Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day One, Onancock to Tangier

We had left my home in Chesapeake a little before 6 a.m., paid the $16 toll (car plus single axle trailer) and found  ourselves on the Eastern Shore before 7:00.  Quick stop at Stingray's for breakfast, then back on Hwy 13 to reach Onancock at 8 a.m.  Paid the $5.00 ramp fee (no fee for leaving the jeep and trailer in the parking lot, but we did let the dockmaster know we would be gone for over a week - no need to have law enforcement checking on us again). 

Onancock Wharf has jumped to the top of my list for favorite launching places on Chesapeake Bay.  Great town, excellent ramp, plenty of parking, clean bathrooms and showers.  What more could you ask for?

Just after 9:00 were were motoring away from the dock down the winding, tree-lined Onancock Creek.  Wind was out of the west, blue skies, white puffy clouds and a very comfortable temperature - a great way to start the trip.

We passed the entrance to Leatherberry Creek to our south, a couple of crabbers in a green skiff working their pots on the shoals to the north.  They paralleled us down the creek, hauling in the yellow pots, dumping the crabs into a bushel basket, replacing the bait in the yellow traps and tossing them over the side.  It was late May, the waters of the Chesapeake Bay were warming up and crabbing was in full swing.

At 10:45 we reached the mouth of the creek and cut across the last set of channel markers, following the path of a local boat across the shallows.  The wind was still out of the west, 10 or 12 miles an hour, and - as we've found at the openings of a lot of creeks and rivers - there was quite a bit of steep chop.  Spartina felt a little different to me.  It was the first time in a year that there were two of us on the boat, plus we had more provisions than usual for the nine day trip.  But the Pathfinder handled the extra weight just fine.  We tacked out of deeper, calmer water and were soon enjoying a perfect sail.   Watts Island was immediately in sight to the north, it was nearly noon before we spotted the water tower and church steeple of Tangier Island.

Cod Harbor, our goal for the day, was just 11 or 12 miles from the ramp, but with wind coming directly from Tangier Island we knew we would sail quite a bit more than that to reach the island.  It was, as Bruce pointed out, perfect sailing.  A steady breeze, clear skies and plenty of open water.  All we could see were the two islands, a few deadrise boats in the distance and Tangier Sound light to the west.  We moved across the calm water at about 4 knots.  You can see Bruce below at the tiller of Spartina for the first time since last June.  (We had put on our foul weather gear for the choppy water at the mouth of the creek, then we took the gear off soon after I took this photo.)

By 1:00 we were three miles due south of Watts Island, by 2:30 we were on a port tack just offshore of the uninhabited island.  The photo at the very top of this post is from our approach to Watts Island, the wind had picked up and we were doing 5 knots.  We sailed along the western shore enjoying the white sand beach and thick maritime forest that was home to thousands of nesting birds.  At the north end of the island we saw the effects of the erosion as a line of dead trees stood out in the water.  Watts, like just about every island on the bay, is eroding away.  It reminded me of the story I read a while back about the house sinking on nearby Holland Island.

Half way between Watts Island and Tangier Island the clicker on the trolling rod started to sing - line was stripping off fast.  I let go of the tiller, grabbed the rod and put my thumb on the reel - that is all that is usually needed to stop a typical 20 inch bluefish or striper from running.  In this case I burned my thumb as  the line kept streaming out.  Bruce, who has been napping up front, jumped up saying "What's that noise?"  Once he figured out what was going on he grabbed the tiller while I tightened down the drag on the reel.  The fish sounded - we were in about 50 feet of water - then started fighting again.  And then the fish was gone.  I reeled in line expecting to find that my knot on my new, favorite lure had failed - but instead it was the swivel than had broken in two.  Same result in either case - no fish.  That's fine.  I suspect we had hooked into a "chopper" bluefish, a 34-36 inch long torpedo with razor-like teeth.  I'm not sure we really wanted something that big and toothy flopping around in the boat next to our bare feet.  As for my new lure, it was "one and done," that was the first and only time I used it.  Don't worry, I've already bought a new one for the next trip.  

Cod Harbor is at the south end of Tangier Island, protected by a beautiful sand spit that wraps around the the southeast.  As we entered the harbor a woman was out walking at the very tip of the spit - nice photo, Bruce.  It was the first of many visual delights on this journey.

We anchored in just a few feet of very calm water a little after 5 p.m., much later than our usual "first day" sail.  But this was great sailing and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Bruce fixed the traditional beef stew with potatoes, carrots, peas, mushrooms and red wine.  Plenty of wine in that box for both the stew and the crew.  Then we filled out our notebooks, set up the sleeping gear and enjoyed a beautiful evening on the water.


distance sailed - 27.3 nautical miles

average speed - 3.5 knots


Curt said...

I have been waiting all week for your story to begin. Your poetic way of recounting and sharing your adventures through images and words is quite a treat. I'm onboard.

Darwin said...

Steve and Bruce: Also waiting for the story and photos with great expectation, the first issue just makes you want more! It is always nice to read your blog, especially given that we are entering this area in winter!
My greetings.
P. S. I wanted to ask something, because she has seen navigator, where there is room to sleep? Sorry if not all, but I have not found anyone with a blog as close to your dream with a Navigator.

MaryLou said...

Great account, great photos. Love the pic of the woman walking on the spit. It's such a great Chesapeake sort of scene. I never seem to have the camera available when I see things like that. 27 miles to go 12. Not bad with the wind nearly on the nose.

Steve said...

Curt, Darwin, MaryLou,

good to hear from you all. I'm finally caught up on cleaning the boat and gear.

Darwin, if you'll contact me by my email (it is on my profile) I'll put you in touch with a friend who has a Navigator.

Lots of work to do on this trip's blog - we took too many photos!!


Thomas R. said...

I live on Tangier Island, and I found your story of your journey over here very interesting.
Come back over and visit the island.
And do not forget to stop at Four Brothers Crabhouse and Ice Cream Deck for seafood, sandwiches, and over 60 flavors of ice cream.

Steve said...


we should be up at Tangier this coming May. Crabs sound great, as does ice cream for dessert. See you then.