I follow one self-imposed “rule” in my singularly unimportant recreational life when it comes to the first cruise of the season, usually to the St. Michaels area or Oxford on Maryland’s middle Eastern Shore. It says an outbound cruise must begin under sail, and if the wind fails after two hours of trying to sail I’ll give it up to avoid hours of motoring and stay home waiting for a local breeze.
I have come to be more favorable toward power this year because of my new 5-hp, 4-stroke Tohatsu, which has become a fine companion in my solo sailing. It is quiet, starts on a dime, has enough power to push us along at 5 knots and sips gas at a rate that is hard to believe. I must guard myself against using it too much because it provides a rather enjoyable experience.
This initial cruise was different from others because I departed Annapolis in a classic boat race to St. Michaels, tagging along as a non-paying participant and getting some lovely old boats to sail with along the way. The wind was gentle from the northwest as the fleet departed about 10 a.m. May 21, but at least it was sunny and there was no rain in the forecast. Eventually the wind shifted to the north, northeast, east and southeast before it stalled, stumbled and dropped dead, leaving me wallowing and forlorn.
Rather than turn back at Bloody Point Light at the southern tip of Kent Island, I decided to furl the mainsail, roll up the jib and proceed under power. As is my habit, I took the usual shortcuts, going inside marks and crossing over shoals into Eastern Bay. I stayed close to shore while rounding Rich Neck at the northern tip of Tilghman Island and entering the Miles River. I should mention here that my boat is a full-keel Sailmaster 22 with a centerboard that I use as a depth sounder.
I had permission to tie up alongside an exhibits building at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in the charming village of St. Michaels, where Craig Biggs, a friend and a cigar-smoking captain of a large Bay excursion vessel, took my bow line. From his high perch in the wheelhouse of this passenger ship, Craig has shot some wonderful photos of my boat under way, which I have enlarged and framed. I am looking at just such a shot as I write this yarn.
This was Preakness day in Baltimore, and I was eager to watch the classic horse race from the Carpenter Street Saloon in town, a local hangout. I was picked up by Bobby “Square Man” Grieser, a famed maritime photographer and an old friend from our Washington, D.C., newspaper days who lives in San Diego. We were joined by Lisa Masson, a well-known Annapolis photographer, and her friend, Tim McAteer, who were berthed a few slips away from me in her Catalina 30, On Location. My horse lost, but my son Scott parlayed his bet and won $700 in the exacta.
As we wandered about the museum grounds, I found it interesting to realize that I had written stories about one boat in the race, Windaleer, a Sparkman & Stephens-designed yawl that lives at the City Dock in Annapolis. Several other story subjects are in St. Michaels, including a classic museum cabin cruiser named Isabel, a recreational skipjack named Caroline and an unusual wooden sloop named Selina that daysails as a passenger headboat out of the harbor.
By early evening, the place was getting crowded, especially where I was tied up between two powerboats with little room to spare. Several people came up to my boat and said they had seen Erewhon under sail in Annapolis and were pleased to see her up close. A young man was especially interested because he had just acquired an old Phil Rhodes-designed sloop of wood that “needs work.” I advised him to get the boat in sailing condition and deal with the cosmetics of varnishing and painting later.
About 8 o’clock, with things getting noisy, I had a yearning to return to a favorite quiet anchorage in Leeds Creek, just across the Miles. It was very tight backing up and out, but I was happy to be on my way to Leeds again. Maybe I wanted to be alone because this could have been my last time aboard Erewhon, as some multimillionaire preacher had predicted the world would end on this night.
While I anchored at twilight in a cove near the legendary Pink Castle, I noticed an attractive young woman in a flowing white gown waving at me from the Castle’s boat landing. Was this some kind of angelic omen? I returned her wave, hung my oil lamp from the backstay and prepared to create my nest.
In an effort to make my sleeping accommodations comfortable, I have only succeeded in making them more complicated. The numerous steps involve moving things about and installing two inserts to fill up the center space in the small cabin. Two inflatable air mattresses must be unrolled and blown up by mouth to firm them up. Then I roll out the sleeping bag, set up three pillows and try to move around with no place to stand. It takes a lot of effort.
The next morning I was delighted to be awakened by the rising sun and be gently rocked by the wake of a crabber tending to his baited trot line with a wire crab net. I popped out from the hatch and looked over to the landing, but the woman in white was not there. Too bad. I was just glad to be alive, anyway.
Incidentally, all this unnecessary fuss has forced me to reorganize the nest. Rather than folding and stowing everything away, I have arranged it so that all I need do is crash. One fully inflated mattress waits in place in the port V-berth, with pillows assembled and sleeping bag unrolled. No more moving things about before and afterward. What a relief! I should have done this years ago.
The morning forecast called for 15 knots from the southeast, which would be fine for a brisk downwind sail home to the northwest with the jib set and poled out. I pulled up anchor at 9 o’clock, started Miss Tohatsu on the second pull and raised the mainsail. Off in the distance at Rich Neck, I noticed some vessels under sail where the flat water was being darkened by the rippling wind. It was a new beginning to a new day, and I was very anxious to get sailing.
But as I entered Eastern Bay the wind died, and I again furled the main and started the outboard. Back at the museum dock on the day I landed I had filled my 3-gallon tank in the lazarette from a spare 5-gallon container on deck, but I did not bother to look at the fuel gauge. The 24-mile ride home, from anchorage to the Annapolis drawbridge, took just four-and-a-half hours, and I burned one-and-a-half gallons of gas.
No sailing but much accomplished, much gained, sleeping arrangement solved, an angel come and gone, and I was grateful to be alive on Doomsday.
Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.
This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue.
Jack has been cruising Chesapeake Bay and writing about the region for more than 25 years. His critically acclaimed book, "Maryland's Vanishing Lives," was published by Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University Press and is now in its second printing. Before joining Soundings, Jack was a feature writer at the Washington (D.C.) Star for nearly 20 years and a senior editor at Chesapeake Bay magazine from 1995 to 1998. His monthly Bay Tripper column focuses on the Chesapeake.