Saturday, July 24, 2010

Playing Tourist in Washington, D.C.

Friday, July 16 - Thursday, July 22, 2010
Picture've sailed (okay, motored) 100 miles up the Potomac from the Chesapeake. As you pass under the newly-completed 75' Woodrow Wilson bridge, you hear the roar of airplane engines taking off and landing at Regan National Airport to port. It's a hazy morning, but you begin to see a familiar shape straight ahead of you...some sort of obelisk that stands out from the rest of the skyline... Yep, it's the Washington Monument! Turning towards the James Creek Marina and our home for the next three nights, we can see the US Capitol behind the marina in the distance. Talk about being in the heart of history. How cool is this?!

Thanks to currents in our favor, we've made it to James Creek Marina in under four hours. They have a very helpful staff, and we're in our slip before noon. We cab it to an urgent care center for a quick doctor's visit (don't worry, Mom!), and take Rene on his first metro ride back home. It's nearly a mile from the nearest metro station to the marina, but Waterfront station will eventually be part of a large retail/residence center that's still in progress. For now, there's a massive Safeway that just opened a few months ago - talk about convenience! We can bike from the marina to Safeway, lock the bikes on the rack by the front door, stop in for a quick Starbucks, and take the metro to the sites. The neighborhood is a bit isolated/dodgy (Pizza Hut won't even deliver here!), but the marina folks have told us where we should and shouldn't go. We'll stick close to the military base and should be fine.

Back on the boat, we have a new neighbor on the fuel dock: a 147' mega-yacht named Fighting Irish. The boat "lives" at another marina, but they've contracted to take on fuel at James Creek...over 9,500 gallons of it! (Anyone else have a $25,000 fuel bill??) The only downside is that James Creek doesn't have a speedy fuel pump; at close to 800 gallons per hour, it takes 12 hours for Irish to fill up. They weren't able to finish up before closing time on Friday and had to come back the next morning. Poor guys - someone actually had to watch the pump the entire time. Talk about a sucky job!

Our D.C. experience really begins on Saturday when we buy a 2-day pass on the Tourmobile, a bus that runs past the museums and memorials and offers on/off privileges. We ride down to the Washington Monument and WWII Memorial for pictures (it's 10am and tickets for the WA Memorial are long gone), and catch another bus back up to the Capitol for our 11:30am tour. We're five minutes late thanks to a long security line, but the woman at the check-in desk takes pity on us and lets us through. After a short film telling us about Congress's history and the hard work they do (go ahead, insert snide remarks here), we line up like cattle for our guided tour. All kidding aside, it really is a beautiful building. The tour starts in the Crypt, a room containing 40 columns that hold the weight of the dome. The room also has an entrance to a tomb that was created for George Washington, who refused the honor in favor of a final resting place at his beloved Mount Vernon. Next on the tour is the Rotunda, where the famous mural, Apotheosis of George Washington, adorns the inside of the capitol dome. Ever wonder what the statue at the top of the dome looks like? You can see the model for the Statue of Freedom in the US Capitol Visitor's Center. The Old Senate Chamber has been renovated to its original splendor, and now contains statues, artwork, and plaques in the floor designating where congressmen-turned-presidents were seated. Finally, an underground passage leads from the Capitol to the Library of Congress. The library has gained some notoriety in recent movies and novels, and we wanted to see what all the hype was about. What a gorgeous building! The primary reading room is off-limits to tourists, but you can view it through plexi-glass on either of two floors.

We manage to spend nearly three hours in the Capitol and Library of Congress, and decide to grab a quick lunch back at Union Station's basement food court. That enables us to hop on another Tourmobile ride around town, giving our tired feet a rest. The Tourmobile takes us through the Mall past the Smithsonian museums, around the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, and across the river to Arlington National Cemetery. We hadn't planned to take the cemetery tour, but a bus is just leaving to view the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Afterward, we catch the last bus back into town, where we grab a metro back to our home base.

It all starts again on Sunday, where we began the day at the Air & Space Museum. Always suckers for planetariums, we watch two shows: "Black Holes" and "Journey to the Stars". Both have incredible effects involving a combination of actual footage and computer models. We also get to see the original Wright Brothers flier, after having seen a replica at the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, NC, a few months back. Air & Space is a massive museum, and our two-hour rush-through doesn't do it justice. Fortunately, many exhibits were a reinforcement of things we've already seen along our journey - Kennedy Space Center in FL, other planetariums, the Wright Brothers memorial, etc. After Air & Space, we walk to the National Archives for a quick viewing of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. Lunch is homemade noodles at Chinatown Express in Chinatown, followed by a tour of the Natural History museum. Run, run, run!

Monday we gave up our marina slip, but found an even better spot anchored in Washington Channel in front of the Capital Yacht Club. We'd been told this was a nice anchorage, but were nervous about starting out here due to the heat, security, etc. We needn't have worried - it's a well-protected spot, and we kept the boat open all day while we toured DC. We had the option to dinghy to either the CYC or the Gangplank Marina, and chose CYC because their GM had been so helpful in trying to find us a slip the week before. We're soooo glad we chose CYC! For $15/day, you get full access to the club and its facilities - dinghy dock, laundry, library, lounge, bar, wireless internet, etc. The people there were incredibly friendly, and we were constantly reminded of our Watergate friends back in Kemah. Live-aboards aren't allowed in Washington DC, so there are a lot of "full time cruisers" in the marinas there. People stop by their mail boxes, which just happen to be next to the bar, on the way home. It becomes a real social center after work, and everyone made us feel right at home. Come to think of it, it's probably a good thing we didn't have a bar on-site at Watergate - we got into enough trouble with our impromptu dock parties!

Tuesday began with an attempt to catch a bus to the American History museum. Easier said than done! After walking to the spot where the DC bus/metro website directed us, we couldn't find a bus stop sign. We waited 20 minutes past the pick-up time and finally gave up. We ended up walking to the Botanical Garden, then back to Chinatown at Tony Cheng's for dim sum. (By the way...if any of our lunch spots sound good, check out this site for more cheap sightseeing and food ideas.) We had much better luck with a DC Circulator bus that took us to the American History museum. Called "America's Attic", it holds an eclectic collection of artifacts, including the original Star-Spangled Banner, the Fonz's leather jacket from Happy Days, Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, plus exhibits featuring Motown, wartime history, musical instruments, Julia Child's kitchen, Women's Lib, etc. There's so much to see and read about that you'd need at least a week to cover this one museum. It's exhausting! We were actually relieved that the museum closed early (5:30 instead of 7:30) for a private function, and we found another DC Circulator that dropped us off a block from the marina. We had to be back in time for dinner, after all... The regulars typically hold dinners on Tuesdays and Fridays, plus breakfast on Saturdays, for a small fee. One or more boats volunteer to shop and cook, and another group is responsible for clean-up. Tuesday turned out to be BBQ ribs and sausages night, and for $7, we were stuffed full of BBQ, coleslaw, potato salad, veggies, and cream puffs.

We originally intended to leave DC on Wednesday, but never realized how much playing tourist would wipe us out. Our initial plan of seeing both the American History Museum and the National Zoo in one day drew looks of disbelief from some of the CYC guys, and boy were they right. We ended up postponing the zoo tour for Wednesday, which allowed us to spend the entire day there AND make a detour to Adams Morgan for lunch at the Amsterdam Falafelshop (think fried chickpea patty in a pita and twice-fried fries with 20 possible toppings). They had real Dutch mayo and peanut sauce for the fries...Rene was in Dutch junk food heaven! Before you think lunch was the highlight of the day, we have to say that the zoo was fantastic. Lions, tigers, and bears...oh, my! Plus gorillas, orangutans, tarantulas, panda bears, elephants, lemurs... the list goes on and on. We made it back to the yacht club that evening for a last bevvie with our new friends, and were sad when we had to leave our key in the drop box. We had a fantastic time in D.C., and really want to thank everyone at Capital Yacht Club for treating us like family.

We finally pulled up anchor on Thursday morning. Our first stop was Mount Vernon, home to George Washington. We anchored off the channel in 8' of water and dinghied to the tour boat dock. Mount Vernon remained in the Washington family until the mid-1850s, when the great-great-nephew of George Washington could no longer afford to maintain it. He tried to sell it to the federal government or to the Commonwealth of Virginia, neither of which was willing to spend the money. A group of 12 ladies, led by a South Carolina socialite, thus created the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Their motto? "If the men of America have seen fit to allow the home of its most respected hero to go to ruin, why can't the women of America band together to save it?" The women raised $200,000 (over $5 million in today's dollars) and bought the home, the outbuildings, and 200 of the original 8,000 acres. Mount Vernon is still owned and maintained in trust by the MVLA. The home has been beautifully restored, and the interior looks much like it did when George and Martha Washington lived there. You can see the first two floors of the house, but the third floor - where Martha moved after George's death - is off limits. The gardens are especially gorgeous, and the upper gardens are filled with flowers that attract hundreds of butterflies. The "Pioneer Farmer" site covers four acres near the mansion and offers visitors a look into Washington's innovative ideas, including a 16-sided barn designed for thrashing wheat (demonstrations are done on-site).

All in all, we had an incredible trip up the Potomac. We have about 400 pictures of DC alone, so we have some editing to do before we include the link here. Please bear with us, and check back in a few days. :-)

Pictures with this Blog chapter:

Washington, D.C. or Bust

Monday, July 12 - Friday, July 16, 2010
We've finally done it - we're on our way to Washington, D.C.! We've been talking about it for two weeks, and we're finally heading up there. Granted, there have been a few obstacles: a) We didn't want to be part of the craziness during July 4th weekend, so we couldn't arrive too early; b) We had to be in front of a TV for the World Cup semi-final; c) Once Holland won the semi-final, we had to be in front of a TV for the final. Knowing it would take us 4-5 days to go from Solomons to DC - all remote anchorages, no place to go ashore - we either had to race up to DC in time for the final, or stay in Solomons until the final was over. Since we've never been good at hurrying to anything, door #2 it was...

Before watching the most yellow cards get handed out in the history of the World Cup final, we spent a leisurely morning at the Calvert Marine Museum. We'd been told that Solomons had a fantastic museum, and we were thoroughly impressed. There were exhibits on maritime history, biology, and paleontology; river otters, turtles, stingrays, and other sea life could be seen in their various tanks; and visitors could climb the stairs to the Drum Point Lighthouse, a 1883 screwpile lighthouse that was moved from its original location near the Patuxent River entrance to the marine museum in 1975. As one of the docents told us, don't be fooled by the museum's size - we were blown away by everything there was to see.

So...2pm, and we were back at the Naughty Gull restaurant and bar to have lunch and watch the World Cup final. How inspiring to see the overhead shot of Amsterdam's Museumplein filled with fans in their orange shirts! And how disappointing to watch the Dutch team get penalty after penalty from dirty plays. By the time one of the Netherlands players put a foot in an opponent's chest, even Rene was rooting for Spain to win. Oh, this case, the best team definitely won. More importantly, we were finally free to begin our journey to Washington, D.C.!

Any of you who know us (or just read our blog) know that we like to take our sweet time going from place to place, and this trip was no exception. We made some good headway on day 1: 35 miles from Solomons to St. George Creek off the St. Mary's River, 6 miles inside the Potomac River. It would've been the perfect anchorage, well protected behind St. George Island, if the winds had been from any direction except the southeast. Well, you know how our luck goes when it comes to wind, and we had swells from the Potomac all night. After a bouncy night with little sleep, we got an early start for our next stop. We debated going to the Wicomico (30 miles away) or even Port Tobacco (45 miles away), but were fighting the current and had winds on the nose. Better yet, NOAA was forecasting thunderstorms by early afternoon. Not wanting to risk getting caught in a squall, we settled for a 20-mile day and found a lovely, protected anchorage in Canoe Neck Creek off St. Clements Bay. Ultimately we would've had time to get to one of the other anchorages, but we certainly wouldn't have had the same protection. At about 7pm that evening, Rene was checking's radar and mentioned that it looked like we'd be getting hit about jinxing us! Within 15 seconds, the winds gusted up to 50mph and put the boat on its side. The rain came down like crazy, we were surrounded by lightning strikes for a couple of hours, and winds howled through the night. There were two other boats in the anchorage with us, and there were times we couldn't even see them through the rain. We all managed to come through without a problem, but we've never seen so much rain in our dinghy. (Note to Stacy's mom: there was even more rain than in Marsh Harbor. :-))

We had planned on a "rest day" on Wednesday, meaning we'd stay in our Tuesday night anchorage for an extra day, give ourselves and the kitties a break from traveling, and get some boat projects done. Believe it or not, we're usually incredibly productive during these breaks. There's just something about dedicating a day to mundane tasks that have been on a to-do list for weeks or months. This time it was all about storage, or more accurately, making better use of the limited storage we have. Last week we tackled the DVDs; this week, CDs. There was also the topside and below, re-organizing cupboards and drawers, plus some much-needed trip planning. Three calls to different DC marinas finally resulted in a slip at James Creek Marina. One problem - no laundry facilities. (Author's note: it ends up being THREE WEEKS between laundry runs. Scary!)

Anyway, we managed to get to Canoe Neck Creek so early on Tuesday that we finished over half of our projects by the end of the day. said it would rain through most of Wednesday morning, and would clear up after that. Perfect...that would allow us to go another 20 miles upriver to the Port Tobacco anchorage, and would give us an easy trip to Mattawoman Creek the following day. know how we keep complaining about the weather gurus? They did it again! We woke up Wednesday morning to the same forecast - rain til noon, then clearing in the afternoon - even though there wasn't a rain cloud anywhere near us. At 11am, we checked the forecast again, and it said to leave NOW, since it would instead be clear til 2:30-ish and then start pouring. Huh??? Rene had just turned on the generator and Stace was about to vacuum (it's been awhile...). Change of plans! We did a quick cabin-prep and hauled up the anchor. We weren't even out of St. Clements Bay before we were questioning our decision. The forecast? 10-knot winds gusting to 20. Reality? 20-knot winds rarely subsiding to 12-15. And the direction? On the nose, of course! The Potomac was covered in whitecaps and we got thoroughly bounced around (think "pukey Tux"). We quickly decided that we'd settle for cutting an hour or two off of our Thursday trip, and anchored near shore in Wicomico Creek. By the way...those thunderstorms that were supposed to hit us after 2:30pm? Never happened.

Thursday we got an early start for the 45-mile trip to Mattawoman Creek, 30 miles south of DC. What a beautiful day! The sun was out, and there wasn't a rain cloud in the sky. Winds were 7-10kts and on the nose again, but we figured we'd be able to sail once we made the first turn...or not. As soon as we rounded the bend, the winds died. For the first time ever, we saw "0.0" wind speed on the chartplotter. Huh??? We reduced RPMs thinking we'd be better off in a moving boat than sitting at anchor, and dropped anchor around 5pm. As we sat melting in the cockpit, all we could think of was the 24-hour air conditioning we'd have over the weekend once we reached James Creek Marina.

Friday morning we got another early start and actually had the current with us. It was incredible - we actually managed to get to the marina in under four hours! We'll stay here at James Creek over the weekend, and will likely anchor out in the Washington Channel for a few extra days of sightseeing. We're really looking forward to our DC visit and will have plenty of pictures to share in the next blog. Cheers!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Enjoying the Eastern Shore: Cambridge, Oxford, and Easton, MD

Tuesday, June 29 - Thursday, July 8, 2010
Talk about slowing down the pace! We've decided to spend a couple of weeks exploring the towns and creeks off the Choptank River on the Eastern shore of the Chesapeake. After averaging 30- to 50-mile trips, we're looking at an average of 7 miles per trip: 7 miles between San Domingo Creek and Oxford, 7 miles from Oxford to Cambridge, and 7 miles from Oxford to Easton. We figured we'd tackle our longest trip first: San Domingo Creek to Cambridge, for about 15 miles anchorage to anchorage. To be fair, we were told not to expect much in Cambridge - the town hasn't gone through the revitalization efforts that other historical towns in the area have. Still, we knew it had a good bus system to groceries, Walmart, hardware stores, etc., plus a laundromat in town. (Yes, we boaters do have our priorities...) We left San Domingo Creek with dark clouds behind us; said it would be 4pm before the storm would hit us. In reality, it was closer to 2pm when a town 10 miles to the north was put under a severe thunderstorm warning: 50+ knot winds, damaging hail, lightning..."all boaters should be in a safe harbor, and anyone in a building should seek an interior room." GREAT. We were still 45 minutes out of Cambridge! We gunned the engine to 6kts as commercial fishermen and motorboats went zooming past us at 20, looking at us like we were crazy to be out in this stuff. The waves started getting pretty rough, and the wind gusted to 40kts as we made the turn into the Cambridge jetties. We managed to get into the well-protected harbor (more like a turning basin) in front of the county building and Snapper's Waterfront Cafe. It was a relief to be out of the wind and waves, and incredibly, the thunderstorms managed to pass north of us. Spared again!

The next morning we dinghied to the wall of the county building ("dock at your own risk") and walked five blocks to the nearest bus stop. The bus took us out of downtown to the shopping area, where we took advantage of the local Walmart, Food Lion, Dollar Store, and ACE Hardware. We were loaded down with shopping bags by the time we caught the bus back to the boat, and our shuttle driver was kind enough to drop us off near the dinghy. As it turns out, the drivers aren't too worried about "official" stops; if you see a bus, flag it down and it'll likely stop for you.

Such a productive day deserved an adult beverage, so we dinghied over to Snapper's...situated all of 100 yards from the boat. The beer was cold and the TVs showed everything from the weather channel to golf to the cooking channel. Seeing the Paula Dean show for the first time was quite an experience: just how much butter does that woman put in her dishes? We need to get a cookbook! After another quiet night on the boat, we spent the morning doing laundry and walking through downtown. Our sources were right - Cambridge certainly isn't St. Michaels. It was interesting to see the old buildings and their original storefronts, but it seemed like 75% of the places were empty and the other 25% were struggling.

Next on the agenda was some on-the-hook time in La Trappe Creek. We had a cold front coming our way (mid-70s instead of mid-90s) and we were taking advantage of it to do some overdue boat projects. Rene changed the oil and the impeller on the generator while Stacy scrubbed the dinghy and re-organized the galley, and we even managed to get the kayaks in the water to explore the creek. La Trappe Creek has some beautiful old homes (some once occupied by Maryland governors), and it's a gorgeous area. We ended up staying for four days and left only because we wanted to see the fireworks in Oxford Saturday night...

...Which brings us to Oxford. What can we say about Oxford? Well, it's a lovely place with historic homes and manicured gardens...and not much else. Talk about a sleepy town! As one visitor told us, not much happens here, and that's just the way the locals like it. The guidebook mentions (warns?) that "this place isn't much different than it was in the 1950s." No kidding! The main street has a museum, a small grocery store, a bookstore, a waterfront park, and a few B&Bs. If you want to shop or get a good meal, go elsewhere. Now what Oxford does have is some amazing homemade ice cream. We'd met a couple on another Catalina Morgan 440 in the harbor who recommended we try the Scottish Highland Creamery, and boy were they right. We even got a scoop of their "4th of July", a mascarpone-flavored ice cream swirled with blueberry pie filling and raspberry preserves. They only make three batches a year, and our taste buds felt honored! and watched a World Cup game at Schooner's Landing. Fortunately the real reason for our visit didn't disappoint: Oxford put on an awesome fireworks display from a barge in the middle of the Tred Avon river. We were anchored with 100 other boats and got to watch the celebration from the bow of our boat. It was like shooting off fireworks in your living room...priceless!

Sunday we slowly made our way towards Easton, with a stopover in Peachblossom Creek. Peachblossom Creek is four miles north of Oxford, and its claim to fame is that it's where the Eastern Shore's first peach trees grew in colonial days. (Per our Dozier guide, "Maryland was the country's largest peach producer until a devastating blight killed the trees.") We may not have seen any peach trees, but we saw some incredible - and incredibly HUGE - homes. We kayaked throughout the creek admiring the huge estates before leaving the next morning for anchorage #2, Dixon Creek. FYI...Dixon Creek is a mile from Easton; since the channel to Easton is narrow and quite shallow at the edges, we weren't sure whether we'd have enough depth or anchoring room off Easton proper. It seemed safer to anchor in Dixon and dinghy a mile to the boat ramp and dock. From there, it was a half-mile bike ride into historic downtown Easton, or a 1-1.5 mile ride to shopping and groceries. Granted, a half-mile doesn't seem like it's worth the trouble to dinghy the bikes into town, but we're in the middle of a 3-day heat wave. After being spoiled by a cold front in La Trappe Creek, Easton temps are 99 degrees with a heat index of 105. At least a bike ride gives you some kind of a breeze! Our friends warned us about the summer in the Chesapeake when they tried to convince us to go to Long Island Sound, but it doesn't look like they're escaping this any more than we are. The weather gurus say it should be closer to 90 later this week, and may even dip into the high-80s. It's pretty sad when that sounds like a massive improvement!

And now for the really important news: the Netherlands have made it to the World Cup final!!! Rene couldn't believe that they beat Brazil, who'd been ranked #1. We hadn't been able to watch the Netherlands-Brazil game, but there was no way we were going to miss the Netherlands-Uruguay game! We found a pub in Easton that showed the game on Tuesday. Rene bought a bright orange shirt to show his support, and that must've helped. They beat Uruguay 3-2, which means they're in the final. We've even adjusted our D.C. schedule to make sure we can watch the game; we were supposed to be en route to D.C. on Sunday, but now we'll stay in Solomons to watch the game. On the plus side, the delay has allowed us to stay in and around Easton for a couple of extra days. We were able to watch the Germany-Spain match to see who the Netherlands would have to play in the final (Spain), and got an extra day for boat projects in Tripp Creek (north of Oxford). We should be in Solomons by Friday, and will hopefully leave for our jaunt up the Potomac on Monday. GO HOLLAND!!!!!!!!

Pictures with this Blog chapter: