Solomons, MD to Great Kills, NY
May 8th – There was fog in the air and in the forecast this morning in Solomons, MD. The Captain was happy that he was not single-handing again out on Chesapeake Bay, and was content to have Pathfinder swinging on the Zahniser Marina mooring ball. The skipper’s cousin, Captain Will Gates, called after breakfast and stated that a car was to be “spotted” in Annapolis if the plan to have him crew the next day was to come to fruition. So Pathfinder’s Captain took over the helm of Will’s vintage Prius (formerly belonging to his mother Marion). Keeping a close eye on the stern of Will’s pick-up truck, the voyage by road was made to Annapolis in 90 minutes. The Captain was happy that his road driving skills seemed to be well intact. A suitable spot was found for lunch on the Eastport side of Spa Creek and the skippers headed back to the Solomons area. The last time Capt. Will and Capt. Dave had seen each other was at Will’s brother Alan Gates’ consecration as the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts this past September. Needless to say the visit in the front seat of Will’s pick-up was not quite as big a deal, but fun none-the-less. Will loaned his truck to the Captain so grocery shopping and propane refill could be completed. That evening we gathered at the senior living center in Solomons for dinner and a visit with Will’s mom Marion, and his dad Ed. Will’s wife Tara also joined us and it was wonderful to see everyone and catch up on family activities.
May 9th – Will arrived at the Zahniser dock at 0800 and he and the Captain soon motored out of Solomons Harbor and turned north to run up Chesapeake Bay. As with the last four days there was very little wind to speak of but the Westerbeast kept Pathfinder’s progress to the north at a steady clip. The Bay seemed to be covered with sports
fishermen, and the majority were towing an apparatus that was new to both Captains. Streaming out from the port and starboard quarters of each boat was a device that Captain Dave calls a “paravane.” This is probably not the fishermen’s term, but it was similar to what is towed behind minesweepers and seismic survey vessels. The forward motion of the boat causes the paravane to veer outboard and away from the stern of the towing vessel. Each paravane appeared to be towing at least 3 fishing lines each, which meant that streaming astern at a wide angle from each fishing boat were at least six fishing lines. With numerous fishing vessels crossing our bow, Pathfinder had to live up to its name and find an opening while giving each sports
fisherman a wide berth. This allowed Captain Dave and Captain Will to take a break from their steady stream of sea stories and other weighty matters and concentrate on maneuvering and keeping clear of fishing lines. Will is the skipper of the “Dove,” a sailing vessel designed to represent the vessel that first brought settlers to what became the State of Maryland. Will is also the Maritime Curator of St. Mary’s Historical Center. Dove has been under Will’s care and guidance for many years, and has been visited by thousands of school children and adults alike. Will’s seagoing career started at Mystic Seaport, where he trained as a rigger and ended up working on the rigging of a number of “tall ships” such as the “Elissa” in Galveston and the “U.S.S. Constitution” in Boston. He skippered several “windjammers,” including the “Harvey Gamage” and the “Rachael and Ebenezer.” Even though our careers afloat were on very different vessels, we enjoyed telling tales and comparing notes. Like all seamen, we find it interesting to talk about anything that floats. The day passed by quickly and soon we were motoring into crowded Annapolis Harbor, filled with a normal Saturday flotilla. Due to the light breezes, there were not as many sailboats out, but a few were on the Bay and coaxing what they could out of what wind there was. We fueled up and went through the Spa Creek drawbridge to find an empty town mooring about 20 feet off a dinghy landing. Annapolis and Eastport do not turn their back on the boating visitors. Every street that dead-ends at the water is a public access for boaters at anchor or on moorings. The Captain was grateful for Will’s assistance and the chance to visit, and rowed him to the Eastport side of the creek where the spotted car awaited him.
May 10th – The Captain arose on Mother’s Day with a long list of chores to be completed aboard Pathfinder. Once again the brown ‘waterway’ stain was removed from the bow and stern. The engine oil and filter were changed as well as the fuel filters. No matter how many times these jobs are done, they always remain “interesting” and it was just as well that the Captain’s mother was not present to hear his “discussion” with the engine. Later a phone call was made to Mom to celebrate the day. Spa Creek is a fascinating place to be moored on a warm weekend. There seemed to be a non-stop parade of paddleboards and kayaks, as well as larger craft coming through the Spa Creek bridge. This is a strict “no-wake” zone so the mooring field is calm despite the activity. About a dozen women, mostly in bikinis, stopped their paddleboards in the vicinity of Pathfinder to tie up to a mooring and do yoga on their paddleboards. The Captain cast a critical eye
to ensure they were doing the “downward dog” properly although he kept his thoughts to himself. In the late afternoon he headed ashore wearing his Maine Maritime Academy ball cap(the mention of this will become obvious soon) and walked to the Harbormaster’s Office to pay the mooring bill and take a shower. He boarded the Baltimore Clipper replica “Lynx” and had a tour as well as chatted with the skipper and crew. After a walk about town, dodging the throngs of tourists, he headed back to “Shipwright Lane” where the dinghy dock was located. Two young lads were sitting on the dock, having a good time talking and passing a warm Sunday afternoon. They looked up at the Captain and spied his hat. They immediately asked if the Captain had attended Maine Maritime Academy and when he replied that he was a 1976 grad, they both proudly announced that they were
members of the class of 2015! This was a surprise, since Annapolis would not be expected to be a hotbed of MMA grads. Anthony Swartout of Annapolis and Sam Brown of New York City were both passing the time as they waited for their jobs as third mates to begin in a few weeks. Sam was heading for a cable laying ship out of Baltimore while Anthony was bound for the grey ships of the Military Sealift Command (civilian vessels in support of the U.S. Navy). To celebrate the chance encounter, the Captain treated all to pizza at a worthy Annapolis establishment and gave encouragement and advice to the young new ship’s officers. By the time we departed company the two young men had made the Captain feel like an old salt!
May 11th – Our Annapolis “Angels” and friends from Bayside, Bruce and Elaine Smith once again gave a helping hand and transported the Captain to a grocery store for fresh produce. The Admiral was returning and the Captain knew that salt horse and hard tack was not going to cut the mustard, so the larder needed to be replenished. The Captain returned to Pathfinder before the early afternoon showers, and at 1500 the Admiral was hailing him from the dinghy dock. It was great to have her back aboard, but soon we were ashore for showers and meeting Bruce and Elaine at one of our favorite Annapolis eateries, “Chick and Ruths.” This restaurant has been described several times in the blog, but if you are looking for great Maryland crab cakes with a local diner atmosphere, and not too much elbowroom, Chick and Ruth’s is your place. We had a good time visiting with Bruce and Elaine and heard about the latest boat that Bruce has his eye on. We will be seeing them again up at Bayside in a little over a month.
May 12th – Pathfinder was underway in time to make the 0630 opening of the Spa Creek bridge. There were blustery winds in the forecast but they took their time in arriving. It was a motor up the last bit of Chesapeake Bay and into the C & D (Chesapeake and Delaware) Canal. This is a sea level canal that runs for about 15 miles connecting the Delaware River and Philadelphia ports to Chesapeake Bay. There is some commercial traffic but it is not heavy, mostly consisting of tugboats and barges. We had planned on stopping at the Army Corp Basin at Chesapeake City and anchoring, but the current was in our favor and it would not be early the next morning, so we pushed on another 13 miles to a marina at Delaware City for the night. The air was hot and humid and we had the warmest night since departing Florida.
May 13th – A cold front pushed through during the night and our early morning temperatures reminded us we were headed north. Back came the fleeces and long pants. Small craft advisories for northwest winds were posted for the Delaware River and Bay, but with the wind astern we decided to put out on the river to see what we would find. The initial destination was the Cohansey River on the New Jersey side that had good reviews. But by 1030 we were abeam the Cohansey and decided to push on with a strong and fair current and the wind at our back. For several hours we averaged over 8 knots
with the jib rolled out and the engine ticking along. The commercial traffic on the Delaware was very heavy this day and there was a parade of freighters, tankers, tugs and barges headed for sea or the ports near Philadelphia. The problem with Delaware Bay, located at the mouth of the river, is that there is a large open fetch of water before you arrive at Cape May and the seas can become very large. A sand bar with eight feet of water needs to be crossed for vessels making for the Cape May Canal entrance, which is the normal entrance for a boat Pathfinder’s size when coming down the Delaware. The evening before, the marina manager at Delaware City had warned the Captain about crossing this bar in rough seas. With building waves the Captain reluctantly plotted
Pathfinder’s course to go around Cape May and proceed into the harbor via the ocean entrance and not by the Cape May Canal. It was rough rounding the Cape, and the currents turned against us, making this seven-mile detour a tiring affair. Later we learned that several vessels crossed the bar to the canal without a problem. We were happy to tie up at Utsch’s Marina. After dinner at a restaurant close by, we had an early bedtime.
May 14th – The previous day’s northwest wind shifted northeast and was still blowing hard at daybreak. The Jersey coast was no place to be with this sort of breeze so Pathfinder’s crew took their time preparing for the day, with conditions forecast to improve in the afternoon. At 1000 the Captain was working on programming his autopilot when he noticed that the depth sounder read 3.5 feet! As stated before, the draft of Pathfinder is 4
feet, but the transducer is about 8-10 inches below the waterline. The Captain checked the tide tables and saw that the tide had another hour to fall, by which time we would most assuredly be aground! There was a scramble and Pathfinder was backed out of the marina slip and exited the narrow channel between the slips at Utsch’s. Proceeding toward the harbor channel Pathfinder suddenly slowed and the Captain realized that he had cut the corner from the marina channel to the deeper water in the harbor. Fortunately the mud was very soft and with full throttle the boat wiggled free and we kept our forward progress. A number of boats were in the Cape May anchorage and had elected to make this a lay day with the winds blowing outside. Pathfinder’s crew decided to push on and after clearing
the Cape May jetties, turned northeast toward Atlantic City. It was rough but nothing that the crew or boat couldn’t handle. As the day wore on the winds slackened and our speed crept up to 5.5 to 6 knots and the large hotels of Atlantic City started to grow on the horizon. A few dolphins were seen chasing their next meal and the afternoon turned pleasant. We entered the large and deep “Absecon Inlet” next to the towering casinos and hotels and then entered a local “lake” that is largely uncharted but has local navigation aids to follow. Guidebooks had recommended “Brigantine Lake” as a suitable anchorage for those not wanting to spend money on the marinas across the inlet. Since the Admiral and Captain did not have any interest in checking out the Atlantic City “scene” they opted for the anchorage. Brigantine Lake was quiet and peaceful, but surrounded by condos with a few beach type summerhouses mixed in. The Captain wondered how many folks save all year to rent a summer condo in the shadows of Atlantic City? As darkness descended, one of the highrise hotels with a broad expanse of glass, became a giant electronic bill board. Messages and pictures splashed across its front all evening long. Blackout shades would be required for anyone living close by!
May 15th – The Admiral and Captain were both up at 0400 before the alarm went off. With
a spotlight and the GPS chart plotter, they carefully wound their way out of Brigantine Lake and into the Absecon Inlet where the current was flooding at a strong clip. Between the radar and the chart plotter the unlit buoys were avoided and we wondered how many people were still at the tables at the local establishments. It was with a bit of relief that we turned north and put the City behind us. The wind was light and mostly at our backs so the diesel had an easy job of pushing us north at 6.5 knots or more. The mainsail was raised to steady Pathfinder in the swell and the autopilot seemed up to the task of handling the steering.
The crew took two-hour watches and listened to their iPods via the Bluetooth stereo that Colin had given the Captain for Christmas, and the day went by with the New Jersey coastline. Barnegat Inlet and lighthouse were abeam at 1030. About 1400 the wind picked up from the south-southeast, the jib was unfurled, and eventually the engine was shut down. Pure sailing is such a joy after long days of listening to the engine. To add to our relief, the current was flooding up Sandy Hook Channel and our speed picked up as we passed by the Atlantic Highlands. Turning down the Channel we had a broad reach and watched our speed over the ground increase to eight knots plus! We flew past the end of the Hook and all of its fishermen and made our way across Raritan Bay to Great Kills Harbor on the south shore of Staten Island. By 1700 we had the sails doused and were entering the harbor, happily picking up a mooring rented by the Richmond County Yacht Club. We stayed awake to watch a segment of “Death in Paradise” on the laptop and then it was lights out!