Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tilghman Island - a weather day

Soon after tying up at Knapp Narrows Marina I call home to the Pilgrim to voice my frustration over the weather.  Don't worry about it, she says, just enjoy whatever happens, go with the flow.  Good advice, it seems.

I walk through the hotel's office and notice a flier on the wall for Tilghman Island Country Store.  The flier mentions a wine tasting Friday night, and what-do-you-know it's Friday night.  So over the drawbridge and down the road I go for maybe a little less than a mile.  I'm barely inside the door of the red shingled store before a woman is calling me to join a handful of people around a counter, three bottles of wine set out for the evening.  A white and two reds, and I find myself walking back down the road with a bottle of the second red to tuck away for later in the evening.

Dinner is at the outside bar at Marker 5, just a great dinner where I sit and catch up on the news and some baseball games.  Rain hovers at the edge of the island but all we get are a few sprinkles.  I check the forecast that night, high winds and rain, then go to sleep in a bed that doesn't rock.

Up early in the morning I think I've made a mistake by coming into the island.  There's a steady wind, but no gusts, and the rain slipped away to the west.  Maybe I should be sailing.  But the morning forecast hints of strong gusts midday so I set about doing chores: laundry, cleaning Spartina, emptying out the holding tank and refilling the water bottles.  

By noon I'm walking over the bridge again and down the road to the country store, this time for lunch at their fine deli counter.  I'm outside at a picnic table with a sandwich, fries and an iced tea when the gusts come in.  I have to hold my tray of food down to the table.  The wind is strong and hot, the skies clear with the sun beating down.

I spend the afternoon cleaning and packing gear, looking over the chart for tomorrow's sail, fishing off the dock with a running tide (a handful of small stripers caught and released) and sitting at the outdoors bar where they bring me a steady supply of iced tea on the house.  I watch a couple pull up at the marina in an old mustang, hop on a 10 or 15 year old 30' sailboat, cast off lines and motor out onto the bay.  The wind is howling.  They must know something I don't.

Enjoying dinner that evening at the Marker 5 I look out the window to see the flashing lights of a Boat US towboat towing the couple's sailboat up the channel.  I suspect they got out on the bay and realized it was too windy to sail, then realized the wind was so strong they couldn't even motor back to the marina.  The towboat maneuvers the sailboat up to the dock and in the evening light I watch the couple spend the next 45 minutes filling out paperwork.  Expensive afternoon on the water, I suspect.

Back at the hotel I pack up my gear and check the day's weather report.  It shows the early afternoon gusts reached 45 miles an hour.  Tomorrow should be better. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

day eight - seeking shelter

Awake at 6:45 after a calm night.  In the darkness a small boat runs a trotline up the creek.  Trees protect us from the wind, but still a couple gusts shoot down the water.  Weather radio reports gale warnings offshore.  Sail off anchor under mizzen and jib, raising the double reefed main as the creek opens up.  Cool at sunrise, a light overcast.  On the Tred Avon at 7:45, I round up again to get a better set on the main.

Just over two knots down the Tred Avon as buy boats, one colored powder blue, head up the river.  Benoni Point and the Choptank River before 9:00, three clammers working just outside the point.

On a beam reach we make over 4 knots, an eagle flying along the treeline.  Eagles now a constant presence.  We shake out a reef and turn towards Irish Creek for some exploring.  A fledgling eagle in a tree on the point, no parents to be seen.  Further up the creek, in the second stand of tall pines, two adult eagles share a branch.  Gusts are picking up.  Four deadrises work trot lines on the creek, three of them meeting together for a few minutes out on the open water.  I get a friendly wave from one of the captains.  More gusts and I tuck in the second reef.  Turning down wind we leave the creek at 11:00, adult eagles on the point, fledgling nowhere to be seen.

We troll across the mouth of Broad Creek, two skipjacks and two buy boats heading up the Choptank.  It must be the weekend for the skipjack races.  

Change Point at noon, a picnic table and two white chairs under a tree on the point.  Forecast for tomorrow is wind in the 40's and three to four inches of rain.  We sail up Harris Creek with the idea of finding shelter in Cummings Creek near the little village of Wittman.  I listen to the forecast again, bad tomorrow and probably the next day.  I think of spending a couple of days under the boom tent in heavy rain.  The gusts pick up, clouds darken.  I drop the main, tie it tightly to the boom, push the tiller over and head downwind.  A hotel in Knapp Narrows sounds like a good idea.

Late afternoon.  Spartina is tied up in a slip.  I sit at the outside bar at Marker 5, a new restaurant.  They let me drink iced tea and don't charge me.  I email with friends and family, fill out the log book, writing down 24 nm.

Monday, October 26, 2015

From my friend Paul

who was out for a stroll on the docks at Waterside with his
wife Barbara as I sailed by on a pretty day

Thursday, October 22, 2015

day seven - Plaindealing Creek

Up at 6:30, cool clear night.  Sailing off anchor before 7:00, downwind at 3.3 knots.  One of the adult eagles is on the tall dead pine tree on the point, the fledgling nearby on a shorter tree.  The second adult flies out of the thicket of live pines, hovers over the creek and dives down to the water.

We round the point into the Little Choptank, sailing towards Hills Point with wind on the beam, the gps going from 3 kts to 4, then 5.5.  The water is choppy at the point, we skirt the shallows and sail through the fields of crab pot markers, deadrises working their pots nearby.  Big waves out in the deeper water and we tack back into Trippe Bay and calmer water.  We make a few more tacks north along the bay as eagles feed near the shoreline.  

We round Cook Point before 10:00, entering a very rough Choptank River.  We tack into the NE wind, seeing schools of menhaden feeding on the surface and charter boats trolling back and forth in search of stripers.  The water boils in places, stripers chasing bait from below brings in the seagulls to feed on the surface.  I think about sailing towards the fish to make a cast or two but the charter captains with paying customers are already on their way.  

Wind falls off late morning tacking towards the Tred Avon River.  Sunny and warm and I'm looking forward to a nice lunch.  Three clam boats work near the point, dirty and rust covered.  Just off Benoni Point the wind fills in and brings along strong gusts.  I've got full sail up and think about taking in a reef, but I can see the entrance to Oxford and keep sailing, rounding up as the gusts hit.  They become stronger and stronger but I can see them coming on the surface of the water and they are not a problem.  

Sails down at 1:30 and we motor into Town Creek, wind rustling across the water.  I tie up at Schooner's with the wind on the beam, a little hectic getting the lines on with Spartina being pushed away from the dock but we get it done.  At the outdoors bar I sit in the shade and order a burger and a couple of glasses of iced tea.  Two guys give me grief about the sailboat, ask where the rest of my crew is, tell me I ought to have a power.  They drink those tiny cans of beer, two or three in a row, and if they are going to drink that much I wonder why they don't just order a 12 oz. can.

I walk to the Oxford Market and get a couple of bottles of tea.  Back at Schooners the waitress lets me refill my water bottles at the bar.  Then it's time to cast off.  Full sail on the Tred Avon at 3:30, exploring creeks and the shoreline in search of a protected anchorage.  Hidden from the wind by tall pines we ghost up Plaindealing Creek and drop anchor in a small cove.

I fill out my log but can't remember where we began the day.  I flip through my notebook to find it was Brooks Creek off the Little Choptank.  That seems like a long time ago.  I write down 32 nm at the end of the entry.  An eagle flies overhead in the evening light.

a new favorite

Still digging through the photographs from the trip, just found
 this one from Cox Creek on day nine or ten.  Love that GoPro.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

day six - a different air

I wake to clear skies in the middle of the night, cool dry air from the cold front letting the stars shine bright.  I wake again before dawn, fully rested after the best sleep of the trip.  There is wind, but not as much as yesterday.  Weather radio has dropped the forecast waves on the bay from two to three feet down to one to two feet.  Life is good.  

We sail off anchor with a double reefed main just after 7:00, rounding Lower Wroten Island and following the channel to Fishing Creek in a light chop.  Before 8:00 the bridge is in sight and thirty minutes later I drop the main to sail under the bridge.  The markings on the bridge show I should have seven feet of clearance under the bridge, but with the high tides it looks more like three or four feet.  Two eagles fly over the marsh to the north.  

We follow the narrow winding channel out of the creek, white pvc pipes, marked with silver tape to starboard and red tape to port, showing the skinny path that is about a third of what the channel once was.  The double reefed main goes up at 9:00, making 4.4 knots along the marshes called the Big Broads.   The wind is just right for a steady path up the shoreline reaching slowly out to deeper water.  After an hour sailing north on the Bay I shake out a reef and watch three rays swim beneath Spartina's hull.  Small schools of coppery menhaden boil on the surface.  James Island on the horizon before 11:00 and we tack back into calmer water near shore.  The wind falls off, fills in and we sail with a full main.  

Working against the tide it is slow going past Oyster Cove and it's early afternoon before we are in the Little Choptank, sailing at three knots.  I put out the trolling line and in just a minute or two the drag sings and a nice bluefish is on the line.  I've got chores for the afternoon so instead of saving the fish for a meal it goes back in the water to be caught another day.

 Inconsistent wind, under power across the river for a while and then we catch a breeze at the mouth of Brooks Creek.  Two eagles are perched on a dead tree at the point, both taking flight.  Soon a fledgling shows in the pines nearby.

We head up the creek so I can tie up an a public boat ramp to empty out the holding tank.  Then back down the creek with a nice breeze, rounding up and dropping anchor inside Butter Pat Point at 4:30.  I write 30 nm in the notebook.

good morning

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

day five - waiting out the wind, kindness

Awake at 6:45 after a calm night with early morning blasts of wind coming over the tree tops.  Weather forecast calls for gusts around 25 and waves two to three feet on the bay.  Light cloud cover and we sail off anchor at 7:30 with mizzen and jib, the main tightly furled to the boom with a double reef tucked in.

Heading north there are two passages out of the Honga River onto Chesapeake Bay.  The southern passage is through a channel at the north end of Middle Hooper Island.  Once out on the bay it is over 20 miles north to protected water.  The northern passage is under the smaller bridge at Fishing Creek.  That leads out through a very narrow winding channel to the north end of Barren Island.  It is over 17 miles from there to sheltered water on the Little Choptank.  Should I leave the protection of the Honga River I will, with tides and the narrow channels, have a difficult time coming back in.  Before leaving the river I want to be sure I can cover all those miles to the north.

We pass Pauls Cove and round Windmill Point where a waterman scraping for crabs waves from his deadrise Ticky Poo.  I round up and raise the double reefed main in the protection of Asquith Island and once out from the island feel the first gusts of wind coming out of the northeast.  Spartina heels quickly to port.  I round up, tack and suddenly I'm looking down at water surging along the coaming as we heel to starboard.  I realize we won't be leaving the river today.  

We tack across the Honga River to Parks Neck, reaching the calm in the shadow of the tall pines and dropping anchor, it's not yet 10:00 a.m.  The sun comes out and I have a late breakfast, nap, listen to the radio and charge my batteries with the solar panel.  

Early afternoon I listen to the forecast and it is the same for the next four days:  small craft warnings, waves two to three feet, gusty winds out of the northeast.  The low remains stationary off the Carolinas and a cool front is edging down from New England.  

I raise anchor and sail across the river to the village of Fishing Creek, tying up at the docks of Hoopers Island Oyster Aquaculture Company.  Spartina blocks the channel leading to their marina but it is the afternoon and all the workboats are tied to the dock, I don't think anybody will be heading out of the channel soon.  I walk around until I find two men sorting oysters.  They point me to a building where I find a young woman working in a lab.  I tell her I would like to buy some oysters and she leads me to an office where I meet Ben.  I ask him if I could buy a half dozen oysters.  "Come on," he says.

Ben leads me around the corner to a large refrigerated room.  There is just one box of oysters remaining in the room, the rest being shipped out earlier in the day.  He starts sorting through the oysters, picking out the larger ones and counting three, four, five and six.  That's plenty I say and he keeps counting, eight, nine, ten, eleven and twelve.  He hands me the bag and says "let's call that a half dozen" and gives me bag of ice to keep them cold.  I reach for my wallet and he says don't bother, just spread the word about good oysters and oyster farming.

Outside we can just see Spartina's masts poking  up out of the marina.  With the weather Ben suggests I stay in the marina, he can help me find room to tie up for the night or two.  I say thanks, but I'll be heading back across the river for the night.  "How about a ride to the store?" he asks, "or I can give you a ride to the restaurant if you like."  I tell him thanks, but the oysters are all I need.  Ben tells me he was watching the weather channel when I found him in the office.  That low of the Carolinas might take on some tropical characteristics, he says, could be 50 mile an hour winds and five to eight inches of rain later in the week.  Be careful, he says, and wishes me well.  I thank him for the oysters, tell him I will spread the good word.

I motor out of the creek, raise mizzen and jib on the gusty afternoon and sail back across the river to Parks Neck where we anchor up near shore.  Oysters, crackers, cheese and fruit on a grey afternoon.  I wonder about the coming weather and listening to the forecast doesn't help my mood.  Small craft warnings the next four days and I wonder how or if I'll make it up to the Little Choptank.  I think about sailing south, with all that wind out of the northeast I could easily be back in Cape Charles in two days.  I write 14 nm in my notebook and go to sleep.

Monday, October 19, 2015

day four - the back way

A low pitched diesel rumbles nearby at dawn.  I raise my head off the pillow to peak over the coaming to see the Davey III about 50 yards away, the watermen lowering his scrape into the shallow water.  I've anchored over shallow beds of eel grass, a scraper's prime territory.  I wonder if he was unhappy to find me anchored at the mouth the the creek but I get a smile as he near motors off Spartina's stern close enough to exchange morning's greetings.  

Just after 7:00, with mizzen, jib and double reefed main set, I raise an anchor covered in black mud and seaweed.  Clearing the anchor I get a splash of mud to the face.  There's a steady, strong NE wind and small craft warnings.  Under a light overcast we make 4.3 knots across the Little Annemessex towards Island Point and Tangier Sound.  We follow yesterdays track through the field of blue and yellow crab pot markers.  

Out in the sound away from shore we find steep, steep waves coming out of the NW in batches of two or three and strong gusts out of the NE.  I round up into the biggest waves and I round up into the strongest gusts and I begin to wonder about dealing with the gusts and the waves at the same time.  Sailing north, it is miles without protection.  Weather radio tells me it will be this way, maybe even worse, later in the day.  At almost the same spot as yesterday I slack the jib, tighten the mizzen and walk forward to drop the main.

We make our second retreat into the Little Annemessex River.  Frustrated, I begin to look at our options.  I could always return to Jenkins Creek, but not sure that the crab scraper would be happy to see me and I wouldn't want to spend another day there anyway.  I could head into Crisfield, maybe have lunch.  But what I really want to do is make some progress north.

Looking at the charts I notice the Daugherty Creek canal, which I had passed through before, and think I could motor up the canal into the Big Annemessex River and seek shelter there.  At least I'll be moving forward.  Back in the river I raise the double reefed main and tack towards Crisfield and the canal.  The deadrise rise Betty Jean comes off Tangier Sound, a friendly wave from the waterman as they pass by.   

I make a few more tacks just north of the entrance to Somers Cove, seagulls feeding on the baitfish in the shallows to port, a woman watching me from the second floor of a condo to starboard.  I bring the main and jib down and we motor into the canal.

I stop to get a bottle of tea at the ranger station and drop off a bag of trash, then continue north on the canal.  We follow the canal to where it opens up on a creek which curves slightly to the east and then north as we lose the protection of the trees on shore.  The channel leads directly into the wind and I find that we can barely make headway under full throttle.  The river is covered in a stiff chop and the wind is howling across the peaks of the waves.  Clear of the shallows I raise mizzen and jib but can't make any progress up the river.  I put up a single reefed main to try and punch through the chop but Spartina heels sharply in the gusts and we round up three or four times to avoid taking water over the coaming.  I drop the main to look at the charts.  I could head back into the canal easy enough, but soon notice that I can also fall off under mizzen and jib towards nearby Pat Island and Hazard Cove, maybe a nice place to wait out the weather.   

The wind is on the beam and we sail comfortably across the mouth of the river.  Looking at the charts I see that we can easily make Hazard Cove, but also on this same course we could reach across the the mouth of the Manokin River to Deal Island, and beyond that we could enter Hooper Strait and then the Honga River.   It's lunchtime and I get out the tuna salad, crackers and a cup of fruit as we sail past Hazard Point.  Across the mouth of the Manokin River it is a bumpy ride with the swells rolling down the length of the river but we make 4.6-5 kts under mizzen and jib.  Just before 1:00 we are off of Deal Island and Bishops Head is in sight, we decide to keep going.  The upper part of Tangier Sound is rough heading towards Hooper Strait, the waves slapping the side of Spartina's hull.  Bigger waves coming down the Nanticoke River but we keep a steady pace towards the Honga River.  Focused on getting into the lee of Bishops Head I forget to keep an eye on the gps and at 2:45 the cb touches the bottom near the point between Fishing Bay and the Honga River.  We fall off just as the sun comes out, soon we are in the protection of the point - calm water, warm sunshine and wind on the beam.  I glance back at Tangier Sound, a little bit surprised to have made it up the sound on a rough day.

Easy sailing up the Honga River, staying close to the side of the river near Norman Cove, falling off now and then to avoid the fish traps.

We skirt the shallows of Crab Point and head up into Fox Creek.  Anchor down at 4:30 and I jot 35 nm in the notebook before a nice dinner and a little reading.  Flocks of egrets hover over the brown marsh backed by the tall pines.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Lunch date with my favorite epicure to photograph the recipe for
oyster catsup, a colonial era sauce made with oysters, salt (lots
of salt), cayenne pepper and white wine or madeira, the sauce 
being poured over beef.  A fun little recipe, and it was nice to
sample some of the ingredients too.  Life is good.

winners (as if we suspected anything other than that)

Congratulations to Paul and Alan for a first place win on Dawn Patrol  (photos unashamedly stolen from Paula Martel's Facebook post ) in Class 4 in a very windy Blackbeard Challenge.  I'll look forward to hearing about the race. ( You knew it had to be rough when these guys opted to camp overnight at at least one checkpoint, maybe two - they typically do these races without stopping at all.)  Well done.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

day three - a stationary low and the cold front

A clear night, cool and comfortable but with a wind out of the E instead of the forecast SE and stronger than expected.  A mild chop rocked Spartina till I fell asleep.

The wind, forecast to swing to the N in the early morning hours is pleasantly out of the SW as we sail off anchor, the sun edging over the horizon.  Weather radio talks of a low pressure system off of the Carolinas and a cool front moving in from the NW.  There will be wind.   We sail out around the oyster farm and find a stronger breeze off Port Isobel, soon making 3.5 knots to the N.  By 7:30 making 4.8 on a pretty morning, the water tower at Crisfield showing on the horizon. With this weather I begin thinking about sailing the length of Tangier Sound and making the lower Honga River by late afternoon.

By 8 a.m. Tylerton on Smith Island is visible to the NW, a small wave breaks over the bow.  The wind begins swinging and Spartina's hull pushes through more waves.  We round up and tuck in a reef and I slip on the foul weather bibs.  

The wind slacks and I shake out the reef just after 9:00 and we find ourselves working against both a light north wind and the outgoing tide.  Clouds move in overhead.  The wind comes back and the waves build.  Off the mouth of the Little Annemessex River we make a port tack out into the sound.  Big waves roll in from the NW, two and three and a time, and the wind is gusting out of the NNE.  We tack back and forth, rounding up to the big waves and rounding up into the gusts.  

We are in near the shallows at the southern end of Janes Island, the water is choppy and I begin thinking about possible destinations.  The Manokin River, the Big Annemessex maybe.  Tacking out from shore the gusts and waves build, and I realize I should seek shelter.  I drop the main, wrap it tightly and then fall off under mizzen and jib towards the Little Annemessex.  Still outside of the river I see we are in a field of crab pot buoys, something I had completely missed sailing into the wind and chop.

Just inside the river we round up and drop anchor near Long Point next to Old House Cove.  I look at my options and consider Old House Cove, but it is shallow and there are submerged pilings near the entrance and some sort of sunken structure inside cove.  I have anchored there in the past but only on calm days when the hazards were visible.  I choose to head SE across the river under mizzen and jib, dropping anchor near a little creek just inside the mouth of Jenkins Creek.  

It's just after 12:00 on an NFL Sunday.  A nice afternoon to relax, have a good lunch, nap, listen to some football and think about the sailing plan.  I put 19.8 nm in the notebook.  The forecast for tomorrow does not sound promising.