Through a quirk of the new corporate vacation and holiday rules I somehow found myself with an unexpected eight day vacation. Being a good employee I did not complain.
It was 34 degrees when I got in the jeep this morning, 46 degrees less than an hour later when I finished rigging SPARTINA and launched her into a very high tide on Scuffletown Creek. It was an absolutely perfect fall day. Cool, yes, but not a cloud in the sky and better than forecast winds as I tacked back and forth on the Elizabeth River. The forecast for tomorrow is a slightly higher temperature and slightly less wind.
I tied up at Waterside Marina, the last tie-up at this particular dock. Over the next few days the marina will be shut down, the roughly 35-year-old floating docks will be disconnected, towed around the corner and lifted by crane out of the water. By March the marina will re-open with a set of new floating docks in a new configuration. I look forward to docking at the rebuilt marina next spring.
I've got to say that this was one of the best cruises on SPARTINA. Wind and weather was great, good wind throughout the trip and strong wind on a couple of days where John Welsford's design performed very well and I had to push myself beyond my usual limits.
Shawn had asked if this was the longest number of days I had been on SPARTINA. The answer was a yes and a no. I think I once spent 16 days on the boat, but three of those days I was tied to the dock at St. Michaels for the small craft festival. This trip, 14 days, is the longest consecutive sailing days. I did spend one night in a hotel in Rock Hall. On longer trips I have done that, either because of weather or just the chance to wash clothes, empty the head and resupply the water.
What pleased me most when I got back to the dock in Cambridge was that the boat was clean and organized, plenty of clean clothes available and I was relaxed and well-rested. With a quick resupply of food I could have easily cast off and gone back out for two more weeks. (Now there's an idea!)
THE GEAR: Overall the gear worked out very well. The two exceptions were the old watch I use to keep time - it died on me - and the Garmin gps 64s which lost contact with the satellites on at least three days for extended periods of time. Just a couple days ago Garmin sent out an update which I've loaded on to the device. I'll keep it with me during winter sailing so I can confirm that it is working properly. In any case I always carry the old 62s which works fine as a back-up.
Early one morning as I was rolling up the sleep gear I did kneel on my inflatable camp pillow and "popped" it. A stuff sac with a couple shirts inside was my pillow for the rest of the trip.
Very happy with my clothes, sleeping gear and boom tent. Within a few days of each other I experienced temperatures from 92 degrees (sailing down the Elk River to the Sassafras) to I think 52 degrees (at night and early morning on Queenstown Creek) and I was completely comfortable in both situations.
THE FOOD: I must say I ate very well. Freeze dried meals were excellent. I still have a small supply of New Zealand's Back Country Cuisine meals, gifts from Webb and Graeme. The spicy Thai noodles and venison rice noodle stir-fry were outstanding. I wish these meals were available in the US. I think on one or two nights I used self-heating Omeals (just add water to the packet and you get a quick hot meal), typically on long sailing days when I was tired. The Omeals are excellent, a little small portioned than I like but it would not hurt me at all to eat smaller portions. I also had some freeze dried risotto and pasta that I got from REI, and found that adding some of the Italian canned tuna to the risotto/pasta made for an excellent dinner.
Restaurants along the way provided some great meals: soft-shell crabs, crab cakes, fish tacos, Philly cheesesteak, seared tuna with seaweed salad, monkfish, and seared duck breast. Not too bad of a menu.
THE RAMP: Mid-Bay if you are looking for a good ramp on the Eastern Shore then Cambridge is your place. Great free ramp, one that I have never found to be busy or crowded. In the past I've left the jeep/trailer at the ramp while sailing but last year I came back to find someone has tried to saw off the lock and steal the trailer (thanks to Master Lock they were unsuccessful.). This year I left the jeep/trailer at nearby Yacht Maintenance Company where they charged me a storage rate as if I had left a boat on their property. For two weeks it came to a little over $70 for the storage (31' from the front of the bumper to the back of the trailer), and it was well worth it.
THE SAILING: One word for it - EXCELLENT! Some days wind on the beam or on the stern quarter, some days wind, waves and tide all against me. But the point is to sail so I delighted in spending hours tacking back around forth across the bay or up a river. And sailing with company too - Curt on board ANNIE - was very enjoyable.
THE FISHING: I did very little fishing. A little trolling on the Bay one day, some casting for feeding stripers on the Chester River another day. Part of this was safety. With all that wind the water was rough and the idea of standing up to reel in a fish on a rocking boat is not a good one. Plus the sailing was just so good I was content to focus on that.
EARLY MORNING SAILING: On day 11 I got up and stowed the sleeping gear in pitch darkness, the raised anchor as soon as I could distinguish land from water. I have never started in darkness before. I did this because the tide would be slack at Kent Narrows at 9:00 and I prefer to go through the bridge there without a running tide. There were a couple deadrises setting out trotlines in the darkness, at least one of them turned their spotlight on SPARTINA. There are several flash lights on board, I should have had one in my pocket or clipped to my safety vest in case I needed to shine it on my sails to reveal myself to other boats.
FRIENDS ALONG THE WAY: It was great to see some good friends along the way. Fred and MaryLou in Rock Hall, Curt on the Chester River, Drew in Chestertown and Kristen in St. Michaels. And of course the new friends I met along the way, the farm family that kayaked out to say hello on Queenstown Creek, the Pennsylvania crabbers down in Rock Hall for four days of serious crabbing, the locals that I watched a Sunday night football game with out on the patio at the waterfront restaurant in Chestertown, plus countless people out on the water who waved and said hello.
As I've confessed before, I built the boat to get away from people but just seem to make more friends because of it. Go figure.
It was just a wonderful trip. Now I've got to start thinking about next year's cruises.
Anchor up 6:45, single reef in the main and a very slow, pleasant drift out of the wind shadow of the trees.
Making 2.7 past the sand spit, the sound of a tractor rumbling on a farm, a flock of seagulls takes flight. Wing and wing down the creek.
Howell Point just at 7:20, the sun comes up. Shake out the reef and sailing at 5 kts.
Six deadrises work a shoal tonging for oysters. Blue skies and a crisp wind. Perfect.
Doing 3.3 approaching Cambridge. Round up to drop the sails. Docked at 8:30.
I walk a couple hundred yards to Yacht Maintenance Company, the yard where I left the jeep and trailer. Drive back to the ramp, break down SPARTINA'S rig, move the leftover food - not much leftover - and gear into the jeep. It's late morning and I drive around the little harbor to Snapper's Waterfront Cafe for an excellent crab cake - the crabs are picked right next door so they don't get any fresher than this. It's time to head home.
I sleep in after a night with much more wind, a colder wind, than expected overnight. A picture perfect morning. Blue skies and sunshine. The north wind is still there, strong enough that I tuck in a reef.
Sail off anchor just after 8:00. Leaving the cove I see hand tongers hauling oysters up on to a deadrise. Backbreaking work it seems to me. Making 4.6 once out on Broad Creek and I'm glad I put in the reef.
It's a day for exploring. Enter Leadenhamp Creek at 9:00, riding the gusts up the creek that turns west and then north. Tuck in the second reef at 10:30, sailing past a little creek that I called Paradise Creek when I anchored there a few years ago.
Back out on Broad Creek at 10:45, making 4.8 sailing wing and wing, the sun straight ahead and it is cool in the shade of the sails.
Off Irish Creek at 11:30, Benoni Point at the mouth of the Tred Avon at noon. I consider heading in to Oxford but at this time of the year the waterfront restaurant will be closed for the season.
Chloro Point at 12:50, I shake out the second reef as I know I'll be sailing upwind soon.
Enter LaTrappe Creek at 1:20 making 5.2 in a gusty breeze forward of beam. A hundred yards up the winding creek the wind calms. My anchorage is to port just past the little sand spit but I continue on up the main creek to see what there is too see. An afternoon tacking back and forth on the tree-lined creek, where else would I want to be? Past Connolly Point I can see the masts of the boats in Dickerson Harbor. We turn back downwind and explore another creek that branches off to the west. Then back to LaTrappe Creek for an easy sail back down to the sandpit, slipping in to the anchorage with trees on the north shore blocking the wind and a farm to the stern.
Cast of from Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum at 8:00 with help from a crew member of the tall ship AJ MEERWALD. Strong north wind still blowing. Overcast with some blue sky to the west. Motor out past the channel marker, raise reefed main, mizzen and jib. Steak (venison bar) and eggs (maple sea salt Rx bar) for breakfast.
Tacking back and forth across the narrow stretch of the Miles River. Deepwater Point at 8:30, choppy and making 4.5. Long tack towards Tilghman Point at 9:30, 5.0, the dark-hulled schooner ROSEWAY out of Boston coming round the point. The sky becoming a little bit lighter.
I am surprised we are making such good time. So much sailing into the wind and waves on this trip I must be getting used to it. Round Tilghman Point 10:20 and it is a whole different world. Downwind sailing on calm water, the sun breaks through and it feels good. Round up to strip off the foul weather gear.
Wind over the port quarter making 5 kts off Bay Hundred. Off Claibourne at 11:00, speed between 3.7 and 4.6 depending on the waves comes down the bay. Tuna, crackers and peaches for lunch. Noon 6 kts at Lowe's Point.
Sails down 12:50, through Knapp Narrows with a deadrise and a large catamaran. Full sail at 1:10, doing 5.4 on the Choptank River to Broad Creek.
Cool and grey at the mouth of the Broad Creek, a couple tacks towards the appropriately named Steve's Cove. Two great blue herons stalk the south shore of the cove, to the north a flock of white egrets flies against the dark green backdrop of ever green trees. Anchor down 3:00. Venison and rice noodle stir fry for dinner, a gift from New Zealand and one of the finest freeze dried meals I have had. Chilly in the evening, I put up the boom tent so I can hide from the north wind. Evening the skies begin to clear.
I wake at 5:30, stow the tent and sleeping gear in darkness. Tie in both sets of reefs and put on foul weather gear. The northeast wind and rain arrived in the early morning hours, more wind and less rain than forecast. I can see channel markers running down the Chester River but I can't see the point of land to the southwest.
Sail off anchor with mizzen and jib at 6:45 just as I can distinguish land from the water. A deadrise comes into the bight to set out his trotlines, SPARTINA briefly caught in the boat's spot light. Making 5.3 through dark water. Spaniard Point at 7:00, low overcast hangs over the Chester, lights glowing on the Russia house at the mouth of the Corsica River.
Jibe around the fish trap above Piney Cove at 7:45, pass Hail Point at 8:10, 3.9 kts. I keep looking over toward Queenstown Creek, expecting to see the Curt on ANNIE. Markers for Kent Narrows begin to show at 8:30, 4.2 still under mizzen and jib. ANNIE's green hull and tanbark sails seem to pop up out of nowhere, sailing past Hail Point along Eastern Neck.
Very rough water all of a sudden outside the channel to Kent Narrows, 5.1 kts. Round up to drop the jib, clipping into the safety line on the foredeck as tie down the sail with SPARTINA bouncing on the rough water. Mizzen down and under power, hoping to make the 9 a.m. lift but I'm cutting it close.
At Marker 13 I radio the bridge tender for the next possible lift. It is noisy with the outboard running and all the gusty wind. "We have an opening in one minute, I assume you are not going to make it." I realize I'm behind the little island at the mouth of the narrows, with the trees he can't see SPARTINA. No way I can be there in one minute anyway. I radio back that I'm now at marking 15. Another garbled reply, "you the small boat?" I say yes. And the tender has mercy on me, or at least I think he does. Was that a "keep coming" I heard over the radio? Full throttle and I'm four maybe five minutes late as I approach, the road barriers go down and the bridge lifts just ahead of the mainmast. I look up at the tender who is peering out of the window above, wave and say "thank you" over the radio. He waves back, leans out and takes a photograph of SPARTINA.
Just out of the narrows I raise mizzen, double reefed main and jib, headed to Prospect Bay at 5.2 kts. Three dead working the far side of the channel.
At 10:00 I shake out the second reef. We've got a single tack to St. Michaels. Wind and waves down the miles river, gps shows 8.4 in a gust near Deepwater Point. Past the point at 11:10, into the docks at St. Michals before noon. Waves out of the east are rolling into the waterfront at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, my first choice for a dock is a bad one, my second choice - up against one of the museum's buildings - is better but still rough. At least I can tie up and ask about a better spot.
The dockmaster comes out to help me cast off, I motor around the point where the dockmaster helps me tuck into to a perfect little spot protected from wind and waves.
It's lunchtime so I walk over to St. Michaels Crab & Steak House for a Caesar salad and some seared tuna. I sit at the bar where can look out over the harbor. The wind keeps blowing.
I spend the afternoon walking around the museum - one of my favorite places on the bay - checking out the buildings, the floating fleet and the shipyard with the tall ship DOVE under construction.
Evening approaching I've got the boom tent up and SPARTINA rigged for sleeping, I think about heading in to town for dinner. As I walk across the museum grounds I hear someone calling my name. It is Kristen, a longtime friend and the museum's president. She comes to check out SPARTINA nestled up against the dock, then gives me a quick tour of the shipyard. She's got an errand to run but says "I'll pick you up in 20 minutes for dinner." How nice. Fresh soft shell crabs for me, and what looks to be the world's best tenderloin steak for her.
Just after dawn I see Curt on the docks. He's got ANNIE ready to go. A brief handshake and farewell, he motors out on to the Chester to raise sail. As for me, I've got some free time. I walk up to Play It Again Sam for a glass of iced tea, come back to the marina where I catch up on my notes and write some emails.
Late morning I meet Vicki, a longtime friend and former co-worker, for lunch at 98 Cannon. She had moved to the Eastern Shore a few months earlier. It is good to catch up.
Fish tacos for me, an cobb salad for her. It's a pleasant lunch out on the waterfront and it goes by too quickly.
Cast off 1:00, wind and tide against us, making 4.7 in a gusty breeze. Off Primrose Point 1:45, wind on the beam and slacking a bit, 3.3 and up to 5 kts in the gusts. I make the mistake of sailing in too close to the shore and lose the wind in the shadow of the trees. Drifting back out a we get two rings of a bell from a classic looking Blue Jacket 28 CAILIN FION, one that Curt and I had admired at the docks, as she heads downriver.
Long tacks from Southeast Creek to Broad Creek at 2:30 and I feel like I have the river to myself. Approaching Northwest Point I hear a rumbling diesel and around the bend comes the buyboat Thomas J with a friendly wave from the captain. Tacking down the Chester at 4.8, peaceful and relaxing sailing and I can't imagine any other place I would want to be.
Melton Point at 3:40, 4.2 working shore to shore and I begin thinking about my anchorage for the night.
Afternoon gusts arriving at 4:25, 5.3 kts with cloud cover moving in and I appreciate the shade.
Checking the forecast I hear there is a front moving through in the middle of the night. Wind swinging from today southwest to tomorrow strong and gusty northeast. The sunlight catches the icy clouds to the west. Tacking across Comegys Bight with the thought of making the Corsica River at 5:00, the wind suddenly drops. I turn back across the calm water, anchor down 6:00 in the bight.
Excellent freeze dried mushroom risotto mixed with tuna and a cup of fruit for dinner.