Saturday, May 30, 2009

Was Ben Franklin a sailor?

It's a very long way from the C&D Canal in Delaware to the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia. 9 and 1/2 hours to be precise--especially when the current is against you and you're in a sailboat with the wind on the nose (sailor jargon for comin' right at you). But we saw two eagles along the way before we got to the LONG stretch of power plants, plumes of unknown gases from tall smokestacks, and lots of barges, tankers, and tugboats.

Mindy & Tom, you would have been surprised to spot these eagles. I told them there was a nicer location without power plants farther south along the James! Also the osprey and blue heron populations are going strong. GOING is the operative word. Do you know just how much a heron can "go" on a dock?

We left MicMac in a slip in Piers Marina, a marina that has seen its better days, and we went to Dave's home in Roxborough for a few days, getting our land legs back. Hoped to see the Phillies tonight, but the game is sold out.

We played tourist yesterday and walked a lot around Philly. The Seaport Museum at Penn's Landing is a great spot to spend a few hours. There's the Becuna, a WWII sub, to explore and the Olympia warship from Spanish-American War days. Admiral Dewey commanded it in the Battle of Manila, and he had some cool digs.

Then Pete and I enjoyed a great dinner with Dave and Heather last night at an Italian restaurant, Pesto, in South Philly. Willieburg is NOT known for great Italian food, so this was a real treat.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Life slows down onboard a sailboat

Sorry, friends and family, that this post is so long, but we've been in WiFi wilderness for most of the past week.

It took six days to sail from Stingray Harbor in Deltaville, VA, to the top of the Chesapeake Bay to the east end of the C&D Canal. South winds actually allowed us to sail some of the way! That one week of slow sailing—and slower motoring—would convert to landlubbers as a six-hour drive in a comfy car.

So why do we sailors do it? I like to think that I’m recreating John Smith’s traveling style and returning to simpler days. “Sure, matey,” Captain Pete says, “You’re in a fiberglass boat with a diesel engine, plus AC and a microwave when we’re at a marina.” So it’s not the Godspeed, or one of those tiny shallops Smith used in 1608 when he came this way. But don’t spoil my imagination.

One week ago we drove down General Chester Puller Memorial Highway to Stingray Harbor to take off on MicMac. Never heard of Chesty Puller? It just so happens that Chesty was one of Dr. Robert Moxon’s patients at Portsmouth Naval Hospital many moons ago (that’s appropriate Algonquin verbiage) and the most decorated Marine in history. Not being up on armed forces facts, I recently learned this from Pete.

The first lighthouse we saw was Smith Point Lighthouse. Then Point Nopoint (don't you love that name?) I like the cool little "outhouse outcroppings" on them. No indoor plumbing needed in those days when lighthouse keepers manned these charming "waterfront homes."

First night on the hook in Mill Creek (one of our favorite super quiet anchorages off the Greater Wicomico River), we enjoyed yummy catfish from Ukrop’s since nothing was at the end of Pete’s fishing rod but the bait he started with.

Then on to Solomon’s Island, MD, where we got a slip at Zahniser's. More armed forces associations took place. PFC Allen Cloud (my Dad) was here in 1942 in one of the first amphibious landing practices to prepare for the invasion of North Africa.

As we watched the Navy’s Blue Angels “show” over the Patapsco River on Memorial Day while sitting on this same beach, it seemed like a fitting memorial to those guys who boarded the ships here and ended up in Morocco. I remembered seeing another earlier version of the Blue Angels about 37 years ago near Dulles Airport during one of my worst allergy attacks. Dave reminded us on the phone that we took him and Julie to see them in Texas too. So glad that he has a great memory!

Calvert Cliffs just north of Solomon's has always interested me. It's a great place to stop if the seas are calm to anchor and look for shark teeth and other fossils. But the bay conditions were again not suitable for a stop-over. I guess if these fossils have been here for 15 million years, I can wait for another time.

We met Doug and Sandy, a friendly couple from Brunswick, GA, on another mooring who are on their way to Maine on their trawler, Interlude. Boaters usually talk to each other like they’re old friends. Even New York boaters overcome their fear of eye contact! At the dock, we chatted with a couple from Holland who had just flown over and joined up with their boat that was shipped on a container ship. I always wonder what’s on those humongous container ships that we studiously avoid on these waterways. I always pictured crates of plastic toys and rubber duckies from China—with lots of lead. Or perhaps lots of trash heading to a landfill. But now we know that it could be cargo of any sort.

This is the screwpile-type Cove Point Lighthouse which has been on the Calvert Marine Museum's grounds since 2000. Outhouse is on the other side of it.

We really enjoyed touring this museum for the second time. One of the highlights was seeing a live snakehead fish--an invasive species that's making an impact in area waters. This scary looking fish can survive on land too for quite a while. Efforts to eradicate it have not yet been successful.

Of course I’m always looking for anything “green” for my Virginia Gazette column, so my ears perked up in the Museum, when the docent taught us some interesting trivia about cow-nosed rays, clear-nosed skates, and green turtles. She proudly stated that “Virginia was always a little behind Maryland” in establishing sound environmental policies—such as ending winter dredging for female crabs. That is definitely a no-brainer, but Virginia only stopped it last winter. Gotta eat lots of crabcakes on this trip. But not tonight. Instead we returned to an Italian restaurant we visited a few years ago--DiGiovanni's dock of the Bay. Another great dinner! gotta walk a lot when we get to Philly.

After a musical night, overhearing Hank Williams, Jr. performing about 300 yards away—“Are you ready for some football?”—we headed north to a cool little anchorage south of Annapolis on the West River that we had never visited before. We learned that it is not 2009 all over the world. It seems that Galesville, MD, has barely changed in 300 years—except for the cool little country store that I had read about in the cruisers’ guide. I was looking forward to the best home-cooked pie anywhere! Oops, owners just shut down the business. But now you can buy these same yummy home-cooked pies at the new wine and coffee shop next door! Entrepreneurship is alive and well in small town America.

Another super thing that the West River has (well we thought so) is the “Honeydipper” pumpout boat that pulls right up to your boat to take care of that unpleasant but necessary task. Believe me, on a boat, you soon appreciate why our colonial forefathers called the outhouse the “necessary.” Good ole Mike runs this little business and he’s sure enthusiastic about this crappy job. He told us that he wants to start one up in the British Virgin Islands. Having sailed in those tropical waters a few times (most frequently in 2008), I assured him that his offer was needed soon. I don’t swim there any more unless I’m far, far, far away from other boats. Dilution is not the solution to pollution!

After apple pie for breakfast, it was on to Rock Hall, MD, where MicMac sat out a rain and wind storm of biblical proportion on the hook for 36 hours. Two other sailboats in Swan Creek with us proved that we are not alone in this insanity! Perhaps one of them was Noah?

Rob and Julie, thank you for the Super Scrabble Deluxe Edition with more tiles and a bigger board! Marathon games are now possible on MicMac. It’s the perfect option after reading, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and when WiFi is non-existent in these secluded anchorages. I love WiFi since I want to look at Brody’s website photos and videos every day. He is now 2 months old and we can’t wait to see him again.

Maggie, thank you for loaning out books. Today I began “A Year in the World,” that I borrowed about two years ago. Frances Mayes says it so well: “Travel pushes my boundaries. Seemingly self-indulgent, travel obliterates me-me-me . . . you are released because you are insignificant to the life of the new place. When you travel, you become invisible, if you want. . . I like to be the observer. What makes these people who they are?” That describes what I’d like to accomplish on this trip around the Chesapeake during the next few weeks. I’d like to experience the past of these historical waters through the people who choose to live in these small towns. But tomorrow we’re off to big town Philly to visit Dave for a few days. I need a real cheese steak fix.

There’s never enough time to read except when I’m on MicMac. I just read “Isaac’s Storm” about the hurricane of 1900 that destroyed Galveston, TX. Probably not a good reading choice as the winds yesterday made us wonder if our anchor was holding. I also read William Turner’s book, “Chesapeake Boyhood” about his memories of life on the Chesapeake.” Turner is the bronze sculptor whose studio we pass when we drive up the Eastern Shore to Wilmington. His book of colorful short stories really made me nostalgic for the ‘50s. Pete’s reading it now, so we can reminisce together about Ozzie and Harriett days. It certainly seemed like a simpler time, but then again, I was only 3 to 12 years old.

What have I just said? I couldn’t post to a blog or write it on our new netbook in the good ole days. Captain Pete is at the wheel at the moment, heading us up the bay to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Sure hope the current’s with us as we navigate though this man-made wonder.

Just heard on the VHF from the folks we met on Interlude in Solomons. They're just behind us in the C&D. So we made a dinner date with Doug and Sandy tonight at the marina. Great dinner at a new restaurant (actually new owners, old spot), Aqua Sol. We gave it a big thumbs up.

Julie, thanks for the longjohns last Christmas. They sure are coming in handy today. It's chilly in the mornings on the water!

The C&D is an engineering marvel, opened in 1829, widened and deepened years later. There's a great museum in Chesapeake City that tells the whole story. definitely worth visiting!