Friday, February 6, 2009

Short Summer’s Cruise

August 2008

My daughter and I have gone on numerous trips around the Chesapeake Bay and around Delmarva—usually we aim to visit places that are out of the way new to us. This trip was different; we would be visiting familiar places, but favorites. No soulful experiences, but a pleasant trip I thought worth sharing, and one any sailor with a shallow draft boat and access to the central Bay should consider.
Day one Deale to James Island 22 miles
After delicately prying my 13-year-old daughter out of bed, driving the boat, and packing our supplies into the limit storage space our catamaran provides, we left the dock at about 10:30 a.m. A modest Northwest breeze sent us on the broad reach of about 6-8 knots under full main and spinnaker. Gradually the wind lightened and moved dead aft, and her speed dropped to 3 or 4 knots, but we had nearly arrived and motored the last few miles of approach.
James Island used to be a very sizable island, in fact a peninsula on the south shore of the Little Choptank River. However, with falling sea levels—yes I do mean falling sea levels, since it was a sandbar formed when sea levels were much higher—it has eroded into three islands that will probably disappear in my lifetime. You'll not find a description of James Island in any guidebook and little on the Internet. I spotted it on Google Earth as a lonesome spot with potential, researched on the Internet that the owner doesn't mind visitation by low impact users, and stopped by briefly on a trip earlier this summer, while passing from Smith Island to St. Michael's. What we discovered was one of the nicest little desert islands on the Chesapeake Bay. The east side of the center island forms a beautiful sandy crescent, protected from all but east winds. From any other direction doesn't look like much.
We arrived mid-afternoon, anchored near the shore and next to two small powerboats. We walked the length of the island to reacquaint ourselves with the beach. Jessica explored the tidal pools at the north end. She then began to lead me through the brush and in the middle of the island… and within 15 seconds came charging back at me, followed by a cloud of flies and mosquitoes. Her assault on the interior of the island had been repulsed.
The rest of the afternoon was spent… well, not really doing anything. That's an odd choice for an adult like me, who is inherently goal oriented. Not that I'm a super achiever in business. Not that I'm a workaholic. But my goal is to go sailing I want to go sailing well. If the goal is to go rock climbing, I want to climb well. Today my only planned activity was to relax, and I suppose I did that well. With a book in hand, bug spray applied to the back of my neck, my boat anchored 30 feet off the beach, and the calm sandy bottom on which to plop my butt (chest deep in the 80 degree waters of the Bay), I proceeded to think about very little for the next few hours. I fished a little, but only tiny croaker and spot were biting.
We settled down for the evening. A passing thunderstorm grazed us, providing some fresh air but no rain. We watched a Jackie Chan movie on a portable DVD player. We tried fishing again—I reasoned that if there were small croaker during the day there might be larger fish at night—and we cleaned up. One fat fish after another, all over a foot long. “Fishbites” was the trick, an amazing fake bait. I tossed the cleanings off the stern, attracting squadrons of smaller fish.
Day two James Island to Santa Domingo Creek / St. Michaels 20 miles
Unexpectedly the wind kicked up from the east northeast during the night. Though my daughter was soundly sleeping through it, the 2 foot waves we that rolled in woke me up rather early. The bottom is hard sand and with two anchors down there was no concern of dragging, but there was no chance of sleeping either. It was easy enough to raise sail right at anchor and to sail the entire distance to broad Creek in one tack, not at any great speed, but with perfect relaxation, the sun working its way up through the morning clouds.
Once at the head of broad Creek it's necessary to drop sail and motor up to the end of San Domingo Creek. A close examination of the map will show this creek provides a nice backdoor to St. Michael's; by anchoring near the town commercial dock at the head of the creek, or even running a very shallow draft boat ashore it is possible to gain access to St. Michael's without having to go all the way around Tillman Island. It's also free. Don't tie up to the face of the dock; commercial use, unloading crab boats, and recreational craft are not welcome there. It is possible, if your boat is very shallow, to tie up near where the dock and land meet, in water that is useless to larger workboats.
We walked the town, got ice cream, shopped the shops, visited the Maritime Museum (very nice - touring the inside of a screw pile light like the one at Thomas Point, is a highlight), stopped for lunch, and managed to get back to the dock just in time to beat a thunderstorm. Well, we didn't beat the thunderstorm. We managed to get about a half a mile before we had to quickly anchor in a small cove and dive below decks. I don't mind rain but I do mind lightening. The storm passed quickly, we motored about 5 miles toward intended overnight stop near the mouth of Broad Creek, anchoring securely in a small cove near another town dock. Nothing remarkable there, but we pottered around shore for a little bit, until the sound of thunder became undeniable. The passage of the storm itself would fill a small posting—sufficient to say that wind to 60 knots and hail were predicted, and they arrived. It certainly seemed that some god was throwing buckets of water filled with gravel at the hatch, as we surged back against the anchor. I had 2 well set hooks in and we didn't move an inch.
This too passed, I was able to take my time grilling up the fish we caught the night before, served with corn on the cob and rice. We enjoyed this in peace and quiet while watching another movie, “The Maldonado Miracle.”
Day three Broad Creek to Deale 20 miles
This should have been an uneventful day, except that the wind was blowing on the nose at about 20 kn and the waves were running 3-4 feet. There isn't much to describe other than sailing to the weather under reefed sails and getting wet. Within the hour we shook out the reef and continued under full main and storm jib as the wind moderated a bit, and the waves get smaller as we reduced their fetch. Worth mentioning perhaps, is that storm jibs are not solely for strong winds. Going to the weather I will normally go to a full main before changing up to the next larger jib. I find that even the smallest jib does a good job of cleaning up airflow to the main and giving the boat a wider bucket and more punch, but it is still a nice flat sail and feathers easily with the occasional gust that would otherwise overpower the boat. The mainsail is easy to feather; a larger jib is inclined to flap, and then grab, flap, and then grab. If you ease a large jib, it simply becomes more full; exactly what you do not need in strong winds.
That is the end of the story. Not much the story really; more of an invitation to visit James Island and to visit St. Michael's by the back door. It makes a wonderful three-day cruise, particularly suitable for smaller boats. Kids help too.

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