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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *