Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yopps Creek

[Kyle]Begonia was dripping with dew as we prepared for departure. As I was unzipping the mainsail cover I noticed Tim and Jill (of LINK) already had their anchor up and were beginning to motor away. Perfect, I thought, our timing should be just right! We would soon be able to pass them and get some great photos of each other’s boats under sail. They disappeared around the corner just as we prepared to depart ourselves.

As we left Mill Creek and entered the Chesapeake Bay proper there were plenty of sail boats streaming out of the various inlets and joining the passage southbound.

We would have lots of opportunities to gauge our progress, watching the other sails in the bay grow bigger or smaller as our relative positions change. The sail itself was relatively and uneventful; It took the form of a backward L with both legs being down wind (the most pleasant of sailing). There was a reasonable amount of wind, and a great point of sail; we had no trouble reeling in boat after boat as we made our way down the boat. Tim and Jill’s boat however, kept being frustratingly the same tiny size; there was a short moment when I perceived we might be gaining on them, but it was not to last – how was that possible? They were smoking and leaving us behind! We’d have to make the turn into the Rappahannock river, long before we could catch up with them, as we made that turn they were just on the horizon, and once we were no longer also headed south they disappeared from view.

Boating on the Rappahannock, and Yopps Creek living!

The Rappahannock is a bustling with boaters at this time of year and they provided an ever-changing, colorful view as we sailed up the river. We anchored on the north side, just inside the bridge in at little Yopps Cove off Carter Creek. Shallower than others in the locale, we were able to gingerly prod into the cove and find ourselves the only ones at anchor there. We were not the only boat in the view though, we are surround by grand homes with amazing docks with some very grand sail and power boats attached. Some include a boat house bigger than most homes (some even have two boat houses of that ilk).

Mill Creek (off of the Great Wicomico River)

[Kyle]Having done everything there is to do on Tangier, except perhaps take up an apprenticeship as a waterman, we left early when the tide was still pushing us away from the dock. We had a quick downwind sail almost due west across to the other side of the bay to Mill Creek.

The Chesapeake has a multiple Mill Creeks. This particular one is off the Great Wicomico. Like Tippity Wichity, this Mill Creek is one of our favorite spots in the whole of the Chesapeake. In fact, it is the place we have anchored the most when we were out of weekend sailing range from our long-time home of Norfolk, VA. It’s quiet and peaceful and protected from all sides. There are usually Bald Eagles to see as well as Ospreys, Herons and Cranes. There’s also the occasional rotund fisherman on a too-small boat. The trees are also just starting to change here, giving the place a nice splash of color. As an extra bonus, we got to see a pod of half a dozen dolphins on the way in.

Camera shy Dolphins greet us on arrival at Mill Creek

We spent most of our time sitting in the cockpit enjoying the scenery, talking and generally feeling lucky to have the particular life that we live.

When we got here, I decided we had enough time for me to give the still hot engines a better looking over than usual. They’re fine, but being contorted into those positions in a hot engine compartment for that period of time is pretty much the opposite of fun so, you know, it goes both ways.

As we were winding down for the day, I was taking a mental stock of the surrounding boats when I noted a Gemini just around the corner; I hadn’t seen them arrive. They were too far away and at the wrong angle for us to read the boat name, so Maryanne tried using the VHF radio to call them on channel 16. We were later told that we made contact just as they were about to shut off the radio after anchoring. It turned out to be Tim and Jill aboard LINK a 2001 Gemini 105Mc, and they accepted our invite to join us for snacks and drinks aboard Begonia.

Although we had never met them before they knew about us and admitted to having a copy of Maryanne’s Gemini check list, and of course we knew of Jill and her great work editing the Gemini Gems magazine.

The Gemini LINK, and her owners Tim and Jill aboard Begonia

It was the first day of their six-month snow-bird cruise down to Florida and back and they arrived with a wonderful gift of fresh vegetables plucked from their own garden that very morning. It was also Tim’s birthday! We talked about Geminis and sailing, along with each other’s plans and shared Gemini friends (coincidentally with ex Gemini owners Bill and Laurie, who we knew, from Portsmouth, VA calling to wish Tim a happy birthday while we were all aboard Begonia).

As night fell, the bugs started swarming in the cockpit. We all had early departures planned for the next day, so we took it as a hint that it was time for us to all get inside our respective boats.

We didn’t discover until too late that a winery has opened a little further up the river, and even has a dock for visitors…. Next time.

Tangier Island

[Maryanne] For years we lived and sailed in the Chesapeake, we travelled north and south among the tributaries and cities. For reasons of wind, currents, weather, and time pressures we had (too many times) sailed passed Tangier Island. It was finally time to correct that omission.

[Kyle]We were under-way at first light for the longish trip between Tippity Wichity and Tangier Island, further south and across the bay. Our reward for getting up so early was an amazing fiery sunrise made up of all of the bright colors on the red side of the spectrum. As we rounded the first corner, we passed several rowing crews going the other way, presumably from St. Mary’s College nearby.

A cracking sunset was later followed by the US National anthem blasted across the water by a local Navy station (at least this is where we believe it was coming from!)

We started off ghosting along in winds barely strong enough to feel. As the river widened, the wind picked up gradually. By the time we were in the Potomac, we were zinging past the shore. We cleared Point Lookout and turned to sail as close to the wind as we could. This put us on a course about twenty degrees north of where we wanted to go, but we were hedging against a forecast calling for a slightly unfavorable shift later. We didn’t want to have to beat our way back upwind if we ended up too far to leeward.

Once in the bay out of the protection of the Potomac’s northern shore, we found ourselves beating into two-foot chop until we were close enough to Tangier to feel confident that we could start easing out the sails and turning to a more comfortable course.

Tangier Island has two entrance channels: one to the west and one to the east. We had planned to round the southern tip of the island and beat upwind to enter from the east for a few reasons: The wind forecast was such that we would not be likely to make it to the west entrance without tacking; the east entrance is much wider and deeper, with a deeper approach; and the west entrance has a fifty-foot overhead cable both on our charts and mentioned in the U.S. Coast Pilot.

While we still had a cell phone signal, Maryanne called ahead to Park’s Marina on Tangier to inquire about a slip. There was a slip available for the bargain price of $30. The owner, Milton asked her the usual questions about what kind of boat we were, etc., then started peppering her with so many questions that she ended up handing me the phone at the helm.

“When you gonna be here?” was the first one I was asked.

  “About 3:00.”

“Where are ya? Are ya in the bay?”

  “Yeah, we’re in the bay.’

“Can you see Smith Point?”


“What side’s it on?”

  “It’s to starboard”

“So you’re east of it?”

  “No, we’re north of it.”

“You sailing?”

  “Yes, we are.”

“You goin’ about six knots?”

  “No. More like eight.”

“Eight knots? Can you see the island?”

  “Not yet.”

“Well, you’re only a few miles away. You’ll be here well before 3:00.”

  “Probably not”, I said. “We have to go around to the east channel, tack upwind, get the sails down. It should be right around three.”

He didn’t seem to hear me. “Nah, if you’re in the bay already, you’ll be here in an hour or so. I’ll call you on channel 16 at noon.”

  “I’m pretty sure it’ll be closer to three. We have to come in from the east.”

“Okay, I’ll call you at noon.”

At 12:30, he called and asked where we were.

  “We’re right by the west entrance.” I replied, “We have about two hours to go.”

“I’ll go out and meet you in a minute.”

  “It’ll be a couple of hours. We need to go around to the east.”

“Okay, see you in a minute.”

  “We still have ten more miles to go. We have to come in from the east.”

“I thought you said you were at the west channel.”

  “We are, but we need to go around to the east. It’s going to take a while.”

“If you’re outside, you’re almost here. I’ll go meet you.”

I was trying my best to remain calm. All of this was happening while we were in shallow water trying to dodge pot floats.

  “It’ll be a while. We have to sail around to the east entrance.”

“East!? Why you goin’ that way?”

  “Well, mostly because of the fifty-foot overhead cable. We can’t get under it.”

“Oh, that thing? They took that down years ago. I wish you’d said something. C’mon in the west side. There’s nuthin’ there.”

{Maryanne: Despite our digital chart being less than a year old and the Coast pilot being most current, it was true that no power cable was there to hinder our journey! Local knowledge wins at all times}

So we went in the west side after all. It was around one o’clock, just as Milton had predicted.

When we got to the marina, it started all over again. Milton Shouted at us from the dock, “What’s yer beam?”

  “Twenty-one feet!”



“Hold up yer fingers!”

  Maryanne, who was up at the bow, held up two fingers on her right hand and one on her left. “Twenty-one!”


  “Two, one. Twenty-one!”






  “Twenty! One!”

“Oh, twenty-one! We’ll put you right here, then.” The dock looked identical to the other one.

We had more of the same going through the process of tying up and getting the fenders right. Milton is as nice as can be and he loves to talk, but his hearing is terrible, even if you mouth the words very clearly where he can see your lips move. He has whole conversations between himself and what he expected you to say.

“Where you from?”

  Maryanne: “England”

“Oh, Baltimore.”

  Maryanne: “Do you have a map of the island?”

“Yeah, the bathrooms are around to the left.”

In the end, we realized the best thing to do was just listen to him and smile and nod a lot, Japanese tourist style.

Maryanne had been pushing for days that we needed to make time for the museum so she was thrilled to have arrived well before closing time. There was much to see along the way in this new place, but we had to remain focused and get to the museum.

We’re glad we did. The Museum was very well done and did a good job of depicting life on the island and it’s history. {Maryanne: The museum was small, with a warm welcome and an interesting mix of high tech (touch screens, videos, etc.) and hand written signs and maps; quite charming}. Most interesting to me were the videoed interviews of the watermen. Tangier is a true island, meaning there are no bridges to the mainland and the only access is via boat or airplane/helecopter. They didn’t get electricity until 1948, TV reception arrived only in this century, and there was no Internet until three years ago. The population still lives in a high level of isolation. Most of the original settlers were from Cornwall in England and linguists say the Tangier accent is the closest to Elizabethan English in the world. The Cornish dialect in England today is very thick. The Tangier Accent sounds to me like half Cornwall, half Mississippi. That and all of their peculiar sayings make understanding them require focused concentration. {Maryanne: There was even a painting of our dock master Milton at the museum, and a picture of him some years ago in a suit and on his scooter on his way to church}

The Tangier museum, where our dock master Milton has a space on the wall

Once we had exhausted the museum, we went for a "family style" dinner at Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House. The island only has four restaurants, but at least one of our guidebooks suggested Hilda’s was the only one that shouldn’t be optional on an itinerary.

Even though it was only four o’clock (we were advised to get there before five), we seemed to be the last people on the island eating dinner. The large room was completely empty and all of the tables but one were piled high with the un-bussed remains of what was clearly a large feast.

"Family Style" dining at the Crockett's Chesapeake House

We were sat at a corner of the large clean table and bowl after bowl of food was placed before us in portions that were clearly intended for a full table. We had expected family style to be more like a buffet. Instead, we were at the buffet table! It was just then that we realized why some of the other restaurants in town call themselves “menu style”.

The food was good and there was more than plenty of it. Hilda’s felt less like a restaurant and more like thanksgiving dinner at somebody’s Grandma’s house. Except the room was too big. It felt like dinner at a giant church camp. In fact, the whole island felt like a giant church camp. Everyone was really friendly, the roads were travelled mostly with bicycles and golf carts. The place is shut down by 7:00 and there are verses from the scriptures everywhere: on menus, store signs and bumper stickers.

Scenes from Tangier

The island is mostly presided over by the well attended Methodist Church, although they do have another “New Church” for the troublemakers. The island is also completely dry (of alcohol), although it is theorized by some that a lot of the watermen’s man-cave type crab shed hideaways have a stash obtained from off island.

With the intent of walking off our enormous dinner, we decided to use the rest of the daylight to walk every one of the island’s three main roads, which run parallel to each other on ridges barely higher than the rest of the island and are connected by bridges over the marsh in between.

Tangier is one of those places that is almost too pretty. Pretty and quaint and pretty, that’s it. It was hard to walk twenty feet without stopping for more photos. We would have gone through twenty rolls of film in the old days.

{Maryanne: Tangier really is a place with a unique character. Bicycles are left unlocked, relatives are buried in the front yards, pizza is delivered by golf cart, most gardens are adorned with beautiful bird boxes, and the primary means of income is still crabs. According to "Beautiful Swimmers: watermen, crabs and the Chesapeake Bay" by William W Warner, they catch and sell more crabs than any other place in the Chesapeake, and are also king of the soft shell crab industry; quite an achievement for a small community.}

The island has a handful of dogs, but probably has a three to one cat to human ratio. All of the ones we saw looked in good health and most were very friendly. One little guy joined us as we passed his house and stayed right with us as we continued on. We thought he would give up and leave when we got too far away, but he was never more than ten feet away, always wanting to be pet and to rub up against our ankles. When we went past his house on the way back, he stopped and sat down in the middle of the road and calmly watched us leave. He seemed to know exactly where the property line was on that side.

Our route home took us past an ice cream parlor we had wanted not to miss. We had burned off some of our dinner and so decided we could spare the space for one to share. As we were finishing, Maryanne realized we had gone to the wrong one. We were at the ‘70s ice cream place, not the ‘50s one! We walked over there just to see it, but then we got spotted by the proprietor looking in, we felt guilty enough to go in and get our second for the night.

Beaches, crab pounds, and one of the bridges around sunset... Sigh, what a beautiful place.

We got back to the boat when the Sun set. That’s when the island’s watches change from humans to bugs. We hid in the cabin and mocked them on the other side of the Plexiglas as we snuck a glass of wine each.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tippity Wichity Island

First attempt to leave Solomons Island at sunrise

[Kyle]As we backed out the dock in Solomons I was having trouble getting Begonia to fully react to the controls, despite it being flat calm. Even with the helm hard to starboard, she kept turning to port. Once in forward, she was slow to respond, turning left initially before grudgingly starting to the right. I put both engines into neutral and then tried each separately. The port engine was not shifting out of neutral. We returned to the dock with reduced control using the starboard engine.

After pulling up the bunk boards/engine cover, we discovered that the shifter cable had broken off where it attached to the fitting on the transmission arm. We didn’t really have the time or the desire to go through the kerfuffle of running a new one (we didn’t even know how long any new cable needed to be!), so after a little head scratching, we worked out a sturdy solution using what we had on board. We also received a generous portion of help from Dave at the local Washburn’s Boatyard!). Two hours after we left the first time, we left again, this time under full control.

We headed into the bay and once again the spinnaker helped us eat up miles faster than planned. We would end up needing it. Even though our planned anchorage was only seven miles from the dock at Solomons, we had to sail all the way down to Point Lookout, enter the Potomac, and sail most of the way back. Once we entered the Potomac, we had to spend all but the last hour of daylight tacking up into the St. Mary’s River.

The St. Mary’s is one of our favorite places on Chesapeake Bay. There’s no particular reason for this, it’s just one of those places we have been where we have always enjoyed ourselves. The river is wide enough to let the wind in for sailing, but narrow enough to keep the water flat and be able to enjoy the scenery on both sides. Our favorite anchorage, way up the river by Tippity Wichity Island, is past a couple of sharp turns, making that part of the river look like a medium-sized lake. Every time we have been here, we were the only boat in the basin. While there are a few houses, the banks are mostly wilderness. At night, it gets really dark; dark enough to see the Milky Way, and the noise is overwhelmingly that of birds, crickets and frogs. Yes it is a thoroughly enjoyable place, indeed.

Sun sets behind Tippity Wichity Island

Tippity Wichity is said to be a derivation of an earlier name for the island's house of illicit drinking, gambling and other disreputes: “Tippling-house and Witchery-house”. Today we were the only place around serving drinks.

On to Solomons

[Kyle]The wind was forecast to be slightly less than our previous spinnaker day. We decided not to bother with the mainsail and just put up the spinnaker. We spent all morning flying down the bay going between nine and twelve knots {forecast was quite a bit lower than actual}. What had been originally planned as an all-day sail was over just after noon.

We had originally planned to anchor at Solomons Island, but we had been contacted by a couple from the area who own the Gemini five hull numbers before Footprint – Larry and Clare, with OFFWEGO. We had since arranged to meet up, so we splashed out and tied up at a dock instead.

Meeting up with fellow Gemini owners Larry and Clare

In spite of the fact that our two boats were built the same winter and we took delivery within days of each other, we had never before met Larry and Clare. They met us at the boat, where we gave them the tour and swapped a few stories before they took us out for a drive around Solomons, and on to a local microbrewery for dinner. When it started to get a little loud, we skipped dessert and headed across the bridge into the next town to Bruster’s Ice Cream instead. Apparently, my love for ice cream had preceded me. I had a cone with not one, but two Oreo-based flavors – coffee and mint. Yummy! Maryanne got a blizzard that was way too big for her to finish. The cup went into the trash empty, though.

Thanks to Larry and Clare for a great evening!

Leaving Baltimore

[Kyle]We left Baltimore at first light the day after I returned from work. We put the mainsail up as soon as we cleared the marina. We turned downwind and Baltimore began to recede into the distance. We passed under the Francis Scott Key Bridge and rounded the corner at Bodkin creek, where we got our first sight of the Bay Bridge near Annapolis.

The turn caused the mainsail to blanket our jib, so we rolled it up. The wind was slowly decreasing and we were getting slower and slower on mainsail alone. After a while, Maryanne suggested we hoist the spinnaker. Our speed was back immediately! We passed every other sailboat in sight after that. Having a spinnaker seems like such an unfair advantage, like having a rocket engine on a car. Non-spinnaker boats have no chance.

As the wind died down, it shifted around just enough for the spinnaker to be in the lee of the mainsail about half of the time. When it was, it collapsed and tried to either plunge into the bay or wrap around the furled jib. When this happened it always seemed to be at the most inopportune time, when the extra spinnaker speed was needed to pass in front of another boat to avoid a conflict.

We put up with it for a while {Maryanne: translated, this means Kyle swore a lot!}, and then finally gave up and pulled the mainsail down. Even though the total area of sail we had flying had decreased, the spinnaker now stayed reliably filled, so our average speed stayed up with a lot less frustration.

As we approached our anchorage, the wind began to pick up again. We were still technically within the wind range for the spinnaker, but it was starting to get a little bit scary at times. We decided to play it safe and take it down so we could proceed the rest of the way under main and jib. We started to get into trouble when neither of us could pull the sock down over the filled spinnaker. When we tried to let out one sheet or the other, to take the wind out of the sail and let it flog, all it would do was stay filled and pull directly sideways. That was bad. It is just that kind of behavior that caused my first sailing instructor to call the spinnaker the “Sail of Death”. We’re still learning how to deal with this sail aboard Begonia. Eventually, we figured out that we could get the sail to flog by letting out the sheet and turning into the wind. This allowed us to get the sock down and silence the machine gun sound of the flogging sail.

The last few miles were a peaceful sail into Selby Bay, just south of Annapolis. We picked Selby Bay because it was the last and least out of the way stop on the way before the next long leg to Solomons Island. Selby Bay is not too interesting, but it’s on the way and it’s a wide-open expanse that allows the wind generator to catch the wind and keep the batteries topped up.

Tourists in Baltimore - Part 2

[Kyle]I was mostly at work, and when I did have a night or so at home, we’d venture out to different restaurants and meet with fellow boaters. Eventually I only had a couple of remaining days off to enjoy Baltimore. Unfortunately I was also working on Maryanne’s birthday, so I planned to pretend it was the big day once I got home from my trip.

The flights home were looking so bad (as in full), that I realized the only way I would get reliably home was to rent a car and drive through the night. This left us with a dilemma: we wanted to go do fun, tourist stuff, but we also had a car, which meant we had a rare opportunity (obligation?) load up on heavy stuff for the boat, not the least of which was diesel, which the marina does not sell (Maryanne even has a list of things to do in the event we have a car available: propane, beer, big-grocery shop, etc., etc.). In the end, we decided we would feel better with a well-stocked boat. I pushed my rental hours with a last quick trip to fill a jerry can full of fuel and we spent the last couple of hours rushing to return the car in time to get to the surprise I had set up for Maryanne.

We got stuck in stop-and-go rush hour traffic on the way to the rental car return, and then just missed the ideal train back into town. The next train arrived in Baltimore center with less than 10 minutes to walk a 25-minute distance – so we ended up hailing a cab to be sure we were not late.

We just made it. Whew! The big surprise was a cooking class at The Waterfront Kitchen called “The Art of Making Soup”. Maryanne is one of those rare marvelous cooks who does almost everything well. She loves learning new tricks and I have heard her regularly tell people she would like to get some formal training, so I knew this would be the perfect thing for her.

We both had a blast. The restaurant was closed apart from the thirteen of us in the class. Local celebrity chef Jerry Pellegrino took us through the process of making four types of soup: Cream based, broth based, tomato based, and pureed vegetables. We ended up with Corn Chowder, Chicken noodle, Tomato with kale, and Potato leek.

Kyle finally cooks for me!

I was technically one of the participants (I used to love cooking until I was outclassed by my wife), but I failed to figure out the “art” part of making soup. At no point did Jerry come in with a devious look in his eye and reveal to us that the secret ingredient is eye of newt or some such thing. In fact, most of the soups only had four or five ingredients. The trick seems to be to pick good ones as every single one of them was to die for. We ended up with more soup than we could all eat, although we sure tried, and magic wine glasses that filled every time we looked away accompanied it.

Jerry and the wine guy and general help, Keith, were marvelous company and we met a lot of other interesting people within the class. By the time we left we were happy, a little tipsy and oh-my-god-I’m-never-going-to-eat-again full. We were glad to be within walking distance of Begonia. Not only that, but our route home didn’t even require us to cross one street. I was surprised the next morning to find that I was still full. I thought soup, being mostly water, was supposed to digest faster than that.

With our day of fun over, it was time for more chores. This time I had to do one last scrub of the bottom before we left. Baltimore Harbor’s water is slightly disgusting. That and summer ending with the overnight passage of a cold front made for a cold and miserable day for me. The boat needed it, though. A layer of slime was starting and the props were club-shaped barnacle colonies. Now we were ready to continue south, hoping to stay on that comfortable line right at the tail end of summer.

Treating Myself for My Birthday

[Maryanne]So, I’m in Baltimore, and I’m waxing and polishing and fixing and laundering and such…. I decide I need an escape from the obligation of boat chores and visit my favorite mother-in-law Carla in Phoenix. So close to my birthday she spoils me with a trip to the nail salon, I get my hair cut, spend a wonderful evening with Carla in the pool under the stars with wine, and am treated to a fancy meal with good friends at a swanky casino restaurant with the best sunset views around….

Oh! What a nice surprise: a birthday cake at the Talking Stick Restaurant for ME!

I liked celebrating my birthday so much, than when I returned to Baltimore, and boat jobs beckoned, I looked up the train times to DC and spent a day as a tourist there (with tours of Congress, the library of congress, and the spy museum) and also treated myself to lunch and dinner out in the big city! When Kyle asks if I did any chores that day, I can reply, no ‘it is my birthday!’.

The library of congress and the congress building itself - two amazing tours

Kyle promises me he’s organized something for my (rescheduled) birthday when he returns. He won’t even give me a hint as to what it might be, nor how I should dress, nor if it includes being fed. I’m always so amazed that he can keep a secret so well.