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The conspiracy that killed my cruise

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.

The Bay Tripper's beloved Erewhon, all buttoned up for the surge that never was.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am no cook, but I was eager to actually cook on my new, elegant Origo 1500 alcohol stove. I felt confident and up to the challenge, so I stocked up on fresh Maryland crabmeat, steamed shrimp, mushrooms, filet mignon, pasta, butter, one large onion and assorted cheeses. My sautéed dishes would sizzle nicely in a new stainless frying pan that fit well with this polished stainless one-burner from Sweden. And its fuel seemed a safer choice, too … at least for me.

In prepping, I froze six half-blocks of ice at home and stowed them in a large, efficient, stainless Coleman cooler. Food was sealed in Ziploc bags and then placed in airtight containers. Also packed away were half-gallons of fresh-squeezed OJ, pink lemonade, and iced tea. It was a very heavy load. (My Becks beer stash and bottled Coke went into a cooler residing under the cabin step.)
A few days before departure, I confiscated a discarded wagon with wooden slats to aid in transporting this load down a tricky, sloping hill to my slip. I struggled to move the cumbersome Coleman into the wagon, which was slowly lowered in reverse down the hill as I controlled it with a long line attached to the handle. This load soon gathered momentum, and I tried to put the brakes on with my slipping feet. The wagon tipped over and dumped the cooler — ice and everything. It was a comic scene worthy of Inspector Clouseau made worse by my cursing and fuming. Fortunately, it was early in the morning and the clumsy event only startled some foraging squirrels.
Moving this load from the wagon to the pier and onto and into the boat posed more challenges. If that cooler had ended up in Wells Cove I would have turned around on the spot and gone home. But things went smoothly and all was in readiness, as the day before I had launched my dinghy and tied it to a stern cleat. A 5-gallon gas container was also secured between the lower port shroud and cabin side.
All was loaded, stowed and strapped down for a 9 a.m. Monday opening of the Spa Creek Drawbridge in Annapolis. I proceeded northward under full sail in a brisk northwesterly, hoping that a favorable marine forecast would hold true, which, of course, it did not. Halfway to the Bay Bridge, the wind went north on the nose, with an opposing ebb tide. I started my dependable Miss Tohatsu 5 outboard — new this year — to get beyond the dual bridges disturbing the air.
Once into clear air, the wind picked up with gusts of 20 knots. I donned foulies, rigged the cabin-top splash shield, reefed the mainsail and the roller-furling jib, and bashed onward, hoping for a wind shift back to the northwest. Every time I tacked, however, I was getting nowhere. My destination was Worton Creek, about 25 miles distant, but there was no way I was going to motorsail into breaking 3-foot seas for six hours. I was also determined not to head south again, which would have been a dead run.
After several hours of tacking, I decided to get out of the mess and sail west into the Magothy River on the Western Shore and visit with a friend, Capt. Denver Sanner, harbormaster at Gibson Island. My other choice would have been Gratitude on the Eastern Shore, just north of the mouth of the Chester River, but I was just fed up and looking forward to the newly discovered Chef Ramsay in me cooking in peace.
Denver took my lines and invited me to tie up for the night, an offer that was too good to turn down. That evening’s dish would be sautéed shrimp and crabmeat with mushrooms, and the next evening in Worton Creek it would be crabmeat and shrimp with mushrooms. Other succulent home cooking would follow at anchorages in the Sassafras and Bohemia rivers. No pretzels and junk food this time.
An hour before dusk, I mixed a favorite cocktail, Gosling’s black rum and fresh OJ, and fired up a good cigar to go with dinner at sunset. I had carefully read the Origo’s operator manual and set up the galley in the cockpit. I removed the fuel tank, as instructed, and set it aside for filling from a quart of fuel. Then I replaced the tank, closed the top of the stove on it and lit the burner at the tank opening. There was no flame, but butter quickly began melting in the pan. Hey, it worked! Sorry Ramsay, but I was so hungry I ate directly from the pan.
By 8:30 it was chilly, so I lit an oil lamp, set it on low flame and crawled into a sleeping bag all rigged to port with many pillows. I slept soundly until daybreak. That morning the wind was out of the northwest, and I set off at 7:30 on a 40-minute motorsail to the mouth of the Magothy. Once in the Bay, guess what? The wind began turning north again at about 12 knots, and I was back to tacking and tacking, though this time under full sail.
With the Baltimore Lighthouse behind me, I was again headed more east than northeast, and again I got frustrated. Refusing to motorsail for hours to reach Worton Creek, I scrapped my “Great Northern Cruise of the Upper Eastern Shore” and turned back to the south to cruise to the Wye River on the middle Eastern Shore. Once beyond the Bay Bridge, the northerly died and along with it the alternate option to motor south for 25 miles to the Wye instead of motoring north to Worton Creek.
Dead in the water, I checked the local weather again and thought I heard something in passing about an earthquake, assuming it was somewhere far away. I called a non-boating friend who reported that an earthquake in Virginia managed to actually shake her house in Annapolis. She feared a tsunami might hit me. I informed her that if the quake had hit the Atlantic seaboard I would certainly have noticed.
At this point Hurricane Irene was being reported breathlessly as a “monster storm” headed on a destructive path up the East Coast after making landfall in North Carolina. I remembered the 7-foot storm surge of Hurricane Isabel that flooded the Annapolis harbor when it arrived as a tropical storm several years ago. I hauled out then at Casa Rio boatyard off the Rhode River because the low pilings I tied up to would be under water.
With Irene, predictions were for a 3-foot surge in Annapolis, and I could handle that. But who knows with hurricanes? The next day, a Wednesday, I went daysailing in a strong southerly and prepared to hunker down and deal with the weekend storm at home. I lengthened the bow and stern dock lines; strapped down the mainsail, cabin top and lazarette covers; and tied up the furling jib. There was no surge at all.
The “Great Northern Cruise of the Upper Eastern Shore” had to be rescheduled for autumn’s Indian summer.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue.