Monday, 18 July 2011

Maiden Cruise on the Chesapeake Bay

On Sunday July 10th it was finally time to test out Common Sense, and ourselves, with a proper cruise. As I mentioned earlier, we had the good fortune to enlist the services of Captain Dave Renoll of R&R Charters. His wealth of knowledge and experience was exactly what we needed to help us learn about our boat's capabilities and features, to build our skills and confidence and to understand something of the unfamiliar waters, winds and weather of Chesapeake Bay.

We planned a six-day cruise, stopping overnight at several beautiful, sheltered anchorages and one marina where we could re-provision. As most of you know, I'm famously unco-ordinated when acquiring physical skills, and my sense of direction leaves a bit to be desired too, so I was pretty apprehensive about navigating, taking the helm and just about everything else. Fortunately Terry's skills are way ahead of mine, and Dave was one of those patient, encouraging teachers who sees mistakes as 'learning opportunities'. His strategy was to gradually hand over all aspects of navigating and sailing to us, so that by the end we were pretty much doing it all successfully. A bit like when your dad runs along holding the back of your bicycle seat and you don't realise he's let go until you're riding by yourself! For Terry, having Dave there was more about being able to ask questions about the boat's systems and picking up some local knowledge - it is a totally different environment from home. (For example, you can't tell the depth of the water from colour anywhere - it is the same jade green whether it's two metres or forty metres deep.)

On Day 1 we left our cosy berth at Mears Point Marina, took on fuel and water and sailed approximately 12 nautical miles south-east to the Wye River. This is a really lovely spot - calm water surrounded by woods. I thought about the lyrics of George Gershwin's 'Summertime' because the livin' was easy and the fish really were jumpin' - great big ones, right out of the water! Our anchor wasn't a great success - it didn't set easily and dragged ('drug' is the correct word, according to Dave) when the wind changed next morning. More boat shopping ahead.

Day 2 we had brisker winds and covered about 22 nautical miles to Dun Cove, another very pretty anchorage on Harris creek, a tributary of the Choptank River. (The Choptank is the setting for James A. Michener's famous historical novel Chesapeake, a place I was very keen to see.) We entered through Knapps Narrows Bridge, a 'bascule' bridge which lifts at one end to allow boats to pass under. Minor dramas next morning as we just touched the bottom in Dun Cove at low tide, but managed to wiggle clear.

Day 3 was another excellent day of sailing, with lovely conditions and easy location of all our markers and waypoints. We covered nearly 60 nautical miles, averaging about 6 knots, much of it running with a light tailwind. Entry into Spring Cove Marina at Solomon's Island was relatively comfortable, but docking in a small slip was a challenge, and Terry was mortified by a minor encounter between the port rubrail and the dock. Spring Cove was a very pleasant marina, with a pool, good clean bathrooms and a shuttle service to the local supermarket where we could restock our provisions. By the way, our meals were all reasonably successful, with the pressure cooker a major hit. I would have overcome my anxieties and bought one years ago if I'd known how brilliant they are for creating really well-cooked meals in very quick time - a very tender and delicious beef rendang in just 20 minutes, for example! A pressure cooker has many advantages on a sailboat - rapid cooking saves battery power or the need to run the engine; you don't heat up the cabin so much in hot weather; and a single pot is much easier to clean up and stow. On the marina night, however, we availed ourselves of the local restaurant, the Captain's Table, with squid for Terry, crabcakes for me and for Dave, his favourite rockfish.

Day 4 was an education in the vagaries of the weather on the Chesapeake Bay, with pleasant light winds first up, followed by dead calm where we had to motor for about 10 nautical miles, to a full thunderstorm with winds gusting to 40 knots and heavy rain! Fortunately we had just taken in the mainsail before the storm struck, but we were a bit late with the wet weather gear. Windy, low visibility conditions made it impossible to enter the narrow channel into La Trappe Creek, so Terry motored around in circles, keeping an eye on the marker and the depth until the storm finally passed. As we entered the anchorage, the weather cleared and all was calm, peaceful and radiant with a gorgeous sunset and moonrise. I even went for an evening swim - unbelieveable when there had been thunder, lightning and torrential rain just a couple of hours before!

On our last two days I was responsible for plotting our course on the charts and I'm delighted to say that we got to both our destinations. Thursday's passage from La Trappe to Rhode River might have been a different story had not Captain Dave stepped in to remind me about factoring in magnetic variation of 11 degrees, but I felt quite proud of my chartwork on the final day. Unfortunately we had to motor most of the way home to Mears Point as we headed directly into the wind all the way up past the Thomas Point Lighthouse and the magnificant Bay Bridge; however the final leg was a nice sail and we arrived safely with a lot more knowledge and confidence than when we set out.

It was a wonderful introduction to the cruising life and we really appreciated Captain Dave's wisdom and generosity of spirit. I hope he appreciated the opportunity to add a few choice Australian expressions to his vocabulary.


  1. A wonderful adventure to start with, and I did laugh out loud at the thought of Dave's newly acquired vocab. No doubt amongst the colourful colloquialisms there would also have been some choice turns of phrase with the capacity to make a lumberjack blush I'm sure!

  2. Hi mate! I know you're a great afficionado of Australianisms, and I wish I'd been able to recall a few of Robbie's classic phrases for Dave's benefit. He's a former LOTE teacher and was very quick to master some of the more complex usage, such as the subtle gradations of the word 'bastard'.