Tuesday, September 30, 2014

day six - Dividing Creek to St. Michaels

Early morning I can hear the birds, the wind whipping through the trees.  The creek is glassy calm.  For the first time on the trip I don't hear deadrises rumbling across the water.  I sleep later than usual.

We sail off anchor under mizzen and jib, a reef tucked in the furled main.  The north wind pushes us towards the Wye.  Weather forecast calls for strong winds and maybe some rain.  A 40' cruising sailboat is anchored in the mouth of the creek with no signs of life aboard.  

Out on the Wye River Spartina rounds up and I raise the single reefed main.  Downwind towards the Miles River we make four+ knots.  Off of Shaw Bay we round up to tie in a second reef before leaving the Wye.  Out on the Miles we make nearly five knots towards St. Michaels.

The wind is excellent, the water calmer than I had expected.  We shake out a reef.  The sun tries to break through the overcast.  The wind drops and we shake out the second reef - full sail on the Miles.   

Mid-morning we pass Deep Water Point and slip into Long Haul Creek.  The creek is lined with homes, a marina and beautiful classic boats.  We sail a ways up into the main branch, come about and turn back to the Miles.   

Just around the next point I can see the entrance markers for St. Michaels, and soon the red roofs and lighthouse of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.  We make a lap through the harbor to get a good look at the skipjack Rosie Parks and the buy boat Winnie Estelle.  Just beautiful.  Then out around the point to come into the docks. 

We tie up at a slip across from a crab shanty and some classic Chesapeake Bay boats, walk to the museum entrance where they tell me I had chosen a good spot for Spartina.  Then it is a day of running errands, grabbing lunch and walking through beautiful downtown St. Michaels.

Early afternoon I straighten up Spartina - we are at the halfway mark of the trip and I find everything is in pretty good shape - then grab a hot shower at the museum facilities and enjoy a plate of oysters at The Crab Claw.

Late afternoon I'm standing on the dock next to Spartina talking with another sailor when he says somebody is calling me.  I look across the water to see Kristen, a long-time email and blog friend who is now the president of the museum.  "I'll be over in a few minutes" she says.

And soon she walks down the pier for her first look at Spartina.  Kristen smiles when she sees the fishing poles and frayed straw hat hanging on the transom, looks over the cruising gear and sees how it is tucked away.  We hop on board and pull out the chart book.  She shows me where she has kayaked, I show her where I have sailed.  Spartina rocks in the water while we talk about the museum and Chesapeake Bay, sailing and kayaking, trips we have made and trips we have planned.  We laugh when we realize that if she had walked out of the house where she is staying about 8:00 this morning she would have seen Spartina sailing down the Wye River. 

It is a fun visit but Kristen needs to get back to work.  I thank her for taking time to say hello, then she waves as she walks across the docks back to her office.  I cast off the lines and motor a couple of hundred yards to anchor out in the cove. 

Evening.  Blue skies and a steady breeze.  Writing in my notebook I hear a voice call out over the water.  "Your boat is as cute as a button!"  I tend to not take kindly to Spartina being called "cute," but when I look up to see the comment was coming from a woman with a pretty smile and she is at the helm of the classic 1926 catboat Selina II what else can I say but "thank you, you have a nice boat too."  With a reef tucked in the huge main, Selina II sails by Spartina, the captain asking about Spartina's design and designer.  

Just before sailing out of the harbor the woman looks back and shouts "Welcome to Saint Michaels.  Come early, come often."  

I tell her I will.

Monday, September 29, 2014

hands off!!!! - an unintentional photo essay

Sorting through all of my GoPro images I had to laugh at the many photographs I took of my hands.  Sometimes the left hand, sometimes the right.  Sometimes I seemed to be hiding my identity (I wasn't), sometimes I seem to be soaked (I was).  The images were the result of my using the camera in the interval shooting mode at two seconds.   I would place the camera on the mizzen mast or main boom and pushed the shutter button on top of the camera (or in many cases beneath the camera as I was shooting with the GoPro inverted).  Apparently the camera takes the first image a nano second after pushing the button, often catching my hand as I pulled it away.  I really do like the camera.  Shooting for a few minutes at one frame every two seconds generates a lot of frames, but in there somewhere there is often a nice photo.  Hopefully one that does not include my hands.

day five - Dun Cove to Dividing Creek

Light rain in the early morning hours.  I climb out of the bivy, close the vents and get back in the sleeping bag.  I'm very happy with the new venting system for the boom tent. 

Up at 6:30 to a low overcast.  A misting rain with hints of orange sky to the east.  We sail off anchor just after 7:00 with a north wind that carries us out of the cove and down Harris Creek towards Knapp Narrows.  I see a deadrise heading in the channel and decide to follow as the markers are where I think they should be.  We enter the channel to find it looks different than I had remembered.  There are new homes to port and a little marina.  We follow the curving channel - again, not what I remembered - and see docks up ahead.  Tiller hard over as I realize I followed the deadrise into Dogwood Harbor.  

Coming out of the channel I see the marker I had missed - it doesn't have the regular red marker, instead it is a pole with an orange traffic barrel on top.  Soon we are in the correct channel, the bridge up ahead and I call for a lift which happens almost immediately.

With a  east-northeast wind we are in the lee of Tilghman Island, water calm and making four knots up Poplar Island Narrows.  The wind picks up and the sun tries to break through the overcast.  Light rain comes and goes.  Deadrises are working up ahead.

Late morning we begin to the feel the swells running down Eastern Bay as we make a long tack towards Kent Point, the southern tip of Kent Island.  We turn east towards a shallow bay and come into what once once the ferry docks at Claiborne, now a boat ramp and fishing pier.  I tie up for a few minutes to drop off trash and empty the portable head.  A local who had been watching Spartina under sail with a telescope comes down to say hello and look at the boat.  We talk for a while, he invites me over to his house for a cup of tea.  I thank him but say it is time to get back out on the water.

We sail north along Tilghman Island, the wind swinging to the east and getting stronger.  We round up and tie in a reef, still making over five knots with reduced sail.  Ahead is Tilghman Point and I can see the chop coming over the shallows.  A couple of hundred yards past the point the chop is steep and the wind is very strong.  We tack back on forth into the face of the chop, Tilghman Point to our starboard and seemingly getting closer.  I feel like we are not moving at all but the GPS shows we are doing five knots.  I look at the point and trees on shore and see that in fact we are moving, it is just hard going.  The waves have stirred up the shallow bottom and the water is brown. 

Working our way into the Miles River the water calms.  Without the chop Spartina picks up speed in the still strong wind.  A port tack carries us across the river and I see a sailboat coming out of the Wye River.  We round up to shake out the reef.  Full sail.

It is perfect sailing on the winding Wye River, strong wind out of the east and pleasant tacking on smooth water.  I've got my GPS next to the chart trying to find Dividing Creek, which has never been easy for me.  I think I see the creek, sail in and drop the anchor just after 3:00.  The east wind comes right into the creek, and looking at the chart I realize an east wind could not come into Dividing Creek, which runs north to south.  My second poor navigation of the day.  Anchor up, we motor around the next big curve of the Wye River and enter the real Dividing Creek.  Two eagles fly overhead.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

from a visit to my shellfish guy...

Steamed clams and artichokes tonight, 
oysters Baydog style tomorrow night.  

Thanks Uncle Chuck for the shellfish.
Thanks Dave for the oyster recipe.

Friday, September 26, 2014

friends on the water: the Blackbeard Challenge

I received a very nice email from Paul - Dances with SandyBottom - about the Watertribe's Blackbeard Challenge on some of my favorite sailing grounds.  Paul wrote such a nice description of the race on board Dawn Patrol, a Core Sound 20, that I will post it here with photos of Alan, at top, and Paul, at the bottom.  Thanks Paul and Alan for sharing what reads to be a very exciting race.

Alan and I finished the WaterTribe's 300 mile 'Blackbeard Challenge' this afternoon (9/24) closing 3.3 days of sailing adventure.  The boat and all the gear worked well.  No damage or injury.  Very high water levels everywhere we went.  (Why is that channel marker pole sooo... short?)    The Pamlico Sound was kind to us  --did not try too hard to kill us on our 47nm crossing.  Eventually the upper Pamlico and the Croatan Sound waves were only 1 foot.  Tacking in the Albemarle to Alligator River Marina in the wee hours was tough but... we caught a fish!  A 10" dinner fish (mullet?) jumped into our boat!  We let him go.  Ran through a pound net before crossing the river mouth.

Slept for 2.5 hours and then our autohelm took us down a calm Alligator River while we sipped coffee in early morning light.  Rowed slowly down the Pungo-Alligator canal south. Was that an alligator, or a log?  The log swam away. The last half was a slog rowing.  Night sailing past Belhaven and down the Pungo
River to cross the Pamlico River to Mouse Harbor.  Sped through the bomb-range prohibited area and made it around the corner to Shawn's at Hobucken in the wee hours.  Then we headed down the Neuse for a downwind ride  --but it was blowing 25kts from the NE and the waves were huge  --typically 5-6 feet and sometimes much bigger.  With only the mizzen sail up (and reefed) we fell down the deep troughs in the dark at 9 and 10 kts.  We should not have done it but we underestimated how bad it was out there.  Luckily the Core Sound 20 is the perfect small boat for that surfing run.  The NE wind blew us all the way down Clubfoot Creek to the first bridge.  Squeezed under. 

At Beaufort the drawbridge guy was very nice to us.  Did laundry and cheeseburgers while 4 hours at Beaufort Docks.  Generally, not much sleep until we anchored for the night at Shell Point of Harkers Island: slept for 10 hours.  Beating up Core Sound today from 8am to 3pm was actually pleasant in spite of the drizzle
and gray skies.  The high water levels let us take short cuts on Core Sound.  Sailed downwind up Cedar Island Bay to the finish line.  Now it's nice to be in a room at the Driftwood Restaurant/Motel.  Still have that rocking and rolling feeling.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

day four - LaTrappe Creek to Dun Cove

In the comfort of my sleeping bag I sleep later than usual.  I wake, lift my head to see grey skies out of the back of the boom tent.  I can hear the wind and feel the coolness of the morning.  

Just after 8:00 we sail off anchor under mizzen and jib.  The main is wrapped tightly with a the boom and gaff, both sets of reef points already tied.  A steady north breeze rushes through the trees around our little cove.  I wonder what the wind will be like away from the cove and out on the creek, out on the river.  Spartina sails quietly downwind past the trawlers anchored in La Trappe Creek.  A woman watches me from the stern of an old classic power boat, craning her head as we slip out of her sight.  Past the anchorage we round the sand spit and catch the outgoing tide to the Choptank River.

I am pleasantly surprised by the wind out on the river, it is not nearly what I had expected.  We raise a double reefed main, soon making six knots with wind just forward of the beam on our way to Oxford.  Just wonderful sailing as the low overcast gives way to blue skies.  At Chlora Point the shoreline falls away to the NE and we make a long tack in closer to shore where the waves are smaller.  In the calmer water we shake out a reef.  And again, just past Island Creek, one more tack into to smoother water, the sun catching the white spray coming from Spartina's bow.  Then a long run to the Tred Avon River, tacking inside of Benoni Point.  The waves, running down the length of the Tred Avon, are much steeper and the wind feels stronger.  I start a series of tacks up towards the entrance channel to Oxford.

On a starboard tack, riding a gust out of the north with water up on the edge of the deck and against the coaming, I feel another gust out of the north west.  Spartina heels, water comes up and over the coaming.  A lot of water.  I push the tiller to port and we tack, the water sloshing to starboard.  We finish the port tack, I jump forward to bail out the water.   

We round up outside the entrance channel to Town Creek and motor into the harbor.  At Schooners I tie up in the last slip at the end of the dock, run to check with the waitress to see if we are ok there.  She says we are fine.  Back at Spartina I spread out the sleeping bag and bivy on the deck to make sure they are dry.  I take an nice walk into town to pick up a couple gallon bottles of water and a couple of bottles of green tea - something that has become a treat for me on cruises though I don't know why, I don't drink it at any other time.  Back at Schooners it is an excellent lunch of a big burger, perfectly cooked, french fries and four glasses of iced tea.  

Back on the water at 1:00, the tiller looks like a clothes line draped with two buffs and a tee-shirt as we sail downwind on the Tred Avon.  Benoni Point by 2:00 and we turn west towards Tilghman Island under blue skies and white cotton ball clouds.  The wind comes and goes, much lighter than in the morning though it never completely dies as we sail west at two and a half to four knots.  In the distance I can see a skipjack sailing into Dogwood Harbor.

We are just off Dogwood Harbor by 4:00 and begin a series of tacks up Harris Creek.  A nice little cat boat slips out of Knapp Narrows ahead of us and we spend the evening sailing in her wake as she works her way into the wind and falling tide.  Eventually the cat boat turns toward the eastern shore of the creek.  We turn to the west and with one last tack slip into Dun Cove.  Three large cruisers are anchored just inside the cove, the crews sitting in the cockpits with evening cocktails.  Under full sail we sail past their sterns drawing curious looks and friendly waves.  We head to the southwest corner of the cove, round up and drop anchor.  A light dinner of tuna salad, fruit and sparkling water.  No rain in the forecast tonight, but there are a couple of houses nearby on shore.  I set up the tent for a little privacy, with the front corners vented, and slip into the bivy for the night.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

day three - Parsons Creek to LaTrappe Creek

I wake to the breeze coming through the vented boom tent.  No rain last night and my last memory was listening to an Orioles game out of Baltimore.  I'm glad to have come up with the idea of folding back the corners of the tent.  It only took six years for the lightbulb to go on.

We sail off anchor with a south southwest wind nudging us out of the creek, board up to go over the shallows.  We round up to lower the board and then tighten the downhaul on the main, something I forget to do now and then.  It does make a difference.  

A deadrise named Wet Willy works a trotline as we cross the Little Choptank at 4+ knots.  Waves coming off the bay slap Spartina's port as we pass Ragged Island to our starboard, Hills Point just ahead.  The shoals off the point, clearly seen by the field of both yellow and green crab pot floats, extend a couple of hundred yards out into the bay.  We skirt the shallows then jibe to cross Trippe Bay towards Cook Point.  Not yet 9 a.m., it is hot and humid.  

Approaching Cook Point we are sailing downwind and the breeze falls off, the leather on the gaff jaws groaning against the mast as Spartina rocks in the swell.  A cut through the shallows teases me and I think about raising the cb and rudder to take the shortcut, but sail the extra hundred yards to avoid getting caught in thin water.  Once around the point the wind fills in on the beam and we are sailing four to five knots on the Choptank River.  We round up briefly to set up the solar charger on the foredeck and get the camera batteries charging, then turn east bound for Cambridge.  

We cross a couple of wide bays, easy sailing with just a knee to tend the tiller.  Castle Point we come in close to land and see a farm that looks like it is out of the 1960's, a simple small house, barn and a couple of outbuildings in front of a corn field.  A couple of chairs, empty on this hot day, sit up on the bluff overlooking the river.  Around the corner of the point is a long pier with a boat house, and countless oyster floats tied in batches alongside the pier.  Crops of corn and oysters, very nice!

Before noon and still a couple miles shy of Cambridge, the wind fails.  We motor with sails flapping to the entrance channel, drop the sails and head in past the marina.  The channel leads into a winding Cambridge Creek lined by boat yards, new condos and the J. M. Clayton crab house with its beautiful Chesapeake Bay mural.  Next to the crab house is Snapper's where I tie up for lunch.

A hot, hot day and I could sit inside in the air-conditioning, but find myself content with the shade of the porch overlooking the creek.  I order a crab cake sandwich, the waiter nods in the direction of the crab house next door telling me the crab meat is as fresh as it gets.

So I'm enjoying lunch and a woman in a Mercedes stops, gets out of her car and takes some photographs of Spartina.  She looks like a local so I walk over and ask her if there was a convenience store nearby where I could buy some water.  She says no, but she's happy to give me a ride.  I thank her, but say I don't want to trouble her.  She says hang on a minute, I've got something for you.  She runs to her car, comes back with two bottles of sparkling water from Italy.  I tell her she doesn't need to do that, she says "Hey, we're fellow sailors," hops in her car and drives off.  How nice.

Back out on the Choptank just after 2:00 the wind is back with a vengeance, hot and blowing hard across the river.  The skipjack Nathan of Dorchester is out for an afternoon sail with guests aboard, just beautiful with all that canvas flying.  

It's an easy sail at five knots down the river to LaTrappe Creek, following the entrance channel until I see local boats taking the shortcut outside of the markers.  We come in alongside a trawler and I slip to starboard to let them pass.  We fall in behind them on the calm creek, turning to port at a sandy little spit with smaller boats pulled in shallow and people relaxing on the beach.  Lots of waves from everybody as we make a couple tacks across the little cove.  I head north further back into the cove where I find an anchorage all to myself.  

The water feels cool and wonderful as I slip over the side of Spartina for a swim.  I float on my back, swim under the hull, hang beneath the bow sprit and just relax.  Three days into the trip and I could not have asked for better weather.

Back aboard Spartina I clean up the boat, repack some gear and spread out a few things to dry on the deck.  College football on the radio I lean back in the cockpit and read Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire, a great book about a follow-up to the Lewis and Clack expedition.  Dinner is a light combination of smoked oysters, cup of fruit and crackers with cheese.

Late afternoon I motor back out into the creek, away from the thick trees, to where I hope to find a little more wind.  It is cooler out there, but checking weather radio I hear warnings of severe thunderstorms.  I motor back into the small cove.  Just as I am getting the boom tent up I hear rain, a wall of rain, coming through the trees.  It is a vicious downpour that pounds on the boom tent.  With the cool air meeting humid it feels like it is raining inside the tent.  I crawl into the bivy and it is wet in there too, soaked with condensation.  

The tent glows from lightning, the hull shakes with the thunder.  Spartina swirls at anchor and cool winds rush in and suddenly all the condensation is gone - the boat, the inside of the tent and the bivy are dry.  Quiet for awhile, then more thunder and lightning and everything is damp again from the humidity.  I think it is raining inside my gore-tex bivy.  I fall asleep and waken sometime later to find that the storm has moved on, and Spartina has dried out.  The air has a chill to it.  I slip into the sleeping back and fall asleep.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

day two - Pigeonhouse Creek to Parsons Creek

Diesels rumble before dawn and fishermen's voices, sounding harsh over the radios, reach across the water.  Up before sunrise after sleeping under brilliant starts, it is cool and comfortable with a wind out of the SSE.  Dawn finds us moving at two knots into the incoming tide, a swell wrapping around Deal Island up into the river.  We find wind as we move away from shore, 3.5 knots on a perfect morning.  I sit in the shade of the mizzen, steering with my knee on the tiller.  A granola bar and cup of chopped mango in syrup makes for a fine breakfast.

We sail west out of the Wicomico River, the north end of Tangier Sound opening wide with Bloodsworth Island low on the horizon to west southwest and Straddling Point due west.  Ahead in Hooper Strait there are about a half dozen deadrises working trot lines, long lines with floats at either end and bits of bait, often salted eel, spaced out every few feet as as the line lays on the bottom.  The crabbers hook the line and hang it over a metal arm extending from the side of the deadrise, running their boats length of the line.  Crabs hang onto the bait as the line is raised, the metal arm knocking the crabs off the bait into a basket.  The deadrises run in an oval pattern, down one line and then rounding up to run along a parallel trotline, reminding me of a stock car race.

It is hot and humid late morning as we leave Hooper Strait and turn north into the Honga River.  I feel like we are not moving at all but glancing at the GPS we are making about four knots.  The wind picks up, we round up near Bentley Point to tie in a reef.  

The Honga River is a favorite place on the bay, I've found nothing there but calm water to sail her gentle curves.  Deadrises run up and down the river, headed for crab houses in Hoopersville on Middle Hooper Island or to Back Creek on Upper Hooper Island.  Few other boats are to be seen.  The eastern shore is marshes and trees, eagles and ospreys, a few hunting lodges and not much more.

Approaching noon we have to make a decision.  Weather forecast calls for a chance of afternoon thunderstorms, not surprising on the hot humid day.  Leaving the Honga River there is little protection between there and the Little Choptank River several miles up the bay, but it feels much to early to anchor on just the chance of a storm.  Skies are still blue and we have a steady wind, I figure we can make it to the Little Choptank by late afternoon.

Near the top of the Honga we turn west to Fishing Creek, passing beneath a bridge and into one of the narrowest and constantly shoaling channels I've seen on the bay.  There are markers spaced out along the channel, but sticks are put in place within the channel to show that it is about one-third the width of the marked channel.  The wind is on the beam and we trace the path out to the north end of Barren Island.

Clear of the shallows and fields of crabs pots we turn north along the The Marshes then skirt the shore, wing and wing, at 5 knots.  Waves rush up under Spartina's stern and once again I bring down the mizzen.  Around 3:00 we pass the only protection on this stretch of the bay, the shallow and winding Punch Island Creek.  Skies are still clear, we continue north.  

Late afternoon I begin to see eagles flying from the trees along shore, terns diving in the shallows near the beach.  Slipping between Oyster Cove and Janes Island, we raise the mizzen and turn east into the Little Choptank.  A man sits in the shade of a tarp on a 30 foot boat anchored near Cators Cove, watching as Spartina slides by.  I am hot, tired and hungry.  Crackers and cheese satisfy my hunger.  We navigate the shallows and confusing markers at the mouth of Slaughter Creek, centerboard touching the bottom once or twice, dropping anchor at 5:30 in Parsons Cove.  

Thunderstorms are forecast for the night.  I put up the boom tent, which it hot at stuffy.  I experiment with folding back the corners at the forward end of the tent, finding that the opening brings a welcome cooling breeze into the cockpit.  Falling asleep in the bivy I wonder what ever happened to the storms.