We have been spending the summer and autumn cruising the north-eastern seaboard of the United States not just to see something of the country, but also to escape the Caribbean hurricane season. We appreciated however that there was still a small risk of getting a hurricane even as far north as Maine. We have been checking the National Hurricane Centre's forecast most days to watch for storms developing further south, and always have one eye on where the nearest safe anchorage - or hurricane hole - might be. The riskiest months are August and September, when New York, for example, might expect one "named storm" every seven years. The probability of a named storm occurring in the upper reaches of the Chesapeake in October is about one in 50 years. In fact the State of Maryland has only received two direct hits by a hurricane in any month within the last 150 years.
We therefore thought this would be a good time for Amanda to visit her family back in the UK, leaving me with the boat safely moored in the Annapolis area. Friends Mike and Marguerite, who had crossed the Atlantic around the same time as us, live in a house overlooking the Severn River at the mouth of Saltworks Creek, and they said that we would be welcome to use a vacant Naval College buoy there. Amanda had been home a few days and I was making good progress with some planned maintenance when I saw that a large storm was brewing in the central Caribbean Sea. By Thursday 25th, Hurricane Sandy had caused mayhem in Jamaica and Cuba and was forecast to cross the Bahamas and continue north-eastwards off the coast of America. In normal circumstances a hurricane would tend to stay offshore and eventually peter out, but an area of high pressure off Greenland and a wave of cold air blowing eastwards across the U.S. was predicted to steer the hurricane straight towards the coast of New Jersey near Atlantic City. It would then continue across land, passing within about 50 miles of Annapolis before turning north again.
My mooring near the mouth of Saltworks Creek was required by the Navy, so on Friday I decided to make an early move to bag a sheltered spot further up the creek, which is quite narrow and surrounded by high banks and forest on each side. With little swinging room to spare, I went out in the dinghy to survey the shoreline, obstructions and shallows using a GPS and lead-line, then determined the best place to lay the main anchor for the forecast directions of the strongest winds. I set the anchor with 40m of chain in 4m depth of water. Initially, Egret was lying to our second anchor, and this could potentially assist later should the main anchor start to drag. I prepared a third anchor and rode ready for deployment if necessary. I removed and stowed below decks the genoa, mainsail and loose equipment such as the spray-hood, solar panels and life-buoys in order to minimise windage. The wind was forecast to build rapidly during Monday morning, and I was very happy to accept Mike and Marguerite's invitation to move into their home. They had also moved their boat Ithaca up the creek from the potentially exposed dock in front of their house.
Through the windows we watched the wind kicking up a vicious chop on the Severn River, the leaves and twigs being blown from the trees and the rain lashing down. On television we watched reports of flooding and damage as the storm hit land, and of the sinking of the replica square-rigger HMS Bounty off Cape Hatteras with the loss of two lives. Sandy technically lost its hurricane status as it reached the coast, but didn't diminish in strength and was dubbed "Superstorm Sandy" by the Weather Channel. The mains electricity soon went down but luckily we had a generator to provide limited power. The barometer dropped from 993 to 963mb in 12 hours. According to data recorded at Thomas Point Lighthouse a few miles away out in Chesapeake Bay, the wind blew a steady 55 knots at the height of the storm around midnight, with gusts to 70 knots. The direction veered from due north on Monday morning through north-west for most of the night to south by midday Tuesday. The strength of wind in the creek would have been quite a bit less, thank goodness. It got very cold and rained pretty well continuously for 48 hours.
On Tuesday morning we headed off by car through the forest lanes to check our boats. A lot of trees had come down and we had to make a couple of detours where they'd fallen across the road. Workers were out repairing the overhead power lines. The boats looked fine from the shore, but a tidal surge had raised the water half a metre above the dock preventing access to our dinghies. We went back later when the water had gone down enough to go out and check on board our boats. I stayed ashore until Wednesday morning when I went back to raise the anchors, which took a considerable time as they were so well dug in and caked in black mud, and move Egret back to the mooring.
Apart from some flooding in the lower areas of the town, Annapolis seems to have escaped the worst of the storm. Thankfully all the cruising friends in America that we've been in touch with are also safe. It was a different matter for regions on the right hand side of the storm which suffered the effects of onshore winds. The Outer Banks of New Jersey, New York and Long Island have suffered horrendous damage from the winds, waves and 4.5m tidal surge. We can count ourselves lucky that the hurricane didn't come ashore further south. It's the first of November and Amanda is flying back today. We are looking forward to getting back to normal cruising life, although we still have to remain vigilant as the hurricane season doesn't officially end until the end of the month.
Patrick and Egret have safely survived hurricane Sandy. Amanda is hoping to fly back from the UK as soon as the airports are open.
(Apologies for the gap in our blogs. We'll try to catch up, but thought you'd like to read about Superstorm Sandy sooner rather than later!)
People had told us that the best time of year for sailing the Chesapeake would be October and November, and the shoreline of the upper reaches certainly looked beautiful in their early autumn colours. What little wind there was, was dead ahead, but the tide helped the engine carry us onwards in company with a small armada of fellow "snowbirds". It was clouding over as we reached the cross-roads with the Baltimore Channel and started to drizzle soon after we dropped the anchor behind Dobbins Island, in the Magothy River. By morning, it was raining heavily: set in for the day. We got underway after lunch and continued southwards, passed under the Bay Bridge - the pylons hidden in the low cloud, rounded Thomas Point Lighthouse and entered the South River. It finally stopped raining as we anchored in Crab Creek in perfect calm, surrounded by private docks and homes We were there to attend an Ocean Cruising Club dinner to be held next evening in a marquee in the garden of Wolfgang and Gemma, the port officers for Annapolis. It was a great success with 45 guests enjoying a very sociable evening.
After morning coffee and boat-made madeleines on "Dos Por" with Mark, Marta and their boys, we got under way and motored to a marina up river to fill the diesel and water tanks and empty the holding tank. We then retraced our route back to Thomas Point, turned up the Severn River and picked up a mooring in Saltworks Creek, where knew that Mike and Marguerite had finally arrived home after their 14 year circumnavigation on board Ithaca. We were delighted to be able to renew their acquaintance, first made in St.Lucia six months before, over drinks in the porch (i.e. veranda) of their home overlooking the Severn River. They have rapidly settled back into local life, including getting involved with tutoring under-privileged local schoolchildren. Mike has even gone back to w-w-w-work, helping out at his son's business - a conspiracy he suspects to get him out of the house! Eye Candy, Innamorata, Yindee Plus and Macushla all turned up in the Creek over the next few days. We had several sundowners and meals together either on boats or in M & M's home, and on Sunday we were all invited to a party ashore where we met several of the neighbours.
The Annapolis Sailboat Show, one of the biggest in the USA, is held in the open, under canvas and afloat, rather like the Southampton show. Like many fellow cruisers, we had timed our return to Annapolis to coincide with the event. We made two visits to look around, meet people and resolve a few technical problems. We also attempted - rather unsuccessfully - to avoid spending huge amounts of much money on new equipment. Perhaps the most impressive exhibit was an old and battered 27ft grp sailing cruiser named St. Brendan, which had recently completed a circumnavigation of the Americas, via the North-West Passage and Cape Horn, sailed non-stop and single-handed by a young local sailor called Matt Rutherford.
The City of Annapolis is home to the US Naval Academy, which dominates the waterfront with a series of magnificent buildings, boating facilities and sports fields. Each morning and evening, a dozen or so rowing eights came past our creek on training sessions. The rest of the city has a lot to offer both for visitors and as a place to live, as well as being the main yachting centre in the region. We took the opportunity to have a good look round, stock up with supplies and spares, have some minor medical check-ups and treatment and generally make ourselves at home - thanks in a big way to Mike's and Marguerite's generous hospitality. The weather was getting noticeably chilly with heavy morning dew and condensation on the cabin windows and deck-hatches, so we were thankful that we had a well insulated Swedish yacht with an efficient heater. Flocks of geese kept passing overhead flying south - reminding us that we should be following them soon; but not yet, as our insurance company required us to stay north of 35 degrees until the 1st December to avoid hurricanes. Ironic really, in the light of subsequent events!
We wanted to see a bit more of the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, so after a week in Saltworks Creek we set off for Oxford, on the Tred Avon River. We enjoyed a boisterous sail down and across the Bay, reaching the Town Creek just as it was getting dark. Next morning we rowed ashore to look round the town of Oxford, a small community with one general store, a small museum, an even smaller library, lots of up-market homes and a branch of the renowned Hinkley Boatyard. The place isn't quite in the same league as our own Oxford though: perhaps we should have sailed to nearby Cambridge instead! Fortunately, Innamorata turned up next morning, and Carol and Steve invited us over for supper. There was a good breeze blowing for the sail back to Annapolis, with the odd spatter of rain which developed into a real downpour by the time we anchored in Weems Creek, another branch off the Severn River. Matador and Yindee Plus were also anchored there - another opportunity for friendly gathering. After a couple of nights, we moved back round the corner to Saltworks Creek, where I planned to remain with the boat for the next fortnight whilst Amanda flew home to the UK to visit her mother, family and friends.
We transited the bridge out of Lagoon Pond at 0900 and headed south-west down Vineyard Sound. We were almost close hauled, and the stiff breeze blowing against a two knot tide made for some very lively sailing. Once clear of Cuttyhunk, the southernmost island in the chain dividing the Sound from Buzzard's Bay, the wind and tide eased up a little, providing ideal sailing conditions for the remaining 30 miles to Block Island. We passed through a narrow cut on the west side of the island to Great Salt Pond, an almost completely enclosed lagoon roughly a mile across in either direction.
Block Island is a very popular destination for yachts, being within a day's sail of Long Island, Newport and Buzzard's Bay, but now it was late in the season and both the anchorage and the island ashore were relatively deserted. Firefly was one of the few other boats at anchor, and Leo and Poupette invited us over for supper. We spent a sunny, blustery day cycling round the southern half of the island, and immediately felt at home there. It could have been the English countryside, with narrow lanes, small patches of woodland and small fields bordered by dry-stone walls. There were even cows grazing - another first sighting for us in America! We rode out first to the spit by the harbour entrance, then round the west coast road and down a narrow track to the beach where we had a picnic lunch. It was then a long, slow climb up to Mohegan Bluffs, where there is a steep timber staircase with 250 steps down to the foot of the cliffs, 50m below. A bit further on we stopped off at the South-East Lighthouse, a large Victorian brick building which was recently slid bodily about 100m back from the crumbling cliff edge. We then enjoyed a downhill ride all the way to Old Harbour, the ferry port and only town. We stopped off for tea and a bun, before calling in at the supermarket to buy provisions. Finally we rode some way beside Crescent Beach, which is open to the full force of the Atlantic rollers, before returning to our dinghy.
We spent three days at Block Island whilst a spell of strong south-westerlies passed over, and set off as soon as there was a break in the weather. We headed west over an easy 2m swell towards Long Island, continuing sailing down its coastline about three miles offshore for the next hundred miles. Early on, the Coastguard must have spotted our AIS transmission for they called us up on the vhf asking for our destination and gross registered tonnage. There were no further questions on hearing our GRT was only 12! We saw very few other vessels along the way: just a few fishing boats near the harbour inlets, a tug-boat with barge and a cluster of ships at anchor. It rained for a while and the wind freshened during the night, obliging us to take in two reefs at 0300. We crossed the Ambrose Channel at dawn, passing astern of a cruise ship bound for New York, rounded Sandy Hook Point and transited Raritan Bay to Atlantic Highlands, where we anchored behind the breakwater in the lee of the high ground at 0830. Atlantic Highlands, at around 75m above sea level, is the highest point of land on the east coast of America south of Maine, which just goes to show how low the rest of the coastline is. We sat out the rest of the day and night to allow another belt of rain and strong south-westerly winds pass over.
Next day was a Saturday, and we headed out to sea accompanied by dozens of angling boats and passed many more anglers lining the beach at Sandy Hook Point. We had to keep the motor running for most of the day to help the sails maintain our required speed as we headed down the coast of the New Jersey. At one point a flock of monarch butterflies overtook us on their long migration south to Mexico - they looked so feeble it's a wonder how they manage it. A tiny bird then landed on our steering wheel and desperately clung on for about five minutes as the autopilot swung it from side to side. The wind picked up at tea-time to 10 to 14 knots so we were able to cut the engine and enjoy a peaceful beam reach through the night. The neon lights of Atlantic City lit up the skyline to the west and later the clouds cleared to reveal a bright moon ahead. We had timed our arrival at the mouth of the Delaware for a couple of hours before sunrise to catch the first of the new flood tide. Unfortunately we couldn't quite lay the course up the estuary, so we had to start the engine again to point a bit higher and keep up enough speed to cover the 60 mile passage in one tide. We entered the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal at 1330, and two hours later reached the tight little anchorage in Engineer's Cove, the harbour for Chesapeake City, at the far end of the 14 mile long canal.
Chesapeake City sounds as if it ought to be a large urban community, which is probably what the original developers of the Canal intended, along with Delaware City at the other end. However it never grew beyond the small town which serviced the first pair of four locks that were originally part of the system when the canal was first opened in 1829. The locks were removed when the canal was converted to sea level operation in 1927, but the two steam beam engines which pumped water into the locks have been preserved, the engine house now open as a museum. Next day was the 1st of October, and the early morning was chilly with a heavy dew and mist over the anchorage. We spent a couple of hours visiting the museum and walking round the pretty little town centre before taking the first of the tide down the Elk River and out into the Chesapeake Bay.
Across the water, the tall buildings of Boston were lit up in an orange glow, reflecting the light from the rising sun. Planes were taking off from the international airport at 90 second intervals and high-speed commuter ferries swept in from the outlying suburbs. We winched up the anchor, headed down harbour and out through "the Narrows" between the offshore islands, where flocks of birds flew overhead in V-formation, leading our way south. We needed to reach the Cape Cod Canal in time to catch the last couple of hours of the fair tide. The current through it runs at up to 5 knots in each direction because the tides in Cape Cod Bay and Buzzards Bay are three hours out of phase. The 17 mile long canal was first mooted by George Washington in 1776, but due to the enormity of the project it wasn't completed until 1912. Prior to the opening, around twenty or thirty ships were being wrecked on the treacherous outer banks of Cape Cod each year. The original, constrictive bascule bridges were replaced by two fixed highway bridges with 188m spans 41m high, and a vertical lift railroad bridge with distinctive, pointed towers 83m high, in 1935. The latter is kept raised except for one or two trains a day, so we were a bit disconcerted as we rounded a bend to see it in the down position. We hadn't heard a warning over the vhf radio by the controller and hadn't connected the whistle of a nearby train with the possibility that the bridge might close! We were relieved that the current had died down, otherwise we would have had to do a quick about turn and motor hard to stem the tide until it was raised again.
We anchored in Onset Harbour, situated at the end of the canal, which we hoped would provide good enough shelter from the southerly gale that had been forecast. We'd called there on our way north but hadn't been ashore. This time we did, and found it to be a pleasant, unassuming holiday town. It has a lovely sandy beach and the essential facilities that cruisers need such as a small supermarket, laundrette and hardware store, all within a short walk of the dock. There was even a farmers' market, although as it was near the end of the season it was down to only one stall, but this stocked the best produce we'd seen for a long time. There was also a good, busy, if slightly quirky, pizzeria. Firefly was in the harbour for the same reason as us, so we invited Leo and Poupette for supper on the evening before the storm was due. Next night the wind blew at up to 45 knots, but fortunately we both survived unscathed, unlike the time we'd shared an anchorage during the storm at Cape May.
After three nights at Onset, we topped up with diesel and water and had the holding tank pumped out, then headed off down Buzzards Bay. Rather lazily, we just set the genoa for the short downwind leg to Hadley Harbour, a pretty little cove on the east side of Buzzard's Bay which is completed hidden from the open sea. The owner of the surrounding land provides free moorings and allows visitors to land on a tiny, wooded island, so we rowed ashore to explore it. Moonshadow, a U.S. boat on our radio net, was also moored there, and John and Deb came over for drinks in the evening.
The tide runs ferociously through Woods Hole Strait, which connects Buzzard's Bay to Vineyard Sound, so we made sure we got through at slack water. We were heading for Martha's Vineyard, a large island to the south of Cape Cod. We anchored in Vineyard Haven Harbour at 1030, but the force 5 north-easterly kicked up such an uncomfortable chop that we made enquiries about moving to Lagoon Pond, on the other side of a causeway. As it was out of season, an opening of the road bridge is supposed to be booked 24 hours in advance, but fortunately the harbour master was able to make arrangements to let us through at 1700, although we actually had to wait another 10 minutes for an ambulance to pass. Lagoon Pond is a large, enclosed and shallow inlet, which, on the calm, autumnal morning that followed, felt almost like Chichester Harbour. We took the bikes ashore to see a bit of the island, riding firstly to Oak Bluffs, once a Methodist summer camp. Originally the participants stayed in tents, but later they built rows of "gingerbread" cottages which, along with the 1884 "Flying Horses" Carousel, are among the unique attractions of the present-day popular holiday resort. Edgartown, by contrast, has a more sophisticated air, with streets full of elegant neo-classical houses built by wealthy whaling captains. Today the town seems to be a popular venue for weddings, and the half dozen we encountered were very lucky to have had such perfect weather for the occasion. A short ferry-ride away from Edgartown is the island of Chappaquiddick, the location of summer homes for the wealthy, including the Kennedy family. On our way back, we stopped off in the town of Vineyard Haven, which is the main ferry port for Martha's Vineyard. We stocked up on provisions before packing up the bikes and carting everything back to Egret in the dinghy.
We raised the anchor just as the sun was lifting above the horizon on a crisp, clear and chilly morning. We motor-sailed away from the islands of Maine in amazing visibility - what a contrast to the foggy day on which we had arrived! We rounded Cape Elizabeth and headed south-west out into the open sea. Each time we rose to the top of the long swell created far away by Hurricane Leslie, we caught sight of the next Cape, fifty miles ahead. By early afternoon the wind had got up enough to sail the rest of the way to Gosport Harbour, where we picked up a mooring for the night. This isn't quite the Gosport we know back home - it is a remote spot amongst the sparsely inhabited Isles of Shoals - but the nearest city on the mainland is called Portsmouth, in New Hampshire.
Dawn arrived with a pink sky as we slipped the mooring and motored away from the Isles of Shoals. We rounded Cape Ann as the day warmed up under a hazy sun, continued past Gloucester and, in the early afternoon, anchored in Salem Harbour. It was a long dinghy ride through the mooring field to the town and when we got there we found no public landing to get ashore, but fortunately a friendly marina let us tie up our dinghy for the day. Salem had been one of the wealthiest ports in America in the 18th century through privateering and trade, particularly with the East Indies. The town has many fine old buildings, including the imposing Customs House, the "House of Seven Gables", and dozens of elegant homes lining the streets. The Peabody Essex Museum organises tours of some of these, which are all furnished in their original style. The Museum has a particularly fine maritime art section, and at the time of our visit had an exhibition of stunning photographs by Ansel Adams entitled "At the Water's Edge". The local tourist industry, unfortunately, has focussed more on the town's infamous witch trials of 1692. A few young girls had accused nearly two hundred people of witchcraft, resulting in mass hysteria and some extraordinary trials at which twenty men and women were sentenced to death.
Next morning, we took the dinghy round the headland to Marblehead, home to the prestigious Boston Yacht Club. Its harbour is crammed with yachts on moorings and, with its busy, narrow streets and yachty designer stores the small town reminded us rather of Hamble in Hampshire. Its most historic building is the three-storey mansion built by ship owner Jeremiah Lee in 1768. Although built of timber, the exterior facing was cut, bevelled and painted to imitate stone ashlar blocks to give the impression of it being a grand house in the English style. The interior has survived remarkably intact, with original mahogany panelling and British hand-painted wallpaper.
In the afternoon a fresh breeze carried us round to Boston, where we arrived just before dark. We found a place to anchor opposite the city between some derelict quays and the Hyatt airport hotel. Whilst not ideal as it was quite exposed to passing river traffic and the noise of aircraft, it was reasonably accessible and gave us a stunning view of the city. We could watch the giant sculpture of skyscrapers change in mood from early morning, through the day into dusk and darkness. We even managed to find a small public landing stage near the city centre where we could secure the dinghy. Over the course of two days we walked the length of the "Freedom Trail". Marked by a line of red bricks in the pavement, this connects sixteen sites that were significant in the American Revolutionary story. These include the old corner book store, several churches and cemeteries, the home of Paul Revere, a silversmith, bell founder and leading revolutionary, and the Old South Meeting House, where 5,000 colonists gathered in 1773 to protest about the British tax on tea which led to them dumping 342 crates into the harbour: the event that became known as the Boston Tea Party.
At the far end of the trail is the 67m high granite obelisk which commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major conflict of the American Revolution. We joined the line of tourists winding their way slowly up the staircase to the top to get the views across Boston and its harbour. Finally, we visited the 1797 frigate USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat. She was nicknamed "Old Ironsides" during the War of 1812 after a sailor commented on how shot bounced off her oak hull as if it were made of iron. The ship is maintained in immaculate condition, and tours are given by enthusiastic young naval personnel. Boston had one other surprise: it was the first place in America that we found a butcher's shop. There was also a large fruit and vegetable street market, so we were able to replenish our supplies for the next leg of our journey south.