It’s early November as I write, and the deep-water sailors who like the mouth of the Chesapeake as a departure point for the Caribbean are ready to go. The insurance companies that have latitude restrictions generally lift them Nov. 1, so there are usually some departures at this time, including the Carib 1500 and Salty Dog Caribbean rallies.
This year was complicated by a cold front that stalled offshore. A low formed along it and turned into a powerful nor’easter, raking the coast from Hatteras north, including heavy snow in northern New England. The 1500 waited it out and left a day or two after the low passed. The narrowness and proximity of the Gulf Stream make the mouth of the Bay an ideal place to get across the stream and on your way. I have made the trip a half-dozen times. This year I am content to count snowbirds in the Ditch.
Rock ’n’ roll time
As this issue went to press, there were still a few weeks left in the December striped bass (known as rockfish here) season in the Bay, typically the time of year when the Chesapeake produces the largest examples of this signature species. This is also the time when a number of tournaments are held that produce some handsome purses for the winners. Although these are not the purses of the billfish tournaments, neither is the cost of entry in boats, equipment or fees. A friend of mine described the striped bass tourneys as the “workingman’s billfish tournament.”
The rockfish population is under stress in comparison with years past, and the tournaments have not been producing the catches of recent years. In fact, the big January tournament, the Mid-Atlantic Rockfish Shootout, which targets fish off the beach out to 3 miles after the Bay season closes, has been moved back to the end of December so that Bay waters will be accessible. In the January 2014 tournament, no fish were caught in the fishable zone. The juvenile counts were better this summer, however, and coupled with some restrictions in the next several years, the plentiful stocks should come back.
I have made the trip through the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal a couple of times, once stopping in Chesapeake City, Maryland, midway through the canal. Generally, the timing of the passage and the urge to get where you’re going mean that the terminus of the canal on the Delaware Bay side is the most northern point of Delaware Bay for most cruisers. That’s a shame because just a mile or so farther north is Delaware City, by all accounts a wonderful place to stop.
It has a rich history and fine facilities for transients. It also has a restaurant that, depending on your view of certain presidential peccadilloes, has either an amusing or offensive name: Lewinsky’s on Clinton (Clinton Street). I hope the owners are actually named Lewinsky, so the restaurant’s name isn’t solely wordplay and a way to sell T-shirts and blue dresses. The food, beer and music certainly indicate it is a good sailor’s pub. It is not the only double-entendre eatery on Clinton Street, either — a few doors away is Crabby Dicks, with its own line of tasteful apparel.
Like Charlie the tuna, we’re looking for food that tastes good, good taste aside. I intend to make Delaware City and some restaurant on Clinton Street a stop on my next passage. Write me if you do it first.
It takes awhile to get clued in to the geographical nomenclature of the Virginia western shore. To the newcomer it sounds like a version of Caesar (remember omnes Gallia and its tres partes?) or Lord of the Rings. I kept seeing and hearing references to peninsulas and necks and finally buttonholed a colleague at work so I could understand at least my part of the Bay. To begin, on the western shore there are three major peninsulas north of the James River. The cities of the south side of the James are known simply as “southside” and are not to be confused with Southside, which is some other part of Virginia.
When you hear someone say The Peninsula, it is the first peninsula between the James and York rivers, and it includes Williamsburg, Newport News and Hampton. The next peninsula or neck to the north is called Middle Peninsula, hence my confusion with Lord of the Rings. It lies between the York and Rappahannock rivers. Also, on the Middle Peninsula there’s a large sub-peninsula between Mobjack Bay and the Piankatank “where the frogs can jump from bank to bank.” It may have a secret name I will be granted access to it at a later date.
The northernmost of the three peninsulas is the Northern Neck, which looks big enough to be called a peninsula, but for some reason got stuck with “neck.” North of the Potomac is just Maryland, which doesn’t seem to matter to Virginians and does not merit a lofty name like THE Peninsula. So study up before you move down. Hope this helps.
Today at Mile Zero
There were three concurrent transits by the window today, which make it noteworthy. The first was one of only two functional World War II Liberty ships, the James W. Brown, headed up the western branch of the Elizabeth to a shipyard for maintenance. Google “Liberty ships” for their remarkable story. Eighteen shipyards built 2,710 Liberty ships between 1941 and 1945.
Passing the Brown and heading downriver to either the Virgin Islands or the Bahamas were the many sailing yachts participating in the Carib 1500 rally. The final group in transit was today’s group of snowbirds leaving Crawford Bay and Tidewater Marina, heading south up the southern branch into the Ditch.
Besides the transits enumerated above, we had a controlled crash of a small trawler at the marina and a grounding in Crawford Bay of a lovely cruising ketch that had let out a lot of scope in an easterly gale, unaware of how much the tidal range increases and decreases with strong winds in the Bay.
It’s never dull here at Mile Zero. See you at the bottom of the Bay, the top of the Ditch.
Peter Bass is a writer and yacht broker who serendipitously found himself at the nexus of the Chesapeake and the Intracoastal Waterway, a.k.a., the Ditch. Visit PeterBass.com for more.
January 2015 issue