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Summer cruise was ‘one of those days’

Last winter I acquired an inflatable kayak to car-top and paddle about the Florida Keys, but long spells of cold weather limited my on-water activities there. I brought it home on Amtrak's Auto Train to try it out this summer as a Bay cruising dinghy tagging along behind my Sailmaster 22.

Jack Sherwood

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I hadn't gotten out of Spa Creek in Annapolis when that option failed. As soon as I got up to speed - provided by my 5-hp Honda 4-stroke - the kayak began to flip and proved untowable. I pulled it aboard, deflated it and strapped it down on the foredeck, which added to the clutter with my anchor stowed there.

Testing carried forth in one's mind is not the same as testing under real boating conditions. Stowing it folded inside my small cabin added to the clutter there, too, and inflating it with a foot pump every time I wanted to use it required too much effort. (It has since been reassigned to light boatwork duty at the dock, and I'm back to using my hard 8-foot Walker Bay dinghy.)

I don't generally believe in omens, but soon after I cast off that morning and failed my first challenge, I immediately lost my favorite soft-billed cap overboard. It floated for a while, but when I circled under sail and came up on it with a boat hook I was about 3 inches short and it finally sank from sight.

I was certain I had some spare sun caps but could not find one, so I started the outboard and headed for a large sailboat to bum a head cover. The skipper obliged and tossed me an extra-large floppy, which fell down over my ears. I looked like Forrest Gump, but you know what they say about a gift horse.

I turned off the engine and resumed sailing to the Eastern Shore on a light port reach. I have a self-imposed rule never to leave my home port on a cruise under power, but halfway across the Bay the northerly collapsed en route to Bloody Point Light. I fired up the Honda again, bound for Eastern Bay and beyond. No kayak, a lost cap and no wind, but in St. Michaels I could at least tie up at The Crab Claw and feast on steamed crabs on the outdoor deck. More disappointment came during that weekday in mid-June with unsatisfactory, medium-sized crabs ($3 each) and noisy children scurrying about and banging wooden crab mallets on the picnic tables.

An umbrella in the cockpit provides shade from the hot summer sun.

When cruising that area, I always anchor for the night in protected Pink Castle Cove in Leeds Creek, on the other side of the often-mild Miles River and away from the crowded, touristy town. As I entered the creek, I was stunned by a pair of winged airboats circling directly overhead and suddenly descending toward a deserted beach. My camera was packed away in the cabin, I was too busy at sea level and things were happening too fast in the sky to do much of anything but watch and wonder.

After settling down around 8 p.m., I popped open a can of very cold beer and raided the ice chest to soak a wash cloth for a refreshing face rubbing. Ahhhhh... Next was a Punch cigar, just in time to greet and temporarily dispatch a surprise swarm of mosquitoes. Outside in the cockpit, however, the skeeters regrouped and followed me back into the cabin as darkness neared.

I began looking for mosquito repellant, which I knew I had but could not find. Lockers, shelves and storage bins were emptied and searched. Tobacco smoke would keep them at bay, but I could not stay awake and blow smoke all night. I rigged two inflated air mattresses and tried to sleep, which was impossible because of the humidity and the darn mosquitoes.

I dragged an air mattress to the cockpit, where a cooling breeze was stirring. Still, skeeters swarmed. I found a long-sleeved shirt, covered my legs with a bath towel and wiped down all exposed flesh with sun lotion, which handled most of the buggy problem. What I really needed was a head net and a pair of long-sleeved summer jammies and plastic gloves. For a while, I smoked another small cigar and looked at an almost full moon through binoculars, wishing I had an aerial moon map since I was on no sea of tranquility.

I dozed off and on through the night, but a stiff breeze sent me to the cabin to fetch my sleeping bag around 4:30 a.m., shortly before a crabber in his workboat awakened me with his quiet wake. At that point I decided to head home, find the mosquito repellant I left behind, and buy spares and backups for the next cruise.

I raised anchor at 8 a.m., hoping for a morning breeze that never materialized. By 9:15 I was rounding Rich Neck at Tilghman Point to go on a course heading west in Eastern Bay. In another hour or so, I came up on Bloody Point Lighthouse and the southern end of Kent Island. By late morning, heading due north at Bloody, the sun blasted down and I went below for my folding sun umbrella that slides inside a bendy, plastic tube secured to the starboard cockpit wall. I sat in protective shade while crossing the Bay and into the mouth of the Severn River at Tolly Point on the Western Shore.

I had been so upset over forgetting my ample supply of skeeter deterrents that I cut the short cruise short, daring not to anchor for the night without anti-bug devices. That evening I would ordinarily have expected to be secure in some protected Eastern Shore creek. However, I was glad to be home when a violent electrical storm with high winds and lightning arrived at dusk and knocked off tree branches. Someone must have been caught out in that nasty front, and I was glad it wasn't me.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.

This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue.