May 3, 2011.
After the 2 nights anchored at the entrance of Broad Creek hiding from adverse weather we headed up to the free wall at the Great Bridge lock. As each boat comes in onto the wall anybody around grabs their lines and each boat is pulled up tight to the boat before or behind it. Minimizing the gaps we were able to get 8 good sized sailboats on the wall. Free dockage is both rare and fun.
The next day the wind was honking out of the north. We debated staying on the free wall or moving on. We decided to make the 20 mile trek north through Norfolk to the anchorage at Mill Creek in Hampton Roads, Va. We’re still in the ICW so the adverse wind isn’t a big deal for a short day. After a night there the winds were supposed to swing around from the south and build steadily over the course of 3 days. Friends of ours had a little more ambitious schedule and decided to get as far up the Chesapeake as they could. 20 knots and 3 to 4 footers dead on the nose, all day. I’m glad our schedule was a little more lax….
So on Sunday morning we pulled the hook at 0700 and sailed out into the Chesapeake Bay. It was a trip of about 125 miles to Annapolis. In the past we’ve done it in 3 easy days, 2 long days and we’ve also done it as an overnighter. Favorable building breeze from a good direction…..overnighter it is.
We had less than 5 knots of breeze and dead flat seas. With the tide against us we were making 1.8 knots…..for hours. We were passed by boats of every style and description. The only vessel we passed all day was a life ring with 2 seagulls aboard. It was 1500 hours before we topped 3 knots but the wind did as it was supposed to and slowly built.
By dinner we were pleasantly skimming along at better than 5 knots with a 1 foot chop directly behind us. After dark the wind built and because it was so close to the stern we were forced to drop the mainsail as it was blanketing the genoa. It really was a very nice sail, averaging 6 knots as we jibed our way up the bay under full genoa.
The bay was alive with big ship traffic all night. There were a couple of other small boats out there with us although not close enough for us to see other than on radar. At times I was embarrassed by some of the other boaters as they did their best to make fools of themselves in dealing with the larger ships.
We ended up giving routing advice to 2 different sailors that were doing their best to become tragic boating accident headlines. It’s awkward when you are trying to decide whether or not to jump in when you can hear someone who is obviously confused.
I always feel like somebody’s gonna get pissy with me for butting in but on both occasions these guys were both a little overwhelmed and very thankful to get the help. The one guy was hailing the freighter on his stern that was overtaking him at 18 knots but was answered by the tug and barge 7 miles off his bow who was heading at him. They were both confused as they tried to arrange their safe passing. I could see both large vessels on the AIS and realized the mistake the sailor was making. I explained to the sailboat that he was talking to the wrong ship and gave him the name of the vessel that was bearing down on him from behind.
The eastern side of the channel up the Chesapeake is the deep water side. All the big ships do 18 to 20 knots and prefer to stay to the eastern side of the bay. The western side of the channel is called “Tugboat Alley”. The tugs all average between 5 and 8 knots so it’s a lot safer to stick to the western side of the channel. Especially at night when those big fast movers can be on you in a shockingly short amount of time.
We sailed right up to the mouth of Back Creek. We motored slowly into the creek and after rigging lines we wedged our way into our tiny slip. We had to really take our time and fend heavily as we forced our way into the slip. With the breeze blowing us sideways it made things more than a little difficult. The first time was a complete clusterf@#k with Christy moving with ninja like quickness as she fended here and there. It ended up with Christy standing on the side deck of the boat in the slip next to us while I backed away to try it again. I had to approach with more speed than I wanted too but I had no choice as the wind was being a pain in my ass. With Christy on the other boat it was big help and we were soon safely tied up in our home for the next 6 months.
I know I’m like a broken record as far as the whole AIS thing goes but….. I installed our AIS for about 300 dollars and I can’t begin to explain the amount of comfort that it gives us when dealing with the big dangerous guys. The AIS unit and an antenna splitter are all the equipment that we needed. The antenna splitter allows you to utilize your masthead antenna for the AIS as well as the VHF. It makes no difference what so ever in the performance of your VHF and the height of the antenna allows you to “see” vessels from a greater distance. I see everything within 20 miles and when out at sea it’s not unusual to see the big guys 60 miles away. Even in the bay most vessels show up 40 miles away. It’s not a substitute for radar but compliments it very well and helps to make life aboard the Veranda a breeze.