We’d planned to be gone well before this, but various jobs had to be done, in particular the installation of our tricolour, anchoring light and strobe at the top of the mast (thanks Tyler, mast monkey extraordinaire!) the fitting of tank monitors and the replacement of the rode on our second anchor – which I spliced myself (just call me Deckhand Dora). Well now it was time to stow everything in its proper place and stock up on some provisions, and, most importantly, to say farewell to some special friends. In particular Captains Dave and Penny Renoll and Jane Waddell were wonderful examples of the hospitality this country is famous for. Dave even braved a freezing cold early morning to give us a hand with our departure and to wave and take some photos as Common Sense made her way through the Kent Narrows Bridge for the last time. We sincerely hope that our Mears Point friends will keep in touch and that we will meet up again, preferably somewhere nice and warm!
October 28th was fine with a north-easterly assisting us on a course almost due south down the Bay to Solomon’s Island. We counted at least a dozen other fully equipped sailboats heading in the same direction, obviously all part of the winter exodus to warmer climes. We anchored for the night in Mill Creek, a pretty location just inside the mouth of the Patuxent River, where we found two other yachts already settled in. After such a good day’s sailing we were a bit upset to hear the weather forecast for Saturday – very cold with strong gusty winds, rain and the possibility of SNOW – in October! This pretty much decided our plans for the next day – stay put, read, cook muffins and soup, add another layer of clothing every hour or so as the temperature plummeted (we looked like Tweedledum and Tweedledee by the end of the day) and stick our heads out every now and again to admire the effects of sleet on the water. Our excellent Manson Supreme anchor once again proved its worth, holding steady through strong changeable winds throughout the night.
But the bad weather passed, as all things must, and Sunday morning dawned fine and clear. Common Sense made that day’s fifty miles in excellent time, though our efforts under sail were a bit dispiriting – each time we raised them it seemed to be a signal for the wind to drop from 15 knots to five. At 11.30 we reached the broad mouth of the Potomac River and changed our course to bear north-east, pretty much into the wind. We passed the mouth of the St Mary’s River, site of historic St Marys City where Maryland’s first European settlers founded a Catholic community in 1634. We plan to stop here on the trip back down river. Another interesting site was St Clements Island, once a thriving 400 acre farm now reduced by erosion to a mere 40 muddy acres. A big white stone cross commemorates this fragment of colonial history. Our goal for Sunday night was Cobb Island, at the mouth of the Wicomico River, a tributary just over thirty miles up the Potomac. It was a little challenging finding all the marks to get in behind the island, but we were rewarded with a beautiful sheltered anchorage and a perfectly silent calm night. We refuelled the next morning at Shymansky’s Marina where we chatted briefly with some of the friendly Cobb Island folk, heading out before a falling tide could leave us stranded in the shallow fuel dock.
The next day’s passage was smooth and uneventful. There was virtually no traffic on the river as it wound its way through old plantations and wild forest. It was hard to believe we were so close to the biggest population centres in North America. We decided to find a marina for the night, mainly to get a little warmth back into our bones after heading into a chill wind all day, but our efforts to enter Aquia Bay were thwarted when we ran out of depth just short of the marina. We had to head back out into the main river, where, fortunately, we found a pleasant little bay on the Maryland side sheltered from the wind by cliffs and tall forest (Wades Bay). Another layer of clothing would have to do.
On our final day we made good speed with the current behind us. This was a beautiful part of the river, with magnificent colonial homes and estates on the Virginia shore (including Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home) and woods in vivid autumn colour. Terry and I held our breath as we approached the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, marking the entry to the city of Washington. It has a clearance of 70 feet and our mast is 65, but it really did look like we were going to lose the top few feet. At 14.30 we made our way into the Washington Channel where Jeremy, the dockmaster at the Gangplank Marina, assisted us into our slip.
Entering a city from the water gives a totally different perspective, a bit like entering a theatre from backstage. You get to see some of its inner workings rather than just the public face – it’s really interesting, as waterfronts often are. Anyway, here we are in DC, having sailed up the Potomac River(!) A blog of our Washington adventures will follow soon.