Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Chesapeake City: dragging anchor, battling a storm, an anniversary to be remembered

Lickety at rest in the anchorage, she's a real head-turner

Mother Nature smiled upon us and sent us a tailwind. What a lovely anniversary gift. We picked our way through the crab pots of Still Pond and out into the channel, and set the sails for downwind sailing to Chesapeake City.

We'd read all the warnings twice and selected our approach into the city's harbor carefully. We were advised to stay to the left at the entrance and hug the commercial pier for the deepest water, which we did and even so we scurfed a little soft mud on our way in. We looked longingly at the free town dock pier on the right side - if the rumors were correct it was shallow. So we proceeded on to the anchorage.

Once past the entrance the rest of the harbor is pretty consistently 10' deep so we motored around a little while between the boats at anchor to pick our best spot. The first time down the Mantus didn't hook. Odd. We moved a little closer to Lickety and successfully set it there. We were in 10' of water and there was not much room to pay out enough scope. We were a little closer to everyone than we liked. But the weather was perfect and the boat was resting right over her anchor and all was peaceful. What could possibly go wrong?

Lickety is a HH50 owned by Catherine and Todd, friends we made in Annapolis. It's a huge and absolutely beautiful custom catamaran. Catherine warned me that Lickety moved differently at anchor than the other boats; because of its tall catamaran nature it tended to respond quickly to wind and not so much to current. We decided our best course of action was to reef the mizzen and leave it up, so Minerva would respond more quickly at anchor to changes in the wind too. On our other side was Clarity, a DuFour 460 sailboat, which moved in the water much like Minerva does naturally. We watched for a few hours while tidying up and our trick seemed to work perfectly, striking a nice balance of movement between Lickety and Clarity. All was peaceful and smooth.

There was not a cloud in the sky, all the hatches were open to take advantage of the fresh summer air. For the first time in recent memory I put on a real dress, we hopped in the dinghy and motored into town for an anniversary dinner celebration. Our table was right in view of the dinghy dock and the bridge, we enjoyed a cocktail and appetizers, and waved to Todd of Lickety as he cruised their dinghy into town.

Stormclouds approaching

As the main course arrived the air changed, the feeling became electric. Out of nowhere a great wall of black sky approached from the North, from the other side of the bridge. It was moving quickly. We asked for the check and our dessert to go and waited impatiently, considered running out on the bill, threw some money at the waitress and snatched our cheesecake when she looped back around, ran down to the dinghy dock, jumped aboard and high-tailed it out to Minerva.

Being chased back to Minerva

I quickly tied the dinghy to the back of Minerva and hopped aboard. Lance handed me Chloe and everything else in the dinghy and he was about to climb aboard when the first wave of wind hit us with a side slap - hard. The mizzen that we'd left up responded by tilting Minerva on her side. Less than a second later the anchor popped free and we were free-sliding downwind towards a blue trawler tied to the wall. Lance shouted "release the mizzen" and "start the motor" while he was climbing aboard but I was already in motion, throwing all the loose dinghy items in the open hatches and releasing the mizzen lines on my way by.

I double-checked to be sure we were in neutral and pressed the start button for the usual few seconds. The wind was howling so loudly I couldn't hear the motor running, and had to trust that she had started as asked. With a deep breath I put her in gear and we stopped sliding. Oh good, the motor was running after all - whew. Quite unlike our previous tropical storm experience, the wind was coming from every which way so holding it into the wind wasn't possible, the direction kept changing. We were no longer sliding backwards but also we couldn't make headway with the anchor down and other boats were also dragging around the anchorage, we needed to be able to move freely if we had any shot at avoiding damage. Lance must have been thinking the same thing because he appeared at the anchor and started pulling it up. While he was wrestling it into position I stole a quick glance over at Catherine on Lickety. Her  face - her whole body - was 100% focus, wrangling Lickety every which way and somehow keeping her running in place despite the shifty winds. What a bad-ass! I crossed my fingers and hoped that Todd had made it back aboard safely so they could get their anchor up too - it's a two person job, especially with a catamaran.

Minerva's anchor was up and Lance gave me a thumbs up. The wind shifted again and I applied power and bow thruster to avoid Clarity as she swung our way, and then Lickety as she swung back our way. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed we were within inches of the blue trawler, we needed more room to maneuver. When Clarity swung away I powered Minerva into her just-a-moment-ago-slot and then Clarity swung back. John was standing on Clarity's bow and gave me a thumbs up as we passed by, we cleared by inches. Now we had a little elbow room, time to find a safe landing.

The big blank spot in the middle of the anchorage was a no-go. That was where we failed to hook the first time - for whatever reason the holding wasn't good there. The commercial dock was an option for a temporary landing spot until the storm cleared, I steered towards it and the wind shifted again, slapping Minerva's tail away. And again a second time. It was then that I remembered the open spot on the free dock between a sailboat and a trawler. It might be shallow. We might get stuck there, or on the way there. Well, it wouldn't be the worst thing to happen at the moment. We were on a rising tide - high tide was at 8:00 - we'd studied it for our approach earlier - so even if we got stuck it wouldn't be for long and there was elbow room there. Lance and I switched seats and I readied the lines for a stormy approach. At some point when I had my head in the anchor locker retrieving extra fenders a gust of wind blew my dress up over my head exposing lacy special occasion panties to everyone in the anchorage and at the restaurant.

Then the skies truly opened up. Buckets of rain hit us with real force. While holding the lines on the approach I wondered briefly if we had closed any of the hatches and figured no, we probably hadn't. The rain soaked through my dress, clinging it against my whole body, resisting my movements. Everything was going to be soaked. Oh well, we'd land the boat safely first then deal with that next.

The boaters that were already tied to the dock waited for our approach, also soaked through and shouting that they were ready for me to throw them lines. Lance and Minerva fought the gusty wind as the lines I tossed fell short two times (yes I need practice with this). Eventually we landed on the dock, thanked our now-thoroughly-soaked new neighbors and took in a big breath.

That was when I noticed my knee complaining. So I must have tweaked it at some point on the slippery deck. Considering all the damage that could have happened, I'll accept some ice and heat therapy with minimal grumbling. Ice, mop up the inside of the boat, ice again, hang up wet clothes, ice again. This is the adventure we signed up for. And cheesecake to go, topped off with sweet raspberry compote we picked up in Annapolis is just as sweet. All is well.

The next night we were rewarded with the most beautiful cotton candy sunset. The morning after that most everyone left with the high tide and we found ourselves alone on the dock, with a slightly surreal feeling that we might have imagined it all. Nope, the knee still hurts and we both have strong feelings about our new boating rule.

We will never, ever, EVER anchor with insufficient scope again.

Chesapeake Inn the next day under cotton candy skies

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Leaving Annapolis: a little motoring, a little sailing, a little terror

Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Chesapeake Bay Bridge

The squeal of the engine overheat alarm went from subtle to shrill quickly. We exchanged a worried glance and wordlessly switched positions. While I settled in at the helm, studied the current and our best options for a safe landing Lance cracked open the engine compartment. A quick glance overboard showed the exhaust water was spitting out at a half-pressure dribble. We had just departed Back Creek channel from Bert Jabin's Yacht Yard after a restful and magical month of sight-seeing, puttering around on little boat projects, and a path-wearing parade of Amazon packages. The engine had seen some lovin' and we were both surprised at its unhappy noises. Lance pulled apart the raw water strainer, hoping to find the offending blockage but all we found was a little sludge. Not enough to cause the alarm, we rinsed it clean anyways. More troubleshooting required. We were in the middle of the busy channel with a slow current pushing us towards shallow water. I deployed the anchor so we could buy time to gather our thoughts.

Lance double-checked the ball valve, all good there. Something was definitely in the pipe or the hose blocking the raw water from coming in to the engine.

On Wednesday Nights the Outdoor Dine & Music on West Street is in full swing. It started off as a way to keep restaurants running during Covid but is on track to be a permanent good-weather standard.

I volunteered to be the one to go overboard and remove the offending blockage. I started thinking through everything I would need and where to find it - snorkel, mask, fins, all readily accessible. Oh - and I'd need something to poke with. Something like a long metal coat hanger. Wait... there's that one that came with the boat - it seemed like an important thing left behind by the previous owner and so we'd been moving it around the boat instead of discarding it. Lance remembered it the same time I did and brought it up with a grin. He removed the strainer cup and shoved it into the pipe and felt a pop and a freerun out of the boat. Plastic bag, wood, schmutz, octopus, snails, whatever it was that was blocking our precious raw water, it was then released back into the Severn River. He put the strainer back together and I restarted the engine which cooled right down, the anchor came up, we were on our way. Total delay 10 minutes. Best of all I didn't have to take an impromptu swim in the dark brown waters of the bay.

Chloe keeping an eye out for marauding ducks in Annapolis

Bert Jabin is the premiere boat yard in a city well known for boating. While we were there to take advantage of the marina itself and not necessarily for any professional work, we did pepper with questions all the pros we could keep up with as they speed-walked around the property from job to job. All month we'd heard woeful tales from other boaters as they worked through their own boat issues. For a minute we worried we'd be turning back to become one of them, landing on the working side of the yard instead of the fun side this time. But with cool heads and a moment for a breath we solved it ourselves. This time. Whew.

We had a destination in mind: Chesapeake City, 50 something miles away. It was hot and windless and so when we got bored with the sound of the motor and the heat we anchored in peaceful and lonely Still Pond. Well, our end of it was peaceful and lonely anyways. The shallow end had jetskis, powerboats and the constant thrum of generators. But other than the occasional wakes as they flew by they left us alone. The breeze eventually made an appearance as the sun went down and made for a restful night.

Chloe's run-crazy beach, an easy dinghy ride away

The thing about swinging on a lonely anchor is this... the world slows down and takes on an aspect of timelessness. It's easy to become completely absorbed in thoughts, a book, a phone call with a friend and it becomes all-encompassing. In hindsight I suppose many of my favorite hobbies are like this: motorcycling, scuba diving, road bicycling. Moments of terror interspersed among vast amounts of singular focus. No chance for the outside world to butt in. Some free space for the head and heart to recover from the daily onslaught and regain focus.

Lance was reading a book and humming to himself. Chloe was relaxing on the deck, the breeze in her fur. I perused the weather apps. The storm I'd been following online was adjusting course and the new projections showed it missing us and also our friends in North Carolina. Chesapeake City - we're coming for you.