Up the Potomac

“Don’t bother going up the Potomac–there’s nothing there.”

Anchored off the sailing center at Saint Mary's College; yet another collegiate sailing spot

Anchored off the sailing center at Saint Mary’s College; yet another collegiate sailing spot from my checkered past

Not so nice: jellyfish, keeping us out of the water

Not so nice: jellyfish, keeping us out of the water

Au contraire. We were warned off the trip by everyone we met; and while it’s true that there were few marinas for a deep-draft sailboat such as ourselves, we were able to find some very nice spots to anchor on our way to D.C.

We would have skipped this particular river, if it wasn’t for the prize at the end; but we couldn’t figure out a way to spend time in Washington without having our boat. Michu’s dad has an apartment in D.C., but it’s a small space. We really wanted to see a lot of the sights, so we’d planned for a week, and the bill for a hotel would have been ugly. The cost to keep our boat: $25 a night for a mooring ball, with access to showers, laundry and a dinghy dock, four blocks from the National Mall; so, up the river we went.

No longer ships of the line: these Navy boats were poorly build in the rush of WW2, then scuttled in this bay.

No longer ships of the line: these Navy boats were poorly build in the rush of WW2, then scuttled in this bay.

The thing that’s been most surprising to us–first about the Chesapeake, and especially about the Potomac–is the amount of militarization on the waterfront.

Osprey helicopter/plane, frozen in flight

Osprey helicopter/plane, frozen in flight

Of course we know about the Pentagon, and we’ve seen the Naval Academy; but there have been more than one place on the water where we could not go because we would have been fired upon. We’re talking sink-our-boat heavy artillery practice, right in our path. We’ve heard some strange radio conversations, to be sure. We managed to skirt around one area, and pass through another before anyone was awake, but we also have to check the charts to make sure we’re not trying to anchor amidst “unexploded ordinances” or in a special exclusion zone. We’ve seen several military bases, and some crazy satellite dishes, as well. I think our family is so focused on the historical nature of the area, sometimes we don’t anticipate what is currently happening in a given space.

Working on his skills; St. Mary's River

Working on his skills; St. Mary’s River

Fish on!

Fish on!

Additional excitement from this leg of our journey: first fish. Turns out, we are all terrible at fishing–lots of room for improvement! But after many, many unsuccessful attempts, Michu and T managed to reel in a small rockfish. “Small” as in, let’s throw it back; although the fish was so stressed, we think it ended up being lunch for some gulls. Very exciting to finally be able to make the call, “fish on!”

Mount Vernon, from the water

Mount Vernon, from the water

T checks the charts

T checks the charts

We passed by Mount Vernon and Alexandria and under one stressful bridge (we knew the clearance was 78 feet, which gave us over 20 feet between the top of the mast and the cold steel of the center span, but it looked extremely low!) before heading into the Capitol Channel. This space, just south of the tidal basin, used to have a lot of room for anchoring; it’s still possible to anchor just before the police dock, but we opted instead to pick up a mooring ball at the Gangplank Marina. Time for F’s most-anticipated part of the trip: exploring D.C.

Sunset off the stern. We were so excited to be able to see the Washington Monument from the boat--until we realized that you can see the Washington Monument from pretty much everywhere.

Sunset off the stern. We were so excited to be able to see the Washington Monument from the boat–until we realized that you can see the Washington Monument from pretty much everywhere.

The complicated math of putting up the sails

When we were having dinner with friends in Annapolis, we somehow mentioned that we didn’t ever tack our boat. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Tacking involves sailing against the wind, and turning your boat back and forth to make progress against it; if the wind’s against us, we’re pretty much just going to motor.

Dinghy sailing; easy sail selection

Dinghy sailing; easy sail selection

Deciding when to sail and when to turn on the engine is a complicated problem. Michu and I both come from racing backgrounds, and we love to sail; but in the sail versus motor equation, we also consider:

  • How much longer will it take us to get there?
  • How much less comfortable will the boat be? Will anyone get seasick?
  • How will this affect our angle to the waves? Will additional water make it into the boat?
  • What will this do to our angle of heel? Is anything downstairs going to fall over?
  • Will anyone have to prepare lunch at a very uncomfortable angle? How about dinner—will sailing delay our arrival time to make dinner prep more annoying?
  • How much maneuvering will we have to do? Are we going to have to tack a bunch, and shift the contents of our house? Do we need to jibe a bunch, and maybe stress out our gear? Will we need to change sails?
  • How strong is the wind expected to be? Will we put up the sails, only to have to take them down again after an hour? What about wind direction—is it supposed to shift into our face (again)?

All of these questions are compounded by the challenges our our mainsail. Most cruising boats have an easy system for stowing the main; the fanciest boats have a furler that stows the sail in the mast or boom, but other boats get by with a stack pack or lazy jacks. Our boat has a system called a Dutchman, where line is threaded through the sail, and when the sail is lowered, it falls into neat folds on the boom—but we don’t have it installed. There are some repairs needed, as with so many things, and it didn’t happen before we left Milwaukee.

We do like it when the sails are up.

We do like it when the sails are up.

Clearly, the Dutchman project needs to move up the list of priorities, because the hassle of putting up and stowing the main is hindering our performance, and the general will to go sailing on the boat. To be clear: Michu almost always votes for putting up the sails. He will short-tack up the channel; he will put up the code zero in a drifter; he will put up the main for an hour before the wind dies. I am less willing. Notice how none of the questions above reference the engine? That’s because I wrote the list. If Michu had written it, the lead question would probably have been: how many more hours on the engine until the oil needs to be changed? Closely followed by: how are the transmission oil levels, how much diesel do we have, where’s the next marina where we can conveniently buy diesel, how much water is coming through the stuffing box, and do we need to run the alternator to make power.

This scenario plays out differently on long passages. If we’re planning to travel overnight, we’re going to sail; we won’t leave until the weather’s looking favorable, and adding a few more hours of slow sailing doesn’t matter if we’re already planning to travel for 24. Meals are prepped up, and no one’s too concerned about getting schoolwork done. Likewise, the few short travel days that we run across are almost always sailing days—six hours in light winds is no big deal, even if motoring might take two or three hours. It’s the days where we’ve budgeted eight hours of travel that are questionable; turning that into ten or twelve hours makes for a long day; traveling for eight uncomfortable hours heeled up and pounding into waves makes everyone cranky.

Sailing along on Lake Michigan

Sailing along on Lake Michigan

We were very lucky, at the start of our trip, to have consistent and favorable winds. We didn’t really question sailing versus motoring; we were almost always able to sail. Since we left Lake Huron, the calculus has gotten more complex. We’re also out of our home weather, so it’s harder for us to know how the local winds will blow; geography affects wind direction and strength in ways that are predictable to locals, but mysterious to us.

But: we are sailors! We do, in fact, like to sail! Also, we enjoy feeling superior to the motor boats, which is difficult to do when we’re motoring! So: Dutchman repair needs to move up towards the top of the list. And possibly I need to remember how much better everything is when the engine is turned off.

Upper Chesapeake and Annapolis

We’ve been loving our time in the Chesapeake.

Just another bucolic anchorage...

Just another bucolic anchorage…

This lovely boat was our wake-up call one morning near Oxford.

This lovely boat was our wake-up call one morning near Oxford.

We spent a few days idling our way down the Chesapeake, making slow progress to Annapolis. Our biggest concern is dodging crab pots–they’re everywhere, especially where we want to anchor. If we manage to find a free bay, we’ll inevitably be awakened before sunrise to the sound of pots being set, oysters being raked, and general seafood harvesting.

Couple two, three boats in Annapolis

Couple two, three boats in Annapolis

We finally pulled into Annapolis itself–the consummate boating town. There are plenty of places to park your boat here–marinas and mooring balls–but we ended up setting anchor right outside the main channel, opposite the Naval Academy. Someone from the harbormaster’s office drove out to us to check in, and gave us a head’s up about some other options if the weather should go bad; he also filled us in on the readily available hot showers and nearby laundry.

View from the anchorage

View from the anchorage

In Memorial Hall at Navy

In Memorial Hall at Navy

We spent a fair amount of time being tourists in Annapolis–visiting the Naval Academy and the statehouse, and walking the winding old streets near the harbor. I’d been here racing during college, but it’d been a long time, and I’d never explored beyond the sailing center at Navy and a couple of bars. We really started to get a sense of the history in the area, and worked on subtly imparting some knowledge into our kids’ brains without them noticing.

Historic!

Historic!

Nautical stained glass in the chapel at Navy

Nautical stained glass in the chapel at Navy

Outside the statehouse in Annapolis

Outside the statehouse in Annapolis

dscf0658We also got to meet up with friends through the blog–our first-ever face-to-face with virtual friends! They have the same kind of boat as us, plus three kids, so we immediately had a ton to talk about. They were sweet enough to take us out to dinner, as well as bring us a bottle of wine and a couple of tea towels with our boat name on them. We were blown away by their generosity.

Navy 44's

Navy 44’s

We also had a great time just sitting around the cockpit, watching the sailing going on around us. It was the US women’s match racing championship while we were there; we also watched three fleets of 420s, two Opti fleets, a bunch of Flying Scotts, the Navy 44s, two Laser fleets and a big PERF race, right off our stern. Sailboats were constantly coming and leaving–it would be 10:00 at night, and someone would be heading out; and when you live on a boat, other boats are inherently interesting.

Favorite boater-friendly feature: the pump-out boat. For $5, they'll come to you and empty your holding tank!

Favorite boater-friendly feature: the pump-out boat. For $5, they’ll come to you and empty your holding tank!

We planned to leave after four nights, but ended up staying one more to meet back up with our friends from Perla. We really didn’t need much persuading. It was hard to leave a town as boater-friendly as Annapolis.

Fortunately, we still have quite a bit of the Chesapeake ahead of us. We’ll push on up the Potomac to Washington, D.C–our White House tour is calling our name–but we’ll still have plenty of the Bay to explore on our way back out.

Three Months Out

Three months cruising!!! Can you believe it? One the one hand, we feel like we’ve just started this journey..but on the other hand, Michigan feels like ancient history. We were thinking about our progress, and realized how stressed out we would have been leaving New York Harbor if we’d had to do it right at the start of our trip. We absolutely had to be heads-up getting out of there, but it wasn’t too difficult; the ferry drivers were clear in their intentions, our charts were accurate, and we weren’t worried. If it had been two months ago, we would have been a wreck.

Oh, we are super-close to a freighter? No worries!

Oh, we are super-close to a freighter? No worries!

I know I’ve mentioned the Interview With A Cruiser Project website before, started by Livia from Estrellita 5.10b; she also started a companion site, Newly Salted, for folks who are just starting out. We thought we’d interview ourselves.

What do you love?

M: The mornings. Also, when we can travel by sail.
D: When we are set with all our systems—full tank of fuel, stocked up on groceries, laundry done, water tanks full, poop tank empty.
F: The people and the fact that we get pastry more often.
T: Getting to see all the new places, and getting to explore.

What do you dislike?

M: How long it takes to accomplish any given task.
D: When the galley is a mess, and I still have to come up with dinner. When we’re entering a new place and are worried about running aground.
F: The fact that I’m always so close to my family is annoying, but it’s good in a way; and the fact that sometimes I get really, really bored. But that happened at home, too.
T: Seasickness! And bad wifi.

What do you worry about?

M: Diesel engine failure.
D: Getting the kids fully immersed in homeschooling. The day-to-day well-being of my family.
F: The boat sinking; I used to worry about hurricanes, but not anymore.
T: Well, I just really miss my friends.

What are you looking forward to?

M: Actually catching a fish. Snorkeling in the Bahamas.
D: Snorkeling in tropical waters.
F: D.C., and giving Alixia her birthday present—I hope she likes it.
T: Bahamas! And catching a fish.

Favorite place?

M: As a guy from Minnesota, the North Channel was a spiritual experience for me.
D: Turnbull Island in the North Channel.
F: The North Channel was pretty amazing for overall places, but they’re all pretty good, though.
T: The North Channel, and I really liked Croker Island and Turnbull Island. New York.

Least favorite place?

M: Dunkirk, NY. Lexington, MI (although they had the best laundry). Certain marinas just rub me wrong, and I’d rather not be there.
D: Mackinaw City.
F: I don’t like it when there isn’t good wifi—no wifi is better than bad wifi.
T: The mooring ball at 79th St.

Lesson learned?

Always dog down the forward hatch! When we were leaving Club Island, headed to Tobermory in Canada, the wind and waves quickly built to a pretty rough situation. Michu was down below, enjoying a cup of coffee, when he saw a huge curtain of water come gushing through the forward hatch right onto our bed in the v-berth. He put down his coffee on the nav station to run up and deal with the situation, and promptly spilled the coffee all over the nav, with its cache of electronics—including the laptop. It was a low point. We arrived in Tobermory five hours later, in gale force conditions, drenched and exhausted. Corollary to the hatch: never trust a weather report that’s more than 24 hours old. If we’d gotten an updated weather report that morning, we never would have left.

Best gear award:

The entire electronics system. We are never without power. Fans, lights, fridge—full-time, all around. Power tools at anchor, no problem.

Worst gear award:

The wifi antenna. Although the outboard is running a close second.

DSCF0326

North Channel. Everyone’s favorite.

 

Run away!

Well, we survived our first hurricane, and fortunately for us, it was a total non-event.

After a terrible introduction to ocean sailing (the boat behaved beautifully, the wind was excellent, and everyone was incapacitated by seasickness), we pulled in to Atlantic City and dropped anchor behind the casinos. There was a great, free, secure dinghy dock, and a lovely public library, and we were feeling pretty good about spending three nights there and waiting for the wind to shift our way; but after talking to a very experienced cruiser, and checking the weather a bit more closely, we decided to pull up stakes and run.

Atlantic City--view from our anchorage

Atlantic City–view from our anchorage

I have no pictures to share with you of Delaware Bay. We saw some beautiful things–porpoises! Stunning sunrise! Gulls flying a foot from our elbow, trying to land on the boat!–but we were so pressed to get north, we failed on the photo front. We went from Atlantic City to Lewes, then Lewes to a loooong slog up the Delaware Bay, against wind and into big waves, to get to the inside of the C and D Canal and a safe spot to wait.

Hide-hole.

Hidey-hole.

And so we waited. The storm went a bit out to sea, but was predicted to come back; so we waited some more.

 Waiting at the pool. It was tough.

Baking cookies during our non-hurricane. It takes a long time when you can only fit nine in you oven at once.

Baking cookies during our non-hurricane. It takes a long time when you can only fit nine in you oven at once.

Even though this marina was not exactly where we wanted to be, we feel like we were pretty lucky. The docks at this place were all pretty new; that’s because, during Sandy, it was completely wiped out. One of our dock neighbors told us he’s been through storms that never made it up the Chesapeake, but still sucked all the water from the Bay and left him sitting in mud. For us, the hurricane was a non-event, and that was perfect.

Back to our preferred activities--swimming off the boat...

Back to our preferred activities–swimming off the boat…

Since we ran up the Delaware instead of getting stuck at Cape May, we now find ourselves a tiny bit ahead of the “schedule” we’d laid out in our brains. We’re excited to have some extra time to explore the Chesapeake, and be back to easy anchorages and lots of nature.

...and a mug of wine in the cockpit.

…and a mug of wine in the cockpit.

Labor Day fireworks; Sassafras River, MD

Labor Day fireworks; Sassafras River, MD