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Madcap Sailing
Down and Up in Chestertown
13/10/2007/10:22 am, Chestertown, MD

We continued further up the Chester River on Friday to Chestertown. The weather has changed dramatically - much cooler and very gusty Friday. The winds were blowing 10-15 knots with gusts up to 25. We had the main up and a reefed staysail and found that we alternated between roaring along as we heeled far over and standing straight up and practically still. Between gusts and twists in the channel, it was a complicated sail.

The books described Chestertown as such an attractive college town that we thought it would be a good spot to spend a couple of days and do some social things. It didn't quite work out that way. We stopped in to the visitor's centre where we heard that the best spot for take out seafood was Rock Hall (I wish we had persevered to reach the town centre on that hot day), live music would also be in Rock Hall and for any other events, St. Michael's was the place to go. So.... I did a much-needed laundry. Jim got a haircut. We wandered about the streets past centuries old buildings, checked out the very expensive menus at a number of restaurants, and came back to the boat to dine on BBQ'd pork chops and sautéed zucchini, onions and tomatoes (and olives for me.) After spending 3 hours to get up here, the plan was to head back down this long and winding river again on the ebb tide in the morning.

Because I took one last look at the guidebook and found that there is a Saturday morning Farmer's Market, we decided to take one more run into the town and we are happy we did. There was indeed a market at which we filled our bags with pesticide free lettuce and heirloom tomatoes, sweet white corn, multigrain bread, and multicoloured peppers straight from the garden. We chatted with the sellers, learning that one man has a son-in-law working for the Senators Hockey Team in Ottawa; another young man spent many summers at a little resort in Dryden, ON. The mood was happy. The sun shone and the feeling was good.

I picked up another book on the Chesapeake - Exploring the Watertrail of Captain John Smith - and a copy of Sibley's Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. We are currently reading Beautiful Swimmers - borrowed from Mary and Blair, and we may have to purchase our own copy of it - it's a classic. Jim went back to the boat to try his hand at connecting on the ham radio with my cousin Russ in Nova Scotia (no luck - they'll have to keep working on it) while I wandered about town some more. Upon hearing lots of horns tooting and young voices shouting, I dashed back to High Street to see several floats of high school students tossing candy and rousing up spirit for the Homecoming football game this afternoon.

I watched the skipjack, Ellsworth, load a group of folks and head out into the river. They are fascinating boats and I'll add more to this when I've done my research! We dropped into "Play it Again Sam" - a perfect little coffee shop- to mingle with the locals and absorb the convivial atmosphere while we checked email and made these two postings. This is what we were hoping to find, and what has given us a refreshed impression of Chestertown. We'll be off a little later today to head back down to the mouth of the Chester River for a trip onward down the Bay tomorrow.

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Meandering Through the Marshes
12/10/2007/10:26 am, Cacaway Island, MD

We have had a delightful few days. It feels so very good to slooooow down - waaaay down. There has been a rhythm to our journey just as there is in any journey. Weather, events, and our level of energy or fatigue have guided us. Sometimes we feel the urge to press onward in our eastward/southward movement. Sometimes we stay in a particular place for an event; sometimes we stay to enjoy the company of friends and family. Sometimes we want to explore an area in a little more depth than "just passing through" allows us to do; sometimes "getting there" is the driving force.

We pushed down the New Jersey coast and up Delaware Bay because we wanted to attend the Annapolis Boat Show last weekend. Having done that, we are now in a position to slow down until the end of the month while we explore the Chesapeake Bay. Strathspey and Madcap are setting our own itineraries for this period so there is no need to consult on destinations or timing. Each crew gets to do exactly as it wants - when it wants. And so, Jim and I have been meandering!

We left Baltimore on Monday and made our way back down the Patapsco River to an anchorage in Swan's Creek near Rock Hall - on the eastern shore of the Bay. I started dinner as soon as we arrived, and a couple of hours later we feasted on roast turkey (yes - from my own little oven on board), apple-cranberry stuffing, peas, carrots and coleslaw with a chilled chardonnay. After allowing that to settle a bit, we dropped into the silky water for a swim, and followed up with carrot cake and a sip of Niagara Ice Wine. T'was a memorable Thanksgiving indeed.

Tuesday was hot again - in the high 20's (it may even have hit 30) and although we had planned to explore Rock Hall - the local town - it was all we could do to walk as far as the Waterman's Museum. That was closed up so we asked for the key at the neighbouring store and spent a pleasant time examining the memorabilia there. Then it was a hot and dusty walk back to the dinghy and a speedy run to Madcap where we jumped immediately into the water again.

This swimming has been an unexpected treat. We had never dreamed it would be warm enough, and the water temperatures have been the highest we've seen all trip - high 20's. We keep hearing about sea nettles, also known as stinging nettles. I thought they must be plants, but it turns out they are jellyfish (Jim knew that all along). When we eventually saw some in the Chester River, they were smallish white ones with trailing stingers. The books say the water is fresh enough as we travel up these rivers that they are not a problem, and we have found that to be true.

We saw the most elaborate and plentiful duckblinds - good sized ones with thatched sides and roofs - in Swan's Creek. We're happy that they don't appear to be in use right now since we have been able to spot several from almost every anchorage we've been in, and we don't relish being caught in any crossfire.

On Wednesday, we raised anchor and traveled on to the Chester River. We had read about an anchorage just off Cacaway Island and so we navigated our way up the river, into Langford Creek, through the marsh-lined channel to the anchorage. I have just finished reading James Michener's Chesapeake in which he talks a great deal about the marshes and it is interesting to be moving among them. Much of that novel is set in the Choptank River, which we will explore next week, but I think we are certainly getting a taste of it now. These rivers twist this way and that, and the shoreline is almost always lined with rushes.

Cacaway Island is small - no landing allowed - and is home to a variety of birds. We saw a magnificent bald eagle soar in for a landing. He perched high above us for quite some time and I was desperately wishing for a "zoomier" lens on my camera! What strong birds they are - huge claws, thick necks, and so distinctive with their white head and tail feathers. At the other end of the island, a couple of turkey vultures were putting on a show. One was perched atop a dead head and the other came soaring in to land higher up on the same branch. They appeared to be engaging in some kind of interaction - do adults feed each other like cardinals do? One flew off again while the other stayed with wings outstretched, tail up, head down and appeared to be eating. I wish I had been able to get a better look but it was just too far away. Today, a turkey vulture came in to a branch closer to us, and sat for the longest time with his back to us and his (her?) wings spread wide out. The wing span had to be close to a metre. I don't know if they need to spread their wings out to dry like cormorants do or not. I'd be very happy to hear from any birders out there about turkey vulture habits. A couple of elegant blue herons appeared as well - one standing so still along the shoreline while another landed high in a tree and pulled his long neck in as if to take a nap. This morning we saw a great mass of Canada Geese fly overhead.

What a treat it is to be up close and personal with nature in the Chesapeake. Later today we head for Chestertown to do some connecting with people.

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14/10/2007/6:54 am | Linda and Peter
Notes from the ornitholigist bro-in-law:
Other species engage in courtship feeding but I'm not aware of this in vultures;
Birds such as eagles, hawks, owls and vultures may spread their wings out over a food resource to protect it - known as "mantling";
If a food resources isn't being protected, such birds may be spreading their wings to dry if wet - spreading is also thought to enhance feather maintenance.
Love the nature notes!
Annapolis Boat Show
08/10/2007/9:29 am, Baltimore, Maryland

We had a long trip from a lovely little anchorage in the Sassafras River to Baltimore. It has been so warm that we even went for a swim on Saturday in the semi-salty water. How delightful to swim in October!

We wanted to visit the Boat Show but would have had to rush too much to get there by boat, so we opted to come to Baltimore and rent a car. That plan worked well, although the trip up river to get here was not our favourite. This whole area is really shallow and the channel was like a highway of fast boats. Every wake rocked us all over the place and there was no wind so it didn't make for an exactly pleasureable journey.

However - we anchored in a lovely little corner of Canton - a neighbourhood on the edge of Baltimore. It's busy but pretty, with condos and a boardwalk lining the river banks. The folks at Anchorage Marina were kind enough to let us leave our dinghy in their secure area while we went off to Annapolis, and if we were to need dock space, we would come here.

The Boat Show was interesting as always - we met some friendly merchants we had dealt with last year and were able to update them on our adventure - also making plans to connect with them again. We purchased some new charts and guidebooks to take us through the rest of the US east coast, a wifi antenna that we hope will help solve our connection problems, a gadget for keeping our diesel clean and polished, and a system for ensuring a watertight seal around our mast. We'll see how they all work over the next few weeks.

We leave Baltimore today and will find a quiet anchorage where I'll pop the (small) turkey into my oven, roast some turnip,potato and carrots, chop up some cabbage for coleslaw and enjoy our very own Thanksgiving dinner.

We send our greetings to all our friends and family who are celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving, and to American friends who are celebrating Columbus Day.

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08/10/2007/3:33 pm | Tim and Steph
We saw you moored in Baltimore during our side trip from the boat show on Sunday, via the water taxi. It certainly was great to see a fellow Canadian visiting that wonderful area. We'll continue to read about your journey. Happy Thanksgiving...from London, ON
09/10/2007/7:08 am | Jac van Beek
Went to the Senators game with two of my adult 'children' and have two bits of news - Sens undefeated after 4 and Bert's Bar URL = If you get there, there are always too many Ottawans - fantastic!
09/10/2007/10:42 pm | Pat Sullivan
Jim and Beth - George sent us your website link - we had been thinking of you and wondering how you were making out - it's so great to read about your adventures - I'm so envious! Your former house on Echo is under total renovation and still has a dumpster outside - taking much longer than they thought. We're all fine, and wish you both a heartfelt and safe Canadian Thankgiving!
10/10/2007/5:51 am | Rob Wells
Well it was good to hear from you yesterday. I have had a few minutes on line this Am to catch up on your progress. With my Hospital slow dialup I am envious of your WiFi antenna as well of the navigational challenges you are experiencing. I too am on a learning curve as I try to navigate my current over stuffed and unstable chair over Halifax sidewalks. Each outing is rewarding but not near any life long dreams I ever had. My dream currently has more about planting feet on the hard. Life is full of irony, when you least expect it.

Carry on in your adventure but do take care.
11/10/2007/10:55 am | Ernie Roberts
Thanks for your blogs..we leave on Monday for the trip South from Connecticut.

sail well and beware the fog !

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