Eric and Dave's Annual Vacation - 2001

The following is the trip report I sent to the Columbia email lists.


I'm not sure where to begin, except to say that this is a little long. Oh well.

On Saturday, Sept. 8, my brother Dave and I started a week long tour of the northern end of the Chesapeake. As I've done in the past I planned a 'Vous for the first Saturday night of what has become and annual vacation. Thus I have two events on which to report: the 'Vous and our trip.

Unfortunately, there are other aspects to share with you. Last week's sad events at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Somerset, PA put their mark on the experience just assuredly as would gale winds and stormy skies or a dead calm under a blazing sun. They are inextricably intertwined with the trip's events. On the other hand, had I not been on Pelago I would have been in my office just a short walk from the White House.

Saturday, Sept. 8

Trip Map

We dawdled a little getting started and then got caught in a rare line at the fuel dock, so it was after 10 by the time we eased out of the West River. There was a moderate breeze out of the south and we broad reached up towards Thomas Point Light. It looked like it would be a slow sail before the wind, but after my last attempt to get to a 'Vous any wind was fine.

It looked like attendance would be light. The only other boats confirmed to join us were Mike and Laura on La Mancha, their C-23T and Lee on Atria, his C-30. Mike and Laura had the easy sail needing only to cross the Bay. Lee was at the other end of the scale coming down from Georgetown, MD, on the Sassafras.

We passed Thomas Point Light and headed downwind towards the Bay Bridge. Our course was dictated by how far off the wind we could sail without the main blanketing the jib. It wasn't long before I got tired of the slow pace and began to rig for spinnaker. I've only flown the spinnaker a few times and Dave had only been on a boat with the spinnaker up once before, so we had all the makings of an adventure. Thanks in part to a couple tricks that Blair Arden showed me, the spinnaker raised and filled without a hitch. Pelago picked up speed.

Soon I heard Laura on La Mancha try to raise Lee on the VHF. When she got no answer I responded back. They were just leaving Bodkin Creek to scoot across the Bay to Swan Creek. They talked about having to motor, but once they got out onto the Bay they found the wind on their beam and had a good sail across. Once north of the bridge, Dave and I began to bear off to the east to get past the south end of Swan Point Bar. This brought the wind around to our beam and the spinnaker well off to the side.

We heard Lee calling for La Mancha. He was just up the Bay from Swan Creek and Mike and Laura were closing in on the creek entrance. It then looked to me like Atria and Pelago would arrive about the same time.

Just as we neared the southern end of Swan Point Bar the wind lifted the spinnaker and the pole went skyward. Before I could get to the downhaul, the previously repaired end of the pole bent and came off the mast ring. The pole swung back like a battering ram, but missed everything and I quickly got it stowed and the spinnaker back in its bag.

We soon reached Swan Creek, but there was no sign of Lee. We motored up the creek and spotted La Mancha anchored well off to the side in what had to be very shallow water. We found a spot, dropped the hook, and waved Mike and Laura over. Soon we had a two boat raftup and I got to meet two more Columbia owners - always a pleasure. I also got my first tour of a 23T, of which La Mancha is very nice example. I love Pelago, but it was sure nice to be on a boat that is so nice cosmetically.

Then we relaxed and waited for Lee. I originally thought he would sneak across Swan Point Bar, but he chose discretion over valor and went the couple extra miles to go around it. Finally we saw Atria motoring up the creek, unmistakable with her CYOA burgee and giant crab flying in the breeze. Knowing that Atria had the deepest keel in the group, we tied her to the shallow side of the raft. That way if the tide got very low we would be anchored by a second point - Atria's keel. ;-)

Lee had a long but good trip. He left Friday night and spent a few hours getting out of the Sassafras and onto the Bay and then down to Still Pond for the night. Then Saturday was a full day of beating down the Bay. And as always, it was good to meet another. I had never been aboard a C-30 before so Lee gave me a tour of Atria and even showed me his offshore folding table. ;-)

We hung out for a while and hopped on La Mancha for a run into Rock Hall for dinner at Watermen's Crab House. Unlike past experiences, we were seated immediately. We had a tasty dinner, cold adult beverages, and a good time in general.

With such a small group, La Mancha was the perfect boat for shuttling too and from the raftup in the shallow waters around Rock Hall and Swan Creek. Once clear of the harbor we raised the sails and headed back to Swan Creek. With the wind behind us we were able to sail all the way up the creek, through the anchored boats and right up to our raftup.

OK, maybe not quite up to the raftup. The 23T is designed to be trailerable and maximize cabin space, so it has a wide, shallow keel. I was at the tiller and I found that the 23 made just a little more leeway than I anticipated. I tacked to try and work upwind but couldn't get any speed in the light air and I came up short again. Finally I asked for a paddle and used it to get us that last little bit to the raftup. Once home, we had a short nightcap and retired for the evening.

Sunday, Sept. 9

The day dawned bright and clear. There was a light breeze and one less Columbia than when we turned in. Evidently Lee awoke early and decided to get a head start on the long trip back. This is the second time that we've rafted at Swan Creek and the boat next to Pelago was gone in the morning. I didn't think I snored that loudly.

Mike and Laura needed to get back home so the were off pretty efficiently. Dave and I hung around and had a leisurely breakfast before venturing out on the Bay. The air was light and the tide was fairly high, so we decided to try to sneak across Swan Creek Bar. We got across the bar with no problem. We raised the sails, cut the motor, and drifted in the dying air.

It took all day to cross the Bay.

Finally a little breeze came up, but by then we were ready to find an anchorage. The nearest place was Bodkin Creek so we ducked in and went most of the way up the left channel before we found a spot. On the way we passed a Contender with the transom painted to look like wood and a C-45 with a For Sale sign.

Monday, Sept. 10

We worked our way out onto the Bay and found a strong southerly breeze. We worked our way north and after we passed Poole's Island we could see some weather developing behind us. We considered ducking into Still Pond, but changed our minds and headed for the Sassafras. Then it started to sprinkle on us. Luckily, most of the weather either dissipated or passed to the south. We sailed up into the Sassafras and discussed our options. My cruising guide says there are some free guest slips at Betterton, just a mile or two into the mouth of the Sassafras, but it seemed too early in the day to stop. We kept sailing up the river we thought we would luff up we would get just enough lift to keep sailing. We finally dropped the sails and motored the last little way into Georgetown under increasingly threatening skies. We took a slip at Georgetown Yacht Basin, hit the showers and walked over to the Granary for dinner.

What a pleasant dining experience sitting there looking out over the river and the marina and the C-30 with the CYOA burgee and giant crab in the rigging and HEY!, That's ATRIA! I had mentioned to Dave that Lee kept his boat around there, and there it was. We wrote a note to leave on Atria, but we then we discovered the security fencing around the docks to keep the riffraff out. Clearly it did its job - Dave and I couldn't get in.

Tuesday, Sept. 11

Tuesday morning had all the promise of a great sailing day. The sky was clear, the temperature pleasant, and a steady breeze prevailed. We were up fairly early, but took our time readying Pelago for departure and settling up at the marina office. Somewhere in this process I checked my cell phone for messages and found that my mother had called the night before. I called her back and talked a little. Then she mentioned that she had just seen on the news that there has been an explosion at the World Trade Center - maybe a plane had hit it. Certainly this was serious news, but accidents happen and there was little to go on. I think we were about ready to leave when Mom called back to tell us that a plane had hit the second tower.

That's when I knew that the world we left when we cast off the lines Saturday was not the world we would return to at the end of the week.

We got under way and I turned on the FM radio - something I rarely do on board. The events unfolded as we headed down the Sassafras. As unimaginable as it was to hear that the towers collapsed, I think my greatest concerns were how many planes would come crashing down, and how long it would take before we could me sure that the last one had come to rest. Preying on my mind, too, was that my sister is a flight attendant and I didn't know her schedule. She flies for Atlantic Coast Airlines, known to the travelling public as United Express, so it wasn't until I realized that the United planes were transcontinental flights that I could assume she was safe.

As we went along we also listened to the securite broadcasts from the Coast Guard in Philadelphia and Baltimore. We heard of harbor closings or restrictions in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Annapolis, and on the Potomac in Washington, DC.

We sailed out of the Sassafras onto the Bay with no clear destination - typical of our travels. We consulted the chart and decided to head up the Elk River and then into the Bohemia to do a little exploring.

I should mention that the upper Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries is a relatively sparsely populated area. You can find miles of shoreline that are undeveloped. A very beautiful place.

The Elk River is the path to the Delaware Canal. We had to dodge a little commercial traffic, but there were no dramatics. Once in the Bohemia we had only to watch the depth and cruise along the nearly deserted river. The wind stayed up and soon we could see the marina and bridge at Hack Point. The channel narrowed up quite a bit so we decided to head back towards the Elk. Once there, we retraced our steps down the Elk to the Bay.

It was mid-afternoon and we needed to start thinking about a place to spend the night. We didn't see any great anchorages on the Bohemia or Elk, so our options were to go back down to the Sassafras and check out Betterton, head up the channel to the Northeast River and into the town of Northeast or one of the local marinas, or we could head up the long channel into Havre de Grace. Betterton didn't seem to have much there so it seemed like a poor choice. I like Northeast, MD, but I'd been there quite a few times while getting Pelago ready to move her down the Bay. Havre de Grace seemed like the logical option.

Havre de Grace sits at what is now the mouth of the Susquehanna River. During part of the time that the east coast was taking shape, the Chesapeake Bay was the Susquehanna riverbed. Havre de Grace is separated from the Northeast River and the Bay by about 25 sq. mi. of water that varies from 1 to 5 ft deep on my chart. The channel is about 5 miles long and there is a good distance between the bouys, but we motored in without incident. Once in the Susquehanna we found a small cove that we shared with a shippy-looking trawler. We spent the evening there grilling on the lazerette and drinking beer and watching the paddle wheel-driven tour boat take patrons up and down the river. The only real detraction was the railroad bridge about a mile away, but it died down after the commuter trains stopped for the night.

Wednesday, Sept. 12

Dave and I woke early. We had already constructed the folding dink so we had little delay getting started for town. We walked around most of the business district and took in the sights. We found one of those small, neighborhood diners where the food is good and cheap, the service comes with a genuine smile, and the retired blue collar workers gather to start the day in the company of friends. There was no TV and music was playing on the radio. One of the codgers in the booth down from us had a paper, but we couldn't see the pictures.

We finished breakfast and walked down to the local grocery store. On the way I looked down one of the streets and there was Pelago riding quietly at anchor silhouetted by the sun reflecting on the water. What a boat.

It took but a few minutes to grab some groceries and ice. We walked through a boatyard and then rowed back to Pelago, folded the dink, raised anchor and the sails, and headed for the channel.

We had a slow sail out with a light breeze on the beam. We turned down the Bay and started tacking downwind. The wind died after a couple tacks. We knew we were still making headway, because we could see our wake. The crab pots must have been making headway, too, because we could see their wakes. The GPS speed read 0.0. And so the day went. We read and fiddled with the sails. Occasionally a puff would come up and we would sail a little. At one point during the day we heard a Pan-Pan about a boat a with no one aboard adrift near Grove Point. Hmmm... we could see Grove Point, but we couldn't see any boats adrift. Later in the afternoon a sailboat going down the Bay motored by very close. We waved and smiled so they would know we OK. Finally we gave up and motored the couple miles left to Still Pond.

Still Pond is a little cove on the eastern shore of the Bay. We shared it with about 5 other boats, but there was plenty of room so we didn't have to get too close. There are only a couple houses on Still Pond and they sit back from the shore. The night was clear and the Milky Way was smeared across the sky. The stars were brilliant. There were so many that some easy constellations like Cassiopeia blended into the surrounding stars that are seldom seen in suburban areas.

Thursday, Sept. 13

We woke to a nice breeze out of the north. We ate a quick breakfast and set sail. We tacked downwind across the Bay. Our limit on the east side was the shore, but on the west side is a row of yellow buoys that mark the edge of the Aberdeen Proving Grounds - a military weapons testing area. It's a little disconcerting to hear the explosions as you sail towards their buoys. ;-)

We got on a tack that would just barely take us south of Poole's Island. Dave sailed while I drilled and tapped the boom and added some hardware for a reefing system. The wind gave us a little lift and we slid past Poole's island. It continued to lift and we squeaked past the southern end of Hart-Miller Island and the shallows off North Point at the mouth of the Patapsco. We tacked a couple of times and ducked into the Magothy River. Most of the Magothy is very wide and we sailed up the south edge, into Forked Creek and anchored in Cool Spring Cove.

The Magothy is a suburban river and Cool Spring Cove was the opposite of Still Pond. The ridge around the Cove had houses shoulder to shoulder and each had stairs down to a dock. There would be no standing on the back of the boat to pump the personal bilge. ;-)

We had a pleasant evening there in our suburban anchorage. We noticed that commercial planes were finally flying overhead going to and from BWI. Under other circumstances it would have been a little annoying, but it was a welcome sound after Tuesday's events. I woke up during the night to the wind picking up. I went up on deck and watched as Pelago swung 180 degrees. The anchor held fine. Then the rain came. I closed up the hatches, went below, and went back to sleep.

Friday, Sept. 14

Friday didn't dawn so much as it got lighter. The rain was fairly steady and the wind was blowing 20 knots on the Bay. After so many good sailing days we decided to relax, do a little reading, and see how the day went. The rain let up in the afternoon and the sky began to clear. I considered making a run down to Annapolis, but we didn't know what harbor restrictions were in force and it would have made for

a short sail on Saturday, so we stayed in Cool Spring Cove another night.

Saturday, Sept. 15

Saturday has traditionally been the last day of our trip, leaving Sunday in reserve in case of bad weather. We once again awoke to sunny skies and a good breeze. We said goodbye to the Cove, sailed out onto the Bay, and headed towards the Bay Bridge. The wind was holding at about 15 knots out of the north and the seas were about 2 feet. I used my new reefing setup on the main and rolled in the jib a little and we were still tacking downwind at about 6 knots. We watched some windsurfers scooting around of Sandy Point and another fellow put on quite a show flying around on a board while being towed by a kite.

It's always a kick to sail under the Bay Bridge. You know that you are part of the scene viewed by the hundreds of cars that cross the bridge as you pass underneath and you know that many of them must look on with envy. For me it's the dividing line between my home waters and the upper part of the Bay. All day sails stop before the bridge. From the

bridge, home is but a few hours sail away.

The wind slackened a little south of the bridge and we shook out the reef for the last leg home. The day was so sunny and clear that I had trouble finding the West River. Usually it's the darker spot on the coastline, but the air was so clear, that there was little depth when looking down river and it blended into the shore.

Home at last. We covered at least 150 miles in 7 days of sailing, but two of those were real drifters. We explored three new rivers, a new port, and two new coves to anchor in. We made new friends at the Columbia rendezvous. All in all, a pretty good week.

This was the first time that we touched land since our brief excursion on Wednesday morning. Pirates Cove was having a typical Saturday afternoon. The back deck was crowded with diners and Big Mary's, the patio bar, had a good crowd and live music. The one difference that struck me was the number of people wearing red, white, and blue apparel, and the American flags flying from various places. It was good to see the display of patriotism and solidarity, but it was a clear sign that Dave and I could no longer avoid dealing with the tragic events that the rest of the world had already faced for nearly 5 days.

Sunday, Sept. 16

Assuming that the weather doesn't put us behind schedule, the second Sunday finds us in Galesville. We just spent a week sailing, but we always take the opportunity to get in one last daysail. Again we were greeted by a beautiful day. Fitz took a break from working on his C-31 and joined Dave and I on Pelago. The wind was still from the North at about 10, so we would have fast reaches across the Bay. As we approached Bloody Point, we saw a C34 MkII off our beam heading the other way. We tacked to give chase, but snagged a jib sheet and by the time we got it free the 34 was pretty far off. I got the sail number and later found that it was George Culbertson heading back to the Middle River.

We did a couple more tacks and just enjoyed another beautiful day on the water. The wind began to ease as we headed back into the West River. I typically sail until I'm

right off the end of my pier, where I start the engine and furl the sails. I left the engine off and briefed the crew on spring line handling. We eased down along the pier and then turned upwind into the slip. I judged it pretty well, and it took only mild pulling on the spring lines to stop Pelago. What a way to end the sail and the vacation.


In the past this report has ended when the dock lines were tied on Sunday afternoon, but this year was a bit different. I returned home and pulled Washington Post from Tuesday, Sept. 11, out of my recycle bin. This was the first time I saw pictures of Tuesday's events. I didn't see any video until I downloaded a few clips from the internet at work the next day. I also checked my work email Sunday evening and found that one of the men who fought the terrorists on Flight 93, the plane that crashed in PA, was a fellow employee. I also learned that seven other people from my company were missing at the World Trade Center. One of them had EMT training and was last seen going back into the building to help. I wasn't aware of any coworkers that I knew working in New York, but nonetheless, the loss hit close to home.

Monday, September 18

Monday was my first day back to work. I had a dentist appointment in the morning so I had to take the Metro into the city rather than the commuter train. All was normal on the mid-morning train until we got to the National Airport stop. National is across the Potomac from DC and is usually a beehive of activity. That day I counted 4 planes sitting on the ground. It was practically a ghost town.

Two stops later we reached the Pentagon. Few people got on or off, and the train operator announced that only Pentagon employees could use the station and that an ID was required.

I arrived at my station, McPherson Square. This is the station tourists use to go to the White House and it's only a block from Lafayette Square. The other side of the borders Pennsylvania Ave. on the north side of the White House grounds.

The city seemed a little quieter, but that's probably because it was mid-morning, after the main rush hour. I arrived at work and talked to one of my coworkers about the past week. Here is what I got. As you know, most government offices and many private businesses closed on Tuesday. People flooded the streets. Confusion reigned, but people were calm. Rumors flew about whether the bridges out of the city were open (many weren't) and whether Metro was running (it was). People formed ad hoc car pools. Slowly but surely the city emptied. Surprisingly the rest of the week was worse. Some Metro stations had one entrance/exit closed and law enforcement officers were stationed around the streets trying to control pedestrian and auto traffic. Evidently they were a bit terse at times and the atmosphere was pretty tense, but under the circumstances you can understand their approach of commanding rather than asking.

Tuesday, September 19

A coworker who is relatively new on the project expressed a desire to take some pictures at lunchtime, so we walked towards Lafayette Square. I was just a little surprised to see the park completely open. It was filled with people sitting on the benches eating lunch and watching the squirrels scurry about. Even a few of the ever-present protesters were encamped at that south end of the park, just across Pennsylvania Ave. from the White House. There was a very strong police presence on Pennsylvania Ave, but it was relaxed and watchful. There was none of the tension that often accompanies a strong show of force in potentially volatile times. But what really surprised me was that Pennsylvania Ave. was open for pedestrian traffic just as before the terrorist attacks. You could literally walk up to the White House fence. To the casual observer, the only sign at the White House of the previous week's events was the Stars and Stripes flying at half staff.

I took great pride and great comfort that despite the terrible attack we suffered only a week before, one could stand at the edge of the White House lawn. This symbol of democracy was not hidden far behind barricades, it was on open display for all to see.

Well, this ran a little longer than I had intended, but sharing a 'Vous and a week's sailing is hard to fit in a few paragraphs. It became even more complex, because of the events that colored the entire trip. And finally I felt the need to share what it's been like here in our nation's capitol. I wish that we could all sail together sometime, but usually we just have to settle for reading about each other's adventures. Even more so, I wish you could have stood with me in front of the White House, but like the 'Vous, the best I can do is relate the experience.

Good sailing.


That was the message I sent to the Columbia email lists and to some family and friends. Less than an hour after I sent it I was checking my work email and I found an announcement for a memorial service for one of my fellow employees who was lost at the World Trade Center. It was the one who went back into the building to help. It was then that I learned his name and found that he was someone I had worked with a couple years earlier. Those cowardly bastards had killed a friend.

While we will never forget what happened on Sept 11, 2001, we need diversion. We need to escape now and then to a peaceful place. For me there is little more peaceful and soothing and good for the soul than spending time on Pelago on the Chesapeake Bay.

Fair winds.

Eric White, September 2001

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