January 3, 2017

The Plans Of A Sailor - Part 5 of The Chesapeake Charm

"The plans of a sailor are written in the sand at low tide."

- anonymous

January 2, 2017
Staring out my window I view a dismal grey Georgia Monday.  The lack of sunshine counters my thoughts of the cruising life aboard Glory Days.  I miss her and there just "ain't no sunshine when she's gone."  More raindrops on the window pane snap me out of my trance.  

Still I try to hatch a crazy notion of how to get myself back cruising sooner than planned.  But alas, that won't be happening just yet.  Because Glory Days is resting in a cold and wet Virginia boatyard waiting for the next round, both our hearts set on spring 2017. 

God I miss it, but it's comforting to know the days are growing longer now, and each minute is drawing me closer to April 1 when I can relaunch her and continue northbound towards Maine.  It's not just missing a boat I speak of here, but rather missing a love affair with a whole lifestyle; a lifestyle that is more like home than staring out this winter window could ever be. 

I keep reassuring myself the wait will be worth it and the springtime sailing in the northeast will simply take my breath away if I can just be patient.  After all, there is value and beauty in terrestrial pursuits, even though they escape me today because my heart is in the sea.  

Bahamas Sailing on the horizon
This is also the prime season for crossing the Gulfstream to the Bahamas where hundreds of sailboats from all over the world will winter-over each year. I'm there in spirit, but I must admit I'm a bit jealous of my sailing friends who are already there posting gorgeous photos of their sultry sloops anchored in turquoise waters.  "There is always next year for that," I keep telling myself.

Yes, it's a rainy night in Georgia and I know I am here for a reason.  Winter solstice has passed and I know going inward for the season can be a worthy seed to sow. 

In the meantime please allow me to conclude this 3 part series called The Chesapeake Charm.  Here's some of my favorite photos and magical tales that occurred in my waning days on the Chesapeake this past fall. 

Departing ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND - October 14, 2016 -

Ah yes, decision time again... They say the plans of a sailor are written in the sand at low tide.  And plans are only made so they can be washed away and changed right?  

"The trees in the distance will bend with the wind 
while the pelicans sit on the pilings and grin.
The castle we built will be washed to the sea, 
but that's alright by me."

As the days grew deeper into October it became decision time about where Glory Days would spend her winter.   Should I continue sailing her south 400 miles to Charleston or should I leave her in dry storage on the Chesapeake for the winter and continue sailing north in the spring?  After all, it had taken me forever to get this far north and the thought of getting a head start to New England in the spring seemed like a good idea.  I just underestimated how much I would miss being at sea. 

She and I certainly enjoyed our little romp on the Bay this summer.  She had sailed like a champ and the prospect of concluding the sojourn at this point would be a bitter sweet pill to swallow.  

After Annapolis, I departed Solomon's, Maryland with the intention of heading due south toward Norfolk.  But the wind would not cooperate, and continued to blow strong from the south slapping me in the face as if saying, "No! Not yet!"

Thankfully I had the luxury of time to completely alter my course which is exactly what I did.  Instead of fighting the south wind that was on my nose I decided to harness her on the beam and sail east toward what is called the Eastern Shore of the Bay.  With the new change in course she hauled ass across the crisp autumn bay and it turned out to be the right decision. 

"Do you want to know how to make God laugh?  
Just tell him your plans!"

In the Chesapeake Bay there are several rather remote islands smack dabb in the middle of nowhere, most notably Smith Island and Tangier Island.  I was intrigued by these islands on the chart,  so after reading the navigation notes, I opted to alter course once again and visit what was labeled as "a step back in time," Tangier Island."

I meant it when I said entering Tangier Island was like stepping back into time. I wasn't expecting it, but this remote island rattled me a bit which can be a good thing whether you realize it at the time. 

It was a calm weekday in October as I approached Tangier Island.  The red and green channel markers led me into this quiet little community that remains, to this day, isolated from the world.  As the crow flies, Tangier Island is only 90 miles east of Washington D.C., but it seemed like 9000 miles away from nowhere.
Dubbed the "soft crab capitol of the nation", this unique island is located near the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.  Dilapidated docks and stacks of crab pots line the waterway as you approach via a narrow channel.  Tangier is an unspoiled village with quaint narrow streets and locals who speak with a lingering trace of Elizabethan accent.  

Crab pots rest on docks waiting for their next routine trip out to the bay.

Fishing and tourism are the only industries here. Many of these docks are free standing and are not connected to land. Fishermen use these "crab houses" to hold soft shelled crabs while they moult into the delicacy known as soft shelled crabs.    

Once crabbing season ends, fishermen promptly move into the oyster season for the winter months.  It's a cycle that has been going on here for hundreds of years, and that's exactly the way they like it. 

There is only one school on the island with fewer than 10 children in each grade on Tangier Island.   

Cable television and internet only arrived on the island in 2010. The only methods of transportation to and from the island are by boat or small plane.  A passenger and mail ferry runs daily for provisions.  The locals freely accept their tether to the island and carefully plan any boat trips to the small town of Crisfield for supplies.

There is a calm, peaceful atmosphere on the island. Here you find only one pay phone, three or four gift shops, two little restaurants and a small general store as the only retail establishments. No traffic lights, no alcohol,  four churches, and one ATM machine.  

I tied my boat at the only marina in town, Parks Marina. I typically prefer an anchorage but the rates were so good I opted for a slip instead. Plus it was nice to just walk straight into the village from the boat after chatting with folks on the dock.   

This fellow named Todd spotted me while entering the basin and greeted me at the dock by waving me in. He was a friendly sort with a jolly laugh and lots of local lore to share.

Todd has lived on Tangier Island for 12 years and, according to him, is the still the "new guy" on the island. He says housing is very cheap here and he is proud of his humble waterfront home. He still works three jobs throughout the year rotating as a crabber, oysterman, and marina helper.  I liked this guy. He spouted off tons of historical information that I wish I had jotted down.  

The marina was small, but more than adequate with sparkling clean rest rooms, hot showers and a spectacular view of the sunset. 
After a day on this island something came over me. I can't fully explain it, but suddenly the vibe of this island was starting to feel like an episode from The Twilight Zone.

It was like everybody knew something that I did not. I was the outsider in this unusual microcosm.  I saw perfect little homes with white picket fences ... golf carts and bicycles hastily going somewhere undetermined ... an empty schoolhouse and empty ball field ... tombstones located in unusual places ... wooden crosses rising from the marshes ... historical markers of men I had never heard of... empty skiffs tied in perfect lines onto splintered piers. Maybe I was imagining it all. 

Few cars are present on Tangier Island because they are unable to get over the small wooden bridges.  Tourists and islanders dash around on golf carts, scooters, or bikes for the most part. Here is main street.

Methodism remains a very strong influence in Tangier, stemming from the charismatic preaching and revival camp meetings held here since the 1800's. A local ordinance prevents the sale of alcohol anywhere on the island. 

The Tangier town council even blocked Warner Brothers from using the island to film the 1999 Kevin Costner film Message In A Bottle, objecting to the script's mild reference to drinking, profanity, and sex themes. 

The church steeple is visible from 90% of the island.

I wasn't really sure what to make of this isolated little community.  People were not unfriendly, but they weren't overly friendly either. They would nod and quickly continue about their business.  I fantasized that the people here were possessed of some sorts in their little Twilight Zone.  My mind was reeling on this after a few hours here. It was strange.

Any stranger like me stands out like a sore thumb in such a tight knit community.  Every soul on the island knew I was a "passer through" and would be gone within a matter of hours. Just another gawker at their sub-world. 

It was not uncommon to see tombstones in the front yards of small homes on Tangier Island.  Evidently the soil here can be marshy and locals often bury their loved ones in the front yard if the cemetery is not an option for their family. 

Two 500' deep wells provide fresh water for the 514 residents of Tangier Island.  Reserve diesel fuel is always in storage to power the water pump and power generators if needed. 

Todd says the population has dropped by about 200 in the past 10 years.  Most high school graduates are quick to leave the island since fishing is the only game in town.  The island also has a long history of graduates joining the military. I suppose it's the only way off the island for some.

 Cats roam freely everywhere here.  I must've seen at least 50 in my short overnight stay here.

Kids played in the streets and seemed happy, oblivious to all the distractions and pressures that city kids face. Just two weeks before the election, Donald Trump signs were everywhere in this ultra conservative community. 

I was starting to get a little creeped out again and I felt I should leave soon. Dawn could not come soon enough for me, although I am glad I stopped on Tangier Island. 

Some parting shots of Tangier Island:

A stranger in a strange town.

 A film crew blew by but I never saw them again.
Here's the link to the official web site for more information on Tangier:

So long Tangier Island ! 
On to the Eastern Shore!

Located on the Eastern Shore of the lower Chesapeake Bay is a quiet little village in Virginia called Onancock.  Pronounced o-NAN-cock, this bucolic little town is worth exiting the Bay for the 3 mile scenic trip up the river to experience a real jewel.

I saw no less than a dozen bald eagles on my way up the river.  I've never seen so many eagles gathered together.  The were carrying on like a flock of sea gulls!

I scored this seductive anchorage within minutes of arrival.  A great view of fine homes on one side and a view of the Onancock waterfront village on the other. The anchor set easy here and the waters were a direct indication of the heartbeat of this little town... calm and quiet.
It was a Saturday in mid-October and the local harbor master turned out to be even more friendly than the guide books had mentioned.  There were very few transient boats around and I never felt more welcomed by their staff then any other stop I can recall, even though I was anchored out and not a patron of the marina.

The village district is only one square mile.  They have a couple of nice restaurants, one theatre, and a few shops, cute homes, that I assumed were 2nd homes, and a formal Methodist cathedral on main street.   The population for Onancock is only about 1200 people. Evidently it is a destination vacation spot in the summer for folks who just want a very quiet river front holiday.

A lovely wedding was in progress on this day as I watched a dad waiting patiently behind a white curtain just moments before giving his daughter away.

Fish kept striking the surface all around the boat. It's like they were screaming "Come and get me Joey!"  So I did. 
I got out my rod and Rapala lure and landed this striper on the second cast.

After hanging out in Onancock for two nights it was time to move on.  I departed at dusk and slowly motored the 3 miles out to the mouth of the Bay so I could stage myself for tomorrow's crossing of the Bay.  I savored a setting sun while flocks of geese flew over my quiet anchorage.  
"It's so beautiful to be alone," I thought to myself. 
My 6 month sailing saga was coming to an end.  The brisk beam reach across the Bay delivered me to Deltaville in about 6 hours which flew by too fast.  
This happens all too often.  Just when I'm getting close to my destination, I freak out because I am arriving sooner than I would like.  I don't want it to end! So it is not unusual for me to randomly alter course, make a few extra tacks and detours just to drag it all out so I can prolong the ecstasy of sailing in near perfect conditions. 
For my final days on the Chesapeake, I anchored in the small coastal town of Deltaville, Virginia for a couple of nights. My days were ultra busy preparing Glory Days for her winter storage and my upcoming departure. There's so much to do in order to leave your boat in tip top condition and I wanted to do it right.  
 I call this one organized chaos. After servicing all the fluids and filters she would be ready to put to bed for a few months.  Here's a couple shots from my final anchorage of the season.

Deltaville, Virgina. 
While pondering the final sunset, emotional memories welled up inside of me from the past 6 months cruising on this epic journey from Georgia to Maryland.  

The names of the towns and harbors were coming back  to me now just like a visit from an old friend. Memories from Savannah, Charleston, Georgetown, Wilmington, Cape Fear, Southport, Beaufort, Oriental, Belhaven, The Great Dismal Swamp, Alligator River, Norfolk, Solomons, Tangier Island, and Annapolis to name a few.
This was my first trip up the East Coast, but it won't be my last.  It's always comforting to return to ports that you have entered before.  You know a little more of what to expect, what to avoid, and what to make sure you don't miss this time through.  It is well in my heart. 
As for Glory Days, she went quietly and with dignity into her winter storage.  She did not make a scene and she gracefully accepted her fate. She did not shed a tear although I cannot say the same for her captain.

My nomadic travels for this season have been blessed from heaven and I couldn't have asked for more perfect conditions even in the face of nature's unrelenting power at times. 

For even the storms are to be embraced as they are indeed the world's training grounds to keep you honed, alert, grateful, humble, and respectful to the power of nature.

Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.