Journal Excerpts from May 6, 2017 to May 27, 2017
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Sailing plans change as the weather changes, on a whim. On Wednesday morning the forecast was calling for strong conditions on Chesapeake Bay, small craft advisories had been posted but I thought I would try to cross the Bay anyway, it was only thirty-eight miles from the Wye River to Baltimore.
I never got out of East Bay. By ten in the morning the wind was blowing twenty five knots and up with waves kicking up to three feet. I turned north to a little pocket named Crab Alley and dropped my anchor in a protected cove. I was lucky to have found it and stayed there until the following morning. Getting tossed around must have loosened debris in the fuel tank because I was losing power coming in so I took the opportunity to change fuel filters. Thursday was much quieter and I sailed across the Chesapeake with only the jib out and the engine running smoothly at high idle to the Maryland Yacht Club in Pasadena, Maryland tying up at their fuel dock just in time for lunch. Not bad for thirty-four miles.
The MYC is the oldest yacht club on Chesapeake Bay, it’s over one hundred and has many friendly members, one of the club’s governors came out to my slip to say hello and talk about his old Tayana 37 and his new 42. Later I had a soothing hot shower and a good supper. Friday morning two club members, Nancy and Jim on Nansea Gale (clever) invited me to go along with them to a supermarket. Also, I met Tony and Lisa who were surprised that I had known Lisa’s uncle Ken Bushee, further proof that the sailing world is a lot smaller than anyone thought.
There had been a buffet dinner planned for Friday evening in the expansive MYC clubhouse which their crew had just finished painting, all ready for the weekly dinner and a wedding on Saturday. Weddings are an important source of income for the club and keeps them solvent I was told. The wedding went on today but the buffet was canceled because the cook called in sick. No matter, everyone just gathered up food from our boats and we had a cookout. The show must go on.
I was going to Baltimore today but this morning the wind piped up with a vengeance so I’ll stay in this comfortable slip another night. Maybe it’ll be better tomorrow. I would like to see the city or at least what I can of it in a day or two. The conditions for rounding New Jersey are not looking good until after May fifteenth, more than a week away so I have time to burn.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
I stayed at the MYC Saturday night and probably should have hung around for one more but I was feeling impatient with my progress and still wanted to see Baltimore so I left Sunday morning, or at least tried to, when the tide was at it’s peak. The water was calm but the wind was gusty and as I backed out of my slip the boat went sideways and my poor dinghy snagged a piling. One davit block ripped right off and so did a tow ring. I thought for sure that I was out of an inflatable. Now after a few days it looks like I can repair it if I get a chance. Anyway, after stopping at the fuel dock to fix things I waited two hours until the wind changed direction just enough so I could leave without further damage and motored ten miles to the Inner Harbor of Baltimore and tied up at the so-called Public Docks. No Docking signs reserved most of the good spaces for triple-decked tour boats and water taxis. But there were no signs between the docks so I slipped in and stayed two nights.
I had never been to Baltimore and knew nothing about the city other than what Randy Newman sang… “Baltimorrre, it’s harrrd…” And maybe it was once upon a time, but thriving Baltimore is now a major player in the port business. It is, or soon will be, the major east coast port for auto imports. The city has the rail service and is a lot closer to major markets on the east coast and in the mid-west than southern ports. It looks like a hard working town.
On Sunday afternoon I walked around the harbor area getting my bearings. No other boats came along so I was the only cruiser on the docks. The docks have very little security, maybe that’s why. Groups of people who were waiting for their excursion boat ride would wander along my dock taking pictures. Walkabout is going to be in many family albums. I worried about the situation and locked up, even zipping the cockpit’s enclosure when I took a walk. I returned every hour to check but no one was so bold as to step on her deck.
Police were everywhere, in cars, riding on bicycles and golf carts. Their presence and the security cameras all over were enough of a deterrent. Even so, the sidewalks and plazas have plenty of panhandlers who will ask you for a dollar at every turn.
Monday morning I went to the National Aquarium. The distinctive glass buildings are on two small peninsulas built out into the harbor connected to each other by an elevated bridge. I paid my thirty-four dollar admission and went to see the Australian exhibit first, it was very well done with fish displayed below and birds above with gators in between.
As I was headed for the main displays the kids showed up, hundreds of grade schoolers. I enjoy children in small doses but this was a mob. Oh well, they were having a great field trip so I waited my turn at each fish tank until the kids had seen their fill. They certainly know how to use their smart phones to take snapshots, better than me that’s for sure! The aquarium took four hours to see then I went back to the boat to check for interlopers – all good.
The Lexington Market is an eclectic collection of food vendors and it’s only a mile away the brochure said. I walked over, got a bit lost but found it after asking two reluctant people for directions. Eclectic? It’s mostly a collection of ordinary fried chicken, Chinese buffet and small meat and fish market stalls set up inside an old building with a floor that slopes steeply downhill. Probably so they can hose it clean. I didn’t buy anything and became less and less hungry as I have a limited appetite for chicken gizzards.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Tuesday was a pleasant day, there was little wind when I left Baltimore at seven motoring down the Patapsco River and then north toward the C&D Canal. My anchorage for the night was five miles up the Sassafras River where Jeanne and I had stayed once before in a protected spot with nice view. The anchor went down at three. I took a needed nap and then had supper. As I have almost daily traveling up the coast I called home but to my surprise, even with many homes along the Sassafras’ shore there was no cell service, so no chat with the wife. I knew that she would worry, and she did, but there was nothing I could do.
Wednesday morning I pulled up anchor for a twenty mile motoring trip to Chesapeake City. The tide was with me and I was in the lagoon and anchored by noon. During the ride the sky slowly clouded over but the sunlight stayed strong enough to warm the enclosed cockpit. I would duck down into it to warm up because I had to stand on the after rail for most of the trip watching out for floating debris. As I approached the entrance to the canal lots of sticks and junk were in the water and occasionally a half sunken log which could break a propeller. It demanded my full attention. So, get this. I’m standing a vigilant watch with my 7X50 binoculars looking at the river, passing boats, and small farms along the shore and what do I see? Zebras! Three of them, with their own pasture and barn.
I phoned home later and sure enough Jeanne had been pretty upset not getting her evening call. We have both agreed that the daily calls are great, but when one is missed it causes inordinate worry so, what to do? I like calling home and she wants to hear from me as well, the only solution is to have faith and not fret when it doesn’t ring. There is usually a good reason but not a catastrophic one. I told her don’t worry unless you get a call from someone else.
The weather has put a hold on moving for a few days. The anchorage here at Chesapeake City while not too convenient is the best in these parts to wait. There is plenty to do. The boat needs cleaning desperately and the dinghy has to be repaired. I mixed up some glue yesterday and put the tow ring back on, today I’ll flip the dink over and fix it’s handles. Dingo’s seat was lost in the fracas and I didn’t notice until I hauled it on board. When I get home I’ll have to build a new one, a better one to salve my feelings. Of all the close calls and near misses I’ve had on this trip that bumbling departure last Saturday was the worst.
It may change, as plans often do, but it looks good for the two hundred mile run down the Delaware and up the New Jersey coast to New York starting Monday. I was able to talk to Chris Parker this morning on the SSB radio – first time in a long time – and he thinks the first part of the week is good for travel with favorable but fairly light wind and good weather.
Friday, May 12, 2017
Chesapeake City’s lagoon is as good a place as any to wait, and with less than pleasant weather predicted for tomorrow and Sunday it will suffice. Not all day Sunday, I’m going to a marina for a night before I leave for Cape May. The marina is only seven miles east on the C&D canal and that will cut an hour off the Delaware River leg of the trip. I have to top off the fuel and water tanks and a shower would be nice as I won’t get another chance for any of those things until I reach the Hudson River and maybe not even until Catskill, a week away. I’ll get to Cape May rather late Monday and get going early Tuesday with no time for fueling.
My dinghy is repaired as best as I can. As badly as it got damaged it still holds air and can be used. The seat is a minor loss, if I have to row I’ll sit on an overturned bucket. Not having a dinghy would be a major inconvenience. It’s like a cowboy’s horse, you’re stuck without one.
Oceangoing ships pass by this lagoon at all hours. They are so large they loom over the treetops, looking like steel mountains sliding by. The C&D canal is a major route to the ports of Philadelphia, Trenton and Baltimore connecting the Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware River. Both bodies of water are navigable far inland making them essential to east coast commerce. These mid-coast ports, coupled with the New York/New Jersey port complex make up the largest in the United States. This country is ridiculously rich, we just won’t admit it.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Today was certainly a change, it was sunny and warm, the temperature rose to seventy this afternoon. I pulled up the anchor this morning and drove East along the C&D Canal to Summit North Marina where I bought diesel fuel then tied alongside their transient dock. That’s what I am, a transient. I worked on getting Walkabout ready for the New Jersey transit, besides fuel I took on water and cleaned the speed indicator paddle wheel which had stopped. It supplies speed data without which the wind instrument can’t calculate true wind speed which is good to know particularly when sailing downwind. It also gives the distance logging instrument data to figure how far through the water you have gone, that’s handy too. Little creatures grow on the plastic spinner that sticks down under the boat and eventually their shells will clog it and have to be removed with acid. That done I took a much needed shower and cleaned more inside the boat, a job I started yesterday. Jeanne is joining me next week and I can’t have her seeing how I’ve been living. Just kidding. I can’t stand the boat when it starts to look like deer camp. The Navy taught me well.
Tomorrow I plan to be in the Delaware River when the tide is almost slack. The ebb tide may give me a boost as I run down to Cape May. The wind is also supposed to be blowing in the right direction. We shall see. I’ll anchor Monday night in the harbor next to the Coast Guard station and leave Tuesday for New York.
Monday, May 15, 2017
What a day for sailing! I ate a big plate of hash and eggs to hold me all day, I would be too busy later to even make a sandwich. The C&D Canal was almost deserted, only one sailboat was out in front of me and he had a good start. The current was running fast, my speed over the ground was eight knots. The clean paddle wheel was spinning off six knots of boat speed, there was two knots of tidal current going my way. I planned my departure on an ebb tide in the Delaware River and was correct, for a very short time my GPS was reading 9.8 knots SOG, faster than I’ve ever seen Walkabout travel. It’s deceiving though, you are not really moving through the water that fast, just to where you’re headed that fast – and that will do.
Walkabout passed the big nuclear generating plant on the eastern shore of the Delaware and had traveled five miles further when a call came over the VHF radio:
“Mayday, Mayday. This is Carina, we need medical help!”
A sailboat, which I had noticed less than an hour before anchored off Reedy Island, had experienced an accidental gibe. One of her crew was knocked out and was bleeding on deck unconscious. The Coast Guard responded immediately and I followed the progress of the incident for as long as I could. When eventually I lost radio reception a medivac was imminent. Good thing too, the injured man was fifty-six years old, had been unconscious for more than five minutes and when he came around couldn’t remember anything about the day.
Accidental gibes are common but sailors try not to let them happen because they can hurt crew and break stuff. Let me explain. The wind is coming from behind, the boat rolls in the waves. The mainsail gets turned perpendicular to the wind for a second and is suddenly driven to the opposite side of the boat. That’s an accidental gibe. The boom swings with great force from one extreme to the other usually with a loud crash as the rigging tries to absorb the shock. If a crewman is struck by the boom it can kill, even on a small sailboat. Large boats use boom brakes to slow down the passage of the boom from one side of the boat to the other. Another commonly used safety device called a preventer locks the boom on one side of the boat when running downwind. Also, most modern cruising boats are designed with the boom high enough and short enough that crew are not exposed to the danger.
I hope the crewman on Carina ended up alright. My choice today, since the wind was directly from behind blowing twenty knots gusting to twenty-eight, was to use the jib alone and let the motor run at half throttle just in case. I didn’t feel overpowered and had a good day.
To avoid the shoals near Cape May and an extra ten miles of travel I took a route close to shore coming within a hundred yards of the beach near the lighthouse. People were waving as Walkabout sailed by but it had me nervous. The water was thirty feet deep and the waves had flattened out but I was glad to get out of there. I had the hook down by five and will head out tomorrow morning for New York as it looks to be another fine day.
Friday, May 19, 2017
I left Cape May into a flat calm sea. It didn’t stay calm, the wind when it came blew in the low twenties from the southwest which was directly from behind until Sea Girt where the New Jersey coast turns almost due north. Then the wind died and I motored slowly along, intentionally because I would have reached Raritan Bay before dawn on Wednesday and I don’t like arguing with big ships in the dark. Traffic was heavy with tugs and barges even though I was within the three mile line. Just before noon I grabbed a mooring in the Hudson River at 79th Street Marina and stayed there Wednesday night.
After a shower I walked around in the city for a couple hours. I found a little grocery store on Columbia Avenue and bought bagels and cheese. It was a New York thing to do. In the morning I tried to catch the tide upriver, tugboats began to push their barges then so I was hopeful. After two hours of very slow going (3 knots) the current increased and Walkabout began to make miles. I passed up many anchorages and by seven Thursday evening arrived in Highland where there was a new town dock empty and waiting just for me. Lucky thing too, I was expecting to tie up at Mariner’s Restaurant on their rickety wooden dock but apparently they are out of business, no dock and no place to anchor either. Next door I saw people fishing from a steel bulkhead and then noticed there were large cleats on top of it. I swung the boat around, carefully eased in watching the depth and asked if it was OK if I tied up. No one objected so I did. Like most free docks this one has it’s problems, mostly wakes from passing boats, we bounce a lot but with all my fenders out so far so good.
I spent today hustling in the hot sun getting the three sails down, rolled up and in their bags. I used my little wheeled cart to haul the sails back and forth to a large grass plot to do a decent job of folding them. When I lifted the heavy mainsail in it’s storage bag with my spinnaker halyard to swing it over to the boat’s deck I clipped the cart and it sank to the bottom between the boat and the dock. I was bummed and tried and tried to fish it out of the murky river and only by sheer luck snagged it with the boat hook and retrieved my sturdy cart.
Tomorrow I’ll get to Catskill for the mast disassembly and finally see my wife.
Monday, May 22, 2017
The mast is down and riding on wooden cradles for the journey north. Jeanne brought them down Saturday and is now with me as we bring Walkabout back to Lake Champlain. It was far too long for us to be apart. But Jeanne wintered well and is happy that my trip is almost over. In the days ahead we will examine what, if anything, this little saga has produced.
Since I had taken the time to remove the sails before I got to Riverview Marine in Catskill all I had left to do was to dissemble cotter pins, rigging lines and various wires. Sunday morning we were ready and removing the mast with Riverview’s big crane went quickly. Two hours later Jeanne and I had everything secured, paid for and were out on the river headed north.
Last night we anchored a mile up Schodack Creek in a marsh with no one else in sight. This morning four whitetail deer came down to the river for their morning ablutions then retreated to the woods when an Amtrak train hurtled past on the opposite bank. We left too, catching the tidal flow just right covering the fifteen miles to Troy, NY by noon. Troy’s Federal Lock, however, had problems and when Jeanne radioed to say we wanted to go through she was told it would be an hour’s wait because they were repairing a cylinder. I called after lunch and the lock operator said they would need another hour but would let me know when they could open. We settled in for a long wait. We had tied up to a towering concrete wall in downtown Troy and were not too happy about it, boat wakes and the current bounced us around and unseen vagrant people above were throwing bottles and cans into the water. I was thinking rocks could be next. But thirty minutes later the lock operator called us and we and another boat went through and into the Champlain Canal. We locked twice more before calling it a day at Mechanicville, NY tying up to the free pier they offer visiting boaters. The pier is the magnificent result of volunteers who not only upgraded the old pier but built and maintain a brand new shower facility to benefit travelers. We got the whole story from one of the guys responsible. What a concept! Two blocks away there is a good pizza place, Bucciero’s where we had supper with enough pizza left for the next day. Whitehall is next and Charlotte after that. We could be home by Thursday!
Thursday, May 25, 2017
We didn’t get to Whitehall Tuesday we had to tie to the wall south of Lock 11 because of delays earlier in the day. Lock 8 said we had to wait, why wasn’t clear but we think the operator was mowing the lawn. The locks close at 5:00 so we missed locking through and had to camp out. The next morning after the fog had lifted we set out and made it to Lake Champlain by noon. It was a beautiful day, one just made to come home in.
We arrived at our mooring ball in the afternoon Wednesday ending my eight month-long odyssey on Walkabout. All that remains to do is a ton of cleaning and repair work before she can begin the summer season on Lake Champlain. The poor boat is a mess with sea growth and brown stains all the way up to her rubrails. In one lock on Tuesday she was forced so hard against the wall that a fender was dragged down and broke a lifeline which now droops sadly on the starboard side adding to her forlorn looks. But with some effort and a good washdown in a couple weeks our sturdy sailboat will be looking handsome and ready for another summer on the lake.
My brother Arnold will drive up here to pick us up later today and take us back to our home in Ira. I’m looking forward to a night’s sleep with my old wife beside her old husband in our old bed. Then it will be readjustment to life on land: No more constant motion, no more watching out for weather and other dangers, no more running low on water, fuel or food, no more (for a while anyway) anchor dragging. It will be tough. Seriously, the biggest danger in the readjustment period is falling under the spell of television and all the rest of the crap civilization throws at you, while sitting on the couch eating chips. That’s not good and is very easy to do. I tell myself that won’t happen but it could. Jeanne will see that it doesn’t, she is an expert handler.
Saturday, May 27, 2017
Home at last.
Jeanne and I finished bringing Walkabout through the Champlain Canal Wednesday with a run from Lock 11 near Comstock, NY all the way to Charlotte, VT and our mooring at Point Bay Marina. We stayed on the boat that night and packed our bags the next day. It was pretty dismal Thursday, it rained off and on all day long and we were thankful that we hadn’t loitered in the canal sightseeing. My brother and his wife Janet drove up after work and delivered us to our home in Ira. Even the cat was glad to have me back. Our pickup truck was still in Catskill so Friday morning we drove there in Jeanne’s car and followed each other back on the rain soaked thruway thick with traffic. A blunt reintroduction to life on land but I had better get used to it. I’ve been without transportation for so long that having a car available is a new thing. My bike is unusable, it failed the salt spray test and all its moving parts rusted.
Jeanne spent a lot of time while she was alone here in our hillside home this winter wallpapering and painting rooms so I arrived to discover a beautified house. I’ll have to be careful not to scatter my stuff all over it, at least for a while. However, her efforts put me on a spot. There is no way I can avoid completing my finish-the-cellar project now. And, there are lots of downed trees from the windstorm last month to be cut up and hauled off. She pointed them out to me yesterday but it was pretty obvious I have a lot of work ahead. Walkabout needs plenty of attention too. She is filthy from the trip and needs a VHF radio cable replaced before the mast goes up. She needs new lifelines too, those have to be taken off and shipped to the rigging shop. All in all, I’ll be busy.
What did I gain from this long trip?
Satisfaction, in the fact that I found I was capable of navigating from Vermont to Cuba and the Bahamas, and to get back. Satisfaction, even when things became truly frightening I could still cope. Satisfaction, at seventy-two.
Realizing that it took more than just myself. I found help from friends new and old when I needed it. Jeanne, Will, Kathleen, Craig, Donna, Mike, Jim, Karen, Greg, Paul, Joe, Nancy, John, Dale, Christian and Jacine, and so many others who lent assistance to an old fool traveling alone. You have my heartfelt thanks. Readers of my blog deserve thanks too, your responses kept me at it. I hope it wasn’t too dull and you could find a chuckle or two in it. Don’t think of it as a travel guide whatever you do.
When I took the time to look up from my boat duties there were wondrous sights to see.
The Intracoastal Waterway is a national treasure. I hope the ICW receives the care and money it needs to stay open.
Cuba was another world, a fascinating place that deserves another visit because two weeks were hardly enough.
The Bahamas are special, I love Bahamians and their islands.
The ocean… There is nothing like sailing on the ocean.
Memories, that’s my takeaway.
The voyage continues.