Sunday, May 23, 2010

Baltimore to night sailing with no lights

It had been over 3 months since the last time I had stepped aboard Swift Ranger. It was mostly unfamiliar at first. The wood was sun bleached from the summer, the smell of old bilge water was almost unbearable, and lastly, there was no Alaina. I was about to move our boat 150 miles to "someplace cheaper, chesapeake bay."

A few friends from Denver happily joined me to help with the trip. Colin, an old friend that I have known from 100's of concerts and Brian, a relatively new friend that I met through my wife. Both great people. Both like beer.

We quickly got the boat back to its proper standing and purchased enough food and drink for the ext 4 days. We wouldn't have that much time to go shopping again. Turning on the VHF radio for the first time in sometime, I was overwhelmed with the familiar voice of the NOAA robot broadcaster. He feels like a father. "Don't go to sea today, it will be a shit-storm sonny." Just our luck, he announced in his usual monotone that there would be no wind for 4 days.

We cast the lines and motored out of our dock, looking out over the glass-like water, we sat back and relaxed as we steered by pinky. Nothing could be more lackadaisical.

We pulled into my nostalgic homeland euphoria - Annapolis - and rafted up to an old friends boat: Kevin and Jan on Pearl of Eastport. Two ducks in a row. The very second we stepped off the boat we were greeted with frosted "Natty Bo" and a warm smile. Kevin was preparing to show us the town a little more than Alaina and I previously were able to. The town tour consisted mostly of drinking at various locations. Thank you Kevin.

And of course, Clams

The next few days can be summed up very shortly: no wind. We motored our way to Solomon's Island and had a quiet night on the boat. Here Brian had to make his way out to the airport for a flight back to Denver, it was just Colin and I from here on out.

The daddy robot voice came on later that night, "Cold front moving in on Friday night, winds 30 gusting to 40 knots." We should be fine we thought, it's Wednesday. Only one more day to Deltaville, our final destination for this trip.

Again no wind. We motored and motored and made very little progress toward Deltaville. The current from the Rappahannock is absolutely terrible. Six o'clock quickly came upon us and we were still 4 hours out. "Should we just motor through the night?" Of Course.

The very second the sun went down the wind somehow increased and I proceeded to scare the shit out of my wife. We were motor sailing with a full job and full main and in seconds the leeward rail was in the water. In a few more seconds a wave came over the bow and knocked our crappy electrical out - my fault - and sure enough we are without navigation lights. The sun is down.

The wind continues to increase. I tell Colin to turn on the radio and check the weather. "Cold front has sped up and will be affecting the bay area tonight, winds 35 knots with gusts to 40" And this is how we are greeted. The bay is no place to sail with high winds. Between the current and the shallows, the waves become really short and sharp. Nothing like on the ocean side and by all means I would have rather been on the ocean side that night if we didn't haphazardly find an emergency anchorage.

Colin and I found a spot in the lee on Fleets Bay and we sat in shifts making sure our unplanned anchoring didn't fail. The morning came with another weather forecast. "Winds sustained at 35 knots throughout the day." We would have to sail straight into the wind for another 35 miles to make our final destination. This was not going to happen. With a little VHF talk and some chart study, we found a small cove in Reedville that hopefully would accommodate us. Sure enough, not only could they accommodate us, but there haul out fees and monthly rates were half the price of the marina in Deltaville. Perfect trip.

The Journey Ends...for now

From North Carolina on it was non-stop traveling. Our goal was to reach Baltimore by June 1st, and somehow we did just that. Our dear friends Kevin and Jan on their Cape Dory "Pearl of Eastport" became our traveling companions from North Carolina to their homeport Annapolis. Sailing in the Chesapeake Bay was an unimaginable treat after all those days eeking through the shoaly channels of the ICW. For the first time in weeks hauling anchor and setting the sails became a laid-back endeavor, where I no longer needed to pour over charts and cruising guides for hours ever day. Only the occasional squall or naval zone could cause us any concern.

My ability to relax and enjoy myself undoubtedly made for a better experience for my sister Ashley, who was beginning to see sailing as one catastrophe after another including Patrick nearly biting his tongue off, constant squalls, and boats that anchor too close to us and then accuse us of hitting them. But from Norfolk on that all changed. We stopped in many beautiful anchorages, and Annapolis itself was as mecca-like as we dreamed it would be. I felt John Rousmanier's spirit guiding us into Spa Creek for the first time. I toasted him and the Annapolis Book of Seamanship for their invaluable assistance throughout our voyaging.

The morning we sailed into Baltimore's inner-harbor was surreal. Even though the last month of cruising was spent working towards this goal, it had never seemed obtainable. We never spoke of it, but Patrick and I had secret fears that our engine would just explode or we would run aground and do serious damage before our trip came to an end. I am happy to say, no calamity of the sort ever befell us. Our sail through inner-harbor was calm and beautiful, and the city towered before us, beckoning and majestic. Neither of us had ever seen Baltimore before so it was fitting that our first experience was from the water.

Unfortunately Baltimore had just experienced a massive fish kill due to an out of control algae bloom that spring. It smelled like absolute shit. As we motored into our marina the bow was literally parting through heaps of fish carcasses. It was so foul we could hardly stand to cook dinner and eat onboard Swift Ranger that night.

We thoroughly enjoyed being stationary for longer than a few days in so many months, and our marina quickly became home to us. Early on we befriended an incredible couple, Sean and Meredith who were Baltimore natives and planning their own cruising adventure in the next few years. We also began making wedding plans. Having survived so many months on a 30 footer together and still being on speaking terms with each other really confirmed this long debated option. We kept it as simple as possible, immediate family only, ceremony on a boat. We didn't even bother with invitations! Sailing taught us so many valuable lessons...(ie: cheapness)

One thing sailing didn't prepare us for was the unemployment rate in Baltimore. Desperate searching for over a month and a half didn't result in as much as a single interview between the two of us. Our college degrees and our can-do attitudes didn't give us any advantage over native East-coasters. We are just too mid-west for our own good. After 8 months of living off our savings we were completely desperate. We had no patience to continue job-hunting in a strange city for another month, so with much sadness, we left Swift Ranger behind and journeyed back to Denver, nearly a year after we had left.

We were both rehired at our old jobs within weeks of our return, and moved back into our old apartment, resuming our old lives as if we had never left. Even today, it sometimes feels like none of it ever happened. We have a series of photographs taken at various anchorages framed on our living room wall as a constant reminder of our accomplishments...but it's a strange ending to a strange journey for us. The greatest reward was undoubtedly the discovery that Patrick and I were meant to be together--that anyone else on the boat with us for more than a week started to grate on our nerves and wear down our patience, but no amount of time alone together on that boat made us wish we were apart.

I certainly lost some weight, but I gained a husband.