Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Beltway Birthday

We are docked at National Harbor Marina, just south of the I-495 (Capital Beltway) bridge on the Maryland side of the Potomac River (map). We had a lovely three-day cruise up the Potomac, in excellent weather and with the fall color just starting to show.

Fireworks last night in front of Mount Vernon.

Monday we left on the flood to continue upriver. We had to wend our way around a pair of fish traps before rounding Coles Point, passing the popular tavern there. A bit further along we passed St. Clements Island, with its lighthouse and large cross. West of Mathias Point, the river makes a sweeping bend before continuing north, and we ended our day at the bend in an area known as Fairview Beach, dropping the hook in front of Tim's II restaurant and beach bar (map).

St. Clements Island light.

There are actually two beachfront restaurants in Fairview Beach, but only Tim's is open on Monday evening. In the summer the shallows in front of the restaurant are packed with day boats, but on a Monday in October there were just three other boats with us, all of whom left later in the evening. Nevertheless, Tim's was still providing launch service to their guests and we had the launch pick us up for dinner. We also walked to the adjacent mini-mart afterward for some milk, as we were nearly out.

Vector as seen from Tim's II. That's the launch on the right.

Yesterday's route plan had been to come all the way here, but the timing of the tides meant we'd either be pushing against ebb current for part of the day, or arriving after dark. We opted to weigh anchor at slack, rather than fight the ebb, and stop somewhere at dusk. It was the right choice, making for a more relaxed cruise.

Weighing anchor was an amusing experience in itself. We knew it was a thick mud bottom, so we expected it to take a while as we washed the mud off the chain. We were unprepared, however, for the, umm, "thing" that came up with the anchor. We could not tell if it was a tree branch or a piece of nautical hardware (it had a hexagonal shank, and some lines attached to it), but whatever it was, we had to jiggle it loose before we could deck the anchor and proceed on our way.

What is it? Beats us.

Yesterday's cruise took us past Quantico, home to a large Marine Corps base as well as FBI, DEA, and other law enforcement detachments. Just north of Quantico is a power plant, and a large power line crossing the river; as we were passing it I noticed a helicopter busily ferrying parts to a crew on one of the towers. At 4pm their shift ended, and the chopper plucked the four-man crew, two at a time, off the tower near the Virginia shore and brought them back to the staging area on the Maryland side. Not for the faint of heart.

Hard to see, but that's a pair of linemen dangling from that chopper; they are 250' above the water.

At about this time we were looking at our speed and distance figures, and deciding that we'd be at Mount Vernon just before sunset, with some current still behind us. We'd heard it is a pretty anchorage, with George Washington's estate a pleasant backdrop. Not long after we made the decision to stop there for the night, the Coast Guard was issuing a Sécurité call for that section of the river.

We tuned in to the special Notice to Mariners report to find out that a security zone was being established around a fireworks barge at Mount Vernon, commencing at 7:40pm. Sweet -- a beautiful anchorage, and a fireworks show to boot. Louise spent about 20 minutes on the Mount Vernon web site trying to figure out what the occasion was, but nothing was listed and we eventually concluded it was part of a private event that had booked the venue.

Our view of Mt. Vernon this morning. We think the tent to the right is a seasonal event venue.

We dropped the hook right around 6pm, and had the whole anchorage, if not the whole river, to ourselves (map). We got just a glimpse of sunset before a rainstorm blew through, which we thought might put a damper on whatever was going on under the event tent adjacent to Washington's mansion. I grilled a nice steak for dinner, and the rain had passed completely by the time we sat down to eat.

At 7:40 we went up on the boat deck to watch the fireworks, and from there we could make out a few words on the PA system. It was, apparently, some sort of charity auction, and having been plied with alcohol until we overpaid for numerous items at such events in the past, we knew exactly how things we going up there in the mansion. I'm sure the cost of the fireworks and everything else paled in comparison to what they raked in; perhaps it was an event for the annual Mt. Vernon donors themselves.

This is what we found this morning when we went to weigh anchor. Matted grass and debris.

This morning we were up in time for the final hour of flood current, and we opted to get an early start so we'd have more time on our one-night stay at this pricey marina. We'll be anchored for the next three weeks, so we needed a marina stop to fill our water tanks, empty our waste, and top up the batteries. As a bonus, our friends Kathy and Bradley on Shear Madness are staying at this marina for the month, and we'll have cocktails with them this evening before we head ashore to one of the many restaurants here to celebrate Louise's birthday.

Tomorrow we'll stay until the marina boots us out, then head the last few miles to downtown DC. There is a great deal of construction going on at the DC waterfront, so it's not clear exactly where we will drop the hook, but we've already lined up a place where we can land the tender within walking distance of the National Mall. The Metro should get us anywhere else we need to go.

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