Last Thursday we made the bumpy cruise across the Chesapeake to Bodkin Creek where we docked at Pleasure Cove Marina in Pasadena, a bedroom community between Baltimore and Annapolis. Meeting our son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Holly, and grandson Wes worked like clockwork. Scott brought lovely pastries, and we celebrated Holly’s birthday. Trying to keep a semblance of a two-and-a-half year old’s schedule was the challenge of the week end, and bedtime and nap-time required heroic parental efforts. We are grateful that Scott and Holly were willing to take the challenge, because our time together was truly a delight.
The weather, having turned chilly and windy, did not cooperate for our Friday cruise, and we stayed put. Having Scott and Holly’s car, however, allowed us to scope out beautiful Downs Park, a 20-minute drive to the coast, with a playground which was a perfect place to land for the morning. I prepared an all-in-one-dish pasta dinner, which we enjoyed on the fly bridge, where we had wind protection and plenty of buttons, ropes, nooks and crannies for Wes to explore.
On Saturday, we cruised east across the Bay again, past Rock Hall and up the Chester River to historic and charming Chestertown. Founded in 1706, Chestertown became one of the English colony of Maryland’s six Royal Ports of Entry. The shipping boom that followed this designation made the town at the head of the Chester River wealthy. In the mid-eighteenth century, Chestertown was Maryland’s second-leading port, following only Annapolis. With 6500 residents today, it is also home to Washington College, with an undergraduate student enrollment of 1100 and a Lifelong Learning community of 400. After cruising for 5 hours, Wes needed to expend some energy, and once he was acclimated at the nearby playground, Holly and I ducked away for some shop-browsing. On Main Street, we found a children’s arts festival in full swing, with vendors, booths for kids to create their own works of art, and a big Bounce House. The 5 of us met up again for an early dinner at The Kitchen at the Imperial, and as we were escorted through dining rooms filled with tables dressed in white table cloths and votive candles, we adults looked at each other, wide-eyed. Thankfully, we were seated in our own little porch, and Wes happily passed the time with the plate of bread and his new truck sticker book. It was a successful dinner out, and Wes was a delightful dinner companion. That evening as Steve made the necessary engine check, Wes followed him down into the belly of the boat. “I’m impressed!” he stated, matter-of-factly.
Sunday morning felt chilly, but Wes had been waiting patiently for a ride in our new dinghy—and understandably, as it afforded closer access to the water and was more “hands on” for a tot. The four of them enjoyed a couple of spins around the head of the Chester River, Wes taking the helm and taking full advantage of the power of the throttle. Wes was very tickled when Scott turned into a wave and soaked Holly who sat in the bow. They returned in good spirits, and back aboard Red Pearl, we returned to the west side of the Bay and bid farewell to this sweet family.
Steve and I both were ready for a long, hard sleep that night!
From Leeds Creek, we hopped down to St. Michaels, one of the most popular resort towns on the eastern shore. We anchored in San Domingo Creek with 5 other boats, finding it more developed than we expected with homes surrounding the creek. (The new dinghy is wonderful, and our well-functioning davits make this attractive rhythm possible. We can enjoy both the serenity of the anchor and the buzz of the area.) We waited until the following day to go into town, per CDC Covid guidelines and our symptom day counts. Ashore at St. Michaels on Chew Street, a colorful, hippy house with a bright green picket fence, wild and exuberant gardens, and pithy signage greets folks who dinghy in. The town was quiet, the shops easily an afternoon’s entertainment, the ice cream delicious. We made reservations for dinner and then returned to the boat to rest. After eating aboard for a week, we enjoyed sharing a delicious crab cake dinner at the Crab Claw on the patio, watching the activity on the water.
On Saturday we cruised to Oxford and anchored in Flatty’s Cove. In town we walked to the park, enjoying a constant breeze and the shade offered by its mature hardwoods right up to the shoreline. We felt like we had stumbled onto the Chesapeake’s version of Saturday soccer—one-design sailboat racing. Parents stood ashore with binoculars, handheld radios, and snack coolers with the family dog on leash, as they milled around, watching and chatting. We continued our walk along the popular anchorage known as The Strand. The field of mooring balls was empty, but in high season it is filled with both partiers and cruisers on the move. The following day, we returned to town for Sunday brunch on the porch of the historic Robert Morris Inn. Morris built this house overlooking the water in 1710, and it is the oldest full-service inn in America. Morris, himself a founding father, and his son Robert Jr., a financier of the Revolutionary War, would have discussed trade issues and the state of affairs here while hosting other dignitaries, such as George Washington who visited eight times. Serving as a convalescent home for soldiers in World War I and a general store, the Robert Morris Inn has come full circle in offering lofty creative inspiration: James Michener, who owned a home in nearby St. Michaels, wrote the outline for his novel Chesapeake here.
On Monday we returned to Herrington Harbor North for steering fluid and to check out a possible house battery issue. Both issues were addressed promptly and with relatively little ado. In other words, whatever issues remain are not urgent and can be addressed during the winter (i.e. “the 2 weeks prior to our departure in the spring”). Refilling our water tanks, pumping out our black water, doing laundry, and provisioning filled our day.
Tuesday we crossed the Bay again, finding the passage choppy and rough, and arrived at Rock Hall, northeast of the Bay Bridge and a favorite destination for Loopers on the Chesapeake. We got a slip at Rock Hall Landing, and easily understood its attraction. The marina provides inviting accommodations for groups, with not only swimming pool, picnic tables and grills, but also hammocks hanging between mature trees and 18 Adirondack chairs encircling a gas fire table. A town of 1500 sturdy year-round inhabitants, Rock Hall is quaint and—rather sleepy at this time of year. It being Wednesday when we road bikes to town, most businesses were closed. We chatted with the shop keeper of a lovely little quilt shop attractively packed with fabric, quilting essentials, and classroom space, and I purchased a few yards of fabric that called out to me. Our circuit around town concluded with afternoon coffee and a treat at Java Rock. There was still time left in the afternoon for some cleaning chores, and having eaten at the popular Waterman’s Crab House next door the previous night, AND it being Wednesday, with many restaurants closed, we opted for grilling and eating dinner aboard.
The night Tuesday was a restless night one for us, as the wind shifted and whistled through the jetty at the perfect angle for causing a loud slap-slapping of waves against the bow right at our ears. We lay awake thinking about the weather and the projected high waves the next day. Just when one has plans, the weather interjects with a reminder that there are things beyond one’s control. Meeting Scott, Holly and grandson Wes tomorrow is a “go!” Which side of the Chesapeake we will meet is yet to be determined!
As I’ve blogged, I’ve thought a lot about how to tell our story. I’ve noticed how people gather ‘round, smiling and nodding over a tidbit of gossip or a tale of woe. I’ve noticed that the telling of well-laid and -executed plans that go off without a hitch somehow lacks that dramatic punch, and further, can be plain boring. According to blogger Jane Hope on the art of story-telling, there has to be a “pain point” that disrupts the setting. There follows a “quest,” during which a “crisis” is encountered. All this can finally result in a “new normal.” Aboard Red Pearl, Steve and I have had lots of suitable material for a good story in this blog, whether I’ve told it well on not. Just once, however, I would like to write a boring tale, one lacking a pain point and a crisis. Wouldn’t it be great to arrive at a new normal without all the angst and time spent in boat yards!?” Evidently, the opportunity to write that boring tale is yet to be.
In April we were making preparations for the 6-month completion of our Loop. The piles of gear had begun to move from the lower level of our house to the back door (setting). And then I turned my ankle on the uneven pavement between the driveway and the garage floor. I heard a “pop,” and the seering pain suggested that I had really done…something (pain point). X-rays (quest) indicated that my peroneus longus tendon, which runs lengthwise on the outer side of the foot, had snapped. It had been complaining during the winter, enough that I had had it injected and hoped that whatever was ailing it would heal on its own. This “healing on its own” bit not being the case, our plans quickly shifted; instead of completing the Loop, I spent the summer recovering from surgery (crisis?!). Since the peroneus longus is largely responsible for foot stability, I was advised to give recovery 4 months before cruising again, and Steve good-naturedly took to furthering his nursing and hearth-keeping skills (new normal 😉).
Despite our disappointment at another delay in completing the Loop, the “booby prize” is allowing for more cruising time on the Chesapeake than most Loopers have time to enjoy. Due to season limitations, most Loopers pretty much cruise straight through, having played around Florida in the winter and then gunning (at 8mph) to make Canada on July 1. And so—once I was weight-bearing again and had regained my independence, Steve and two of his adventuresome friends, John Dick and Bob Zook, spent a lovely week on Red Pearl in June. Steve flew out a few days before the others arrived, in order to make sure everything was ready. Things were not ready, and Steve was fit to be tied. The boat was not in the town where he was meeting his friends, not even in the water, and many of the repairs which were frequent topics of phone conversations with John Shanahan were yet incomplete. Steve begged and cajoled and complained to get the boat ready enough, and then during the course of the week on the water, he decided to leave Red Pearl at Zimmerman Marine, located at Herrington Harbor North (owned and run by the same Zimmerman family in Deltaville, VA, where our davit motors were replaced last summer. Since the dinghy davit conundrum continued to be illusive, it made sense for Zimmerman to resolve that problem). And so—after the guys’ week, Red Pearl spent the summer “on the hard” (in a parking lot up in cradles), still awaiting work. Two weeks before we were set to head back to Maryland for fall cruising, the phone started ringing again with marine workmen’s questions regarding this and that…and one recurring question: “Now, what’s your drop dead departure date?” Even with the additional week we allotted the team, multiple guys were still aboard the day before we set off. This just seems to be the rhythm of boatyards, but come next spring, we will be resorting to telling a little white lie, padding that “drop dead date” by a couple of weeks.
After hanging around the marina for 5 days, we were keen to get off, an additional day’s delay for stinky weather just being the way things go on the water. Steve executed his exit plan from the narrow fairway well, but I noticed a strange grinding noise from where I stood abaft as we turned the corner. And then some odd steering issues ensued…We came up too close to a line of slipped boats. Steve reversed and adjusted. Finally, as he mopped at steering fluid streaming from the helm, he stopped at the pump out station and called our dear friends at Zimmerman. Mike and Joe sure enough figured out that the steering fluid level was low (a no-brainer even for me!) causing excessive free play in the steering. Unrelated was the discovery that the auto helm wasn’t working due to old cable connections. Fortunately it was revived by jiggling the cable, while Joe held his tongue just right. Ehh, it’s a boat!….
On Monday, Sept. 12 we crossed the Bay over to the Wye East River, seeking some natural beauty in a quiet anchorage. It was here that a second antigen test confirmed that my cold is indeed COVID19, and Steve’s symptoms are about 3 days behind mine. Thus, we will spend the next week avoiding people and will mask up after our 5-day isolation. An evening thunderstorm offered the biggest lightening show we have ever witnessed, and watching the hour-long display from the flybridge was thrilling—and a little scary.
Tuesday morning we took the dinghy to an Audubon sanctuary with hiking trails, and, while we saw few birds, we enjoyed walking the beautiful forest. Returning to the boat, we cruised up the Wye West River, the east and west sides encircling Wye Island and interrupted only by a simple wooden bridge with a slim 10-foot clearance. Beautiful manor-like homes whispering promises of a perfect bucolic life dot the shoreline, their expanses of mature trees shading manicured lawns. Wilderness abounds here, too, with natural habitat for Bald Eagles, cranes, and snapping turtles. We anchored in Leeds Creek, another beautiful spot in the East Bay, choosing its protection as high gusts were forecast, but our mosquito encounter at dusk suggested that there was no wind, after all!
Steve and I are going to lay low now and recover, while enjoying the scenery and boat-cooking, coughing sweet nothings to each other.
Continuing northwest from Tangier Island, we crossed back to the western shore to Solomons Island, Maryland, a sailor’s haven where motor yachts are vastly outnumbered. Hunkering down again for high winds, Solomons was another good place to kick back and enjoy watching the boats come in, to read and blog, to dine overlooking the water, and to take in the excellent Calvert Marine Museum. The museum has quite a fine fossil exhibit from the cliffs on the bay side of the island, which is rife with traces and treasures from prehistoric times. It also holds enjoyable aquariums displaying marine life of the area, a War of 1812 exhibit,** and information and anecdotes regarding the oyster industry of the Chesapeake—another resource-turned-industry in this region that has been highly stressed due to the demand. We learned that the oysters of the Chesapeake do not form pearls; I admit to feeling rather disappointed for the shuckers, who I had envisioned enjoying at least that little perk, as they opened hundreds of oysters every day, day after day. A museum is a great way to pass a stormy afternoon…unless one is on foot and emerges just as the storm is about to hit. We made a bee-line back to the boat, and were almost there when the big, heavy drops began pelting. It was quite a storm, and later we donned our rain gear, bibs and all, to walk the half-mile to dinner. A shout out to CD Cafe, where we savored a memorable dinner in a comfortable and intimate setting with just 12 tables.
For days we watched sailboats come and go; sailing south used the northwest wind to great advantage. But we, with a light boat and a high profile, did not relish the thought of putting our nose to 18mph winds with gusts to 24. Finally after four days, the wind laid down, and we reveled in our final cruise of the season. We were captivated by a profusion of sailboats heading south, all beautifully aligned on a starboard tack. Was it a regatta? We counted as many as 38 at a time and they just kept coming. Whatever the event, we noted that the wind will dictate that they motor back north. Leaving the big water of the Chesapeake, we followed the choppy Choptank River into the lovely quietude of Trappe Creek, timing our arrival perfectly at Dickerson Marine during high tide, compensating for its shallow depths. There, in Trappe, MD, where RedPearl will reside “on the hard,” indoors for the winter, we were told—with apologies—that there wasn’t room to dock and that we would have to get to their other facility in Oxford, an hour away. It being 4:00, this news was a little nerve-wracking, as we had not researched the route and sunset arrives earlier every day; had we known, we would have given ourselves more time, would not have needed to wait to make it in at high tide…would have missed seeing Trappe Creek. But we made it. Our hail on the radio went unanswered, until finally we heard the faint call across the water, “Red Pearl!” An older guy with wild white hair, nearly as much growing out of his ears as on top of his head, pointed to the slip. The set-up of pilings being unusual, he gruffly asked permission to come aboard and officiously secured our lines. We have never seen anyone lasso a piling 20 feet off on the first try like he did. I complained to Steve, as this guy was adamant about a certain arrangement of lines which is unsuitable to the way our dinghy sits on its davits. It turns out that this dock hand, who waited after closing to meet us, is the guru and boatyard owner, John Shanahan. Over the next days, we picked up tidbits here and there, gaining confidence that John is one of the “big fish” in the boat business, which should not have come as a surprise—Steve had done his homework in choosing this boatyard for over-wintering Red Pearl! Trained in engineering and business, John has been a boat designer for Grand Banks, an iconic line of boats, for most of his career. He was an attentive listener as we shared our davit saga, and as he studied it, his face held the smile of a master totally in his element. John has our “to do” list, but chances are that Steve and I are going to learn a whole lot through some lively phone conversations with John…and that the list is going to morph over the coming months.
Sock weather is arriving on the Chesapeake, but the sun was shining as we changed out of our shorts and into slacks to drive home. It’s still gorgeous here and we are not quite ready to leave, but the calendar says that it’s time to go home.
**A bit of historic and personal irony—not required reading, by any means: I was quite fuzzy on the triggers for the War of 1812 and went looking to sort things out. I was sobered to ponder what another war some 35 years after the devastation of the War for Independence meant to this young country. I was puzzled by the connection of the War of 1812 with Tchaikovsky’s Overture of 1812. I admit to often being slow to connect the dots of events which happen simultaneously around the globe. For example, it took me too long to realize that Benjamin Franklin, who enjoyed extended stays in Europe, would have known of the young phenom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and might have even caught a performance London or at the French Court. And with a similar failure at dot-connecting and perhaps a small dose of American hubris, I was confused as to why Tchaikovsky would write a grand overture about a war an ocean away between Great Britain, Spain, and the United States. After all, the 1812 Overture is the most popular accompaniment to our Fourth of July fireworks displays on the Fourth of July! My search reminded me that one has to ask the correct questions to find answers. I didn’t have to look very far to be reminded of what was happening simultaneously in Europe, of Napoleon’s military ambitions; and that this overture is a programmatic retelling of Napoleon’s defeat in the Battle at Borodin in Tchaikovsky’s Russia. The irony of co-opting a symphonic work which celebrates the victory of one despotic government over another wanna-be despot for our Independence Day celebrations might have been funny a few years ago… One might note, as well, that the tune to “The Star Spangled Banner” comes from an English drinking song, and that “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” changes up the words to the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen.” Sheryl Kaskowitz, a scholar of American music, says when the source of both the words and music are known, the song carries a dual meaning: “The words can be a direct protest to the tune.”
Two days’ cruise from Colonial Beach—with a delightful night on the hook at Mill Creek near the Great Wicomico River on the western shore—landed us in Cape Charles, VA, a town with War of 1812 history near the southern tip of the Eastern Shore. The crossing was choppy and not very pleasant, requiring us to take a less direct course in search of protection from northeasterly winds, and we were grateful, at last, for the shelter of dockage. During our stay there, we watched the docking “show” of a number of motor and sail boats, all challenged by the high winds, one of which made unfortunate contact with others in the harbor and sustained some damage.
Cape Charles is a cute town, and it was a good place to sit out the big 5-day blow. We rode our bikes and enjoyed dinner at The Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery, where the black beans and rice accompanying the grouper were the star of the evening. Knowing we were staying a while, we took our time perusing the town, more than once having plans upended by unpredictable hours of business due to lack of help, end of the season, and broken water mains. The pancakes at Cape Charles Coffee House were deliciously memorable, and additionally so for being served with the longest fingernails we’ve seen in action. 😂 Brown Dog Ice Cream is open only on week ends these days, but it’s worth the wait. There was a jewelry store specializing in
“fish leather,” bracelets and earrings made from leathery hand-painted fish skin, and a photographer’s studio filled with crisp, artistic, local shots all taken from a small plane. If we were not at the end of our cruising, I might have provisioned for docktails at the gourmet market. On a particularly blustery and rainy day, we walked out to the end of the fishing pier and watched the action, seeing Ribbon Fish being hauled in, one after the other. These beautiful long flat silvery fish with wavy fins like curling ribbon have teeth, mind you! Wikipedia says that, although Americans don’t know what to do with Ribbon Fish, it is an excellent eating fish which the Japanese prize; hence, our observation that the fishingpeople were Asian.
Once high winds abated, we cruised north to Onancock, a tiny town which undoubtedly oozes charm during high season. However, it not being high season, welcome mats were all but rolled up. We enjoyed docktails and dinner with lovely folks from Victoria, BC, Judy and Greg Waller on Rumabout, who we had met in Cape Charles.
Cutting back west 16 miles is the soft shell crab capital of the world, Tangier Island, population 450 with a town the altitude of 3 feet and an area of one square mile. Two-thirds of its land mass has been lost since 1850 due to sea level rise and erosion and continuing at an accelerating rate. According to an article in New Yorker, this Island is one storm away from being wiped out; and yet, the mayor is no believer in climate change. One steps back 75 years in time on Tangier, and James Michener fans go back even further in their imaginations, recognizing Tangier as an important setting in his novel, Chesapeake. The channel through which boats approach Tangier Island is lined on both sides by fishing “bungalows” —shanties, really—the man caves of the watermen who make their living trapping blue crab, sorting them to market those with intact hard shells from ones that have molted their outgrown shells, and throwing back those that have begun to grow a new one. We walked the single road into town and found residents congregated and chatting from their golf carts, awaiting the tourists disembarking the final ferry of the season, to escort them around the loop for a small fee and a big tip. Two churches, a grocery which is restocked every Thursday, a post office bearing evidence of Amazon shipments, a K-12 school with 50 students and a football team(?!), a part-time medical clinic for which a doctor flies in once a month, a quaint museum, a T-shirt shop, and a few restaurants—Lorraine’s being the only one still open this late in the season. The main transport on the island is golf cart or scooter, but some residents keep a car on the mainland. There is no cellphone service. We had heard about the dialect spoken by the locals, a sort of “Elizabethan English meets Waterman,” and as we were preparing to push off in the morning, we could hear a unique cadence among watermen across the water as they prepared for the day. The museum listed a lot of fun local vernacular: “Nippity cut” means a close call and “old whackems” are long-time buddies. We couldn’t resist purchasing the 3-page list of unique phrases of the dialect for coffee table reading. We chatted with 90-year-old Milton Parks, owner of Parks Marina, who was born on the island and raised here. “There are only three names on the island—Crocker, Pruitt and Parks,” he told us. (A little simplified—the internet say there are 6 family names.) They have no police—everyone knows everyone, and if you misbehave, your mom’ll hear about it! Dinner at Lorraine’s, with its oil cloth table cloths and a white board listing the desserts so that you’d be sure to save room, was delicious. We splurged on crab dip and shared a crab cake dinner, at “market price,” currently $31/pound, according to our server. We had read at the museum that government regulation has shortened the crabbing season by 5 months due to over fishing. But watermen dispute this and attribute the poor return this season to pollutants in the water. We suspect the crab shortage in the crab capital of the world to be a more nuanced issue—perhaps both, and some others reasons, as well.
The dock master at Onancock told Steve, “If you don’t go to Tangier once, shame on you. If you go more than once, shame on you, too.” That’s just about right.
Monday was another beautiful day for cruising, but we departed D.C. with a little sadness. We agree that three weeks would have been perfect, allowing us to see more sights, while not hitting it quite so hard. We hope to come back when the capitol building is open to visitors again, to see the National Museum of the African American, which had no openings for the whole month of October, to get to Georgetown…
Our destination was Colonial Beach, midway down the Potomac, where the options were slim for side-by-side accommodations appropriate for a 35-foot RV and a 40-foot trawler—sort of a meeting of a fish and a squirrel—in order to meet up with Wishart and Mary Bell. As luck would have it, the accommodations were not ideal for either of us, and our expectation of being able to dinghy back and forth two minutes across the little bay was tricky, there being no good place to tie up on their side. That did not deter us—Wishart and his truck, Gustav, are just about unstoppable! 😉 They hosted for dinner, we made s’mores camper-style, and enjoyed a good visit around the fire.
Tuesday we drove across the Potomac to St. Mary’s City, a colonial town that was Maryland’s first European settlement and capital. It is now a state-run historic area, which includes reconstruction of the original colonial settlement and a living history and museum complex. Settled by the Roman Catholic Calvert family (of the Lord Baltimore ilk) for religious freedom, they lived amicably enough with a majority of Protestants in this small town. As we entered the historic area we met Thomas, a young man on staff in some capacity, who found in us an opportunity to enthusiastically regale us with facts and dates, theories and conjectures, causing us to feel like, as Wishart said, we were “drinking-water-from-a-fire-hose.” Apologies to Thomas: a scholar without an appropriately appreciate audience… (Steve adds that we were appreciative for a while.) Still an active archeological site and training ground for archeologists, the reconstructed living history area includes a church, a barn with a few original timbers, an inn, a tavern, a store, and a ship. Tobacco was not only the cash crop; it was also the currency: a night’s stay at the local inn would have cost 7 pounds of tobacco. Of course, only the brawn of enslaved workers made this labor-intense crop possible, although at this early point in American history, some of the enslaved were indentured workers, who eventually regained their freedom. We went aboard the re-created MarylandDove, a 76-foot cargo ship, crewed by 9 men with 40 tons of stores and supplies lade up below. The docent helped us visualize the hard-knock life of crew aboard a 17th-c. ship. Before leaving the area, we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant where we were the only gringos and the Margaritas were great. Back on Red Pearl we resurrected our memory of Pinochle, having enjoyed it together on our Glacier vacation—albeit with some rules askew!
Our final day with the Bells included nuts and bolts of life on the move—provisioning, food preparation, and a black water pump out. Having had lunch on the boat, we had dinner at their place again, campfire-grilled steak and boat-baked apple crisp, and a second evening of Pinochle. We look forward to trying to rendezvous again in the spring and are always grateful for time with dear friends—at home, but especially on these memory-making, away-from-home adventures.
Saturday morning, Scott, Holly and little Wes drove into D.C. for the week end. We’ve had friends aboard a few times, but this was the first family visit, and we were a bit nervous about keeping our 18-month-old grandson safe and happy. We ordered a big fajita box for lunch from the taco shop and enjoyed our picnic on the fly-bridge. Then we headed to the National Children’s Museum for a delightful afternoon, watching our grandson explore a new setting. He loved the pillow fight with his parents, and as he settled in, he found slides, and lots of places to try out his construction skills. Returning to the boat, Steve and I quickly grilled and prepared dinner, but Wes’s late nap in the stroller after his very busy afternoon, plus his novel environs, understandably, made bedtime a challenge. Sunday morning after baked oatmeal, we took a short cruise down the Potomac. Wes loved the big yellow “taxi boats” and the steady procession of planes taking off at Reagan National Airport, but remained wary of the noisy and slightly threatening helicopters. Riding at the bow with his parents and rearranging the ropes was fun!
We returned to the dock to find a small boat in our slip. After hanging out for 20 minutes and not knowing how much longer it would be before the owner returned, we decided to dock temporarily on the neighboring pier. I called to two guys out working and asked for their assistance with our lines. They readily came to help, but as we came nearer, I realized that one of them was Senator Joe Manchin. As I handed him our lines I said to him, “ I can’t believe I asked a US senator to catch our lines!” He kindly responded, “You’re fine.” After we were secure, Steve came down from the flybridge and joked, “You know, I usually give the guys who catch our lines 5 bucks!” The senator laughed as he turned to walk away and said, “No problem— just pay your taxes.” Later Steve saw him again around the yacht club, and the senator greeted him and slapped him on the shoulder. As a side note, I will add that we had come to understand that Mr. Manchin lives on MV Almost Heaven at Capital Yacht Club when he is in D.C. Thursday evening a group of protesters in kayaks and small boats chanted and heckled until he came out and talked to them. We had also seen him and exchanged greetings another time on the ramp to the club entrance. Whatever your politics, however big the infrastructure package should be, I would venture an opinion that Joe Manchin is a nice guy.
Back to Sunday—Mr. Manchin’s friend knew the owner of the boat in our slip and went to find him. It wasn’t long until the boat owner returned and was appropriately contrite, and we were able to return to our spot. After lunch and Wes’s nap, Scott and Holly headed back to Frederick, just an hour’s drive. Suddenly feeling exhausted, we caught dinner at the nearby pub before retiring unusually early. Red Pearl is extremely cozy for five people, but how we loved having family aboard!
Lincoln would recognize much about the capital to which he was returning a dozen years after his single term in Congress. Washington City, home to 61,000 inhabitants in February 1861, was a raw, unsanitary place. Southern sympathies predominated, and separate legal codes governed people of different races.
From the White House the new president could look across the malarial Potomac Flats to the marble stump of the Washington Monument, abaondoned in 1854 for lack of funds. Worse, he could smell the rotting City Canal, an open sewer running along the line of today’s Constitution Avenue, into which local residents tossed dead animals. ~ posted in Ford’s Theater Museum
Still throwing off the discouragement of the prior weeks, we reveled in the remaining 90-miles up the iconic Potomac to Washington D.C. We felt on top of the world, with sun on our faces, cool breezes, and the purr of the engines. The Potomac is wide and scenic, with open green spaces and woods on both sides, an occasional rocky cliff, a bit of fine real estate—and a power plant—but most of it seemingly protected and undeveloped. We had little traffic for most of the trip—also a surprise for a Saturday. We watched for Mt. Vernon, having toured it about 5 years ago, and enjoyed seeing it from the water, remembering that the substantial number of guests who stopped, both by carriage and by boat, in need of lodging strained the Washingtons’ finances. George culled his woods to cover costs, while Martha perfected her ham-smoking skill. And, of course, enslaved people did the manual labor. As we neared the city, floating logs became a hazard, and traffic ultimately did became zoo-y. Our first siting of the Washington Monument and then the Capitol Building stirred unanticipated emotion.
Capitol Yacht Club (est. 1892) was easy to find. At the assigned T-dock on the outside, we lacked the protection that a slip offers from turbulence but gained a great view of the activity on the water and of the park across the way. It was Saturday evening, and kayaks and paddle boards on the water and cyclists biking around the golf course and park, gave way after dark to boating partiers. The ear-splitting helicopter, patrolling the route between the Pentagon and other military landmarks south was something we would adjust to during the week. We walked the waterfront on the wharf, visiting the huge fish market, scoping out eateries, and watching kids toast marshmallows city-style by the S’more Truck.
Sunday: After a much-needed boat wash down, we hopped on our bikes and headed to the city’s top attraction, the National Air and Space Museum. Many venerable aircraft hang in the entry, among them Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis, and theprivately-funded Spaceship One. We enjoyed seeing several lunar modules and unmanned space probes, and marveled at the tiny Gemini capsule which transported two fully-suited astronauts.Some chunks of the Wright exhibit were removed during expansion and renovation, but we immersed ourselves in that turn-of-the-century snapshot in history, gaining even more admiration for these two brothers from a tight-knit, mid-western family, who displayed very different personalities and gifts. After a couple of disappointing runs, these men with no college degrees realized that the formulas for lift, which had been devised and utilized by scientists before them, were incorrect; and they set about devising their own tests, one being their famous wind tunnel, utilizing their their bicycle craft to correct calculations which are still used today. Seeing their glider, reading again about the progress of their 1904 and 1905 engine-powered flights at Kitty Hawk, and then their first practical flight back home in a cow field near Dayton, Ohio in which they circled the field for 39 minutes a total of 24 1/2 miles, was inspiring. Despite the lure of the jingles from rows and rows of food trucks on the mall at museum close, we persisted to our dinner at Rasika, where we savored amazing Indian fare and experienced the best service we can remember, well worth the wait!
Monday: The first order of the day was our Pfizer booster and annual flu shots, followed by lunch at the nearby taco stand on the wharf. We tooled around the Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden on our way to the National Postal Museum, where we viewed famous stamps and learned some of the history of mail delivery. It was easier, of course, to deliver mail in cities; but the postal service was hesitant to offer expensive Rural Free Delivery, even though the majority of Americans lived in rural areas. A pilot program proved how popular rural delivery in fact was, and folks happily walked to their post office or hitched up the wagon to go to town to collect their mail. What a great mail system we have, despite—you know—kinks in the system, puzzling current leadership, and all. Lack of planning for dinner will just about guarantee disappointment, and our late dinner at The Grill on the Wharf was windy, pricey and just ok.
Tuesday: The planners of our capital city have tucked small green spaces amidst the large ones, and there are hundreds of public spots for people to sit or stroll and enjoy nature. We lingered at the lovely gardens by the Smithsonian castle, the Enid Haupt Gardens, en route to the National Museum of American History. We were most interested in seeing patent models and were disappointed to discover that the entire wing which houses them is closed for renovation. But we discovered plenty of other interesting exhibits, like the one about voting rights and the evolution of thought and controversies over who should have the right to vote, which felt especially timely. We were struck again by how rancorous American discourse seems always to have been. We happened upon the quartet of fine stringed instruments—a Strad and three Nicolo Amatis—the iconic collection revered by string players world-wide. And we looked at the collection of First Ladies’ gowns and White House china. After leaving the museum, we cycled around the Mall and the Washington Monument, where now 700,000 small white flags across acres and acres flutter in the breeze, many with names and intimate sentiments written on them, marking the tragic number of lives lost in the pandemic. We walked through the solemn and understated Vietnam Memorial and cycled by the much larger and grander memorial to the Korean War. Back at the boat, I cooked and we ate dinner aboard.
Wednesday: We hit two museums, the National Museum of Natural History and the National Portrait Museum. We enjoyed dipping a little deeper into fossils, dinosaurs, and the five previous extinctions on earth. We were sobered by the assumption that we are in the middle of another and noted the irony that these exhibits were funded by David Koch (d. 2019), oil engineer and entrepreneur, and supporter of the far-right political movement. A quick sail through the beautifully-designed exhibit of taxidermied mammals was a nice exit, as we enjoyed watching children encountering the displays with wonder. The National Portrait Museum is a profound way to encounter American history. I appreciated the museum’s apology that, admittedly, most historic portraiture is of men, because of our patriarchal underpinnings. I lingered over the “cartes de viste,” a collection of civil war era miniature photos of influential women. Among them were Clara Louise Kellogg an American-trained soprano, who made her mark on the New York City stage singing the great European operas; and Venezuelan child prodigy Teresa Careño who debuted at the piano in New York at the age of 8, entertained President Lincoln at the White House playing his favorite song, “Listen to the Mockingbird,” and went on to a successful career as an adult artist. There are so many stories of unassuming greatness and leadership represented in that gallery, in addition to the prominent personalities and representations of famous moments. Amanda Gorman, the poet of Biden’s inauguration, received her due last January, but I had not heard of the inaugural painting—it is a lovely landscape. And then there is the hall of presidential portraits, of course. Among so many other interesting works, I was pleased to be able to see up close the exquisite and symbolic detail in the Hope collage, which served as Obama’s most recognized campaign poster in 2008. For dinner we returned to Rasika—we love repeats of a sure good thing and we were not disappointed!
Thursday: Having purchased tour tickets for Ford’s Theater, we were a little concerned it would be some over-sensationalized, two-bit circus act, but happily discovered this not to be the case. Still a working theater, the basement museum is open on a limited basis, a treasure trove of information on Lincoln, his election, the evolution of his thoughts on slavery, his life as president, his family, and of course, his assassination, all held in balance. I hadn’t known that Will was the second son of the Lincolns to have died, the most like his father…and the favorite. Youngest son Tad, had a cleft palate—and perhaps some learning deficiencies—and was curious and mischievous. We can attribute the silly practice of the presidential pardon of a turkey at Thanksgiving to Tad Lincoln and his father:
Late in 1863 a live turkey was sent to the White House for the Lincoln family to feast on during the holidays. Tad Lincoln, age 10, quickly befriended the bird. Tad taught the turkey to follow him as he walked around the White House grounds. The turkey was named Jack, and Tad fed him as a pet. When the time neared to prepare the turkey for the Christmas meal, Tad burst into one of his father’s Cabinet meetings. He was crying loudly. Tad told his dad that Jack was about to be killed, and that he had obtained a temporary delay from the “executioner” so he could put Jack’s case before the president. Tad said, “Jack must not be killed; it is wicked.” President Lincoln replied, “Jack was sent here to be killed and eaten…I can’t help it.” Tad, still sobbing, said, “He’s a good turkey, and I don’t want him killed.” Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States of America, paused in the midst of the Cabinet meeting. He took out a card, and on it he wrote an order of reprieve. Jack’s life was to be spared, and Tad raced out of the Cabinet meeting to show the presidential order to the “executioner.”
It was Frederick Douglas who convinced Lincoln to allow African Americans to serve Northern military interests, and Douglas turned out to be a brilliant recruiter. Lincoln was of a mind that the states must be united by the same laws regarding slavery, and as events unfolded, it became clear that sending all dark-skinned people “back” to Liberia, as was his previous thought, was not a solution. One gets a sense for the agony of this moment, how threatening a loss to those who enslaved, whose lifestyle and livelihood were built on this cheap labor force, despite the evil ethical dilemmas it posed. John Wilkes Booth was a handsome and gifted actor, often on stage at Ford’s Theater which the Lincolns frequented; and Booth, having heard enough of Lincoln’s liberal talk, decided to take matters into his own hands. There had been previous attempts on Lincoln’s life, and he received death threats and had prescient dreams, seemingly aware of his fate. The whole of it is still a stunning story. Steve and I were the last in our group to straggle out of the theater and found comfort food nearby at Hard Rock Cafe. In the afternoon we reported for our timed entry to the Library of Congress. What a magnificent, classical edifice—tribute to knowledge, wisdom, philosophy, and art! I felt envious of the folks studying as we gazed down into the circular reading room, the individually lighted carrels in that space surrounded by the stacks, the largest collection of books in the world. We scoped out Jefferson’s library of 6000 books, 2000 of which have survived two fires, the remainder replaced by collectors and donors. The afternoon was simply awe-filled. And THEN! After a quick dinner, we cycled to Kennedy Center for the opening concert—amidst a hall full of concert-goers at an in-person concert for the first time in nearly two years—of the National Symphony Orchestra featuring Brahms’ Violin Concerto played by Hilary Hahn and the 3rd Symphony of African American composer and Chicagoan, Florence Price. Even after performing the Brahms behemoth, Hahn played an encore, the Adagio from the Bach Partita in d minor. Ah, food for gods! We stopped by the Lincoln Memorial on our way home—I just hankered to see it lit up at night. What a perfect day!
Friday: We prepared for the first of our family to visit us aboard Red Pearl! After all of our schedule blow-ups and delays, it felt rather unbelievable that plans were finally working out! The guest cabin, having become our storage room, was cleared of the rows of organized storage baskets, and I reveled in even simple food preparation. With everything ready, we caught a bite of lunch at the local taco stand and biked to the National Museum of the American Indian. The architecture of this building is stunning, with undulating stone walls reminiscent of cliffs, canyons and natural rock formations. A water feature along the entire mall side suggests natural pools and streams, inviting guests to sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze as it cools over the water. The landscape along the south side of the museum utilizes large swaths of native plants and sculptures made from nature’s elements. Inside, the exhibits struggle to compete with the “wow” of the exterior. We settled into the wing which focused on the many ways in which the American Indian has influenced US commerce and its trademarks, displaying myriads of “Indian” signage over decades. We watched a video about the misleading memorialization of Thanksgiving and a suggestion for quasi-positive re-interpretation. We learned of a general shift of the image of the American Indian after the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Lakotas subsequently rising in stature as a “respectable foe,” and Custer satirically being portrayed as a weakling. Our hearts sank once more over the story of the Trail of Tears—another divisive issue in our history—the way governmental agencies drove the native people off their rich, beloved hunting grounds, away from the resources on which they depended, separating alliances, and striking down and leaving behind those who could not or would not travel. To clear our heads after departing the museum, we looped around the nearby National Botanical Garden. We never tire of seeing plants which we know and love in fresh combinations and of admiring specimens new to us. A dinner of our leftovers made room in the fridge for freshly prepared company food—and having cycled around the city center the entire week and never once seeing a grocery store, I felt lucky that we had provisioned well two weeks earlier!
What a full and delightful week this has been! Perfect weather and great bike-ability have allowed us to enjoy an amazing view of this beautiful city. The American Dream and environmental justice are still out of reach for many, but Washington DC has captured some mighty lofty, albeit imperfect, dreams thus far. Feeling grateful, feeling challenged.
Question: How many marine mechanics does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: At $102 per hour and 4.58 hours, who cares how many?!
That is one DEAR anchor light! The housing was corroded and the screws had to be drilled out. It is uncanny how complicated everything seems to be. (Full disclosure: several light bulbs were replaced, the others being routine.)
We have left Deltaville just today, 3 weeks later than we had hoped. We tried to make lemonade from lemons, meeting some of the friendliest people you would ever hope to meet at the Deltaville Marine Museum, where the art of wooden boat building is kept alive. We biked through the beautiful little wooded sculpture garden behind the museum. Drowning our frustration twice more over memorable dinners at The Office Bistro, we were grateful for use of the courtesy car. And we eked out enough of a wireless signal to stream “The Voice”in order to watch Girl Named Tom (the sibling band comprised of our Liechty nephews and niece) compete. We have only positive regard for the wonderful crew at Zimmerman Marine. Nothing they did was “simple.” They serviced the engines and replaced pumps and hoses and clamps and connectors. They fixed 4 or 5 leaks of a variety of fluids and of various levels of concern and repaired gel coat. And then, of course, they reinvented the mechanism which operates the davits, the arms that lift and lower our dinghy to and from the water—the “davit motors.” (As great as the guys were, as creative the fix, the dinghy rides lower and it’s not quite right yet.) The mechanics were professional in every way, never alluding to the fact that our complications were wreaking havoc on their schedules for other boats awaiting work.
Washington DC is our next port of call. Our passage out of the Rappahannock River, ducking out on the big water of the Chesapeake Bay, and tucking back in at the Potomac River was rough, with a headwind from the the north at 18 mph and an opposing current. We knew we would have 2-3 foot swells and white caps for a few hours—and were we not quite so stir crazy, we would have waited one more day. Even with delaying departure until noon, it was the sort of passage in which you dared not take a drink of anything unless you were willing to wear it the rest of the day. We crabbed one way and then the other to avoid meeting the waves head on, until the Potomac offered protection from that fierce north wind.
The daylight is markedly shorter with the arrival of autumn, pressing us to stop for the night earlier than we would otherwise have chosen, still 90 miles from D.C. We dropped anchor tonight at sunset in beautiful little Herring Creek. I stop to gaze up at the sparkling lens of our anchor light, admiring the bright, cheerful bulb, telling other boaters that we are here. I shake my head at the incredulity of what I thought before was a “simple” necessity.
A month ago now, we made a very rough passage from Yorktown to Deltaville, with waves slapping and bow pitching. Steve finessed the angle of bow to wave, while I wedged myself into my seat on three sides. A couple of times I asked, “Could that break something?” Destination: Zimmerman Marine, a well-respected boat yard in Deltaville, VA. On the never-ending list of repairs, we had prioritized the to-do list for August, while we returned to our non-boating life. We thought it prudent to escape the infamous August heat on the Chesapeake and had made plans to spend a week with our family, such gatherings having been suspended during the height of COVID-19.
And so, having spent a lovely week with our kids around the Finger Lakes of New York State, enjoying time in Goshen, and helping out for a week with our grandson in Maryland, we returned to Deltaville. Due to the constant of work delays, we actually drove home from Maryland for a few days before returning to Virginia, timing our arrival per the shipping of the davit motors from Tampa. But wouldn’t you know—as we neared Deltaville in our rental car, we learned that the motors had not been rebuilt with the care we had expected. They didn’t work! What meets the eye and what has been explained by the head mechanic at Zimmerman do not correlate at all with the work that the owner of the davit company and rebuilder claims he did on the crazy things. The ensuing conversation regarding the fix included terms that make my eyes glaze over, like “bearings,” “drive shaft,” and “uninsulated wiring,” while other terms like “jury rig” and “new motors” and “overnight shipping” I understand all too well.
Steve and I agreed to the new motors and then considered plans of action C, D, E and F. Plan C was crossed out due to high winds and chop on the Bay. We talked again about the pleasure-to-aggravation ratio, the community we are missing, how this dream has morphed to encompass a bigger chunk of life than we planned—and how more life than we could have known has been folded into this dream! It feels unwise to make any decision while in the middle of the “aggravation” side of the equation.
And so on a gorgeous fall Saturday morning, we are cruising to Urbanna, a little town up the Rappahannock River, which we had no intention of visiting two days ago. We had a lovely dinner in Irvington at Office Bistro last evening via the Deltaville courtesy car. We have seen the new davit motors and will return to Deltaville for their creative installation on Monday. Not aggravated today.