Vinni – Chesapeake Bay North

After the disappointment of US Immigration, we decided we simply couldn’t get moving fast enough again. Our next goal is the Chesapeake Bay, a cruising area Carsten has, since we left Denmark, talked about very positively and told me that I will love to sail. I have an idea that we’ll be sailing in something much like the Swedish archipelago, rocky islands scattered loosely over the waters – or will we? Not quite the same – but more about that later.

Before we leave New Jersey, known as “The Garden State”, a name I didn’t understand until after this trip, I need to change my attitude about this state. When we sailed into New York, gliding past Jersey City (which I later experienced sitting in a taxi), I asked Carsten how New Jersey ever got the name “The Garden State”? He answered that New Jersey was the greenest and most bountiful state in the US. Aha! I thought. I must be missing something, because it surely doesn’t look it. Up  til now, I had only seen boring industrial buildings and housing that reeked of poverty and crime – most of them encased with thick iron bars across windows and doors.

But Carsten was right. ON our trip from Cape May to Oxford (where Wayne, Carsten’s childhood friend lives), we drove, first, along the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) passing through the Pine Barrens, as beautiful swampy area. Thereafter the highway passed through forests and wooded areas the next 300 kilometers to Wayne’s house.  Everything was green and bountiful as far as the eye could see. I now look at New Jersey as the front- or back- yard to New York.

Another thing I needed to ask Carsten about was the meaning of the “Adopt a highway” signs we saw alongside the roads. These would say “Adopt a highway” and then underneath would have the name of a company or organization and a mileage number. Carsten told me it simply means that the organization named had chosen to “Adopt” that section of the highway and they pledged (and do) keep the sides of the road clean and pick up all the garbage etc that ends there. A fantastic idea and it seems to work since almost all the roads we saw were spotlessly clean. This is an idea we could use in Denmark where our roads are cluttered with garbage.

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The last 25 kilometers were sad though. We had turned off the highway and in these 25 kilometers we saw no less than 5 dead deer alongside the road – hit by cars or trucks. Carsten told me that the huge deer population in New Jersey has always been a problem for traffic. I was nervous the rest of the way and kept looking out to the side of the road expecting a deer to come bursting out of the trees and run right in front of our car. At one point we drove past 3 deer, a doe and her two fawns, grazing at the roadside. Many of the cars passing, blew their horns in an effort to scare the deer back into the woods, but unfortunately they ignored the horns.

July 19th, we sailed around the tip of Cape May and up into the Delaware River. We planned to make our way all the way up to the C&D canal, dropping anchor behind Reedy Island about 2 nm before the entrance to the canal. This was 60nm and as any good sailor will tell you, you should always prepare yourself for any eventuality before setting sail. Which we did – naturally.

Our pilot book warned us that sailing up the Delaware is, by most American sailors, considered to be a difficult and arduous passage. There are lots of shallow areas and sand reefs at the outflow of the tributary rivers – where one would typically anchor. The book noted – navigate correctly and stay in the channels, but remember to give way and make room for the big ships and barges that ply the river. Winds from the east, southeast and south will raise chop and mean very uncomfortable sailing. Wonderful reading about getting Atlantic waves banging you right in the stern (up the ass) while pushing the boat forward in waters that are difficult to navigate, all the while that fog is a constant danger (companion).

For once, the weather was agreeable, although we could have wished for a bit more wind. We were almost becalmed so we had to use the iron genua (engine). No fog, despite all the warnings in the pilot book – you’d almost think that Vinni and Carsten had stayed home the weather was so good. Once more I thanked all the gods for GPS and AIS – navigation was not a problem. The only issue we had was sailing in behind Reedy Island – a difficult passage Carsten has already described in his blog. But I so want to praise our Skipper for his excellent seamanship. He brought Capri safely into the anchorage, coming through a narrow passage all while being pushed sideways by the 3 knot current. This was a forewarning of what we will encounter in the Pacific when we attempt to enter through coral reefs. No coral here – only rocks.

Once again we were caught by the Navy boats. I was at the helm and wondered how they could keep wind in their sails with only a 6 knot wind blowing from their stern. They caught us despite our running on our engine and doing 6.5 knots (with half a knot fair current). The answer is that their boats are 5 feet longer than Capri, they have a 10 man crew and they have brand new stiff sails – and oh not to forget – they are professional seamen (and women). Brave, one of the boats, called us on the VHF and asked if he could pass us to starboard. I suspect the skipper remembered Capri from their earlier run up to New York where we paced them for most of the night out on the Atlantic and later spoke with them at Liberty Landing Marina. We waved to them as they (very) slowly glided by. We noted that they probably weren’t following Navy regulations to the letter considering we could see bikinis and bathing trunks. We didn’t see beer, but they were enjoying themselves.

Reedy Island was a marvelous anchorage, which we had completely to ourselves. We enjoyed being at anchor again after all the expensive marinas we’ve had to be in because we couldn’t find an anchorage with deep enough water for our 7.5 foot keel. The next morning I had the pleasure of sailing out from the anchorage, in between the sand reefs through a narrow cut before we could enter the C&D canal. We only managed it because it was high tide, because there were many places where the water only was 6 feet at low tide. But we made it through with touching the bottom.

The C&D is 12 nm long and is used by  both the military and commercial traffic, shortening, sa it does the sailing distance between Philadelphia and Baltimore by 300nm. The canal was opened in 1829 and at that time, it required passage of 4 locks and the ship were pulled along by mules. Today there are no locks and only very large ships or barges are required to have pilots on board. A light board at the entrance tells pleasure boats like us if we can come through or have to wait. Along the canal there are two small marinas one can put into, if needed, but otherwise there is nothing but green forest and bushes the entire way.

I don’t know where I got the idea that the Chesapeake was USA’s answer to the Swedish archipelago. Actually it is more of a river delta (the Elk River) than a Bay. It is also not an archipelago, but more like the landscape we know in Denmark in the Bøgestrøm, although the Chesapeake much, much bigger – almost 200nm. A fantastic area to sail, according to the Americans, the best the United States has – especially if you don’t want blue water ocean sailing.

Over here, ocean sailing is generally considered a transportation sail since there are few, if any, harbours to duck into. Virtually all the harbours lie far up in bays or on the intracoastal waterway and it can take many hours for a sailboat to make her way far up the inlets. This is one of the reasons we saw so few sailboats on the ocean – we only saw fast fishing boats. We’ve realized that the US is a motorboat nation – not so much a sailboat nation, which is one of the reasons that most of the harbours are only 5-6 feet deep. This is big limiting factor for boats like Capri.

Chesapeake Bay is a sailors dream with protected waters, albeit waters where you do need to be careful with your navigation due to the shallowness, but the “Bay” gives unlimited possibilities for lying at anchor in beautiful nature areas – especially up in the tributaries. Unfortunately, Capri’s deep water keel is a limiting factor for us – we have 2.25 meter draft (7.4 feet) fully loaded in fresh water. Most American sailboats are built with retractable keels and now I understand why. We frequently wish we could raise Capri’s keel by 1 meter when sailing here – but that is not to be.

We choose our tributaries carefully when deciding where to anchor. Still we face daily challenges. The pilotbook warned us that the Chesapeake is crowded with crabpots, fishnets of various kinds and oyster farms, so care is needed to avoid getting caught. We experienced first-hand what this meant when we turned up the Sassafras river to anchor for our first night in the Chesapeake. The entire mouth of the river, from the northern shore to the southern shore, was filled with a belt of crabpots several hundred meters wide. We sailed slalom in and out between the pots for almost 1 nautical mile before we were clear of them and could anchor in a spot with an un beatable view. But really now, the fishermen should know better than to close off the entire width of the river (the Sassafras is probably 3 nautical miles wide at the mouth). If we’d come through at night or in fog – we would have been anchored up on a crabpot. We had a German boat as a neighbor (about a mile away) at anchor. There was no one else as far as the eye could see – so we truly felt as if we had the entire river to ourselves.

Last year we were lucky enough to get tickets to the British Open at Troon – this year we needed to find a sports bar that showed the Open if we were going to see it. Baltimore was probably going to be the best place to find a good sports bar so the next morning we threaded our way back out all the crabpots and into the bay – only to find that the wind had died completely. We started the iron jenny and sailed off in 90+ degree sunshine. I read a bit more in our pilotbook and it dawned on me that most Americans sail the Bay in the springtime or the fall months – never in July or August due to the low winds and the high temperatures, high humidity and insects. Now we understood why we have seen so few other boats. I said to Carsten that if this continues, I’m won’t be staying here for very long. Thunderstorms are the order of the day, late in the afternoon when the seabreeze is strongest. We also are entertained with squalls many days.

Why  in the world can’t Carsten and I follow the weather statistics when we sail? Why are we always nearby all those things that never (well – hardly ever) happen? In other words – why do we always have Vinni and Carsten weather when we sail? Our pilotbook tells us that while tornadoes do occur in the Chesapeake – they are exceedingly rare. In my naivety, I thought they only occurred over land. Mostly in Tornado alley (Kansas/Missouri) as it is known over here. But nooooo, very warm, very humid air is the recipe for creating thunderstorms that, when they meet a coldfront, grow and become a Tornado or Waterspout.

That is exactly what happened while we were anchored on a mooring buoy in Annapolis, about 8 nm from Kent Island. A tornado hit Kent Island, destroying or damaging 6 houses. I lived onward in in blessed ignorance as it happened even though I had noticed that a low pressure area had passed us. Two days later, while talking with our neighbor boat, I learned just how close we had been.    Carsten said that he had heard a wether report that  had issued a tornado “watch” and he claimed that he had clearly told me. NEVER, EVER, EVER did he tell me. I wouldn’t have slept a wink if I had known. He must have had another of his “senior moments”. But we were lucky that nothing happened to us. Hurricanes also pass by here on occasion, although mostly they are tropical storms – but tropical storms are also enough. There are lots of so-called “hurricane holes” up the many tributary rivers here, but once again – our 7.5 foot keel prevents us from going very far up these tributaries. If a hurricane warning is issued, then our recourse will be to sail the 95 miles up the Potomac to Washington and take cover there.

Yep – you learn something new every day. Or as Carsten says:

 

Are we having fun yet?

Damned right we’re having fun.

We reached Baltimore and anchored right in the middle of the city. Every time we anchor up, we save about $125 in marina fees. We take showers on our bathing platform on the stern, which I normally thoroughly enjoy, but here, the first morning I went out, the platform was covered in small black insects. It was crap to get through them to get in the water and they ended up covering me completely when I got out of the water – not very inviting. Once more I told Carsten that if this continued, we were saying “good-bye” to the Chesapeake very quickly. Fortunately, the insect plague ended here in Baltimore.

We found what we came for – a sports bar that showed the British Open (big screen TV!) and enjoyed the golf for the next two days. Otherwise we strolled through downtown and along the wharfs and enjoyed the old restored houses from the 1800’s. The city council has apparently also ordained that any new housing must be built in the style from the 1800’s so the entire area is charming indeed. I’m impressed and it all reminds me of Nyhavn in Copenhagen, complete with the same “cosy” ambiance.

I’m also impressed with the efforts made to keep the harbor clean. When the water runs into the harbor from a river, it passes through a “disposal” that looks like a watermill, that rinses all the floating garbage out of the water and deposits it in a container.  Aside from the that, the “streetsweeper” was in constant action on the waterfront.

But when we came away from the waterfront – Baltimore became just another boring city with a large industrial harbor.

My expectations of Annapolis, our next stop weren’t high either. USA’s sailing center and the US Naval Academy. My prejudices were put to shame. A uniquely charming town with a wealth of history. What I didn’t know beforehand was that Annapolis was, for a short period, the Capital of the United States! This was when the US reached a peace agreement with the British, ending the Revolutionary War. Today, Annapolis is the Capital of Maryland. The town has managed to preserve all the old houses from the 1800’s. These, naturally, are too small for todays families and their needs, but instead of tearing town the old houses, additions have been built on to the back, thereby preserving the facades and the old “street look”. I’m also impressed with the way they build row houses here – each façade is different – thereby producing a form of individualism.

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We grabbed a mooring ball right outside of the Naval Academy and I was awakened the first morning by yelling. I climbed up in the cockpit and there right on the Academy wharf, a little over 1000 Midshipmen were running to the sports filed where they started doing gymnastics (one hour’s worth). We had a guilty conscience as we sat and drank coffee/tea while they sweated. We would here the trainer calling out the cadence in the loudspeaker; “one, two, three – I miss Mom-my” One, two, three – I went to sea” One, two, three – Mom-my help me” One, two three, I joined the Na-vy”. It is now 8 a.m. and while we eat our breakfast, the Star-Spangled Banner (USA national anthem) rings out over the loudspeakers. I rise politely and show my respect – and I’m not the only one – there are also some in the other boats that do. Carsten drinks his coffee – but when in Rome…………………………

We visited the Statehouse, an impressive building, especially from the outside. We saw the current and previous House and Senate Chambers. In the previous Senate Chambers there was a statue of George Washington, standing in front of the Senate President, showing how on December 23, 1783, George Washington resigned his commission as General of the Armies, thereby cementing the fact that in the US, the army is under civilian control. Women were not allowed on the floor of the chamber, they could only be present on the balcony, where they were spectators. Maryland’s state congress today has 47 members of the senate (elected every 6 years) and 142 members of the state House of Representatives (elected every other year).

 

The next morning, when we were on our way to visit a museum, we suddenly heard a man behind us say; “ I see you’re walking around with a visitors map in your hand – can I help you find anything?”. He explained how to get to the museum and then asked if we had visited the Statehouse, adding that he worked there. It turned out he was a Maryland State Senator. When was the last time a Danish member of Parliament stopped a tourist and asked if they could help them?

The museum we were walking towards was the Banneker-Douglas Museum (including Harriet Tubman), which truly illustrated Annapolis’ historical importance. The museum is located in a former church. Here, in the US, the churches are owned by the church members, not by the government as they are in Denmark. Just like in Denmark, the churches have less and less members, which means that churches frequently are forced to close and sell the church building while the members move to a nearby church of the same denomination. This happened here and the members sold the church to the city, who proposed to tear it down and build a parking building (this – is called progress). The citizens and the Annapolis Historical Society fought to save the church and succeeded, the city finally deciding to establish a museum there that illustrates the city’s role in slavery, in that a large portion of the slaves landed in the US were landed in Annapolis.

But who was Banneker? He was the son of an irish woman, Ruth Starr Rose, an indentured servant sold in Annapolis for 7 years of indenturement because she had spilled a bucket of milk on the farm where she was working in Ireland. The farmer accused her of drinking it and sold her as 7 year slave to pay for the milk.

After her 7 years of indenture, she rented a small piece of land and earned enough working that to buy the neighboring farm. During this, she fell in love with one of her neighbors slaves, who ended up buying free and married. Their son was Banneker, who at first was born a slave, but managed to  escape that fate when as a grown-up he was able to cast doubt on whether or not his parents were truly married when he was born – thereby casting doubt on his paternity, which in turn meant that it was  doubtful that he was the son of a slave. He was an intelligent and self-educated man, both as an astronomer and as a mathematician. He ended as the primary architect of Washington D.C. when the architect who had been hired quit out of turn.

Douglass, a slave, fled to Pennsylvania, a free state and fought the rest of his life to abolish slavery, becoming a well-known lecturer and author.

Harriet Tubman, also a slave who managed to escape to the north, became an important part of the “underground railroad” smuggling escaped slaves north to Canada. She made many trip to the south and guided the escapees to the north. She arranged so many escapes that there finally was a large reward for her capture. During the civil war she also was a spy for the north and still managed to evade capture.

The entire exhibition focused on escaping slaves and how many of them joined the Union army during the civil war in order to escape being slaves. I was greatly surprised to learn that when Lincoln emancipated the slaves, he only emancipated the slaves in the rebellious southern states, he didn’t emancipate the slaves in the northern states that had not seceded. Maryland, for example, had a number of slaves, but since it had remained loyal to the Union, those slaves were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Maryland’s slaves frequently worked in tobacco fields, fishing or as craftsmen. The Chesapeake with its many rivers and marshland, allowed southern slaves to escape via the water route and up the rivers to northern states such as Pennsylvania.

It was an exhibition that made a great impression on me and I can’t help thinking about the Danish involvement in the slave trade. Carsten remembers watching the race demonstrations and riots on television in his childhood. He also remembers “segregation” (apartheid) from his vacations with his parents when they drove through the south. Frequently when Carsten went to the toilet, there were signs for white to the right and “colored” to the left (out behind the house). It must have been difficult for a small boy to understand.

We also visited the maritime museum. Our guidebook noted that these days it is not allowed to fish oysters in the Chesapeake – and I love oysters. The reason is that the Bay is almost fished out of oysters. Before the civil war and up through the 1800’s oysters were harvested by the ton – they were known as the “white gold”. You only needed to put your hand down in the water and you could harvest oysters. But as more and more effective and modern harvesting methods came into play, there were less and less oysters. The lessening of oysters also caused an increase in algae which in turn reduced the oyster population even more. In the old days, the oyster population could clean the entire amount of water I Chesapeake in under 2 days. Today it takes the remaining oysters a full year to do this. An oyster can cleanse 40 gallons of water per day. Oyster farms are continually being planted in an effort to repopulate the Bay, but so far there are only about 2% of the oysters today that there once were.

Chesapeake Bay is also known for its “Blue Crabs” – a gourmet dish where the meat is much more tender and delicate than other crab meat. As I noted earlier, there are crab-pots everywhere – so why is this dish so damned expensive? Well, I’ve tasted both crab cakes and the blue crabs claws, that are tiny – but delicious.

Not only the fishing methods evolved in the Chesapeake, but also the boats. The common boat on the bay in the 1800’s was the “Skipjack”, with a flat bottom and a center cockpit.  It was still in use up to the 1900’s but then the “Draketail” (duck butt) came. It got is name from the shape of the stern which looks like at ducks tail. The first Draketails were long and narrow and actually was the first type of motorboat put in use. Later, as engine size increased, the boats got longer (up to 60 feet) and wider. Even though we see lots of crab-pots and fishing nets, we only see small boats coming out in the morning or evening to pick up the pots or empty the nets. It no longer looks like industrial fishing.

We’ve walked many miles around and in Annapolis and enjoyed strolling on the streets filled with the old buildings from the 17-1800’s – it has been like walking back through time. Charming beyond belief. But we still needed to visit our neighbor – the US Naval Academy. In contrast to West Point – here we were allowed to walk around and sight-see pretty much as we pleased and look at the architecture and feel the ambiance. We planned our visit so we could see the 1200 Midshipmen fall in and sing and march to lunch.

There are those who think that the military with their discipline and formations and yelling of orders are laughable and a waste of time. I don’t agree with that attitude and therefore I got touched when these young men and women, proudly marching and 100% committed to this life. I sensed the pride they exhibited and somewhere deep inside myself, I sent them a quiet thank you, because whenever there is a crisis, it is usually the Americans, and thereby these young persons that come to our aid and rescue us.

We got the opportunity to see the cadet dormitories – vastly different from the “dormitory” I lived in back when I was a young nursing student.

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Just like at West Point, the Naval Academy has a beautiful “Chapel” (church). The cadets are not allowed to marry or have children while they are at the Academy. That, of course, doesn’t mean they don’t have girl/boyfriends or that they live in celibacy, but it does mean that on graduation day, there are multiple marriages performed in the Chapel. The newly commissioned officers can ask to be married that day in the Chapel and they are each granted a 15 minute ceremony – the length is limited because there are so many weddings that day.

The qualifications for admittance here are the same as at West Point – approximately 1200 make it through the eye of the needle and altogether there are about 4500 studying at the Academy.

After leaving Annapolis, we sailed on to the “picture perfect” little town of St. Michaels. The sail up the river, between the wooded shores and threading our way through the sand bars was magnificent. Carsten has described the town so I’ll entertain you with our anchor winch (no not anchor wench!). As usual there is only a small anchoring area where Capri can lie, due to our deep draft. But we got ourselves wedged in between a few motorboats and I pressed the button to drop the hook and –

Nothing. Nada.

Absolutely nothing. The little light on the remote control was shining up a storm, but nothing happened. So I grabbed the other remote and tried it – same result – Nada. Nothing.

All the old salts reading this will now be screaming – Use the damned handle! Which we would have done had it been an emergency – which this wasn’t. Our anchor weighs 30 kilos (69 pounds to you non-metric types) and we have 100 meters of chain weighing 134 kilos ( 325 pounds to you non-metric types) so we really need an electric winch (not wench!). Instead we chose to lie up in the marina and get an electrician to stop by. He did and it cost us Dkr. 850 for the Marina and dkr. 1000 for him (total $300 for you American types) Piss.

What took the longest time was getting the electrician on board. He weighed at least 150 kilos (340 pounds to you non-metric types). I sat and watched our railing as he climbed on board, expecting it to break at any second. Our anchor winch is mounted at the front of the boat and in order to get to it, you need to lie in the forward V bunk and unscrew the ceiling panel there – which Carsten had already done, because he was pretty sure what the problem was. It was an unbelievable sight, Carsten and this gigantic electrician lying side by side in our bed. I thought about taking a picture but decided I would not be popular if I did. So here is a picture of only Carsten fixing the anchor winch.

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Back in  Annapolis, because it is much cheaper to lie on a buoy for $35 per day than the marina in St. Michaels. We’ve waited five days for the spare part (cost $20) to arrive. Piss. That’s the life of a cruising sailor.

Yahoooooo! The spare has arrived, Carsten mounted it and the winch (not wench) now works like a charm. Off we go to Oxford (not in the UK). The town lives completely up to “Small Town America” and is worthy of a painting. It is the first town established on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake (late 1600’s).

We visited the little museum, now housed in the old grocery store. There were many old things but no one could explain why the town had changed names from Frederiksstadt ton Oxford. But they did tell us that the town, which was just as well preserved as ST. Michaels had chosen a different strategy regarding tourism. They did nothing to encourage tourism per se, a strategy which meant the town had preserved its authentic ambiance and had few restaurants and B&Bs and stores with very high prices.

The weather was against us in Oxford – it rained cats and dogs all day. But we went out in the rain – I was smart enough to bring a raincoat – Carsten thought – hell we can only get wet. And wet he certainly did – half way he had to stop at the local supermarket and wring out his shirt (not to mention his temper LOL).

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We walked in water up to our ankles and at one point had to seek sanctuary in a church. In spite of the rain we walked through all the old part of the town where every house is from before 1800. We also visited the local boatyard which has specialized itself in building and repairing wooden boats. Christ they were beautiful!

When we see a village like this, I can’t help but wonder – what do the people who live here do for a living? Here are only 3 small boatyards, 2 restaurants, 1 tiny supermarket and volunteer work. It is all very idyllic but there are only some craftsmen and the rest are retired. There are few, if any, children or families. And we saw 12 of the marvelous old homes for sale within as 0.5 kilometer radius. This doesn’t bode well for the future and it would be sad indeed if such an historic and idyllic town were to die.

Our last stop before we sail into the southern Chesapeake is Solomon Island (no – not in the south Pacific). Here we anchored up in an idyllic little bay behind the town. We took “little Capri”, our dinghy for a long trip up the tributary rivers just to sight-see.

We needed to food shop big time before heading south. As most places in the US, where everyone drives big cars with air conditioning, the supermarkets are located outside of town in the big Malls – which by coincidence are never located near habours or anchorages. So off we went with our trolleys on our “maxi-taxis, read: feet) and marched out about 5 kilometers, shopped and started the 5 kilometers back – this time fully loaded with a ton (or maybe two) of groceries in the hot (90 degrees F plus) sun. Occasionally, the gods decide to smile on us and one of the locals will stop and ask if we need a ride – uhhh, well actually not – but since you’re asking …………… well we wouldn’t want to disappoint you, so just to please you – we’ll take you up on your kind offer.

Or said differently – hell yes we’d love a ride!!!

They always seem to know exactly where we are going – I guess we look like a couple of “”boat bums”.

This is the life of a cruising sailor………………………………

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