Saturday, September 4, 2010

Trip Report - 2010 Delmarva Circumnavigation

After following this route 5 times, my trip report is condensed to just a few impressions; less is new and fewer experiences seem so strong.  Even so there is always something unexpected and new. It was a good trip.

The vital statistics:

Myself, wife (Laura), and daughter (Jessica)

Fish caught trolling with cuban yo-yos:
under sail. 3 bluefish
under power 1 bluefish

Fish caught still fishing: more than I can remember. At least 5 sand sharks, seabass, croaker, sea robin, and toad fish. Plus all of the crabs.

Places moored with 1 anchor: 5
Places moored with 2 anchors 2 (in one case severe thunderstorms, in the other a 4 knot reversing current)

Fires on board: 2

Debilitating injuries: 1

Day 1. Deale to Solomons Island
Our first all day sail in the rain with the PDQ. Still, it was one of the best days.  The temperature remained moderate, the wind gave a steady broad reach, and we never had to touch our rain gear; the rain started after the sails were hoisted, dissipated just before the anchor was dropped, and the hard top with the side extensions kept the cockpit dry.  Perhaps it was a little hard to see where we were going, but the navigation was familiar and the midweek traffic was light.

We caught 2 bluefish trolling a yellow hose eel on a yo-yo rig. Only blues will bite when sailing at  6-7 knots, well above the optimum trolling speed (4.5 to 5 knots would be better for blues and slower for rockfish), but I can't see sailing more slowly for a more few fish. We catch all we want.

We shared our anchorage with a 100-foot megayacht. Tucked up a side creek, it seemed out of place.  These palaces are normally placed strategically and conspicuously to insure the optimal display value.

First fire. The night before departure, Jessica and I slept on the boat. Sparks and fire shot out of the Hella Turbo fan in her cabin. We got a replacement that evening and wired it in. the prior owner had installed it without fusing and by simply tucking the wires inside the slip-on connections of her reading light! This was corrected and heavier wire sliced in as required.

Days 2-3. Solomons Island to Tangier Island
No useful wind.

Tangier has become a traditional stop for us; Jessica loves playing with the cats and exploring the island town on her own. This year we took our bicycles on our transom rack, which in summary was a grand success. At every harbor, we had instant and familiar transportation at our disposal. Not the motor bikes and small cars that some mega yachts carry, to our shame.

 Hunting Cats

We find Tangier relaxing and we found enough to do to justify two nights in Parks Marina:

  • Swimming several times at the Tom's Hook beach. We think it's the nicest swimming beach on the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Peddling here and there.
  • Snowball fight. It was hot the second day and flake ice is only $1 per 5 gallon bucket at CJ Charnock's (the crab packing house next to Parks Marina). I think I won; in spite of Jessica's many hits, I surprised her after she though the engagement had ended with a bucket of slush on the head. It was so hot she had to fake her displeasure.
  • Fishing off the pier.
  • Catching minnows and feeding them to the cats.
  • Renting a golf cart from Roger's Rentals. The steering wheel had 90 degrees of free play, the brakes were weak, and it went forward while in reverse and in reverse while in forward.  What a ride!
  • Netting crabs from the pilings.
Just before dinner on our second day, Jessica netted seven keeper-size crabs within a 30 minute effort.  I've never cooked crabs before, but she wanted to give it a go. I went to the local grocery store to look for some Old Bay seasoning; sure enough, every islander is born knowing how to season crabs from scratch, and thus nobody buys Old Bay seasoning and they don't stock it. Of course, they do stock all of the required components.

I could've asked what the ingredients were.  It would have been embarrassing.  We had everything we needed anyway, as I use similar spices and seasonings fish, and so Jessica and I went down in the galley and started shaking some of this and some of that into a measuring cup, tasting it, and suggesting improvements. We didn't have a steamer but we have a large pot. Our recipe went like this:

  • Seven fresh crabs (males, hard shell, 5 1/4 inches or greater; females must be softshell  3 1/2 inches or greater--we had both)
  • 8 quart pot with 1/2" of water, boiling hard.
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper
  • 1 sliced onion
I expected the buggers to scream or at least attempt furiously to crawl out of the pot, but all was quiet within 2 seconds. After 20 seconds I added the seasoning and onions and then steamed them for another 15 minutes. I don't think this is the standard seasoning mix or time, but the result was spot on. Best crabs I've ever had, only out of the water 30 minutes.
    Day 4. Tangier to Cape Charles.
    Pitiful wind, but we sailed for a few hours. Caught one bluefish under sail and one under power. Watched a Navy chopper that was clearly looking for a lost person and then heard the report on the VHF. We kept our eyes open.

    Slick calm and haze in the morning

    Cape Charles is rather dead. Milton Parks of the Parks Marina in Tangier says if you're good to go to heaven and if you're bad you to go to Cape Charles. He spent many winters dredging for crabs near the mouth of the Bay sailing out of Cape Charles.  Still, we rode our bikes, went to the beach (not very good - too shallow and too many snails on the bottom), hunted for giant hermit crabs (the boat ramp area harborss particularly large ones, for some unknown reason), and fished after dark. Jessica caught a black sea bass and sea robin.

    Sea robins are bizarre little inedible fish, scurrying aacross the bottom on specialized fins that serve as feet. They also have wing-like pectoral fins and serve a function I'm not certain of.

    After several stays, I have determined that the harbor master and his assistant have absolutely no personality.They are efficient. Perhaps the heat, the summer, and Cape Charles have worn them down.

    Note: Kelly's Gingernut Pub on the main street is still good eats.

    Day 5. Cape Charles to Wachapreague.
    We got a bit of a late start; powerful group of thunderstorms was rapidly working its way up the coast from the northern outer banks and I waited until it was near Virginia Beach to head out.  By the time we reached the Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel, the storms were pulling away. As it was, we caught some light rain and wind on the trailing edge, which was just enough to get us down the Bay around the corner.  Unfortunately, the wind went with the storms, leaving us with nothing.

     Parramore Beach Life Saving Station

    There was a bit of a southeast swell from a passing hurricane, but not enough to cause discomfort or to make any of the inlets dangerous. Wachapreague has a fairly reliable 7- to 9-foot entrance bar, but unless you catch it on a low ebbing tide with a big easterly swell it is a straightforward entrance. A swell does not generally effect the entrance if it is from the north or south, as there are bars on both sides of the channel and the shallow part in some distance in.  Be warned, the tide easily reaches 4 knots near the inner end of the channel; we hit 11 knots motoring in, with this boost.

    On past trips we have proceeded into the town of Wachapreague. I can't say there was a lot to recommend a visit and the passage is shallow at low tide. There is fuel and gas and a restaurant and some supplies are available. The inlet is as far as I wanted to go, this trip.

    Double-fisted fishing: inside Wachapreague inlet in Horseshoe Lead.

    The holding ground is variable. The best anchorage near the inlet is in the cove behind the old Parramore Beach Life Saving Service Station. The holding is tricky at first, as the bottom is littered with oyster shells, but once you work around that, the clay under it is medium hard and very sticky. Getting your hook back in the morning, after a blow, can be a battle... which is a good thing, really. Do not approach the station from the center of the channel (Horseshoe Lead) but hug the eastern shore (there is a 4- to 5-foot shoal between the center of the lead and the island, but there is a 15-foot channel connecting to the inlet lying close to the island.

    The first time we visited Wachapreague, just my daughter and I and our Stiletto catamaran, we stretched out on the on the trampoline and watched the stars late into a perfect night. This time, as soon as we began to slow to drop anchor, a horde of green head flies descended upon us; never have we installed all our screens to swiftly and smoothly. And just as swiftly, that horde moved on, leaving us in peace. We did a little shoreline exploration by tender; however, Parramore Island is owned by the Nature Conservancy and is not open for public visitation, so we justed waded along the beaches.

    NEVER use a grill while up wind of bug-infested marshes. Eat a cold dinner in such locations, or at lease one that creates a minimal plume. Normally, so long as you anchor at least 200 feet from the marsh, the bugs will leave you alone; they do not hunt over water. I knew this, but forgot. As soon as the smoke from our sizzling hamburgers reached the marsh, you would've thought I'd rung a dinner bell. So many mosquitoes arrived, that our boat turned gray with mosquitoes, roused into a feeding frenzy. They tested every crack in our bug screens and through the smallest hole of holes, dozens found their way in.  (Note from the wife - Dozens?  HA!  Hundreds.  Jessica and I bear the scars!)

    There was a scallop boat on the beach 1/2 mile north of the inlet, but I was told that was the result of  sleeping with the autopilot on and not weather or shoals.

    Days 6-9. Wachapreague to Chincoteague
    Leaving in the morning, the tide was flooding at every bit of 4 knots. The wind was light and from the north, but I set sails anyway, even if the speed and direction were not efficient; it was a nice day, few waves, with only a pleasant swell from the north east. Chincoteague was not far and we'd made an early start.

    Disaster. After 20 minutes of pleasant sailing I got the bright idea that I could re-set the salon table, which had been used for sleeping the night before (the salon is cooler than the cabins), by myself, without help. I've done it many times. Of course, those times I was probably less tired and those times I cleared everything off the table and out of the way first.  This time I didn't, I assumed a contorted body position, the table jammed part way up, and a powerful muscle spasm knocked me to the floor.  I should've known better. This happens to me every few years, sometimes from doing something stupid and sometimes as a result of sleeping on too many poor hotel mattresses and sleeping into too many airline seats.

    I called out and roused my daughter; she was awake anyway, reading in her cabin. I explained the situation - she's seen me lay low for a week at a time with muscle spasms before - and we discussed the plan of attack. I gradually worked my way up from the floor to the cockpit and worked with Jessica to lower sails and start the engines.  I showed her on the charts of the plotter where we were, and where we were heading.  She's been to Chincoteague before and had actually piloted the inlet the last time, as I manned the binoculars picking out navigation aids at twilight.  And so, Jessica made a perfectly calm and routine passage from Wachapreague to Chincoteague with very little input from her father. I was proud.  And thankful.

    Of course, by the time we got to Chincoteague and had to dock (in a 3-knot tide - I managed the maneuvering, as I wouldn't wish it on a beginner), the muscles begun to stiffen up again.  However, Jessica knows the tie-up and fender drill fairly well and did a great job with minimal guidance.  As lines and fenders needed adjusted through the change of tide, she hopped to it without any urging. She did great.

    We stayed in Chincoteague for 2 rest days, as I was up to very little. I never walked more than 100 yards from the boat and spent most of my time reading and adjusting my heating pad. I didn't even go to the 2nd floor of the library; there were stairs.

    Day 10. Chincoteague to Cape May.
    While it is certainly feasible to stop in Ocean City, as a family we don't like the place much, and so we made the passage from Chincoteague without stopping. There was little wind until we reached the Delaware Bay, and so we motored endlessly.  It was just as well; Jessica might be over her head handling sails and navigation in a breeze and I was not up to much. A nice beam wind arrived on the Delaware; simply unfurling the genoa was enough and easily done.

    Second fire. About and hour out of Chincoteague, the smell of smoke filled the salon; every sailors nightmare, as there is nowhere to go. Immediately, all hands were search and sniffing, tearing the cabin apart and checking every hold. The culprit? Another Hella Turbo. We clipped the wires and sailed on (the fan was replaced in Cape May). For a few minutes, my back was ignored; adrenalin is like that.

    We could have anchored out, but all things considered a marina seemed a good choice.  South Jersey Marina is expensive, but they do make everything easy and I needed easy. Dock hands to tie you up. Showers and laundry on the second floor. Fresh fruit and a news paper on your step every morning. Fueling at your tie-up. Several restaurants within 100 yards. Big bill.

    Days 11-17. Cape May
    Family vacation. The first few days we only had one hotel room reserved, so we stayed on the boat. It was smoking hot, but we do have AC and so that was cozy. By this time I could walk a little bit and riding a bicycle was becoming reasonable.

    Or course, we were sharing the dock with a 145-foot motor yacht, so we represented the slums of this marina. Across from him was a smaller megayacht, still so large that his tender (22-foot center console fishing boat) was large enough to rate a separate slip!

    The second morning I felt well enough to take my bicycle out and make a few stops. The Sea Gear store across the street and east a few blocks caters to commercial fishermen and stocks interesting  foul weather gear and gloves. My favorite winter sailing gloves came from there; a heavily insulated variation on the Atlas Fit gloves. I stopped at Utches Marina to look at the boats and to look across the harbor; I reasoned Zero-to-Cruising might be anchored out there. They too own a PDQ 32, but have cruising plans far greater than ours - they are headed south from Canada to destinations unknown for an open-ended period.  I knew they had left New York City within the past week. To my surprise, while walking out the transient dock, I ran into Rebecca, a sailor I knew only from her blog (  She was clearly more surprised than I was; she was focused on hauling laundry to the nearest laundromat while I half expected to see her, or rather her boat. I spent the next hour visiting with Mike an Rebeca on their boat, cruisers I knew only through the Internet, but who had become friends through the frequent exchange of ideas and tips. My daughter joined us a while later - she'd been wandering the town on her own and chased me down. It was nice morning.

    The balance of the time passed quickly enough. Catching up with friends and enjoying standard beach stuff. I spent too much of it on my back, resting strained muscles.

    Like every late summer Delmarva trip, at some point a hurricane becomes part of the plan. Earl was forecast to become a Cat 4 hurricane and pass near the mid-Atlantic coast. Because of this, we left Cape May a day earlier than we had hoped. But our planning anticipates such events.

    Day 18. Cape May to Chesapeake City
    Again, no wind, except for a few hours of 5- to 6-knot spinnaker reaching near the head of the bay.We motored sort of a crooked path up the lower Delaware, stopping to photograph lighthouses and visiting with pods of dolphins. Later, I met up with a sailor who wondered if I was the one he saw sailing an erratic course up the Delaware; he wondered why. I explained that I maintain a guide to the Delmarva and that I often sail a strange path, when there are specific sites or chart markings that raise my curiosity; I don't like to write about things of which I am not completely sure. He explained that he had made friends with another couple with a similar boat in the New York Canal system (Zero-to-Cruising, of course, on their way south from Canada and the Lakes). It seems there are never more than a few degrees of separation between sailors; everyone passes the same ways, eventually.

    14-Foot Bank Light, Lower Delaware Bay

    The Canal Creamery, located in a small hut near the Chesapeake City town dock, is a highlight, mostly because they have limited hours and I am always craving ice cream after a run up the Delaware. This day they were open, Jessica selected several scoops of something very rich and I enjoyed a root beer float.

    Be warned; Friday and Saturday are loud at the Chesapeake Inn and you will not sleep early. Wednesdays they also have live bands, but they have to quit by 10:00 pm. It's quieter then and a fun scene, if you like the sound.

    Day 19. Chesapeake City to Bodkin Creek
    The wind was a steady 15 knots out of the south, which is not exactly which are looking forward to heading south.  Although we were originally headed for Rock Hall, we got pushed to the west by a wind shift and were tired of sailing after we crossed Patapsco. Bodkin Creek made a very nice stopping point, only a few minutes off the main course of the Bay and thus a good stopping point for any cruiser trying to make time down the Bay. We anchored on the north side tucked into a wooded cove just as the creek split in 2. Nice.

    It was a wonderful, cool evening, my daughter and I lay on trampoline for some time, staring at the stars. Those rare perfect hours can make a lot of challenging times worthwhile. I think the other thing that made the evening special to me, was that it was the first time in 10 days that my back had not limited my activities; oh, to be human again.

    A third Hella Turbo failed, the bearings starting to squeak and the low speed not functioning properly. Another potential fire source? I laid the wires off.

    Day 20. Bodkin Creek to Deale
    The best pure sailing day of the trip. After a brief period of 10 to 15 knot winds in the morning, the breeze filled into a steady 20 knots in the direction we were headed. In fact, it was the first time I'ld ever run wing and wing for more than a few minutes. Performance catamarans, like the Stiletto and Prindle I had owned before, are so much faster on a broad reach than running that I had always jibed my way down wind. However, in lining up to go under the route 50 bridge I forced to go straight down wind... and I liked it. My back liked the motion--smooth as glass. I moved the jib lead forward to an appropriate spot and rigged preventer on the boom using a turning block and the spinnaker sheet. We ran that way, straight down the Bay for over four hours, at a steady 8 to 10 knots. That held us at just about wave speed and produced a ride so smooth a full glass of water on the deck would not have spilled a drop. The down side? In a lesser wind I would have been bored and it was perhaps a bit slower. On a hot day the absence of apparent wind would have been painful, and the sails might not have stayed so full. Still, another arrow in the quiver is a good thing.

    Eventually, we had to jibe the genoa across and come onto a broad reach to go home. Shoal Survivor became a wild thing, flying down the Bay 12 to 14 knots and requiring an aggressive hand on the wheel. She reminded me of my Stiletto and almost of beach cat, full of the feel that is absent in mild conditions. We just blew buy a pair of 50-foot monohulls, a cat doing what it does best, reaching without the limitation of hull speed. Even so, within 20 minutes we elected to roll in a bit of the jib, to match the reefed mainsail. She was tamed, still reaching at over 10 knots, no longer smashing through waves but rather matching their pace down the Bay.

    We had nearly exausted the bateries after two nights at anchor, and in spite of extreme power conservation measures during the day--no autopilot, hand-steering and enjoying it--there was not enough electricity to start the engines.  Fortunately, the outboard engines that power PDQ catamarans are easily pull-started using an emergency starting cable (tip: tilt the engines up enough to pull a straight and give the carburetor intake a puff of starting fluid so that it is inclined to catch on the first pull).

    And so we reached Deale and spent the afternoon unpacking, cleaning, and looking forward to sleeping in a big house with big beds and big AC; not that our house is big, rather cruising boats on my budget certainly are not.

    The 2 remaining Hella fans will be replaced as soon as they come in. They are currently removed from service.


    1. It was great meeting up with you and Jessica!

    2. Day 20 sounds like one that will stay in the memory banks a long time.

    3. Hmmm... Maybe the Hella fans should all go overboard.

      I think it is really cool that you were able to connect with the ZTC crew. Sounds like a great trip (injuries notwithstanding)!


    4. Nice trip report. Hope your back is better. We saw Mike and Rebecca in St Michaels. Hope to see you in Oct at the Friday night PDQ cookout, or before at the SSCA GAM or such. Eric

    5. I've read this several times. Your daughter will fondly remember this trip for the rest of her life.