Cruising the Chesapeake Bay

baltimore inner harborThe six weeks we spent waiting out hurricane season in the Chesapeake Bay weren’t terribly exciting or exotic and interesting events were few and far between.  The geography of the bay made for fairly easy sailing and anchoring.  We would stay in one place for an extended period of time and make occasional short hops south toward Norfolk, Virginia, our last stop before going offshore.

We had an enjoyable time in Baltimore, Maryland.  While we were there, it was unseasonably, yet delightfully warm.  Going shopping, to the aquarium and science museum it felt like your typical family vacation.

After spending roughly a week in Baltimore, we proceeded south for a few days until we reached our next significant stop, Solomons, Maryland.  It was a small yachting community with many marinas and easily accessible facilities, including very nice showers, and, to my delight, internet access.

There, we observed the incredible, once in a lifetime event, the Leonid meteor shower.  The Leonid meteor shower is an annual occurrence, but it had been predicted that it would not be as spectacular again until 2099, and spectacular it was.  We all got up in the wee hours of the morning, during the peak display, and were treated to quite a show.  Every few seconds a pinprick of light would appear out of nowhere, streak across the sky, and suddenly disappear.  It was well worth losing a bit of sleep for.

We spent thanksgiving in Solomons, but we could not have a traditional turkey because it would not fit in our tiny galley oven, so we had chicken instead.  Besides, we wouldn’t know what to do with the leftovers, having no refrigeration and all.  We invited an interesting cruising couple to have thanksgiving dinner with us, partially because they didn’t have a usable stove to cook on.  We had gone over to their boat the previous day, and saw that they were camping out even more than we were.  They had parts and various not yet installed things all over the place, even more so than we did, and that is saying something.  You would have to have a sense of humor to live in those sorts of conditions, and the woman had an excellent one.  She was constantly making wise cracks, telling jokes, and harmlessly poking fun at her companion and others.  With her incredible wit and sense of humor, and his polite acceptance, they made for very enjoyable company.  So, we ended up having a lovely, unconventional thanksgiving.

On November 24th, we left Solomons, Maryland, which just happened to be my birthday.  It wasn’t the greatest birthday I’ve ever had, but considering the circumstances it wasn’t bad.  It’s just not the same without a party and friends and everything, but it was ok.

Two days later, as we were motoring to Deltaville, Virginia in the hazy morning mist, that hazy mist closed in on us and turned into pea soup fog.  When it was most dense, visibility was two hundred feet at the most.  We all had to keep a very close watch since we didn’t have radar at that time.  We didn’t have an electric fog horn either, so my brother and I would have to take turns using the manual one.

We have found that very few boats actually use a fog horn in fog.  We narrowly missed a fishing boat, not blowing fog signals, that was dead ahead and in a blind spot.  If Scott hadn’t seen it and alerted my mother, we might have hit it.  Very soon after, the radar was hooked up.

After a few more hours of picking our way through the fog we reached Deltaville, Virginia.  The channel leading towards town was quite narrow, with very little water on either side.  We heavily debated anchoring closer to town or staying outside the channel.  Since there wasn’t enough maneuvering room in the channel to turn around if any problems arose, we stayed outside, and that ended up being a wise decision.

In the little boat, heading into town, we noticed that the propeller wash was an odd shade of white.  Upon seeing this, it didn’t take us long to figure out that our outboard motor had grounded out, and the odd shade of white was sand being churned up by the propeller.  So, we had no other choice but to awkwardly row to deeper water.  It would have been much easier if we had had a paddle instead of an oar, and the oars were attached to the inflatable, making a somewhat difficult situation that much more difficult.  Although, compared to other difficult situations we’ve been in, this was nothing.

The next day, we made the last leg of our pre-offshore journey to Norfolk, Virginia.  In the middle of the bay we picked up a hitchhiker.  A little bird that had strayed too far from land hopped onboard and stayed with us all the way to Norfolk.  It was funny to see the little bird hop along the deck, perch in the hawse pipes, and flutter about.  We had to keep an eye on it a bit to make sure it didn’t go anywhere it shouldn’t.  But, I guess we didn’t do a very good job, because it wandered down below and into the cockpit and we had to shoo it out.

As we were approaching Norfolk, in the thin lingering fog, we could see battleships, hovercrafts, and fighter jets off in the mist.  But, this would be just a sample of what was soon to come.  On our way to Norfolk’s inner harbor, we passed Norfolk Naval Base, which, to my knowledge, is the largest in the world.  The enormity of this place was incredible.  We passed dock after dock after dock of battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers, submarines, cruisers, and amphibious landing crafts.  As we were going by, multiple, low-flying, double-ended helicopters were constantly patrolling the area.  With all these close, impressive-looking helicopters flying overhead, it was like being in a James Bond movie.

We stayed in Norfolk for a week, getting more things hooked up, restowing things more securely, provisioning, and doing anything else that needed to be done before heading offshore.  One real luxury we had there was a car.  A friend of my father’s, who would be accompanying us offshore, lived there and graciously lent us his spare vehicle.  It was very fortunate that we had that resource, because we spent a great deal of our time running around looking for parts and stocking up, and almost all the stores were quite a ways away.

In spite of all the running around and having much difficulty finding parts, my father was able to hook up the autopilot and refrigeration, two features we would later be very thankful to have.

Once we were as prepared, physically and mentally, as we could be, we left civilization behind and headed out for the open ocean.  Next stop, the Caribbean!


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