Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Smith Island, Onancock and Tangier

BTW, Pictures. Yes, I have been taking pictures along the way but we have not had decent bandwidth over here on the east side of the bay at all. I have every intention of getting the pics link back up and running but have not been able to do so. When I do I will let you know.

Smith Island is one of the fabled east bay islands on the Chesapeake. The other is Tangier Island just south of Smith Island. Tangier Island's claim to fame is that it has been isolated and insolated for a great part of its existence to the point where the natives speak with a decidedly British accent. Smith Island, though just a few miles north of Tangier does not have that same inclination. But it is isolated. It's flat with normal vegetation around and it is pretty shoaly. The village of Ewell is the only really occupied area and while it tries to bill itself as a boater's holiday paradise of some kind it really isn't. But they are trying hard to make ends meet. From what we can tell from Ewell's little harbor it used to be a commercial fishing port but like much of that business on Chesapeake Bay it is, at best, struggling. I'm guessing that the townfolks try to make their living on the tour boats that come from Crisfield, Onancock or other mainland towns. We also learned that the State of Maryland has been trying to close the town and relocate the inhabitants as the cost of providing services is too much.

The town is small to say the least. We arrived at 11:30 am on Sunday and very shortly after we tied up one of the excursion boats pulled into the harbor. All of a sudden the two restaurants opened up for business. In addition to a meal visitors could rent bicycles and golf carts to explore the island. The boat's captain announced that they had two and half hours to do so and that they would be leaving at 2:30 pm. Well apparently two and half hours is more than enough time to check things out. Most of the visitors were back way before then, just milling around the harbor front. But God bless the Ewellians (Ewellites?). They are trying to make the best of their situation. We give them our best wishes. (For you boaters out there...The entrance channel is a bit shoaly/scary but not so bad. The current through the harbor is very pronounced. Sailboats need to avoid this place. As we entered there was a sailboat shoaled waiting for the tide to rise. It did and he got out. And if you do come here its a one night stop; no more than that.)

Our next stop was Onancock, Virginia. It is a fair sized town near the end of Onancock Creek on the eastern mainland across Tangier Sound from Tangier Island. The marina is small but they are working hard to make it a nice place. They are building what will be a small but high end marina office and washrooms building. There are slips but some are narrow with very short finger docks - stern in only. There are about eight or so much wider slips. But there are two very nice sizable facing piers right down in front that can easily accomadate three good sized boats. The wall that we were at is maybe eighty feet long with good power and plenty of strong new pilings to tie up to. There is another wall just behind that in front of the new office. The two are separated by a boat ramp. All in all very nice. The town of Onancock is typical. Nice but not too nice, with a few stores and restaurants and some offices, all very clean and nicely kept up. As is also typical for most cities this size the major shopping has moved to the outskirts of the town. Getting back to the marina, there is a waterside restaurant named Mallard's which was quite good. This would be a great place for several buddy boaters to pick as a destination to hang out for a few days and take the convenient ferry to Tangier Island for a day. And that is exactly what we did.

Tangier Island was a bit of an enigma to me. I remember in the early days of our cruising life hearing that this was an island lost in time, isolated and insulated from modernity, and that by visiting there you would be seeing life how it was, and, most oddly, that there was some kind of British brogue still spoken because of the prolonged isolation from the American speaking world. We boarded a deadrise ferry boat (Google "deadrise boat") for the sixty minute ride to Tangier. Upon learning that we were boaters Captain Mark Crockett had us sit in the pilot house with him. We were surprised that this style of fishing boat actually got up on plane and we made sixteen knots for the bumpy and rolly trip. Entering Tangier's harbor you are surrounded by crabbing docks and shacks used by the local fishermen. There were a lot of them but many of them had become broken down as the number of fishermen working out of Tangier has died down over the last couple of decades. As we disembarked at a long pier our group of tourists walked smack dab into the enigma, but with a twist. I am not sure what I was expecting (maybe some suspicious glares from suspicious locals) but what we got was a surprise. There was a small troop of smiling, happy locals handing out leaflets promoting their own particular restaurant, or store, or golf cart rental facility. We were, for all intents and purposes, ushered down the small and narrow main street that was all open for business waiting for patronage. The town itself is small but there were a few retail opportunities to be had. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We came away from the experience with a degree of respect for the people of Tangier. They are very happy people that we believe are proud of their town and their way of life and are working hard to adapt to the changes thrust upon them by the loss of their fishing livelihoods. And they are doing a fine job of it. The town is clean with a full assortment of houses in differnt conditions. We were surprised that there was so much home construction and remodeling being done. All of the new homes were very modest things much in keeping with the flavor of the island, but new it is.

Now, about the British broque thing. Nope, didn't hear any of it. What we did hear was a sort of a confused southern accent. Remember this is in Virginia. No doubt there is an accent but it didn't sound like British English to us.

Here is our take on visiting Tangier Island. First of all don't take you own boat there. The current is very strong and would make it tricky to get into and out of the marinas, which didn't look to hot to us. Instead go to Onancock or Crisfield, park your boat there and take a ferry over. To be frank it would be an incorrect assumption to think that Tangier Island is a multi-day destination. It is not - a few hours max. Seriously. But we enjoyed our daytrip there and highly recommend it to everyone.

Onancock is the last stop of our excursion on the east side of Chesapeake Bay. Here is the score of the hits and misses:

Hits -
San Domingo Creek as the back door to St. Michaels. Awesome.
St. Michaels
Chesapeake Bay museum in St. Michaels. Top notch.
Cambridge free wall (harbor watching at its finest)
Snappers Restaurant in Cambridge, MD
Tangier via ferry

Misses -
Cambridge, MD itself.
Smith Island

So, all in all, a good score and a very good adventure. We are sure we have missed some good places, like Crisfield, so we'll hit them the next time we head up the bay.

Next stop, back over to the west side to Deltaville for one night, then to Yorktown for the Labor Day weekend. After that to Hampton and then we begin the trek back down the ICW.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cambridge MD and Mill Creek (aka, The Solomons)

We left San Domingo Creek for an early twenty-two mile trip to Cambridge, Maryland. Its bigger than St. Michaels and is not as "quaint". The inner harbor is spacious and well protected with the town being built up to the water's edge. There are also quite a few commercial fisheries along the shore. There is a very sizable municipal marina out in the Choptank River right at the entrance to the harbor but that was not our destination. Smack dab in the harbor itself is a free wall! Now you non-boaters may not understand the signifigance of that but a free wall is a wonderful thing to a cruising boater. You get all the security of a marina (with varying degrees of amenities) and the freedom and FREE price of an anchorage. When we arrived the three-hundred-plus foot wall was empty. We easily pulled up and tied up. As to the varying degree of amenities this wall unfortunately scores very low. There are no bathrooms, no water, no electricity, just some good cleats every ten feet and a small grassy area along side. There is plenty of water depth and it is a good secure location. In this lifestyle anything that is free is a good thing! (Boaters - see my comments in ActiveCaptain for some details on how to stay at this location. Helpful hints galore.)

We stayed three nights as there was a incessant rain most of the time. The winds were not high but it was wet. The rain kept us from exploring the town at all until our last day there. Unfortunately the gloomy conditions that we had for weather reflected in the little downtown area. There is one main street and it was actually a bit depressing. Probably less than half of the storefronts had any kind of business in it. The street was empty of pedestrians. To make matters worse this town has had a rash of arson fires and some of the building fronts were burned out and empty. Some of them had just the outer shells standing. We could peek in the windows and see that the guts of some of the buildings were totally gone. It was sad. Our tour of downtown Cambridge lasted only about thirty minutes. There was nothing to see.

There are though some pluses to Cambridge. The harbor is kind of kick to watch. There was a good amount of boat traffic and a drawbridge just on the southside of the main harbor pool that opened on request so it was opening and closing pretty frequently. Also Snapper's Restaurant is pretty darn good! I have to tell you about one menu item. Now I love French Toast in the St. Louis style, that is with a milk, egg and cinnamon batter griled nice and gooey. Then throw about a pound of butter on each slice and heap on some powdered sugar. Mmmmmmmm! Snapper's take of French toast is to use a milk and butter batter, dunk the bread then cover it with a layer of crush Captain Crunch cereal. I have to admit I was kind of psyched about this so on our second day we went for breakfast and I ordered up a batch. Well, it tasted...different. Not bad, not great but different. I think I will stick to St. Louis style french toast.

We got an awesome day to depart Cambridge. Now, this is for all the boaters. If you can believe this the conditions on Chesapeake Bay getting from Cambridge to Mill Creek at The Solomons were PERFECT!!!!! And I am not exaggerating!!!!! There was zero wind and zero seas. It was like glass. The only waves we felt at all was the wake from a cruiser that passed us about a quarter mile on our starboard side. And the temperature was only in the upper sixties. It was magnificent. Because the conditions were so calm Why Knot perked along very happily at nine miles per hour the entire way. We arrived at our anchorage on Mill Creek two hours sooner than I estimated.

Speaking of The Solomons, reaching here was a bit of a milestone. It is the first destination that we have arrived at three times.

After anchoring out one night on Mill Creek we decided to pull around to Calvert Marina for a few nights. The weather was not cooperating. There was a bit of instability in the air that drives me nuts! Friday's weather predictions were of that ambiguous nature that I really couldn't decide whether it would be a good or not so good day to go out there. Wave heights were forecast to be two feet which I really hate. Technically they could be nothing or could be as high as four feet. If the forecasts for less than two feet or one to two feet, or for more than two feet it would be easier to decide to go or not go. But the National Weather Service saying wave heights would be two feet is like them saying, "We really don't any idea what it will be like." So we stayed. For Saturday the forecasts were clear - wave heights would be three feet...that's an easy one...we stay. Sunday looks good with a stormy front passing on Saturday the forecasts are for almost calm conditions and low seas. So I will take care of all of the maintenance issues here that I was planning on doing in Deltaville so we can keep on track after going to Smith Island and Onancock.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

So This Is What "Recreational" Boating Is Like!

First, a few new pictures from Annapolis
Parents Week at the USNA

Darrell and Lisa (Why Knot), Ross and Laura (The Zone), Chris and Susan (Forever Friday)

The Glass House, the namesake of Glass House Anchorage, Magothy River

Us all again at Pusser's in Annapolis, on Ego Alley
We departed Annapolis on August 15 and it was kind of bittersweet. While we certainly were looking forward to getting underway on our southbound leg with an exploration of the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay and new stops on the ICW, it did mean that we would be leaving our friends Ross and Laura of The Zone. They would be staying on at Annapolis Landing Marina for ten more days, then move a tad bit further north to Rock Hall, Maryland for a month. We are not sure when we would see them again but hopefully our paths will cross soon.

And speaking of Annapolis Landing Marina we enjoyed our stay there very much. Evie and Jack Collard are the dockmasters there and they have a pretty cool way of living. They spent the summer at ALM working and running the marina along with two guys named Dusty and Shawn. They live on their boat at the marina and certainly seem to love the life there. Then in the fall they will cast off their lines and head south to Florida or the Caribean for the winter. Then in the spring they head back up to Annapolis. That's pretty cool. They're lovely people.

Our first stop on the way south is at St. Michaels, Maryland. Well, not exactly St. Michaels but an achorage below it. This takes a little explaining. St. Michaels is a very popular spot. It is on a penisula of sorts that comes out from the eastern mainland that is very convuluted creating many different streams and creeks. This penisula separates two bodies of water, Eastern Bay on the north and the Choptank River to the south. St. Michaels is inside of Eastern Bay on the Mills River. So from Annapolis you would enter Eastern Bay on the north and make your way to St. Michaels. Now, as I said St. Michaels is very popular and with that popularity comes high docking fees...a bit too much for our tastes. Lisa got turned onto an alternative that is anchoring just south of St. Michaels on a large creek called San Domingo Creek, which is approached from the south side of the peninsula from the Choptank River. It is then a short dinghy ride up to the top of the creek which is in, TA DA!, St. Michaels. So from San Domingo Creek there are two ways to get to St. Michaels. By boat it is forty miles. By foot after a very short dinghy ride it is three blocks.
Sunset at San Domingo Creek

Sunset on Lisa
San Domingo Creek is nice and large with plenty of water. 

We never saw less than seven feet of water under our keel.

Morning. If there are sailboats there, you can get there too.

San Domingo Creek is spectacular. It is wide and deep enough with beautiful forests lining the shore with what would have to be called mansions tucked into the woods. The weather was perfect. There was very little wind and the high temperature during the days was only about 73 degrees which made for lovely and relaxing evenings and nights. It was great! As a matter of fact it has shot up the list of our favorite anchorages. It really is worth the trip.

WTH? Who is peering out of that window?
As for St. Michaels it is a very cute town with a nice little downtown, a very nice waterfront...and that's about it. We both enjoyed our day there but in the end we were kind of baffled about all the positive hubbub about the place. It's very nice but because of all the "wow" kind of talk we got we expected more. And like I said previously with the pricey marina fees we don't see the value. Now, there is one really nice feature that is worth spending your time and $13.00 per person on. That's the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. It is very nice, very well put together, has lots of cool things to see and it is very well maintained. It is also a working museum with several restoration projects of classic Bay boats going on on the grounds. They are some very good static and floating examples of the unique boats, both pleasure and working, that have been prowling the Bay for generations. If you do visit St. Michaels the museum is worth the trip.

As we sat on the sun deck in the evening we reflected that our attitudes were a little bit different now. We are not in such a hurry. The routes I have planned are not as long nor aggressive. We will be cruising at lower speeds. Sure, we do have it in our heads to be in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina by mid to late September, but that should be an easy task barring any weather or mechanical problems. And we want to take our time exploring the eastern side of Chesapeake Bay. What we have already seen of it is very beautiful with plenty of interesting places to go to.

There is a running joke amongst many cruising boaters. That is asking, "when do we get to the "recreational" part of "recreational boating?" Well, we have decided that it started in Annapolis, will continue on down the Bay and will be a part of boating lives from now on. Sure, we still have plans like doing the Down East Loop or maybe even go to Texas. But we are on a slower track now. We don't have to and we won't crunch day after day of routes to be able to get to some position to either take advantage of or avoid some seasonal or navigational necessity. The best place for us to be will be where we are. We are going to see some new places that are a bit out of the way and we are not going to stop at all of the same old marinas. We are also going to take more daytrips to interesting locales and stop at a few more restaurants that have a dock. Before spending our wonderful month in Annapolis there was a motivation to hussle, hussle, hussle with daily routes of forty, fifty and sixty-plus mile days. Now, hey, if our next stop is fifteen miles away that just leaves more time for relaxing and enjoying what we are doing even more. Why it will even be "recreational"!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Float Plan

There are some loopers and cruisers that like to leave their float plans as fluid (no pun intended) things, not knowing what there destinations are until they get someplace. That is perfectly AOK, but that is not our style. I am a planner. I love going over all of the details and figuring everything out. ActiveCaptain is one of my very favorite things in life as I get to get into the minutae of all of the possibilities. There are times that I am at my happiest when I have my computer on, chartbooks out and a calculator buzzing away. Lisa likes to joke that the only thing missing from my bliss is a large dry-erase board or at least a large paper notepad on an easel to draw everything out first. And frankly the only reason we don't have these things on board is that they would cover the windows in the salon and obscure the view. And yes, we do have these things at our home. (Doesn't everybody?)

Here is the detailed float plan to get us to our Fall shore-leave back to STL and DEN.

Annapolis to St. Michaels
St. Michaels to Cambridge
Cambridge to Mill Creek
Mill Creek to Tangier Island
Tangier to Onancock
Onancock to Deltaville
Deltaville to Yorktown
Yorktown to Hampton
Hampton to Dismal Free Dock
Dismal to Coinjock
Coinjock to Alligator
Alligator to Pungo River anch
Pungo River anch to Washington NC
Washington to Hobucken
Hobucken to Morehead
Morehead to Lejuene
Lejeune to Wrightsville
Wrightsville to Southport
Southport to Barefoot

We have also figured out what our float plan for the winter is.

Arr Barefoot 9/15
Transit Barefoot to STL 9/21-22
In STL 9/22-29
Transit STL - DEN 9/29
In DEN 9/29-10/27
Transit DEN - STL 10/27
In STL 10/27-10/31
Transit STL - Barefoot 10/31-11/1
In Barefoot 11/1-11/7
Transit Barefoot to Vero 11/7 - 12/1
Transit Vero to Gulf Coast 12/1 - 12/15
In Gulf Coast 12/15 - 1/15 Our winter home will be Turtle Cove Marina in Tarpon Springs. We are hoping to run into some loopers as they finish the Crossing.
Transit Gulf Coast to Vero 1/15 -1/31
Begin shoreleave from Vero 2/1 -3/31

There are three things that could put a big monkey wrench in the works and that is there are some major service repairs to be done. Getting new canvas on the top decks is a must as the current canvas is brittle and we are finding more and more little tears. Also while we have gotten recent reports from divers that the bottom paint is ok, its not great. We'll need a new bottom job. Why Knot had an extremely heavy duty bottom job done on her a few years ago that has worn well up to now. We would be interested in investing in this same heavy duty type of coating again. Also, the generator is suspect, while it runs well now there are signs of weakness and replacing it within the next year is imminent. We would rather swap it out before it craps out, while we have control over the situation.

From Vero in the spring we will head north again hopefully to New England and Canada. It will be a busy summer.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Hanging out in Annapolis

Well, Annapolis, one of our favorite ports, never disappoints. We're nearing the end of our month long stay here and we have enjoyed every minute of it.

Annapolis Landing Marina is a very enjoyable place with a great staff and facilities. We have had to move twice though. That's kind of a pain but its not unusual as I am guessing that most if not all of the slips are leased out to seasonal or year long boaters. Any transient slips available are those where the slip holder has their boat out. We were first at a tee head dock that backed right out onto Back Creek for only one night before the owner of that slip returned. Our next dock assignment was on a very large tee head inside the marina where an eighty foot antique luxury yacht, the SS Sophie usually tied up. It left to go to Rhode Island to pick up its owner and would be gone for several months. Supposedly that would be where we would stay. However when the yacht arrived in Rhode Island the owner apparently decided that it was too hot and sent the Sophie back to Annapolis. That meant that we had to move again to an outside slip vacated by its owner who left to do some cruising. Apparently that slip holder is returning one or two days before our scheduled departure date so we're not sure whether we will be moved to another location or just go ahead and leave.

Sunday, August 28, was a special day. Son#2 Kevin flew up to Baltimore from St. Louis to spend a week with us. Our original plans were for us to cruise up to the inner harbor of Baltimore and he would meet us there. We would spend Sunday night in downtown Baltimore and then cruise to Annapolis on Monday. Unfortunately the weather for Sunday started to look too uncertain so he took a shuttle directly to the marina from the airport in Baltimore. This was a big event for us as both son#1 Bryan and Kevin had only seen Why Knot once while we were in St. Louis in the fall of 2012 while we were on shore leave. Also it is the first time we had an overnight guest on the boat. Kevin is a great guy and a lot of fun to be with and we did all of the touristy stuff such as eating at Chick and Ruth's Delly and tour the Naval Academy.  Other than that we spent much of the time just hanging out and relaxing. We did go on several day cruises to give Kevin some time behind the wheel and let him experience cruising on water that is a bit more, shall we say, active compared to his only other time underway with us on the Illinois River. His quote about that was, "This is a lot bigger than a river, dad." We even went sailing for a day where he spent some time at the helm. So now he can say he sailed across Chesapeake Bay. Ross and Laura also came over for a genuine docktails get-together.
Laura and Kevin. Insert inane caption here...Long and short of it, Mutt and Jeff,  whatever. 

The weather here started out very hot and humid so we spent just about every afternoon at the marina's pool. Lisa really rocks a swimsuit so I enjoyed that! But about half way through Kevin's visit it turned cooler and more likely to rain a bit each afternoon, so we spent more time just hanging out on the boat or running into town on errands.

There was an incident of near calamitous proportions on the evening of August 9. Directly off of our bow there is a sizable anchorage on Back Creek with maybe about a half a dozen sailboats on the hook. One of these sailboats was called Auspicious and it was directly behind us. As everyone at the marinas were settling in for a nice evening a micro-burst storm swooped in from the west directly over our heads producing very heavy winds and a lot of rain. We were in the rear cabin sopping up some water leaking in through one of our windows when we actually looked out of that window and saw that Auspicious was being pulled off of her anchor and towards us or one of the other boats along our dock depending on which way she would swing. And she was swinging. We radioed the marina office to tell them but they had problems of their own. An anchored catamaran came off her anchor too and was heading for the fuel dock. Fortunately for them the crew was on the cat and after finally realizing their plight started the engine and just kind of kept it in a position off of the dock until the storm subsided. Not so for us. Auspicious was crew-less and we ended up scrambling onto the deck in the storm fending her off our stern with boat hooks. It got to within about four feet of us. Then the winds changed direction a bit and swung the sailboat away from us towards the empty slip next to us. This was our opportunity. We jumped off of Why Knot onto the dock and scurried over to the other slip and with the help of another boater, Chris from Forever Friday and Evie, one of the dock-masters whose boat Eldridge C was another target of the wayward sailboat, we were able to muscle Auspicious into the slip about half of her boat length and get her secured. We were drenched but we got the job done. And of course within a minute or two after getting the lines set the storm disappeared just as fast as she cropped up and it cleared into a beautiful evening. It was pretty intense.

Our last day here is August 14 and on the 15th we will be scooting off to head down south a bit. We know that this is an early departure to head south but our objective is to get to Barefoot Marina in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina by September 15 and head back to St. Louis and Denver for our early fall shore leave. We are going to make an effort to visit some different places than the normal stops on the way down. We haven't been on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay at all so our first stop will be an anchorage at St. Michaels, and then down to Cambridge, Maryland where there is a free wall to tie up to. From there we will cut back across to an anchorage on Mill Creek in The Solomons for one night. From there we will go back across the bay to Tangier Island, then to the town of Onancock, then back over again to Deltaville, then to Yorktown, and then back to Hampton Roads Public Pier. Heading back down the eastern seaboard from Norfolk we will be stopping at some new locales also. Stopovers include a one night stay at Hobucken, North Carolina and a couple of days in Washington, North Carolina. We're also going to throw in a few more anchorages instead of the usual marina stops. All in all we will be in Myrtle Beach by September 15 and head back home then. That shouldn't be a problem. The only hang-up is that according to Old Farmer's Almanac, which has been pretty reliable, there is suppose to be a pretty sizable tropical storm flaring up some time shortly after Labor Day so we will want to be within an easy hop to someplace secure during that time.

We also figured out what our cruising strategy will be for the winter. It's fairly convoluted but we think it will work. After we return to Myrtle Beach we will head south somewhat aggressively to make it to Vero Beach by December 1st. That is kind of fixed point in time as we will judge just about everything else by that. From there we have decided to head over to Florida's Gulf coast and find a place to hang out for a month, lets say until mid January. We would then retrace our steps and get back up to Vero Beach once again where we will leave the boat for our two month spring shore leave. We return to the boat there on April 1 and move up quickly to go to New England and maybe even the Down East Loop. That's exciting! We have also left the door open to doing something completely different by not going back to the Atlantic coast at all but instead going back up to Panama City, Florida, and maybe even further on the Gulf ICW to Texas. Ya' never know.