The Annapolis R22 dinner was such a wonderful event that I should probably
have let it mark the culmination of this sailing season. But no, I just had to sail a
little bit more. So I used the end of the season as an excuse to take Ardent down
the Chesapeake Bay, from her home port at Bowley's
Marina on the Middle River, to Forest Landing, off Cuckhold Creek on the
Patuxant River. The first two legs were to put me in Galesville, MD, where I
would be joined by my brother for the remaining three legs.
Below is part of a description of the trip I recently sent to Mary Lou and Fred. I
thought others might also find something of interest in it. The story picks up a
little as you move along. My thanks go to Jim Morrison for our Rhodes dinner
chat about his circumnavigation of the Delmarva
Peninsula. Without the benefit of his inspiring and emboldening account, I might
well have decided to sleep all day Thursday (foreshadowing). But I get ahead of
myself . . .
Drove to Bowley's after the Rhodes dinner and spent the night on Ardent. Poured
all night. Ellen was planning to meet me by 9 Sunday morning, but by 8:30 I
decided the weather was unacceptable for the trip to Eagle Cove. I headed her
off at the exit off 702 at 9:15, and returned with her and the kids back to her
mother's place. Later that morning, we went down with Ellen's stepfather to the
Baltimore aquarium--had a great time, and the kids especially liked the dolphin
show. Ellen and kids went back to PA after dinner, while I stayed over.
Left at 4 a.m. for Bowley's and had the boat ready for departure at about 6:30.
But once again, the weather was not cooperating. No rain, but heavy, heavy fog
(could barely see the end of Bowley's piers). Waited until the fog started to lift
around 7:30. Since I was now combining two legs of the trip in one day (about 35
miles), I needed to make the Bay Bridge by about 12 in order to insure not having
to find the Galesville marina as darkness fell.
There was no wind, the Bay was polished glass, so I motored most of the way to
the bridge, killing the motor and deploying sails about «-mile from the bridge.
Had a vigorous sail in about 12-15 knots all the way into the West river, where I
took a slip at Hartge Yacht Yard (managed to jam the furling line on the roller
furler drum--going forward to untangle it in 15 knots provided the thrill of the
Met my brother the next morning around 10:30 and motored (no wind) to
Knapp's Narrows, then sailed in about 5-7 knots all the way into Dun Cove. My
brother, an amateur gourmet cook, produced crab cakes and accompaniments for
dinner. A placid evening. Dun Cove is very nice and isolated, though perhaps a
bit more developed than the cruising guides imply. Highly recommended
The next day's trip from Dun Cove on the Choptank to Casson Point on the Little
Choptank was a great sail in about 12-15 knots. We sailed the whole way, and
had another idyllic evening, this time with a dinner of t-bone steaks, baked potato
and mushroom sauce, topped off with a nice bottle of red wine (my brother
brought along a wonderful gift--a Magma grill! I suppose my mention of Dinty
Moore as my standard overnight fare inspired him!).
The morning we left, it was red in the east, followed by mackerel skies at noon
and mare's tails in the late afternoon--that plus the weather forecasts and the
darkening SW sky alerted us that the front was closing in. We turned in about 11
pm on Wednesday night, as the wind was picking up and a few drops of rain
spattered on the folded up bimini.
At about 12:30, the front arrived. That's an understatement. It was as though
someone had suddenly placed us in a wind tunnel used to test airplanes. The wind
picked up...and up...and up--until it reached what I would call a wild howl. The
sound in the rigging and mast was alternately shrieking and moaning. The basic
wind was very strong, punctuated every 30 seconds or so by much stronger
sustained gusts. I had anchored with the bow to the west, intending to split the
difference between the predicted SW arrival and the shift to the NW in the early
I was in the v-berth, my brother in the main cabin. My sense as we swung,
bounced and jerked on the anchor rode was that the anchor was very well set (and
setting better by the minute!), and given that I could really not see much from the
v-berth, I managed to get some sleep. My brother--accustomed to racing sailboats
in bad weather but not to sleeping on a boat, reported that he awoke every 15
minutes and looked out a portlight, convinced that we were dragging down on the
4 other big sailboats anchored nearby.
At 4:00 AM I went out to check all the rigging and add some chafe protection on
the anchor rode--it was wild out there! At 7:30 AM we were up and listening to
the weather. It was clear, but the wind was, if anything, even stronger, and the
anchorage was filled with whitecaps.
At about 8:30, we decided to make an attempt at leaving. Don't ask me why we
thought we could do this! I can only say that both of us were groggy from lack of
sleep, and we did not give sufficient consideration to the difference between the
water state in the anchorage and the state of the water just around the point. But
we soon found out.
We motored out quickly on top of the two-three foot rollers building out of the
anchorage and were at the end of Casson Point in less than five minutes. We then
turned around the point, intending to raise a little sail. But no. With the turn, a
large following wave invited itself across our stern and flooded the cockpit,
spinning our bow to the waves coming into the Little Choptank (or, rather, into
the creek off the little Choptank proper that we were currently in).
We took the first wave head-on, and what felt like a ton of water came directly
back over the cabin top and hit us square in the face (imagine a hundred little
stinging bees and you'll get the effect!). Amazingly, we had not put on our foul
weather gear (a brain lapse, among a series of brain lapses--we were perhaps
bewitched by the blue sky and bright sun). So we were instantly soaked from
head to toe. Fortunately, the cockpit self-bailed in about 15 seconds, but we then
took another wave head on in similar fashion.
The rollers were also pushing us back toward the end of the creek. At this point I
shouted (screamed) to my brother, "We have to go back." We managed to get the
boat back around the point, and then used all 8 horses of the Honda to push us
against the waves back to the anchorage, making about 1 knot against waves and
wind. Finally anchored again in the same spot and thoroughly exhausted and wet,
we elected to go back to sleep.
At 11:30, we woke up (after our first real sleep of the evening/day), listened to the
radio and determined that the forecast was beginning to prove correct: winds 20-
25 and gusty, subsiding to 15 by late afternoon. We also listened to wind velocity
reports, comparing them to some we had heard earlier that morning. Salisbury
had been 39 at 8 AM, but was now (at 11:30) down to 22 (we later learned that
morning the wind at Pax River Naval Air Station, where we were headed, had
also been 40, gusting to 60).
Our anchorage had fewer whitecaps now, and though the wind was still very
strong, it seemed that there were fewer big gusts and that they were smaller than
earlier. We battened Ardent down, donned full foul weather gear, PFDs, tethers
and decided to give it another try, intending to first experiment with a little bit of
sail in the anchorage to convince ourselves we could control the boat and see how
This time, we made a different series of mistakes. My brother got tangled in the
anchor line after he retrieved the anchor, and when I attempted to put out the
agreed upon 3-4 feet of main, the wind ripped all lines out of my hands and put
out 100% of the main. With the waves and the wind, that was enough to knock us
down: for about 3 seconds (it seemed like 60) the top of the mast was almost
touching the water. The Honda was way up in the air, screaming in cavitation
agony, and my brother was hanging on to the jackline, still somehow wrapped in
But, of course, the trusty R22 immediately righted herself, and once we had
gotten the anchor rode stowed and the main put away, we headed out again, this
time having the sense to get some sail out before trying to round the point. When
we rounded Casson point, we had about 4 feet of jib and 3-4 feet of main, and the
Honda at full throttle. This was sufficient to give us enough forward motion to
punch through the waves (the basic challenge was to find enough sail to give
sufficient forward motion to punch through the waves, but not so much sail as to
allow the wind to knock us down).
The waves still came right back over the cabin, but with the foul weather gear and
some well-timed eye-closing, it was OK. We were also able to keep sufficient
steerageway to keep the big rolling waves from spinning us and broaching. We
were now close-hauled into what was probably the 20-25 knots actually predicted
(rather than the 30 plus we had failed to grapple with earlier), and we held this
vigorous course all the way out of the Little Choptank till we got past James
Island, when we could turn south.
From that point on, we "ran with the seas," flying down the 4-5 foot rollers (some
breaking) at up to 7.5-8 knots (according to the GPS). We still kept the 4-foot jib
and 4-foot main, with the Honda at about 3/4 throttle. This seemed to provide
good stability, though for the next two hours I felt as though a few seconds' lapse
of attention at the helm and we would be immediately pooped or rolled from the
By the time we reached Cove Point, the winds seemed to be down to 15-20 and
the seas down to 3-4 feet, and once we turned around the point, the winds rapidly
fell to 15. We killed the motor and put out full main and 125% genoa and had a
nice beam reach all the way to the Patuxant River entrance. We sailed up the
river to the Solomons bridge in 7-8 knots of wind at about 4:30 pm. We furled
sails and motored the last 20 minutes.
That's the short version (!). The longer one would include the two days of nice
day sailing near Solomons, the pleasure of Maryland's eastern shore on the
Middle Bay, and a long list of "lessons learned" as well as a short list of "things
done just right." All in all it was a terrific experience--the learning curve was a bit
steeper on Thursday than I might have wished, but invaluable. I'm happy to
report than any difficulties we encountered resided with skipper and crew, not
with the boat.
Time now for a rest.