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.

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