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.

One thought on “SWS Spring Cruise Day 2: Solo”

  1. This is an awesome account. I wish that I had read it in real time or shortly thereafter. I love the accompanying video and your account of the couple that helped you dock – their assurance that it was safe to do so because of course … they’re watermen and you’re a boater so you’re practically kin. Thanks for sharing this long tale.

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