Category Archives: Cruising

S/V Kai at the Solomons Maritime Festival

The Patuxent Small Craft Guild Chapter of the Traditional Small Craft Association held a small boats messabout on May 3-5 at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons Island. This was in conjunction with the annual Solomons Maritime Festival at the museum. I heard about it from Brian Forsyth at the monthly zoom meetup of the Shallow Water Sailors.  Brian leads the PSCG and offered on-site camping and amenities for messabout participants. I decided to take dory skiff to the event and line up with the other small craft on display. Maybe sail in the harbor. Maybe do a landside demo of how to pack and use a very small skiff for camping and cruising.

S/V Kai showed up Friday night. The forecast was not good – light rain most of the weekend. But there were indoor activities planned in the PSCG boat shop, and the small craft collection and museum exhibits to check out. And the promise of the SWS mess tent and conversation. I pitched my tent in the field with six other SWSers. I wanted to watch the rain forecast awhile longer before the rain clouds before setting up S/V Kai for display.

This messabout gave me a chance to see a Dovekie up close. for the first time. I’ve been attracted to Dovekies ever since I read Robert deGast’s Five Fair Rivers 25 years ago. The Shallow Water Sailors started in the 1980s as a Dovekie sailing group, and Bill S. brought his along for this event and slept onboard in our tent park.

I enjoyed after dinner conversation under the SWS canopy with Dovekie veterans John Zohlen and Bill S., and with Grigg Mullen, owner of the Chesapeake buyboat Mr. Dickie.

Next morning I walked around the CMM campus as the maritime festival got under way. Despite the intermittent light rain, there were serveral hundred visitors at the festival. I found Mr. Dickie at the pier and toured the excellent Drum Point lighthouse exhibit.

Brian Forsyth and the Patuxent Small Craft Guild run an excellent small boat shop at CMM. Currently building a lighthouse keeper’s boat. (More here on pg 13.)

I was surprised and delighted to discover another Hooper/Smith Island double-ender crabbing skiff. This one is a replica built by the PSCG back in 1983 and now in the CMM small craft collection. More pics and info are here.

After my walk through the CMM campus, I took a walk into town and out to Sandy Point and back. I enjoyed lunch of fish tacos and beer at the pier then walked back to CMM. I found only five visitors standing under their umbrellas before the huge stage while a group performed sea ditties. No visitors to our small craft line-up.

But hey, while I was back at S/V Kai to begin packing up, two visitors wandered over to look at the boat next us.

Bob McMichael was there to show his Core Sound 17 and the very cool boom tent he made for it. Looks to me like its straight sides and all around mosquito netting would be excellent for sultry summer nights on the Chesapeake.

And after the visitors departed, Bob took time to show me the tent in detail and describe how he built it and uses it. I asked about windage with its straight sides. Bob says he keeps the mizzen up overnight when necessary to minimize that.

S/V Kai departed Solomons Island at 1500 hrs and arrived home 3 hours later.

SWS Spring Cruise Day 3: Rowing round the Little Choptank light

Their 44th cruise. My 1st.

[ SWS Cruise day 1 ]
[ SWS Cruise day 2 ]

I awoke still afloat. Tied up near the crab sheds on the commercial wharf at Taylors Island. Sunday morning. No boat traffic on Chapel Cove. No road traffic in town. Coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. I was under way by 8:30.

The sail out of Slaughter Creek was easy, steady 1.5 kts. None of the excitement and tension of the past two days.

I was out in the Little Choptank by 10 am. Plenty of time before returning to Madison. So I decided to pay another visit to the Little Choptank marker and light. But as I moved out of Slaughter Creek, the wind slowly died. I dropped the sail and rowed the final quarter mile to the light, then around it, and I kept rowing.

I rowed 2 miles from the light to Susquehanna Point, pretty straight, averaging 2 kts. From there, the wind picked up from the southwest, and it was a calm but fast reach to the point at the mouth of Hudson Creek.

I dropped the sail, anchored near the marsh, and set up my Trangia stove to heat up canned chowder for lunch.

Here we tested the stability of the Trangia in the wake of a passing workboat.

I’m satisfied with the stability of the Trangia and confident in my choice of an alcohol stove for my small boat cruising.

After this mid-afternoon lunch, the 5 kt breeze miraculously backed around to the north and pushed me right into Madison Bay. I ghosted up the bay at 2.5 kts while the windmill in town was motionless. I kept dozing off with one hand on the tiller and the other barely holding the sheet.

At 3:30 pm on Sunday, I texted John, Jerry, Norm W, and Norman and Diana that S/V Kai had arrived. Now all vessels and crew were accounted for. It would seem that SWS Cruise #44 was now concluded.

[ SWS Cruise day 1 ]
[ SWS Cruise day 2 ]

I also write about traditional Eastern Shore sailing workboats here.

SWS Spring Cruise Day 2: Solo

Their 44th cruise. My 1st.

[ SWS Cruise day 1 ]
[ SWS Cruise day 3 ]

I awoke on day 2 at my snug anchorage in the tiny cove adjacent to Old Trinity Church. None of the leg pain from yesterday, no blood clot, no 911 call in the middle of the night.

And I did not capsize my tiny boat while setting up my sleeping platform, changing clothes, arranging gear, or rolling over in the night. It was my first night onboard, and I worried. Each time I needed to turn in my sleeping bag, I put one hand on each gunwale to be sure I was near the center of the boat. Then I pulled on one gunwale to turn in the direction I wanted to go. It was a night of experimenting and learning, and not a very restful one.

My boom tent with its low peak kept me bent over and was therefore not a total success. I need to make some changes before the next overnight cruise.

But making coffee and cooking oatmeal on my Trangia alcohol stove was a great success. Some argue against alcohol fuel in a small boat. I weighed all the factors. I even tried propane bottles and a car camping stove in my driveway rehearsals. But I like the simplicity of alcohol and the Trangia. And the silence. And the greener footprint.

A Plan B for me

After breakfast and packing up, I rowed back to the Old Trinity dock and joined John, Jerry, and Norm W for coffee and talk about plans for the day.

Norm was feeling some shoulder pain and would sail Piilu back to Madison. I understood that the rest of us could sail over to Taylor’s Island and meet up for dinner. John our leader offered a Plan B for me, in case I was unable to make the 10 miles to Taylors Island before dark.

He looked over the chart of the Little Choptank with me and recommended Woolford Creek as a good anchorage, around behind the spit near the entrance. But he warned me to swing wide to the south and steer clear the sandbar. On a previous SWS cruise, he and Norm W had run hard ground off the sandbar. Others SWSers were already on the beach and sent out a ferry to bring them in for the barbecue. My dory skiff draws less than a foot of water, so I figured I could avoid trouble.

Keeping up with Normsboat Hull #1

12′ SV Kai packed for another day and night on the water.
Norm Wolfe in Piilu ready to hoist sail.

Norm W and I were ready to get under way ahead of the others. Norm said his habit is to tie up on the leeward side of the dock to hoist sail. I should have followed his example. Instead, I rowed out into the center of the narrow river. I caused a small scene by kneeling precariously at the bow and pushing sailcloth out of my face before finally getting the sail up and making headway. At least I did not fall overboard.

Piilu was 40 yards ahead of me by now. We were both enjoying a quiet and pleasant run out of Cabin Creek, then down Fishing Creek toward the Little Choptank.

I thought it was clever of me to sail as close to the lee shore as possible, maximizing the light breeze, while Norm sailed close to the wooded shoreline on our right. Soon he was stalled, and I pulled ahead. But that didn’t last long. Fishing Creek opened up, the breeze freshened, and Piilu inevitably pulled ahead.

Aground near John Z’s sandbar. Twice.

Norm turned up into Madison Bay, and I continued down the Little Choptank, still not certain of my destination. It was after 12 noon, but I was making good time. I still hoped to sail all the way to Taylors Island for dinner, stopping for lunch on John Z’s sandbar in Woolford Creek.

Wind was from the southeast at 5-7 kt, and it was an easy broad reach into Woolford Creek. I remember Jon warning to swing around to the left before going in behind the sandbar. But I was not constantly checking the chart. (I was not set up very well for that; I have to pull out my phone to take a look.) So I had a wrong picture in my mind about both the orientation and scale of this topography. I thought it looked like this as I approached from the east (from the right):

But this was the hard reality. I turned west too soon, centerboard down, and smacked into the bottom.

I pulled the centerboard out of the sand and dropped the sail. The wind was stronger now and coming out of the creek from the south. I rowed hard for the low banks of the marsh to the west. I tossed my anchor into the shrubs and found a few square feet of dry footing on which to step out and stretch my legs.

This was the sheltered anchorage that John had recommended. Should I stay? Light rain had started. I could anchor down and tent up here, or head back to Madison. But it was just 1:30 pm and only 5 miles straight sailing to the Taylors Island and an SWS dinner rendezvous. There were no new messages from the other SWSers, so I thought Annika and the Mac19 were coming up behind me. So I decided to press on.

I shouldn’t be out here doing this solo.

I thought that once I got around Susquehanna Pt, I could drive close hauled right up Slaughter Creek. But my lug rig wouldn’t carry me close enough to the wind, so I aimed for the turreted house on Holland Pt.

Farther from the lee of Susquehannah Neck, the wind got stronger. The rain was light but driven by severe gusts. The gusts and short chop riveted my attention and tightened my grip on the tiller and mainsheet.

I was in control for now and not fearful. But I was feeling foolish and inexperienced. This was no longer the sunny weekend cruise that I had imagined. I had missed a chance to reef back in Woolford Creek. I realized that a capsize out here would be disastrous. I had no VHF and no EPIRB or PLB at hand. And my cruising companions had not come into sight as I had hoped.

With my bow pointed to that tall house on Holland Pt., I imagined someone looking out the tower windows, watching that small boat until it reached shore safely. A persistent, ridiculous vision.

On the final tack that carried me around Holland Pt, I sailed past pilings a quarter mile from the shore and turreted house. The chart shows an island there that’s now gone.

Soon I caught sight of the Taylors Island bridge. It took me another hour to make my way up Slaughter Creek. On the final tack, I barely cleared the point then sped into the harbor. I approached the first wharf and turned into the wind dropped sail, threw out the anchor, and pulled out my cellphone. Texts from John and the others told me they had pulled out a few hours before. Jerry had towed Annika into Madison.

I heard a halloo from a young man at the end of the wharf. I couldn’t understand in the wind, I hollered back that I needed a place to tie up. He beckoned me over.

I met Andrew and his girlfriend, Kristy. She was raised in Federalsburg, he had lived in Marydel – both ends of Caroline County, where I live. Andrew said he dredges for oysters on the skipjack Rebecca Ruark out of Tilghman Island.

And while I was looking around and considering my options for the night, I wondered if this would be okay. It was dinner hour. And 90 minutes till dusk. I really wanted crab cakes and beer. And I really did not want to go looking for a calm anchorage in the dark.

Andrew and Kristy showed me with their kindness that it would be okay here. They secured my bow and stern lines, carried out fenders and tied them to the pilings, and helped me ashore. And re-tied one of my knots. Then they wished me a good night.

I was stiff from a long day folded up in my skiff. I wobbled up the wharf and down the street to the Boats and Hose restaurant. It was crowded and lively, the staff were friendly, and the crab soup was like no other.

I wobbled back to my boat just before dark. I set up my sleeping platform (which must be done while sitting on the platform), rolled out my sleeping bag, and climbed in before 9pm. I read from Traditional Fishing Boats of Britain and Ireland about scaffies, fifies, and zulus. I was exhausted and asleep in minutes. The lights of the harbor made my white tent tarp glow all night, but I slept pretty well.

[ SWS Cruise day 1 ]
[ SWS Cruise day 3 ]

I also write about traditional Eastern Shore sailing workboats here.

SWS Spring Cruise Day 1: Late for Dinner

Their 44th cruise. My 1st.

[ SWS Cruise day 2 ]
[ SWS Cruise day 3 ]

I was back on the Little Choptank last weekend to join the 44th annual Spring Cruise of the Shallow Water Sailors. 

SWS formed in the 1980s, sailing mostly Bolger Dovekies and Shearwaters.  The vintage SWS website has an archive of nearly 40 years of photos and newsletters with cruise stories and tips for sailors.

Today SWS is a dwindling but talented group.  John Zohlen has led the group since the 1980s. John is 82 and no longer sails. But he still plans the monthly Zoom meetups and leads the cruises from his kayak.  Norm Wolfe is the owner of Normsboat hull #1, designed by Jim Michalak.  Jerry Culik is Technical Editor for Small Craft Advisor and writes the Tech Bytes column. Brian Forsyth is the driving force behind the Patuxent Small Craft Guild at the Calvert Marine Museum. Dave Dawson built Terrapin, a John Harris Autumn Leaves design, and wrote about it in Small Boats Monthly. Bob McMichael crafted a unique boom tent for his Core Sound 17, designed especially for sultry nights on the Chesapeake.

This was my first SWS cruise. John said they’re always loosely organized. The only fixture would be the Friday night dinner rendezvous at Old Trinity on Church Creek.

Four SWS boats launched from Taylor’s Island and Madison:

  • Norm W’s Normsboat, Piilu
  • Jerry’s MacGregor Mac19 Powersailer
  • Norman and Diana Hudson-Taylor’s Litorina, Annika. (Per Norman: Only 15 produced, in Sweden by Naviproductor. None but Annika are sailing in the US.)
  • Me in my 12.5 ft Harry Bryan dory skiff, S/V Kai. This would be my first time camping aboard.

John’s kayak stayed on his car for this cruise, and he provided critical landside support.

Friday morning when I arrived at Madison, I found John waiting for me at the ramp. He offered advice and told SWS stories while I unpacked. Jerry soon motored up, tied off, and said there were whitecaps out on the Little Choptank. And he had burned lots of fuel pulling Norm off when he ran aground after breakfast. Jerry waited at the Madison ramp while John drove off to refill his gas can, and I launched.

I rowed out past the Red 4 buoy then over to the lee of the trees to hoist sail. Too cautious. I ghosted along at .5 kts until I finally reached the mouth of the bay, out of the wind shadow.

Medical emergency. Late for dinner.

When I came out of Madison Bay into the Little Choptank, the wind was ENE and both wind and chop increased dramatically. My GPS track below shows my intention to beat upwind a bit on the Little Choptank then enjoy an easy reach up Fishing Creek. But the wind bedeviled us on both days of this cruise. It blew downriver, no matter which way the river turned. So it no easy and pleasant reach up Fishing Creek. It was a slow grind in my small, flat-bottom skiff into the wind and chop.

Then a reversal.

I got past Cherry Point, almost half way to our destination on Church Creek, when I felt a sharp pain on the inside of my left thigh. Through one more tack, the pain grew more intense. My skiff is small and packed tight with gear – not much room to unfold and ease a cramp. I tried to stretch, rotate, and swing my leg every way possible to ease the pain. Soon I was arched over the space between the sternsheets and the centerboard thwart. More pain. And flashbacks to my heart attack 16 months ago. And recent advice from my cardiologist about blood clot risk after long periods of inactivity.

I thought of calling 911. But then what? Sail over to one of the waterfront mansions? Then what?

I wasn’t sure where Piilu and the Mac19 were. But I realized that Annika was behind me. I dialed Norman and Diana’s cellphone while nodding thanks for the cell tower in nearby Madison. I explained the situation to Norman and turned downwind to meet them – less than a mile behind me.

By the time Norman and Diana had me in tow, the pain had subsided. Their electric outboard, working in an internal well, drove us into the wind at 2 kts. We arrived late for the traditional SWS cruise dinner in the cemetery at Old Trinity. But John and Norm W were saving some for us – Norm’s chicken curry with garnish of raisins and peanuts.

Dinner rendezvous at Old Trinity.
From left: Piilu, Annika, S/V Kai, Mac19

Safe haven at Old Trinity

After dinner, we talked about where to anchor for the night with wind forecast at 5 kts blowing downriver . Jerry settled into the Mac19 tied to the end of the dock. Norm rowed Piilu 30 yards upstream and anchored. I followed Annika into the cove downstream from the dock. Norm and Diana anchored out, and I rowed into the smaller cove next to the church cemetery. John would be camping in the parking lot, ready to respond if I experienced another medical event.

Old Trinity Church, ca. 1670, is on the right near the dock.
Annika and S/V Kai anchored in the cove at center

Annika, the rare and intriguing Litorina design from Sweden

S/V Kai anchored for the night.

This was my first night onboard SV Kai. I was glad for the protection of this micro-cove. But I didn’t know anything about tide behavior on this river. I was anchored in 2.5 ft of water. Would I be sitting dry in the morning when the tide ran out? Throughout this first night onboard, I kept reaching out from my sleeping bag to touch the gunwales and gently rock the boat to see if I was still afloat. Many other concerns woke me often, and I didn’t get much rest.

But it was an important “first”.

[ SWS Cruise day 2 ]
[ SWS Cruise day 3 ]

I also write about traditional Eastern Shore sailing workboats here.

Madison Bay and the Little Choptank

I was hoping to accomplish two things this trip: I wanted to do long row. And I wanted to sail out onto the open Chesapeake for the first time.

The forecast was for no wind before 11 a.m. I arrived at the landing in Madison two hours before. No wind, no problem. I wanted test my skiff, my DIY oars, and my own ability to get back home if the wind dies.

A little mishap at the ramp – the skiff would not slide off the trailer. I could see from the centerboard’s lanyard that it was in a downward position. I must have left the CB down when I landed after my last trip. Loading onto the trailer had worked fine; the CB rotated up when the boat slid forward. But when sliding back off the trailer, it dropped enough to make the boat stick.

It took me 20-30 minutes to row out to the buoy at the mouth of Madison Bay. About 3 kts in flat water. The skiff rowed easily and tracked well. But my oars need to be lighter and a bit shorter.

When I kayaked here in the 90s, I was fascinated to see crabs and grasses on the bottom that glided 3-4 feet beneath me. Now I could only barely see the bottom through green water. No crabs or grass. I wondered about the health of the Little Choptank River Sanctuary.

I paused for breakfast near the buoy. Back at Madison, the wind turbine started turning slowly at 1050. Then it stopped at 1110. But a light breeze touched the water where I was at the edge of the larger river. I could see the Western Shore 5-6 miles off. The forecast made me expect a long reach out past the mouth of the Little Choptank and back. But it turned out quite differently.

The forecast for noon still said 8 kt from the north. I raised sail but went nowhere. So I rowed downriver to the next buoy. When the wind finally came up, it was from the west. It stayed that way all day. So it was a long beat to windward if I would finally reach the Bay.

I tacked back and forth out past Ragged Island and reached the channel marker at the mouth of the Little Choptank about 2pm. Then swung over to the mouth of Woolford Creek to stop for a late lunch. I didn’t find the shelter I was looking for. Still, I hove and was able to keep the sail up. The skiff kept bow to wind and small rolling waves while I did crackers, cheese, and zinfandel.

It was a run back to Madison Bay. By this time, the wind had backed around to the south but was finicky both in direction and strength, as I was close to the south shore.

A dinghy cast off from a yacht anchored at the bay entrances. It crossed my path 100 yards ahead. The oarsman landed on the marsh beach and let his big dog out to run and fetch sticks.

I watched how this sailboat and one other in the bay rode at anchor. And I watched yard flags a mile off. And when I rounded the point to see Madison, I watch the direction and speed of the wind turbine. All to keep gauge of the wind. I was a bit concerned about getting back to the landing before dark.

Wind and sail crucial during last 90 minutes back to port. Watched two anchored yachts for wind direction at the mouth and farther into Madison Bay. Then watched the windmilll speed and direction. Both yacht and windmill swung 90 degrees and back.

How important this was for sail and oar. It was dark by the time a got to Cambridge 12 miles up the road.

Duration: 8 hours
Distance: 16 miles
More photos and videos are here.

I also write about traditional Eastern Shore sailing workboats here.

Into the Great Choptank

The peril of waiting to set the rudder
Drifting like a traditional workboat to hoist sail
The power and beauty of well-shaped canvas.
Hambrooks Bar Light back from the brink of death.

This was only my third time sailing solo. First was on the narrow Tuckahoe. Next on the middle Choptank. Now I would sail out of Cambridge into the Great Choptank.

I launched at the public ramp at Great Marsh Park. I needed to row away from the ramp before raising the sail. I had no tiller keeper. Rowing with the rudder in place and swinging around would be a problem. So I decided to set the rudder after I was out on the water, before I raised the sail.

I rowed from the ramp so I was out of the traffic land and leeway to let the boat drift while I worked to get under way. First I had to set the rudder. I was out on the big Choptank in a chop. Just a foot or so, but it bounced my skiff so that I couldn’t get the rudder pintles into the very small gudgeons. I tried and failed, drifted toward the breakwater, and had to row farther out to try again. Cursing helped. I finally got the rudder set, attached the tiller, and got ready to raise the sail.

In the few times I’d launched before – always in brisk winds, I tried to stay headed into the wind. But this time I was following the advice of Roger Barnes in his Dinghy Cruising Companion – hoist the sail while drifting broadside to the wind [*] with the gaff and sprit laid out over the lee gunwale. The Roger Barnes tutorial [*] helped me here: Let the boat drift. Winds were only 5-7 kts, so I was confident to try this.

Letting the sail and spars pay out over the lee gunwale kept them out of my face and reduced the risk of getting knocked out of the boat. It also helped that I had rotated the mast so the halyard cleat faces aft. This keeps me out of the extreme bow, the small boat less stable, while I tie off the halyard. And I learned to secure the halyard around the cleat and cinch it down without figures eights. For quicker release.

A northerly breeze at 7-10 kts was forecast for most of the day. This would allow me to sail downriver from Cambridge and back on a beam reach. But once again, the real wind was different from the forecast. Once again, I started off beating into the wind. But this time was remarkably different. Since my last time out, I had learned a lot about my balanced lug rig. Most useful was the video tutorial from Michael Storer for the lug sail on his OzGoose design here. I learned to pull the downhaul down hard and secure it tight. With this, I sailed much closer to the wind.

From Cambridge to Dickinson Bay.

I naively imagined sailing as far as the Tred Avon and Oxford. Big short chop and westerlies from broad lower Choptank slowed me down, even with a more efficient sail. I saw that I need more ballast forward will give more speed through the chop – another day.. Just to cross the Great Choptank was a big deal for me today.

In the shadow of Howell Point, the wind shifted and danced from north to west and back. I anchored in Dickinson Bay for lunch in the shallows near a five-star goose blind.

While crossing, I kept an eye on the Hambrooks Bar Light to gauge my position and progress. After lunch, I set my course for the light. Back in April 2020, I had been contacted by Jim Malone, a lighthouse enthusiast from Connecticut, who said the USCG had awarded a contract for demolition of the light in June. He also contacted the Jim Richardson Maritime Museum in Cambridge and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. Apparently no one in the local community was aware. I read later that Rep. Andy Harris got involved. So there it is, still.

Hambrooks Bar Light. Back from the brink of death.

From Hambrooks Bar, it was a leisurely run back to the ramp at Great Marsh Park. Outside the breakwater, I let the boat drift again broadside to the wind while I lowered the sail. Then I rowed in.

Duration: 3 hours
Distance: 7.5 miles
More photos and videos are here.


[*] Everyone used to hoist sail this way

It has become the normal practice on modern yachts to hoist the sails while motoring to windward, but this is unwise in a sailing dinghy. The motion is atrocious in anything of a chop … It is better to row or motor your boat into a patch of clear water, and then hoist the sails while the dinghy is drifting. A drifting dinghy will tend to lie broadside onto the wind, so the sails must be hoisted while they are squared off over the side.

Traditional rigs are designed to cope with this. Everyone used to hoist sail this way, before the easy availability of auxiliary power started to erode traditional sailing skills. By contrast, many modern rigs seem to be designed with the expectation that the sail will only be hoisted while the boat is lying head to wind, otherwise the luff jams in its track or the mainsail headboard gets caught under the spreaders. This is why yachts usually motor to windward when they raise their sails and racing dinghies have got into the habit of hoisting their sails ashore in the dinghy park. Neither of these options is suitable for a cruising dinghy. It is vital that her sails can be hoisted and lowered when the wind is on the beam.

– Roger Barnes, The Dinghy Cruising Companion

Below Denton

Sailing where sailboats are no longer seen.
With a sail badly formed.
The harbor I might not escape from.
Feeling for the lightest breeze, in sight of home port.

High spring tide on the Choptank at Denton when I launched. The plan was to sail downriver a few miles to the ramp inside the mouth of Watt’s Creek at Martinak State Park.

The wind forecast was not ideal – gusts above 10 kts. But I had only been on the water a few times with my new boat, and I was eager to get back out. Besides, the river here is very narrow, so I would be protected from the strongest winds. And wind would blow across the river most of the way – a comfortable beam reach downriver and back. Or so I thought.

Of course, when a narrow river bends in three directions, even a steady wind will be from three directions. I got to try working all points of sail on this short passage. As the river widened below Denton, the wind gusted mostly from the southwest. So I was beating into the wind most of the way, on very short tacks, coming about within a few yards of powerboat docks closer to town and marshes down near Watts Creek.

I wanted to enter Watts Creek and picnic in Martinak Park. But when I approach the mouth, the wind was WSW and pushing chop up the creek toward the ramp. If I went in, I wasn’t sure I could get back out. I certainly couldn’t sail and tack my way out. And I wasn’t sure I could row out against the wind and chop. The track shows that I approached but thought better of it, swung around, crossed to the protected west bank of the Choptank, and anchored for lunch.

Lunch break across the river from Watts Creek. Looking back up the Choptank..

You can see from the next photo that I was only guessing how to reef a lugsail. I kept the gaff at the top of the mast and raised the sprit up to the reef points. I didn’t know how to use the reef tack and clew. Still, this is the sail that pushed me back upriver with the wind mostly from aft quarter.

The track here shows how I rowed straight downriver from the ramp. But on the sail back, my skiff turned and twisted looking for the breeze on that final 200 yards. This segment was perhaps the best part of the trip. I spent almost an hour making my way back to the ramp. I felt each promise of breeze coming between the trees and houses on the high left bank. Or from the marsh and cripple on the right bank. My boat spun in every direction while I coaxed lift from my sail. This is why I sail a small boat, engineless. And why I carry oars.

Duration: 4 hours
Distance: 5.3 miles
More images and videos are here.

Sailing out of Secretary. No capsize plan.

My second time sailing solo.
My first time nearly capsizing. 
And the last time I refuse a tow when it’s offered and needed. 

I still felt insecure about my boat, my rig, my oars, and my sailing skills. And the forecast was not ideal for a novice sailor – winds at 10 kts and gusting. But I needed to get the boat and myself back on the water. So I chose a stretch of the middle Choptank that gave me more room to tack but was narrow and protected from stronger winds. I expected an easy run out Warwick River onto the Choptank. Then a beam reach upriver all the way to the town of Choptank and back. It turned out differently. 

I backed my dory skiff into the water at the public landing in Secretary. From the dock, it looked like I should get under the bridge before I stepped my 12-foot mast. I rowed zigzag to the bridge. My oars were too long, too heavy, and too low on the gunwale. And I had not yet figured out that I should use my biker’s clip-on mirror to navigate while rowing. Nor had I figured out to lash my tiller. This was all new to me.

Once past the bridge, I struggled to step the mast while I drifting across the narrow Warwick River. I got the mast up as my rudder gently touched the mud at the opposite bank. A woman in a golf cart sped across her lawn to arrest me for trespassing. I raised sail just in time to escape. 

I expected an easy run out the Warwick River onto the Choptank. Instead, I was sailing into a very light breeze, not at all what was forecast. This would be the story for the rest of the day – “wrong wind”. While tacking my way down this narrow channel, I hit submerged riprap near entrance on the south side. 

My plan for the day depended on strong winds from the east and a beam reach five miles upriver to the town of Choptank. Instead, I ghosted for hours, across to Jamaica Point, then only a mile upriver to Cabin Creek. Plenty of time for sightseeing. And I saw an odd sight – several small trees floating upright on the ebb tide. By 3pm, I was just three miles up from Warwick River, and it was time to turn around and row back to Secretary.

I dropped sail and rowed over to the marsh near Blinkhorn Creek for my late lunch. Wine, bread, and cheese.

While I relaxed at anchor, the wind that was forecast for the morning finally appeared. Wind from the east at 10 kts and gusting higher. I quickly packed up, raised sail, and flew away from the marsh for a wild ride back downriver. It was only my second time solo sailing, and I was on edge all the way. Despite my timid hand on the tiller, the skiff heeled and dipped the lee gunwale to the water twice before we turned up into Warwick River.

I thought later about the capsize plan that I did not have. Now I face a different challenge – beating back up into the narrow channel to Secretary. After 4-5 tacks, I was making little progress. I dropped the sail and tried to row. The problems I had rowing out in the morning were compounded by the headwind. For 20 minutes I made little progress, rowing zigzag, oars popping out of their locks, wondering if I would get back to the landing before dark.

I was starting to get the hang of it, making some headway. Over my shoulder, I saw a homeowner standing on his dock, watching me struggle. He fired up his fishing boat, motored over, and offered to tow me back to the landing. We talked briefly about the conditions and my difficulty. But I turned down his offer. Why would I do that? What was wrong with me? It was part vanity. I was rowing better now and was about to beat this thing, I wanted to prove that I could. And I was feeling embarrassed that I was out on the water so poorly prepared. He waved and turned back.

I tied up at a piling next to the seafood packing house and the bridge to lower my mast before rowing to the landing.

Dinner at Suicide Bridge Restaurant, just ahead of closing. Crabcakes and IPA, thinking about lessons learned.

I also write about traditional Eastern Shore sailing workboats here.

Sailing the Tuckahoe. Tethered to 911.

I acquired my dory skiff in September 2022. I took it out just once rowing in November. Then I had a heart attack in December.

While I was recovering in January, I was eager to try my new skiff and balanced lug rig (about which I was clueless, as we shall see.) But I had to stay close to home and 911 responders. Staying close to home meant sailing on the upper Choptank and Tuckahoe. Narrow rivers that are not ideal for novice sailors, but I was impatient to sail.

In late February, I launched from historic Ganey’s Wharf near the mouth of the Tuckahoe. My plan was to sail up the Tuckahoe to New Bridge Landing. My wife could meet me there and check my pulse before I sailed back downriver.

Ganey’s Wharf on the upper Choptank near the entrance to the Tuckahoe

This was my first time sailing solo. Besides the challenge of the narrow river, the forecast was for winds above 10 knots in the afternoon. These conditions would make it painfully obvious how little I knew about my boat and rig, and about myself as a novice sailor. But I was dying to get on the water under sail at last.

The wind was blowing strong up the Choptank where I launched. Waves were over a foot – a big deal for a first time sailor in a very small craft . I tried to point into the wind to raise the sail. I barely had the sail up and the mainsheet in hand when the skiff turned downwind and ran fast toward the shoal on the right bank. The wind gusted and nearly knocked us down. I steered toward the more sheltered left bank and got the rig and boat under control.

I sailed in better form into the mouth of the Tuckahoe. The channel turned west-northwest and narrowed dramatically. This would seem to put us on a beam reach and more protected from strong winds and gusts. But the wind came from half the compass points – or not at all – as it was channeled by woods and fields and the river changed direction.

I was ready for the challenge and tedium of tacking up a narrow river. Narrow rivers will always be part of my sailing experience. But my rig was not ready. I hadn’t learned to set the downhaul for proper sail shape, so I made much poorer progress to windward and in light airs than I might have. Still, my slow passage along the lovely, quiet Tuckahoe was delightful.

I sent my wife a text when I was a mile from New Landing. Then she had to wait longer while I rowed the final half mile. Her photos and videos of my approach and departure show how poorly the lugsail was set.

These were mostly painless lessons. By summertime, I was sailing my small skiff smarter, on bigger waters and farther from shore. Through the spring and summer, I also proved with a regimen of running, rowing, and cardio at the Y, plus a week backpacking in the High Sierra, that I was no longer tethered to 911.

Duration: 5 hours
Distance: 7.2 miles

More photos and videos are here.

I also write about traditional Eastern Shore sailing workboats here.