Highway To The Middle Danger Zone

Wednesday October 10, 2012

We should be safe from gunfire here!

Dragging ourselves out of bed for another cold gray day down the Potomac we motored out of Smith Creek and through the shoals to the other side of the river.  While keeping an eye on the charts to wait until we were in deep enough water to turn and keep a course, then being able to set the sails, I saw something coming up on us on the AIS.  I’m so used to large bodies of water where anything that pops up on there is some kind of tug/container ship I started looking down the river for something mammoth coming our way.  I could see a powerboat off in the distance but that was it.  Keeping my eye on it as it got closer I checked the AIS data to see if they were one in the same.  Yup.  131 foot pleasure cruiser passing us at 25 knots.  And so it begins, the land of politicians and their money.

Since we were up late last night with internet access and we didn’t get our normal ten hours Matt was quick to go below and get in a nap while I motorsailed with just the main up.  There was a time where I had to point directly into the wind for ten to fifteen minutes before getting around a large shoal and changing course once again and I was sure that Matt was going to hear the flapping sails and come up to see why I wasn’t doing anything about it.  There have been so many times on overnight trips where I think he’s asleep and all of a sudden I’ll hear a yell from down below, “Pull in the main!!”  when the wind is shifting and I want to wait for it to settle before trimming any sheets.  Luckily this time it just sounded like light rain hitting the deck and I was left in silence.  As soon as it was my turn to nap my comfortable flat bed was turned on it’s side as he decided he had enough motorsailing and wanted to unfurl the genoa.  Each tack sent me rolling from side to side and finally the wind either died enough or shifted so that the motor went back on and I could get some peaceful sleep.

While back on deck reading after my nap I kept looking back and realizing that we have been the only northbound boat on the river.  This was a little surprising since we knew of at least four other boats that were leaving Annapolis the same day as us to also make their way to D.C. and no one had passed us yet.  But not only them, we assumed that this would be the next logical place to go after the boat show while waiting for hurricane season to end and be able to pass Norfolk after November 1st.  We know we’re probably one of the slower boats out there and even when we’re motoring we keep it around 2000 RPMs to save on fuel, so that left us wondering, does everyone else know something that we don’t?  Is there a good reason to stay away from D.C. right now?  Is there a shortcut from Annapolis that we’re not in on?  By the time we were looking for an anchorage that night the only other boat we saw going our direction was the 160 footer from earlier.

When we were leaving the anchorage this morning I was looking at the charts a little closer and saw there was a large print in the center that said Middle Danger Zone.  Danger Zone?  What does that mean?  Not having had any issues the day before I assumed it had something to do with the shoals in the center of the river.  Once we were out of the way from dodging crab pots and back into the marked channel I put Matt in charge of the wheel while I went below to make banana bread.  As soon it was in the oven he was promptly in bed again.  Sitting in silence in the cockpit I was reading a book when I kept hearing a call on VHF for a southbound sailing vessel to respond.  Once they did I thought I heard someone identify themselves as Army or Navy and asked the sailing vessel to switch to channel 22.  Intrigued about the conversation I followed to 22 only to come into the conversation a few moments late and heard “…coming in hot, we’re going to need you out of the way” and then instructed the person to get to a certain buoy and wait.  Apparently the Danger Zone is dangerous for a reason.

Luckily the sun was out and before I went down below to enjoy my personal (nap) time we thought it might be wise to take showers while the engine was running and water was somewhat hot.  Now well knowing we were in some kind of military zone and very aware that helicopters were zooming over our heads every few minutes and probably had pretty good sights on what we were doing,  I was sick of the swimsuit showers I had to take in Weems Creek and fully stripped down.  I wanted to get clean.  At least if those guys in the helicopter were watching they were going to get a good show.  From both of us.  A few hours later I was taken away from reading in my sung bunk as the sun was getting low enough that we needed to start looking for an anchorage and found a spot that we thought would shelter us best from the ten knot predicted winds in the forecast.  We dropped anchor in calm conditions and watched a beautiful sunset before going below to relax.  Just after we finished dinner the wind started picking up and the waves were as well.  Poking our heads outside we found the wind was coming directly the opposite direction that it had been predicted and was now putting us on a lee shore.  Turning on the instruments we watched the wind climb over 30 knots and let out a little more chain.  It’s a good thing we both got in our naps earlier because I have a feeling we’ll be sleeping really light tonight, waiting for our anchor to drag unless these winds calm down as predicted.