Archive for the ‘Sailing’ Category

Where Did the Summer Go??!!

October 8, 2016

It’s the end of summer, darn it. Hurricane Matthew is pushing its way north, Halcyon is on the hard, and we’re taking a break before beginning Winter Boat Project Mode.

Until last weekend our plan was to sail down to Annapolis yesterday and meet up with friends and possibly go to the Annapolis Sailboat Show. Thanks to Matthew that didn’t happen. We aren’t typically out of the water this early as September starts what is generally considered the second sailing season of the year after the hot days of July and August, but John is working weekends the rest of October. I can’t get the sails off of Halcyon by myself and last weekend was the only chance he had to help me prepare it for the storm that might not even reach us as I write this. Last weekend there was more uncertainty and we felt that it was better to be prepared.

We had a good season. We never sail as much as we want to but the sails we did have were good. One hot weekend in July we joined Blue Marsh Sailing members for a weekend on the Corsica River. The Corsica is off of the Chester River just as it turns towards Chestertown. The Corsica is not far from Rock Hall but it was our first time. We left Rock Hall on Friday and anchored out in Queenstown Creek, at the bottom of the Chester River, with plans to start for the Corsica River the next morning.

I’ve been mildly curious about Queenstown Creek ever since I read in John Barth’s book Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera (a memoir disguised as a novel) that he anchored in the creek overnight before beginning any sail farther down the bay. Barth was a professor at Johns Hopkins University. He and his wife lived in Baltimore during the week. Each Thursday night they went to their house on Langford Creek on the Eastern Shore where they kept a sailboat at their dock. During the summers they stayed full time on Langford Creek and sailed the bay. Although Langford Creek isn’t that far from Queenstown, anchoring close by that first night before any long sail allowed them to get away from the house as soon as possible and be on the boat while they organized their supplies and relaxed.

To get to Queenstown Creek with a boat that has more than a 3-foot draft you first have to be either incredibly lucky, experienced, or stupid. We were not experienced. Only once have I navigated in a channel in which moving too far to either side meant going aground. That was when we sailed up Bodkin Creek. That was also the weekend the GPS system was off by as much as 20 feet. There was a known issue with the satellites. I was more nervous motoring up the nearly straight line channel to Queenstown Creek.

On both sides of the channel to Queenstown (pictured below) the depth dropped to two feet. Halcyon’s draft is 5’3″. You do the math. A few weeks before I had been given advice on lining up our boat with targets on land and other local knowledge that proved extremely helpful. Our track is in yellow. By the time we exited the channel and the navigable water opened up, my feet were numb from standing, tense, in the same spot at the helm. I didn’t dare move in case my weight shifted the boat just enough to put us aground. Illogical I know, but it worked.


Entrance to Queenstown Creek from the Chester River

Once in the creek, we turned to port away from the little town of Queenstown and headed upriver. Like most tributaries on the Chesapeake, it was peaceful and absolutely beautiful. The only other boat, a fairly large powerboat, was anchored at least a half mile or more away. A few hours later another power boat anchored not far from us. We had set out from Rock Hall on one of the hottest weekends of the summer. Although the temperature was in the high 90s, the winds were blowing hard enough to move Halcyon at a good clip and to make the heat more bearable. At night in the anchorage a good breeze still persisted and blew through our open V berth hatch. It was lovely.

Anchored boat in the distance

Queenstown Creek

The next morning in the cockpit as we drank our morning coffee and tea, we watched an older gentleman in a rowing shell glide our way. He started out from the town, rowed past the anchored power boat and headed towards a crab boat about 50 feet off our stern. From the greetings and snippets of conversation they obviously knew each other. Finally he rowed over to us. I called out a good morning as his shell slipped up to our hull. He welcomed us and said how happy he was to see a sailboat in the creek. He sailed a Tartan 28, if I remember correctly, that he kept at a Queenstown dock. He invited us to Queenstown and added “The town doesn’t have many amenities but there is a Royal Farms.” We chatted some more before he rowed away, gliding past the anchored powerboat without stopping.

Queenstown local

Queenstown local

Before we left, three Blue Marsh Sailing boats came in and rafted up long enough to have some cold beverages and conversation. Finally, all the boats shoved off and headed up the Chester River to the Corsica River, our next stop for the weekend.



Greetings from KB3ZCB and KB3ZCA

December 1, 2014

Sailing stretches the boundaries of my comfort zone even when we’re not on the boat. When we set sail on Next Boat our offshore communications options are satellite phone and single sideband (SSB) radio. Writing this blog post helps me organize the bits and pieces of information I gathered from my research to decide which option best suits us. I may update this post should those more knowledgeable provide different information.

The satellite phone itself is expensive and then we have to pay a per minute plus airtime fee to talk. The fee ranges from $0.15 to $2.00 (approximately). Incoming calls are quite a bit more. We can use the phone to obtain email and weather faxes. The sat phone does not require a license to use. Finally, it may not work in overcast or storm conditions as the phone needs to communicate with a satellite.

SSB radio communication is free after the initial hardware purchase but we need licenses to use it. We can also download weather data and email for free using the SSB radio. Local radio “nets” allow boats to check in with each other and are particularly helpful when traveling in a group and for obtaining local knowledge.

We are leaning towards relying on the radio and having a sat phone as backup.

When I was a search and rescue volunteer the team used Family Radio Service (FRS) radios. FRS radios are small, hand-held radios that enabled us to communicate over very short distances. I remember as a kid they were referred to as “walkie-talkies.” No license is required to operate an FRS. In SAR I was notorious for avoiding using the radio. I can’t explain why. It wasn’t fear. More that I just didn’t want to deal with yet another piece of equipment. I relied on my team for communications.

Halcyon is equipped with a fixed marine VHF radio and multiple hand-held marine VHF radios. We use the marine radio to talk to other boats, marinas, and restaurants. The radio is also our primary way of (hopefully never) contacting the U.S. Coast Guard in an emergency. No license is required to operate marine channels on a VHF radio as long as we use them on U.S. waters.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates radio communications in the U.S. There are three amateur radio (ham) license classes: Technician, General and Extra. Technician class is the entry-level license and allows us access to certain amateur radio frequencies. The General class license allows us additional operating privileges. The Extra class license allows us to operate on all amateur radio bands. We have to pass a test at each level of license in order to sit for the next level. John and I sat for the amateur radio Technician class license test a few years ago. Now we’re studying to upgrade to the General class and Extra class licenses.

Seriously, there is very little you need to learn to get a ham license you shouldn’t know anyway to be a self-sufficient cruiser. -Dave Skolnick

Because we intend to sail Next Boat outside of the United States, it is our responsibility to know and follow the laws of the countries we intend to visit. Knowing the laws is part of leaving a clean wake and Plan A for not going to jail and/or potentially incurring massive fines. Outside of the U.S. we need licenses to operate both the VHF radio and SSB radio. The boat also needs a ship’s station license for VHF and SSB radio. Each country that we visit may require a license fee but that’s research for another day.

Researching the regulations is a joy.

The U.S. and Canada share an automatic reciprocal agreement. The U.S. national association for amateur radio, the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL), says that we need to carry proof of U.S. citizenship and our valid amateur radio license. However, the Radio Amateurs of Canada website states “There is no need for paperwork or other formalities when exchanging visits between Canada and the United States.” In any case, privileges extended depend on the class of license and we must abide by Industry Canada rules.

The ARRL link to Mexico’s reciprocal regulations took me to this lovely site that provides instructions for obtaining a visitor’s license: Licensing Information for Mexico. In one sentence it says “It should be easy and streight forward [sic]” and the very next sentence says “The comment…’This is not an easy, or inexpensive, process’ is still relevant today.”

Most European countries allow U.S. citizens to operate an amateur radio under the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) Agreement. This agreement states that, like with Canada, U.S. citizens do not need additional licenses or permits, but are granted operating privileges that more or less match the General or Extra class levels of license obtained in the U.S. If we want limited reciprocal operating privileges we need our General class licenses. If we want full reciprocal operating privileges we need our Extra class licenses. Our Technician class licenses do not allow us any privileges.

In order to reach a personal preparedness level that matches the range of Next Boat, we need to go the distance with the licenses. This is where my comfort zone gets shaky.

I admit that I ignored advice to learn the material for the Technician class test and not just study to pass the test. I read the first two chapters of the study guide then I took the practice exams until I consistently achieved a passing score. If Morse code was still required, I’d still be sitting here trying to get my words per minute count up before taking the test.

Now we’re studying to upgrade to the General class license and I have to backtrack and learn the theory behind what I memorized for the Technician class test. Topics for this test include electrical principals, circuit components and radio wave propagation. It assumes knowledge of the Technician class topics. John works with this stuff every day and it should be a breeze for him.

I have a syllabus for an Extra class training course. Beads of sweat broke out just reading that required for the course is a “scientific calculator that you can operate.” Huh. AND I need to know trigonometry. Egad.

Math doesn’t come easy to me. I took Advanced Placement (AP) math in high school. I can say with confidence that I’ve never experimented with illegal substances so I’ll attribute agreeing to take those AP math classes to momentary lapses in judgment that occurred repeatedly over two years. Or aliens. John and my 18-year old niece are going to be my tutors to get me through these last two tests. Unlike in high school I now have the discipline to learn the math. I’m still going to struggle but it helps that I have a real life application for it.

We bought an inexpensive VHF radio that I can program as well as a shortwave radio receiver. I listen to the local radio clubs on the VHF. The shortwave is to listen to the marine nets and to learn how to obtain weather fax and email over the radio and get comfortable with how it works way before we need it on Next Boat. I’m practicing all of this using my Linux machine so one of John’s tasks is to make sure that Next Boat has a laptop with Linux installed. Having the radios in hand also helps me retain and apply what I read in the study guides.

Soon you’ll be listening to all the Persian hip hop you can stand. -Bubs

Not so long ago I made fun of the car with the fourteen 10-foot whip antennas on the roof. No way would I ever be that nerdy. When we got our Technician licenses I pooh-poohed my friends who asked “So when are you putting up the radio antenna tower on your property??!!” Sigh. Not only are we searching the Internet for DIY antennas, but John, bless his heart, brought home 300 feet of wire for an antenna. PINK wire. That is probably why it was never used. Also, who knew that the then-obsolete TV antenna my friend cut off the roof almost 15 years ago could have been useful now?? Despite our pink antenna only being about 25 feet in the air, we did hear Radio Africa one day.

We still need to get the wire antenna at least 100 feet up. We were sent instructions for using a slingshot and building a potato launcher. The guy who hunts on our property with his crossbow said the bow would send it into orbit. Oh well. It was worth a try.

KB3ZCB and KB3ZCA 73

Still Sailing and Bound for…Where…Exactly??

March 4, 2014

Oh, how time flies. John and I are still putzing around the upper Chesapeake Bay in Halcyon. We never stopped sailing, I just stopped writing about it. Time to get back to it.

Since I last wrote we chartered a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands. It was a fantastic week full of firsts: Our first sail outside of the Chesapeake; our first time operating a sailboat other than Halcyon; our first time in the BVI. It was everything the Sunsail brochures promised and more. I’ll write about the “more” later. For now I’m just playing catch up.

Another fun adventure happened last summer when I helped a friend deliver her Hunter 36 from Key Biscayne, Florida to Saint Simons Island, Georgia. Another fantastic week. There were four of us on board: the boat’s owner and another couple. The owner needed help sailing the Hunter to her broker in Georgia before taking delivery of her new, semi-custom boat. We spent time in the Gulf Stream, on the Intracoastal Waterway, in calm seas and in one rather large storm. Fortunately, we just made it to a marina for the “huge” storm. Thankfully my first storm in the ocean was only “large” (and I was passed out from being seasick so couldn’t fully appreciate it). The others have far more sailing experience so I saw the week as an adventure with training. I’m sure I got much more out of it than they did as I was the novice.

My only disappointment on that trip was not swimming in the Stream. After it was mentioned casually that a bull shark might have passed under the boat (based on the depth sounder reading going from maxed out at 300+ feet to 30 feet), I put that goal on indefinite hold. We were sailing in over a thousand feet of water. Thirty feet was waaaay too close.

In between all that John and I had fun sailing Halcyon, discovering new anchorages on the Bay, meeting new people, and discovering St. Augustine, Florida. Again, more about all that later.

Where are we now (besides being sick of the cold)?

It began with the concept of “paying it forward.” Someone who I consider a sailing mentor and who continues to give me a lot of wonderfully useful advice based on his experience lives this every day. Basically, it’s do something good for someone and in return that someone does something good for someone else as “payment” for whatever it was that you did. Looking at it that way, John and I have a LOT of payments to make, so, I volunteer John’s services a lot. This is how he got stuck working at the top of a mast last summer for six…solid…hours.

Last fall we attended a wedding of a fellow sailor where we met a woman who bought a Morgan Out Island 416 ketch. She sailed it from North Carolina to where she is currently located on the C&D Canal. The boat is solid but needs work. Her plan is to live aboard with her Third Ager* parents and cruise so she wants to make sure it is as good as she can get it. She mentioned that her electrical system suffers from Previous Owner-itis. Seeing an opportunity I offered to ask John if he would help her troubleshoot. It worked out well. She’s a race car mechanic and product specialist for Chevy trucks and has a solid grasp of what is involved. In other words, John isn’t rewiring Fluffy’s boat while she teeters around on stilettos. We’ve made a couple of trips to her boat and she and John do their thing in the bilge and engine compartment while I putter around the marina looking at other boats, watching wildlife, reading in the cockpit, and waiting for them to finish so we can go to the awesome restaurant at the marina. Everyone’s happy.

During our last working visit to the boat, she had another friend helping her. Roy is retired from the British Navy and full of stories. While he worked I stayed out of the way and listened. Every now and then he’d pop up and look around. After about an hour I recognized the bemused “What the heck did I do with that X?” look on his face and helped him backtrack so we could find whatever it was that was missing. That was my contribution.

When my sundowner alarm sounded on my iPhone, Roy very generously decided to treat us to his “extra special” rum. This rum isn’t sold in the U.S. and he brought it back from his last trip to England. Because sundowners followed the chocolate wine tasting and I hadn’t had lunch, well, I’ll blame the rest on that.

The four of us chatted about sailing, the history of grog, and other nautical stuff while we sipped and sampled. I mentioned a vague plan to some day sail to Ascension Island, St. Helena. I don’t remember the conversation verbatim but the gist was “Why stop there? Go to Tristan da Cunha!” And Roy gave us a brief history of the islands.

I never heard of this island. My original plan had been to sail to Ascension Island, stop at the pub, sail home. Roy upped the ante. I pulled out my iPhone and did a quick search. Calling itself “the remotest island” Tristan da Cunha’s economy is centered around fishing, the sale of postage stamps, and woolens knitted by its “elite knitting team.” The population is roughly 300 people. There are probably more sheep than people. They print and offer subscriptions to their bi-annual 40-page newsletter. How cool is that??

My limited early research says that the island was originally discovered by a Portuguese navigator who passed by on his way from Brazil to Cape of Good Hope. He couldn’t find a place to land so he kept going. Later the British set up there when they thought the French were going to attempt to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena. The next person who trundled along was a Corporal William Glass from Scotland. His family settled on the island and he named the main town Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. Today the islanders are a mix of English, American, Italian, Dutch and African. One website says about the language: “English is the native tongue, albeit a slightly strange, preserved Georgian dialect laced with a few early Americanisms.” I’m envisioning something akin to what we’d hear in Appalachia where Old English is still spoken due to their isolation.

So. That’s where we are today. John’s on board with the idea. He spent some time watching Youtube videos about the island, which surprised me. He knows more about the history than I do at this point.

This isn’t happening any time soon but it is our first concrete, long-distance goal. Our first “voyage.” There are a zillion things that have to fall into place and a zillion more to do before we sail into Edinburgh of the Seven Seas harbor. In the meantime, I’ve started adding tasks to a project plan (someone said to me “Nothing says fun like a Gantt chart.”), re-researching the Next Boat based on using it for this trip, and having fun with it all. Oh – and convincing Boat Fluff that she does want to meet the elite knitting team of Tristan Da Cunha.

In the meantime, watch this space for the official unveiling of our “raiding” flag and more adventures on Halcyon.

*Thanks to NPR I learned that older adults are no longer called “Senior Citizens.” The new term is “Third Agers.” My membership dollars at work.

New Addition…

March 11, 2012

Halcyon’s new Beta Marine diesel.

Beta Marine

My Gift

October 16, 2011

It’s a nice coincidence that the annual US Yacht Show in Annapolis occurs on or near my birthday each year. This year, for the first time, we sailed to the show. The plan was to sail to Eastport, stay in a slip at Watergate Village marina, eat lunch, go to the sail show for a few hours, throw back a couple of Painkillers at Pussers and then meet some new friends later for drinks and munchies.

C Dock at Watergate Village

C Dock at Watergate Village

Looking towards Watergate Village

Looking towards Watergate Village

As usual, the best-laid sailing plans are often thwarted.

The sail from Rock Hall to the mouth of the Severn River usually takes four hours. That Saturday was a beautiful day – for motoring. Mist clung to Eastern Neck NWR as we sailed south out of Rock Hall. As the morning advanced the sky turned a brilliant blue. The leaves on the shore were just beginning to change into their Fall colors. There was absolutely no wind. No wind is unusual for Fall on the Bay but since we racked up more sailing days than usual in July, perhaps things were balancing out.

Just as John and I approached the Naval anchorage at the mouth of the Severn River the sound of the engine changed and immediately slowed to less than 2 knots. The change was subtle but noticeable enough that we looked at each other at the same time. At first we worried that the prop became fouled. We moved as close as possible to a shallower area to get out of the main stream of boats moving towards Annapolis and to be able to drop anchor if needed. From that point, if nothing had gone wrong, it would have taken us 20 minutes to get to the marina. An hour later we puttered into the slip thankfully under our own power.

We didn’t get to the show. After having lunch at Davis’ Pub John took a few hours to look more closely at the engine and transmission while I tidied the deck. Later that evening we did meet up with some fellow sailors as planned and had a great time.

Sunday was another gorgeous day with no wnd. We left the marina around 10:00 AM and settled in for a long day. We anticipated our arrival time back in Rock Hall to be around 8:00 PM.

As we slowly left Back Creek under a blue, cloudless sky I looked at the other sailboats on the river. Most were new and out for sea trials by people attending the sail show. Most of the boats were either Hunters with their B&R rigs, J boats or catamarans. They all moved faster than Halcyon. They all had mirror-like waxed hulls with no scrapes or docking dings. They all had near-silent engines (that worked) and sails that weren’t yet in need of reconditioning. They all had smiling people on deck who weren’t worried about getting back to the docks.

We left the Severn and turned north towards the Bay Bridge. The light wind was on our nose, not favorable to get us home under sail power alone. Sailboats milled around the center of the Bay waiting for the start of a race with skippers who also probably hoped for more wind from another direction.

We hoped to sail home in order to save the transmission from further damage or additional problems. As it happened, we had to motor the entire trip (except for a brief moment off Love Point when the sails partially filled and brought our speed up to a whopping 3 knots). Fortunately, it wasn’t torturous. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to motor at a speed at which a person on crutches and with one broken arm could have passed us. They say that a skilled sailor can sail in light air so we took the opportunity to improve ourselves. We adjusted things we normally don’t fuss with – jibsheet lead, traveler, outhaul, downhaul, topping lift. Finally I decided that light air is one thing but having no air is impossible no matter how much salt has passed under your keel.

North of the Bay Bridge (and about five hours into the trip) John said to me “If it wasn’t for you, I would not have learned how to sail.” I looked across the cockpit at him wondering if he really meant “If it wasn’t for you, I’d happily be on the couch with a beer watching the football game with my buddies instead of watching every other boat on the Bay pass us not to mention worry about how I’ll get this transmission fixed and oh yeah, wind through the crab pots in the dark.” But no. With a contented smile, John looked out over the transom at the meager wake Halcyon made through the calm water and up at the wispy clouds slowly moving across the sky. Then he looked over at me and smiled. I could not have asked for a better birthday gift.

Sunset in front of Rock Hall

Sunset in front of Rock Hall

We Are Not Alone. Really.

July 30, 2011

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer contained an article with a statement by the director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in New Jersey offering an explanation of why a park official likened a man getting stung by a ray to being bitten by a dog. The gist of the article was that many people forget (or maybe never thought about it) that humans are not the only species in the ocean (or bay or river). Once you enter the water you share that environment with sharks, dolphins, oysters, rays, plant life and whatever else calls water home. I have to say: REALLY??!! I mean, not that we’re not the only species in the water but that there are people who need reminding.

Whenever a power boat zooms by our sailboat, usually leaving a wake that forces maneuvering to prevent damage to our boat, (after the cursing is over) we wonder if they really appreciate the water around them at that speed. Or is the water the same to them as a highway under a car. Did they see the cow-nosed rays gliding and chasing each other next to our boat? Did they notice the young bald eagle riding the wind current above the entrance to Rock Hall harbor? Certainly they can’t hear the splash of a fish that surfaces to snap at whatever intrigues it. I was once mesmerized for about an hour by schools of tiny fish in my marina. I remember watching my niece stretched out on the dock, head hanging over the side and captivated by the sea nettles as they floated by.

Nature settles me, whether I’m watching the rays in the bay or at night listening to the bull frogs in our pond. OK. I admit that I’m ready to pull the wings off of every cicada in the trees around our house that won’t shut up. Still. It amazes me that people can be so self-involved as to not appreciate and respect other species. They live here too. Really.

Don’t Look a Gift Wind In the Mouth

July 27, 2011

Some days need to be savored as they will never come around again for a long, long time. With an unexpected week off, we headed to the boat. We put our stuff on board and settled in just as a rollicking good thunderstorm passed overhead. There was just enough atmospheric whatchamacallit to enable the ancient (well, circa 1980s) radio/CD player installed by the previous owner to tune to the Phillies game on a Philadelphia AM station. We listened to our team win in between the static. The storm ended by dinner time and left behind a fantastic sunset and a good sleeping wind.

The approximately 10-knot wind lasted into the morning. With cloudless skies, low humidity, and layers of sun screen we left Gratitude for Hart-Miller Island. We have yet to sail north out of Rock Hall and I thought that the popular island would be a good day sail. That and the Active Captain review of the anchorage behind the island said that there was a “beef boat” that catered to the boats in the anchorage. I was curious.

At the end of Swan Point Bar we raised the sails and pointed our bow westward. As the sails filled the boat jumped forward and took off. The north wind put us on a beam reach and Halcyon responded like the sleek racing boat she ain’t ever going to be. Wind on the Chesapeake at the end of July: A rarity to be exploited. Being a Tuesday, there were few boats on the Bay and other than two crab boats we passed on our way down the bar, most of them were sailboats. With no power boat wakes to turn into, thus losing headway, we headed towards the mainland at a good 6 knots.

The day was perfect. We were at the end of a record 8-day heat wave and just three days before our little weather station at home recorded 109.7 degrees. But on this day there was not a cloud in the sky, not even a single jet trail, and the almost 90 degrees was made more than bearable with the wind. Did I mention the day was windy? In JULY? Before we knew it we were in the middle of the Bay nearing the mouth of the Magothy River.

We went into irons just long enough to eat lunch then we raised the iron genny, searched for those all too important ripples on the water and headed towards the wind. By now it was even a little bit stronger; probably around 15 knots. We tried tacking towards Hart-Miller Island and realized that with the north/northwest wind we would never get there in time to return to Rock Hall before dark. So we sailed back and forth across the Bay, our Bay, because we could and because we had nowhere else to be. We fiddled with the sails, we adjusted our course ever so slightly to tease out just a little more speed, we fiddled with the sails some more. We imagined what it would be like to maintain that course and just keep sailing. Of course, the land mass that was the rest of the country would have to move out of our way, but we dreamed anyway.

By mid-afternoon the wind began to shift until finally it was from the south. Once again we tried sailing to the island, this time wing on wing. A first for us. I don’t like this maneuver as the potential is great for an accidental gybe and it really isn’t faster than being on a broad reach. John, however, has wanted to try it for a while and with no other boats in the vicinity we went for it. The wind at our back didn’t help much so we turned around and headed for home, again on a beam reach. We sailed until just past the entrance to Rock Hall harbor when we had to lower the sails in preparation for docking. That was the first time we had enough wind to sail back to Rock Hall. Usually the wind dies just as we’re passing Love Point and we end up motoring the last hour.

We didn’t end up where we planned to be, but we had a great time not getting there.

Aground. Kind of.

July 10, 2011

One of the mantras of boating is that there are two types of people: those who have gone aground and those who won’t admit going aground. John photographed the boat below from our marina and there’s no denying that it was firmly aground. As the tide ebbed, it rested on its port side just west of the entrance to Swan Creek where the charted depth is 2 feet. Only a small boat with a retractable keel could make it through without touching bottom.



So far we have only kind of gone aground. When rounding Eastern Neck Island over Memorial Day Weekend I tried to cut an angle off of my plotted course around a buoy. The chart gave the depth as 7 feet so I thought we would be fine with our 5’3” draft. I watched as the depth sounder read 6 feet, then 5 feet, then 4’9” when I felt the bump. More than a bump, really. I’m pretty certain that I felt the keel plow through the soft (fortunately) bottom. I released the sails and allowed the wind to turn the boat around the way we came in.

Catalina 30s were designed with either a fin keel or a wing keel. If we had a wing keel, because of the “wing” extending horizontally at the bottom, we probably would have become more firmly grounded. On the other hand, because wing-keeled boats have reduced draft, we might not have gone aground at all. The trade-off for the ability to “plow” through a soft bottom is that we have to be very careful about our depth and gunkholing is not an option. By seeing 4’9” on our display we were able to confirm that the depth sounder offset on our boat is currently set at six inches – not much of a safety net.

The unfortunate boat in the picture would have to wait for high tide to float off the bar and that wasn’t for another 9 hours. A power boat attempted to pull it off, but was unsuccessful. I suspect that the good Samaritan only succeeded in making things worse since the sailboat listed to port even more than before the attempt.


Aground. Really.

Our neighbor reminded me not to be too critical as it is easy to blow off course in that location if the winds are from a certain direction. I should not be too critical because someday my “kind of” will change to “did.”

Wye River

July 8, 2011

The majority of our sails will be one-nighters. We will leave Rock Hall on Saturday morning to sail to an anchorage or marina and return on Sunday. When we have the opportunity to add a few days to the weekend, we can comfortably test just how far we can sail in one day. We did just that on the Blue Marsh Sailing Association (BMSA) Spring Cruise in June. Joining us was our Fearless Passenger (AKA my mother).

The club itinerary was to spend Friday night at anchor in the Wye River and Saturday night at St. Michaels Harbour Marina. Our plan was to leave Gratitude Thursday morning and stay overnight in Tilghman Creek in Eastern Bay and catch up with the other boats on Friday. From Tilghman Creek Drum Point would have been only a two or three hour sail. Sunday we would return to Tilghman Creek and then finish the trip to Rock Hall on Monday. We chickened out on traveling through Kent Narrows so the extra days on the front and back end of the weekend were needed to sail around the outside of the island. I read too many stories of getting through the Kent Narrows shoaling “in the right conditions”: When the wind isn’t blowing hard enough to push your boat across the channel, at high tide, when boats aren’t traveling towards you, etc. Local knowledge is a beautiful planning tool. As it turned out, the route around the outside of the island was no picnic either but at least there was no chance to run aground.

Our Thursday departure fell through after we loaded our supplies, ran through my (mental) checklist and when we were ready to depart, discovered that the engine would not turn over. The marina mechanic couldn’t look at it until Friday morning. Our new procedure is to start the engine as soon as we get to the boat just to make sure there are no problems and so that we have that much more time to get our mechanic to look at it. The joys of a 30-year old engine.

Not leaving on Thursday was probably good because of the small craft advisory that was issued. Obbligato, a BMSA boat from Havre de Grace, reported wicked conditions on the sail through the Narrows on Thursday.

We left our marina around 10:30 on Friday with a south wind and 2- to 3-foot seas. We tacked our way down Bay almost to Bloody Point light when it started to rain and a severe thunderstorm alert was broadcast. After donning life jackets, lowering the sails and stowing my mother below, we motored into Eastern Bay. By then it was after lunch but John wanted to try to meet up with club members anchored at Drum Point in the Wye River so we continued past Tilghman Point and the planned Claiborne Inlet anchorage in Tilghman Creek.

About an hour before sunset we approached the mouth of the Wye. We were lucky to only have been touched with the southern end of the last storm. Another, more severe, storm was heading our way from Alexandria, VA. Hail, damaging wind, cloud-to-ground lightning and rain were predicted. As we headed towards the Wye, we saw darkening clouds off our starboard side and heard rumbles of thunder. Lightning streaked out of the slate-gray clouds. It was not raining at our location but the storm was close enough that I decided that we would anchor in Shaw Bay rather than risk navigating the Wye after dark and with a fast-moving storm at our heels. By the time we passed by green daymark “3” the sun had set and it was getting dark.

Shaw Bay is the first anchorage in the Wye East river and is rather large. Only three other sailboats were at anchor when we arrived. We dropped the hook, released mom from the cabin and prepared dinner. The Memorial Day weekend trip was our first raft up, this was our first time at anchor on our own. Previous overnight trips were to marinas. On that night it was just us and whatever was out there in the water. I’ve watched the TV show River Monsters and there could be something out there in the water. Every splash could very well be something with teeth sharp enough to take off my foot in one gulp.

The storm came close but didn’t affect us. We discovered that if we leave early enough we could probably make 40 nautical miles comfortably in one day depending on the sailing conditions.

That night the winds were calm and a big orange moon rose over the water. Our Fearless Passenger relaxed in the cockpit and said those words all children love to hear from a parent: “Life is good.”

My report on the rest of the trip can be found at the BMSA web site.

Shaw Bay

Dropping the Hook

July 8, 2011

John and I are making up in 2011 for Halcyon’s engine problems that kept us dockside in 2010. So far this season we’ve loved every minute of our trips and every inch of our boat. We have no regrets with either our choice of a Catalina or that she’s a “good old boat.”

This summer we’re discovering the joys and benefits of dropping the hook in a peaceful (or not so peaceful) cove for the night. Our first experience with anchoring was with the Chesapeake Catalina Yacht Club over Memorial Day Weekend. We spent the first night in Grays Inn Creek and then across the Bay in the Magothy River.

The head of Grays Inn Creek is in Rock Hall, MD. Our slip neighbor recently told us that if we had a dinghy we could head up the creek from the anchorage, beach the dinghy and walk to the Java Rock café in the center of Rock Hall for coffee in about ten minutes. Reaching Grays Inn Creek by sail took a little more than four hours as we had to sail south around Eastern Neck Island and then up the Chester River on the other side. If we motored the entire time our track would be u-shaped.

The entrance to the creek is marked by green can “1” on the Chester River. We motored carefully down the center of the channel as the depth often dropped to as low as six inches towards the shoreline. There were quite a few boats in the cove on the other side of Browns Point when we arrived. Our club consisted of four rafts of four boats and a couple boats that anchored alone, almost 20 boats. We found our assigned raft and tied up next to another Catalina 30, introduced ourselves and settled in for the night.

Our group was a bit noisy during the cocktail hour(s) on the party raft. Members zipped between the four rafts and took pets ashore in dinghies. There were two houses on the cove and I wondered if homeowners know what they’re getting into when they choose to buy or build a home on a navigable waterway. During the week the coves are fairly quiet but on the weekends the more popular spots can be the place to be for serious partying.

The next morning we sailed back down the Chester River, across the Chesapeake Bay to the mainland and into the Magothy River. The Purdy Point cove where the club met was located on the north side of Gibson Island, across from a picturesque horse farm complete with cannon on the manicured lawn. This was an extremely popular anchorage and space was at a premium. Marine police patrolled and ensured that boats did not anchor too far into the extremely narrow channel.

Halcyon was the baby boat of that second night’s raft, tied between two newer Catalina 350s. It was nice talking boats with the other members, some of whom started out with the 30 and moved up. Larger, newer boats have their own maintenance headaches and repair costs rise with the boat length. Halcyon may not have in-mast furling or a generator to run air conditioning and an electric head, but she gets us places in relative comfort.

John joined the party raft while I chose to stay on Halcyon with a book, a glass of wine and a bowl of guacamole and watch the sun set on the farm. The farm had a dock from which kids jumped off into the water. Others fished along the banks of the creek below the pasture. They were part of an organized group and had set up tents behind the dock. I thought how nice it was to see teenagers outside enjoying nature and not sitting at home with video games and smart phones and bad moods. I hoped that the weekend provided the kids with fond memories to look back upon when they became adults. I hoped as adults they find their own Halcyon to continue making memories.

Purdy Point

Purdy Point, Magothy River