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.