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Bay Tripper November 2006

Memories of a midsummer cruise

Memories of a midsummer cruise

Planning a weekend cruise out of Annapolis, Md., in August presents some problems because of light and fluky winds, high temperatures and humidity, and a relentless powerboat chop. A harbinger of weather to come arrived at the end of July and got worse into the first week of August, with record “feels-like” heat indexes of 110 F.

These dog days also provide stinging jellyfish (not to mention biting flies) to all but the fresher waters of the northern Bay. To escape ugly weather in the past, I have taken advantage of sailing friends in Canada, Maine, Rhode Island, the Florida Keys and Southern California. This August I covered my sailboat for a week and met an old sailing buddy in Oak Island, N.C., to daysail his older, newly purchased Rhodes 19 centerboarder to and from Bald Head Island at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

After being confined to the A/C at home or in my Eastport office space for too long and not sailing, a break in the weather came the first weekend in August. Anxious to be out on the water again, I planned to explore the Miles River above St. Michaels until I ran out of water depth. One important advantage of cruising out of Annapolis is the possibility of heading north, south, east or west as wind direction and velocity (or lack thereof) dictate. But I never set out on a short cruise if motoring is the only option, resigning myself to that dreaded fate only when homeward bound and there is no other way to get there.

Delayed and not departing for this cruise until the early afternoon of Aug. 4, with a moderate westerly that wasn’t so good for a dead run across the Bay to the Eastern Shore, I headed south for Galesville on the Western Shore only 15 miles away. I tied up at the county pier and met friends for dinner at Pirates Cove on the West River then, early that evening, motored to the nearby Rhode River and Half Moon Bay, a popular anchorage. It would have been hot at the dock, which is busy with hand-line and dip-net crabbers called “chicken-neckers” because of their choice of bait. Anchoring out offered a delightful evening breeze under a bright moon of three-quarters.

The pristine property on the southwest shore of this small river is owned and protected by a Smithsonian Institution ecological research center and is posted off-limits. But boaters in dinghies land anyway, and I hope they have enough respect to leave nothing behind but footprints in the sand. The opposite shore is heavily developed, and house lights were twinkling. But my view from the cockpit was of dark woods, with birds of prey (ospreys and eagles) circling overhead.

After anchoring in 8 feet of water, I settled back in the cockpit to await the darkness with Cruzan black strap rum, good cigars, and a CD collection of that old radio crime-buster broadcast “The Shadow.” It was good to hear the deep voice of Lamont Cranston again introducing himself: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows … heh, heh, heh, heh.”

In the waning daylight, I made up my special one-person bunk, which entails moving a lot of stuff around. I stacked four pillows for my weary head, made happier when elevated for sleeping purposes, and laid out things on a tabletop I might want to find in the darkness in a hurry with a flashlight. I lit two oil lamps, one for the cabin and the other rigged as an anchor light hanging from the backstay. A light cotton blanket provided enough cover during the cool, delightful evening as I settled back and looked through the open companionway at the gently swinging anchor light and the bright moon. The boat moved around a bit in a gentle motion, which I enjoy.

At daybreak I awakened to find eight sailboats anchored around me, though none too close. A Bristol 38 that arrived after dark under power was met early that Saturday morning by towboat operator Don Dunbar, whose Under Tow Marine Services operates out of nearby Casa Rio Marina on Cadle Creek, just off the Rhode River. Dunbar explained later that the sailboat’s engine oil plug had mysteriously disappeared, and much of the oil drained into the bilge. (With boats, it’s always something.) He took the boat under tow to Whitehall Marina on Whitehall Creek, off Annapolis.

I prepared to leave by 8 a.m. and knew I would have a problem extracting my Danforth from the mud. While seated on the bow and pulling in the rode until I could heave no further, the shackle on the 8-foot chain surfaced, and I cleated off. Back in the cockpit, the outboard was running and in neutral. I secured the tiller in a straight-ahead position and moved the boat in slow forward until the anchor pulled loose and we were free. Then I returned to the bow with a bucket of sea water, pulled up the remaining ground tackle, washed off the mud, dumped the chain down the hawse pipe, secured the anchor, and began hoisting the mainsail.

Unlike a typical August morning, the wind was out of the north at 12 to 15 knots, perfect for reaching across the Bay to Bloody Point Light, then on down Eastern Bay and to the Miles River. I would run down the Miles to the bascule bridge some nine miles above St. Michaels and continue as far as I could go, then anchor for the night. But it didn’t work out like that. At the mouth of Eastern Bay, the wind turned northeast with white caps and headed me. It would have been a series of tacks with a reefed main, so I blew off the Miles for another time. I sailed with the wind through Poplar Island Narrows, motoring through Knapps Narrows to the exit at the Choptank River, where I sailed to Oxford on the Tred Avon.

In the Choptank I encountered Capt. Wadey Murphy sailing his Rebecca T. Ruark, a round-bottom oyster sloop with a skipjack rig. Once the Bay’s oldest (1886) working oyster dredger, she is now retired as a dude boat, carrying day passengers out of Tilghman Island’s Dogwood Harbor. Moving along well under her huge main, I came alongside to shout a hello to Murphy and beckoned to him to raise the jib for my camera. His crew obliged, and Rebecca heeled beautifully on a close port reach, dragging an eclectic exhibit of old black tires and beat-up fenders of various size, shape and color that were hanging over the starboard side. It wasn’t a shipshape sight, though shipshape enough for a sailing Bay workboat.

In Oxford I tied up at Cutts & Case Shipbuilders on Town Creek and took a shower. It’s a favorite destination, and I never tire of walking the docks, poking through the storage shed and visiting the boat museum, where the star of the maritime (and motorcycle) collection sits in timeless, elegant repose. Foto was the last launch used by famed father-and-son yachting photographers Morris and Stanley Rosenfeld of New York. The lovely, elegant vessel was saved from ruin and completely restored at Cutts & Case.

The following day was hello to no-wind August again. I left Oxford at 8 a.m. and didn’t even bother raising the mainsail. Motoring all the way home to Annapolis, I opened the Spa Creek Drawbridge at 2 p.m. After nearly 30 miles, I was particularly pleased with the performance of my quiet, new 5-hp Honda 4-stroke, which consumed all of 2-1/2 gallons of gas.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.