the Choptank dodging watermen working trotlines as we went. Eventually we sailed out from under the clouds and into the sunshine. We approached the Bay and had to decide where to go next. The wind had dropped a little, but seemed to be holding steady and it was too early to turn towards home, so we went further south and into the Little Choptank.
It was getting late in the afternoon, so we headed up into Hudson Creek and dropped the hook. This was our first anchorage where no one else was anchored nearby. We set out our crab traps, but the tidal current tended to pull them away from the boat. Then I noticed the anchor rode. It came out of the bow roller and then lead BACKWARDS at an angle out from the boat. Fearing that we were dragging, I quickly picked out landmarks to use as ranges and observed them carefully. We were stationary, but we were broadside to the current. Even though the depth guage showed 9 ft, I began to think we might be aground, so I pulled on the anchor line. Pelago moved freely. It was then that I realized that the current was in exactly the opposite direction to the wind. As unlikely as it seems, Pelago had reached equilibrium between the two forces. Later that evening as it approached high tide and the current eased, Pelago swang back and pointed into the wind with her rode out in front of her. The next morning we were again turned perpendicular to the wind and current as the tide came in again.
We raised the hook and beat down the Little Choptank, again dodging watermen and their trotlines. At the Bay we turned northwest and eased the sails out some.
Pelago eased along on a smooth sea. It was a beautiful day. We decided to let Fred, my autohelm, take a turn at the wheel while we read. We made Sharp Island Light, which distinguishes itself by being the Bay's version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was finally time to leave the Eastern Shore and head in the general direction of home. We took aim on Herring Bay and went back to reading.
The friends who loaned me the dink live in Leitch, just south of Deale. The plan was to try and contact them and see if we could get into the marina at the end of their street. Plan B was to get a slip at Herrington Harbor North (HHN) where they have their project boat on the hard.
They never answered their phone. I tried radioing HHN, but got no answer. I've heard tales of folks running aground all over the creeks going through Deale and I had already bumped bottom in the narrow channel going in, so I spotted a space at the end of the new dock and tied up.
I walked up to the marina office and found that they had closed at 5pm - about 45 min. ago. We decided to stay the night.
The clouds were heavy, unbroken, and promising rain. Hoping the weather would wake up more slowly than us, we motored out. Deale is well towards the north end of Herring Bay, but a large expanse of shoal area forces most boats to go all the way to the southern end before they can escape to the Chesapeake proper. The cost is about 4 miles to Captains heading north.
We rounded the shoal and raised the sails into moderate north wind. It seemed like breakfast most mornings consisted of a full course of beating to windward. We took a couple of short tacks and then settled in on a course that would take us almost to Bloody Point Light on the Eastern Shore. The rain misted on us a couple times, but the breeze was steady and the Bay was flat enough that I got brave, fired up the stove and made a pot of coffee.
As we approached the Eastern Shore, we saw about 50 spinnakers heading south. It was obviously a race and we could now reach the West River in one tack, so we headed west for the last time.
After a week of exploration, it was strange entering a river without needing to look at the chart. It was even stranger still when a powerboat wake bounced Pelago enough to bump bottom in my home river.
All too soon we were back in Galesville, in the slip behind Pirates Cove.
We sat back, relaxed, and drank the two remaining beers in the cooler.
Talk about good planning!
We had been out since the previous Saturday. We rafted with friends. We toured some of the more famous ports and anchorages on the Bay, but we discovered some nice quiet anchorages as well. We had only one day of really bad weather and we only ran hard aground once.
A rather successful trip on the Bay if I do say so myself.
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