Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Luna Sails Again

Luna sails again.


Almighty Neptune, ruler of the seas, please look kindly on thy good ship, Luna, and protect her and all who sail on her wherever on your oceans they may go.

And so began our second southern voyage with a bottle of champagne (proseco, actually), provided by our friends, Diane and Charlie Gottlieb, and drunk as a toast by your captain, the Commander, Carol Hanley, and able first mate, David Watts. David kindly agreed to accompany us through the Champlain locks to Catskill, NY, where we would re-step Luna’s mast before continuing to New York City and south. Of course, we poured a healthy libation into the sea (Lake Champlain in this case) to ensure Neptune’s favor.

This would not be the only time we invoked the divinity in the early stages of the voyage. We kept a wary eye on hurricanes Irma and, right behind her, Jose, as they coursed inexorably toward the Leeward Islands, where some sailing friends keep their sailboat (St. Marten), to the Bahamas where other sailing friends are stranded in Georgetown waiting for the heavy wind and rain to stop so they can get home to Canada, to Cuba, and onto Florida. As Irma aimed toward south Florida, I prayed it would turn westward and not northward and eastward up the east coast of the U.S. and into our proposed path.

Actually, truth be told, I also prayed it would score a direct hit on West Palm Beach and take out Mar-a-Lago before it turned west. Mar-a-Lago, of course, is the Palm Beach home of current U.S. president, Donald Trump.

From the Gospel according to Al, added to the Bible by the human survivors, none of whom was white, in A.D. 2200:

“Thus saith the Lord:

Blessed are the explainers, who maybe could help me out with this one: I spent 6 days working day and night, creating the heavens and the earth, the animals, the plants, the lakes and rivers, and seas, the forests, and you, mankind. To you I gave dominion over all the rest. And then you make this, this white monstrosity, this tacky monument to greed and self interest. Tell this to me, O humanity: is this the very best you could do?

Humanity, into the air you put all sorts of carbonated gook that threatens the beauty of the Creation and all the work I did and the gift I gave you. And, lo, did I not send terrible storms and floods and wildfires and earthquakes as a sign for you? As a warning? (What more do you need, shit heads? These are signs more clear than locusts, frogs, boils, death of first born, burning bushes, and the rest) And what didst thou, the leader of the free world, do then? You walked away from the Paris Climate Accord! You arrogant twit!

And so, Mar-a-Lago sanketh beneath the surge of the great storm at last.”

Of course, my mother also lives in Palm Beach County and has elected to shelter in place, hopefully to weather the storm. Would I sacrifice my own mother just to score a few political points and to save the earth and all life as we know it? I imagine her hunkered down in her house, darkened even in mid day by the closed hurricane shutters. In the run up to the storm, they didn’t have any more bottled water in the stores, so she has gallons of iced tea on hand. She doesn’t fear the storm so much, but hates the idea of the alligators and snakes that come up out of the flooded ponds. On my dear mother, would I wish a direct hit by Hurricane Irma?

Naturally, I couldn’t wish for that. But I know what she would do: She would say, “Bring it on!”  She hates the bastard.

Fortunately, my mother survived the blow. So did Mar a Lago. Irma passed to the west and caused more serious flooding to Florida coastal towns further north before turning toward the west and fizzling out over the southeast. We were relieved, to say the least, but the feeling was greatly tempered by the thought that here we were, worrying about our trip, thankful that Irma altered her course when all along the track were people rendered homeless and worse by the disaster.

Our friend, Krista, said it best. Hers is Harmonium, her and Phil’s Island Packet left down in St. Martens. To paraphrase, “It’s just a boat. Just a thing. Our hearts go out to the people on that island and hope for their safety.” Well said. Luna is just a boat, and worrying about it (and ourselves on it!) is a first world problem of first degree.

But yet. But yet….There is something about Luna. Something about any cruiser’s sailboat, I suspect. She is a she, which confers a degree of personhood right there. She demands a measure of loving attention, freely given, and in the bargain, we believe she agrees to keep us safe. She brings us to beautiful places and experiences of pleasure and excitement. We get to know her every sound and vibration, and we can trim her sails by the sound of the wind playing across them and by the way she heels and lifts when the sails are set just right. She is friend. She is family. To lose her would not rise to the level of pain felt by those who lost nearly everything in the storm. But it would hurt. And our thoughts and hearts go out to all those who are worried about their boats tonight.

How is it that mariners refer to their boats in the female gender? There are theories of course: “She” invokes the spirit of the earth mother who protects us. Oddly, women were felt to be unlucky shipmates aboard sailing vessels of old. This probably had more to do with  the unfulfillable sexual desires of the male crew members on very long sea voyages and the jealousies that would ensue from a very skewed male to female ratio. So early sailors carved elaborate female figureheads and referred to the ship itself as “she” while lavishing their attentions on her as a shared group hug.
Enforced on occasion by a harsh master too quick with the lash.

The most plausible explanation, and the least fun, is that early indo-european languages, as Latin, ascribed a gender to any object. Thus, in Spanish, a boat is barca, the feminine form. As the English language developed, it added a gender-neutral pronoun, “it,” but to the ancient sailors, their boat was “she.” I understand that Lloyds of London now refers to boats as its. Pity. Who’s to protect them when they are out to sea?

As Irma’s track skewed away from the east coast, we were on the Hudson River, anchored near Catskill Creek where we spent a rolling evening with the shifting tidal current and passing barge traffic.

We didn’t care so much about that, elated as we were that Irma would pose no apparent risk to us as we travelled south. The next morning, we checked into Catskill Marina, a pleasant place up the creek where we could stay in a slip for $1.00 per foot per night if they were to replace our mast.

They were, and the next day, with the help of the most ancient crane imaginable, the staff at Hoponose Boat Yard erected Luna’s mast and returned her to a sailboat at last.

In the meantime, the Commander and I could walk into town where we shopped at a delightful little specialty shop for fresh produce and cheese. We also walked up to the supermarket, and I even got a ride to Ace Hardware with Richard, our boat neighbor, to fill our propane tank and then to Walmart for some other stuff. Great little town, Catskill.

With the replacement of the mast, we cemented our commitment to continue on as planned. Fears of Irma lay behind us. But, then there was Hurricane Jose, circling around in the Atlantic, of uncertain course, but suspected to head toward the mid-Atlantic states in a week or so. Back up the anxiety level. Back up the heightened awareness.

What is it about this hurricane season that is so terrible, yet so full of irony. Imagine Jose in the middle-Atlantic region of this country, blowing up to Washington, D.C., knocking on the White House door, and saying, “Hola, señor, I am Jose. Do you think you can build a wall to keep me out? You arrogant twit.”

We left Catskill at noon, planning to sail down to Cape May and up the Delaware River to the Chesapeake Bay before Jose got to the east coast. We could wait out the storm in the streams or nooks along the upper bay if necessary. So, we filled the diesel tank and spare water jugs and fuel cans on the way out and took advantage of the last of the outgoing current to anchor about 25 miles downstream in a nicely protected spot behind Esopus Island.

We intended to leave a little before slack current the next day to ride the full extent of the ebb down toward New York City, but we woke to dense fog. We waited about an hour, and departed as it cleared slightly, the Commander navigating with GPS course plotter and auto pilot and me, blowing our trifling fog horn one long blast every two minutes. We raised a radar reflector up the mast as an extra precaution.

Fortunately, river traffic is light, and we hugged the side of the channel away from the center where the large river barges go. The fog cleared to a lovely sunny day as we passed West Point and were treated to the beauty of the scenery in the Hudson River Highlands. In the meantime, Jose appears to be remaining harmlessly out in the Atlantic, away from the U.S. coast.

We anchored for the night just north of the Tappan Zee bridge, about 20 miles upstream from the city. We’ll spend a few days in Manhattan, and then, as the wind is forecast to turn from south to north, we’ll head out down the Jersey coast. That is, barring any  reports of new storms coming our way. For us, and all those impacted Irma and Jose, we’ll say a prayer.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Appendix 1

Sailing Luna 2013-2014 Statistics

Nautical miles traveled                                                            3947

Days                                                                                          247

Latitude at departure                                                                N 44 deg 16.38 min
Latitude at furthest point south                                                N 23 deg 31.04 min
Latitude Tropic of Cancer                                                        N 23 deg 30 minutes

Engine hours                                                                             811.4

Diesel fuel consumed                                                                305 gal.
            Average fuel consumption                                           .375 gal/hr

Nights at anchor or mooring                                                      157
Nights at marinas                                                                         85
Nights at sea                                                                                  5

Most consecutive days on anchor or mooring                             44

Number of off shore ocean passages                                             9
Number out of sight of land                                                          5         
Longest passage                                                                         175 nautical miles

First dolphin sighted:                                        Albermarle Sound, N Carolina 10/19/13
Last dolphin sighted                                         Off New Jersey shore 5/11/14

Number of books from book exchanges read by the commander  31

Number of items dropped overboard:                                             8

Average monthly expense 7 months of voyage
            as a percentage of the previous 7 months                         92%

Appendix 2

Sailing Luna 2013-2014. Suggestions for the future

Considering the time and distance traveled, our journey was amazingly trouble free. Some of the problems we had anticipated turned out not to be problems. For example:

1.     Water. We carried 6 seven gallon water jugs along with Luna’s 28 gallon water tank. We found water freely available in the Bahamas  for at most a nominal charge. We never emptied all the jugs.

2. Anchoring: we carried a Rocna anchor with 20 feet of chain and 180 feet of nylon
rode. We never had trouble anchoring in the Bahamas and dragged anchor only once—in the current in Georgia—in the U.S.

3.     Food: We were able to find bread, milk, yogurt, rice, canned goods, fruit juice,      fish, Romain lettuce and (on boat days) other fresh produce in the Bahamas. We didn’t find the cost excessive.

There were aspects of Luna that we would improve, were we to make the trip again.

1.     Autopilot. Having made the trip without one, we can see the value in a functioning autopilot. Especially for making long passages out of sight of land and at night. Steering by compass and GPS is quite tiring.

2.     Communications 1; A WIFI booster is necessary. Often at marinas and at anchor, there are wifi sources available, but the signal reaching the boat is too weak.

3.     Communications 2: Verizon coverage for some of the remote areas down the Waterway is quite spotty. A cell phone amplifier would be a useful addition

4.     Communications 3. For overseas use, the Verizon cell phone and data service is prohibitively expensive. We did buy an inexpensive Bahamas telephone in Bimini along with a prepaid card. Cell coverage in the Bahamas is excellent. A 3G I pad would be good to have. At the Bahamas Telephone Co. office (most settlements have them), the staff can remove the SIMM card from the Ipad and replace it with their own card. A Bahamas data plan is reasonably priced. Internet access is important, because weather and wind information is available on line.

5.     Cockpit enclosure. For cool weather passages, especially overnight, we would have liked a warm enclosed cockpit. We will upgrade Luna’s bimini and dodger and include side curtains.

6.     Long dock lines. We carry 30 foot dock lines. There were situations, particularly when trying to dock short handed where 50 foot dock lines would have been useful.

7.     Dinghy and motor. Trying to reach remote places with our slow dinghy was often a wet and frustrating experience. We would prefer a hard bottom dinghy (RIB) with a 10hp engine. The advantage of our current set up is light weight. We could lift the 2.5 hp engine easily and could also hoist the light Achilles inflatable dinghy up to the foredeck.  Heavier equipment would require dinghy davits.

8.     Generator. Our solar system does not keep pace with our electrical usage, particularly on cloudy days and in the winter when the sun is further away. Too often, we found it necessary to run the diesel engine. A wind generator might have been a helpful addition. A portable gasoline generator would have been useful. Doubling the 90W solar capacity might have helped.

9.     Radio. Next time, we will check the VHF radio and antenna before we set out. In the Bahamas, a single sideband shortwave receiver might have been useful to hear weather forecasts, though from neighboring boats and local nets, we were always aware of coming changes in the weather.

10.  Spare propane tank. Sooner or later, everyone runs out. Propane, while sold in many places, is not conveniently available everywhere. A second propane tank, like the emergency fuel tanks of the old VW bug, is good to have. 

 Luna, mast removed,  rests at her home mooring

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Twenty thousand roads I've gone down, down, down,
And they all led me straight back home to you…….Gram Parsons,  Return of the Grievous Angel


From the Captain

5/15/14 Wappinger Creek to Riverview Marina, Catskill, NY 40 nm.

We continued to ride the current up the Hudson, delaying our departure until the tide turned. We made the 40-mile trip to Riverview, where owner Mike and his crew will crane Luna's mast down onto her deck in the morning.

All up the river we have dodged fishermen out on their skiffs. I ask Mike what fish is running this time of year. "Striped bass," he tells me. "And there's big money out there. Someone pulled up a 40-pounder the other day." On the Chesapeake, they call these rockfish. With all the lines in the water, I don't see how these critters have a chance. The fishing derby explains why I saw someone throw back a fairly sizable fish earlier in the day.

The skies are threatening rain, and there is another large storm system approaching the coast, but there is work to do. We undo all the halyards and lines that lead from the mast onto the cabin top. Loosen the stays and shrouds. Remove the sails and the boom.

There is a huge pile of lumber behind the marina office, mast supports left by cruisers on their way down. "Anything without a boat name or date is fair game," says Mike. I find a couple of two-by-fours to make a cradle to support the mast when it comes down. Mike cuts them for me on his power saw. "We have some tools to lend, and screws if you need them, but I can't let you use the power saw," he offers.

5/16/14 Riverview Marina to Houghtaling Creek, New Baltimore, NY, 15.4 nm

The rain and wind are holding off, and all is in place. Mike starts the crane. His assistant, John, attaches a line to the mast. The spar rises out of the deck and tilts about 20 degrees. They know exactly where to attach the hook from the crane so the mast is weighted properly. John guides the mast into my cradle as Mike lowers it slowly. The whole thing is over fairly quickly. Luna, thus disfigured, is no longer a sailboat. I feel a twinge of guilt.

It takes us a while to tie everything down. The sky is threatening, and a south wind has come up. We look at possible anchorages and decide to continue onward. It is mid afternoon, and the current is flowing upstream, on the flood. We don't have far to go to a protected spot behind Houghtaling Island.

We are out of the river in a nice, quiet spot. A good place to wait out the coming storm. Maybe it will pass north or south of us.

Or maybe not. During the night, the rain comes like a river, cascading into the cockpit, drumming on the topsides. Naturally, it is finding its way in around the port lights. Out comes the plastic tarp to cover the settee cushions. Several pints too late, I'm afraid. In the morning, we will set the cushions out to dry, and I will pump about 2 inches of water out of the dinghy, calmly floating off Luna's stern.

5/17/14 Houghtaling Island to Schuyler Yacht Basin, Schuylerville, NY, 45.5 nm.

The storm passed, the sun is out. We're motoring north, toward Albany and the Champlain Canal. We weighed anchor early, before the tide turned, so we're fighting an ebb current, making about 4.5 kts. The alternative was to wait until nearly noon to leave.

We pass a couple of high bridges, then there is a low railroad swing bridge up ahead. The commander
Motoring under a low bridge on the Hudson
asks, "Can we clear 25 feet?" A creature of custom, I panic. I call the bridge on the radio. No answer. The guidebook says it opens on request, with a 24-hour notice. What I don't notice, of course, is the mast lying horizontal a few inches above my head. Of course we can clear 25 feet. We can probably clear half that much. I am relieved there is no bridge operator to answer the radio call. Like Gilda Radner as Rosanne Rosannadanna, the slightly misguided and inappropriately indignant news commentator on the old TV show, Laugh In, "Never mind."

Because of the heavy rains in the midwest and the east, much of the Erie Canal is closed. This joins the Hudson above the Federal Lock in Troy, NY, above Albany.  The Champlain Canal and the Federal Lock are both open so far. The storm has raised the water level in the river, and deposited all sorts of woody debris there.

The ingress of sea water into the Hudson stops at Poughkeepsie, and we are motoring in fresh water. I am imagining all the salt flushing out of Luna's engine and cooling system, out of her underwater fittings and hoses, away from her electrical connections.

The tide reaches up to Albany, but once through the lock into the upper reaches of the Hudson, we will not have to take into account tidal current. The river itself, however, is flowing downstream rather briskly. We slog north at about 4 kts for the rest of the day.

We pass through the first four locks of the Hudson River toward the Champlain Canal, which takes off above Lock 7. We have the locks to ourselves, and Luna feels small inside the giant chambers. This is to our advantage, however. The lock keepers seem glad to have something to do, and we never have to wait very long to pass. I have fun trying out my conch shell in the lock's echo chamber. I'm getting better.

We are locking up, rising around waterfalls and dams, as the river's elevation increases toward the north. We reach Schuylerville by dinner time. The Schuyler Yacht Basin is there, and friendly owners said they would watch for us and guide us in. Phil opens the gas pump and fills one of our diesel cans. It's my birthday, and we're thinking of the Mexican restaurant, Amigos' Cantina, mentioned on Active Captain.

The stop in Schuylerville convinces us that this adventurous trip is not over. The little waterfront town is one of those unanticipated delightful hidden spots we'd not see traveling overland. Here the definitive Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga was fought and lost by the British, right after their defeat at the the Battle of Bennington across the Hudson in Vermont. You can trace the British advance through Lake Champlain, delayed at Valcour by the newly minted American Navy under command of Benedict Arnold. When the British warships overpowered the smaller American gunboats, the Royalists advanced southward and captured Ft. Ticonderoga. They continued on, planning to take New York and split the colonies. They were stopped in Schuylerville. Here General Bourgoyne surrendered to General Gates on October 16, 1777, turning the tide toward the ultimate Colonial victory.

Old buildings line the streets. Amigos' is a couple of blocks from the marina, and it is packed on this Saturday night. The owner, Rob, meets us at the door and says there will be no tables available, but if we wait just a bit, a couple of spots will open up at the bar. He is enthusiastic about his restaurant and tells us it will be worth it to stay.

We do. We have a great meal at the bar, watching the friendly bartender, Cassie, zipping around among the glasses and bottles. "I make a mean mojito," she advises. And she does. For dessert, after the shrimp enchiladas, the pork tamale, the chile rellenos, there is chocolate espresso creme brûlée. Rob is right to be enthusiastic.

5/18/18 Schuylerville, NY, to Benson Landing, VT 43.5 nm.

Seven more locks go go. There are three on the Hudson above Schuylerville before the Champlain
Canal branches off to the east. There are four more on the canal before we reach Vermont, right above Whitehall, NY.

We're in the north country, and we see intimations of home. Green hills in the distance clothed with
the the light greens of early spring, the darker greens of later foliage, and the still darker greens of the evergreens among the hardwoods. At places there are farms with red barns, silos, and holstein cows.
The hills are higher now. And, on the concrete walls of the locks, we see as we descend one of the scourges of Lake Champlain, zebra mussels, spitting streams of water as they are left high and dry.

Lock 12 opens into Vermont
We're in Lock 12, the last one. The old buildings of Whitehall rise beyond the canal's wall. On a cliff to the east, a huge ancient cannon points outward toward the south end of Lake Champlain. The huge doors of the lock close behind us. As we hold the ropes on the wall to keep us in place. the lock keeper opens the valves to drain water, and Luna descends slowly, about 12 feet. The metal doors ahead of us open slowly, slowly. Beyond the gradually enlarging slit, we can see Vermont.

It's late afternoon, but we decide to travel another hour or two up the lake to shorten our trip tomorrow. We anchor just off the channel near the Vermont town of Benson. There are a few camps down at lake level to the east of us. Past them, the land rises in a wooded hill. On the New York side is a longer view across the railroad tracks at water's edge to green fields beyond and the higher hills of the southern Adirondack Mountains.

Neither the commander nor I was prepared for the emotional impact of seeing Vermont again for the first time in more than eight months. The unique beauty of her hills, fields, lake, sky, woods, and ledges. If we had traveled thousands of miles to some exotic location and saw a view like this, we would think it could be the most beautiful place in the world. We have seen pretty spots that have left us breathless and stirred our souls, but there has been nothing like this in our travels. The landscape is unique, and the experience brings us joy. Nancy, our friend who made the journey last year in Emerald Sunset, tells the commander, "It's worth the long trip just for the experience of seeing Vermont again."
Sunset over Lake Champlain

5/19/19 Benson Landing to Point Bay Marina, Charlotte, VT 36.5 nm

The day is sunny. We have a relatively short voyage ahead, the last leg of our journey. We weigh anchor and are off. A little to the north, when the cell phone signal is better, the commander calls friends to give them our estimated time of arrival.

A few clouds appear. A breeze comes up, blowing from the north. As we pass Fort Ticonderoga, the choppy waves start and build steadily as the wind increases to 15 kts. We'll spend the last few hours bouncing into 2-3 foot waves against a biting north wind funneling down the lake. Vermont, after all, will be Vermont.
Crown Point bridge in the distance
It's OK. We pass under the Crown Point Bridge, up past the palisades on the New York side, waving toward our friend, Lee, who is watching us through his binoculars. As we near Kingsland Bay, the marina is in sight. Todd, the director, has a slip for us to use while we unload Luna. Later he will say that we are the first boat back from the south, including the trawlers that usually stop for fuel on their way toward Canada.

Welcome home at Point Bay Marina
Two hands are waving to us from the dock. It's Susan and Lynne, who have come to welcome us. David and Vince are there, too. Lynne produces a bottle of champagne. The six of us have a toast, they to welcome us back, we to express our appreciation for the friends we've missed. We'll continue the celebration over dinner at Susan and Vince's home later.

First, they bring us and a small load of clothes and food home, to our house. The family who has been living there in our absence has left it spotless. It is bright and open. We marvel at the wealth of space. Of course! Even the garage, where I go to start the car (it does!), seems oddly spacious and uncluttered. Last fall, it seemed rather cramped and close with all its contents pushed toward the back to make room for the car. Close and cramped compared to what?

Nancy and Phil stop by to welcome us. They've been back for a couple of weeks already. Our friends are certainly glad to see us. It's as if a wrinkle in the force has been repaired now that we are back. We feel the same, of course. It's our community and family we have missed the most.

There is another community, out there on the waterway. As we start to settle in, a flurry of emails comes from the Royal Canadian Navy, the B to B (Biscayne to Bimini) Fleet, just checking in to see where everyone is and how everyone is doing.

I tell our friends, and I really believe it, that this marvelous adventure has been both much easier and much better than we had imagined.

Crew of Luna, back in home port

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover     
Something in the way she move me…..       George Harrison

New York, NY

From the Captain

5/9/14 Bohemia River to Nantuxent Bay, Newport, NJ, 47.1 nm

We're looking ahead to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, then the Delaware River down to Cape May. Tides and currents play a big part in planning this part of the trip. There is a 7-foot tide on the Delaware, and a fast current, particularly in the upper reaches. If the current runs against the wind, the river can be uncomfortably rough. There is also a fast current in the canal.

The best plan would be to enter the canal as the tide is rising on the Maryland side. We would go with the current to the river and reach there as the tide falls, riding the ebb current downstream as far as we could.

Serendipitously, the week's layover helped us. When we reached Chesapeake City, high tide was at 4 am. By daylight, we would have reached the canal on a falling tide. However, tides advance by nearly an hour a day, timed with the orbit of the moon. By the time we set out from the Bohemia River, high tide was about 10 am, so the current didn't turn against us as we motored east beyond the Mason Dixon Line, into Delaware.
Delaware River is calm at the Salem nuclear plant

We hit the Delaware on the ebb, and charged downstream at nearly 9 kts. Our timing could hardly have been better. We are rushing back toward home like a horse to her barn after a long day's ride. This is a windless day, as well. The notoriously rough Delaware River is as tame as a kitten today.

We are going toward the ocean, so the tidal change is coming up to meet us. We enjoy the ride while we can, knowing the rising tide will advance to meet us in a few hours. We plan for this accordingly. While we sailed up the Delaware in one day in the Fall, we will stop for the night somewhere in the middle tonight.

Our goal is a protected anchorage up the Cohansey River, on the New Jersey side of the river. We reach the mouth of the Cohansey in mid afternoon, but still have a very slight ebb current in our favor. There is another spot about 10 miles further south where a small creek enters near Nantuxent Point. There is shallow water here, but with the 7-foot tide we can get in and out in the morning without problem. Slack current ebb (the point where the current changes to start flowing toward the ocean) is at 8 am.

Light south winds and a possible thunderstorm are predicted overnight. We anchor in the mouth of the creek in the lee of a line of simple beach houses up on stilts to the south of us. We stay out of the channel, as we see some fairly large fishing boats up the creek beyond us. The night is calm, and there are no storms.

5/10/14 Nantuxent Point to Cape May, Delaware, 30 nm.

There is a good southwest wind today, and we are going southeast. We have the current in our favor. The sails are up, the motor is off. Another good day on the Delaware.

After sailing the shallow waters of the Bahama Bank, we don't feel inclined to keep to the marked deep water channel. We sail a straight line toward our destination, avoiding the shallows noted on the chart. Out in the channel, we count 7 freighters heading north to Philadelphia, one after the other like a parade of elephants in the circus.

We reach the canal to Cape May near low tide, There are a couple bridges on the canal that are 55 feet above water level at high tide. This is close to the height of Luna's mast, but the bridges are not a problem at low tide. We reach the harbor and motor around to the anchorage at the Coast Guard station. It is not crowded this early in the season.

But there is a boat there whose green sail and cockpit covers look familiar to us. It is Dana, the Morgan 38 whose owners we met in Carolina Beach and Southport on the way south. We anchor next to them and yell over, "Hi, Dana. We're Luna!"

Immediately, two sets of feet go into the respective cabins of the two sailboats. Down to the desk at the navigation station to find The Book.

The Book is a small binder with plastic pockets to hold business cards collected from sailors encountered along the way. Boat cards, they are called. They have the name of the boat. And the names of the owners. Jim and Bonnie. Bunky and Carol. Some of us may be poor at remembering names, but one rarely forgets a boat.

They have spent the winter in the Florida Keys at Marathon and Key West and are heading back to their homeport on Long Island. This is their second cruise. Four years ago, they sailed to the Bahamas. Over dinner we will share cruising experiences.

Bonnie is making crab cakes, and we take the dinghy into Cape May for a walk. We bring some letters to mail, then remember it's Saturday. Beside the boat cards, a calendar would be a useful tool. But, who looks at it? We have a calendar, but lose track of the days.

Cape May oysters
The dinghy is tied to the dock at the Lobster House restaurant on the waterfront. We stop for a beer and a dozen oysters from Delaware Bay on their outdoor deck. From their retail shop, we pick up some smoked whitefish spread for an appetizer and a chocolate torte for dessert.

Jim and Bonnie are leaving for Sandy Hook, NJ, tomorrow. We had been thinking of stopping at Barnegat Bay, about halfway up the Jersey shore. But the wind is favorable, south at 10 kts, and the temperature in the 50's. This will be an easier overnight than some we have done. We alter our plans to leave with them at noon, expecting to arrive  at New York harbor by daylight.

5/11-5/12/2014 Cape May, N.J. to West 79th St. Boat Basin, Hudson River, New York City. 132.4 nm.

The cruise up the Jersey shore was uneventful. Before a 10 kt SW wind, we motor sailed northeasterly. The day was warm and sunny. Nightfall brought a nearly full moon that illuminated the seas around us. There was not a bitingly cold wind as on some other passages. We took the helm in 90-minute shifts.

The wind died at sunset, and we took down the sails. Then it changed directions to the southwest in the early hours, and we put the genoa out. We kept in radio contact with Dana, who was right on our stern. Along the way, we picked up the folks on Kiowah, who heard us talking on the radio. They are a couple from Maine on a C&C 40 with their two daughters about 8 miles behind us according to their radar.

We saw a few fishing boats in the distance, but no other traffic. Neither of us slept much on the passage.

We made great time, averaging over 6 kts, and reached New York three hours earlier than expected. We had a favorable current up the Hudson for another three hours, and instead of stopping to rest at Sandy Hook, we parted with Dana and motored the rest of the way past the Battery and the Statue of Liberty, past lower Manhattan and the skyscrapers of midtown, to the Upper West Side. We picked up a mooring at the West 79th St. Boat Basin, part of the New York park system and Riverside Park.
Sailing past lower Manhattan

I dinghied in to the office, registered for two nights, and took a shower. When I returned to Luna, Kiowah had just arrived on the mooring just upstream from us. I stopped by, and we chatted for a bit. Their C&C 40 looks just like our C&C 35, only a little bigger.

They crossed from Lake Worth to the Bahamas when we did and were right behind us as we travelled north. They even sailed from Fernandina to Charleston a day after us. I was surprised we hadn't seen them until now. Travelling among the community of sailors is like living in Vermont in a way. When you meet Vermonters out of state, you are always surprised that you don't know them, or someone they know, already.

We should have a nap. On the other hand, the day is warm and sunny. A perfect day to be in the city. We walk a few blocks to the post office. We walk downtown. Have lunch at the Cuban restaurant. Make plans to walk on the High Line.

The commander is ready to go on, but I am done in. This is unusual for me. We walk back uptown, reach the Boat Basin, take the dinghy back to Luna, and I sleep for a couple of hours until dinner.
Luna on a mooring off Riverside Park

5/13/14 New York City

We have a day to spend in Manhattan. It is one of those lovely New York days, warm and sunny, that make you fall in love with the city. We walked up from the Boat Basin, past workers and trainees tending shade gardens along the paths of Riverside Park.  We walked toward Central Park. People are on the sidewalks, walking everywhere. Bicyclists. School children in tow for field trips.

In Central Park, new spring leaves and green grass create a sense of peace and majesty. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is inscribed on the asphalt path in chalk. Nannies push baby carriages. People are sitting or playing in the fields. . As many people as are there, we are amazed at the quiet among the trees and rocks.

We pass an old woman sitting still on a park bench staring pensively out over the park. The commander wonders how old we have to be before we are allowed to pass the day in such quiet contemplation, without guilt.

Someone asked Pete Seeger a few years back how he felt protesting wars while nations just continued fighting. He remarked at how much progress we've made in his lifetime. As we walk by playgrounds full of white, black, and brown children and see people strolling leisurely on the streets of New York, sitting in outdoor cafes, hear all sorts of languages spoken by those we pass, we start to grasp what Pete meant.

We spent the greater part of the day visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I believe this contains more stuff than Luna, though we did not stop to count the pieces. Certainly, what Luna lacks in, say, ancient Greek and Roman pottery, sculpture, glass, and metal work, or large paintings by the old masters, or luscious Persian carpets, or Stradivari violins and old Martin guitars, or swords and suits of armor, she more than makes up for in her extensive collection of mis-matched nuts, bolts, and screws.

And while the artwork at the Met is precisely cataloged and perfectly arranged, Luna's stuff is more casually arrayed in what a boater might call, "Like everywhere you look?" Though the Met has more items, I think if you divide the area occupied by the stuff by the total area available to contain it, calculate, in other words, the clutter index, I think Luna might have it beat.

But there the comparisons end. Such is life on the cruising sailboat where the challenge, as well as the joy, is learning to live in a small space. We've become pretty good at it, learning to store what's used more often the closer at hand. We've become expert at navigating the interior of the boat to retrieve what is necessary with the fewest number of motions.

One of the highlights at the museum for us was a new installation in the rooftop garden. Here we walked among ivy and magenta wisteria blossoms on a thick carpet of artificial grass. We looked out over the Manhattan Skyline and Central Park. We sat on the grass and had picnic lunch, purchased at the snack bar up there. We watched others lounging with family and friends, shoes off, sitting on the grass as we were.

Later, we walked downtown, had an early dinner at a tapas place in Hell's Kitchen on 9th Avenue, and saw a play off-Broadway, a one-man depiction of an elderly Louis Armstrong reflecting on his life.

It's Tuesday night, and the sidewalks and cafes are crowded. As we walk back uptown, I am thinking about the sense of community. About diversity. About the helpful staff member at the Met who came over and asked what we were looking for when he saw us trying to make sense of the map we picked up. About the friendly waiter in the restaurant. Maybe Pete Seeger was right. Perhaps we, as a species, are evolving toward a place of greater cooperation, empathy, and understanding. This is not the New York of just a decade or two ago.

5/14/14 New York City to Wappinger Creek, New Hamburg, NY, 51.5 nm

Fog on the northern Hudson River
We're off with the incoming tide, riding the flood north toward Albany. There is a mild north wind, so we're motoring along, making 7 kts. The day is cool, but not cold. The river, as it narrows and winds north of the city and beyond the Tappan Zee, is beautiful. We are starting to see mountains.

A large wooden sloop lies in the water off West Point. She is motoring into the wind. As we get closer, we identify the Clearwater. There is a group of young students on board, hauling in unison on
the halyard to hoist the massive gaff-rigged mainsail.
Sloop Clearwater

Yesterday, I was thinking of Pete Seeger, and today we see the Clearwater. This is a 106-foot replica of a Hudson River sloop, used in the age of sail to transport goods up and down the river. It was built in Maine and launched in 1969, part of Seeger's Clearwater Foundation. The latter grew out of his work to clean up the Hudson River, contaminated by PCB's from electrical plants along its banks. The mission of the Clearwater Foundation is to bring people back to the river, raise and teach environmental awareness, clean the river, and host a yearly music festival. The awareness raised by the foundation helped the passage of the Clean Water Act and certainly succeeded in cleaning up the Hudson.

We motor up past Seeger's hometown, Beacon, NY, where a smaller sister ship of the Clearwater, the Woody Guthrie, is moored.

We anchor toward the east bank of the river near the mouth of Wappinger Creek, south of a marina there. The spot is not well protected from any direction, but anchor holding is reported to be excellent, and we are not expecting significant winds tonight.

Train tracks hug both banks here, like a zipper on a pair of cosmic trousers. Little snippets of
Commuter train travels up the Hudson
commuter trains run up and down the east bank, looking like Lionels. Engine in front going north, sometimes in the rear coming south.

Freight trains travel the west bank. The tracks here are not welded at the seams, so we can hear the clack-clack of the wheels as the trains pass. The freights are not as frequent as the passenger trains, but they are much longer.

Paul Simon, who wrote, "Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance; everybody thinks it's true," probably has not spent much time up here. However, the horns and the thrumming  diesel engines and the clicking wheels blend into the background after a while, and we sleep well, bobbing gently in the current on the river.

Tomorrow, we will reach Catskill, NY, about 30 miles upriver. Here, we will unstep Luna's mast, tie it to her decks, and head for the Champlain Canal. We are only about four days away from home.

Sunrise at Cape May Coast Guard Station

Friday, May 9, 2014

I feel that if I leave the ship for too long or go too far, it may sail without me (and that then I would be lost in the real world).      Redmond O'Hanlon

From the Captain

4/28/14. Hudson Creek to Rock Hall Landing Marina, Rock Hall, MD 46nm

The morning has started off cloudy and misty, but a promise of sunshine later in the morning. There is an easterly wind, and, out in the channel, we hoist sail and turn the engine off as we head north up the bay. At the mouth of the Little Choptank, two dolphins surface off Luna's starboard quarter. They swim with us for a bit, as if to send us off, back toward the north country.

They take the breeze with them as they go. Shortly, the wind stops, the sails come down, and we're under motor, toward the northern part of the bay. The surface of the water is dead calm. The Chesapeake Bay bridge appears faintly, dead ahead. We're nearly 20miles away, but the bridge is high enough and large enough to be plainly visible, even at that distance.

A tanker shows its starboard side as it overtakes Luna
We reach Rock Hall near the marina's closing time, but Chris, the owner, is there and helps us into a vacant slip. It's early in the season there after a cold winter and rainy spring. There are a lot of empty slips. "We'll do a starboard tie," he says. "There is heavy rain and a strong east wind coming, and it will push you away from the dock if you tie on that side." We sign in, and he gives us a map of the town and a list of local restaurants and shops, the combination to the bathrooms, and the password for the marina wifi.

Downtown Rock Hall is a quarter mile from the marina, and we carry the umbrella as we walk in. It's already starting to drizzle. Dinner is at The Kitchen, a small restaurant on the main street. "They have the best crab cakes," Chris tells us.

Rock Hall is a charming bay town, a fishing and crabbing village at the mouth of the Chester River. As the fisheries have declined, the town, like so many others, is cashing in on the yachting boom. Marinas and restaurants line the protected harbor. Small shops downtown. Some waterfront condominiums. Small houses on the streets. Cherry blossoms and dogwood in bloom.

And very few people. We are one of only three occupied tables in the restaurant. The town is deathly quiet. The boating season is delayed. Bad weather is coming. No one is here.

4/29/14. I'm sure we are the only ones at the marina. It's a seriously rainy day. We have the cabin top covered with a tarp to keep out the rain. That helps. There is still some water seeping around the bolts that fix the deck to the hull. Together with condensation, the water in the enclosed lockers will require drying and bleaching to keep the mildew down. But not today. We're due for two solid days of rain. The radar application on the smart phone shows a major storm from the Florida panhandle all up the east coast, exiting the country right at the top of the DelMarVa peninsula.

Fortunately, Rock Hall Landing has a strong wifi signal that reaches our slip. The internet service is fast. We buy the last season of Downton Abbey from VUDU and watch each episode on the laptop over the two days. During a lull in the rain, we walk over to the Waterman's Crab House for dinner. There are very few others there. The owner bemoans the cold, wet weather and the delayed spring.

We can imagine what a vibrant waterfront town Rock Hall must be. Waterman's has a large deck facing the harbor. You can tie your boat there while you eat. Chris, the marina owner, lends us his car to drive out to the fish market and the supermarket. There are interesting shops along the way, but hardly anyone on the streets.

4/30/14 Rock Hall to Bohemia Bay Yacht Harbor, Chesapeake City, MD 34nm

We've been gone for seven-and-a-half months now. Part of that time, we've been in remote parts of the Bahamas and out of touch. We've worried about what would happen in the case of a family emergency. How would they reach us? How could we get back for them?

The family has been fortunate. We have been fortunate. Up until now. Last night, the commander got a call from her sister. Their mom, at age 96, is suddenly ill and is on her way to the hospital by ambulance. Overnight, her condition deteriorates.

The commander calls Enterprise. There are no cars to rent in Rock Hall or Baltimore. There are some in Chesapeake City. The weather has improved overnight. We reserve a car for tomorrow in Chesapeake City and leave the marina, heading north on the bay.

After the storm, the bay is flat calm. There is a lot of floating debris--branches, logs, boards--in the water. The debris is easy to avoid. Easier than the crab traps. Fortunately, it's early in the season, and they haven't been put out yet.

The marina on Bohemia Bay will take Luna for the week, but as we motor toward it, the situation in the hospital deteriorates. The commander, with help from our daughter-in-law, has a car waiting at the marina to drive her to the Baltimore airport. From there she will fly up to Albany with our oldest son, in from Milwaukee.

I spend the night on the Bohemia River and will get the rental car in the morning to make the drive up to western Massachusetts. As it turns out, neither the commander nor I will arrive in time. Her mom passes quietly before Carol arrives in Baltimore. We will stay the week among family and friends in the Berkshires.

There is a funeral to arrange. Grief in the beginning. The week ends with a sense of optimism, of mutual support and appreciation, of joy in tribute to the commander's mother--a long life well lived.

The commander has stayed in touch with her mom while we have been stateside. Invariably, when asked how she was feeling her mom answered: "I feel really good. I can't believe how good I feel. You're having fun on the boat, aren't you?"

5/7/14  Western Massachusetts to Boston to Stamford, CT, to Bohemia Bay

Time to return to the ship. In the rental car, we leave the Berkshires with the commander's Aunt Kay aboard. We drop her at her place in Boston. From her apartment, we can see and smell the ocean. It feels good to be back. We celebrate with a lobster roll and cup of clam chowder from Hooks Lobster Co. right on the waterfront, on the way to Kay's apartment. Her treat.

Lunch on the Boston waterfront

Then we're back on the road toward Maryland. We stay overnight in a hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, price lined en route by the commander. As we travel on I-95 through New Haven and south, we can see snatches of the sea to the east. We're glad to be going back to Luna.

We return the rental car to the Enterprise office in Middletown, Delaware, and their driver takes us back to Bohemia Bay. Luna is there. She hasn't left without us. She's just as we left her. A little musty in the closed cabin, but we open the hatches and clear the air. The sun is out. It shines brightly into the cockpit, and it's hot. There is little wind. The trees look a little greener than when we left.

We take a break, sit in the cockpit, have a plate of chèvre and crackers along with a gin and tonic. It's happy hour. For the first time in more than a week. we can sit back, enjoy the quiet, take in the scenery around us--the water, an occasional fish breaking the surface, trees, a few seagulls. A heron glides by. Other boats in the marina. Here and there an owner working on his boat. We feel a part of it all. This is a nice life.

On the stereo, the commander plays some of the music from the funeral: our son, Noah, recorded a version of the 23rd Psalm, accompanying the soloist with his saxophone. Then he recorded one of his grandmother's signature tunes, "My Little Grass Shack," which sent the mourners off from the funeral service. For perhaps the first time in a week, we have some time to spend in quiet reflection.

In Memoriam: Barbara Augusta Hanley Ludwig, 1917-2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On to the Chesapeake Bay

From the Captain:

4/22/14  Durant Island to Dismal Swamp Visitor's Center, Camden, N.C. 50 nm

The cold front has truly passed. The sky is clear, and the wind is from the southwest, about 10 kts. We are heading north and raise both sails. Luna hums along. This is a nice day. The payback for the past few days of rough sailing continues.

The trip across the Albemarle Sound is going well. We enter the Pasquotank River toward Elizabeth City. We pass a huge Coast Guard air station with large hurricane-resistant hangars for their helicopters. We look over and see a fast orange runabout coming at us from the station. As it nears us, we can see the uniformed officers, sunglasses, guns of those who protect our shores. They pull up along side. A young officer introduces himself and says they are going to board us for an inspection. "Do you have any weapons aboard?" he asks. We don't. I wonder what would happen if I said, "Yes."

The inflatable boat pulls up along side. "Maintain your course and speed," he orders. He and another climb on board as we move along. He examines our life jackets, our fire extinguishers, checks the bilge for oil, checks our documentation. All is in order. He looks at the valve for the holding tank to make sure it is locked in the closed position while we are inland. It is not. He allows me to affix a nylon zip tie so it will pass inspection. He looks for a sticker saying it is illegal to dump oil in coastal waters. We find this in the cockpit locker. He looks for another sticker in the galley that notes it is illegal to dump trash or garbage in the water out to the three-mile limit. We don't have one of those, and he happily provides one. "Put this somewhere in the galley," he directs.

The sticker is large and says what one would imagine it would say. You can't dump garbage or trash in the water. Beyond the three-mile limit, it is acceptable to dump garbage cut into small pieces. It is illegal to dump plastic anywhere. I put it up behind to door under the galley sink.

Luna passes the inspection. We get an official paper to that effect, and the boys take off. Very efficient and professional, just like you would like our soldiers to be.

The commander at the helm says, "We'd better get the sails down." The Coast Guard boat left as we approached Elizabeth City, where a drawbridge waits. We quickly drop the main and furl the jib. We motor past the Elizabeth City public docks, waving at the official greeters, who were hoping for a visitor on this quiet day.

Spring in the Dismal Swamp
The Dismal Swamp looks delightfully familiar. When we came south in November, the trees sported muted fall colors. Today, there are springtime leaves, small and light green. At the edge of the dense woods, dogwood blooms. Lavender wisteria hangs in clusters from some of the trees. Birds call, hidden in the foliage.

There is a lock and a drawbridge at each end of the canal. They open only a few times a day, and the last opening is at 3:30. We will have to anchor somewhere at the southern end of the canal if we don't make the opening. Even with the Coast Guard inspection, we should make the opening in plenty of time. There is a boat behind us, Cat's Paw. We heard him hailing the drawbridge after we passed.  Approaching the lock, we slow down as he comes into sight.

In the fall, there were seven or eight boats tied up at the Visitor's Center dock, rafted together three deep. Today, there are only two of us. Cat's Paw, a nice 41-foot Island Packet motor sailor, pulls in behind us.

We have been talking with Phil and Nancy on the phone. They have left Emerald Sunset in Florida for the summer and are driving back to Vermont. They left Charleston this morning, will meet us at the Visitor's Center, and stay in Norfolk tonight. They provide us with some of their provisions from their boat, a couple of bottles of wine and tonic, and some great happy hour company before pushing on. Their coming and going remind us how we are looking forward to rejoining our community back home.

4/23/14 Dismal Swamp Visitor's Center to Sunset Boating Center, Sunset Creek, Hampton, Virginia. 36 nm.

The lock and drawbridge at the northern end of the Dismal Swamp is 14 miles beyond the Visitor's Center, and the morning openings are at 8:30 and 10. There is a small south-flowing current in the canal, and our speed is about 5.5 knots.To make the 8:30 opening, we figure we have to leave at 6:15. There is barely enough light to see. Cat's Paw has already gone. We see his white stern light in the distance.

In the dawn, the birds' songs echo in the forest. To hear them, Robert J. Lurtsema would have swooned in the heyday of National Public Radio. I see an otter swimming along the bank. He climbs out onto a log. Luna glides along. A cup of coffee. We are on schedule.

The bridge-tender raises the span, and we pass down to the lock. He is the most personable lock/bridge-tender we've met. At the lock, his little shelter is landscaped with conch shells given him by boaters returning from the Bahamas. He asks where we've been. "Where is my conch shell?" he asks after our sheepish answer.

The man wears a perpetual grin. He tells us about an extended trip he took with his wife through Florida and eventually over to the Bahamas. He tells us he is a champion conch-blower. "They won't let me in the contests any more because they think I'm a professional."

Of course, I bring out my conch shell. "You put your hand inside like this to lower the note," he demonstrates. "If you trill your tongue, you can get a vibrating note." He plays a little song on the shell. Satchmo of the mollusk shell. He hands me back the shell. To the commander he grins, "You're going to hate me for that."

"I know what you mean already," she replies. He has left some of his mojo on the shell. I blow into it and get a full, clear note. I put my hand in the shell and lower the tone. The best yet. The sound echoes off of the walls of the lock.  Downstream, however, I try it again--the mojo has gone.

As we prepare to leave the lock, this friendly man warns us about conditions in the Chesapeake. There are strong winds up there and high seas. He tells us of several free spots to anchor or tie up in Norfolk if we don't want to cross the bay.

The north wind is back for a day or two, but it is sunny and fairly warm. We are undaunted by the waves off Norfolk. They are not as bad as the ones we crashed through a couple days ago. The wind is slightly west of north, off our bow quarter, and we unfurl the small genoa. We are flying along at 7 knots, hitting 8 occasionally.

There are only 6 miles of open water from Norfolk across to the Hampton River. Once in the river, the waves calm considerably. We furl our sail and motor up the quiet Sunset Creek to the marina.  We'll wait out the two north wind days here. I have called a sailmaker in Hampton, and he comes over and picks up our large genoa. I change the oil in Luna's diesel engine.

Sage advice, Hampton, VA
The marina is within a pleasant walk of downtown in one direction and the supermarket in the other. We walk downtown in the afternoon. Hampton has many historical plaques pointing out the town's role in Colonial times, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. People have been sailing into Hampton since 1607, when the British colony at Jamestown was established.

The history is there, but all the buildings are fairly new. During the Civil War, the Confederate soldiers under General James Magruder set fire to the town to keep it out of Union hands. Only St. John's Church remained standing. The church, a brick structure, sits amidst an old cemetery. A large monument to the Confederate soldiers rises in front. No hard feelings for the fire. The church is nearly hidden by the unbelievably lush white dogwoods that are blossoming all around.

Historic St. John's Church
We are tourists again. We pass a row of restaurants on Queen's Way and settle on Marker 20. It's happy hour, and they are having a special: 1 pound of peel-and-eat shrimp for $10.99. Nowhere have we had fresher. Afterwards, we split a fried-oyster dinner that absolutely delights. The oysters are lightly breaded, crispy on the outside, and barely cooked within. You can still taste the ocean as you bite into them.

4/25/14 Hampton, VA, to Jackson Creek, Piankatank River, Deltaville, VA 41.8nm

We spent a second night at the marina in Hampton. I got a haircut, and the commander did laundry. We walked to the Food Lion in one direction and then walked to a fish market about a mile-and-a-half away in the other.The manager gave me a ride to the hardware store. The commander and I had lunch at the Barking Dog, a little place attached to the marina. They make a very good pulled pork sandwich.

The sailmaker called to say he completed the sail repair and would bring it back to the marina. He said in addition to repairing the tear, he did some reinforcing at the head of the sail and installed some new webbing at the clew. One thing we really appreciate about boat people is that they are rarely satisfied with good enough. He made this right for us. When we hoisted it back up the forestay, we were delighted to see that he put new telltales along the front of the sail.

We stopped at the gas dock to take on fuel, pump the holding tank, and say goodbye to the friendly staff. "Be careful. Terrible storm coming this afternoon," one of the men on the dock said.

Here we go again. More heavy weather. The day is sunny, though a little cool. There is a south wind. In the late afternoon, another front will pass, and the wind will turn strongly to the north with thundershowers, possibility of hail, and a tornado watch for the area. The Coast Guard is broadcasting alerts on the VHF.

We leave anyway, but change our destination to a closer anchorage. While I'm at the helm, the commander consults the chart and the iPad to find a place protected from the north winds and waves. We're looking for a small creek that runs east and west with places to anchor. About 40 miles north is Deltaville, and into the nearby Piankatank River flows Jackson Creek. Active Captain on the iPad describes three highly rated anchorages with good holding for the anchor and good protection from the wind. We should be able to make the Piankatank River by mid afternoon. I have a good time adjusting the sails to the brisk south wind that carries us along and saying "Piankatank." We are able to complete most of the day's journey under sail alone.

Piankatank means winding river in the language of Chief Powhaten, who is credited with the name. His daughter, Pocahantas, interceded with her father to prevent the untimely demise of Captain John Smith. Time on my hands, I read that Pocahantas went over to the English side, converted to Christianity, and took the name Rebecca. She married John Rolfe and bore a son, Thomas. Thomas' descendants include Nancy Reagan and Sen. Harry Byrd.

There are three sailboats anchored in the creek, but room for more. The anchorages are like lagoons in the narrow creek, wider areas lined with well-appointed houses, docks, and boats. Osprey soar overhead, playing in the wind.

As darkness falls, we see lightning, the heavy rain starts, and the wind picks up. We measure gusts of 35 kts, but the water in the creek is calm. This is a good place to be. Eventually, the storm passes, and we have a quiet night.

4/26/14 Deltaville, VA to Smith Creek, Lower Potomac River, St. Mary's City, MD 44.6 nm.

More heavy weather in the forecast. The day starts with a moderate north wind that will back to the west later. This will reach 25 kts with higher gusts. A thunderstorm is possible. We leave Jackson Creek with plans for a short hop north to the Little Wicomico River at the southern edge of the Potomac River

We beat across the bay toward the eastern shore, then the wind stops. We motor back northwest to the anchorage. It is mid afternoon when we get near the mouth of the Potomac, the water is calm. We consider going on to the other side of the river, a distance of 17 more miles. We look on the chart for an anchorage over there and find Smith Creek.

Here is a decision point. Should we play it safe and turn into the Little Wicomico. Or should we chance the strong west wind but get further north?

Here is the intellectual part of sailing that I really like. On the way south, the water at the mouth of the Potomac was really rough, unpleasant to cross. Now it is calm. We check the current. It is an ebb current for the next four hours. That means if the west wind comes, it will be blowing in the direction of the current, and the water will not be so choppy. We will be heading northwest, at an angle to the wind that will permit us to keep the sails up. On the other hand, if we spend the night south of the Potomac, we will have to cross it in the morning when there will be a brisk north wind. This will make for a very rough passage. We weigh the factors and decide to head to Smith Creek.

It works out. The west wind comes up suddenly as we head across the Potomac. In a matter of minutes, it goes from dead calm to 20 kts. We see gusts to 30 kts, but we're sailing with partially furled genoa only. The waves are not too high, the day is warm enough, and we make good time to the creek.

The anchorage is a fine one, a wide cove off the main branch of Smith Creek. The water is calm. There are farm houses, boats, and smaller summer homes on the distant shores. There is a small marina up another branch of the creek. There is a large osprey nest at the top of a dead tree across from our anchorage.

These out of the way creeks and coves are known affectionately as gunkholes. The term is both a noun and a verb. We are gunkholing our way up the Chesapeake and having a wonderful time doing it.

We comment on the satisfaction gained from a hard day's travel ending in a calm, protected, and secluded spot, surrounded by natural beauty. Surprised continually by the wonder of it all. Happy hour on the deck, watching the sunset. Listening to the osprey's high-pitched calls overhead. What's not to like?

Hooper Island light
4/27/14 Smith Creek to Hudson Creek, Little Choptank River, Maryland 51.4 nm

The weather forecast promised another day of cool north headwinds and big waves. This proved accurate. We set out sailing northeast in 20-kt winds and four-foot waves across the bay, and when the winds diminished as predicted in the late morning, we furled the sails and motored the rest of the way directly into the one-to-two foot waves that remained.

Crashing against the wind into four-foot waves was fun on the Alligator. It was challenging in Hampton Roads. It was interesting across the mouth of the Potomac. Today it feels chilly, and, as one may say, "Like, whatever." We soldier through it. We're on 30-minute shifts on the way to the Eastern Shore and the Little Choptank River.

On the way, we pass schools of fishing boats--more than a hundred, I'd say. They're trolling the waters of the southern Chesapeake for rockfish, the Chespeake Bay striped bass. Behind the boats, floats play out the lines. There are outboards and larger charter boats. Some big sport fishermen. We have to dodge the boats and the floats. I don't see anyone reeling up a fish. It seems like a whole lot of fuel to burn looking for these clever and seemingly well-sated critters. It's even too cold to drink much beer. But the fishermen persist. Later, I learn that the mayworms come up off the bottom of the bay at certain times in the Spring. The stripers eat them in preference to whatever the fishermen are offering.

Tanker, approaching astern
We also have two large tankers to our stern. As they near, we can see the bow and the port and starboard forward quarters. Do we see both sides equally? The ship is coming right at us. We can see the bow wave. We move off to the side so we can see the starboard side more than the port side. It takes a while for these monsters to get past us.

When they were younger, our kids used to stick an arm out of the car window and make an imaginary pulling gesture to get passing trucks to blow their air horns. It worked most of the time. I tried this with a tanker captain. Nothing doing.

Hudson Creek is a wide anchorage protected from the swells of the bay by a narrow spit of land. It opens into the mouth of the Little Choptank, and there are some surprisingly large homes along the shores. Surprising, I say, because there is really nothing much around here. No large cities, no airport. I wonder where the owners come from.

Rain and strong easterly winds are in the forecast for the next few days. Tomorrow, we'll leave for Rock Hall on the Eastern Shore above the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and wait there until the weather improves. Between that and the strong northerlies we've experienced, our fantasy of a relaxed week or so sailing around the Chesapeake has gone the way of the skipjack oystermen.

At Rock Hall, we'll be but a day from the top of the Chesapeake Bay and the canal that leads to the Delaware River.

Fishing boats in Hampton, VA