Monday, June 27, 2016

Up the Chesapeake, Down the Delaware

June 17, 2016

Thomas Point Light - Annapolis, headed north

We left Harness Creek sort of hastily, blowing off friends Bo and Joyce who were nice enough to try to arrange to meet us for lunch, and set out for the northern reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. We just couldn't sit anymore. We were headed to Ford’s Landing which is really nothing more than a place to anchor. 

Calm. Havre de Grace is way back to the left somewhere.
It was an uneventful motor-sail up the bay, back under the Bay Bridge again, and, finally, out of the Chesapeake and into the Elk River. We got a distant view of the town where I spent my early formative years, Havre de Grace, as we passed Turkey Point. During those formative years, I traveled by boat from Havre de Grace to this point in the Elk River. Now, having come all the way up the bay to this point,  I have, officially, seen every mile of the Chesapeake, head to mouth, in a

Ford’s Landing was as much anchorage as we needed. We saw eagles, osprey and deer. There were a few passing container and cargo ships coming from the C & D canal. Unfortunately, the beach where we expected to take Tilly was covered with ‘No Trespassing’ signs. I suppose that, technically, we could have landed anyway since property rights only extend to the high-water line. But, Tilly can handle most business on the front of the boat if necessary. And we didn’t want to get shot.

We had calculated the timing of currents and tides and determined that 2:00 pm was our departure time. Of course, we got bored sitting around and left at about 11:30 am. The trip through the canal was anticlimactic. It is just a long ride. No issues other than the wake from passing power boats. There is no specific speed limit and, left to self-govern, well – you know.
Just before entering the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal

Chesapeake City Bridge looking back to the west.

We popped out the Delaware side of the canal and into a new bay. The Delaware Bay. We turned south and caught the current of the outbound tide. We kept picking up speed until we were making over 8 knots Speed Over Ground (SOG). This rush of speed-induced adrenaline went to our heads. Our plan was to stop at an anchorage to wait for the next day to run the Delaware. But the anchorage was not very well protected and we were making good time and the weather was supposed to be pretty good and there was a full moon and etc, etc, etc. Short story – we decided to keep going south to Cape Henlopen, knowing full well that we would not get there until after dark and we would be dropping the anchor, in the dark, in a strange place.

Company on our way down the Delaware Bay

Creepy lighthouse

While this sounds like the beginning to a very bad story, it was not. By the time we reached the cape and the Breakwater Anchorage, the wind had dropped to under 10 knots, the moon was out, the anchorage was well marked and charted, huge, empty and plenty deep. We set the hook and went straight to bed knowing the ocean was just over the dunes.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Harness Creek respite

June 16, 2016

Harness Creek is just south of Annapolis and is a very popular anchoring spot. As I mentioned before, on weekends it is a raft-up, good times, enjoy the summer kind of place. It is also one of the most protected anchorages you will ever see. In fact, there is a small cove just off of the creek called Hurricane Hole. Big enough for one, maybe two, boats, just barely deep enough to get in, small enough to run lines to the trees to tie off for added protection. Fortunately for us, we don’t need that. Although, we did come here, partly, for the protection since the weather called for potentially severe thunderstorms and strong northeast winds.

One of several excellent trails in Quiet Waters Park
The east side of Harness Creek is also the home of Quiet Waters Park. It is a beautiful little county park with a variety of stuff. Tilly only cared about one – trails through the woods. A puppy can only take so much of being stuck on a boat with two old people before they need an outlet for the stored up energy. And she found heaven in the woods of the park. 

Her second favorite part of Harness Creek was the dinghy rides around the creek and over to the dinghy dock at the kayak rental shack.

SeaClearly in Harness Creek just off of the park.

But, here's the deal. The weather keeps screwing with us. We delayed moving north because there was – absolutely – going to be a tropical storm forming off the coast. Didn’t happen. Then we ducked into Harness Creek to hide from those storms and winds. Didn’t happen. As we looked at the weather and the constantly improving outlook, we could sit no longer. 

Imagine Tilly’s distress when we started saying words like ‘move’ and ‘north’ and ‘canal’. When the little rubber boat gets lifted up out of the water, her ears go back and her smile goes away for a while. She knows we are moving on. ‘Why, oh why, would we ever leave this place? Or, for that matter, the last place? Are we homeless?’

No, Tilly, we are not homeless. Our home moves. And today, we are headed to a staging anchorage very near the entrance to the C & D canal. We have some wind on our nose but not much. The bigger picture is that we have a good shot at making it through the canal to the Delaware Bay and, then after a brief stop at another anchorage, down to Cape Henlopen at the mouth of the bay. The ocean. We have not been in the ocean for way too long. So, off we go.

Divert to... Crabs!

June 15, 2016

The intention was to leave Swan Creek at Rock Hall and start our trip through the C & D and on to New York! But, the logistics, weather and currents all have to play in your favor. Not an easy combination.

For example:
  • We needed to move from Rock Hall to an anchorage near the west entrance to the canal. Which means going north. And the wind blew hard from the north for two days. So, we sat in Swan Creek.
  • Then, once near the canal entrance, you have to wait for the appropriate tide / current combination. You can either blast through in a couple of hours with the right current or slog along at a few knots of boat speed bucking the wrong current. At this particular point in the month, the right current is around 11:00 am and moving one hour later for each day.
  • When you finally make it through the canal, you find yourself at the top of the Delaware Bay. It is 55 nautical miles down the bay to the ocean. Again, you have wind, tides and schedules dictating your trip.
  • Which finally positions us to make the overnight offshore run up to Sandy Hook, New Jersey – but only when the wind and weather allow.
  • Which means that you are really planning out about 4 days ahead to know if you can make the overnight jump north. If it doesn’t look like good timing, it screws up the whole schedule. It appeared that we might make the trip through the canal and down the Delaware Bay only to be stuck at anchor in gale force, possibly tropical storm force, winds.

'How long do we have to wait for high water?'
We said, “Screw that.” We decided to head back south a bit to visit St. Michaels, MD. We have been there before but we always wanted to sail SeaClearly into this quaint little place. Nothing, of course, happens without some degree of difficulty. We took the dinghy into shore at Swan Creek (mostly for Tilly) one last time before we dropped the mooring ball. As we approached the dock, the water was noticeably lower than the day before. “Well sure”, they said, “those northwest winds blow all of the water out of the creek.” Great.

We went back to SeaClearly and a quick look at the instruments confirmed it. We were sitting about 4 inches off the bottom. We decided to wait and see if the rising tide actually brought any water in as the morning progressed. In the meantime, we took the dinghy out again with our handy handheld sonar depth gauge and scoped out the entire channel up to the marker at the corner of the creek. We found no water that was less than where we were sitting on the mooring. That gave us the confidence of knowing we would have at least 4 inches of water all the way out. What a great margin of safety! The tide raised us to about 6 inches and we made our escape.

Back under the Bay Bridge headed south
In another of those sailing paradoxes, we had pulled the plug on our canal trip because there might be high winds by the time we reached the mouth of the Delaware. But on this day in the Chesapeake, there was no wind – at all – and we motored the entire day to St. Michaels. We drifted into the harbor at about 7:00 pm on Monday, June 13, and dropped the anchor -  in the premier spot in the harbor with a perfect view of the town and the Maritime Museum. The sound of church bells chiming the hour welcomed us. Almost surreal.

St Michaels evening

We immediately jumped in the dinghy and went to the dock. We picked up a crabcake dinner to-go from the Crab Claw Restaurant (since it was getting late) and went back to SeaClearly and ate in the cockpit while enjoying the view.

The next day, we went into town and walked around some of the touristy stuff. But the real mission – the only mission – was steamed crabs. In the interest of spreading our business around, we went to St. Michaels Crab and Steak. There is nothing that compares to sitting outside at picnic tables covered with paper and eating crabs. The restaurant is very dog friendly. They brought Tilly a bucket of ice water before they brought our drinks. Tilly laid or sat under the table in the shade and let us eat our crabs and hush puppies. Just marvelous.
Maryland crabs!
At the dinghy dock

SeaClearly at anchor...

...with a nice view

This morning - Wednesday, I believe – we pulled up the anchor and, once more, motored the entire day because there was no wind. A bit frustrating but we did enjoy St Michaels.

Tonight we are in Harness Creek just south of Annapolis. The weather is still calling for those strong northeast winds and rain. This is an ideal, protected spot to sit them out. There is a beautiful park on the east side of the creek. It is quiet and serene - today. On weekends, it is a zoo. We have been here before and seen a different side of Harness Creek. This is the party anchorage. But, tonight, it is just SeaClearly.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Swan Creek

Sunday, June 12, 2016
When we left York River Yacht Haven, we had a plan. We had carefully plotted our destinations and travels for several days with alternates based on weather and other eventualities. So far, we have not actually stopped at any of those predetermined places, dates or times. That’s what plans are for. Mere suggestions to frame the story that unfolds in reality.

Junie posted, on Facebook, some very pretty pictures of
sailboats as we made our way past Annapolis.
This is what it looks like to the guy driving the boat.
And only about 10% of the boats are reporting
on AIS. There are a lot of boats on Saturday
in Annapolis.
Tonight (for the second night) we are on a mooring ball in Swan Creek in Rock Hall, Maryland. We were supposed to be in Harness Creek, near Annapolis. But the sailing was good, we had gotten a very early start from Solomons, and the wind was expected to take a serious, damn near violent, turn to the northwest. We decided to stretch our day to travel beyond the Bay Bridge and duck in here to wait for the wind to back off a bit. The forecast, for a change, was very accurate.

Swan Creek Marina has many mooring balls but, by the time we got here at 5:30 pm on Saturday, the only one with deep enough water for us was all the way at the back corner of the mooring field. I missed the approach on the first pass (a little out of practice, I guess) but we picked it up easily on the second try. We called the marina and left a message to let them know we had arrived and would be by in the morning to pay up.

Rock Hall is very welcoming to boaters. There is a tram/shuttle (dog friendly!) that will pick you up right at the marina, or other locations throughout the town, and deliver you to a broad range of destinations for a modest donation. In our case, laundry, grocery, lunch and back again. Cruiser’s dream.

End of the day at Swan Creek

We have barely been gone a week but, already, we are falling into a pace and patterns that are very familiar. Tilly is adjusting beautifully. She has a youth, grace and athleticism that no one else on the boat possesses. She is able to leap into the dinghy, fly up onto docks at low tide and maneuver in tight places beyond all expectations. She seldom barks, never whines and often snuggles. What more could we ask for? All of us end up tired at sunset, feel better than we have for months and improve daily. It is great to be underway again.

An interesting exercise in perspective.
A 14 foot sailboat with the proportions of a
much larger sailing vessel.

Let’s talk logistics. We would like to be north of Long Island Sound before July 4th to avoid the craziness that is unleashed after northern sailors are cooped up for the winter and left to fester. That means that we need to be moving north pretty quickly. Tomorrow, we intend to move up to the west entrance to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal to anchor in preparation for transit to the Delaware Bay. Then, down the Delaware Bay to Cape Henlopen to anchor and wait for a decent opportunity to move north to the Sandy Hook / Atlantic Highlands area. This will be our first offshore, overnight passage in some time and Tilly’s first ever. We hope to do a marina stop there to take care of final preparations to move further north through New York and on toward Maine.

It is hard to predict long travels in slow boats so we don’t really know when this all unfolds. We review the weather every day, adjust plans, pick destinations and then change them. You can’t be late when you have no schedule and you can’t be lost when you don’t care where you go.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Moving up the Bay

We left York River Yacht Haven on schedule Monday with a destination just around the corner in Mobjack Bay. An easy 5 hour trip. We didn't even make it to the end on the York river before we were considering changing our plan. It was a gorgeous day. SeaClearly was performing flawlessly despite the long winter hiatus. But it was the weather forecast that provided the impetus to change. Just to our south, Tropical Storm Bonnie was rolling up the coast. It appeared that the northern edge would just brush us if we anchoring in Mobjack Bay. But, if we went just a bit further, we could skirt the edges and miss the rain. So, we charted a new course for Fleet's Bay (Little Bay anchorage) just north of the Rappahannock. This was supposed to be our second stop but we just couldn't resist pushing on. It was an uneventful trip (well, there were dolphins, and warship number 51) and the long daylight hours would make for an easy evening arrival at Fleet's Bay.

Junie, soon-to-be birthday girl.
Wolftrap Light in the background
The plan worked as expected and we spent a quiet night at anchor. There is a great little beach to take Tilly to shore. She ran off some of her puppy energy and got soaking wet. Not exactly swimming. More on that latter. We had to give her a quick cockpit shower to get the Bay water off of her.

We got a slow start the next day. We got Tilly to pee on the fake grass so we didn't have to make a dinghy trip to shore. But, it still takes a while to pick up the 'little rubber boat' and hang it on the davits. We are still getting back into the swing of things after a year off but it is coming back quickly.

The target for Tuesday night was Cornfield Harbor on the north side of the Potomac River. The wind was supposed to switch to the northwest and it looked like we could get a little protection there. Isolated but with beach access. When we dropped the anchor, the weather was beautiful. By the time we fed Tilly and started thinking about going ashore, we had 25 knot winds and choppy 3 foot waves. No shore trip tonight.

The next morning, however, was perfect. First of all, it was Junie's birthday. Her 60th birthday - though no one would ever guess that. Sitting at anchor in a quiet cove is not a bad way to celebrate. We took the dinghy into the beach and walked Tilly. We thought about just keeping her on the leash to avoid the bating thing but the beach was just too perfect. She ran up and down like a maniac and waded out into the water. The slope of the beach was ideal for coaxing her a little further. Tilly was a late July puppy so winter came before she got much water time. She has been in the water - and has accidentally swum - but had yet to embrace her Lab-ness. This was the day. After a few sticks floated out of reach, she finally sucked it up and went to the deep end of the pool. It was fun to watch as she consciously decided that she could, indeed, float long enough to reach that stick after all. We have some videos of the event so I will try to get some pics out of them. I suppose there is no stopping her now.

We went back to SeaClearly, pulled the anchor and got underway. There was a nice breeze coming from our port quarter  so we just threw out the genny and sailed along.

Just starting to suck.

And there ends the quiet, peaceful part of the day. It is a typical sailing story. The wind started gusting a little higher. We were glad we just had a headsail out. We furled in just a bit as the wind passed 20 knots. As we turned more north, the wind turned to come north-northwest - basically right on our nose. The waves got bigger and sloppier. We rolled in all but about 6 feet of the genny to keep the boat stable in the stupid waves and started the engine. The wind went into the high twenties and the waves went to 5 feet with no period to speak of. Classic Chesapeake Bay. So much for Junie's leisurely birthday sail.

OK. Really sucking now.
By the time we were approaching the Patuxent River, there was no one out on that part of the Bay but SeaClearly, the tall ships headed for Norfolk and the Coast Guard. The waves were steep 6 - 8 footers and the winds were hitting 35 knots. We had water running down the sides of SeaClearly and sucking out through the scuppers. We have seen this before. SeaClearly has seen this before. Tilly had not. She was shaking and sitting in Junie's lap. When things got really scary, she crawled up behind me and hid her face behind my back, afraid to look.

In the end, of course, all was fine. We coasted into Solomons, Maryland later than we expected but safe and sound. We have been here before and knew we wanted to anchor way in the back next to the Holiday Inn. They have a dinghy dock with easy access to land, food, West Marine, garbage disposal and ice. Our original plan was to get settled and then go out to dinner for Junie's birthday but we were all pretty fried. Fortunately, we had prepared and frozen some great meals ahead of time so it was Shrimp Creole for dinner at another quiet, though far more populated, anchorage. We slept the sleep of tired sailors that night with Tilly dreaming of swimming.
The next day in Solomons. Much nicer.

We will probably stay here for a couple of days. The bouncy ride probably stirred up some crap in our fuel tank so we want to change the Racor fuel filter. And, the weather looks good for some varnish work while sitting at anchor. Not bad.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A year gone by...

Somehow, a full year has gone by since we posted anything to this blog. It is not because nothing happened. But, since this is a sailing blog (mostly), and we have been woefully short in the sailing department, the blog had run dry. We had decided to stay around home for the winter for several significant family events. They were, indeed, wonderful times that could not, should not, have been missed. Grand babies, graduation, moving and moving on. But, we had an undercurrent of feeling sorry for ourselves. A winter of our discontent, so to speak, waiting to be made glorious summer. We have learned to dislike the cold.

SeaClearly got a full winterization for the dark months of December - March in York River Yacht Haven. If you are not familiar with winterizing a boat, let me tell you, it ain't fun. It feels like you are mummifying your boat for internment in a pyramid. Pumping antifreeze into her veins. Sucking the life out of a living, breathing, cruising machine. And, once you have, effectively, rendered her dormant, you walk away. Because once the water is turned off in the marina to avoid freezing all of the pipes, staying aboard becomes less attractive. No heat, no fresh water, long walks through the snow to the restrooms - no fun. So, SeaClearly sat in the slip and shivered all alone.

Baby Tilly on the settee
We, on the other hand, sat in our house in the Outer Banks and burned firewood. In fact, we burned an entire cord of firewood. But we didn't have to sit alone. There is a new addition to our crew for this year. Tilly (short for Tiller) is our Yellow Lab that is just now passing 10 months old. Tilly is a spirited young puppy/dog that has kept us endlessly busy and entertained. She only got a few sailing trips as a small puppy before winter settled in but she has spent a lot of time on the boat already. She has made some significant steps toward earning her 'Boat Dog' status. She can easily climb (actually, run) up and down the companionway steps. She enjoys a dinghy ride. Importantly, Junie started working with her very early to go pee (etc) on a rectangle of fake grass. That training has carried over, successfully, to the boat and will be a big help for all of us as we embark on our sailing adventures.

Medium Tilly sleeping in the cockpit

Large Tilly - just like Roux, always in the galley

So, here we are, a year later and working to get ourselves out of the slip and on to new places. Right now, it looks like today is the day for cutting the docklines. Not literally. Our first move will be just around the corner to somewhere in Mobjack Bay. We may have gotten a little rusty over the winter. Certainly, a lot of other things on SeaClearly got rusty (Don't worry. All polished up now). There is a lot to remember and, of course, we have a new puppy. She has no idea what is about to happen to her life. We will hang around in the lower Bay for a short while to acclimate/re-acclimate to living the transient life in a moving home. Based on how things go (with us and with Tilly) we will decide whether to go up the Chesapeake or straight out into the ocean to start our trip north to Maine.

York River Yacht Haven has been very good to us. We never feel like we deserve the wonderful friends we make along the way. We will be sad leaving even though we want, very much, to get underway again. We came here just to park the boat for a year but our time at York River Yacht Haven has been a far more significant chapter in our lives than we could ever have imagined.