The Gauntlets

A while back, YouTube had a video of a family of ducks making it safely across a busy multi-lane freeway.  After today I have a better sense of what it was like to be the ducks.

Riding a second day of southwest winds, we reached Annapolis, Maryland: almost the top of Chesapeake Bay.  We will be spending a few days in Annapolis, exploring the “Sailing Capitol of the United States”.  Our next challenges will be the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal, Delaware Bay, and the New Jersey Coastline.

Mark and Becky, childhood friends from Minnesota, now living west of DC, picked us up for dinner and are taking us to visit their huge family for the next two days.  These two could supply crews for a whole fleet of race boats with their children and grandchildren.

Interesting bit of trivia:  Endeavor was built 1/3 mile from the marina we sit in tonight.  Geminis are now built in Florida, but our boat started here in 1999.

Yesterday’s trip found us dodging hundreds of crab pots.  Today we decided to run up the center of the bay.  No crab pots out there, but dozens of charter fishing boats out making clients seasick in the relentless waves.  Also a couple of freighters, but they are easier to avoid than the fishermen, who seemed to enjoy turning into our path.

This first gauntlet required a watchful eye and occasional tweaking of the autopilot heading.

The second gauntlet came up just as a rainstorm veered across the bay.  In the shower we could make out dozens of sailboats racing.  The race course covered a wide swath of bay, including the path we needed to follow to reach Annapolis.  I made contact with the committee boat via radio and was instructed to proceed through.  Thus, we ducklings proceeded across the freeway.  Fortunately the boats were widely spread and, with both of us watching for traffic, we zigged through the pack of speeding boats.

The rainstorm blew past, revealing a second, more populated gauntlet, er, race.  This race had boats flying downwind, left to right, under spinnaker, and boats tacking upwind, right to left, just past.  We slowed down, sped up, veered, had a few tense moments, and saw a few beautiful race boats REALLY close up.  Having a pack of spinnaker flying racers bearing down on you really gets the heart rate up.  I trusted most of the skippers but did not want to be shish kabobbed by the bow of a J-Boat.

Then we saw the ultimate gauntlet.  A solid wall of racers on the horizon.

Then we turned left and waddled toward Annapolis, avoiding them completely.

What a relief.


Solomons Slalom

We found the opportune moment to leave Reedville.  After thunderstorms passed this morning, NOAA was calling for brisk 20 mph ESE winds the rest of the day.  That meant a strong push directly on our stern going to Solomons, Maryland.

Endeavor is made for such conditions.  She surfs down the waves, sometimes catching an extended ride to show off her speed.  The peak recorded today was 12.5 mph… not bad for a loaded cruising boat.  The waves always overtake us, so there is a mushing sensation as the wave passes. Endeavor points her nose to the sky as the passing water slows her.  Then the next wave picks up the stern and she surfs.  So the speedometer alternates between 5 to 6 mph and 10 to 12 mph all day.

Sailing with the wind dead astern is problematic because if the autopilot corrects a few degrees the wrong way the foresail wants to flop to the opposite side.  The solution is to slalom toward our goal, going a few miles angling slightly to port and then a few more angling to starboard.  That way, even with correction the sail always wants to stay full.

At Reedville the birds were having none of this foolishness of going to sea.  The cormorants and pelicans filled this entire dock.

Solomons (1 of 8)

The scenery along the way was rather gray and dull.  We spied two freighters in the distance and only one other cruising boat.  Other than a few buoys, the only other structure we passed was the lighthouse at Point No Point.

Solomons (2 of 8)

We left the Reedville dock at 11:00 am and battled our way out to the bay against the southern wind.  Once we turned the corner and headed north our speed increased dramatically.  We arrive at the dock in Solomons at 6:00 pm, averaging 7 mph during the 49 mile trip.


We tied up at the Harbor Island Marina and celebrated with a tasty meal at the Charles Street Brassiere, topped off with Kahlua cheesecake.

Solomons (4 of 8)

Solomons (3 of 8)

An after dinner stroll through this lovely town capped off a pleasant evening.  There is more to explore, but we have one more day of south wind available before an extended series of northers, so on we must move.

Solomons (6 of 8)

Solomons (5 of 8)

The Sound

You know it when you hear it.  Doesn’t matter the language or the situation.  It could probably even be grunts and screams.  You’d know it.

The sound of the ship hitting the fan.  So to speak.

Last night was peaceful here in Reedville.  The wind settled and we swayed gently at anchor.  Across the creek the Omega Protein fish processing plant was lit up like small city.

Nearby, the Morris-Fisher Stack, a chimney built in 1902 as part of an old fish plant, was lit up like the Washington Monument.  It should be: a local told us the town raised $350,000 to restore it after a lightning strike and then installed the same lights used on our first president’s memorial.

We tried to make a run for Solomons, Maryland this morning.  Up at 4:00 am, we figured the calm night air would let us run north.  The forecast looked reasonable for a beam reach (wind at our side).  The wind was not supposed to pick up until about 11:00 am.  By that time we should be quietly anchored again.

Rounding out of the river and into the bay, the wind arrived early and waves quickly became uncomfortable.  Estimated 6 feet tall hitting us broadside.

Then we heard the sound, that voice in our heads urging: “screw this, get somewhere safe”.

Our destination lay 45 miles ahead. Our bail-out site was 5 miles ahead but was in the middle of nowhere.  So when the ship hit the fan, we decided to turn around and run back to Reedville.  At least there are restaurants and an ice cream parlor… open tomorrow!

When we got back to the dock, another sailboat was preparing to head out into the bay, now under a Small Craft Advisory.  We chatted for a minute and found they felt they had to go because they were on a tight schedule.

Schedules: the cause of more shipwrecks than any other factor.

I offered to cast off dock lines and got a polite decline; they had it well in hand.

Back on Endeavor, I was head-down in a stern locker looking for a sponge when I heard The Sound.

The raised voices and urgent commands of something going wrong.

Looked up to see one of their dock lines, rather than slipping free, was tangled in the dock timbers.  Big Boat + Side Wind + Fouled Line = Unhappy Crew.

It took a few moments for me to clear the line and they were on their way.  The same kind of help we have received many times from other boaters.

The moral of this story is, when the ship hits the fan, either have a good backup plan or some handy friends.

We will be sitting tight in Reedville, waiting again for the opportune moment.


Do you know of Mike Rowe, the star of Dirty Jobs and narrator for Deadliest Catch, How the Universe Works, and Shark Week? 

Well… we didn’t meet him.

We met his cousin, Charles.  Here in Reedville. Cool. Now I can add that to my list of brushes with fame.

Reedville is a pleasant little place.  Everyone passing by waved to us and those we talked to were cheerful.  The streets were clean.  Even the dogs in town were happy to see us.

Just not a lot going on.

The town features:

  • 4 Restaurants, all closed during the week this time of year
  • 3 Sleepy marinas
  • A Methodist church
  • A Masonic Temple
  • A fire department
  • A few bed and breakfast establishments
  • A fisherman’s museum
  • A post office
  • A couple of weathered boat yards
  • A water tower reflecting the town’s fishing heritage

Reedville (4 of 10)

  • One cute street sign

Reedville (7 of 10)

  • Flashy flowers

Reedville (1 of 10)

  • An ice cream and gossip parlor… closed during the week.  Drat.

Reedville (3 of 10)

  • Many lightning rods

Reedville (9 of 10)

  • Drivers with a habit of parking on the wrong side of the street

Reedville (5 of 10)

  • More flashy flowers

Reedville (6 of 10)

  • And tons of interesting, rusting machinery.

Reedville (10 of 10)

Oh, and did I mention the Ice Cream Parlor is Closed?

Mike Rowe was here in spirit, if not body.  The mud bottoms at many of the anchorages along the East Coast is foul, gloppy stuff.  The goop here in Reedville is some of the gloppiest, stickiest, foulest smelling sludge that I’ve had the pleasure to clean off an anchor.

Truly a Dirty Job.

Butt Kickin’ Time

The first 90 percent of a trip accounts for the first 90 percent of travel time. The remaining 10 percent of a trip accounts for the other 90 percent of the travel time.

-Old programming saying, paraphrased.

We will be testing this rule in the coming weeks.  In two days of travel, Endeavor moved about 39.86%, give or take, up the Chesapeake to Reedville, Virginia.

Yesterday was smooth sailing and today it was butt kicking’ time.

The forecast called for a day of stiff WSW winds.  By mid-morning we were seeing gusts of 28 knots (32 mph) and rows of steep whitecaps.  It got so we had to clear the Rummikub game off the table (she was kicking’ my butt anyway), turn off the autopilot, and act like real sailors.

Rather than skipping on to a longer destination, like recent days, today we turned to our bail-out stop at Reedville.

Reedville is a quiet respite from the wind and waves.  The winding entrance yields a calm anchorage next to downtown.  Downtown in this case is 3 seafood restaurants, an ice cream shop, a fishing museum, and little else.

The large complex in the middle of the picture is a large fish processing plant, complete with a fleet of trawlers.  Other cruisers report that if you are downwind the smell will make you retch.  We are currently upwind and plan to stay that way.

Reedville (2 of 8)

Reedville (4 of 8)

This piggyback method of carrying netting boats is new to us.  Note the cages around the propellers to avoid tangling nets and lines.

Reedville (3 of 8)

Anyway, back to the butt kicking’.

The long, lovely string of southerly winds we have been enjoying has come to an end, about 2 weeks too soon!  In my dreams I hoped we’d have a smooth push all the way to New York City.

Chesapeake Bay is wide and shallow.  Extended shallows near shore mean a cruiser needs to stay far off to avoid running aground.  The long fetch and shallow water create steep chop instead of the large rollers found in deep water.  Going on a beam reach up the bay meant lots of salt spray and some rocking.  Once we turned to the West toward Reedville we spent another hour bashing straight upwind to get in.

The forecast for the next two weeks is variations of North winds, not ideal for moving up the bay.  We’ll have to watch the weather closely and find the opportunities to advance northward.

In the mean time, the metropolis of Reedsville awaits.

Heavy Metal

Going through Norfolk on a sailboat is a good lesson in relative size.  After being on a fairly equal terms with other boats on the ICW, suddenly we are miniscule.  Navigating through the big-boat traffic is a life and death thing and not just a potential bump with another cruiser.

Leaving Great Bridge at 7:00 am, several lift bridges and a lock stood in our way.

Piankatank River (1 of 3)

The lock was out first since leaving the Teen-Tom waterway last Fall.

Piankatank River (2 of 3)

The lock was adorned with this cute sticker favoring special forces.

Piankatank River (3 of 3)

This combination, a bascule railway span and a lifting highway span, delayed us about 45 minutes.  The rail bridge is normally left open except for when a train passes.  We waited while 3 trains rumbled across.

Piankatank River (1 of 18)

The highway bridge has 85′ clearance, but it still looks like Endeavor’s mast (44′) will touch.

Piankatank River (4 of 18)

The stretch from Portsmouth to Norfolk was busy, industrial, and fascinating.

Piankatank River (3 of 18)

Sailing past the many Naval vessels showed just how small Endeavor is.

Piankatank River (6 of 18)

Piankatank River (8 of 18)

Piankatank River (9 of 18)

The Coast Guard was busy escorting warships.  They announce a 500 yard security radius and back it up by stating the zone will be managed by force, including deadly force.  Endeavor, and the French sailboat following us, were politely asked to stay outside the shipping channel markers, which we were doing anyway.  I wanted to ask if I could shoot their .50 Cal machine gun, but thought better of it.

Piankatank River (10 of 18)

Piankatank River (12 of 18)

In addition to the military traffic, we passed massive container ships.

Piankatank River (13 of 18)

Once we cleared the Hampton Roads area and headed up the Chesapeake we got to see a warship heading to sea…

Piankatank River (18 of 18)

…and the coolest sight of the day, a nuclear sub speeding on its way into Norfolk.

Piankatank River (17 of 18)

South winds again sped Endeavor on her way.  We averaged 8.5 mph and moved 69 miles.  We had planned to stop sooner but the first two anchorages we checked did not have decent protection.  With thunderstorms expected tonight, we settled on a circular cove off the Piankatank River.

The Chesapeake Bay is wide and shallow, about 200 miles long and 30 miles wide.  We are gunkholing up the west shore and plan to stop at a few towns, maybe Solomons and Annapolis in Maryland.