For Whom The Bell Tolls

Thursday October 11, 2012

Assuming we had a full days travel ahead of us today we didn’t pinpoint where we had anchored along the river except that it was right near green buoy 61. Curiostiy got the best of me when we had to make a sharp left bend in the river and I pulled out the map on our Waterway guide to get a rough estimate. That’s all I was left with and we continued motoring on in the calm wind.As we went around the bend and out of the wooded area to where very large houses were lining the water we would point to each other as they kept growing larger and larger. One very large mansion stood out on the top of a hill and this was the point where we decided to zoom out on the chartplotter and find out exactly what area of money we had just wandered in to. “I think that was Mount Vernon”, Matt said as we left the large mansion in our distance. Checking the charts we found out that we had in fact just passed Mount Vernon and were surprisingly close to D.C. As we passed the home to the first president I remembered something I read in my guide, According to a custom that dates back to the night of Washington’s death on December 14, 1799, mariners passing by Mount Vernon on the Potomac River toll the ships bell in his honor. The guide said to do that, and if you were visiting, double back and follow the marked channel to the pier. Not wanting to pass up such a long running tradition I ran below and dug out our ships bell from the box and plastic it was wraped in and brought it up on deck to toll it.  Participating in that tradition we decided that we would actually like to tour it as well since it was so early in the day and we didn’t have plans to check into the yacht club until the next day, so we doubled back to the marked channel. The guide mentions that if you tie up at the dock you must pay admission to the estate but it sounded like with anchoring you could avoid it.

 Dropping anchor all the way back next to the main channel since the water was only 3-4 feet deep for a few hundred feet from shore we lowered the dinghy and rode it into the beach that was reserved for visitors not using the docks. Water here was so shallow that the motor bottomed out fifty feet from shore and yours truly was volunteered to take off her shoes and warm fuzzy socks to jump in the water and drag us the rest of the way in. Fortunately (for me) the dinghy was too heavy for one person to pull and Matt was soon in the water with me. Ha ha ha. It took a lot of effort from both of us to get through the shallow water and sand that was enveloping our feet to get the dinghy on dry land. We landed it probably on the opposite side of the beach we were supposed to since it didn’t look very dinghy friendly, but we locked it up to a pole and hopped the stone wall into the estate.

We entered in what was the farming grounds and were immediately greeted by fenced in sheep and crops. Walking up the dirt road we saw Washington’s invention of the treading barn and slave quarters which would house a family of ten in about 400 sq ft. Leaving behind the fields we walked up a path to Washington’s tomb and then up to the house itself. I had really wanted to take a tour of the inside of the house but we had assumed it would cost extra and were going to skip it. While standing out in the courtyard admiring the beauty of the house and a guide who must have assumed we were with the large group of school children visiting told us that the next tour was about to start and we should wait over by the door to one of the smaller buildings and they would start us shortly. We were the first ones in the line of this group and after a few minutes there were about twelve kids and three of their chaperones that joined us.  As we started the tour the two of us would walk all the way through the room almost to the next door to allow everyone else in as well.  The gentleman guiding this part ushered the children up next to us and told them to bunch up right next to their chaperones while gesturing at us.  Does this mean we get to yell at them if they get too loud?

Going from the first room out through a walkway to the main house we were told that no photography was allowed inside the main house and were then brought into the formal dining room to start.  It had a beautiful green color with intricate trim and painting that were original to the house.  Part of me was so tempted to slyly pull out my camera and sneak a few photos but I was sure one of the children would see and I probably would have been tattled on.  Being led through different parts of the home with a different guide for each we saw the original main part of the home that George Washington’s father built including the original dining space, a bedroom, parlor, and all the additions President Washington added including multiple bedrooms.  We saw (although did not get to enter) President Washington’s bedroom including the bed he died in, and his study which housed the same office chair he used over 200 years ago.  After being told that fun fact we noticed the legs had wheels on them and wondered if they were added years later or if that fun fact was not so factual.  While being led from one area of the house to another we waited on the back porch which overlooked the Potomac.  It was such an amazing sight.  Sitting perched on top of a giant hill while looking at the sparkling water below, knowing that our first president and his family spent lazy summer afternoons enjoying this exact same sight.  They weren’t lucky enough to see Serendipity anchored out, but I’m sure it was just as pretty for them.

Thinking we still had a good five hours of traveling before making it to our anchorage that night we strolled the grounds back to our boat and found that it was low tide and we’d have to drag the dinghy through a lot of mud before it was going to even hit water.  There was a lot of grunting and pulling while other visitors on shore watched, probably wondering who these crazy people were.  Once we finally pushed it into water and had the engine started we got it on plane as soon as possible, quickly feeling better about ourselves.  While Matt went down for another nap (is he pregnant?) I Googled Mount Vernon and found there was not actually a separate charge for viewing the mansion, it’s included in the $15 admission fee that we skipped by sneaking in through the water.  It only took us three hours to get from Mount Vernon to our anchorage in front of Capital Yacht Club in Washington DC.  Exhausted from the day I passed out as soon as the anchor was set.  I have a feeling there’s a long day of sightseeing ahead of me tomorrow and I’m going to need all the energy I can get.

Downgrading from foul weather to fall weather gear.

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.

The Early Bird Catches The Current

Monday October 8, 2012

Have I mentioned before how we have an alarm setting that sounds like harps and is supposed to be a soft and refreshing way to wake up?  You know when it’s not refreshing?  Is at four o’clock in the morning.  Yesterday afternoon while I was busy baking away for Thanksgiving dinner, Matt was checking charts and tides and currents.  Around five o’clock in the afternoon he looked at me and said, “Well, if we want to catch the current on the way out we’d either have to leave right now or at four in the morning”.  We knew we couldn’t leave right then with our impending dinner plans.  “You want to leave at four in the morning?” he inquired, probably sure I’d shoot him down right away and tell him that I’d rather move at a snails pace than drag my ass out of bed that early.  “Oooookay”,  I replied, knowing that as soon as we were into the bay he’d probably be back in bed and I’d be in the dark and cold by myself.  Excusing ourselves from dinner earlier than normal last night we got a lot of cracks from Andy and John, who were used to us not getting up until ten.  “I don’t believe it”, they declared, “I want you to honk your horn at us when you go by to prove you’re oot and aboot that early”.  So when the harps started plucking at four a.m. I was ready to throw the phone across the room and go back to bed, but we had to show those Canadians we meant business.  Dressing in full foul weather gear since it was in the low 50’s we upped our anchor along with the two weeks worth of mud on it and left behind all the anchor lights shining like starts in Weems Creek.

I knew I didn’t like navigating in narrow areas for a reason and today I could prove myself right.  Only 1/3rd of the buoys in Severn River were lit and while our chartplotter would show us an approximation of where the others were the little boat that represents you on the chart is never 100%  ( I think we can fix that with some tinkering) and there were a few times I was afraid I was going to run over buoys because we couldn’t physically see them until we were right on top of them.  As soon as we were out of the creek we passed within 50 feet of a green marker nailed on to wooden posts and could have caused some real damage to the boat had we gotten much closer.  After that I put Matt on lookout until the foredeck until we were into the Chesapeake and any markers were lit.  After working our way around a few large cargo ships anchored for the night we set our sails and were headed South.  Next destination is Washington D.C.

Surprised that Matt gave me the option for the first nap I quickly ran below and jumped in the bunk before he reconsidered.  I got another good three hours of sleep in before getting up a second time at 8:30 and going back on deck where the sun was hiding behind dark clouds.  Matt replaced my spot in the bunk and I stayed on watch navigating around tugs and keeping an eye out for dolphins.  Something that everyone has seen up to this point but us.  We’ve even starting taking tips from people who are traveling faster than us or live in the area of where to look out for them and still have not seen a single one yet.  That and bald eagles.  Two hours into Matt’s nap and I hadn’t seen any kind of wildlife yet, I pulled out our Waterway Guide to judge how far we had gone and how far until our planned destination that night.  Since by our estimates it was around 70 miles from the entrance of the Chesapeake from Severn River to the entrance of the Potomac River we thought we might be pushing it at 40-50 miles that day and were planning to stay at Solomons at the entrance to the Patuxent River.  Two things we didn’t consider with this plan but were working in our favor:  That by leaving with the current we were able to stay between 5-6 knots, and that by leaving at four-thirty we’d be traveling for 12-13 hours instead of 8.  When Matt came above deck again around one o’clock we were just passing Solomons and the Potomac was well within our reach for that day.

One thing with entering the Potomac though is we’ve heard currents are terrible in that area and you have to time them just right or you’re only making 1 knot of headway.  We had not been planning on this at all  and searching for current stations on our chartplotter went to see how bad it would be in that area.  Bringing up the station positioned just in the entrance I looked at the chart to see that we’d only be fighting about a half knot.  That wasn’t bad.  And since by the time we got there it would be time to tuck in for the night we wouldn’t even be going very far in there.  The time spent to get there from that point was just long enough that we were already going stir crazy.  Even though the winds were dying down, which was also knocking down our speed, it was cold and uncomfortable in the cockpit.  The waves were just large enough to keep me from being able to read or write without getting that car sick feeling and we just sat in the cockpit and willed ourselves to go faster.  We really have gotten spoiled compared to the Great Lakes I’ve noticed.  Back then if we could get enough wind in our sails to go over four knots we considered it a good day and thought ourselves to be making good time.  Now anytime our speed shows under 5.5 we groan and complain, wondering where all of our speed has gone.

By the time we were rounding Point Lookout we could see what appeared to be definite rain in the distance and waited for it to come our way.  The wind kept shifting back and forth and we’d go through periods between just a few minutes of full and perfectly trimmed sails to dead into the wind.  Part of it was due to rounding the Point, and once we could put ourselves on a straight course again we were on a strong beam reach and shooting into the river like a rocket.  That’s also exactly the time we could see the white haze across the river growing closer and closer until soon it was on us in a downpour.  Matt stayed in the companionway to keep watch and sent me below where our bus heater was running on full speed since we had thrown on the engine to motorsail once the winds began to die down.  We had a good five or ten minutes on our course until the wind shifted once again to our nose and stayed there.  Being in irons less than five miles from our new destination for the night of Smith Creek we took the sails down and motored the rest of the way in.  Making a quick stop at the marina to fill our tank and jerrycans with diesel we found out the marina had wifi that was not password protected and after a little prodding I convinced Matt to drop hook right in front.

I think he’s plotting to throw me over.

Maybe if I just stand really still he won’t see me.