My loving spouse of nearly a half-century has informed me that an overnighter is just fine. But, anything longer is out of the question. Seems as if every time I put together a trip of 4 to 7 days, the weather turns to crap and we end up getting caught in a nasty storm. The last time this happened was just a few months ago. The trip was from Perryville, MD to Oxford, MD, with stops along the way and a few overnight anchorages.
The first night, after sailing about 35 miles, we dropped anchor in Fairlee Creek. It was a comfortable place to spend the night, light winds, no bugs, and I grilled a couple steaks and steamed some vegetables.
We slept late, pulled the anchor at about 10 a.m., and headed down the bay to meet with friends at Kent Narrows for a late lunch. Lunch was outstanding, and we left Kent Narrows at about 2:30 that afternoon. As the sun began to get low we passed through Napps Narrows in a very strong tidal current. Kinda' scary because the bridge attendant was not answering the radio and I wasn't sure we had sufficient power to fight the current dragging us slowly toward the bridge. After the bridge opened, we zipped out into the darkness of the Choptank River's lower reaches on a bright, moonlit night.
Now you would think this would be a beautiful setting for a romantic cruise--not a prayer. Turns out my wife is petrified about sailing in the dark. Her words were along the lines of "What the Hell were you thinking. You can't see anything other than the lights on the shore and we're probably going to hit something and die out here in the darkness."
Nothing I said or did could reassure her that I had things under control and knew exactly where I was. We entered Broad Creek, ducked in behind a sandbar and dropped the hook at 8 p.m.. I fixed supper, then climbed onto the foredeck to take a shower with the solar shower. I rigged the shower for her in the cockpit, but she was reluctant to use it, fearing that someone may see her. Bear in mind that we were more than a half-mile from shore in total darkness. She reluctantly stripped down, climbed into the cockpit, lathered up and let out with a scream that could probably be heard in Baltimore. "There's a boat coming and he has a spotlight!" The boat was at least 1/2-mile away and his spotlight was scanning the water for day markers. After the boat left the area she rinsed off the soap, but by that time the water in the solar shower had cooled a bit. She was NOT happy.
At 5:00 a.m. the following morning, the local, commercial crabbers let us know that were were anchored where they like to set their trot-lines for crabs. The laid their lines with 6-feet of our boat, then cranked up their CB radios to ear-bleed volumes as they passed as close to use as possible. My wife feared the watermen would do something to our boat, and possibly harm us as well. (some of them can be a bit on the nasty side.)
By 6 a.m., after a couple breakfast bars, we were motoring east up the Choptank River in dead calm conditions. It was a relaxing trip until we reached the mouth of the Tred Avon River, at which point a small pin came loose from the steering wheel shaft. When I told her we just lost our steering she panicked. I put the engine in neutral, went into the cabin and grabbed the emergency tiller, and in less time than it took to type this sentence we were underway.
I got on the handheld VHF, called Oxford Boat Yard and told them I lost my steering and asked if they could help. The voice at the other end said "No problem. Just bring the boat to the dock next to the travel lift and I'll be there to meet you." The mechanics there were the best of the best, knew exactly what to do, and even had to make a part to replace a key that had broken. By noon that day they had the boat repaired, we had lunch with an old friend, then had dinner with my cousin and returned to the boat about an hour before sundown.
We had a great wind, sailed down the Choptank and watched a beautiful sunset as we cruised toward the river's mouth. The moon was still full, but a bit late rising, which caused the night-sailing phobia to kick in a bit early. She insisted that I find someplace to anchor up ASAP, but she did NOT want me to go back into Broad Creek because of the previous night's experience.
I headed out of the river, traveled west to where I was in deep water where I figured I would be away from any crab pots. The one thing I didn't count on was a pound net that was unlit and extended more than a mile from shore. If it had not been for the full moon that night I would have nailed the stakes right in the middle of the lead. Fortunately, I saw them at the last minute and able to make a hard turn and missed them by a foot or less. The ensuing scream could probably be heard 50 miles away.
I lowered the sails and motored another 10 miles up the bay to Poplar Island where I dropped anchor for the night in the lee of the island. Naturally, the wind shifted and it got a bit bumpy, but I had no trouble sleeping until 4 a.m. when my wife woke me up and told me the boat was on fire. Now that will get your undivided attention.
The boat wasn't on fire, but the smell of smoke was overwhelming. The smoke outside the cabin was so thick you couldn't see more than a couple hundred feet at most. I fixed breakfast, and while wolfing down some eggs and English muffins we discovered the source of the smoke. The early morning news on the boat's flat-screen TV talked about a massive forest fire in the Great Dismal Swamp and the prevailing winds carried the dense smoke right up the middle of Chesapeake Bay. Wonderful.
My wife was still watching TV while I cleaned up the breakfast dishes and said "Take a look at the weather map--it's not pretty." Sure enough, that long range forecast we saw prior to the trip was nothing more than a weatherman's practical joke on sailors. A massive weather system was crossing the mountains of Western Maryland and headed out way. The weather guy said, however, it would not hit until after midnight.
It's about 65 miles from Poplar Island to Perryville, and as soon as I could see well enough to get underway I hauled the anchor and set sail. Most of the time we had a broad reach or were running with winds of about 10 to 12 knots. The sun came into view about 10:30 and just after noon we passed beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridges twin spans. Looked like a beautiful day to sail all the way home and for a change, the winds were in our favor.
As we cruised north the winds begin picking up a bit, averaging about 15 with gusts to 20, but nothing the 33 Morgan Out Island cannot handle with ease. Then the admiral looked west toward the Baltimore sky line, took a deep breath and said "Oh $hit!" The sky was coal black, white caps were kicking up a couple miles away and you could readily see heavy bands of rain associated with the storm. I quickly lowered and secured the main sail, zipped on the dodger, furled the jib about 50 percent, and fired up the Atomic-4. The storm hit us about 40 minutes later.
Fortunately, the winds shifted a bit and were nearly dead south, therefore I put out a full jib and used the motor mainly for steerage control. The handheld anemometer was reading steady winds of 40 MPH with gusts to 52. I figured the storm would be short lived with winds this high, and of course NOAA weather continued to proclaim the storm would not arrive until after midnight.
The boat was skipping along at 8.5 knots ground speed, some of which I'm confident was due to the high winds driving the incoming tide. This would have been great had the wind not driven the rain horizontally into the cockpit and a bimini top leaking like a sieve. Yep, we were pretty wet, even though we had on full rain-gear. None of this seemed to bother my spouse until the thunder boom timing began getting to within a few seconds of the lightning flash. When she saw lightning hit the trees of Aberdeen Proving Ground, which was just a quarter mile to the west, she really got scared.
We reached the dock at Perryville just prior to dark, the tide was dead low and I had a very difficult time getting the boat close enough to the dock to tie up. I buttoned up the boat, left everything onboard, we climbed in the car and drove home. She said "Well, that's a clincher for sure. When you make that trip to the Florida Keys next fall you'll be making it by yourself. I'll fly down and meet you there." Believe me--she wasn't kidding.
Now, I could have planned the trip a bit better and stopped at anchorages before it got dark, but sailing in the dark never bothered me at all, and I didn't realize that she would panic. However, this would NOT had an impact on the steering problem, and we would have still been caught in the storm, which lasted three days and resulted in the Susquehanna River flooding well over its banks for more than a week.
I guess I'll have to plan some shorter trips for next summer, and maybe, with luck, she'll change her mind and make a few of them. If not, I guess I'll be looking for someone else to sail to Florida next fall.