Season 3, Chapter 3 Chesapeake Bay Cruising
When last I left you, we were in Southport, SC. Southport was a quick stop just to be able to get into Bald Head Island. Bald Head is a small island in the chain of barrier islands in SC near Cape Fear. We had visited Bald Head two years ago by dinghy when we were staying in Southport and decided it would be a great place to stop for a couple of days. We made the short haul from Southport to Bald Head and we had a disastrous 4-mile trip. It seems every time we make a very short leg we have a bad time and this was no exception. The entrance to Bald Head Island is a narrow channel with strong current running across it. To add to this there is significant shoaling on the right side of the channel, which of course I did not know at the time of entry. Our boat is very susceptible to current because she sits almost 7 feet below the surface and because she is underpowered for many situations. As we entered the channel, I kept the speed up so I would be able to maneuver and I corrected for the current by pointing the bow into the current, which meant angling into the channel pointing to the right side. Unbeknownst to me this pointed us towards the shoaling and the boat sucked into the shallow water and we were hard aground. As it happened the bow turned hard to the right and I thought we were going to run into the bulkhead which would have meant real damage to the hull but we ran aground instead. On one hand I was upset for running aground and on the other I was happy not to run into the bulk head. It took about 5 mins of maneuvering to get off the bottom but we did it and got into our slip. The dock hand said that the shoaling was due to be dredged the night before but it didn’t happen which turned out to be bad luck for us. While in Bald Head we broke out the bikes and did some great touring around this picturesque little island and we rented a golf cart to get to the beach on Cape Fear. It was a good stop except for an inhospitable arrival.
From Bald Head we went to Wrightsville Beach for a night on anchor and then up to Morehead City and then through the ICW to Norfolk via New Bern (nice), Oriental (we stopped for Croaker fest), River Forest and Coinjock, where we took nearly 1,800 gallons of diesel fuel - our first since we left in March for the Bahamas. We had been to all of these places except New Bern, the home of Pepsi Cola. New Bern is a bit removed from the normal trip through the ICW but it was worth going out of the way. We pulled out the bikes and went riding several times and saw the town including the historic Tyron Palace, the state’s first capital. We also bought live crabs from the seafood store and steamed them up and then ate them while sitting on the swim platform. Ah, this really brought back childhood memories. This area was hit hard in 2017 from hurricane Florence. The town was mostly back together and the marina was making good strides but there was a Hilton Hotel at the marina that was still closed due to hurricane damage. As I am writing this another storm, Dorian, is possibly making its way to this same area...
My Mom joined us in Portsmouth, VA which is across the harbor from Norfolk. She had a big birthday aboard VAMOS the day after she arrived. We celebrated her 80th birthday in Cape Charles, VA on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. As we headed out of Hampton Roads, we followed the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, an aircraft carrier. It was very impressive! We hadn’t heard of Cape Charles until a couple of days earlier. We looked it up and made a reservation and then we were there. We grilled mahi caught in the Bahamas and had salad for dinner which is a perfect birthday dinner for my healthy Mom! Cape Charles was a nice surprise. The marina was nice and they had a courtesy van which we used to head into town to do our part to help keep the economy doing well. We also biked and tried our hands at crabbing with hand lines. We were fairly successful and caught enough crabs to steam and eat!
From Cape Charles we headed across the bay to Crockrell Creek, off the great Wicomico River, to anchor for the night before starting our way up the Potomac River to Washington, D.C. The anchorage was nice and quiet and we were fortunate that we were upwind of the fish plant which definitely smells. We spent one more night on anchor on the way up the Potomac in a small creek littered with crab pots and then we had a long day of travel to arrive at the Capital Yacht Club at the Wharf area in D.C. As we traversed the final couple of miles past Alexandria, we called our friends Jeff and Nance who have a condo in Alexandria and they came out on the balcony and waved as we went by. Pretty cool. All told the Potomac was a very pretty river and worth the trip. The cruising was very comfortable and the seas were exceptionally calm. Just perfect for Mom!
We intended to stay in D.C. for two weeks while we explored and took advantage of the things the city has to offer. The day after arriving things took a turn for the worse. We have six fuel tanks on board VAMOS. The four main tanks hold 2,300 gallons. The supply tank holds 30 gallons and wing engine has its own tank for 10 gallons. I kept thinking I smelled fuel in the boat after we filled up a week or so earlier in Coinjock, but I couldn’t find fuel anywhere in the engine room. A day after arriving in D.C. I took another look and this time I found fuel leaking from one of the main tanks which holds 1,000 gallons. Ugh! I started making calls and found out that this problem is common in my boat. The fuel tanks are made of fiberglass and are separately assembled and then installed in the boat. The tanks never leak but the fuel has to get out of the tank someplace so there are four fittings that go through the fiberglass tank. Two fittings have hoses attached to be able to transfer fuel from tank to tank and other allows fuel to feed the supply tank which feeds the engine and the generator. The other two fittings are for the site glass. The fittings are stainless steel plates with studded screws and a nipple fitting for the hose connections or site glass connections. The fittings bolt together through the tank and there are gaskets on each side to keep it all from leaking. It turns out the gasket material that was used at the factory does not hold up forever and it begins to leak. I was sopping up diesel with oil soaking rags and running the engine room blowers 24/7 and it was easy to keep up with so we decided to stay in D.C. for a few days and enjoy ourselves while I made arrangements to get the problem addressed.
We visited the Spy Museum and the Bible Museum and we also visited the National Basilica. All three of these were great and I would highly recommend them. While we were in D.C. there was an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the moon landing. Part of the celebration was lighting up the Washington Monument with the picture of the Apollo 11 launch. It was pretty cool. The Wharf area is a real renaissance of a formerly derelict area of town. There is now a Hotel Intercontinental, numerous restaurants and a fish market all within walking distance of the National Mall. It is a great place to visit.
After only five days in D.C. we were going back down the Potomac headed for Solomons Island and Washburn’s Boat Yard. We stopped one night in Point Lookout Marina where we had crab pizza. It was great and I have been having fun trying to recreate it ever since. My Mom ended up staying with us much longer than expected because of the change in plans but it worked out very well as the cruising conditions remained extremely calm and we were all having a great time together reliving memories from my childhood when my family cruised the bay in our 36 ft Whitcraft.
We selected Washburn’s Boat Yard because of its reputation and because it is close to Julia’s sister and husband, Marguerite and Brian, who generously let us stay as long as necessary to get the repairs finished. We initially thought that would be one week. HA! One week turned into three and Julia, Tortilla and I became very acquainted with southern Maryland and the crew at Washburn’s. We toured the air museum at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and we hiked the trails at Calvert Cliffs state park. I will spare you the details of the fuel tank fix but it was a real learning experience and took tons of patience to be sure the repair was going to be completed properly. The work required us to transfer fuel out of the tank to be able to get in the tank and make the repairs. Since VAMOS was full of fuel this meant off-loading nearly 1,000 gallons of fuel which meant pulling the boat from the water to avoid any possibility of contaminating the bay with diesel. Since the boat was out of the water, we took advantage of the situation and had many other projects addressed that otherwise would have waited until the winter.
When it was all said and done, I could have put a kid through one year of college for the cost of the repair and additional work, but I was confident that everything was back together properly and that I wouldn’t to worry about fuel leaks for a while.
After three weeks of not cruising we were itching to get going but first we stayed in Solomons for the weekend to make sure everything was working properly and to provision. Although we were raring to go, we enjoyed the stay in Solomons at Zahniser’s Marina. They had a pool and a pool bar which made the heat much more bearable. We left early on the Monday morning and headed to St. Michaels on the eastern shore of the bay to meet up with our cruising buddies Keith and Romy on Acqua Dolce. They had been in St. Michaels for a week and were ready to leave so we only stayed one night and then headed off to Annapolis. All was working well and the cruising conditions remained excellent. While in Annapolis we dropped the dinghy and headed over to a local crab house called Cantler’s. The crabs were excellent and there were a few left over which we picked and I used the crab meat for crab pizza or maybe crab dip. I can’t remember now but whichever, it was great.
From Annapolis we headed across the bay to the Chester River to Chestertown. I wanted to go to Chestertown because we heard that the marina was all new and the town was worth visiting and because my Dad and I used to hunt geese, ducks and deer in Cherstertown when I was a kid. We were not disappointed. The marina was in great shape and we came to find out that the marina was an investment by the town to try to keep access to the waterfront for the town. Apparently there was a plan for a condominium to be built on the waterfront which would have blocked access to the water to the town. Somehow the town struck a deal with the developer and acquired the land and decided to construct a marina to try to make the project a revenue producer. They were really glad to see two Nordhavns arriving into town. While in Chestertown we visited Bad Alfred’s Distillery and Pizzeria. Alfred was working and we were regaled with lots of stories about the distillery and his exploits in the White Marlin Open out of Ocean City, MD. He talked our ear off and finally I said we wanted to eat and get something to drink! We left with apple brandy (made from grapes from his failed vineyard) and moonshine! We haven’t tapped into the moonshine yet but the apple brandy mixed with a touch of ginger beer makes a nice after-dinner drink.
After Chestertown, we headed to Baltimore to stay in the Inner Harbor for a week so we could visit friends and family. Man has downtown Baltimore changed. It is now populated by lots of 20-somethings working at Morgan Stanley and Exelon (energy company). There were many new buildings, restaurants and lots of condos and housing. We barely recognized it except for the Domino Sugars sign. There were also tons of scooters that all of the young people ride. We walked the city and found Fells Point which looked the same as it did 25 years ago when we last visited, and we found Little Italy which also had not changed a bit in 25 years. We had a great stop at Harbor East Marina catching up with lifelong friends and family and touring our alma mater, Towson University.
From Baltimore we headed to the Wye River. As a kid we used to go to the Wye River nearly every summer and anchor for a night or two and catch crabs and fish. We usually had my “cool” aunt and uncle with us. We made our way up the eastern arm of the river and it was as pretty as ever. We noticed on the way up the river that there were fewer crab pots than we would have expected but we were pleased with that since we didn’t want the crab pots to impede our anchoring. We found a great spot way up the river and close to Wye Landing which gave us a place to walk Tortilla. I tried my hand at crabbing one afternoon but struck out. I did catch lots of small fish, mostly cat fish, which was a blast. I asked around about crabs and found that two years of higher than normal rainfall resulted in lower salinity in the northern part of the bay which pushed crabs further south. This season has had normal to below average amounts of rain but the salinity level is still recovering. We also did some great dinghy rides from the anchorage completing the beautiful loop through the Wye River and heading into St. Michaels for an afternoon of lunch and shopping. Great stay!
We left the Wye River to head to Onancock on the eastern shore of Virginia. It was located 100 miles south of our position in the Wye River so we decided to break it up into two legs. We picked a couple of spots to stop but when we actually headed out, we were having such a good day running down the bay that we just kept going until we ended up back in Cockrell’s Creek on the western shore almost directly across the bay from Onancock. We had run 83 miles. This made for a nice short run the next day heading to Onancock. Before leaving Cockrell’s, we explored the little town of Reedville. Although it is one strip and not a ton of shopping it was a great place to walk Tortilla and it was another friendly little town on the bay.
Off to Onancock and a rendezvous with Acqua Dolce. Onancock is at the end of another picturesque river with a small wharf and some floating piers operated by the town. We had heard of this place from people at our first stop on the bay in Cape Charles. We tied off at the wharf and waited for Acqua Dolce who arrived a couple of hours later. Onancock turned out to be a great stop. It is a very walkable town with conveniently located restaurants and great biking on the back roads. We celebrated Labor Day with a trip to Tangier Island, a small historic island first populated around 1680. There are fewer than 600 inhabitants now and most work revolves around the waterman that crab, fish and oyster. We rented a golf cart and toured the entire island in 15-20 minutes. We than did it again and again until we stopped in the museum and then at Chesapeake House for a family style lunch which had enough food for 14 instead of four. The island is suffering from erosion and is losing 8-10 acres per year. While we were on island the tide was rising and many roads were under a couple of inches of water.
As I finish this installment, we are anchored way up the Great Wicomico River on the western shore of Virginia. We found a spot that we think will provide protection from high winds expected from Hurricane Dorian which is forecast to pass our area shortly. Having visited the Bahamas this winter our hearts go out to those people affected by this very powerful storm. Hopefully we will be able to do our little part to help in the rebuild efforts which will take years. Our thoughts are also with all of the people in the little towns in NC and SC where we stop on the ICW as they seem destined to get hit once again.