Snarking in the rain
It's a rainy Sunday and Robert and I are walking with Madison along the St. Michael's Nature Trail that runs through the small park at the head of San Domingo Creek.
"What's that yellow flower?" I say, pointing at a plant with vetch-like leaves and pretty yellow flowers.
"Cassia fasciculata," Robert says.
"What's a cassia fasciculata? Does it have a common name?"
This sounds snarky because it is.
"I don't know."
We've had a version of this exchange a few times before. Robert's told me the Latin name of nearly every wildflower in the Western North Carolina mountains oh, a dozen times or so. I have a lousy memory and remembering words in a foreign language - a dead foreign language at that - is not a skill I seem able to master.
After we'd been married a few years and he'd repeated this drill several springs in a row, Robert started answering my inquiries by saying, "Same thing as last year."
We must not have encountered "cassia fasciculata" in Western North Carolina.
Ahhh, the Internet, well, it turns out Partridge Pea is one of the common names for "cassia fasciculata." Granted, it has a few others - sleeping plant, prairie partridge pea, showy partridge pea, prairie senna, large-flowered sensitive-pea, dwarf cassia, partridge pea senna, locust weed, golden cassia. This is why Robert never bothered learning common names. So? It seems to me you just pick one that you like.
I have it on the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that whatever you call it, it's a legume native to the eastern U.S. that is considered an excellent species for planting in disturbed areas for erosion control and improving soil fertility. It quickly covers an area, but doesn't prevent other plants from becoming established. A number of birds, including mallards and bobwhites eat the seeds, hence the common name. It's also considered an important honey plant.
An environmental pioneer
It turns out that we were on a section of the St. Michaels Nature Trail that borders the campus of Environmental Concern, a nonprofit wholesale nursery dedicated to restoring and preserving wetlands. As much time as we spent in St. Michaels in 2011 and even though it's right beside the park where we tie up our dingy, I'd somehow missed this treasure.
Environmental Concern was started in 1972 by Dr. Edgar Garbisch, a chemist who had spent part of his youth on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and was alarmed at the rate at which wetlands were being destroyed. The environmental movement was already in full swing, but while people understood the importance of clean water and air, swamps, bogs and marshes were still viewed as unhealthy and mosquito infested, best drained and turned to some productive use.
This same attitude resulted in the loss of all but a remnant of the mountain bogs once found in Western North Carolina.
Garbisch recognized the critical role wetlands play in a healthy ecosystem, but while there was plenty of information on how to destroy wetlands, there was no information on how to restore them. Through trial and error, he created a native plant nursery and developed the techniques for reestablishing wetlands. Then he added an education component to the nonprofit to help train others. Environmental Concern's materials are used in over 40 countries and throughout the U.S., according to its web site.
The campus was closed on Sunday, but we went back and spent a pleasant couple of hours touring it Monday. Garbisch died at the age of 79 in 2012, but the nursery he started, the first of its kind in the country, is still going strong.
A Tale of a Tug
In 2011 we anchored in Jackson Creek near a big red tug boat named Sture. Clearly meant for muscling around barges and big, commercial vessels, it looked out of place parked in front of a private residence in Jackson Creek, where it dwarfed most of the sailing yachts that anchored or tied up at the Deltaville Marina. This year, the big red tug was missing and I thought the creek had lost something of its personality.
But I should not have despaired for we were to encounter Sture farther up the bay, in the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. When we were here two years ago, a small wooden tug named "Delaware" was on the Museum's maritime railway undergoing extensive repairs. This year, fully rehabilitated, she's floating in a slip and there's a great exhibit about tugboats in one of the museum's buildings.
There in the exhibit was a photograph of Sture, along with Captain John M. Ward Jr., the third of four generations in Bay Freight, Inc., one of the small family-run tug companies that still operates on the bay. The accompanying information says that Bay Freight, owned and operated by the Ward family of Deltaville, Va., has grown from delivering crabs and watermelons around the bay to developing a niche pushing grain barges with a small fleet of tugs.
A St. Michael's kind of day
We had a late breakfast at the coffee shop on Saturday, toured the tug boat exhibit, stopped to admire the third of the John Smith boats built in the Chesapeake Bay in honor of the 400th anniversary of the exploration of the bay by the Jamestown settlers led by Smith, then wandered over to the St. Michael's winery for a wine tasting. We met a nice couple from Annapolis who were anchored not far from us, but around a point where we couldn't see their boat. The winery had some very nice wines including a chocolate zinfandel that I had thought I wouldn't like, but did - very much.
Afterwards we went to dinner at Gina's. We ate outside under the trees. The late afternoon was cool and pleasant, the food was delicious and there are congenial people all around. It was the perfect culmination to a lazy, lovely day.
It rained Sunday and we spent most of the day on the boat except for taking Madison in for walks on the St. Michael's Nature Trail.
The Forgotten War
Monday, we went back to the museum and toured a very well done exhibit on the War of 1812 which, according to the exhibit, is often called America's Forgotten War. If my knowledge going into the exhibit is any indication, forgotten is an appropriate moniker. The war's 200th anniversary in 2012 passed without much notice as far as I could tell - the museum exhibit being the first time I'd given it any thought whatsoever.
But it was an important war, declared and won by America against Britain and lasting from 1812 to 1815. Among the causes, the British had introduced restrictions to impede trade between the U.S. and France, with which Britain was at war. Britain was also impressing U.S. seamen into the Royal Navy. According to the exhibit, it was the War of 1812 that established the sovereignty of the U.S. on the world stage. Neither the British nor any other nation would again threaten America's ability to trade freely in markets around the world or to protect its citizens from seizure from foreign power.
The exhibit included a film about the "Merikins," slaves who escaped and fought for the British who promised them their freedom and a homestead of 16 acres of land to every head of household. They were recruited into six military companies, mainly from the shores of Virginia, Maryland and Georgia.
After the war they were resettled in Canada, Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago had recently become British territories and were not heavily populated. Ironically, the new settlers came to be known by the name of the place from which they'd come, the "Merikins." They carved a life out of a wilderness and their descendants, some of whom are interviewed in the film, have a very proud heritage.
Oars in the water
The light on our boat and a Dutch yacht anchored nearby was beautiful Monday night as the sun set while we were eating dinner in the cockpit, so I decided to row a few feet away and take a picture. I'm a very uncoordinated rower - can't seem to get both oars in the water at the same time (I know I'm leaving myself wide open here...), so Robert sat in the cockpit and laughed while he tried to tell me what to do. Meanwhile, Madison peered between the lifelines looking anxious. Pretty soon we were both laughing as I rowed in circles. I managed to get the dingy back to the boat without starting the engine, but it was a close thing.
We watched the almost full moon rise as we took Madison in for her evening constitutional.
Tuesday we motored across the bay to Harness Creek on the south side of Annapolis. We needed to get to the bank before it closed so Robert walked about 2.5 miles into Bay Ridge Center where there's a branch of our bank while Madison and I spent a couple of hours hanging out in Quiet Waters Park. He bought some strawberries and a few other supplies before returning to find Madison and me in one of the parks gazebos where we'd stretched out and napped after strolling around as much as Madison's 16-year-old legs were up to.
We'd spotted our friends Dena and Myron on Holdfast when we came into the creek, so on the way back we stopped to see if they'd like to join us for desert. We had a great visit cut short when Robert began exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion. He was fine within half an hour but 5-mile walks in the heat with no water are henceforth banned.
On Wednesday we moved around to pick up a mooring in Back Creek where we got the holding tank pumped out, got the water tanks filled and where for a small fee, we can do laundry and use the showers at Port Annapolis Marina.
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
08/15/2013, San Domingo Creek, St. Michaels, Md.
A summertime kiss
We were the only boat on a mooring at Zahniser's Monday evening, Aug. 12, so we took the opportunity for me to get some practice bringing the boat to a stop at just the right place so Robert could pick up the mooring pendant, the heavy line that attaches the mooring ball to the boat.
The first few passes went very badly. First I came up too slowly and stopped with the ball still out of reach. Then I came right up to the ball, put the boat in reverse to stop and Robert picked up the mooring pendant. I was so busy enjoying my triumph that I forgot to take the boat out of reverse and looked up to see Robert looking at me with exasperation just before he let go of the mooring pendant which was about to drag him overboard.
The next time I lost sight of the mooring ball and ran over it - VERY not good!!! Fortunately I had the presence to take Arwen out of gear so the mooring pendant didn't get wrapped around the propeller. Throughout all this, Robert gave great instruction. The only time he got a little excited was when I ran over the mooring ball. After maybe 10 passes, I could just about kiss the ball with Arwen's bow. Great progress and domestic harmony prevailed.
An anchorage full of adolescent osprey
When we left Solomon's Island Tuesday, Aug. 13, we thought we might get rain on the way to St. Michaels, but it was a beautiful day on the water with good wind from the west northwest giving us a beam reach during the morning, but dropping off so that we turned on the motor in the afternoon.
We motored into San Domingo Creek about 4:30 p.m. and found it peaceful and beautiful with young osprey all about yammering for food and learning to fly. We passed two Island Packets and a large motor yacht on the way to our favorite spot in the anchorage.
After a walk downtown to the Acme Grocery, we had dinner in the cockpit and took the dingy back in after dark to give Madison her walk. Using a weather app on Robert's iPad, we'd seen a storm sweeping across the Western Shore headed straight for us. As we came back to the boat we watched quite a light show in the western sky. We made it back aboard before the deluge came with a vengeance. The storm winds swung the boat about, but our anchor was well set and we weren't worried about it dragging, so the rain on the deck and rocking motion from the wind made for great sleeping.
On Wednesday morning as we were getting ready to bring Madison in to the park for her morning walk, we discovered that we had a couple of stowaways, a thumb-sized frog on Arwen's deck and a palm-sized one in the dingy. We later found another thumb-sized interloper. Did they hop aboard to ride out the storm? Turns out they were grey tree frogs. They sat very still and let us take all the pictures we wanted. We took them to the park and released them, then we spotted an interpretive sign about local amphibians.
The best bit of trivia we learned from the sign is that in Japan frogs are considered good luck. Maybe three aboard Arwen means three times charmed.The sign says one myth has it that bullfrogs descended from a great ancestor who could suck all the mosquitos out of a room with one breath. Another bit of trivia: Rumor has it that in the 18th century when Paris was surrounded by many swamps (a favorite home for frogs), visiting French nobility would refer to Parisians as frogs. Only later did the name get generalized to all French. Lucky French.
The sign also explained that amphibians breathe and drink through their skin. Chemicals in the air or water or even on your skin if you pick them up easily enter their bodies through contact. They are so sensitive to environmental changes that when they begin disappearing from an area it's a sign of an environmental problem, therefore they are called an indicator species. One hundred and twenty-two species of amphibians have disappeared since 1980 and 1,900 species or 32 percent of all species are in danger of becoming extinct globally, thanks to habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, and disease, according to the sign. Not so lucky for them - or other living things.
Meeting up with "Holdfast"
After breakfast we made our way to the library where I had planned to spend part of the day working on a project I am long overdue to finish, only to discover that the library Web site hasn't been updated and the summer hours on Wednesdays are 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. instead of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
We strolled through the library's lovely reading garden, wandered over to the Blue Crab Coffee Shop for coffee and chai and made our way back to the boat for lunch. As we were finishing up, we had a visit from our friends Dena and Myron from Holdfast who were also anchored in San Domingo Creek around a point of land so that we couldn't see their boat. Bob had run into them in the park earlier in the day. Among other things, we spent hours talking about boats and their travels since we met in 2011. It was getting dark when they left to turn on their anchor light. They're headed for Harness Creek where we may see them again in a few days. We've been following their blog and living on the water vicariously through their adventures for months, so it was wonderful getting to catch up with them.
Today, Thursday, is another cool, gorgeous day. After taking showers at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, a favorite haunt from two years ago, we headed back to the library where I spent most of the day with a break for lunch at the Blue Crab Coffee Shop. Robert and Madison sat outside the library for part of the day, then came back to the boat, where evidence left in the cabin (Robert's pillow) leads me to suspect they both took naps before coming back to get ice and pick me up.
08/12/2013, Solomon's Island, Md.
Water, water everywhere
So, our boat has been in a boatyard for nearly two years and we are energetically cleaning and refilling water tanks and getting her ready to relaunch.
I'm scrubbing down the V-berth and Robert has pulled a hose up to the boat, which is maybe 10-feet off the ground, from the edge of the boatyard and threaded it through the hatch above the water tank that's under the cabin floor. Robert goes back down the ladder and turns the water on. I hear an odd thumping noise and turn around to look through the doors that separate the V-berth from the cabin. The hose has come alive and is flailing from side to side thwacking floor, console, bulkhead and spraying ceiling, cushions, clean linen and me. Robert has forgotten to close the valve at the business end of the hose before turning it on and putting it in the water tank.
I begin yelling, which does no good because Robert is some distance and a ladder climb away. I finally wade in and close the valve. And thus it is that our misadventures afloat - well almost afloat - begin again. I should add that when Robert climbed back up the ladder and found me mopping up, he began laughing. This falls in the insult-to-injury category.
"We're all mad here." - Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Almost two years ago we put Arwen on the hard and headed back to the Western North Carolina mountains to spend six months rearranging our lives so we could spend more time on the boat. How six months turned into two years is a rabbit-hole kind of story best left for another day.
We returned to the Deltaville Marina boatyard July 31 eager to relaunch Arwen and head north, hoping to meet up with my nephew who lives in Australia and will be in Massachusetts at the end of August. We relaunched on Friday, Aug. 2. Heavy rain and adverse wind kept us in Deltaville until Wednesday, Aug. 7. We anchored in Jackson Creek, watched the osprey that liked to perch on a piling across from us and used the time to visit Yorktown and Williamsburg and to provision and fix minor problems.
On Wednesday, we had a great sail to Reedville on a broad reach with 10 to 15 knot winds from the south. We had planned to stay in Reedville overnight then move on to Solomon's Island, Md., but we stayed two additional nights because of small craft warnings and a forecast for high winds on the bay.
So far, Reedville gets our vote for best culinary delights. We had two fine meals at the Crazy Crab, exceptional crab salad from the Cockrell Creek Deli and my favorite, amaretto almond ice cream from Chitterchats.
But with each day we didn't move up the bay, our chances of making it far enough north to meet up with Ron and Chris were diminishing. We don't make overnight passages because Madison, who is now 16, wasn't introduced to sailing until she was 11 and isn't potty trained for the boat. She needs her regular walks. So we don't get anywhere very fast.
Ron and Chris offered to meet us part way, but we soon realized that we weren't going to make it far enough for them to make the trip in the time they have. This is a big disappointment, but maybe we'll have other opportunities.
Calvert Cliffs up close
We motored into North winds from Reedville to Solomon's Island on Saturday, Aug. 10, and have been on a mooring at Zahniser's Marina since. We took a long dingy ride this morning to get a close-up look at Calvert Cliffs. The cliffs run along the Maryland shore of the Chesapeake for about 24 miles. They were formed 10 to 20 million years ago when Southern Maryland was covered by a warm shallow sea. They are very unstable and landslides can be seen all along the shore line. It looks as though some houses built at the top are in danger of sliding into the bay. The erosion of the cliffs reveals prehistoric fossils of sharks, whales, rays and seabirds the size of small airplanes according to the Calvert Cliffs State Park website.
I would love to have seen a seabird fossil the size of a small plane, but alas, instead we saw helicopters the size of dinosaurs from the nearby military base. We took the dingy ashore a couple of times and looked for fossils, but didn't find any. On our way back, we did see four very fast boats that appeared to be military. They entered Back Creek ahead of us and docked at Zahnisers across from the moorings. We waved at the fit-looking young men (all men as far as we could see) who were aboard them as we put-putted back to Arwen.
Tomorrow we'll move across to the Eastern Shore and anchor in San Domingo Creek where I spent days watching a young osprey in 2011.
We left at 9 a.m. and pulled into our driveway in Hendersonville just after 5 p.m., almost exactly eight hours later. Most of the drive home is beautiful, so we will enjoy our trips back and forth this winter as we work on Arwen. We arrived home to find a lovely simple wreath on our door and dinner in our refrigerator, thanks to our wonderful, much-loved friends Sally and Licia. What a warm welcome to come home to. We had just enough time to break out our modest Halloween decorations and buy some bags of candy to mollify the monsters, misfits, princesses, goblins, and Harry Potters who showed on All Hallows Eve threatening madness and mayhem.
And so we are home until next spring when, if all goes well, we'll be on the water again.
Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge
We woke to a beautiful sunny day and spent the morning exploring the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, mostly from the car because it was so cold. The 2,285-acre island refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is located at the confluence of the Chester River and the Chesapeake Bay. Like Lake Mattamuskeet in Eastern North Carolina, it's a major feeding and resting place for migrating and wintering waterfowl. The endangered Delmarva fox squirrel and the threatened southern bald eagle can also be found here. The refuge had six miles of trails and roads that provide great views of the bay and opportunities to see the birds.
Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge
By early afternoon we were back in Chestertown where we parked downtown and walked to the docks. The streets hosted a ghoulish collection of characters bearing messages like "If I had a brain, I'd buy a house from Doug Ashley Real Estate." It was family day at the Downrigging Festival and children's activities ruled on the waterfront. The tall ships had gone sailing and weren't scheduled to be open for boarding until 2:30 p.m. We had miles to go, so we decided going aboard Kalmar Nyckel, Sultana, The Pride of Baltimore and the others would have to wait for another year. With a few stops along the way, we made it back to Deltaville just after the sun set. Robert repacked the car for our trip home and I made soup for dinner before we turned in early.
The cold rain kept us tucked in our cozy room most of the morning, but about noon we ventured out. After going by the Verizon store to ask why we kept getting kicked off the Internet by our air card (nice guy, best answer - the network doesn't work as well near water....) we went to the waterfront to see if any part of the festival hadn't been canceled because of the bitterly cold wind and rain.
We found a lively enough group in a warm tent down by the water listening to Them Eastport Oyster Boys. But since food was being served, Madison was forbidden, so we wandered down to look at the tall ships. They were supposed to be sailing and for $25, a person could go along, but the sails were canceled due to gale warnings. We got a kick out of looking at the ships though. The Kalmar Nyckel from Wilmington, Del., was most impressive. It is a re-creation of the first Swedish settlement ship to arrive in America. She's ornately carved with a wonderful cast of characters including a dog sticking its tongue out. She was launched in the fall of 1997. And did I mention that she's huge! She's 148 feet LOA with a 25-foot beam. The Kalmar Nyckel Foundation owns the present Kalmar Nyckel and uses her for educational purposes and as an ambassador for the state of Delaware. In 1638, the original Kalmar Nyckel brought a colony of Swedish, Finnish, German and Dutch settlers to the Delaware Valley where they established a permanent settlement called New Sweden in present-day Wilmington, Del. Kalmar Nyckel crossed the Atlantic round-trip four times, more than any other ship of the era.
A history by a descendant of a Kalmar Nyckel settler
We were freezing and though I would have loved to stand around and admire her for much longer, we moved on. On another dock we watched the "ship's doctor" use a very 20th century plastic pump to clear the bilge of a "jolly boat," the smallest tender a British ship of the Age of Sail would have carried. At 17 feet, she would have been stacked inside three other shore-going boats on the deck of a ship, or so her sailing master "Alastar Smee" by name, told us. We came upon "Alastar" (whose 21st century name is Patrick) as he was tugging on one of the lines holding "Vigilant" to the dock. Their ship's doctor was a midwife pressed into service when the real ship's doctor became indisposed, he said. The jolly boat was the easiest to launch and was used by the captain when he went ashore and for ferrying mail and supplies back and forth to the ship. "Alastar" speculated that the name "jolly" might have been attached to the boat because the crew that rowed her ashore had a chance to become "jolly" before returning. Vigilant was built in 1991 and belongs to Lloyd Robbins. She's a reconstruction of an 18th Century jolly boat from the ship Columbia commanded by a Captain Gray who explored the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792, according to the sign posted next to her.
There was so much to see but it was soooooo COLD. We tramped down every dock, but the wind was so strong it threatened to snatch my day pack out of my hands everytime I took it off my back. We finally retreated to the car and drove down the charming tree-lined streets with brick sidewalks around Chestertown's harbor heading for the outskirts where we could find fast food and coffee. We drove around a bit exploring the town, then camped out in the Verizon parking lot to connect to the Internet for a few minutes. Afterward, Robert brought me back to Rock Hall and he went back for a program at 5 p.m. about the building of Sultana.