Tuesday, October 7, 2008

October 6, 2008.

All good things come to an end and it was time to leave Washington behind. After a tearful goodbye with Ashlee we met up for cocktails with a few of the wonderful people that we’ve met while we were here. We were really fortunate to add to the list of friends that we made while we were here last year. But again, its time to go.

We raised the anchor and motored slowly down the Potomac as DC faded from view. The Potomac is fairly boring. DC itself, Mount Vernon and Fort Washington are all within 10 miles of each other and after that there’s not really anything to see for the next 85 miles.

The river can be a good workout for a sailor. The wind is constantly shifting and often comes right down the river at you. Ya know, if there is any wind. Sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes it’s rewarding. I must have put up and lowered sails a dozen times during the day. After a 57 mile day we pulled into Bluff Point, ate and retired for the night glad to be underway again.

This morning blossomed with a nice breeze blowing out of the north.
The skies were looking kind of iffy but the breeze was good. We sailed off the anchor and made about 7 seven knots into the end of the flooding tide. After a few hours the wind went fluky on us and it was back to motoring. When we had only about 7 miles of Potomac left the wind came back with a vengeance. The AIS receiver once again earned its keep by letting us see the big ships course and speed before we could even see the ship. We were in the ebb tide and flying along at about 8 knots.

When we reached the mouth of the river we had to turn north for our intended stop at Solomon’s Island. The Chesapeake Bay was a nightmare. It was gonna be a 20 mile bash to windward to get to Solomon’s. We set out motor sailing across the bay, we had the rail in the water as we headed towards the eastern shore. The tide was trying to drive us down the bay and with the winds cresting 20 knots progress was slow. We had to use the engine to allow us to point high enough so we could limit our number of tacks to something less than 200.

Eventually, the tide turned and was coming up the bay. Normally I love when the tide is with us, but then we had that whole tide versus wind predicament. The wind was up to 25 knots as we encountered 4 and 5 foot standing waves that were set close together. Nasty, doesn’t begin to cover it. We talked about it later and we couldn’t recall a day with worse conditions. We had water coming over the entire boat, up over the dodger, bimini….everything. There was water in the dinghy……

We were in the middle of a tack and then it happened. The loudest explosion either one of us had ever heard. You know when you go to a fireworks show and they have those random shells that just make the brief bright flash and then go Ka-Booom. It was deafening, it felt as if it had been right in the boat, we actually felt the concussion and then the engine changed pitch, so I quickly shut the engine down. We had plenty of wind so we just fell off about 20 degrees and continued on across the bay.

First the explosion and then not 2 seconds later the engine noise dramatically changed. What now. Shit. Shit. Christy went below to make sure we were not on fire. We were standing in the cockpit looking at each other thinking….???? Was that us? Then it happened again, Ka-Booom. The boom was so intense that it hurt your internal organs. It scared the living crap out of us again and almost killed Molly, but we were never so glad to hear anything as we were that noise. That meant the noise hadn’t emanated from the engine the first time, it was just a freakish badly timed coincidence.

The engine temperature was a bit higher than it should be. There was a possibility that the raw water impellor had given up the ghost. I went below to start taking it apart while Christy tweaked the sails in an effort to make as much headway as possible. It turned out to be the impellor and after 30 minutes we were back in business.

While I was below there was another explosion. It felt as if we had hit something as the concussion actually “banged” on the bottom of the boat. It felt and sounded as if we had run into a large log.

There ended up being 4 of these Ka-Boooms during a 30 minute period. The only explanations we could come up with was that it was either the Navy target bombing range or sonic booms from the fighters orbiting the area. I’ve heard sonic booms before and these were much louder, it was like they had flown through the cockpit. I don’t know if a sonic boom would have been as loud as the boom that smacked the hull when I was below. It was crazy.

So that leaves the bombing range. I can’t believe they would use live ordinance out on the Chesapeake Bay but I dunno, maybe. Generally, when the navy is conducting live fire exercises they broadcast security warning to ships in the area. We had the VHF on all day and never heard a single broadcast. The range includes a couple of targets that jut up from the water. They’re marked on your charts and you’re supposed to avoid the immediate area. Most people just sail right through unless the range is hot. When the range is hot there is a pair of small Navy patrol boats that intercept and warn boaters that the range is hot. We were about 4 miles from the area so we didn’t see any patrol craft. We were also one of the few buffoons on the bay so maybe there was nobody for them to warn, so there was nothing for us to hear. Again, I dunno. I guess I’m gonna go with the sonic boom theory, I mean, they wouldn’t drop live bombs in the bay, would they?

We were able to clear the riprap shoal guarding the southern entrance to the Patuxent River by about a hundred feet. It was at the end of a perfect tack some 4 miles away. Once past the shoal we were able to ease the sails a bit and sail through the crab pots at 7.5 knots into the setting sun. We dropped the sails and motored into Back Creek, our usual anchorage when here. Once at the rivers end we were shocked to see that the anchorage was full. A month ago when we were here there were 3 boats now there was more like 23. We were able to edge our way in without giving anyone a stroke and anchored securely for the night.

We’ll spend Tuesday doing maintenance and a little shopping before heading up to Annapolis on Wednesday.

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