CHESAPEAKE BAY CRUISE
Tim J Dull
Solomon Islands, MD pgs 5, 8, 50
Mill Creek, Solomons pg 6
Old House Cove
West River, Galesville, MD pgs 11,
Chalk Point pg 38
Magothy River, MD pg 14
Rock Hall, MD pg 22
Rock Hall Landing
Kent Island Narrows pg 26
Wye River pg 28
St Michaels, MD pg 30
Long Hall Creek pg 34
Rhode River pg 36
Knapp’s Narrows pg 41
Oxford, MD pg 41
Tred Avon River
Goldsborough Ck pg 43
Back Creek, Solomons pg 49
Deltaville, VA pg 57
Yorktown, VA pg 60
Monday 16 September, Norfolk to Deltaville Solomons, MD
An interesting start to my annual cruise this year. With the need to be in the Solomons by the third weekend of September for our annual Tartan Classic Rendezvous, I had been watching the weather and decided I needed to leave Monday, as the winds were going to be out of the north on Tuesday and Wednesday. My plan was to get to Deltaville and spend a couple of days there then head on north to Solomons. Thus, after a way too busy week before with racing Thursday eve and helping organize the Navy’s share of the Tri-Service Regatta preparations and racing Saturday I was left with one day, Sunday, to finish all the home chores and load out Skymark for the trip.
I was also waiting to do the normal “go north with the wind and tides”, and the southerlies just kicked in for this one day. With the load-out completed Sunday evening I was ready for an early-light start up the Bay this morning.
Early Morning Light
Up early, by 0530 I was motoring out of the marina with the lights of the marina and old tracks on my GPS to guide me into Willoughby, where I raised the main in the hopes of getting an assist while motoring most of the day. I was soon making 7 kts SOG as I crossed the HRBT. The current was slack as I got up toward Back River. However, once the flood started, I was making over 6 kts from New Point Comfort to Wolf Trap light and flipping chart pages quickly as I rolled along. A pod of dolphins had given me a boost across the York. The light winds from the east were just enough to keep the main steady and provided a nice smooth ride and one that Auto was happy about.
Motor-Sailing, Auto at the Helm
As I passed Wolf Trap Light and angled to the west along my track toward Jackson Creek, I checked the weather forecasts on SailFlow. What showed up was a change to a continuation of northeast winds through Friday, some with predictions for a 3 to 4-foot chop in the Bay. Not a happy thought of motor-splashing into that for 10 hours on Friday to slog my way from Deltaville to Solomons. I checked my chart plotter and the best estimate I had for a direct run all the way into Solomons was an arrival at about 2100, and that was with the speed estimates of 6 kts all the way. After a bit of mulling over such a long “day sail” I decided to go for it. I aimed for Smith Point Light, 24 NM to the north, the first leg of what was going to be a long day. I texted the family about my change of plans, and once Auto was settled down, I went below to brew another pot of coffee to refill the thermos.
As the tide continued to build, I was making 6.5 kts toward Windmill Point just along the track to Smith Pt. While it did seem to take forever to get to Smith Point, I had plenty of time to check the times of high tide at points north. I found that high tide at Cedar Point, just outside Patuxent, was at 1645, about two hours before my estimated arrival there. My hope was I would at least have slack water as I got that far north and wouldn’t have an early turn of the current to fight. As I passed Windmill Point, I was making 6.5 kts over ground and with the light wind clocking to the east I unfurled the genoa and picked up speed to 7 kts. Normally I would have throttled back a bit to just maintain above 6, but I hoped to keep an the front of the tidal wave as long as I could, so I left her running at the mid-range RPM that I had started with in the morning.
By 1445 I was at Smith Point at predicted high tide and went chasing across the bar there at 7.8 kts! It seemed my hope to ride the tide was working well. Aiming for Point No Point, I found there was still a push of current to the north and I was now running at 6.5 SOG. By 1620 I had crossed the most-peaceful mouth of the Potomac, where many a sailor has lost his ship to the often-rough seas. From Point No Point I aimed for Cedar Point with a dogleg around the “Targets” area off the Test Range for Patuxent River NAS. Still making 6.5 kts, which was amazing. As I was passing the Targets platform the wind had moved enough to the south that I rolled up the genoa since it was doing little to add to my forward progress. I spent a few minutes preparing for a night-time arrival into the Solomons: coffee mug filled, all lines stowed, light-weight jacket handy, red light in the cup holder, running and steaming lights on, life jacket back on, and running through all the “what-if’s” for the final part of the trip.
I crossed the bar at Cedar Point at 1900 a little over two hours after predicted tide there and was still making 6 kts. However, once across, as I turned up the Patuxent River my speed over ground dropped to 5.5, even with the reefed mainsail helping a bit. I made it to Hog Island Light just as the sun was setting and with fingers crossed that I could get into the Solomons entrance while it was still twilight. On the leg to Drum Point I lowered the mainsail so I could do it with some amount of light in the day. Rounding Drum Point there was still a decent amount of light, but the flashing day beacons could also be made out, a double good deal for my tired eyes.
Solomons Harbor Lights at Dusk
At 1945, I slowly threaded my way into the Solomons’ entrance, something I had done numerous times before, only bothered by the occasional non-lighted mark that would jump out of the dimness before me. Leaving the triangle dump ground island to port and passing the fuel docks to starboard I wound my way into Back Creek, where I could see the lighted Green just past my hoped-for anchorage. Slowly turning in toward the beach and a set of homes with docks, I was soon anchored in ten foot of water, right in front of our friends’ Back Creek Inn. 2000, quite a run, about 89 NM in a little less than 15 hours, with an average speed of 6 kts.
After a quick text to Carole that I had made it in safe, I turned on the anchor light and promptly fell asleep in the now cool cockpit, listening to the light waves lapping on the rocks along the beach. It had been a very long day, despite making an eighteen-hour trip in fifteen hours. I awoke sometime in the middle of the night a bit chilled, grabbed a flannel blanket from below, and finished a good night's rest.
Tuesday 17 September, Back Creek, Solomons
Today seems like the first day of vacation! No plans, nowhere to be until Friday, ahhhh. A slow rise with an easy breakfast of fried eggs on toast with a pot of hot coffee. My only plans for the week were to get a run in and a possible swim around the boat sometime when I had the chance. My first need was to straighten the boat up a bit, and since it was threatening rain, no need to hurry off for fuel as I would just get wet. As expected, there was a nice fresh water washdown sort of shower that came through as I was finishing up below. About noon, I finally got underway for the Spring Cove Fuel docks, where I topped off my fuel tank and added a block of ice to the refer. Soon I was motoring out Back Creek and around the junction to Mill Creek. With the winds predicted to be northerly for the rest of the week I was looking for an anchorage with some protection. After meandering up stream and turning to starboard to stay in Mill Creek I found a nice inlet to the north called Old House Cove. Venturing into where I could see a distance into the cove which had a bit over 6 feet of depth and trees on three sides. After looping around to a little more width between homes on either side I settled in a spot with 7 foot of water and eased the anchor out for a couple of days of hanging out. One neighbor was repairing his dock and on the other side there was some roof repair ongoing but other than some barking dogs it was a quiet place to be.
Old House Cove, Mill Creek
After inflating and launching the dinghy I ventured further upstream then spent the afternoon slowly drifting back to the boat, an easy site-seeing trip. Following an easy supper of home-made vegi soup I settled into the cockpit for a night’s rest. About mid-night, however, even though the moon was high in the sky, the temps had dropped so I was forced to scurry down below for the rest of my night’s sleep. Chesapeake Bay at its finest; easy cruising.
Wednesday, 18 September, Old House Cove off Mill Creek, Solomons
This seemed like a good day to get a few boat freshening projects completed prior to heading over to a mooring at Zahnizer’s and a short run around town. With a good oatmeal breakfast under my belt I set about cleaning the hull, where weeks of racing and docking and the two days’ worth of kayaks bouncing off during our Bay Swimmer support had left a number of marks from bow to stern, along with the ever-present Chesapeake mustache of discoloration. I guess I am getting a bit older as this work-out from the dinghy was more of a test of my joints and knees than I could remember. Upon completion and crawling back into the boat I relaxed with some chilled grilled chicken washed down with a much-needed beer. With a chance to relax and fully enjoy the solitude and comfort of the anchorage, I decided there was no need to venture back to the mooring field at Z’s after all; I would just hang out here another night and finish a few more projects topside. The last chore was cleaning and waxing the cabin top, which went much better than I had dreaded. I was again happy to have only a 34-foot boat to care for as I settled into the cockpit for another rest break.
I paddled around the creek again before supper, snatching a few pictures of the boat at anchor and just enjoying the scenery. As I settled in for my evening meal of home-made ham and bean stew the winds picked up enough to bother me a bit; as the boat was being sent first upstream then down as the shifts blew one way then another. However, after sunset things calmed down enough, and I was able to slide into my bunk and promptly fall asleep; only disturbed by a late-night waterman motoring quietly into the cove to his home upstream. The moonlight soon soothed me back into my slumbers.
Thursday, 19 September, Old House Cove to Zahniser’s
An easy morning with hot oatmeal and a bear claw left over from my Bay Swimmer adventure washed down with some fresh coffee and I was ready to amble back down Mill Creek to civilization. Arriving about mid-morning, I picked up one of the moorings at Zahnisers located closest to their dinghy dock. I do believe it is the one I snag each time I visit.
Back Creek to left, Mill Creek to right
I rowed in to pay for my mooring at Zahniser’s Yacht Center, cheap at $30 for a good night's rest. Zahnizer’s (410-326-2166, then 4 for reservations) Always a nice place to visit and/or get parts or work done, you have the full run of the facilities for $30 a night, not a bad price at all for full WIFI service, private shower rooms, dinghy dock (which from the mooring is about 20 oar strokes), pool, comfy lounge with computer and cable TV, bicycles for touring the town, BLOCK ice, and still available this year, a van that runs three times a day to the big Food Lion down the road. Full service, indeed!
Ashore with my usual routine of wearing my jogging gear into the marina and carrying a bag of shower necessities. As I was just getting started on my trip, I did not have the additional bag of laundry to do while I was out running. Checking in with the dockmaster, who had already asked about my triathlon in Rock Hall the next weekend (they know me well here), I left my bag in the office and headed out for my run about town. These runs are part of my usual process of finding where the Irish pubs and ice cream shops might be and locating a nice restaurant for the evening meal. For Solomons it was more like visiting old friends, sometimes to see they had been replaced with new ones to check out, and more than often just ensuring my memories of distances were still close. The ice cream shop, Cone Island, on the walkway along the Patuxent was still there and open through the end of October as guests were expected to be still passing through. I saw the locals were planning the Island Art Festival again, led by Ann Marie Gardens. Perhaps an extra adventure for those from the Tartan Classic group who had the time to visit on Saturday? The bait and head-boat shop still had hand-dipped Hershey’s ice cream available, and yes, the young girl who hands out the bait also dips the ice cream; in case you were wondering.
Skymark in Zahniser’s Mooring Field
The weather was delightful for my run and soon I was back to the marina and a nice non-Navy shower in their wonderful facilities. They have individual shower/bathrooms for each person and a complete laundry room just across the hall so you can get all things cleaned and dried simultaneously. I found the pool bar and grill was still open as it had been warmer earlier in the month, so I treated myself to one of their hand-made hot sandwiches (and beer of course). No wonder my run times are not improving!
Finally, back aboard Skymark with both block and chopped ice, I spent the afternoon changing the engine oil which I had been a bit negligent in completing over the summer. With no oil filter installed one is supposed to be changing the oil each 25 hours of operation… It was not pretty when I pumped it into an empty oil jug for disposal. (Zahnisers does recycle the oil for $1.25 a gallon) I finished up the day with a trip into the Dry Dock Restaurant at Zs to enjoy their happy hour prices and have a light appetizer and salad. Their food is a bit pricy, but incredible!
Friday / Saturday 20-21 September, Tartan 34 Classic Rendezvous, Spring Cove Marina
Today’s plans included moving over to Spring Cove Marina to join several other Tartan lovers coming into town for the weekend. First, however, I rowed ashore and took advantage of the Z’s free bikes and road over to the CVS to pick up some meds which I needed to restock on Skymark. I had been bothered by an earache that had started up just a day before and while I had a few things I decided to get a couple more, in case it persisted. The CVS is within a jog of the marinas but is not really walking distance, so the bike was handy. I also picked up some fresh foods and snacks while I was there. Then it was back to Skymark for the 200-yard trip to Spring Cove, just up the creek from Z’s.
Spring Cove Marina (410-326-2161) is a complete resort-style marina, with a number of shaded picnic areas, a lap-swim-length pool with accompanying bar and grill, a captains lounge, courtesy shuttle to anywhere on the island, bikes, laundry facility, and complete yard facility off to the side. It is gated, which can be a bother or not, as they are very particular about non-guest using any of the facility. For guests they are great, however.
With the able assistance of the dock hands I was soon moored into a slip on a pier where the other Tartan Classics coming down the Bay were also assigned. After checking in with the office and getting the multi-page brochure for the facilities I set about pulling my tri-bike out of its cozy quarter berth where it had been resting since earlier in the week. With what seemed forever to assemble all the helmet, gloves, lights, shoes, clothing and GPS needed for a check ride, I was off north on highway 2/4, which has a broad shoulder for a designated bike path, and which goes all the way to Annapolis…if that is one’s desire. I was happy with an easy 30 miles for the day, which gave the bike a good check-out and also confirmed I could at least cover the distance needed for the Rock Hall triathlon (not fast mind you but done).
Racking the bike on the boat alongside the shrouds I headed to the pool for a quick cool-down swim and a rum punch. Again, not the best post-ride replenishment but I am on vacation! Showered and cleaned up and back in my sailing togs I waited for the rest of the group to make their way down the Bay. Even with the VHF radio on my hip, Mark and Hala McIver in TAMARIND still managed to slip in unnoticed and I found them in their slip next to Skymark when I wandered down to the docks. Later our leader, Dave Watson, along with his Son and another Tartan owner Adam Clapsaddle, arrived in his PRIORITY, soon followed just before dusk by David and Mary Ida Bourdon in CELEBRATION, making our from-the-sea part of the party complete. Adam’s wife PJ had driven down on her own and was already checked into a hotel up the road. With all the folks in that were coming for the day we walked up and around to the local seafood and breakfast restaurant, Anglers, for an evening of sea stories and boat update details from all. It was working up to be a fine gathering!
Tartan 34 Classics, PRIORITY in Foreground
Saturday morning some fixed breakfast on their boats, some went up to the pool bar and grill, and a few of us wandered back to Anglers for brunch. Having been out long enough now, I ran a load of laundry in between brunching, visiting other boats, and making Skymark’s interior presentable for guests. As there were some with their own transportation, they loaded up part of the group to go over to the Art Festival at Anne Mary Gardens, which they all thoroughly enjoyed, as there were also several music groups playing. Once the boat visitations were over on Skymark I disassembled my bike and again stowed it in its own bunk below in preparation for Sunday’s trip up the Bay, required to catch the last of the southerlies.
Later Saturday afternoon John and Georgie Jackson arrived from North Carolina, as their boat GEORGIE GIRL had been trapped there by one of the early hurricanes that had wandered up the coast, again preventing their own Fall trip of the Bay. Later Saturday evening we all were transported to the Lighthouse Restaurant (410-231-2256) for a continuation of our sea stories and festivities. We were joined by one of my Skymark shipmates Russ Matjevic and his crew who were in Solomons for the night as part of their trip on the Bay for the weekend. Some other members were a bit delayed arriving as they had taken a divert for a medical problem, but all worked out fine and eventually we were back at the docks later in the evening prepping for our various departure times in the morning.
Altogether another wonderful weekend visiting with good friends with mutual admiration of old classic yachts.
Sunday 22 September, Solomon Islands, MD to West River (Galesville, MD)
Having reviewed the tides Saturday early, I had planned for a departure at first light so I could hopefully catch the current north and ride it as far as I could today. So, up early with a last-minute real shower and then brewing a pot of coffee as I started singling up all the lines and prepping the main sail for a quick, single-handed hoist. Grabbing my favorite oatmeal cookie breakfast bars and filling my cockpit mug with coffee I was soon underway, bidding goodbye to Dave and Mark, who would soon follow in Priority and Tamarind. As I slid past Zahnisers and was rattling the mainsail skyward I received a hail from Skymarker Russ, hanging out on his boat’s foc’sle in his trusty hammock. His crew was still recovering from their overnighter from Annapolis, so were yet to rise for the day’s journey back.
An hour later, as I was rounding Cove Point and had indeed picked up a north-bound tidal flow, I decided to aim for the West River for the afternoon. That way with the predicted south winds on Monday I would not have to work my way back out the Choptank to continue north. In addition, I had a good friend in that area who I had hoped to meet on my way past going north or south. He kept his Saber 34 in the South River but belonged to the West River Sailing Club as it was near his home. Not any wind to speak of, so auto was having fun trying to maintain course down wave and under power. Soon though, I was passing Summer Gooses area off the eastern shore and making an easy 6kts SOG. I was aiming for a spot just south of Thomas Point Light called Wild Grounds on the charts. It is a good turn point for either entering the South River, the West River, or continuing up the Bay. About mid-morning I texted Jim to see if I could use the dock at his Sailing Club, but in any case, there were plenty of anchorages and a public dock just around the bend from the Club if need be.
At 1300 I was at the Wild Grounds way point and turned to about 300 M for the West River entrance, still rolling along at 6kts. It was a busy junction, with power boats running amuck creating crazed waves, and a slew of sail boats out for their day sails (plenty of wind from the south if you were going that way). In the midst of all the fun I received a text from my friend saying he had cleared my landing with his Commodore, and along with the notification he also posted a hawks’ view of the pier and clubhouse so I would know what to aim for as I came up river. Further upriver there were dozens of sailboats in what appeared to be three classes of racers sling-shotting forth and back across the expanse of the inlet. I finally found a hole through where I could lower the mainsail without interfering over-muchly with their antics.
At 1400 I was snugged against the end of the T-head at the West River Sailing Club, in the midst of young and old sailors winging about. I stowed the sail and fished out my fender board just in case; but found the winds out of the south kept me nicely just off the dock there. I walked up to check in and to grab a cold beer then spent the rest of the afternoon watching the families chasing kids in and out of the water, sitting them on kayaks for quick trips, or tossing them on sailing catamarans for a trip out into the river. A delightful scene usually only repeated a few times a year at NNSC during open houses.
Skymark, West River Sailing Club
That evening, Jim and his lovely family met me at the Pirates Cove Restaurant, a mix of Jimmy Buffet bar scenes on one end and a great family restaurant on the other. Jim’s wife had spent the weekend working on her ASA 103 qualifications while Jim had the kids, so by the end of the evening all were in a high state of dither, sort of a controlled chaos. After making an early night of it (for the kids’ sake) we all returned to our respective homes. It is always delightful to get with folks you have been sailing with for over 40 years; the stories that can be told!
I did hear that all the Tartans had made their way safely back to their home ports from Annapolis to the Miles river. Another delightful weekend, with the still bright moon welcoming me back to the boat.
Monday 23 September, West River to Grays Creek off Magothy River
While it would have been lovely to spend another day on the West River, and much more to the liking of my cruising spirit, the winds today were to be out of the south and strong enough to really get some sailing in. After dropping a note in the guest book at WRSC I raised the mainsail and let the wind drift me away from the T-head, not bothering to use the engine. As I turned out the river, I unfurled the genoa and was soon making a respectable 4kts down wind. Within an hour I was clear of the West River and set my course for Thomas Point Light. With clear air I was soon making 6kts over ground in a relatively calm sea state compared to the ugly chop I had experienced the day before.
At 1000 I rounded Thomas Point and changed course to the north north east for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge which I could easily make out in the distance. Another clear and sunny day to be travelling on the Bay, I had soon gone forward to the foc’sle and pushed out the genoa with the spinnaker pole for a nice stretch of wing and winging, still at 6kts. This drove Skymark swiftly past the Annapolis area and under the bridge toward Sandy Point. As I cleared under the center span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, I continued along the shipping lane greens for a way to allow for a clear shot at the mouth of the Magothy River. I had cut the corner around Sandy Point Light a few times before, but it always led me too close to the shoreline and the ever-present crab pot floats and fishing line flags. With only a short delay I was soon dropping the spin pole and changing course to the north east for the narrow mouth of the Magothy River, while chatting with a couple of south-bound ships on bridge-to-bridge to assure them I was staying on the shallow side of the greens and well out of their way. They always seem to appreciate the small-boys giving them a call on channel 13 with our intentions.
By noon I was entering the well-marked channel into the Magothy and was again surprised at how quickly the river widens to James size, with Sillery Bay to the north making it appear even wider. While my destination and route had been into that bay, the winds from the south-west were just too good to waste and I continued up the Magothy for another half an hour on a beam reach, enjoying the scenery and passing a couple of other cruisers along the way. Even when cruising you always tighten up your trim to “race” the other guy, hah! Once up the river and just as I was coming about the wind shifted more to the east and I was quickly tacking upwind around the channel marks to get back down river. A nice rail-in-the-water end to the afternoon before returning to my track into Sillery Bay.
I have a waypoint entered just off the tip of Dobbins Island that leads me clear of any shoal water there and which leads me nearly right to the mouth of my favorite cruising anchorage in the area, which is Grays Creek. With a slight turn to port the very narrow entrance is just across Sillery Bay to the north about 3/10ths of a NM. By the chart, the markers, red day-beacons to starboard and little green cans to port, appear barley wide enough to allow for a single boat passage, about half the width of the channel into Salt Ponds. The channel carries 6ft of depth at low tide, so for most Chesapeake Bay cruisers you can easily enter, although you may be tempted to await a local and follow them through. By the chart the markers are locally maintained, probably by the Atlantic Marina on the Magothy, which is tucked in just inside the creek and to the right as you clear the channel.
Grays Creek quickly opens with a nice wide cove to port and deepens to a good 9 ft depth for a fair length of the creek. The cove is where I anchor as it is nicely out of the channel and carries 6ft of depth far enough back, with room for a couple of cruising boats to anchor in its shelter. All of the homes appear to be older water-front cottages with a few enlarged for growing families, and all with docks for one to three boats of every variety from work boats to small runabouts to modest sailboats. A new shoe-style power boat has been added in the cove since my last visit, somewhat out of character for most of the boats there. Once anchored, you have no idea there is a full-service marina with high capacity lifts, just around the point and hidden behind the trees. More details on the marina later, as the rest of the day I spend just drifting about the anchorage enjoying the neighborhood sounds. After my last batch of vegi stew was warmed and consumed for the evening I fell asleep in the cockpit, listening to the night sounds of crickets and tree frogs and an occasional ‘squarck” of a blue heron as it rustled in the night.
Cruising Mode, Grays Creek, Magothy River
Tuesday 24 September, Grays Creek off the Magothy River, Md
Although here a full day early, it was still delightful to have a full day’s sail under the keel finally. I am now in cycle with the sun and nodded off last evening in the cockpit and stayed there for most of the night. Awakened by the honks of a few geese who seemed to be starting their pilgrimage north a little soon, I was able to catch a most beautiful sunrise for my troubles. Luckily there was still a portion of coffee in the thermos from yesterday’s trip so I could sit quietly and listen to the cove’s creatures come alive for the day.
Channel into Gray’s Creek
After an easy breakfast of fried egg sandwiches, I put on my jogging gear and brought along my shower kit for a short run around the neighborhood, then a shower before returning to the boat with ice. I lowered the outboard on to the dinghy and headed over to the marina, hidden just around a tree-covered point to the north, easy to miss as you come into the creek as you are focused on the narrow channel and the welcoming cove to the south. I found the marina on a previous trip when I was on a jog from the local park access to the creek and had continued down the street only find this fully equipped marina and boat yard a short block away. However, I was soon to be disappointed as they were closed on Tuesdays, something I now remembered from the past. I thought it was Mondays or I would have dinghied in for ice when I arrived yesterday. I still completed a pleasant morning run in the shady hood and confirmed the area had changed very little. Although closed, the marina showers were open and I again received that pleasant surprise when you expect a paint-spattered sink and broken tile shower and instead find a clean, well maintained bathroom, nicely decorated with local paintings of boats and seabirds, and with pleasantly warm water. Atlantic Marina on the Magothy (410-360-2500) is a full-service spot with an open-air boatel and a full size travel lift, a ships store with all the needs of the local boaters and fishermen for their engines but no clothing, foods, or other cruising needs.
Returning to the boat I fixed a cheese sandwich as my sandwich meats were a bit questionable and added a serving of nuts for some extra protein. With a good breeze blowing to chase away the dust, I was soon sanding away on the cockpit comings, sadly neglected for most of the year because of numerous races. Once cleaned up I started applying teak oil and much to my surprise I was into the third coat before the boards finally said enough. I worked on just one side of the cockpit, as I still needed to use the space until it was dry. I also touched up the handrails, but they just needed a quick light sanding and a bit of oil to restore the shine. By then the afternoon was pretty well spent, so I relaxed and planned my events for the morrow.
Having worn myself down I warmed up some chunky noodle soup and was soon sitting in the cockpit waiting for the evening patrol of geese to come join me for the night. Another pleasant night beckoned me to just sleep in the cockpit, but it was a bit breezy still, so I retired to the main cabin for the night.
Wednesday, 25 September, Grays Creek
My friends the geese again roused me for what was to become one of the finest sunrises I have seen on the Bay. With coffee mug nearby I took a series of pictures that kept getting more and more astonishing. The view was through the inlet to the creek and with almost dead calm water the reflections were perfect. I will let the photo speak for itself.
After such an inspiring wake-up, I decided this was a good day to get my last Bay swim done as a practice for Saturday’s race. It looked like it was going to be a warm day with lots of sunshine so getting out of the water should be pleasant and not a chilly undertaking. After a good breakfast of oatmeal and a couple of cups of coffee I was soon suited up in my sleeveless wetsuit and off on a few laps from boat to a no-wake buoy and back, getting a good test of my goggles and doing some sighting practice while I was working out. The jellies seemed to have deserted this part of the Bay, and I hope they are clear in Rock Hall Harbor. The water was a pleasant 74 so it would be wetsuit legal Saturday, and my confidence in having a good swim portion was restored. Now if I could just get my running game back!
I took a quick ride into the marina for a shower and then it was back to the boat with bags of ice to restore the ice chest. I changed into walk-about clothes for a hike to the local store, Angels, I believe is the name. After clearing the waterfront and about halfway along I decided I should have waited until much later in the day, as the noon sun had found its way through the trees and right onto the roadways. So it was a rather hot stroll. Angels is a full-size grocery, with the appearance and variety of a modest Food Lion, and besides the necessities I had the deli prepare me a chicken salad sandwich for lunch. I munched on that after I got back to the neighborhood park and before motoring to the boat. The shade and breeze were both a welcome relief from the trip along the roads. Once I had stowed the fresh foods, I motored about the anchorage in the dink to get some photos of the channel entrance for my scrapbook.
Narrow Channel from Bay
I fired up the grill for some of the new bangers I had just picked up and was sitting there watching the evening develop when I noticed a number of sailboats making their way out of the creek, putting past me with more than enough crew for a day-sail and probably enough for a Wednesday evening race. Sure enough, within an hour I could make out numerous sails chasing back and forth across Sillery Bay. Just at dusk they were making their way back into the creek, chatting about close calls and better luck next times as they returned to their docks. Still nice to be cruising though.
Wednesday night Races Sewell’s Bay
After such a fine day I was tuckered out and fell asleep in the cockpit without my customary phone call home to see how my spouse was getting along with her quilting friends.
Thursday, 26 September, Grays Creek
Another Grays Creek Morning
After another wake up from the geese, I did have a pleasant morning in the cockpit, but not quite the awe-inspiring sunrise as the day before. However, on looking ashore to the west I saw another inspiring picture to fold into my memories of this cruise.
Fairy Houses of Grays Creek!
Although I had planned a run for the day, after yesterday’s rather long walk to and from the grocery I was declaring today a day of rest. Instead I performed some simple engine checks and adjusted the shaft packing gland one flat to reduce the drips into the people space. The rest of the day was spent catching up on this journal, as I had gotten rather far behind with learning the new laptop and getting photos inserted and sized correctly. Now my butt hurts from sitting so much though! Perhaps a dinghy ride to explore a bit more of the creek would be nice.
That evening I rolled up the sun cover, installed the ship’s wheel to its proper place on the helm, and in general readied Skymark for a short trip across the top of the Bay, always aware a short trip can easily turn into a slog into an ugly chop when one is least prepared for it. A final turn around the cove ran the dinghy motor fuel-line dry, and after coasting back alongside the boat I lifted the small engine onto the stern rail to await its next use. The dink was then emptied of its cushions and life jacket and tied astern ready for tomorrow’s journey to Rock Hall.
I settled into the cockpit to watch the sunset. Squadrons of mallards came skiing into the cove and soon there were multiple fleets, tacking and gybing about as they paddled to and fro looking for handouts or a mate in the crowd. Shortly after dusk a short parade of the local folks returned to the cove to either que up at the park boat ramp or just slide into their slip along the creek. Most all stayed well below any wake speed and just muttered their way in, chattering about the day's catch or their favorite sports team; however, there were a couple of “idjits” who came barreling into the cove with little care for their neighbors or for a surprise anchored in their way. Although I already had my anchor light up and on, I flipped on the foredeck lights to show off the rigging and bow of Skymark for a bit longer. I really did not wish to clean the sides again, as I am afraid they would splat like a bug if they hit these heavy old bulwarks.
After enjoying another quiet sunset and welcoming my geese buddies back for the night, I went below to fix a simple carb supper of buttered spaghetti in a light butter sauce, a perfect fuel base for Saturday’s day of fun. A quick call home to check on my wife's adventures down at the Beach and to let her know I was again traveling tomorrow, and I was ready to turn in. I was hoping for a good night’s rest, as tomorrow night I will probably toss and turn before my race on Saturday.
Friday, 27 September, Grays Creek to Rock Hall, Md
With a mid-morning underway from the creek, I slid the dingy back to its appropriate spot on the starboard stern chock, snugged up in the drain position. Having sit at anchor for a few days being moved about by the varying winds I had a fun time getting the anchor unstuck from its hold on the bottom. I finally needed to power up on it a little just to break it free. Once loose and the anchor cleaned, I made my way to the Atlantic Marina fuel dock, where I topped off my fuel tank for what I hoped to be the next couple of weeks. After I threaded my way out of Grays Creek, I raised the main sail with a reef, planning for a short mot0rsail directly into the predicted winds where I wished to go. As I cleared the mouth of the Magothy River and aimed for Rock Hall across the Bay I saw I was to pass close to the Baltimore Lighthouse. Luckily the over-night breeze had settled even more, and as the day’s winds had yet to pick up much and I was soon burbling along at about five knots or so, plenty of speed to keep me moving along.
Baltimore Lighthouse receding in the background
A little before noon I was coming into the channel and hailed Rock Hall Landing Marina to get their expert directions through the mud banks inside. I was soon sliding somewhat professionally back into my favorite slip, on the end of A dock, right where the swim out from the harbor was located.
After adjusting my lines along the floating dock, I slid the dinghy alongside my stern well clear of the outer channel, and with plenty of room for another boat to join me in the adjacent slip, if they were so inclined. Rock Hall Landing Marina (410-639-2224) is another great little secret of the Bay. The staff members are thorough and skilled and eager to show you around the facilities, which include a still open swimming pool, bicycles for journeying around the countryside or just into the center of town for supplies. The showers are numerous individual bathrooms, and they have a recently renovated gazebo with wicker furniture for lounging.
Rock Hall Landing Swim Out
The triathlon center set up is placed just to the backside of the marina, with an even larger tent set up for guest to stay out of the weather or sun as they are waiting for their sportsters to complete each event. While I waited for my coach to set up, I ventured next door to the Waterman's Crab House (410-639-2261), for a huge cheeseburger with all the fixins, an early afternoon lunch which I would top off later in the evening with a light supper. I pulled my trusty bike from his chamber in the quarter berth and assembled all my riding gear and headed out for a short spin around town to make sure all the shifters and brakes were in proper working order. Once satisfied I stowed the bike in its inport spot alongside the shrouds, all handy for tomorrow’s race setup. Later I chatted with my coach and picked up a coffee at his handy little tri-snacks tent. I spent the rest of the afternoon setting up my gear for the next day’s race and then went to race check-in to get my numbers for the bike, shirt, and helmet. That evening I walked over solo to the Waterman’s for my evening meal, leaving the coach to prepare a pre-race meal for his wife, who was racing in the half-ironman. Then off to the boat for a hopefully restful night of sleep.
Saturday, 28 September Rock Hall, MD Waterman's International Triathlon
Overnight the wind stayed light and I had a pleasant sleep, interrupted only by my own alarm at 0330 for an early pre-race breakfast and then back to sleep until the watermen started their early morning burbling out to work their traps. The dawn was bright and brisk, making the decision to wear the wetsuit easy.
Rock Hall Harbor
After setting up all my gear in the transition area I grabbed another cup of coffee and headed over to the jump-in point for the swim start of the race. Once in the water I was delighted to find it much warmer than expected, but I was happy with the sleeveless wetsuit choice. My major qualm was I had not been swimming consistently since the end of April, due to various casualties to my surface layer. By the second lap around the harbor I was feeling well and while my left shoulder was bothering me, I knew I had plenty to get through this part.
One of my good Tartan friends, David Bourdon, just missed me at the boat as I exited the water from the 1500-meter swim and stripped out of my wetsuit. Grabbing my staged shoes, I was off down the dock to transition and then off on the 25-mile ride. The winds were behind us going out, which I knew I had to take advantage of, as they would be a bother on the return legs. I still felt I was close to my desired average speed though; however, as I hopped out on the 10K run I was not able to put much effort into it. I was able to finish at about the time I had hoped for but was well wasted after three and a half hours; only 5 minutes slower overall than two years before. I cleaned up myself and my gear and hung the gear out to dry on the boat and turned my bike back over to the coach to take back to Virginia Beach for me. I chatted with David and his wife Mary Ina for a while and thanked them for coming out for my race, before they headed back home. The race had provided some great barbeque pork sandwiches, but I was not hungry, so I settled on some of the Coach’s beers. Good to have a coach!
We tracked his wife on her progress, somehow missing her trip through transition from bike to run, she was having a good day it seemed. As the Coach was busy with his coffee and snack stand, which his wife normally ran while he was coaching, I walked out to the turn-around point of the run route to spot Denise as she came through for her last stretch to the finish, and cheer her on. She was running at her desired Ironman pace and was in great shape for being at the end of a 70.3-mile race. As she and the Coach were fixtures at many of these races all the race officials came by after her finish to congratulate her; she knocked off a whole 30 minutes from her previous best! That evening, once she was rested and the race area was cleared of customers, we walked over to Waterman’s for a nice sea-food dinner. Denise was nearly asleep by the time the food arrived, so they were soon off for some well-needed rest as was I. Oh, I did place second in my age group!
Sunday, 29 September, Rock Hall
With a great night’s rest, I was up early to grab some coffee at Tri-Eats with my coach then watched the swimmers of the sprint triathlon come out onto the dock and cheered them from my cabin top perch. Many used the Miller flag at the top of Skymark’s mast to sight on for the approach to the swim platform. I chatted with Dai and Denise the rest of the morning as we watched the finishers come in from their final 5K run leg; they all seemed fresher than I felt yesterday. We talked about the end of an era, as once Denise finishes her Ironman in November, they are soon to be out of the triathlon and tri-eats businesses and headed back to Europe to their families. I can get coaching from Dai on-line in the future, but my years with them in triathlons and getting bike help is going to be tough to replace. I have done at least 10 races under their tutelage plus cycled the Blue Ridge Parkway end to end with them one year. I need to find another coach who believes Guinness is a fuel source…
Once they and the crowds were gone, I used the afternoon quiet time to run a load of laundry and street-biked over to the grocery to pick up foods for the next week. With all gear dry and stowed for tomorrow’s trip down the Bay to the Wye River I grabbed one last easy meal at Waterman’s Restaurant before crawling into my bunk after a really great weekend.
Monday, 30 September, Rock Hall to Wye River, via Kent Island Narrows
I chatted with the marina staff and thanked them for all they did for the triathlon folks over the weekend while still being helpful to the marina users. What a win for everyone. After wiping the dew off the boat for the second time, I was underway about 0900, moving the dinghy into its semi-stowed spot on my stern. With a hand from a slip-mate I slid out of the berth and made my way slowly out the Harbor, taking care not to get into the mudbanks on either side, then aimed south for the Kent Island Narrows. From the Guidebook I knew they opened on the hour and half hour, but I also knew it was difficult to hurry the leg of the trip through the north-side shallows, so I was hoping for an easy beam reach sail there. However, as always, the easterlies were more sou’east, so back to motor-sailing I went. After winding my way with the south-bound current through the shoal waters I arrived at the lift-bridge about 5 minutes too late. With a call in to the operator on 13 to let her know I was a southbound sailboat, I proceeded to do slow loops in the area in front of fuel docks and restaurants along the quay wall, and I waited for the 1030 lift. Soon enough, the tender’s horn blasted to announce the lift and I was on my way ready for the thrill ride through Kent Narrows. As the bridge started to open, I lined up on the center of the two sides and very carefully threaded my way through, getting thrust side to side a nice amount as I went plunging along. Once I squirted out on the south side, I gave the tender operator a beep on the horn as a thank you and then slowed down to make my way through the turns leading out to the Miles River. Once clear I aimed for the series of channel markers a few miles to the south which would lead me toward St Michaels.
However, A few miles north of there I turned to port and headed up the Wye River. I was looking for a protected stream or creek off to the southeast side which would give me some shelter from the predicted southeast breezes for the next two days. On the chart Lloyds Creek looked inviting and with a length of 6 ft depths well in I thought it would do. Soon I was past Swan Bay to the south and rounding into Lloyds; however, what I fund was depths were running a good 2ft less than charted as I wound my way to the southeast. One area which was noted as “reported shoaling” was indeed 3.7ft on the depth sounder as I slowly crossed into what I hoped to be a 6.9ft spot. As I chugged into that spot, I still only saw 4.5ft on the sounder, wow! It was a nice wide area and knowing it was low tide I set the alarm for 4ft and lowered the anchor into what was sure-enough four and a half feet of water. Making sure the anchor laid over, I left the wind push me gently away. (Would not wish to run over my own anchor, you see). A pleasant spot, well protected on nearly all sides by high banks and a scattering of trees with crop fields in the background, I thought I would give it a try. Quite obviously, no one was going to be joining me there!
The depth slowly improved over the afternoon to what would be a high of 7ft, still about 2ft lower than expected at high tide here…winds maybe? Anyway, with a nice layer of clouds and threatening rain I put up the boat cover and settled in for the evening, being joined later by thousands of geese, honking their way into my pond. Soup for supper, as I was too bothered to break out the grill. A quiet beautiful spot away from the world it would appear. (Yeh, cell signal was barely a bar!) To sleep to the sounds of squabbling geese.
Tuesday, 1 October, Lloyds Creek off Wye River
Lloyds Creek Waterman
As expected, the hundreds of geese who I had joined for the evening were up early, continuing their squabbling with each other, with an occasional squawk from their mallard neighbors tossed in. As a rare sight for this trip the skies were overcast but starting to break up as I sat there with my mug of java, planning my day’s adventures. The waterman above had been “lining” slowly up and down the waterway since before dawn, one reason I put up an anchor light low in the rigging, even in these secluded spots. It was nice in many ways to be isolated again, but I did miss having Carole along to share the days with. She always loved these parts of our trips, the gunkholing from anchorage to anchorage, and sneaking up on wildlife from the dinghy. By mid-morning the clouds had cleared completely and with it promising to be a hot day I rolled out the bright boat cover to keep the cockpit a little cooler as I worked.
With a full tummy of oatmeal and fruit and nut bits I set to work sanding the starboard cockpit combing, a task I had not gotten to for this season. Much like its mate on the port side there was a lot of dirty dust from the tired teak oil that I scraped bit by bit off the wood. Then it was lots of oil to restore the luster of the teak, and even at that there were spots I knew would only be properly restored by removing the boards entirely and attacking them with a belt sander. I hoped to delay that at least another year, so I need to take better care of them in between. And just like the port side, I needed to apply three whole coats before the wood stopped ingesting the oil and let it settle on the surface. There I hoped it would dry overnight to that soft luster that all seem to appreciate. My fingers and elbows hoped so in any case. With the breeze picking up from the south the boat spent the rest of the day basting back and forth in the sun, slowly drying the excess oil to that sticky point that small bugs seem to enjoy testing.
With that project done for the day I carefully pulled the dinghy alongside and launched out for an afternoon trip up the creek to see if it was truly a stream or just another flooded inlet from the Bay. With a half hour of rowing into the breeze I found the creek dead ended with no evidence of any stream to feed it at all. What I did discover while quietly drifted back down wind was a pair of bald eagles in the trees on the point overlooking the water near Skymark. I am not sure if they were a mated pair with a nest, but I steered well clear of their spot as they had started scolding me for intruding in their domain.
Bald Eagle Point, Lloyds Creek
With a nice restful (for mind if not body) day completed I carefully tended the grill without marring my new teak work, and brazed up some bratwurst for my supper, finishing just before dusk. I rolled up the boat cover in preparation for tomorrow’s trip down the Miles River to St Michaels, where I had reservations at a Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum slip for the next evening. I watched the sun set and the moon sliver appear while listening to the cacophony of returning geese in the background. One more day in cruising paradise.
(Moon chasing the sun down)
Wednesday, 2 October, Lloyds Creek to St Michaels
With no need for an early start as I just had a short hop down to St Michaels Harbor, I had a leisurely breakfast and enjoyed the early morning from the cockpit. I did see the big bald eagle ease out of the taller tree on the point and glide quietly across the creek, looking for breakfast himself and perhaps for others. I think we were both disappointed. I was underway about 1000, motoring out the Wye River and aiming for the Miles river, ever careful to avoid the shoal area off Bennet Point. Coming out of the Wye I aimed Auto for Deep Water Point, so named as there is 56ft of depth between the red “14” and the point marked by the Green “1” which indicates the beginning of the Miles River markers. Since I was early and wasn’t sure the slip I had reserved at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) would be open before noon, after I passed the Green I angled around the next red and made my way up into Long Haul Creek. That is the home of the Miles River Yacht Club where a Tartan friend keeps his boat and where I planned to visit later in the week. This seemed like a good chance to do some exploring and to see if there were really some proper anchorages in there, as the MRYC does not have any slips for transients. They do, however, have a dinghy landing and offer their club services for a nightly fee. If all worked well, I may be able to spend an evening at his club with my friend and his wife, always a nice break in the nomad cruising life I have chosen.
Rounding the red “2” I slowly sailed into Long Haul, just using my reefed main for propulsion but leaving the engine at idle in case I needed a bail out assist. With a nice wide entrance, it was easy to just follow the mid-channel light-colored deep water on the GPS into the opening and pass the Yacht club slowly to port. I found plenty of depth (over 8ft) well into the channel to port and picked out a nice spot with plenty of swing room and wind breaks to all sides before following my track back out. I worked my way up the northern channel, again finding ample anchorages for a good half mile up that branch. Satisfied with my explorations, I headed out past the Yacht Club, spotting their dinghy dock as I exited the creek.
Aiming for the Red “4” and then on to my St Michaels waypoint, I was soon across the bar at the 10ft area and motoring toward Navy Point, where the CBMM is located. I lowered the mainsail and then hailed the CBMM dockmaster but received no response. After chatting with another sailor heading into the docks who had also heard nothing, we both decided to head for our assigned slips, hoping they were clear. Sure enough, mine at the end of the Museum grounds was open so with not too much effort I was soon snugged into it. I walked up to the marina office to let them know I had arrived and found them scurrying about in preparation for the evening’s membership party, the reason I was there too. Confirming I was in the right spot I then got a hand carrying my much-needed bags of ice back to my slip. With the temperatures climbing into the 90’s and with what was to be the highest temperature for that day I wisely decided to put off both my run around town and shopping trip until the next morning. I went exploring in the air-conditioned museum facilities instead, occasionally being mistaken for a display as I idled in the over-stuffed chairs found there.
Skymark at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
That evening, after a shower and a change into a clean set of sailing togs, I walked over to the CBMM membership party, held in the boat yard area. They had assembled a nice little quartet of singers and old-time players who would entertain us for the evening. A couple of local craft beer brewers were there and had provided their fine brews and in addition a local caterer had also joined in with a nice double table spread of small sandwiches and vegetable and cheese trays, so the promised foods and drinks were plentiful. Eastern Shore Brewery, from right in St Michaels, as well as St Michaels Distillery were represented, along with St Michaels Winery. While the objective was to raise membership, the timing with the last Miles River Wednesday night race could have been better, and the heat may have driven a few away; however, it was well attended and the updates on the construction of the DOVE was enlightening. Lucky for me the boat was only a few footsteps away from the party and I was soon snoring away in the cockpit. Awoken at midnight with the lapping of waves brought about by a wind-shift, I double-checked the lines then turned in to my proper bunk below for the rest of the night. It was still very pleasant, and even with the fresh breeze I still needed no bed covers. Summer continues?
Skymark with Restored Skipjack in background
Thursday, 3 October, CBMM to Long Haul Creek, ST Michaels
While a lot cooler, it was still very humid, but at first light I was out for a quick run around the town to check out my old trails and pubs; all were there! I added a little more mileage to my run, not because I was ambitious but because the grocery store was not yet open! Once inside, where I was greeted by the ever-cheerful workers, I picked up the few items I needed and a couple I didn’t but would munch on anyway and returned to the marina. Sweaty already, I returned to the marina ice maker to pick up the extra ice I had purchased the day before and loaded up the refer for a few more days. The shower felt great after the effort, and then I was back aboard preparing a fresh pot of coffee and prepping the boat for the short underway to return to Long Haul Creek. Just a mile or so down river, which seems strange to say since it is north of the CBMM. A slip mate from the evening before gave me a hand casting off, as the easterly wind would have made getting clear a bit more fun than necessary. Within a few minutes I had cleared the Reds from St Michaels Harbor, turned north, and was muttering my way up into Long Haul Creek.
As I entered, I cleared the docks at the Miles River Yacht Club to port and gently eased my way into the branch to the west and was soon out of the stronger winds from the east. Anchored in my previously chosen spot in about 7ft of water, I found there was still a fresh breeze wafting into the little junction, perfect for a day at anchor. On one side of me was a lovely modern yacht at its berth and on the other a quaint home up in the trees, all together a great location.
A Lovely Modern Neighbor
The View From My Companionway
After the previous evening of music, conversations and companionship, this introvert was ready for another break! And, upon reviewing the Friday weather report of gale force winds out of the northwest, I decided this would be a good place to stay for a couple more days, called my Tartan friend and invited myself to meet he and his wife for supper Friday evening at his club, and settled in for the day…or two.
Perhaps some teak work, after lunch.
Since I would be over to the dinghy dock at Miles River Yacht Club on Friday I just stayed aboard for the afternoon and did the outside edge of the toe rails on each side fore to aft. Then spent the evening with some hearty soup and watching another family of bald eagles circling the creek for fresh catch for I presume their young. That makes the second pair of eagles I have spotted just this week. Some parts of the Bay are recovering well.
Friday, 4 October, Long Haul Creek
A nice night at anchor behind me, I was up at dawn to sort through my quarter berth and make it a little better for the next few evenings of sleep as the Bay temperatures were starting to cool down. Then it was off by dinghy to round the corner and tie up at the Club for an afternoon of showers and investigation. A pleasant surprise and welcome sight was an enclosed but separate outside pub just off the dinghy dock. Not open until 1700 however, so I was sent to the main clubhouse bar to see if the Dockmaster was around and to pay my dinghy fees. Another pleasant surprise was no fee since the pool was not open! The clubhouse itself was huge and handsomely furnished, very remindful of a modernized version of our old time Officers Clubs. The pool was closed for the season but both it and the hot tub area were well appointed. The showers were showing their season’s use but were still in great shape, completely individualized bathrooms, a whole hallway full of them. With a nice cleanup I reentered the bar area for a cold draft Victory Octoberfest lager. Tasty.
I motored back to Skymark to put on fresh clothes for the evening dining with my friends the Bourdon’s. We had just been together the weekend before, but they were interested in my latest Bay adventures and David worked me over in another attempt at persuasion to take over as Commodore of the Tartan Classic Association. Not quite yet, I hope. The club service was as good as expected and the fish was well prepared and presented. As it grew darker outside, I excused myself to head back early. It was just as well, as the we walked out, we were greeted by a blast of wind that nearly pulled the door away. The trip, in pitch black darkness, was a little more exciting than I had wished for; however, having left my anchor and foredeck flood light on I soon made out my old Skymark in the cove and putter-rolled my way home through the building waves. I was greeted by the worst kind of howling and screeching from the in-mast furling mast on the fancy yacht pictured earlier. The owner was out from his house trying to do some adjustments to quiet it down but to no avail. Once in the cove it really wasn’t that rough and Skymark was riding comfortably; however, the painful noise created by the mast next door made it seem like there were hurricane-force winds screaming through the anchorage. With a hot cup of coffee in hand I set up in the companionway for another fitful couple of hours, until the moon came out brightly and made the whole scene much more pleasant feeling. Luckily, when I crawled down below into my quarter berth the howling was not nearly as noticeable, and only the occasional high-pitched banshee would cut through my slumbers. Stupid modern crap.
Saturday, 5 October, Long Haul Creek to Rhode River, MD
Cold now. Nearly a 50 degree drop in temperature from Wednesday; it’s now 47 degrees out there! Bundled up in a full foul weather gear to fight off the windchill, I felt like the little kid wrapped to play in the snow. Sure enough, as I prepared to climb into the cockpit I had to first go back and pee again, which as all know, requires a bit of unswaddling. Crisp is I think what one could describe the morning. That would be nice to say I felt that about it, but no. The wonderful thing was the water was tepid and felt extra warm on my ungloved hands; however, the anchor was well-set and required two power-ups on it to break it free. I motored over to a dock end at the MRYC and filled my water tank, as I did not know when I may be back from anchoring out for a few days. Nothing worse than “water, water everywhere….”
By 0830 I was making my way out the Miles River, motor-sailing into the chop out of the northeast. As I cleared the last Green I throttled back and unfurled the genoa to a storm jib size and was soon moving along at 6kts, engine secure, healed over nicely so the solid spray was no longer coming across the boat. I rounded Tilghman Point and headed southwest out Easton Bay aiming for the tip of Kent Island. With Auto’s assistance I soon had the jib poled out to port and was wing-and-winging it at 6.4kts SOG. The new Auto was working hard but managed to keep Skymark under control so I could fill my coffee mug from the handy thermos I keep near at hand in the cockpit. It was sunny but still chilly so I rolled the Bimini back so I could sit in the sun to warm up.
Jib and Main Reefed
The miles slid by and I was soon at the Green “1” off the tip of Kent and dropping the spin pole I gybed around to head back up and across the Bay to the area outside the West River channel named “Wild Grounds” on the charts. I unfurled the genoa to full 155 and was soon passing Bloody Point Light to starboard and crossing that neat deep spot nearby where I logged 155ft depth. Two motor-yachts apparently not minding their path, nearly ran me down as they came from the other way, probably on iron-mike and buoy hopping toward the Miles River. Being Saturday morning, the Bay was all chopped up by the herds of them slamming about from fish-spot to fish-spot like tables and chairs on a cruise ship powerless in a stormy sea. Another reason I hate being on this end of the Bay on a weekend. Cauldron stirred by diesel-powered drunk witches is what they turn it into. With the winds still blowing well from the northeast I was soon across and at Wild Grounds and into the West River, slowly wing-and-winging it south west toward the Rhode river entrance. I was in no hurry, as Jim and his Saber 34 was just leaving port at the upper end of South River, and it was lovely day to just be drifting along.
After I cleared the Red “2” on the West River I angled over to the west toward the Red “2” that marks the entrance to the Rhode River which branches to the north out of the West River. No confusion there, right? I wandered up the Rhode River and slowly made my way around the anchorages that many cruisers refer to as near the “Big Island”. With the wind predicted to shift to the south again I rounded the Big Island to the north to find a nice spot which would be well-protected for the night for the two of us. I anchored in the spot on the chart labeled “5.9”, perfect for two yachts with 3’ 11” drafts. VALINOR, with Althea skippering, soon moored alongside to port. We passed the obligatory beers forth and back and settled in for an afternoon and evening of family fun and cruising stories.
North Side of Big Island, Rhode River
VALINOR and SKYMARK
Spotting a small grey heron ashore, I dinghied Jim’s son Fin over to see if we could get a good picture, but alas, it quietly slipped behind some tall grasses to avoid us.
Tiny Beach North Side Big Island
We spent the afternoon and evening sharing snacks and burning bratwurst on the grill, drifting every which way with the variable breezes on the sheltered side of the island. After a check of the anchor to make sure it had not twisted around some part of our boats, we all turned in for a good night’s rest.
Sunday, 6 October, Rhode River to West River
Only disturbed by the passing of a work boat heading out on its rounds, we had a slow morning start to the day. Chatting in the cockpit and passing breakfast goodies around and sipping on pressed coffee, I could do this more often. With a family of 6 now, Jim is thinking of moving up to a bigger yacht to provide a little more room below for the gang, but the play pen for the baby and the chart table full of drawing gear all seemed to be working well for them. By a little past noon they were slipping away for their home on the South River and I was motoring out and then down the West River to a nice are just off Chalk Point, within eyesight but not earshot of Pirates Cove Restaurant and Bar (410-867-2300) where Jim and I might meet up on Monday.
Even with a good blow out of the south I was soon resting peacefully for the night, back out in the main cabin with the much-improved warmer weather.
Monday, October 7, Chalk Point, West River, MD
Crack of Dawn, Chalk Point, West River
A nice night at anchor as the wind, although brisk, stayed out of the south. I enjoyed the spot; however, the predictions were for a wind shift to the north sometime around midnight. This would have left me a bit exposed, so after a nice slow breakfast of a cheese omelet on toast I started checking in with the Pirates Cove Restaurant, Marina, and Inn (410-867-2300) to see if they had an overnight slip for Skymark. Until the wind shifted to the north I had no plans to fight my way south. Besides, it looked like Jim would be able to come meet me for supper there and that made it all easier.
A little before noon I motored over to the north side of the South Creek to see if there was a spot there out of the northerlies, in case I could not get a slip. I found a nice area just in from another yacht club and marked the spot on my Garman for future use. As I was meandering about, I received a call from the Dockmaster that they indeed had a slip, one on the end of the T-head, and one further back that might be a little tougher to get into. As I motored over, the wind was blowing me about enough I decided to just go for the slip on the end. The owner’s Daughter came out to lend a hand in my docking, which was very useful. However, as I walked the long way up to the restaurant and facilities, I found there was much better shelter deeper in and a nice turning basin nearby. I could have easily had been in a much better spot and way closer to the Pub! In any case, I was ready for an afternoon of cleaning up and beer tasting, then an evening of more sea stories with Jim. And I had no worries about the front coming through in the middle of the night.
Skymark at Pirates’ Cove Marina
After a great meal in the restaurant, and another round of tall tales we were both ready to turn in, he to his home near Annapolis, and I a short walk down the pier. I had a long day ahead of me and had already spent the afternoon cleaning the dingy and rolling it up on the foredeck for the wild ride south. I planned to make Oxford and tie up there for the first evening in the Tred Avon area. Exactly on time, the front blasted through just before midnight, and set the other rigs to humming and halyards pinging. I had secured mine well and so after a quick check that Skymark had settled nicely against the new wind direction I was back asleep.
8 October, Tuesday, West River to Oxford
After the wind shift to the north the night before, I managed to get a good night’s rest before my alarm went off (a bit too early). I had planned to leave by 0800, as the winds were supposed to be falling off to the mid-teens by then and a 0600 wakeup was not needed. It was nice to have a little extra time as I peeled the sail cover from the main sail while I listened to the coffee maker perking away. With the wind out of the north I had expected to be just pushed out of the berth; however, because of the marina buildings I instead had a nice breeze pushing me sideways in the slip. So, after shore power was off and coiled and my first mug of coffee was in hand, I slowly worked Skymark out of the slip, piling by piling until the stern was well clear and I could just walk the bow clear of the last piling. Then I was off into the wind, hoping the next two miles to windward with a reefed mainsail and motor would not be too gnarly. Motor-tacking out through the channel markers I still had in the back of my mind that I could always just bail out to port and go up into the Rhode River if it got too nasty. However, after what seemed forever, but was just about 40 minutes, I had cleared the last “1A” green channel marker to starboard and was able to fall off toward my old mark to the east at Wild Grounds. The waves had built well since midnight, so I went from slogging uphill to having them trying to crawl in the cockpit with me from over the port side. With the boat healed a good bit I was concerned my water intake would become an air intake and the engine would quickly get a temper. I idled way down and rolled out a handkerchief size piece of Genoa, healed a bit more, then took off at about 6kts to the east. Engine off, and all was quieter and Skymark was much happier. Once I was clear of the shoal, I lowered the centerboard a few turns, balanced the boat out nicely, and Auto took over the steering chores while I refilled my coffee mug.
I cleared Wild Grounds and turned toward my waypoint off Popular Island to the south. With a little more jib out to better balance the rig, Skymark was soon at hull speed, rolling a bit in the building waves, but happy to be on her way. With a little surfing at 8.4 kts thrown in, we were at Popular Island in less than an hour and turning toward the entrance to Knaps Narrows, a nice short-cut into the Choptank River. As predicted by Jim Hodson, the channel into Knaps Narrows was indeed a straight shot now, and within an hour I had contacted the bridge tender who said , “keep on coming, I will have it open by the time you need it”. Well, I tell you, with the engine in neutral and coasting as slow as possible under the reefed main, it sure was a close one. The bridge, which swings up from just one side, had just topped out as I got to it. Someday I will have an easy drive through, and I will get pictures, not this year. As I cleared the lift and thanked the operator, I was greeted by the cheering of a couple of dozen school kids at their picnic tables, all waving and shouting about watching it all happen. I was just glad I didn’t “twang” my shrouds on the bridge on the way through!
I cleared the east side of Knaps Narrows channel and set my course for the Green at the Tred Avon River mouth, across the Choptank to the east-southeast. Hoping for a little less wind and a lot less wave action, I was handed less waves but a lot more wind as I crossed the wide mouth of the Broad River to the north. Once again at hull speed but with the wind forward of the beam, Skymark’s rail was occasionally dunked under the water in the gusts. Auto seemed to do well despite the conditions and with only a little slippage to the south, which cleared some shoal water along the lay line anyway, we were soon at the Tred Avon. Cutting past the lighthouse marking the Choptank and continuing to the shoreline I was able to tack once more nearly to the “strand” of Oxford before I needed to roll up the genoa and douse the main to finish motoring into the Town Creek at Oxford. After calling, I was soon nestled into my old dock at Town Creek Marina, a Campbell’s Boatyard (410-226-5942, ask for Roxanne). I was on the south T-head there so the breeze was gently pushing me off the dock, so I knew my over-night stay would be comfortable. While I had ample time left in the day, I was well worn by the day’s passage and was happy to delay laundry and my run until the next morning. I did take the time to rinse the boat from top to bottom as I had salt spray clear over the boom for much of the day on the trip down.
Oxford is a thriving retirement and boating community, a model of what “urban living” could and should be, if folks would just leave their cars parked for the short trips of necessities. They have a number of working boatyards and marinas, about six, I believe, but some have been bought out the others so it would appear there are just three or so groups working them all, Hinkley's, Campbell's, and now Brewer's. It would appear boatyards and marinas are like family farms; you have to be big to survive.
A bit later, I was off to the grocery for a few supplies at the Oxford Market (410-226-0015), just around the corner and a quick bike ride away. Not only do they have a fully-stocked deli and a nice mix of sundries, their wine selection is incredible for a small country store, probably due to the yachties who visit and/or live in town. And, they have a coffee grinder for freshly roasted beans, a nice addition to my basket of food stuffs. Finally I am back to the boat after a brief tour of town.
Town Park across from Grocery and Museum
Oxford artist at work each season
That evening after cleaning up and changing into some decent clothes I biked over to the Latitude 38 Restaurant, (410-226-5303) just out the main highway past the fire station about a block, for a perfect basket of fish and chips at the bar. I took my bike lights I use for training rides along and strapped them to the bike for a more careful ride back to the boat later that night. Altogether a good day. I was soon curled up in my quarter berth, listening to the waves lapping at the hull there, and quickly out for the night.
Wednesday, 9 October, Oxford to Goldsborough Creek on the Tred Avon
Sadly, when I crawled into the bunk last evening, I neglected to silence my alarm, so I was rudely awakened, not by the pleasant chittering’s of birds or the gently drumming of rain drops, but by the clanging of the alarm, way too early. I had a few things to do while at the Campbell’s Marina, but nothing that required an early attack. Needless, I wasn’t getting back to sleep, and since it had still not rained, I suited up in layers and took off on my morning run, wash clothes, shower, dry clothes routine. This occupied much of the morning but by 1100 I was ready to head off to one of my local anchorages to see if I could find one that had reasonable wind protection but also a good collection of wildlife to entertain me. I stopped on the way out of Town Creek to top off my fuel tank at Brewers Marina for the trip further south later in the week. As I wound my way north in the Tred Avon I was hoping to find good protection in Goldsborough Creek which angled off to the right just north of Oxford. There is a bit of a shoal area to your right as you come into the creek, so it is best to continue up the Tred Avon toward the Red “6” and then, putting the Green “5” to your stern, enter the creek. There is now a yellow floating mark at the entrance, but I am not sure if it is permanent, as it seems to be a sampling station of some sort. The channel is plenty deep even though the port bank seems very close, just keep on following the charted depths in.
Goldsborough usually had an ample number of wild birds there because of the grain fields on both sides. Sure enough, as I putted into the creek, there were dozens of flocks of geese and mallards throughout both branches. I picked on old anchorage which seemed to offer pretty good wind protection, and which was at the juncture of the two branches of the stream. Anchoring in about 5ft of water, at mid-tide, I figured I would be OK there for the night. There are plenty of areas where there is more than 6ft of water if you happen to draw more than my 4ft. Soon the geese were back and settled down around me for the afternoon and evening. A rather cloudy and gloomy day, but it was nice to be back here again.
Goldsborough Creek off Tred Avon
Thursday, 10 October, Goldsborough Creek
Goldsborough Creek, Sunny Morning!
Today I was awakened properly, by flocks of geese honking their way skyward, heading out to the nearby fields to forage for the grains they would need for their passages south. That was pleasant; however, the morning chill, heightened by the breeze which was now whipping through the anchorage from the northwest, made it a challenge to even crawl out of the cozy bunk I was cocooned into. There was, however, a welcome brightness to the morning brought into the cabin from the lovely sun again gracing my creek. Another pleasant surprise was another fresh bag of coffee I found when rummaging through my dry storage locker!
Soon it was perking away as I was layering up and trying to decide whether to head south on the Choptank to check on another Tartan 34C in Salisbury, move to a more protected anchorage called Snug Harbor just up the Tred Avon, or just move to a more sheltered side of the creek I was already in. I really did not want to leave all these noisy but enjoyable geese here, however, so after my morning oatmeal and another mug of coffee I ventured about 400ft to the north and found a nearly dead-calm spot, well sheltered from the nor’wester that was blowing across the fields and through the trees. As the day warmed up, I was shedding layers, and with the fresh sun shining away I got busy with my preparations for heading further south.
As I was not planning to use the dingy through the weekend in the Solomons, and I had not properly cleared out the carburetor on its engine before leaving West River, my first task was to relaunch the dink, install the engine, and go exploring the rest of the creek for the morning. Sadly, while my objective was to run the engine dry after my explorations, as luck would have it, the fuel ran out completely clear at the end of the creek, down-wind of Skymark! I guess I needed the exercise anyway, and despite the slog into the wind and chop back to the boat I had an enjoyable morning. The gulls and crows were making a row over something along the creek edge and were soon joined by some circling buzzards. I stayed upwind of whatever they were playing with and was soon enough back to Skymark. This time when hoisting the engine to its spot on the stern rail I positioned the dink so I could use my right arm to do the lifting. A much better and less exciting event than the previous hoist with my apparently weaker left arm. More strength training needs to be planned for this winter.
After hanging the dingy partially out of the water to dry out, I started working on applying another layer of teak oil to the cockpit combings, a project I wanted to finish up since it was such a gorgeous day. I found plenty of time in between each effort to simply sit in the cockpit and drink another shot of coffee and just enjoy the scenery. I was anchored among a number of fields of corn and soybeans, and it was nice to reflect on how far I had travelled from my days growing up on the same type of farms, only in Ohio. Luckily, we could catch a break after the fields were planted and before the harvests; many of these folks go out every morning working the Bay for fish, oysters and crab, then come in mid-day to farm. I guess my Dad did work a full-time factory job to support his farming efforts over the years, so none of it is easy.
Amber Fields of Grain
By the time I had layered up the teak oil the dink was dry. I hoisted it the rest of the way onto the foredeck, deflated it entirely, and rolled it into a nice stowable bundle easy for lashing just forward of the cabin top. I will not have to worry about it trying to climb aboard when I am rolling downwind and down wave tomorrow. And it is well out of my line of site forward, especially helpful when crossing the Summer Gooses area to the south, a section usually filled with crab pot floats.
While I had the sandpaper out and a bit of oil left, I cleaned up the eyebrow around the forward hatch, which had also been sorely neglected for most of the season. Then it was time for a well-earned beer and a chance to just soak in the warmth of the sunshine. The boat was just gently drifting to and fro, almost like it was trying to help the teak dry as it was basting away. Later in the afternoon I grilled some dogs on the barbie and watched as the evening came slowly in. The geese gang came back to the creek ends from their day of working in the fields, seemingly bragging about their finds and the amounts consumed. A real cacophony of squawking’s and honking’s as they circled in their own style of starboard deltas before landing. Some continued to practice “touch and goes” into the evening, not satisfied with whomever they had landed near the first few times.
A lovely finish to a perfect day at Goldsborough Creek.
Friday, 11 October, Oxford to Solomons
With dinghy already stowed on the foredeck, it was an easy underway from anchorage, made even easier by the anchor not being dug in from heavy winds. Underway at first light, as I wanted to catch as much of the ebb tide as possible on the way south and across the Bay, I used a headband spotlight to pick out the reflectorized posts along the channel out of the creek. Above the bill of my cap it did not bother my night vision too much, and soon it was light enough I did not need even that assistance. I had picked the light up to use when working on areas below decks, but this worked out well, as it also had a red light setting. As I cleared the creek channel and aimed for the green across the river, I noted the new yellow floating beacon was in the perfect spot for clearing the shallows to port. Once aimed downriver, I raised the main with a reef, expecting a nice push south from the northerlies blowing out in the Bay.
Clear of the Tred Avon and heading nearly due west across the Choptank River, I unfurled the genoa to jib size and secured the engine, coming up nicely to about 6.5 to 6.7 knots with the wind on the beam. I lowered the board to about 6ft to balance out the boat, making Auto much happier, and was soon up to 7kts over ground, rolling with the beam swells and off to a good start for the day. Within an hour I was at my turn point at the Diamonds and changed course for my way point in Summers Gooses. This was nearly due south and well enough down wind that I moved the jib across to port and with Auto taming the swells was able to get the spinnaker pole out and latched to the clew. Back in the cockpit and thinking how I need to remember how hard that winging evolution is to do for the foredeck crew, I will cut them a little slack the next race. Then again, probably not. With some trimming of the jib and a preventer on the main, we were off at 6.8 knots, occasionally surfing at 8.4.
At the Summer Gooses waypoint, I came only a few degrees to port to head for Cove Point and was able to just ease the jib pole forward a bit and keep on winging it. I had earlier raised the centerboard a turn or so, as even downwind it seemed to help ease the helm effort needed by Auto, but now the swells were large enough that I took over for the next hour toward the point. 1045 and we were rounding Cove Point and I dropped the spin pole and changed course for Drum Point. Still making 6.8kts even at slack water, and with more of a beam reach Auto was happy to take over again so I could watch for crab pot floats along the way. My way point at Cove Point is far enough out I avoid the fish traps jutting out from the shore and also avoid the denser float population inshore. It also makes for a smoother ride as there is something about the area that tends to double the swell size closer to the Point. In another 45 minutes I was at Drum Point furling the jib and lowering the mainsail in preparation for entering Solomons Island channel and my destination; having made a six-hour trip, downwind, in five and a half hours. By 1200 I was moored to the dock in the front lawn of Back Creek Inn. The wind was down to a light breeze in behind the point, and the sun soon had me stripping off the layers of clothes I had donned early in the morning. After securing Skymark for the rest of the weekend and the high tides from yes, another tropical storm out in the Atlantic, Melissa, I believe, I ambled up to the back deck of my favorite trysting place with Carole, bags over my shoulder like a wandering boat vagabond. I had to put on some old foul weather boots to wade ashore, because of the unusually high tide which had flooded the dock and well up into the yard there. I was ready from a break from the boat for a bit. But also, already thinking to myself, “where to next week?”
SKYMARK at Back Creek Inn
Saturday - Sunday, 12-13 October, Back Creek Inn, Solomon Island, MD PRAD Weekend
While I had planned a sleep-in, I was awake by 0630 and when not able to get back to sleep, headed out to get the coffee going. To my surprise I was greeted by another lovely sunrise and was able to watch the morning parade of snowbirds heading out of port at first light.
Sunrise Back Creek
Carole had arrived later in the evening Friday, so we spent Saturday morning having a slow breakfast feast provided by the Inn and caught up on things happening at home. I waded out to Skymark to open her up for the day and to wipe down all the dew from the night before. Looked like no rain today. After letting my breakfast settle, I changed into my jogging gear for a run around town to see how the streets and homes were doing with all the water. Many sections were partially flooded, and one could only wonder if the folks were prepared to wade back to their cars.
Parking Lot on Main Street
Street in Front of Tiki Bar
Even the dock at Back Creek Inn eventually was back under about six inches of water by mid-afternoon. With the north winds dying over the night I had expected the levels would have started to subside, but they would not really start easing until Sunday.
Extreme High Tide (this was low tide!)
We skipped lunch and did not make our usual trip to the Museum for the Appreciation Days festival there, but just enjoyed the rest of the day on the porch, munching on some cheeses and wine I had picked up and crackers Carole had brought along. Altogether a very nice quiet day and then an evening enjoying the brilliant hunter moon that arose just over Skymark.
Sunday Breakfast at Back Creek is always to live for. Crab quiche, over-sized French toast made from rolls not bread, homemade biscuits with homemade jams, another egg quiche for those who cannot do crab, homemade nut bread and coffee while you are waiting for the feast to begin. Life is good! Mid-morning, we headed out in Skymark for a short tour of the waterways from Back Creek and up into the branches of the Mill Creek with guests from the Inn and our Hostess, Carole, showing them the numerous places to anchor and visit while here by boat.
Carole and I spent the rest of the afternoon again catching up on life at home, and just enjoying the front porch in the misty but warm, partly cloudy, partly sunny day. There was no town parade this year as the main street down town was still flooded from the high tide, so I pulled out the cheeses and with some chilled wine and water crackers we spent the middle of the afternoon, barely moving from our seats on the porch and quietly reading, sewing or typing away as we enjoyed our late lunch. Lovely.
Back Creek Inn
For the evening we drove over to King Fishers Restaurant (410-394-0326), as it was actually raining for the first day of this trip. An easy .2 of a mile for me would not have been any fun for Carole. This is our favorite comfort food place when in the Solomons, and the walls are adorned with a series of Bay and river scenes, accented by the birds of the region. The crab mac and cheese I had was perfect rainy evening fare, and delicious. Carole had their famous crab cake, singular, as it and the fresh fries were plenty for one. Once back in our room we finished off the evening with a fresh Bundt cake, especially prepared by the BBI baker for Carole and my 50th anniversary.
Monday, 14 October, Solomons
Too soon Carole’s day of departure had arrived and after a slow breakfast of omelets and home-made jams I helped her tote her belongings out to the car. Once ready to leave however, she spent another leisurely couple of hours chatting with our host about all things arts, crafts, and quilts. By noon she was off on her trip south and I was on the boat wiping it down and airing it out from the night’s rain. The sun was out brilliantly a great aid in drying everything out. Having already gotten in my run early in the morning before breakfast I had the rest of the day to just mill about, doing some dock repairs for Carol and then catching up on my journal. I was still uncertain which side of the Bay I would run down tomorrow; toward Crisfield on the Eastern Shore, or Reedville and Fleets Bay on this side. With a fair wind predicted out of the north for the day I may just have to flip a coin on the morrow.
Tuesday 15 October, Solomons to Crisfield, no wait, Deltaville!
Last evening, I decided to try the revised Catamaran’s, now Bowfinch’s or Bowdiches or something like that, finally opened recently with new ownership and very busy over the past weekend. However, they were closed on Monday’s apparently, although there was no sign for hours or days, etc. So, they will not even get their proper name mentioned in this write up. I walked on down to The Pier, where many seem to be hanging about over the years I have been visiting; however, I am oft disappointed in their service, so will not provide their number either. As luck would have it, while I did get a seat outside in the setting sun as requested, there was no service for a good 15 minutes, and not because they were too busy.
View of South Walk Along Solomons
The burger was tasty, and the delay did save me having a second beer; in any case, the sunset was delightful, so all ended fine. As I strolled “home” to the dock at Back Creek Inn I was entertained by a most gorgeous sunset over the Patuxent River and Bridge.
Patuxent River and Bridge
I was up early today, as I had a long trip southward ahead of me and wanted to catch the ebb and ride it as far down the Bay as possible. I could have left even earlier come to find out, as the moonlight was as bright as a normal cloudy day and I could have easily found my way past the unlighted day beacons along the channel. It always difficult to capture its glory, however.
Moon over Back Creek
Underway from the dock, with fresh mug of coffee in hand, I soon I had Auto doing his thing, raised the main with a reef for motor-sailing, and was plugging merrily along at about 6 knots, catching some of the out-going tide in the process. Within an hour I was crossing the bar at Cedar Point and rolling out the Genoa, planning for some really good motor-sailing. However, as I throttled down, I soon realized I was healed too much for the motor and so secured it completely. I eased the centerboard down a few turns and was making 6.5kts over the ground, with a nice beam wind and rollers just forward of the beam from the night’s winds. The breeze was a bit cooler, and the sun felt good on my face as I was bundled from head to toes from the morning cool and the heavy dew on the boat. With the tide still heading out I was catching a nice extra half-knot or so, it felt great to have a nice sail ahead of me to cross the Bay to Holland Bar.
Soon, however, I was thinking about my destination of Crisfield and how it was slow there this time of year. It also looked like I would be there an extra day with the forecast rain finally coming in on Wednesday. I then thought of all the fun things to do in Deltaville. I had missed my normal visit there this year when I jumped all the way up the Bay to the Solomons on the first day out weeks ago. With some minor discussions with Auto we changed course a few more degrees to the south and started the long reach to Smith Point. I shook the reef out of the main, and we were off, making an occasional 7.4kts. With a few hours left on this reach I decided to try something I had only done on Dart, my old boat, previously. I rigged the storm jib using the spinnaker halyard, tacked it on the foredeck just aft of the Genoa, and soon had added another half knot to my speed south. With a minor adjustment to the centerboard Auto agreed that this was some fine sailing. The dozens of boats coming out of the Patuxent behind us never did catch up, with the exception of the trawlers motoring along. However, I think this setup would only work well with the wind just forward of the beam, as were the current conditions.
Sloop to Cutter Rig
By noon I was at Smith Point! Sadly, as I fell away from the wind and lowered the staysail, the winds from the east also dropped off, and while it was fun for a bit again running wing and wing toward Windmill Point, by 1300 the speed dropped below 4kts. Not wanting to get into the Jackson Creek channel after nightfall, I convinced Auto it was time to start motor sailing for the rest of the trip. With the throttle set for 5kts over ground our arrival estimate improved nicely. By 1530 we were off Windmill Point and having picked up some ebb, were making over 6kts toward Stingray Point and our waypoint in the Piankatank River that would lead us into Jackson Creek.
The channel into Jackson Creek is always interesting, as it would appear you can just go right into the creek opening. That is until you are lucky enough to see the gulls walking along the sand bar located there just below the surface! Instead, you must follow the well-marked and over 8ft cut that first goes back to the north, right at the beach, then curves sharply to port, all nicely marked with fairly large buoys that are also stripped with reflective paint if you come through in the dark. It can be done in the dark, just not for the first timer! Deltaville Marina (804-776-9812) can also talk you through if you call them on VHF 16.
AT 1645 we were anchored well back in our favorite corner of the creek, off a friend’s dock and in 7ft of water with a nice sticky mud bottom. With the winds coming back up overnight I added another fathom of road to my normal 7 to 1 scope for the depth and installed a bridle so that we would not swing about as much. A rather long day but so nice to get that amount of good sailing done! After an evening meal of stew, I set in the cockpit just watching the evening turn into night, listening to the wind in the rigging and feeling back at home again. We always liked it in here when Carole and I cruised up here with the kids in the 80’s.
Wednesday 16 October, Jackson Creek, Deltaville
What a comfortable night’s rest! The moon was out throughout the night and until the early morning clouds obscured it. I think the cloudy day softened the birds’ voices as nothing ashore woke me from my slumbers. There are not the number of watermen here as in past years so even their burble in the early morn was missing. I had to use Skymark’s anchor light for the first time in many a year as the trusty old battery-operated anchor lantern I had since my Dart cruising days finally failed us. I had done some repairs earlier in the trip to its switch but something else finally did it in, as even a new battery would not revive it.
I had planned to head south on Thursday with the return of the northerlies; however, after reviewing the predicted gale force winds from the west caused by what the weathermen are calling a “bomb” cyclone, I decided to stay snugged in here another night. With the heavy rains predicted today I checked with the Deltaville Marina Dock Master (804-776-9812) to see if there was a slip available for the two nights. I rarely stay moored there as I usually use their dinghy dock and showers by just rowing ashore. The price is perfect ($11 per day, $39 for a week!) and it’s normally lovely at anchor here even in a blow. By noon I tried to time the rain squalls and get in before the next one, but it was not to be. Thankfully the Dockmaster was there to handle my lines in the blow and I was soon neatly lashed down for the day’s rain and the upcoming night’s blow. I apologized for my wet arrival, but he said it is all part of the job, and the rain was really welcomed! My first real rain since 16 September! I settled in for the afternoon, happy to be dockside as the gusts and wind-blown rain buffeted the boat.
By early evening the rainstorm was past; however, the winds were starting to shift to the west as predicted. Not trusting the rain to not return I opted to just stay aboard and enjoy another of my hot chowders with some tasty crackers that Carole had included in my goodies bag. I did go to the marina lounge, nicely open all night long for visiting guests, to catch up on the evening news and to chat with another vagabond, working on his boat there in the yard. We each avoided politics and stayed with tales of miss-directed repairs and chases of boat gremlins. The short walk to the boat was nicer than a chilly dinghy ride, and it was nice to flip the space heater on to take off the evening chill. And for not much more than the cost of a meal out, which I had skipped. Satisfied I had secured all the lines and halyards topside from the increasing winds, I turned into my cozy bunk in the quarter.
Thursday, 17 October, Deltaville Marina, Deltaville
Today the geese did not wake me, however, the catbirds (mockingbirds) in the trees nearby started up the morning trying to outdo each in a song contest; whom could be louder and also had the widest repertoire of music. Fine by me, I eventually called it a draw. At least they were not resting on my mast top and birding all over my decks as their friends in Solomons had done. A hot pot of coffee was soon poic-a-poicing on the stove and I was changing into a little bit warmer garb from the previous days. Last week I was running about town with a light tech shirt on, today I am in layers and even have socks installed on my chilled feet. My fault for doing a clamp down topside in my bare feet. And the wind is “blowing dogs off their chains”, as the locals would say. I just heard the annual Down the Bay Schooner Race has been delayed a day, so my decision to hole up here in my wee boat was a good one.
Painting In Oils
From Carol at Back Creek Inn
By mid-morning I figured the sun had warmed things up enough I could get in a much-needed run and shower. Layered up off I went for a run across town and around to the public wharf on the creek branch towards Fishing Bay Yacht Club. Luckily, I had added a running vest earlier, as it was still a bit cooler than I had expected and the west wind was really starting to kick up. The hot shower and a full change of clothes put me back in good spirits, however, I stayed in the lounge catching up on Tartan Classic news on email until later in the afternoon. It was mid-afternoon before I ventured out to fill Skymark’s water tank and rinse off the foredeck where the rains had somehow missed the creek mud. I dried out the boat canopy as I did not plan to use it on the trip anymore and wanted it extra dry for storage through the winter. With the crazy winds I was afraid I might lose it a few times, but finally had it dry and wrestled into a stowable bundle along with its set of collapsible poles.
A Break in the Clouds
In the late afternoon I borrowed one of the marina’s bikes and road the short distance into town, again adorned with my bike lights for the return in the dark. I had a wonderfully prepared pork chop and fixings at Taylor’s Restaurant, (804-776-9611), which is still doing a busy evening meal for the locals and us wandering sailors. In this off season they are not open on Sunday and Monday, by the way. After a quick ride back to the boat I finished the preps for the morrow’s trip to Yorktown, about 30NM down around New Point Comfort and into the York River.
I pulled the main sail cover off and stowed it, as the sail needed little sun protection for the night. One less thing to do in the morn. Later, before turning in, I had one last check of the weather and in addition found my track south tomorrow checking it against the charts just to make sure it would not try to carry me through a mud bank or island along the way. Still blowing well this evening, hopefully the wind will not only lighten but shift more to the north in the morrow.
Friday, 18 October, Jackson Creek to Yorktown
Up early at the dawn and underway as the geese were muttering to each other. As I was exiting the slip I noticed there was only 4ft of depth because of days of winds from the west! That would have been a surprise to a deeper draft boat trying to get an early start! The geese finally joined me and lifted off from their resting places and honked their way out to glean the newly harvested fields of soybeans and corn and top off for their trips further south. I carefully wound my way out of the Jackson Creek channel as I glance over at the completely exposed sandbar at the creek’s mouth; however, I never saw less than 8 ft as I passed though. Soon I had turned into the wind, raised the main sail with a reef, and was on my way out the Piankatank towards my turn point off Gwen Island. Within 45 minutes the winds were moving me along with the engine at idle, and after another 15 minutes to charge the batteries, I secured the motor. I was easily making 6.5 SOG and with the swells starting to build I saw no reason to go forward to put the jib out on the pole. In two hours I was at Wolf Trap Lt, turned toward New Point Comfort, and eased the jib out to about storm sail size; Auto much happier with the rig balanced and we were surfing at 8.4 on occasion!
My concern as we approached New Point Comfort and prepared to cross the mouth of Mob Jack Bay was the waves and wind from the northwest would be a little too much. However, as I cleared the Point and headed toward the Swash Channel to the York River, I had a bit more wind (20 to 25) but the waves stayed nicely on Skymark’s beam, throwing us along but well under control. Crossing the Swash Channel certainly had its moments, as the seas were shifting us sideways as the depth sounder went from 32 to 24 to 12 in rapid succession. I tucked the centerboard all the way up, sort of like a school girl raising her skirts above the waves, but never saw less than 6ft as we passed between the Green to starboard and the Red to port (yes, a moment of panic checking the chart to see which way was “returning”, as we swept through. Heading up the York I was able to sail another 2nm before the winds clocked around to out of the river and on the nose. Jib rolled, I spent another hour motor sailing up to the Riverwalk Landing Marina (757-890-3370). The current was kicking upstream at a rate that I slid well past the schooner Alliance docked there as I was dropping the main sail. The dockhand had set us up on the downwind but up-current side of the large floating dock so the two cancelled each other out for our landing on the finger pier. We were tucked nicely inside, out of the large waves rolling out the York, and with the dying winds, were soon rocking gently about for the rest of the evening. 30 miles in about five hours; nice run!
SKYMARK at Riverwalk Landing, Yorktown
That evening my son and his family, Jeremiah, Morgan and Alex, all came over for a rollicking evening of dining at the Water Street Grill and Bar (757-369-5644). The waiter was great at getting the little one crayons and finger food quickly and we thoroughly enjoyed the band, one room away from the bar area. The meals were perfect, as expected, and soon it was time for the little one to be transported home to bed. After they left and into the evening I sat on the boat and listened to the assorted band sounds coming from a school reunion tent set up on the grounds. Another great cruising and family day and evening!
Saturday, 19 October, Riverwalk Landing, Yorktown to Naval Base Norfolk
Sadly, my journey was reaching its end, as while I had hoped to stay in Yorktown another day, Tropical Storm Nestor was heading across from the Panhandle of Florida and would make Sunday a nasty day to be at sea. In no hurry however, I rose slowly to find the grounds of the Riverwalk Landing area covered in kiosks and food trucks of all kinds in preparation for Yorktown Days, a fund-raising party for the region’s museums and attractions. A good single-man band was rousing the folks coming through and, in between songs from all ages, beseeching them to leave some of their moneys at the carnival. With the winds light and the sun shining to warm up the grounds I really did wish I could have stayed for the day. I spent the morning cleaning up the salt spray from the trip down the Bay, packed up all my various sailing, running, swimming and biking bags, and restoring Skymark to a less-used looking condition down below. Changing out the composting peat in the head was one of the final jobs, but that was also soon completed without incident and disposed of ashore.
With help from a passing fellow boater I was soon away from the dock and heading out the river, motor-sailing along at a leisurely 5kts, in no hurry for the day to be over. As I cleared the York Shipping Channel and turned more south, I was able to unroll the Genoa to gain another 1/2kt and at least feel like I was sailing a little on my last day out. The mares’ tails flying overhead consoled me with the that fact that I had indeed made a good choice to head to our home port today.
Mares’ Tales, Storm A Comin’
I soon cleared the shoal off Back River and aimed for the Willoughby Spit channel. As I was passing Salt Ponds, I dropped the mainsail and tucked it into its sail cover, one less thing to do once I was dockside. The winds from the east were up enough that the Genny was pulling us along at a little over 6kts, so we were soon rolling across the tunnel and into the Spit Channel. Crossing Willoughby, I rolled up the genoa tightly, in preparation for the incoming storm winds predicted for Sunday. By 1700 I was dockside, back home in our tiny and well-protected slip on I dock at Norfolk Naval Sailing Center. 485NM, 88hr underway, and a 5kt average speed for five weeks. Carole rolled up for transport soon after I arrived and we were headed home with a SUV load of cruising gear to be sorted, cleaned, and stored for next year.
Safe Harbor, NNSC