Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Independence Day in Annapolis

We had a nice four-night stay in Annapolis, Maryland, and are again under way in the Chesapeake, headed north toward the C&D Canal. Once again I am using the opportunity of a few hours in open water to get the blog updated.

We arrived Friday evening, and while there were quite a few boats in the South Anchorage, they were all close to the Spa Creek entrance, which we knew to be inside the security zone for the fireworks. We figured them to be cruisers passing through, or else fireworks attendees who did not get the memo. We dropped the hook a good half mile away, near the Horn Point Light and just 500' or so outside the zone (map).

Rounding Thomas Point Shoal Light, on the way into Annapolis and the Severn River.

While most of Friday's cruise had been dead calm, our spot at Horn Point was rocky and rolly. We remembered it that way from our last visit, too, which we had attributed then to weather. Now we know better -- these are residual wakes. The Severn River is very busy with recreational traffic here, along with three tour boats and a number of water taxis. Once clear of Spa Creek, the power boats throttle up, and the wakes criss-cross the river, reflecting and refracting back into the basin over and over again, making a chop that is nearly indistinguishable from weather-induced waves.

On a busy holiday weekend, this goes on all day and well into the night. We're more used to it now than on our last visit, and so we had little trouble splashing the tender and making our way across the chop to Ego Alley off Spa Creek and a couple of well-earned beers at the Dock Street Grill, a joint we remembered from last time as having quick and easy dinner. Notwithstanding a heavy tourist load at the waterfront, we managed to score a sidewalk table as soon as we walked up.

Throughout the course of the evening, boats continued to pass us close aboard -- lots of folks plot a course that cuts directly through the anchorage for the creek entrance after rounding Horn Point Light. We could tell by the way they dodged around us that we were sitting in or near their pre-programmed GPS course, and this included the two dinner tour boats. We got a lot of askance looks, with some skippers clearly wondering why we were all by ourselves, so far from town. The small-boat traffic tailed off after midnight and the anchorage calmed down quite a bit by the time we turned in.

Saturday was a zoo. There were, of course, the usual summer weekend shenanigans, with tons of boats coming and going, many of whom thought nothing of passing us close aboard on full plane. But the fireworks added another dimension, with more and more boats coming in to the anchorage throughout the day. By dinner time, we were no longer an outlier but, rather, mid-pack, and we could just about walk from where were were all the way to spa creek without getting our feet wet.

Boats anchored all the way to Spa Creek and the Academy sea wall. Most of these had to move.

About mid-day, as the anchorage started filling in, I got a bit concerned about being chased off our spot by an over-zealous CG crew. It was clear to me that hundreds of boats were in the no-zone, and they'd be sweeping them out -- we didn't want to get caught in the net. So I called Station Annapolis on the phone to make certain our position was good.

They put me through to the Officer of the Day (OOD), who had to put me on hold while he plotted the zone and our position on a chart. It's harder than it sounds; the security zone was defined by lines joining six LAT/LON coordinates, none of which matched any navigation aid or other visually identifiable mark. After a few minutes he came back and told me we were good where we were, and I was clear with him that I did not want some coxwain in a 29-footer trying to get me to move in a crowded anchorage after I'd had a few drinks; he was able to appreciate the concern.

You can probably see where this is headed. Around 8ish, someone finally realized that the security zone was full of anchored boats, many of which were rafted together and most of whose crews had been drinking beer all afternoon. And so it began, with two police boats, a fireboat, and a USCG 29-footer driving through the anchorage and telling people to move. They started in the middle and were working their way toward us.

By sunset, they had cleared most of the boats. This sailboat is still in the zone but was allowed to stay. That's the dome of the Academy chapel to the right of a lovely setting sun.

When it became clear they were asking everyone to move past the Horn Point Light, I hailed the 29-footer on their working channel and explained my earlier conversation with the OOD. That sent the whole platoon of law enforcement into a huddle to do what they ought to have done up front -- actually plot the security zone so they could direct people correctly. It might have helped had whoever cooked this thing up picked some sensible landmarks (such as the Horn Point Light) to mark the corners of the zone, instead of arbitrary GPS coordinates.

A bit wider angle post-sunset view.

Suffice it to say they had to concede we were outside the zone, and they ended up leaving us and a dozen other boats (some of whom were still inside the zone) right where we were. But close to a hundred other boats all had to weigh anchor and dance around each other to comply; we sat on the flybridge with a beer watching the whole thing with some bemusement.

After all that, the fireworks turned out to be somewhat disappointing. It was just a run-of-the-mill barge-launched display, with a small handful of well-done sequences, and no music. Nothing to write home about (but apparently, boring you all with it here in the blog is allowed). Still, it was a beautiful evening and a lovely setting for it, and we enjoyed it. We also enjoyed watching the boats anchoring and partying all around us throughout the day. We cooked the traditional dinner on board: burgers, chips, and domestic beer.

I can never time these right with my cell phone.

Louise hit the hay soon after the display ended, leaving me on anchor watch. With hundreds of partly intoxicated boaters weighing anchor and trying to leave, I wanted to keep an eye on things until the bulk had cleared out. When the dust settled, we had only two boats "too close for comfort" spending the night with us (had I realized they were staying, I would have hailed them when they anchored), but after a few minutes with the rangefinder, the radar, and the weather report I decided it was low-risk. There were perhaps two dozen or so boats altogether in the anchorage overnight.

Speaking of partly intoxicated boaters, the following day we heard the CG side of a distress call wherein, apparently, a man donned his life jacket, jumped off his boat, and swam to shore, leaving behind a woman who did not know how to operate the vessel and was, therefore, "stranded." We never heard the resolution, but we had fun imagining how this had played out on the water. "Oh yeah? Well I'll show you -- I'm *leaving*. See who's laughing now."

Sunday morning we tendered ashore for brunch. The canonical breakfast joint, the Iron Rooster, had a line out the door and a long wait, so we opted instead for the Treaty of Paris, which is the hotel restaurant in the historic Maryland Inn. That was a quiet setting with nice service, and we enjoyed our meal. We also ended up with a giant plate of leftovers due to a mix-up in the kitchen, which made for a nice breakfast yesterday, too.

Sunset on Sunday, over an empty anchorage and an unobstructed view of "The Yard," as the USNA is known by its denizens.

By time we got back to Vector the anchorage had emptied out, and we were again nearly alone. With no security zone to mind, we weighed anchor in hopes of moving closer to Spa Creek. Unfortunately, there is only a narrow strip near the creek entrance with acceptable depth for anchoring, and the only other two boats still in the anchorage were there, with no room for us.  Moving just a boatlength further from shore there takes you from 20' to 50' of depth, and then you need to move another 200' to account for the scope. We ended up in a spot that was barely half way to the creek from where we had been in the first place (map).

In the calm and collected aftermath of the fireworks and associated boating mayhem, sitting on deck with a lovely view of the U.S. Naval Academy grounds, it hit me that we actually know someone who teaches there. We met Hite, his wife, Katrina, and their son, Troy, in the anchorage in the Dry Tortugas, on their sailboat Sea Monkey. I also reconnected with them in Georgetown, Bahamas, while Louise was off in California. I did not even know if they were back in the US yet, but I dropped them a note Sunday afternoon, before we headed ashore for dinner at Mangia, an unremarkable Italian place on the waterfront.

Sure enough, they were in town, with Hite settling in for the upcoming academic year. Yesterday we met them ashore at the dinghy dock and they drove us around Annapolis and through the Academy grounds. I had been thinking about taking the walking tour there -- it's been four decades since I spent a week there in a high school science and engineering program -- but with a ride onto campus, Louise was able to see it as well. Hite gave a first-class narration of the campus, and we made the requisite stop at the chapel, whose dome can be seen in the photos above. We caught up over milkshakes (they were already committed for the evening) and they gave us a ride to the grocery store as well before dropping us back at the dock. It was a great visit and we hope to see them again soon.

Annapolis is something of a sailing mecca, and on summer weekdays the Severn is chock-full of kids in fleets of miniature sailboats attending sailing camp. Vector was passed close aboard by more than one of these boats yesterday, and one even grazed our tender. I got to be grumpy old dude, stepping out on deck with stern words, not unlike "get off my lawn." With the entire river wide open, and us the only boat for a thousand yards in any direction, there was really no excuse for getting that close to begin with. Target fixation, I guess.

We enjoyed one last dinner ashore, at Red Red Wine, an excellent recommendation from Katrina. We decked the tender when we got back, in preparation for a fairly early start today. This morning we weighed anchor at 9am to have a favorable tide for the entire day's run.

Update: We are now anchored for the day, in Worton Creek, on the eastern shore (map). I lost connectivity about an hour before we arrived and so had to wrap the post up here instead. We arrived right at high tide, having ridden the flood all the way up. At one point we were cooking along at 8.3 knots, taking advantage of a 1.5-knot push.  We had the anchor down by 1pm, an early stop for us, but we did not want to proceed further and have the current against us. Tomorrow we will continue north to the C&D canal, now familiar to us, and a planned stop at Chesapeake City, about mid-canal.

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