Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Red sky at night; sailor's delight"

That trusted saying gave us some hope last night—AFTER a doozy of a thunderstorm. I’m sure that doozy ranks up there with severe. Unfortunately, I don’t remember “red sky in morning; sailor take warning” at sunrise earlier that day.

Just as Captain Pete was getting out the grill to cook some chicken, the skies (as in plural) turned from light grey to black. It was soon as dark as night and only 6 p.m. We quickly battened the hatches, and stowed everything blowable down below as the winds quickly increased to 35 knots or more. We didn’t want to venture out to take a look at the windguage. Pete let out a bunch more chain on the anchor rode and it did its job as the winds and more biblical rains continued for almost two hours. No chicken ever got grilled.

Earlier yesterday, we had gone through Kent Narrows on the Eastern Shore. There's 65’ clearance at Kent Narrows and the drawbridge opened on demand. Thanks to some dredging in the past two years, MicMac’s 5’ draft could make it through, and that saved us quite a bit of time on our way to the Eastern Bay and St. Michael’s. Kent Narrows looked like a fun place to stop, based on the tiki bar complete with LIVE palm trees. I didn’t know they could survive here.

Finally got in a great afternoon of sailing with 15 knot winds on our way to anchor in Tilghman Creek around the tip of Rich Neck. The tall pines on the neck are the site of a great tale, tall or not, about the hangin' tree out there on the point. Local legend has it that a slave, Simeon, failed to adequately keep his eye on the master’s young son and the boy died when his pony threw him. The slave was punished by hanging him from the tall pine on Tilghman Point. But his ghost still walks the beach looking for the little boy.

I didn’t see Simeon but I did watch that point (and its hangin' tree) for a long time during this storm of the week!

And yes, the red sky at night was true. We had great weather and clear skies this morning as we motored to St. Michaels. Pete dingied in to visit the museum and look at old boats, while I’m playing on the computer. Emails sure pile up when you’re away from the internet. . . and blogging is addictive.

Rays, rays, everywhere rays

MicMac sailed into quiet Gray's Inn Creek off the Chester River on Monday and we were greeted by a frisky cow-nosed ray, whom I promptly named Ray Charles. He darted very quickly along the surface with his two wing tips above the water, looking like a pair of sharks. That does get your attention!

Before you get excited. . . this photo was NOT taken in the Chesapeake. John Smith may have seen rays in water this clear, but the Chesapeake is far from this condition now.

Many more of Ray’s family joined him throughout the day, until we were surrounded by them. I don't know what this means for the health of the Bay, but I suspect it's not good news since rays love little oyster spat. That's not conducive to a resurging oyster population.

We have spotted rays near Stingray Point on the Rappahannock River which is famous for John Smith’s encounter with a stingray in 1608. But not this many.

Imperial Hotel is superb

Chestertown's Imperial Hotel is a hit. Pete and I visited this restored Victorian boutique hotel, built in 1903, earlier on Sunday and made dinner reservations for later—since the menu looked promising. We might even return by car and stay here for the night some day. Chef/owner Tom Pizzica worked with Wolfgang Puck and it shows. Best dinner we’ve had on this “wine and dine” tour of the Bay so far.

I could visit Hilda again too and continue my chat!

We gave our Williamsburg tourism support bit to the couple at the next table, who complained that their memory of “fine dining” in Williamsburg was nil fifteen years ago. We assured them that the Fat Canary, Blue Talon, and LeYaca would change their minds.

5 degrees off plumb

Water Street in Chestertown has the most surviving beautiful 18th century homes that I’ve ever seen. Only Annapolis has more. But I’ll probably just remember one, and it’s not on the usual home tour list.

Hilda Hopkins, 83, has lived in her tiny crooked house for 35 years. When she bought it in 1974, she was told that it was built in 1935. “But that wasn’t when it was built,” she told me with a chuckle, ”That was when it was cut in half. Two sisters lived in this house and the one beside it. But they had a big fight, and had it cut in two.” Both halves now list severely to the side, but they’re in Chestertown’s Historic District. She wasn’t sure if the homes could ever be torn down. But they’d need more than jacking them up to end up anywhere near straight. The other half is on the market for $115,000 if anyone’s interested in being Hilda’s neighbor. It’s vacant since the owner died.

I enjoyed a short chat with Hilda as I walked past her house on Water Street and stopped at her gate to return her friendly greeting. “Nice day for a walk” turned into a memorable conversation.

Hilda was enjoying the cool river breeze around 4 p.m. and the awesome front yard (of the other neighbor) where perennials and annuals had replaced any grass that would want to grow in its deep shade. She didn’t seem the least embarrassed that the only thing standing perpendicular around her was her 4-pronged cane. Even she listed to the side in her plastic chair.

She shared stories of the Klan visiting her in her early married days in “another house not as nice as this” and telling her that she needed to move out of town. Her friends in the NAACP helped her out then.

Hilda also told me that the big plantation house farther down the street has bars on the windows (which I had noticed earlier) that were there to keep the slaves from escaping. I told her of the day in the 1990s when I was shocked to see a KKK parade (complete with hoods and masks) in Delaware, believe it or not. “They’re still alive,” she assured me. I hate to agree that’s she’s correct.

“One night, my husband put me into confusion, and I left this house and slept in the cemetery,” Hilda shared. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I don’t know what that expression means.”

“He was a good man except when he drank, and one night he hit me with a frying pan,” Hilda explained. “So my nerves were bad and I was confused.” Before the term domestic violence was coined, Hilda didn’t stay confused. She just buried her second husband a few years ago.

“Come on in and visit a while,” she then asked, “I can tell you all the history of Chestertown.” I’m sure she could, but I had to cut this conversation short. Captain Pete was waiting for me back on MicMac and already wondering where I was.

I hope that Hilda continued her story to an unsuspecting walker today.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chestertown is just so quaint

We anchored out last night in Langford Creek off the Chester River. Now I have another favorite anchorage. Nothing but woods, a few farms, and lots of herons and ospreys. Pretty sunset too.

Interesting trivia for y'all: Talulah Bankhead is buried nearby up the other fork of the creek.
Munitions guys at Aberdeen Proving Grounds must not work on Saturdays and Sundays, so no big booms surprised us. It's really quite irksome since sailors always keep their ears tuned to thunder.

Today we pulled into Chestertown, MD, a colonial town with the look of Duke of Gloucester Street. It's a huge historic district with lots of brick sidewalks that I could stumble on while looking up at all the charming houses.
Unfortunately, the Sultana ship was not in port. But this town is a mecca for artists who like to paint ships. No one as talented as Bill Beebe, of course, but some are quite impressive.
Chestertown is also so advanced (much more than Baltimore) that it has WiFi hot spots around town. So I'm parked in front of a coffeeshop, doing my thing, while Pete gets some exercise.
We're in a marina tonight, and we'll have dinner soon at the historic Imperial Hotel down the street.