Any veteran sailor who has cruised Chesapeake Bay for years should have a harrowing tale or two to tell shipmates. It is the nature of a rewarding sport that at times can be dangerous, risky and challenging.
I have had my share of close calls, including the sinking of my Westphal 28 one-design 35 years ago in a freak 70-knot squall on the Tred Avon River in Oxford, Md., a mishap that earned me the nickname “Shipwreck.”
As a youngster, boatyard painter Norman Gross fished, crabbed, clammed and oystered with his father and uncles and cousins — all working out of a community of black watermen in Shady Side, Md. But instead of “following the water” like them, he became a yard worker and is now an accomplished professional in a demanding art.
A gentle, soft-spoken man who looks a decade younger than his 52 years, Gross never forgot his happy days on the water working with that lost generation of Gross watermen.
Looking back on the way things were during “The Week That Was” in late August, it was not the best time to go off on a five-day cruise of the Upper Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake. A local earthquake, Hurricane Irene and uncooperative winds all contributed to canceling my ambitious plans.
My solo 12-hour cruising passages on Chesapeake Bay are over, replaced by 8-hour jaunts that are easier on us older, oddball loners, especially those unaccustomed to having crew on board to help with steering. My old 22-foot sailboat with a small cockpit and all kinds of control lines (14 at last count) and a cramped cabin stuffed with stuff are not fit for overnight company anyway. When I was younger, of course, I made exceptions.
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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.