Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fun with River Rat: Solomons Island & St. Michaels, MD

Monday, June 21 - Monday, June 28, 2010
What a great week we've had! Friends Carl & Debi from River Rat took a week off to go sailing, so we met up in Solomons and spent a few days together. We left Annapolis on Monday morning for the 25nm trip to our anchorage in the mouth of the Little Choptank River behind James Island. Some of you might be thinking, "what were you doing anchoring in the mouth of a river...with no land protection...where it could get really bouncy?" We were asking ourselves the same thing all night! All we can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. When we first arrived, the winds were forecasted to be below 5 knots and the river looked like a lake. We even thought about going for a swim until we saw our first Chesapeake Bay jellyfish surrounding the boat. We had a gorgeous, calm evening right up until we hit the sack...and then, the swells started coming in. There was still no wind, so all we can think of is that there was commercial traffic out in the bay that created wakes into our anchorage. A stretch, we know, but we had a miserable night's sleep! That'll teach us for trying to save time by skipping the protected anchorage 5 miles upriver... Bleary-eyed, we hauled up the anchor the next morning and made it the rest of the way to Solomons around lunch time. The Chesapeake was going through one of its hot spells that we'd heard so much about (mid-90s with a heat index of 105), so Debi spent the morning going to hotels and marinas trying to find someone who offered a "day pass" for the use of a swimming pool. Success! Within an hour of dropping the hook in Back Creek, we were all on our way to a marina in Solomons Harbor for some much-needed cooling off time in the pool. (Best $5 ever spent!) We managed to burn ourselves to a crisp, but it was soooo worth it. That evening, Carl & Debi invited us to dinner on their air-conditioned boat. We had a fantastic meal (pasta with clam sauce...yum!), but the evening ended abruptly as a massive thunderstorm rolled into the area. Rene stood in the cockpit trying not to touch any metal as lightning touched down all around us. Carl, likewise, was keeping watch in River Rat's cockpit with the engine running...just in case anyone got into an anchor-dragging situation thanks to the 35+ knot winds! (Author's note: I've seen some incredible lightning storms in Florida and Texas that light up the entire sky, but I've never seen so many ground bolts in a 15-minute period. And they tell us this is the norm in the Chesapeake...yikes!)

The next morning the four of us hopped on our bikes for a tour around town. Solomons is a quaint little town with old homes, lovely gardens, and beautiful views of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. That morning, however, there was also plenty of storm damage from the previous night: trees knocked over and up against houses, branches in yards and on sidewalks, etc. Fortunately the damage seemed to be limited to a relatively small area, while the rest of the island remained untouched. Back on our tour, we biked past Solomons Pier and Kim's Key Lime Pies and Coffee - a great spot that warranted a stop for iced coffee and a sampling of the pie (we MUST go back!). Besides Kim's (which is a good enough reason to visit Solomons on its own), there's a West Marine, a gourmet grocery store, and plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance of most dinghy docks. What a terrific place for spending a few days! After our bike tour, we debated spending the afternoon in the Maritime Museum vs. going back to the pool. None of us needed more sun, but we were so hot that we weren't sure simple air conditioning would be enough. The pool won, and we were soon back at our favorite marina. Later that afternoon, some cruising friends of Carl & Debi arrived in Solomons, and we enjoyed dinner together at the Solomon's Pier Restaurant. We decided to leave Solomons for a new destination the following day, but we'll definitely come back on our way to the Potomac.

Thursday morning we followed River Rat to San Domingo Creek on the Choptank River, otherwise known as the "back door" to St. Michaels. It's much closer than going up to the main entrance of St. Michaels off Eastern Bay, and there's a gorgeous anchorage with a dinghy dock three blocks from downtown. The light winds made for a slow sail, and we gunned the engine around 3pm when Carl's satellite weather warned us of a huge storm heading our way. After our Solomons experience, we weren't looking forward to another one! Somehow we got lucky - the worst of the storm cells passed to the north and south of us. We got some wind and a 15-minute downpour, but none of the 50-kt gusts and lightning that were forecasted.

Friday we biked around the city, ending up at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. We were talking to the owner of a beautifully-restored 1942 Chris Craft when a guy walked up to us and introduced himself as the captain of the skipjack Herman M. Krentz. His cruise was boarding in five minutes and he recommended we grab a cold drink to bring with us. But...ummm...we didn't pay for a cruise! Not to worry, he told us that this was included in the entrance fee for the day since the scheduled exhibit wasn't available. Looking quite confused, we wandered over to the boat and hopped on for what turned out to be a 2-hour cruise of the harbor. What a treat! We learned about the area and it's history of oyster fishing, and our captain was incredibly knowledgeable about geology and the various incarnations of the Chesapeake Bay. In all honesty, though, we had no idea we'd be gone for so long. By the time we got back to the marina, our tummies were growling! We tried for lunch at the nearby Crab Claw restaurant, only to discover they didn't accept credit cards. Huh??? Next up was Foxy's, an outdoor bar/restaurant at the St. Michaels Marina. The food was terrific, and we were soon back at the museum to see the remaining exhibits.

We had decided to host a farewell dinner on Pipe Muh Bligh that evening since Carl and Debi had to head back home the next morning. Arriving back at the boat, we had quite a show from our new neighbors: apparently there was a Hinkley happy hour event happening, and there were 7 Hinkleys rafted together in the anchorage. Blue hulls, beige hulls, red hulls, green hulls...all side by side swaying in unison. It was quite a sight, especially when they broke up the raft and one of the boats went aground on the 2' shoal behind us! Rene and Carl zoomed off in their dinghies to save the day, while Debi and Stacy stayed on board to finish making dinner (and to sample more of the wine!).

We had a fabulous time with Debi and Carl, and really hated to see them go. We stuck around St. Michaels for a few more days to watch the World Cup (GO HOLLAND!!), and became fixtures at the Carpenter Street Saloon during game time. Before you get the wrong idea, they do serve breakfast and coffee at the bar for those 10:30am games! Next up, we'll explore more of the Eastern Shore before heading up the Potomac for Washington, D.C. 'Til next time!

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Beautiful Annapolis, MD

Friday, June 11 - Sunday, June 20, 2010
It's official...we LOVE Annapolis! We've spent 10 days here and really don't want to leave. We had a gorgeous sail up from Solomon's Island, with westerly 10-15 knot winds that piped up to 20+ at times. We've taken a US Navy mooring ball in Weems Creek, which is about a mile up the Severn River past the Annapolis waterfront. Cruisers are allowed ("condoned" may be more accurate) to use the USN balls on a first come, first served basis. If a hurricane comes, the Navy will boot you off so they can tie up their patrol boats. Even if you can't get a ball, the holding is good in this beautiful, protected anchorage. There's a dinghy beach nearby, and it's only three blocks to a grocery store, laundromat, bakery, bus stop, drug store, and liquor store. Best of all, it's an easy 20-30 minute walk to downtown Annapolis.

We've spent the first part of our stay here with Rick and Linda (Sojourner), who are in town for a few days before making the 300+ mile trip up to Long Island Sound. It's given us a chance to meet their friends, John and Sandy, on Moonstruck, as well as their land-based friends, Skip and Betsy, who own a home on Weems Creek and look forward to the day they can quit their jobs to go cruising with the rest of us. Rick and Linda have been great hosts as usual, showing us the ropes and taking us on tours of different parts of the city. We've been blown away by the cruiser-friendliness of this town, which certainly deserves it's reputation as "Sailing Capital of the World"!

Our first full day in Annapolis required a tour of the neighborhood near the anchorage as well as a walk into town. Rick and Linda showed us a few of their favorite shops, and hosted happy hour on Sojourner that evening. We got to meet some other cruising friends of theirs, Dave and Lisa, on the catamaran Hullabaloo. They're a lot of fun, and we hope to stop in to see them if we make it up to the Magothy River.

The next day, we had a very serious goal in mind: find a bar with a TV that was showing the World Cup games! We tied up to Skip and Betsy's dock and walked to their neighborhood bar, Heroes. Having been told to expect a little hole-in-the-wall bar, we were blown away by their 50+ draught beer selections. This was our kind of place! We watched the US-England match with Rick, and came back with the rest of the gang for dinner that night. It was a fun spot, and we managed to watch a couple more soccer games there before our trip was done.

Sunday Rick & Linda took us on a bus tour of greater Annapolis. We hopped on the Gold B route to Westfield mall, a huge shopping complex complete with shops, restaurants, a cinema, and AIR CONDITIONING! After spending a few hours in the mall, we got on the "wrong" bus back home. It worked in our favor, because we drove past quite a few more stores that we'd have to go visit before leaving Annapolis. :-) Monday brought a dinghy ride to the head of Weems Creek followed by a short walk to Bacon's, a boating re-sale shop. We had a similar shop in Kemah, but it wasn't nearly as large as this one. We found some great buys, and felt we deserved a reward after all of our hard was time for Mexican food and margaritas at El Toro Bravo in downtown Annapolis! The day ended with yet another boater happy hour...this time on Frank and Joanne's boat, Fantasy Island. Rick and Linda met Frank and Joanne a few years ago, and they just happened to be in Weems Creek with us this week. Frank and Joanne invited a few cruisers over from the anchorage, which allowed us to meet John and Eve on Always and Warren and Bobbi on Grand Eagle. As usual, if a bunch of cruisers are in an anchorage together for a few days, you'll always have a party!

The touring continued on Tuesday with a walk into downtown Annapolis to do some recon work for Rene's mom's visit, plus a walking/photo tour of the city. We rented audio players from History Quest (near Ego Alley), and spent the day wandering around town learning about the city. We ate lunch at the historic Reynolds Tavern, built in 1737 and serving continually since 1742. Lunch was great, but what really caught our attention was the three-tiered plate of high-tea scones, finger sandwiches, and pastries. We're going back! That evening, we enjoyed a final happy hour with Rick & Linda, who were heading north to Long Island Sound the next morning.

The rest of the week involved boat chores, a happy hour with Skip on his boat, a happy hour with Always, Grand Eagle, and Skip on our boat, and dinner at a fantastic French bistro with Skip and Betsy. We really enjoyed getting to know Skip and Betsy, and look forward to seeing them again when we return to Annapolis later this summer. In the meantime, we've heard from our friends on River Rat that they're coming up for a week-long sail. We'll head out in the morning to meet up with them...destination to be determined!

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Norfolk & Points North

Sunday, May 30 - Thursday, June 10, 2010
We've made it! We arrived in Norfolk Sunday afternoon and anchored off Hospital Point, near ICW Mile Marker Zero. What a feeling! To think we were reviewing anchorages near MM1050 last year, it's pretty exciting to see "MM Zero" on our charts now. The trip up from Kill Devil Hills was uneventful, although it did involve our very first trip through a lock. The Great Bridge Lock is about 12 miles south of Norfolk, and raises/lowers the water levels 2-3'. We followed another boat in, tied to the starboard wall with the help of a lock employee, and were northbound again after about 20 minutes. Piece of cake... "-) We were anxious to get up to Deltaville to see friends Rick and Linda, but decided to spend an extra day in Norfolk to get a movie and mall fix. Norfolk has a free dinghy dock at the bow of the Battleship Wisconsin, and the mall (complete with cinema) is just two blocks from the waterfront. Most of the downtown shops were closed as we walked down the street on Memorial Day, but the mall was open...and air-conditioned! We had a fun day ashore and plan to spend more time here when we head south later this summer.

Tuesday we made the 50-mile trip up to Deltaville, NC, known as a mecca for cruisers. There are plenty of boat yards that will haul your boat out of the water, power wash the hull, and either re-splash it or put it on blocks for repairs. Rick & Linda have had Sojourner on the hard for the past month while they attended their daughter's wedding in Texas, and they tell us that the Deltaville Boat Yard and Marina is like their second home while on the Chesapeake. What a terrific place! The marina offers a "usage fee" where cruisers at the yard or in the anchorage can pay a daily, weekly, or monthly fee, and use all of the marina amenities. They have showers, laundry, an air-conditioned lounge, bikes, a courtesy car, dinghy dock, pool, etc. The longer you stay, the cheaper it gets. If you stay 4+ days, it's best to sign up for a week. For anything longer than a week, go ahead and sign up for a month. The rates are so reasonable that it has us thinking about getting hauled out later this summer to do a bottom job (power-wash, sanding, paint, wax) before we head south. Anyway, we anchored off the boat yard and were met at the dinghy dock by Rick. Rick gave us a tour of the marina, and we soon found Linda waxing Sojourner's hull in anticipation of getting "splashed" (put back in the water) the next day. We enjoyed dinner on Sojourner that night, and rode the marina bikes around town the next day. It really is a haven for cruisers; there are two West Marines, a hardware store, two NAPAs, a grocery store, restaurants, and a family-run produce stand all within two miles of the marina.

Thursday was reunion day with the arrival of Debi & Carl from River Rat and Dave from Southern Heat. It's pretty incredible to think back on all of the incredible friends that we made in the Bahamas last winter; it's even better to see them again in the Chesapeake! It turns out that Debi & Carl live near Deltaville, and Dave was in the area visiting friends. It gave us a perfect opportunity to get together for dinner, and Dave even spent the night with us on the boat. Not that the fun stopped there...Debi & Carl invited us all to their home north of Deltaville for the weekend. They live on the water and have a prime anchoring spot in front of the house. Road trip!

Even though it's been nearly 16 months since we left Kemah, we're still reminded that there's just something about people from Texas! Rick & Linda (who happen to be from Dallas) were telling us about a man who retired in Deltaville from Texas four years ago, and lives in one of the homes flanking the anchorage. He stopped by Sojourner last year to introduce himself after seeing the Texas flag flying, and invited Rick & Linda to his home for cocktails. This same gentleman saw "Kemah, TX" on our boat, and we soon found ourselves invited to happy hour on our last night in Deltaville. Bill and his wife, Mary, have a boathouse on their dock that makes for a fantastic entertaining spot. They hosted 5-6 boats from the anchorage, and we had a great time meeting our neighbors.

It was finally time to leave Deltaville, and we joined Sojourner and their friends, Dean and Nancy (from Pegasus), at the home of Carl, Debi, and Hannah-cat in Yopps Cove. For those of you who've forgotten, we first met Carl & Debi in the Bahamas when we dragged anchor into their boat, River Rat, during the wind storm in Green Turtle. Thankfully they're not ones to hold a grudge, and invited us all to anchor off their dock and spend the day with them. Talk about hospitality! There's something truly special about visiting fellow cruisers in their land-based homes, and they know what's really important to those of us still on our boats: laundry and air-conditioning! Carl and Debi were warm and gracious hosts and it was great to see them again. Dinner was fantastic as well...kudos to Rick and Linda for the spaghetti and salad, and Debi made a wonderful chicken curry salad and an amazing turtle cheesecake. She even shared the recipes, so we'll see how easy it is to make in the boat galley. :-) Since we're staying in the Chesapeake this summer, we're hoping to meet up with Carl & Debi again in a gorgeous anchorage somewhere. We'll see them soon!

Monday morning we headed towards Annapolis, 80-90 miles to the north. Wouldn't you know, the winds were strong and dead on the nose...not the best conditions for Chesapeake Bay! Rather than continue to fight the waves (we already had one very seasick pussy cat), we called it a day and anchored off the entrance channel to Reedville, VA. Reedville is best known as the home of an oh-so-fragrant fish processing plant. When the winds are "right" (and boy, were they ever), there isn't an anchorage spot in a 3-mile radius that's safe! Soon after dropping the hook, we were treated to a front row seat of the returning Menhaden fleet; apparently 4pm was quitting time, and over a dozen ships passed us in the nearby channel.

Tuesday, the nightmare continued. After checking in with Rick & Linda, we all agreed to meet up in Solomon's Island. The trip took us across the mouth of the Potomac River, where 20-knot winds fought the currents to produce 3-4' seas (not to mention a couple of 6' whoppers). A few waves slammed into the bow, forcing water through the forward hatch, and some even came through the dodger window into the companionway. It took us about eight hours to get to Solomon's, six of which were pure hell. On the plus side, we had a wonderful surprise waiting for us in Solomon's. Ian and Sharon from Celtic Cross were anchored nearby! We'd missed them when they came through Fernandina Beach (our boat was there but we were in Houston), so we were thrilled to see them again.

The plan was to continue up to Annapolis with Rick and Linda the following morning, but we called for a mandatory rest day. Besides, the weather forecast was for thunderstorms throughout the day...why put ourselves and the kids through another hell trip? We ended up staying in Solomon's for an extra night, anchored near the Holiday Inn at the head of Back Creek. The Holiday Inn offered a $2/day dinghy dock that was close to a gourmet grocery store, a liquor store, and a West Marine. It was a convenient spot, but next time we'll probably anchor closer to the touristy part of town. That's the beauty of this area - there's always a nice quiet anchorage if you want one, or you can put yourself in the middle of the action. Take your pick!

We finally made it up to Annapolis, MD, Thursday afternoon. We had a gorgeous day and good winds, and even managed to find an empty mooring ball in Weems Creek with our name on it. Something tells us we're going to be staying here for awhile! But that's for another chapter...

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New Territory: Heading Up the North Carolina Coast

Tuesday, May 11 - Saturday, May 29, 2010 about falling behind on the blogging! May has somehow managed to disappear on us, so we'll try to cover the past three weeks in one sitting.

First the big news: we've finally gone beyond Charleston, our northern-most point for 2009. We're in virgin territory, baby! Granted, the trip to leave our comfort zone didn't exactly begin smoothly. We left Charleston before 8am to take advantage of the ebb tide (the outgoing current would help push us out of the inlet into the Atlantic). Unfortunately, the 15-20kt winds were against the current, pushing a ton of water into the relatively small space between the Charleston jetties. We were rocked back and forth in 6-10' seas for 3-4 miles. The furry kids got sick before we ever left the jetties, and we were really wondering whether we were making the right decision to leave. Would the waves be like this all the way to the Cape Fear inlet, 24 hours away? Two other sailboats came into the inlet as we were leaving; we thought we had it bad going against the waves, but they were much worse off going against the current. One boat was at least 50' long and had a powerful engine. He didn't go very fast, but at least he made headway. The second boat was older, maybe 30' long, and had a lot more trouble fighting the current. An hour after passing us, he looked to be in the same position from where we left him.

Fortunately, the worst of it was limited to the channel, and the seas calmed to 3-5' once we were away from the inlet. Although the winds played with us a bit - too much east, then not enough east - we had enough to keep at least one sail up for most of the trip. We arrived at the Southport Marina in time for lunch, boat cleaning, and a much-needed nap. Considering it was the first time we had access to a water hose in 6+ months, we gave Pipe Muh Bligh a well-deserved bath. Afterward, we walked around the city past charming homes over a century old; people were working in their gardens or swinging on porches, and everyone said hello as we walked by. Southport has a laid-back feel about it. It's a town full of history but isn't as "showy" about it as some of her neighbors. We ended our first night in a local waterfront cafe, visiting with another cruising couple that we'd first met in the Bahamas. The next day we took a more extensive bike tour of the city and finished the evening at a recommended spot, the Pharmacy Restaurant. Fantastic!

The next morning we left Southport at 6:45am (yuck!) to insure that we had plenty of water and the current at our back for the 25nm trip to Wrightsville Beach. It was an easy 6-hour trip, and we anchored near the bridge and dinghy dock with 5-6 other boats. The cruising guide warned of poor holding in the area, and recommended using our Danforth anchor (typically used as our secondary anchor). We spent the first day on the boat to make sure our anchor held, and headed to the beach for a tour and lunch the following day. After lunch, we began walking across the bridge towards town, and noticed a local boat rafted up with Pipe Muh Bligh. There was also a Tow Boat US boat rafted up with the boat behind us...never a good sign! Not knowing whether someone was trying to board our boat or if someone was dragging into us, Rene made a run for the dinghy dock and left Stacy behind. He raced out to Pipe and was quickly informed that WE were the ones who were dragging, and had already bumped into the boat anchored behind us. Rene managed to get Pipe's engine started, and another couple saw the frantic look on Stacy's face back at the dinghy dock and gave her a ride out to our boat. With both of us on Pipe, Tow Boat US got us away from the nearby docks and into deeper water. We re-anchored, gave our Tow Boat US information (thank goodness for unlimited coverage!), and settled in to watch and wait: would we stay put, or would our anchor come loose again? Rene made a circuit in the dinghy to check on the boat we hit (fortunately, no damage done) and to thank the couple from Hawthorne Rose for bringing Stacy back to the boat. We managed to stay put overnight, but it was like pulling teeth convincing Stacy to get off the boat the next morning. Still, we wanted to go for a walk and see the beach. Since we had changed back to our trusty Delta anchor, we figured we should be pretty safe. We walked across the bridge towards town, turned around when we hadn't seen any interesting shops after a mile, and ended up on the beach. Not terribly impressive! The sand was grey and rocky, and the beach was crowded. Our cruising guide was much kinder to Wrightsville Beach than we were, and we'll likely skip it on our way south.

We left Wrightsville Beach that evening for an overnight trip to Beaufort, NC. The trip is only 70nm, and is doable in a day if the winds and waves work with you. We weren't sure if we'd be so lucky, and decided an overnight cruise would be more prudent to insure a daylight arrival at the inlet. Good thing we did, because it ended up taking us about 15 hours to get there. We made it through the inlet and up the channel to Beaufort, but couldn't find enough space to anchor in Taylor Creek across from the Beaufort waterfront. Tired and frustrated, we tried to decide whether to chance the reportedly poor holding in Town Creek or go to the next anchorage 30nm away and forgo Beaufort entirely. Neither of us wanted to face another 5-6 hours of travel, so we decided to drop the hook off the marina in Town Creek. Rene got a good snub on the anchor chain, and we decided to call it a day.

We hoped a nap would energize us enough to see the town that evening, but rain showers kept us aboard. We dinghied to the waterfront the next day for lunch and a walk to the local grocery store, and ran into the couple from Hawthorne Rose who had brought Stacy back to Pipe during the Wrightsville Beach dragging episode. (Just a reminder of how small the cruising world is!) Wednesday was our day to play tourist, taking a ride on the red double-decker English bus around town to see the historic homes and buildings. We later stopped off at the NC Maritime Museum to learn about Beaufort's most famous pirate, Blackbeard, and to watch the boat-building exhibit across the street.

Thursday we began the two-day trip to Kill Devil Hills, NC, to visit friends Dave & Camilla from Southern Heat. Dave & Camilla live in a beautiful canal community called Collington Harbor, and arranged for us to stay at their neighbor's dock. They met us at the outer marker in their sailboat and led us through the jetties to the dock. One problem...we hit a shallow spot between the jetties and held fast for a few minutes. A nor'easter was on its way, and water levels had dropped half a foot in less than an hour. We made it to the dock and got ourselves tied up, but soon realized our 2-day visit might be extended until the winds shifted and water levels came back up. Dave & Camilla were fantastic hosts and showed us around Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Manteo, and Nag's Head. We saw the beaches, Oregon Inlet, and the Wright Brothers Memorial. (Interesting fact: the Wright brothers made their first flight in Kill Devil Hills, not Kitty Hawk.) We also got to meet their friends, Sandy & Rankin, who have been cruising throughout the Caribbean for the past 8 years. We had a terrific time, and ended up spending a week with them before the water came back into the canals on Saturday. It was finally time to say good-bye, and we held our breath as we motored through the jetties. Good news: we didn't touch bottom!

On a positive note, Kill Devil Hills is less than 80nm from Norfolk, VA, and the start of the Chesapeake. We're nearly there!

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