Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oxford to St. Michaels, and south to Norfolk ...

After a second night at Mear's Yacht Haven in Oxford, Maryland, where we charged batteries and waited out rainy weather, we departed on October 8th for St. Michaels, a thirty nautical mile trip (although it's just a hop, skip and jump as the crow would fly).  We had full sails up as soon as we got outside Oxford's Town Creek and had a nice sail down the Tred Avon River to the Choptank River, where we turned west and in two tacks made it out to the Chesapeake to turn north to Eastern Bay.  It's not all sailing on the Chesapeake, particularly when you have destinations in mind, and turning up the bay put us close to the wind, so we motor-sailed until the wind fell off almost completely and then motored the rest of the way through Eastern Bay and the Miles River to St. Michaels.

We anchored comfortably between two other cruisers in Fogg Cove, just off the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.  We spent two nights at anchor here, provisioning a bit at the local store and going into the Crab Claw Restaurant for a dozen blue crabs ... we had to do it, although it took us almost two hours to pick out a dozen crabs.  Yum, yum!   Even better we went to the local farmer's market, which was really a highlight.  Even though we'd bought produce at the grocery, we couldn't help ourselves and loaded up on really fresh produce!

The really nice experience of St. Michaels, however, is the historical maritime character given by the presence of the maritime museum.  Wonderful old skiffs, skip jacks, log canoes and crabbing boats are in various stages of restoration, both on display on land and in the water.  The museum takes out visitors on one of its boats, another local fellow takes out people for sails on the Miles River in a beautifully restored skiff, and there are in fact a couple of working crab boats in the area.  In Fogg Cove, one crabber runs his lines out early in the morning and makes three or four passes on the lines before the sun is too high in the sky.  It was truly a pleasure to watch him out there the two mornings we awakened at anchor.

The next day our friend Peter Jakab drove over from D.C. for a short sail and then dinner with Bob and Dian, who drove up from Easton for another visit.  Pen planned a nice lunch, which we hoped we'd have during a calm, light-wind sail on the Miles River ... we'd watched local tourist sail boats do this the day before.  But, as luck would have it, just after getting the sails up and out on the river the winds screeched up to 30 knots, so we reefed down the main and Genoa after screaming downwind at seven knots for 20 minutes and had to tack back upwind for 35 minutes or so to get back to St. Michaels.  Peter (not a sailor at all) seemed to enjoy the whole thing and even helped out reefing the main, but it was hardly the introduction to sailing we'd planned for him.  In the end, we returned to a berth at St. Michaels Marina, had the lunch that we'd hoped to have on the river, and relaxed for the afternoon until Bob and Dian arrived for dinner at the Town Dock.

On October 11th, we got up, did a load of laundry, pumped out the head, topped off the fuel tanks, and motor-sailed up just a few miles to an anchorage on Crab Alley Creek, which put us in a good jumping off spot to turn south down toward the Solomons, Maryland.  I tried a bit of fishing here, but without success.  We'd hoped to do a lot of fishing, on the trip, but for one reason or another, it hasn't seemed to work out that way.

Our motor-sail down the Chesapeake to an anchorage on St. Leonard's Creek off the Patuxent River (where the Solomons are located), was a very long, cold trip.  The sky was overcast the entire way and the temperatures had to be in the fifties.  We were most happy to slip into the Patuxent River and make our way up to St. Leonard's Creek, along the way passing a classic old wooden skiff going up the river.

We found anchorage in Rollins Cove, one of the prettiest places we've found.  The famous Vera's White Sands Beach Club was just a mile more upstream on the creek, and although we'd vowed to visit it, we were too cold and tired to dinghy up there, so it has to be on another trip.  "On our next trip" is something we've found ourselves saying a lot.  ... At any rate, Rollins Cove provided another chance for unsuccessful fishing, and perhaps the most beautiful sunset either of us have ever seen in our lives.  It just got better and better for a full hour ... we think you'll agree it was pretty amazing.

Up early the next day, we raised the dinghy up on the davits as mist rose from the cove's water, I weighed anchor and Pen handled the helm, effectively switching our tasks for the first time, and we motored slowly and reluctantly down St. Leonard's Creek, watching the leaves changing color almost before our eyes.  It would have been wonderful to stay, but we've been watching the weather, and we knew we only had two days before a big storm would hit the region to get as far south (perhaps to Norfolk) as we could.

This day was sunny with temperatures in the 60s, cool but comfortable, and as we headed down the Patuxent, we wondered do we go to St. Mary's Creek on the Potomac, just a few hours sail?  Or should we try for Deltaville, a 45-mile push?  Or perhaps split the difference and go to Little or Great Wicomico?  When we reached the Potomac, it was barely noon, so we decided to leave St. Mary's to our next trip.  We also decided to skip past the Wicomicos, since motor-sailing we were averaging close to seven knots, and we finally settled on going into Antipoison Creek, just above the Rappahannock River.  The cruising guide explains the odd name: "...local Indians are said to have saved the life of Captain John Smith by medicating a wound he'd received from a ray.  Hence, legend has it 'antipoison' was applied to the creek as well as to Captain Smith."

Our anchorage next to Avalon, a Catalina 42 (the winged keel version is very popular along the eastern seaboard), was pleasant enough, although noise from a fish plant nearby was a bit distracting.  We had a nice conversation with the couple on Avalon, from Connecticut and making their first trip down the ICW and to the Bahamas.  During the night the winds came up, and we discovered in the morning that our neighbors had dragged a bit and had to put out a second anchor.  The anchor that dragged was a Fortress, which our neighbor commented held well in mud, but what secured them was their Delta with chain rode. 

From Antipoison Creek, I figured if we left at 0800 and the wind was north or northeast at 15 knots as predicted, we'd be able to make Norfolk.  So I made a reservation at the Waterside Marina and we set off.  Some watermen waved us away from thin water going out the channel (thankfully ... we didn't need a grounding), and enjoyed pretty nice sailing for almost three hours, when the wind started falling off (as predicted, though a bit sooner than).

A bit before the wind fell off, Avalon crept passed us (motor-sailing with the Genoa out), and we each snapped photos of the other.  In Norfolk connected and exchanged the photos, which for us is the first photo of Alizee under sail.  For the rest of the trip we also motor-sailed, managed to get into Norfolk while negotiating three monster cargo ships all coming in at the same time, and arrived at the Waterside Marina just as the rains started to come at 1730.  We leave on Friday, after heavy rain all morning Thursday, a bit of shopping, a great sushi lunch, and later dinner at Outback.  Today we begin the Dismal Swamp...

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Smith Island to Oxford ...

We are in Oxford, Maryland, after an adventure leaving Smith Island, three days in Solomons, Maryland old  from Encinal Yacht Club on San Francisco Bay.  In Oxford we have seen other old friends from the world of the history of technology, and after three days here (partly waiting on weather), tomorrow we'll make a thirty mile sail to St. Michaels (which is just 5-6 miles as the crow flies), where we hope to meet another friend.  Then it will be time to turn south and head back to Florida, which we figure will take us three weeks plus.

Leaving Smith Island, we had planned to wait for high tide at 11:45 in the morning, but I spoke to a local waterman who said we could follow him out in his crab boat so we'd better navigate the channel and do it before high tide.  So, although we hit bottom in one tricky spot, I managed to navigate around the shoals in the channel and make it out at 09:30.  By 10:00 we had our sails up on a close haul and laid in a course for the Solomons.  Along side us our slip mate from Smith Island, John, sailed his Francis Hershoff designed gaff rigged, two-foot draft boat with dagger boards, which is powered by a Solomon-built electric wheel motor with 12 AGM batteries.  A very pretty boat, indeed, and he looked great under sail.

At the Solomons we tied up at Spring Cove Marina right in front of Lu Sea, Karl and Lucy's motor vessel.  We had a cocktails and watched the sunset on Lu Sea's fly bridge, had a great dinner at a local restaurant, enjoyed spending time together, dinghied into another place for lunch the next day, walked around Solomons, had a party on the fly bridge the second night where I played my new Casio keyboard and we all over-beveraged, provisioned at the local market, and generally had a rousing fun time.

On October 4th, Sunday, we were up to see Karl and Lucy head out for Norfolk (a hundred mile run) and then see John and Gail off in their rented car to catch a flight out of Baltimore after a day in Annapolis.  Then we cast off for Oxford.  We had a good sail, though close hauled, for the morning, crossing the bay and back again before turning to motor sailing.  We navigated our way through an enormous crab pot field, which was my own fault for skirting the main channel while trying to keep from going head into the wind.  Then coming into the Choptank River we killed the engine and had a nice broad reach to the Tred Avon River, where we beam-reached up to the Town Creek entrance at Oxford.

We anchored in Town Creek and six feet plus water, and then dinghied over to Schooners restaurant to meet Bob and Dian for dinner.  Great fun, indeed!  ... The next day we wandered about the town, got a couple of things at the local market, and lazed about on Alizee.  We thought about weighing anchor and going to another anchorage a couple of miles up the Tred Avon, but we were so comfortable, we just stayed and read and relaxed and made plans to see Bob and Dian again for dinner the next evening.

The Link monitoring system for my batteries is on the fritz ... it was when I first bought the boat but I had it repaired.  Now it's out again.  I think I'll have it replaced when we get back to Daytona Beach.  Meanwhile, I'm a bit worried that the batteries aren't holding a charge as they should, so we made a reservation to spend Tuesday night at Mears Yacht Haven.  Good thing, because the batteries really needed a charge.  I may have a bad battery, as well as a monitoring problem, though I surely hope not. 

Another little bit of excitement was that we docked at low tide on Tuesday.  As the tide rose, the stern of the dinghy (with the motor on it) got caught under the dock and was wedged in tightly.  Pen suggested if we let some air out of the dinghy and lifted the bow up, it might slip out.  Fortunately, a fellow from an adjacent boat came over, and with his weight and mine in the stern, air let out of the dinghy, and Pen lifting the bow, we managed to slip it out.  It was easily re-inflated with a foot pump, and we averted a real disaster.

It was just in time for Bob and Dian to pick us up and take us out to dinner at a really nice restaurant with a name well familiar to sailors on the Pacific Coast: Latitude 38.  No souvenirs sold, or to be sure I'd have bought one.  I found it intriguing to know that Oxford is at 38 degrees 41 minutes north latitude, and I felt a brief wave of nostalgia for San Francisco Bay.  Not much though, for we were soon into a scrumptious meal and talking about plans to meet again in St. Michaels on Friday or Saturday.

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