Mon 28 May 2012
Anchored off St. Michel's, MD
[photo: gaff-rigged cat boat taking charter guests out for a sail]
We rested well, and were awakened right after dawn by the low rumble of a crabbing boat working his lines. We have never seen this method before, but it appears like there is a long line between two buoys, and every 8 feet on the line is some sort of bait. The boat very slowly runs down the line with a simple curved hook to pick up the line and a crabber with a net, scoops up any crabs eating the bait. One very nice thing for boaters about that method is the lack of a floating buoy for each crab trap. Those floating buoys and the lines attached to them are the bane of boaters since they can get wrapped around the propeller, which is a bad thing, to be sure.
Getting the anchor up manually was not a big problem, although it takes longer. The part that is a strain for the back is the same regardless of how the rode comes up; the last 5 feet is done manually. There is no doubt that yesterday and today brought significantly reduced back pain. It appears highly likely that the problem is limited to just the muscles and not a disc issue. If it is not even better by Annapolis in a few days, I will try to see someone to be sure.
It is a beautiful day, with a nice breeze from the S. The very frustrating thing about today, from a sailing perspective, is that the courses we had to take from Oxford to St. Michel's had us either too close into the wind, or with the wind almost directly astern of us. For the wind speed we had, neither case will let the wind be effective for us. I estimate that we only had the sail drawing effectively one-third of the time. The other factor was the tidal current. Had we left at 0300, or waited until 1400, we could have had the current beneficial much more than it was. Our departure at 0735 had the current against us almost the entire way.
Nevertheless, it was about 6.5 hours underway, and much of it was pleasant except in the Miles River while approaching St. Michel's. There were so many large power boats leaving and arriving that it was like a washing machine with their wakes intersecting and amplifying, especially in the shallower sections.
We are anchored just off the channel into the short harbor and we have very few boats around us; most who were here for the long weekend are now gone.
The dinghy dock is adjacent to the Crab Claw restaurant and Maritime Museum. It is a short walk to see the very attractive little town, and there is a full-size grocery store along that walk, plus numerous cute shops and eateries. Once back at the waterfront near the museum, we went into the Crab Claw for dinner, choosing to eat inside with the air conditioning.
We would not say the restaurant is great, but most of what we had was very good. The prices reflect a tourist town, but the view was superb and we enjoyed the visit. It is an incredibly gorgeous late afternoon on the boat and it will be a pleasant sleep, I am sure.
Tomorrow morning, I will change the oil in the main engine and then we will dinghy to the museum, which looks to be fantastic. then it is off for a very short run (maybe under sail the whole way) up the Wye River for some pastoral scenery.
Sun 27 May 2012
Anchored Flatty Cove, Oxford, MD
[photo: one of many cute little homes]
We slept in until 0630 and then went up to the Comfort Inn for our complimentary breakfast. Casting off all the lines was Diane's job, which she did with aplomb. It was a beautiful morning with a light breeze from the SSW and we even had a fair current up the bay for much of the passage.
There were several sailboats (turns out they were all Catalinas a little larger than ours) heading in the same direction, and they were astern of us by a half mile or so. Everyone was motoring as the wind was right on our stern and not strong enough to help. The race (I mean, uh, the three of us sailing in the same general direction) got interesting when I noted they were sailing the marked channel. After they passed us by motor only, I deviated to a course that would cut off some distance and give us the wind at a better angle. After a short while, they were a half mile abreast of us and no longer leaving us in their wake.
After several hours, when in the Choptank River, the fair current turned foul (against us), but we were positioned to go up the much shallower water to the E, which meant the current was less and so we started pulling away from them. When we finally turned more to the N to follow the Tred Avon River to Oxford and they were apparently heading more E for Cambridge, the "race" was over.
In the Choptank River, we counted over 40 sailboats at one time. Many were purely sailing just for the enjoyment, but there were a number of cruisers heading for a specific destination. We made the observation that the vast majority of boats with dinghies (on davits or towed behind) had substantial cockpit coverings. Almost all the boats without dinghies had no covering. You can certainly see the sails better, but long-term cruisers can't afford to be in the sun (or inclement weather) too long.
We passed by Oxford and continued another 10 minutes to Flatty Cove where there is clear area for anchoring and much less boat traffic (and annoying wakes). Following a brief rest, we lowered the dinghy and headed into town for some exploration. It turns out there is no town center; we landed at Schooner's Restaurant, tied up the dinghy and walked to Morris Street where there are some historic homes, a park, a small museum, and a store (that seems to have a little of a wide variety of things).
It was in the high 80s with blazing sun in the clear skies; the nice breeze on the water was absent ashore and we (especially Duane) were hot. On the way back from the walk, we patronized Schooner's for a cold beer in the air conditioning, then took the dinghy back to Diva Di where we found the breeze was still delightful and keeping the boat interior comfortable.
Dinner was the leftover shrimp Fra Diavlo and the leftover chicken in lemon caper butter sauce, along with fresh asparagus from the local market. We are trying not to have anything very perishable when we arrive at Annapolis, for that is where we will (likely) rent a car and drive north to visit family over a week's time. I say "likely" because we have another recommendation for a mechanic in Worton Creek on the eastern shore, one day from Annapolis. After discussions with that person on Tuesday, we will see what the real plan is. We will still go to Annapolis to visit with Bill and Linda, of course.
Sat 26 May 2012
Docked at Beacon Marina, Solomon's Island, MD
[photo: one of many waterfront pubs on the island]
It was a great night's sleep once we went below with the hatches closed. Apparently, several 50-something guys that clean other people's boats as a side job think that they should have loud conversations between them even at 2100.
Diane commented this morning that it was a very civilized way to start the day. We took our time down below, then walked up to the Comfort Inn for our complimentary breakfast (very good coffee) and then sat reading the Wall Street Journal in the early light on a nice bench overlooking the waterfront. Of course, there was the always-appreciated use of a full-size shoreside toilet to make it complete.
Having it available, we turned on the air conditioning and were glad we did as it is shaping up to be a hot day again. Despite that, we got out the bikes and rode around the relatively small area. It turned out that Solomon's Island gets a middling grade on bike friendliness. There are some places with a wide shoulder along the main road and some decent sidewalks, but sometimes there is nothing but a narrow road and no shoulder, so you are trusting that the cars will see you and swerve around you. If you stick to just the safer bike-riding areas, it is still a worthwhile ride for the scenery and exercise.
One cool place we visited was the Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center. There is a path through the woods with some large and substantial pieces of sculpture, but what was unique for us were the many dozens of "je ne sais quoi" scattered in between the major pieces. We really don't know if there is a term for them; they ranged from wacky bird houses, to dinosaur figures, to painted tree stumps, to castles, and lots more. It was a very unique experience and we are glad we happened upon it.
On the way back from our northern excursion, we passed the West Marine store where (traditionally) they serve complimentary hot dogs, chips, and sodas for a few hours midday during Memorial Day weekend. We stopped for a free lunch and had a really good quality hot dog that was grilled just to our liking. Complimentary breakfast, free lunch; do I know how to show a girl a good time or what?
Down in the southern end of the island, the tourists were thronging the sidewalks and boardwalk. We were looking for some fresh fish, but the seafood markets said all their catch was going to the restaurants for the big Memorial Day influx. The one thing they did have was some incredible looking jumbo shrimp for a fair price, so we got some of that. That place also served cold beer, and when we checked Diane's watch, coincidentally, it was beer-thirty.
Back at the boat, the air conditioning felt great after the hot ride in the blazing sun. It is only supposed to reach the low 80s in temperature today, the humidity is low, and there is a breeze, but that sun is hot! I know what it can get like here in July and August and I don't think it is any more comfortable than south Florida.
As Diane was making Gin n' Tonics to take to the pool, she said the tonic tasted funny. I agreed, and then realized that when I used the SodaStream to carbonate the water yesterday, I forgot to add the syrup. Oh, well. That was easily fixable.
Being at the pool, relaxing and reading, was very enjoyable. Not everyone wants to do the same thing, of course, so there was a family of 20-somethings chatting away, and then their parents arrived. We had a nice conversation about cruising and some of the young men's military service. That was all good until the sub-teens arrived with the jumping and splashing and yelling. Hey, I was a kid once, so it was just time for me to go back to Diva Di to chill with Clyde.
It was almost supper time, so the preparations for the shrimp fra diavlo (with the last of the broccoli) began. When I just started cooking, I heard some loud clomping on the deck and wondered why Diane was making so much noise coming back. I was surprised that she didn't come below and when she actually arrived 30 minutes later, I found out the twin-engine small sport fisherman boat next to us had left the slip (I heard that part) and then lost an engine, so he almost collided with several boats along the fairway (ours included). The clomping was someone trying to fend him off, but we have so much gear in the stern, plus the large inflatable dinghy hanging off the davits, that there was no way he could do that even if he tried.
As I was in the middle of making the sauce, the propane tank ran empty, so there was a 10 minute intermission while I changed to the spare. Before quite finishing dinner, the boat returned, but this time he seemed to have complete control. Diane and I both popped up to help him get safely into the slip.
We had a lot of exercise today and a lot of sun so it will, again, be an early night.
Fri 25 May 2012
Docked at Beacon Marina, Solomon's Island, MD
[photo: freighter passing us shortly after the fog lifted]
We enjoyed a very restful night and got up well after dawn. The tide was low and the current was with us for a very short while, but then we had to endure a foul current (albeit low) most of the way to Solomon's Island. A few hours into the day's passage, we noticed lowered visibility to the west and eventually motor-sailed into fog. At first, the visibility was about 1 mile (based upon sightings of navigation aids), but it got down to about 200 yards at one point.
Of course, we had our navigation lights and steaming light on, plus I had as much of the sail out as possible to make us more visible to others. The AIS feature of the VHF radio alerted us to several large and not-so-large commercial vessels. Only one, a small crabbing boat, required evasive action when she loomed out of the fog with no lights showing. It was not particularly tense or scary, but those were two hours where concentration was required and there was no time to glance at a novel or become distracted.
When the visibility started to improve dramatically, we were able to see numerous pleasure craft plying the waters near the western shore of the bay. Mosquitos and biting flies don't seem to have a problem with limited visibility, however, as they attacked. The cockpit I scrubbed last evening is again littered with the gooey remains of insects of all kinds.
It seemed like a much longer run than it was (just over 7 hours), but we finally arrived at Solomon's Island and filled up with Diesel fuel and found our slip at the Beacon Marina. For those cruisers following in our wake, the Beacon Marina was chosen because it seemed the least likely to be full on Memorial Day weekend. There are pros (free laundry, free electric hook-up, free continental breakfast at the co-located Comfort Inn, and a decent pool) and cons (small bath house and tiny finger piers), but for $1.50 per foot, it is not bad.
Our weather on this cruise has generally been pretty good. We have had few days that were too cold or too hot; today it was pretty hot in the dying breeze inside a protected marina under the blazing sun. We elected to hook up the power cord for air conditioning just before we left for the shower and pool and we are glad we did (and Clyde the cat in his fur coat probably is, too).
Dinner was chicken medallions in a lemon/white wine/butter/caper sauce with pasta and (yes, again) fresh broccoli. It will be an early night to bed, so this will be posted now.
Thu 24 May 2012
Docked at Park's Marina, Tangier Island, VA
[photo: A nice B & B on the island]
The evening was very restful except for the occasional swell that rocked the boat. That would not have been an issue, but the boom gooseneck fitting "decided" it was time to squeak every time it moved with the boat's motion. I got up to lubricate it early in the morning.
Owing to the tidal currents, it was best for us to leave a bit later than usual, so we weighed anchor at 0820 (using the manual mode of the windlass, but with patience and a little forethought, it wasn't so bad). The wind was stronger than forecast, but it was in a favorable direction for us to motor-sail and make decent time, despite having a foul current. After about 5 hours, we were safely in the western portion of the Tangier Island harbor.
The sail was nice in that we were in open water with plenty of depth and not much to hit. The wind opposed the current, however, so the 2-3 foot waves were rather steep, but fortunately from astern. We had several close encounters with large commercial shipping, but taking bearings on the ships and watching those bearings change meant that we would either pass astern or ahead. Passing ahead is not a good idea unless it is well ahead; I like a mile or more.
We have an AIS (Automated Identification System) receiver on our VHF, so we had the information broadcast by the vessel as to its course and speed, then the VHF (tied in with the chartplotter/GPS) calculates how far away it is from us, the CPA (closest point of approach), and the TCPA (Time to CPA). It is another tool to help you navigate safely.
Getting alongside the Park's Marina, our information indicated we should not expect Milton Parks to answer the phone or the VHF radio, but to just tie up at the office dock and await him. While we waited, another sailboat came in and Duane assisted them with getting tied up into a slip. They had reached Milton earlier and told them to take either slip 6/7 or 12/13. With them in 6, I asked if they would assist us getting into slip 12. The current on the beam made it challenging, but it all worked out well.
We have been here for well over an hour and still have not seen Milton, so we are heading ashore with the bikes and see what there is to see. [Later] Well, that was a most interesting adventure. The island is a throwback to the watermen lifestyles of a bygone era. Most of the homes on the tiny island are obviously kept up with pride, although there are a few in very sad repair. There were numerous golf carts, mopeds, and bicycles, but we only saw 4 cars or trucks. There are no bars, and the restaurant we ate in served no alcohol. Some cruisers have likened it to Man O' War cay in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas, and I understand the comparison.
There are only a few main roads, and two cars cannot pass on any of the roads we saw. We have no idea how they handle that eventuality. Everyone was friendly, and for a weekday, there were a surprising number of people sitting on front porches or riding around in some small conveyance of some sort. The area by the marina is used to attract tourists to various small restaurants with all sorts of hand-lettered signage touting the "best crab cakes on the island."
There was, indeed, a handful of interesting looking eateries clustered in one small area (downtown?) We even left our bikes (unlocked - I think they would be mortified if you locked your possessions here) and strolled to the long beach on the south end. It was nice, but we didn't dawdle.
The E side of the island was much like the W, and we completed the loop in a very relaxing hour, with many stops along the way. The last stop was at the grocery store (yes, there is only one, and it is much smaller than a 7-Eleven), but it was surprisingly well-stocked. We got some fresh fruit.
Back at Diva Di, we saw a sailboat coming in with some difficulty docking in the strong cross-current. We offered assistance, but the slips have a 6 foot long finger pier so there is nothing for a helper to do until the boat is already committed and mostly in the slip. After helping them tie up, we invited them over for cocktails since it was almost 1630. They were over in a very short while and we had a very pleasant chat for almost an hour.
Not knowing when the restaurants might close, we left for dinner around 1800 and enjoyed several different crab-based appetizers and soups, all of which were delicious. Three of us had the soft-shell crab sandwich (we all ignored the Wonder bread), with some fried potatoes of some kind or another. Diane had the crab cake and we all thought the food was great.
Getting back to the marina, we finally found the elusive Milton Parks and he came over to the boat to collect. As expected, he (in his early 80s and a widow for a month) was more interested in chatting than collecting the fee, but I finally got him to confirm the price of $30 for the night and settled up. To say he is a "character" sounds trite, but he surely is. He is somewhat deaf, but we got along fine, and his mind is very sharp.
I finally disengaged when our dinner companions came back and wanted to pay him. I needed to fill the water tanks and not only was the light fading fast, but the no-seeums (almost invisible biting flea-like bugs) were coming out.
We will head for Solomon's Island in the morning. With absolutely zero signal strength for the cell phone and no Wi-Fi here, I do not know what the tide height/current will be when we want to leave, so we will have to take what we get.
Wed 23 May 2012
Anchored off Gwynn Island, VA
[photo: CV 77 Aircraft Carrier in Norfolk, VA]
The evening was a comfortable one, and Duane was awake just before 0500, having had enough sleep. Diane got up before 0600 and we cast off at 0620 for a long day's run. We both decided that having been at Portsmouth for 2 nights, we were fine with a long day, especially in good weather.
Getting out of the congested port area took almost 2 hours, with a vigilant lookout for other vessels (especially the large, commercial type) as well as steering to the other side of the channel when passing US Navy warships at berth, so that we would not have to deal with a patrol boat chasing after us. We stayed on the extreme edge of the main shipping channels so that we could duck into shallower water if there was any conflict, but it was unnecessary.
We did pass several of the very new cruisers, as well as the CV77 aircraft carrier (will have to look that up when I turn on the internet connection). There were at least a dozen large missile frigates and cruisers in port, too, all behind a barrier to help prevent terrorist attacks from boats. Consulting the chart, we deviated from the main channel and headed more to the NNW, staying in adequate water depths, of course. We saw several sailboats following us from a mile away and by the time 4 hours had passed, they were both way ahead of us. We were under power using the headsail to a minimal effect, but they were just using their much more powerful engines and depleting their larger fuel tanks much faster, too.
It was a peaceful passage for most of the way after leaving the port because there was no shallow water to worry about, no narrow channels, few navigation aids, and few boats to be concerned with. It was one time when I could read my book, and glance up at the instruments and our surroundings every minute. That ceased to be the case a few hours later as biting flies came aboard. There only seemed to be 3-5 around at a time, but the moment you directed your attention to something, they would light on your ankles and bite (drawing blood). They were the size of house flies, but terribly annoying. I finally devoted myself to killing as many as possible and then realized that although I only saw a few at one time, no matter how many I killed, there would always be that many again. Where do these flies come from so many miles from land?
Two cool things that happened were some flyovers by an F-15 fighter jet, and a hovercraft amphibious vessel (probably out of Little Creek, VA) zooming around. Your ear gets well-tuned to the normal sounds on your boat, and you suddenly realize something is different. Then you understand it is the "thunder" of a jet, or the sound of the hovercraft finally reaching your ears from 5 miles away.
We suffered a slight adverse current leaving the port, but then enjoyed a strong beneficial current all the way to our day's destination, Gwynn Island, VA. There is nothing special here that we want to see ashore, but since the actual and forecast winds were from the SE and S, this is a great place to tuck up. Unlike the Intracoastal Waterway, where many owners of slow boats (me included) are loathe to deviate miles off the "magenta line" for a night's stop, the Chesapeake forces you to do that regularly.
Diane is content to chill on the boat and not bother with lowering the dinghy to explore ashore. We haven't used the dinghy in over 12 days. It had better work when we need it!
Dinner was delicious (yes, Marilyn, there was broccoli) and while Diane cleaned up the dishes, Duane tried to scrub the cockpit clean of all the fly remains and other debris that magically appears. Following that, we had a short, serious discussion about the cruise. There is no question that far more major and minor problems have developed than we thought likely. The other reality, which I know many of our cruising friends have already surmised, is that the pace we have kept is impeding our enjoyment. We know we would enjoy more if we didn't have so many hours to run, on average.
So, the decision is final: we will plan to turn around at Gloucester, MA and skip points farther north. We have met a lot of cruisers on this trip who love Maine, but who tell us horror stories about the fog and the need for RADAR, which we do not have. That reinforces our decision, as well.