May 29, 2013 – Fairleigh Creek, Maryland to HOME – 25 nm
WE MADE IT!!
After years of anticipation we have completed America’s Great Loop. For the last several days we have pondered how one measures a trip like this and determines its impact. Just looking at the numbers, we:
- spent 342 days on the water,
- traveled 80 miles short of 7000 nautical miles (7955 statute miles),
- ran at an average overall speed of 7.1 knots and covered an average of 20 nautical miles per day,
- passed thru 99 locks,
- reached an altitude of 840 feet above sea level,
- visited 3 countries,
- passed thru 16 states,
- anchored overnight 242 times (just over 70% of our nights),
- stayed 23 nights at free docks,
- paid for moorings18 nights and docks 59 nights,
- burned 3363 gallons of diesel fuel,
- put 985 hours on each of the main engines and a surprising 375 hours on the generator,
- wrote over 160,000 words on these blog pages.
- had no injuries that required medical attention (Nemo started the trip with a terminal illness so his vet visits don’t really count),
- lost nothing of value to Neptune and reclaimed several items that other people lost
- had only several small maintenance issues and only two that required replacement parts (a blown alternator and a failed feed pump for the water maker) and neither caused any delay in the trip.
- read stacks on stacks of books.
- joined in song as both kids became much more proficient on the guitar.
But, as is the norm, the numbers do not tell the whole story. We:
- visited completely controlled environments like Disney World and completely uncontrolled environments like the out islands in the Bahamas. Each had their own beauty.
- met a variety of cruisers of all ages and backgrounds. The boats were as varied as the individuals. Some people were proficient and others seemed to survive on luck. Some continued to learn while others acted as if they had all the answers. Regardless, all had the inner fortitude to leave safe harbors and journey into waters unknown to them in weather that they had no control over.
- saw a huge variety of water colors ranging from the beautiful light teal to deep blue and from the not so pretty tea to mud brown. In the Bahamas and parts of Canada we could often see down over 10 or 15 feet.
- walked on sand ranging from sugar fine white to coarse chunky brown. Some squeaked under our feet while some stuck to us for days.
- stockpiled a wealth of memories that no blog or pictures can ever capture.
- experienced life together and grew closer as a family.
There is no huge hidden moral to cruising. It is basically living life on the water. However, the water is constantly changing. There is a saying that a boat looks pretty in the harbor but that is not what boats are built for. For us, the same holds true with people. We took our boat and ourselves from our relatively safe and protected lives on shore and pushed our collective envelopes. We ventured into unknown waters and tried to experience a little of the community in each place we stopped. We tried to pack as much into each day as we could. We pushed the throttles forward and lived life.
This is the “Farm” in the morning at our anchorage on the Magothy
Today was a pretty easy day. We woke up a little late and had a relaxed breakfast. All but 4 of the many boats that we anchored among yesterday had left before night fall. The last ones slid quietly out of the harbor while we ate. We soon followed and headed further up the Magothy to Cypress Creek. After many back and forth text messages, we had arranged to pick up Merissa at a marina here. As she came walking down the dock we swung by the close enough that she could jump aboard. The timing was perfect and she boarded without the boat ever stopping or touching the dock. And then we headed north.
The trip up the bay was a straight line from the mouth of the Magothy to the mouth of Fairlee. The wind was behind us, a small current was with us and there was only a light chop on the water. Fairlee Creek is well known to us as Ralph anchored here as a kid. The approach is a zig zag that puts you almost on the beach as you pass thru the narrow entrance. There was a swift current exiting the creek but we powered thru it into the calm cove.
Before anchoring for the night, we decided to do a little cleaning. Job number one was removing months of stains and grime from the hull. To this end, Ralph did something he always wanted to try. He drove the boat straight at the beach and gently slid the bows onto the sand. From the front of the boat, we could then jump (or climb down) directly onto the beach. It was pretty cool. The shape of the hulls matched the drop off of the bottom so that only the tips of the bows were aground while there were several inches of water under the rest of the boat. Ralph set to cleaning the hulls while Sandy cleaned the accumulated dust in the bulk of the cabin. The water was a bit chilly but Ralph never had to go in above his waist. After the hulls were cleaned up, Ralph pushed the boat into slightly deeper water and we motored about 100 yards to our anchorage for the night.
Sandy and Ralph took a long kayak paddle before dinner. Although there are many boats at the marina and houses around the creek, there were no people to be seen. The creek was amazingly quite except for the sounds of a myriad of birds and the occasional splash of a fish. A small rain shower passed in the evening but we sat peacefully on the glass smooth waters of the creek. Dinner was a family favorite. Our last night of the trip was wonderful.
ET trying to help Nathaniel drive?
The first task after breakfast was to fill the water tanks. This meant going up the narrow, boat lined channel known as “Ego Alley” and tying up long enough to fill the tanks. The harbormaster suggested we come up at 9 am in the hopes that we could find a spot amidst the chaos. We dropped our mooring lines and drove in the alley where we found one spot about 52 feet long. Parallel parking a 44 foot long, 26000 pound boat is not the normal approach but we made it work. On leaving the alley, another boat trying to find a space left us a path about 4 feet wider than our boat. It felt pretty tight but we squeezed thru. Then we put the boat back on the mooring and took the dinghy to town to watch the Annapolis Memorial Day Parade.
The parade was truly a hometown event. With school out for the summer, there were no high school bands but the parade was led by a pretty good 50ish piece band of over 30 year olds. This was followed by several groups of veterans that received well deserved standing ovations from the large crowd lining the length of Main Street. The parade spread out from there with some dance groups, a few small service organizations, the jet social club in there shiny 60’s cars, the corvette club and even a van club. Interspersed were a few fire engines and some rescue trucks. It had a little something for everyone.
With the sound of a band still playing, we headed back to the boat, dropped our mooring lines and headed out to the bay. Several days ago, we all sat down to work out the anchorages all the way to our house. Then the weather turned our plan upside-down. We had intended on crossing the bay to the area around Kent Island but this would require many extra miles and make picking up Merissa a bit difficult. We looked over our book of charts and decided instead to move up the western shore to the Magothy River.
This way cool lighthouse house was on an island right next to our lunchtime stop on the Magothy.
The Magothy sits about 10 miles north of Annapolis and has several very popular anchorages. We headed into Sillery Bay just inside the mouth of the river and walked around on Dobbins Island amongst the 60 other boats full of weekend revelers. The anchorage was a bit rolly so at the end of the afternoon we headed north of Gibson Island to a very well protected spot known as “the farm” amidst beautiful scenery. By sundown, all but a few of the many anchored boats left, we had the spot pretty much to ourselves, and we enjoyed our Memorial Day cookout.
If everything went right today, we would end up in Annapolis. After two days of strong winds and rough water, we were sincerely hoping that the weather would lay down for us to cross the bay and move north fifteen or so miles. Happily, it did just that. The steady wind dropped below twenty knots and the seas were about 2 or 3 feet. We rocked and rolled a little bit, but after the last two days it seemed pretty calm.
Annapolis is rightly termed as the “Sailing Capitol of the Americas”. Approaching the harbor there were sailboats everywhere going in every direction. Sprinkled among the canvas fliers there were a variety of fishing and tour boats. In years past, we have anchored in front of the Naval Academy. However, the town put in a mooring field and closed the bulk of the old anchorage. We weaved our way thru the crowd and headed to the town moorings. The moorings are spaced pretty closely and we used every bit of room they provided.
The dinghy dock was a short distance from our mooring and we headed up into the town that we have toured many times. However, our main goal in visiting Annapolis was not to see the town again but to meet up with Merissa’s boyfriend. She was leaving us for two days to spend Memorial Day weekend with him and his friends. After she left, the rest of us walked around the waterfront and then hit the showers at the harbor office.
The town was packed with people. We could not figure if it was the Naval Academy graduation or the holiday weekend but the sidewalks were busier than even the boat show crowds we have witnessed. For dinner we walked a ways up Main Street for sushi with a chaser of ice cream.
When we awoke, the forecast was not much better then yesterday but it did indicate that the winds should drop slowly as the day went on. We decided to have a leisurely morning and after lunch try to get to St. Michaels along the same route that beat us up yesterday. The idea was to “stick our nose out” into the seas and then decide whether to forge on or hide for another day.
With the wind blowing hard for the last 24 hours from the northwest, the water was pushed out of the creek where we anchored. When we dropped the hook, we had 2 feet of water below our keels. In the morning, the depth sounder showed zero. Fortunately it was soft mud and the boat seemed to still be floating, and the tide was supposed to be rising. By lunchtime, the tide had added about 6 inches of water. We pulled anchor at 1 pm and turned to exit the creek. Then we ran aground hard on what appeared to be a narrow shoal that extended from a nearby point. Backing up did not help much since the wind was pushing us further onto to the shoal. With the engines, we were able to rotate the boat about thirty degrees but we could not move it forward or backward. After fifteen minutes of pushing and pulling with the engines, we lowered the dinghy into the water. This removed several hundred pounds of weight hung off the back of the boat and allowed the stern of Copesetic to rise an inch or two. That was enough, barely. We were able to back up about a boat length and then turn to deeper water that Nathaniel had found by probing with the extended boathook. Once we had a few feet below our keels, we pulled the dinghy back up and were on our way.
As we exited the mouth of the creek, we could feel that the winds had indeed lessened and it seemed like the waves had lost about a foot of height. We still took spray across the entire deck at regular intervals but we felt like it was tolerable. Turning north up the bay we slapped and crashed thru the waves. It felt as if we were back inside a washing machine. The heavy spray across the deck required almost continuous use of the windshield wipers to maintain visibility. The good news is that we only had to be in the thick of it for an hour. When we finally moved into the lee of land that forms the Choptank River, life got a lot less tumultuous. The further we moved up the river towards St. Michaels, the calmer the conditions became. The wind was still gusting but the land reduced the fetch and the waves reduced to a light chop. At just after 4 pm, we anchored in San Sebastian Creek on the “back side” of St. Michaels.
After a short while to decompress from our rough trip and put things back that had found their way to the floor, we took the dinghy to the town dock and walked into St. Michaels. We had not been here in two years or so. The main street looked familiar but it seemed like many of the names of the shops had changed. We wandered down to the marine museum and did a loop around the docks. Then it was back to the main drag to pick up several bags of groceries. St. Michaels is unique in that it has maintained the small town feel, supports a variety of eclectic shops, has few vacant storefronts, and most surprisingly it has a good grocery store in the middle of the town. It seems to have been able to withstand the pressures of the big box stores and has maintained its “personality”. Despite the fact that it is well off the beaten trail by land or water, it still seems popular with both the land and water based crowds.
Just as we were getting ready to go to the grocery checkout, we noticed that they were putting out fresh lobster and they were on sale. Sandy and Ralph had lobster at the beginning of the trip near the start of the Erie Canal and this seemed like a fitting meal for near the end. It was a great finish to a challenging day.
Today we planned on going to Easton. This was another spot we had not visited by water so we thought we would give it a shot. The route was to exit the Little Choptank, head about 8 miles north on the bay, then head east into the Choptank River and finally north up the Tred Avon. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. A high pressure system has been working its way across the Ohio Valley. As it pushed the low off the east coast, the forecasters were predicting the winds to shift to the northwest and increase in intencity. With the wind would come waves. But not to worry, the waves were not supposed to build until the afternoon.
So we got an early start and headed out the Little Fishing Creek into the Little Choptank River. Right away we noticed that the winds were stronger than predicted and white capped waves were all around. No big deal, they were small. We turned west to leave the Little Choptank and the waves got bigger. At the mouth of the river, things got outright nasty. The boat crashed into one set of waves and solid spray covered it from stem to stern. Less than a minute later, another big set had us taking water over the bows. At this point, the dinghy was starting to bang about as the straps holding it in place loosened some. Then we hit another big wave set. Once again, we had to look inside ourselves and see if we were up to the beating and if we wanted to put the boat thru the repeated crashes into the seas. After all, we only had to push thru the crap for an hour. We collectively decided that that was about an hour too much. We pulled a u-turn and headed back into the Little Choptank. The waves were big enough that it took very active steering and occasional changes in engine speed to keep the boat from broaching. We turned up the first viable creek to the north and worked our way up to a secluded anchorage.
The already strong wind was occasionally interrupted by strong gusts that rattled the cockpit enclosure. The boat sailed back and forth on the anchor sometimes turning abruptly as the anchor chain went taught. With the wind coming out of the northwest, the temperature dropped. We played cards, watched TV and stayed warm inside the cabin. Sandy baked a meatloaf, both as comfort food and to heat up the cabin. It worked.
Before leaving Solomons we had to take care of a few chores. It seems that as we continue to eat, we also continue to fill the waste tank. Go figure. To the west of Back Creek is a short little waterway known as The Narrows. The town has a public dock on the west side of The Narrows which has a free pumpout. Not only is it free, it is very good. We left a tank load of liquid waste and a can load of trash. Feeling lighter and less odorous, we departed.
On the eastern shore of the bay about 20 miles north of the Patuxent and just below the Choptank River lies the Little Choptank River. Our guide books spend very little ink on this waterway and we have never been there, so we decided to give it a try. The wind was from the southwest and pushed us the whole way. There was a prediction for storms in the evening so we worked our way well up the River to Fishing Creek and a well-protected spot. There were no other boats and only two houses. One house had what looked to be a working windmill. The wind gusted but we sat calmly in the lee of the land. Around midnight, the falling rain sounded like it was the size of golfballs but we were fine. There are no towns around the Little Choptank but it is certainly a pretty, serene place.
In the evening, we had a family meeting. No matter how long you live together, the confines of the fiberglass box occasionally result in feelings getting stepped on and small annoyances being rubbed raw. This is certainly intensified by the stress we all feel in preparing for our assimilation back to life on land. We sat as a group in the cockpit and openly discussed our feelings. It was not easy but it was necessary. It also seems to be a part of cruising. In the end, we all felt better although mentally drained.