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Another season ends with one final cruise

I kept putting off a winter haul-out

return to Casa Rio Marina in Mayo, Md., because of wind-chill indexes that were too low and winds that were too high. But the dilemma of ending the sailing season on a high wind chill/low wind velocity note is that this tempting kind of weather hints of a prolonged season.

Years ago, Chesapeake Bay winters were occasionally mild, and I daysailed throughout those months.

Lately, though, that has not been the case; winters have been brutal, followed by some miserably cold and rainy springs that delayed sailing until May.

So I waited for a brilliant Indian-summer day that arrived in all its autumnal glory Nov. 17. It was time to stow the bunk cushions in the shed and get on with it.

Nostalgia under way

After leaving the dock, I immediately began wondering if I was making a mistake, that perhaps such lovely weather might linger after all. (It did not.) But I have been surprised before in recent times trying to stretch the season, so I departed Wells Cove and Spa Creek and was on my way.

Casa Rio is only a 12-mile sprint south from Annapolis — rounding Tolly Point and passing Thomas Point at the mouth of the South River, which leads into the West River, which ends in the small village of Galesville.

More than 30 years ago, my first single-handed overnight cruise from Annapolis to Galesville was a turning point in my boating life. This was unknown territory for me. I studied the chart and carefully charted a course, circling all the important marks before embarking on such a daring adventure.

Now it’s become a routine milk run, but just as much fun as it was back then.

I often think about those long-ago days and close friends who owned wooden sailboats, none of whom sail the Bay today. In fact, on the hard in Galesville is the almost-dead carcass of one of those boats, a 35-foot Eastern Interclub on which I first learned to sail.

Just enough breeze

An 8-knot northerly diminished quickly just beyond the mouth of the Severn River, and soon I was dealing with 4 knots from the east-southeast and motorsailing in flat seas.

En route over a water trail I have sailed many times over the years, I got to thinking about this little pocket cruiser of mine that has entertained me so often for so long on daysails and cruises on Chesapeake Bay.

Rigging self-steering lines to the tiller, I walked to the bow with a camera and looked back at an empty cockpit, pleased at how well the boat sails herself on a close reach, even in light air. I felt Erewhon, my Sailmaster 22, smiling for the camera as we ghosted along effortlessly on a bright blue day.

In the West River, a tempting breeze came up, and I shut off the outboard to sail a bit. The only other people on the river were an angler trolling for rockfish, an oyster-tonging workboat (the only one in sight), a small runabout towing another small runabout, and a couple of sailboats under power with sails furled and probably headed for winter storage.

Eventually, the wind dropped to nothing, and I started the motor, rolled up the jib and headed for the Rhode River, where I soon dropped the mainsail. No turning back now.

Last one out, first in

Pulling into a slip at Casa Rio, I tied up, fired up a cigar, and by mid-afternoon was watching Billy, Rich and the boys hauling boats on the Travelift. Looking at a $25 cab fare back to Annapolis and my car, I was lucky to get a ride from a boatbuilder who was still working on the same project I had written about a year or so ago.

It’s always a sad parting, but my arrangement was that my boat could hang in the slip and I could daysail out of there until the time came to be the last hauled, making her the first boat launched in the spring.

Last winter, in Wells Cove, I could always visit her to clear the deck of any snow, secure the covering tarp, and climb inside the cabin — cold as a tomb — just to look around, say hello, and work on small interior projects.

This winter, I shipped my mainsail back to Jasper & Bailey in Newport, R.I., for washing and routine maintenance. The new roller-furling jib went to Quinn Sails and Canvas in Easton, Md., for sewn-on half-moon spreader patches. My older 5-hp Mercury outboard went back to Nic Stark at Inflatable Experts in Annapolis for winterizing. The aluminum boom goes home for sanding and painting.

In early March, boatwork begins anew. I’ll light-sand the topsides with an orbital sander, and roll-and-brush on high-gloss Interlux Toplac dark green enamel. I want the boat to look good for a 2005 season devoted to cruising the Bay and finding stories.

I found a passage from “Essays of E.B. White” that explains my passion for sailing, especially in this particular boat because I’ve come to know her ways so well over the 20 years I’ve owned her.

In “The Sea and the Wind That Blows,” White writes: “If a man must be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most. A small sailing craft is not only beautiful, it is seductive and full of strange promise and the hint of trouble ... a home that is stable without being stationary, shaped less like a box than like a fish or a bird or a girl, and in which the home owner can remove his daily affairs as far from shore as he has the nerve to take them, close-hauled or running free — parlor, bedroom, and bath, suspended and alive.”