Exploring the Back Yard

Sailing under the Chesapeake Bridge Sept. 2017

September 29, 2017

    The delivery cancelation freed us up for the rest of the month.  Now we could spend an additional week sailing.  First to nearby St. Michaels, then back across the Bay and under the Chesapeake Bridge to the Magothy River for a brief layover at anchor nestled between Dobbins Island and Little Dutch Island, followed by what would most likely be a beat against the wind up to Baltimore.  Baltimore would mark both our furthest point north to date as well as our first endeavor to sail into the port of a major city, which sounded excitingly intimidating.  On the charts, it looked like a frightening collage of markers and buoys.

St. Michaels sunset
At anchor on the Magothy River

Wind was hit and miss throughout the week but the overall weather was certainly with us.  For being the end of September, I think we have been lucky to experience autumn days that seem more reminiscent of the summer than anticipating the upcoming winter.  Surprisingly few trees along the shore have begun to change color; it seems to be a much slower process here.  Maybe it’s just been a long a long time since we saw that entire process happen…fall of 2008, just before we left the Pacific Northwest, would have been the last time we saw the trees change color from beginning to end… it certainly didn’t happen in Borneo!  Or maybe we just didn’t slow down enough and take the time to really appreciate the whole process until now.

After getting our first taste of simply meandering around under sail and dropping anchor for a day… or two… or three… wherever the impulse suited us, no interaction with other people outside of the occasional exchange of a wave of the hand and a smile, we emerged from the isolated serenity and solitude of the Wye and Magothy Rivers and sailed north for our first rendezvous with a big city.

On the chart, Baltimore Harbor (or apparently Bal’more as many Bal’moreans prefer) appeared to be a confusing and treacherous navigational maze of markers, buoys, and shipping lanes… certain disaster for the unfamiliar sailor.  In actuality, sailing under the Baltimore Bridge (I’m not sure when the rush of sailing under a bridge wears off but I hope not too soon) and into the harbor turned out to be a piece of cake.  We dropped the sails and motored past gargantuan rusty cargo ships tied up alongside the docks and $100+ per night marinas housing floating fields of fiberglass.

With a quick reference to the Waterway Guide to the Chesapeake (a gift from Dena and James, who also happen to be contributing editors) and a set of coordinates texted from Dena, we anchored between two marinas.  As a bonus, we were only about 100 meters from the public dock.

Version 2

“Private Dock – No Exit” 

     We had already been joking much earlier about taking it a bit personally when residents of these fine communities we were visiting posted signs telling us, by name no less (!), to stay off their dock!
     Understandably, people with private docks and those paying for slips don’t want just anyone using their property (most people would get fairly irate if a random motorist parked in their driveway). Nonetheless, that situation sometimes creates quite a challenge for the liveaboard sailor who relies on a dinghy for any shore excursions.
     In a remote location, landing ashore by dinghy may place you on a romantic and picture perfect mile long stretch of white sand beach… but in a city in the U.S. it generally places you in someone’s back yard.
     Annapolis has adopted a very boater friendly approach by constructing public docks at the end of every street which provide an easy shore access and location to safely tie off your dinghy. Other places have fewer public docks to access or none at all, sometimes resulting in a stealth deployment dinghy maneuver requiring a quick one person drop-off or pickup without tying off on a dock posted with a No Trespassing sign… tricksy.


We really wanted to sail all the way to New York City – we could think of nothing more iconic than sailing under the Brooklyn Bridge and past the Statue of Liberty; but we’ve come to accept that it’s just not in the cards this year.  Leaving any earlier wasn’t feasible (even now I think we’re marginal in our capability to make a coastal run than takes us at all offshore) and now, the winds are starting to turn consistently unfavorable to sail that course.

So Baltimore it is.  In fact, I would imagine that Baltimore is the first place that would come to mind for most people who couldn’t get to New York but were looking for a close second… hmmm.  When Kris told our good friend Ewan (from Wales working at Scuba Junkie Komodo) that we were sailing to Baltimore, Ewan replied “Oh ya, I watch The Wire… that’s like the murder capital of the world!”

But that’s a bum wrap for Baltimore.  We had no attempts made on our lives during our entire dinghy ride around the inner harbor (possibly the homicidal portion of Baltimore’s population prefers to work ashore) and I thought the mile and a half walk from the community dock to Sip and Bite (a recommended diner we were told was a mandatory stop) was a rather pleasant affair along a very clean boardwalk.  I’m sure other sections of Baltimore are not as prudent to visit.

Sip and Bite Cafe

The one land excursion was quite enough for me; though Kris, who seems to get a bit more stir crazy if she doesn’t get off the boat regularly, managed to do a much more respectable walkabout around the harbor.


Our only encounter with the surlier side of Baltimore happened from the vantage point of our own deck, when one of the many dockside fishermen casting a line into the water accidentally made an errant cast that got tangled in a line tying the dinghy to the sailboat next to us.  The quite strange guy on the boat had a quite normal response of what the fuck?  Though he actually spent about fifteen minutes untangling the line, the verbal exchange back and forth left for some tension in the air… no guns… and about 100 feet of water between them… no big drama.

After a few days, it was time to pull up anchor and head back for the Magothy River en route to Annapolis to rendezvous with my folks.  My only complaint with Baltimore was the amount of garbage that came up on the anchor chain!

It was like we were back in Semporna again, dredging the bottom of the channel… slimy plastic bags, garbage and rotting shirts.  Only now, that trash was stuck to our chain and anchor.

Hundreds of years of serious industrial use had not been kind to the bay;  I could not imagine eating one of the many fish that people along the dock and boardwalk were constantly reeling in.

Also embedded was the dreaded Chesapeake mud we are becoming so familiar with.

Now, granted we have very limited experience to draw conclusions from, but I wanna go on record as saying I believe the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay is made up of some pretty unique material!  Sandy, silty, clay ranging in color from deep gray to black – with a consistency somewhere between baby shit and wet cement – is the very composition which seems to give us an absolutely solid anchor hold every time… but its also the same stuff that voraciously sticks to the chain and anchor!   If we were in the tropics, the sand would simply fall off the chain and anchor being brought up, but here they emerge from the water covered with an incessant coat of mucky sludge.  Once on the deck, or worse yet in the chain locker, the mud gets everywhere.  On your hands, it seems more like grease than dirt.

We are fortunate enough to have an electric windlass (to deploy and pull up the anchor chain) as well as a saltwater deck wash system (a pump that brilliantly routes saltwater from outside the boat to hoses both at the bow and stern).  I’m going to be the first to say that if that makes us less salty or bigger sellouts – then I accept that label wholeheartedly.  Cause I’ve watched the guy who hoisted the chain by hand and washed it off a bucket at a time… and I wouldn’t trade places with him for a minute.  He gets, and deserves, all the credit that can be heaped on him, but I’ll still take the windlass and hose any day!”

So, after the relatively simple (thanks to the electric windlass and deck wash hose I couldn’t imagine being without) though still arduous task (in that, compared to other locations, is was pretty damn disgusting from a garbage standpoint) of raising and de-sludging the chain and anchor, we were back underway, headed south to the now-familiar overnight anchorage behind Dobbins Island at Magothy, and on to civilization – Annapolis to meet my folks and then attend a boat show!

Getting ready to raise anchor in Baltimore Harbor


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