December 15, 2016

EERIE ENCOUNTERS! - Part 4 of The Chesapeake Charm

"A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind."

Webb Chiles

This is a Tale Of Two Ships.

When you are sailing all alone on the widest part of the Chesapeake Bay any little speck that you identify on the horizon tends to get your attention.  As was the case on this day when I spotted what appeared to be a ship approaching me from the south.  

I'm always leery of ships when I'm out sailing because they move so fast and don't have a lot of mobility to avoid me if necessary. They can be right on top of you in a heartbeat so you have to keep a close eye on them.  

I debated whether to alter my course to stay far out of her way.  It was difficult to discern the speed and direction this ship was approaching because she was not showing up on the screen of my AIS (Automatic Identification System). AIS is a cool piece of technology that allows me to determine the identity, course, and speed of an approaching ship. In this case there was nothing showing up ... zippo on the screen for this rather large vessel on the horizon.  I was puzzled. 

As I grew closer I began to scratch my head in confusion.  I deduced that maybe this ship was stationary at anchor and not in motion at all.

  As I got even closer a creepy feeling began to come over me.  It appeared I was approaching what I would call a ghost ship.  What the heck IS this I thought?

Sure enough as I got within a quarter mile the binoculars confirmed this was indeed some type of abandoned vessel, a true shipwreck.  I approached with a curious degree of caution.  It was like entering a haunted house. Spooky stuff here.

No other boats were in sight on this sunny day. An eerie silence hung in the air as I made my pass by this peculiar vessel.  More silence.  As I eased closer I could see she was totally dilapidated.  I wondered how she had clearly run aground way out here in the middle of the bay.  A few gulls perched on her rusted railing.

Her hull and topsides were totally rusted out and the entire ship seemed to be collapsed. It looked like thousands of bullet holes all over her entire surface.  I crept by keeping my distance about 100 yards in fear of something creepy jumping out from her.  It was so quiet out there with only the sound of my sails luffing in the wind as I slowly edged by her.  I wondered how I ended up here with this ship of such a dismal fate. But I was also intrigued and investigated further. 

As I cleared her stern I could barely make out the disfigured and rusted letters of her nameplate, U.S. Naval Ship, American Mariner, as seen below here.

I was entranced by this ghost ship and circled her once more to get a better look.  My mind raced as i pondered how on earth she ended up in this remote spot in such horrid condition.

Shards of metal seemed to be peeling away from her bulkheads and vertical supports everywhere.

She was grounded for sure.  But for how long? 
And why?  And why here?
My Google research tells me that this U.S. Naval ship American Mariner is 441' long and at one time had a crew of 55 with 10 officers on board.

Her upper decks had not withstood the test of time and were caved in, mangled, and disfigured.  You could still identify old remnants of the gangways, exhaust chimneys and a captain's command bridge from days gone by.  Sea gulls and pelicans had made this vessel their home now. A quiet breeze sifted by and I felt all alone out here with this beast.
After more research I was surprised to learn that the U.S. Navy had intentionally grounded her here back in 1966 and has used her as target ship for young airmens' target practice in military training exercises.  That explains all the bullet and missile holes that seem to cover her like a bad rash.

Here you can see the stern elevated out of the water after the center of the vessel broke in half. The prop seems to be missing.  Notice how she is riddled with bullet holes from military aircraft exercises. 

With this warning marker nearby, I would say you definitely want to stay clear when the military is practicing bombing missions around this old ship.

These larger holes must be where missiles entered on various practice missions.

I read where a young couple on the sailing vessel Gonzo also took a fancy to the mystery of this old ship wreck.  Personally I think the guy is a fool for going aboard this wreck, however you can see his creepy video of the interior on the YouTube link below:

After some further research I discovered some interesting facts about this old girl.  Here she is pictured in better times in the 50's or early 60's.

Notice the radar detection equipment to seek out incoming missiles

Some Early History About this Ghost Ship:

The USAS American Mariner was first launched in 1941.  She was U.S. Army research vessel from January 1959 to  September 1963. She was originally assigned to the DAMP Project to attempt to collect radar signature data on incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles in the Carribbean, the South Atlantic Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. Her initial operations involved providing radar track on the Atlas missile, which was under development at the time. 
She appears to have been the only ship to have ever served in the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Navy after being built for service with the U.S. Merchant Marine.
More on the history of this ghost vessel can be viewed at this link:

It was a curious encounter in the middle of the Bay.  She faded in the distance as I sailed on towards the Eastern Shore of Onancock.

 More Eerie Encounters on the Chesapeake - 5 days later in October 2016:

 Little did I know that another eerie encounter was about to follow me, literally. 

Just like the American Mariner ship, this next series of photos will illustrate the moment I spotted another teeny speck on the horizon.  

But this speck of was quite different indeed.  This object on the horizon was much shinier, definitely in motion, and moving at a rather fast pace as best I could tell.

I was leisurely sailing in the Bay about 5 miles south of the Potomac River entering Virginia, enjoying a pleasant broad reach and moderate pace.   I was humming a tune, trimming my nails, and enjoying the fall sunshine when I looked behind me and spotted this strange vessel a few miles off my port stern.  

I had seen photos of it in the news and immediately knew it was the latest addition to the U.S. Navy's fleet of destroyers.  As it got closer I zoomed in and noticed the huge frothy white wake it was creating as it forged across the Bay.

Welcome to the U.S. Zumwalt, the most advanced military vessel ever built.  It doesn't even look like a traditional ship, but more like some type of fortress moving on the water.

As my camera zoomed in closer she crossed paths with a container ship heading north.
What an eerie vessel.  No windows, no waving sailors on deck, no flags flying, just a huge metal beast moving steadily through the water. 

The U.S. Navy is building a fleet of 4 of these Zumwalt destroyers, named after Admiral Elmo Zumwalt.  She is 600' in length and cost $4 billion (with a B) to build. Plans were originally to build 32 of these monsters, but are now settling for a fleet of 3.

 Evidently, this one was just commissioned into the naval fleet on Oct. 15, 2016.  She passed me on October 18, just 3 days later, brand spanking new and fresh out of the gate.

 The unusual exterior design of this ship is for the purpose of being virtually undetectable on enemy radar. Although she is 600' long, they say her radar footprint is that of a 50' fishing boat.

She boasts some type of advanced gun systems and her two Rolls Royce gas turbine engines can transport a crew of 140 U.S. Marines at a speed of 30 knots.   She is designed for surface warfare, anti-aircraft warfare, and land attack.

It was only a matter of minutes before she was out of sight heading south towards Norfolk.  I hear she is headed to the Panama Canal and eventually to the West Coast to supposedly detour North Korea's aggression.  

But she is not without her faults.  I read where just one month later she broke down near the Panama Canal and had to be towed to a nearby port. Then as she was entering the canal she made contact with the inside walls causing cosmetic damage to the outside of the ship.

Here's a bit of trivia.  The commanding officer aboard the U.S. Zumwalt is Captain James Kirk, a highly decorated veteran.  I guess it is fitting that a supersonic ship like this has a captain with the same name as the captain of the Star Trek Enterprise.  Beam me up Scottie!
Captain James Kirk

 Here's a stock photo below to give a better view of this massive steel high tech machine.
So there you have it.
In many ways this naval destroyer has many of the same issues I encounter on Glory Days.  After all, cruising is really just a constant state of working on your boat in new exotic places.
Let's just hope she doesn't meet the same fate as the American Mariner, a ghost ship for target practice in the Chesapeake Bay.

Stay tuned for Part 4 of 
The Chesapeake Charm!
Tangier Island - a step back in time!
Onancock - The forgotten village on the East shore
Deltaville - where Glory Days takes a winter's rest!
I waved her goodbye, but no one waved back.

Recently in the news:
Just three weeks after commissioning the USS Zumwalt, the U.S. Navy has admitted it is canceling ammunition specially developed for the ship's high-tech gun systems because the rounds are too expensive. The guns, tailor made for the destroyer, will be unable to fire until the Navy chooses a cheaper replacement round.
The Zumwalt-class destroyers were conceived in the late 1990s as the first of a new generation of stealthy warships. The radar signature of the 610 foot long warship is that of a 50-foot fishing boat, making the Zumwalts great for getting in close to an enemy coastline and then using the 155-millimeter Advanced Gun Systems mounted on the front of the hull. The guns were designed to fire the advanced Long Range Land Attack Projectile, a GPS guided shell with a range of 60 miles.

The result would have been a destroyer that could rain shells down on enemy targets incredible accuracy, clearing a path for U.S. Marines as they advance inland. Alternately, they could strike targets such as terrorist training camps, military bases, and other static targets. The two Advanced Gun System howitzers are fed by a magazine containing 600 rounds of ammunition, making it capable destroying hundreds of targets at a rate of up to ten per minute.
Here's how the advanced gun systems are suppose to work:

Lord help us.

December 7, 2016

ANNAPOLIS!! - Part 3 of The Chesapeake Charm

" Sailing requires great patience.  You can not get in a hurry. When it comes to sailing, I  have found that there are basically three types of wind.  Too little, too much, and from the wrong direction!"  


Part 2:  The Chesapeake Charm: 
On to ANNAPOLIS! - Sept - Oct. 2016

Reminiscing about this summer's sailing in the Chesapeake Bay is sort of like daydreaming about an old love.  You just can't shake it or get it out of your head sometimes.  It lingers there as a memory you will take to your grave.  It's not a bad thing, and all you can really do is savor the memories and be thankful you have them.

Sherry was still aboard when we entered Annapolis and she excelled as first mate. Here she is taking a well deserved rest after we dropped the hook in Weems Creek. 
A welcome bask in the September sun was a nice reward for our crossing of the Bay from Oxford, Maryland into Annapolis.  It would be a lovely three week stay for me here. 


Arriving in Annapolis harbor, we were suddenly in a bustling a bustling array of activity.  All types of sailboat types darted all around on this crystal clear Sunday afternoon.  It's an awesome small city to see, so much character, history, and charm. The number of boats and marinas in this coastal community is astounding. 

There is always some sort of regatta going on as was the case on the day of our arrival.   Classic wooden boats squared off in friendly competition each jockeying to clear the next buoy.  It didn't take long for me to figure out I had better stay on the sidelines while these guys sparred for position on this Sunday afternoon sail-athon.

Weems Creek in Annapolis
We soon made our way into Weems Creek where the U.S. Navy has about a dozen free mooring balls open to the public.  They are on a first come first serve basis and we were fortunate to snag the last ball in a long line of several other sailboats and a couple of trawlers.  Ah, peace again and another free parking spot for Glory Days makes me happy.

The morning view from the v-berth was pleasing as we assessed how to plan our first day of sight seeing in Annapolis. It would be a 30 minute walk from Weems Creek into the city. After a couple days at Weems creek, we opted for a mooring ball smack down town in the harbor.

I've never been much of a history buff until this visit to the Chesapeake.  But strolling the same streets and visiting a 1700's pub where George Washington frequented quickly opened my eyes to the historical significance of this area. 

It was hard to get a photo to illustrate the aerial beauty of this city so I've included a couple of stock photos below.

Old brick sidewalks are the norm here. Interesting to see everywhere but not so good for biking.  Homes are tidy and colorful.

Talk about a funky building.  This is the Maryland Inn.  It's unusual triangular presence dominates the corner of Main Street and Duke of Gloucester Street.

Since 1784, The Maryland Inn has been a popular lodging place for statesman, governors, and colonial and revolutionary war personas throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Delegates of the 1783-1784 U.S. Congress stayed at the inn when George Washington resigned as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and ratified the Treaty of Paris.

 The Middleton Tavern dates back to 1750.  Oh, if these walls could talk.  Row houses as seen below are a common sight downtown.  A blend of funky and festive.

Wow. It was in this Maryland State House where George Washington honorably resigned his commission.  

The U.S. Naval Academy

Since 1845 Annapolis has been the home of the U.S. Naval Academy.  This expansive campus is located right in the center of town. It is a common site to see the young cadets in their dress whites most anywhere you go around Annapolis.  
 The architecture of the naval academy campus is big and bold.  Marble floors, towering rotundas, and stone pillars are common elements in a sturdy construction that will be here for centuries ahead.  


A naval history memorial to honor fallen soldiers, distinguished navy admirals and American war heroes is located on the first floor of the main cadet dormitory. The "Don't Give Up The Ship" plaque lists the names of those who sacrificed all to preserve American freedoms.  It was a solemn visit to this museum and I felt the need to thank them in silence.


I spoke with some of the cadets and found each of them to be extremely smart, articulate, and polite as they carried themselves confidently.  Almost everywhere on campus you could find outdoor physical education activities happening even in the rain.  Not one overweight cadet did I see.  All smart kids who were precisely selected based on their smarts, abilities, personal drive and strong character.  I felt a renewed confidence in the youth of America.

Students practiced fencing and group calisthenics inside this beautiful arched facility.  Even though it was raining, outside I observed cadets competing vigorously in a wide variety of sports to include soccer, flag football, volleyball, sailing, rugby, and team running. Oh, how I remember being 22 and so virile and optimistically curious about the world.  Little has changed in me, except maybe some virility.

On this Saturday, a young Captain was marrying his lady in the historical Naval Academy Chapel.  Pretty people in colorful attire spilled out of the chapel for photos on a gorgeous afternoon.

On Sunday morning I attended the church service and was in awe of the Naval Academy Chapel as seen from the inside.  It is a breathtaking facility, unfortunately with lots of empty pews on this Sunday.

After the church service I stuck around for a guided history tour of the chapel. This massive church organ is a world record size I was told as evidenced by all the buttons and controls seen here.  I wanted to play Louie Louie on it, but they said no.

A bust of naval hero John Paul Jones is on display on the lower level and his his body is in a solid marble crypt on grand display.  He was exhumed from Europe 100 years after his death and brought here for some reason.  To honor his heroics and naval contributions I assume.

Born in 1747, he is considered one of the greatest naval commanders in history, often referred to as the "Father Of The U.S. Navy."  At a height of 5'4" he must've been one scrappy little dude as he shouted his famous battle line "I have not yet begun to fight!" when he stormed the British frigate during the American Revolutionary War.

"If fear is cultivated it will become stronger, if faith is cultivated it will achieve mastery."

John Paul Jones


My main reason to come to Annapolis was for the massive on-water boat show.   It will remain one of the highpoints of my cruising experiences.

Memories like early morning walks up the charming Main Street lined with shops and eateries to get coffee make me smile.  Plus there were fond times dropping in the Ram's Head Bar where a daily complimentary food treat is served during happy hour each day.  This appetizer usually turned into a evening meal for me. Mmmmmmm. Steamed muscles on Monday, raw oysters on Tuesday, tender prime rib on Wednesday, stuffed potatoes on Thursday, and fish sandwiches on Friday. 

Their great craft beers on tap are half price from their local brewery each day from 5-7.  At the bar I would often find myself sitting next to a new stranger.  Eventually the conversation would come around to sailing, as most folks in this town have some sailing background, knowledge, or experience.  Boat talk is always a common bonder of two  people when you are a stranger in a strange land. 

After Sherry returned back to Georgia I found myself with a full week in Annapolis before the greatest boat show in the world would begin.  I landed myself a job working for the Annapolis Boat Show.  It turned out to be a great thing and I met lots of other cruisers doing the same thing.  At a whopping $9 and hour I worked as ticket taker, gate security, and at the information desk.  They even gave me a vest, cap, name tag and a radio!  Plus I got to enter the show for free all week long.

The show itself is somewhat of a gluttonous display of ultra expensive brand new sailing vessels that I will never be able to afford.  They were all polished to the hilt and on display in hopes to lure a ready buyer.  Early each morning before the show opened dozens of hispanic men and women would suddenly appear with cleaning and polishing tools in hand to make every new vessel shine for the next full day of boat lookers.

Plus there's a hundred or more vendors that offer every boating accessory one could ever imagine. It was the greatest toy store ever for me. 
Somehow people were now asking ME for boat show information.  Talk about the blind leading the blind.  I eventually figured it out though and was able to come off looking like some person of authority.  I guess I fooled them!

As the Boat Show continued it soon became a challenge to find a parking spot at the dinghy dock.
  Meeting fellow cruisers is just a part of the atmosphere of cruising. This was a fun evening aboard a catamaran where we shared fine food and played ukuleles and sang till late. 
Sherry returned for another short visit and we caught the last day of the boat show together.  No, we did not buy a boat. Another day perhaps.

After the boat show my old friends Pete and Shenoa drove over from D.C. for a nice little day sail aboard Glory Days.  It had been full year since I had rendezvoused with them in the Florida Keys and it was great to hook up again.

What started out as a lovely Sunday sail was soon cut short when I noticed I had a huge rip in the head sail known as the genoa sail.  She was an old sail and finally just gave up the ghost when her aging dacron fabric just couldn't take the strain of a good wind anymore.  So I lowered her down for the last time, kissed her for her fine service and then lugged her onto a public bus to the local sail shop to see if she could be saved.  

At Bacon's Sails and Marine Shop, the sail experts opened her onto the operating table and gave her the once over.  After some testing of the fabric it was determined she was too far gone to save.  Age takes its toll on anything exposed to the marine conditions for these many years.  We pronounced her gone and I soon shelled out a thousand bucks for a brand new replacement, a boating expense I had not figure on.

The new genoa sail is nice and shiny and I looked forward to putting her through her paces as I would soon be leaving Annapolis after a lovely stay.

 By mid October it was high time to raise the sails again and begin heading south.  My plans were unclear at the time as I wrestled with the idea of sailing back to Charleston or leaving the boat on the Chesapeake for the winter to resume a northbound course next spring. 

Since I was unsure of my next move, I decided to venture across the Bay again to what is called the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Here I would explore some remote areas including some charming nooks and crannies.  After all, October is a pretty spectacular month on the Chesapeake Bay, so why not let the wind guide my decision I thought.

And before you knew it, Annapolis was in my rear view mirror and I was back on my own doing what I love best... pulling up the anchor and just sailing the hell out her.  She's a fine vessel this one and putting her through her paces never ceases to thrill me.   Sometimes you don't need a firm destination.  It will find you.  

With strong southerlies on my nose it soon became obvious that I was not meant to sail south, but more east where I landed on one of the strangest islands ever, Tangier Island, with a population of 500.  It was a rather strange place and for a moment I thought I had entered the Twilight Zone.  More on that in Part 3!

Stay tuned for Part 3 of The Chesapeake Charm!


* Eerie vibes on an island that stepped back into time!
* Then on to Onancock! The forgotten East shore village!
* More eagles, shipwrecks and an encounter with the newest supersonic naval ship!

All coming up on Part 3 of The Chesapeake Charm!