Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mid-canal musings

For the past three days we've been anchored in the small anchorage basin off the C&D Canal, in Chesapeake City, Maryland (map). It was a great stop, and I'm sure we'll be back sometime. There is a 72-hour limit in the basin, and we used up every bit of it.

The lights of the Chesapeake Inn, at left, and the town of Chesapeake City from our anchorage at dusk.

We had a pleasant cruise Wednesday on a nearly glass-calm bay. Although, for reasons not entirely clear to me, we passed increasing amounts of flotsam, including a considerable number of dead fish, in the Elk River on our way to the canal. We timed our departure from our lovely spot on Worton Creek to take advantage of the flood for the whole cruise, and to arrive at Chesapeake City close to slack water at high tide.

Sandy Point Shoal Light, north of the Bay Bridge, on our way to Worton Creek. I did not have the photo uploaded in time for the last post.

We actually had such a favorable current all day that we arrived somewhat ahead of slack, and I measured about a knot and a half of current with us as we approached the entrance. Unlike the last time we came by here, on a falling tide (we were riding the current the other direction), I was less reticent to attempt the entrance with an extra three feet of water under the keel. It was a bit nerve-wracking shooting the narrow entrance channel while moving sideways, but we made it without trouble. We found barely eight feet of water in the entrance at high tide, so we really can not come in here at any other time.

Sunset at Worton Creek.

Chesapeake City has a free overnight dock, with two or three spaces along a face dock and another two slips for boats smaller than Vector. The face dock was reported at various times to have 6-8 feet of water at low tide, but it turns out to have less than six feet anywhere along its length nowadays, and so is unusable for us. Fortunately, a good part of the anchorage carries at least 7' MLLW, so we found a spot and dropped the hook, just yards away from a nice Symbol pilothouse.

Vector at anchor, as seen from the city dock. Slips at right are part of the Chesapeake Inn.

There are several spots on the city docks for dinghys and PWCs, and we splashed the tender with a bicycle pre-loaded in it so I could run a package over to the post office about a mile away. I managed to just squeak it into Wednesday's mail. On my way back to the dock, Louise intercepted me in town -- she had met another cruiser on the face dock who needed to find a toothbrush, and we ended up lending him the bike so he, too, could make a run to the little strip mall a mile away.

All heated up from my uphill-both-ways bike ride, we stumbled into The Tap Room for a cold draft beer. They also serve food, a casual seafood menu, which looked good but was a bit more casual than we wanted, plus it was too early for dinner. After our beers we wandered back to the dock, where the bike was waiting adjacent to one of the boats there. With a planned three-day stay, we ended up locking it to a bollard rather than schlepping it back to the boat.

A giant Ro-Ro passes by, looking as if it will barely clear the bridge.

We had been in such a hurry to get the package to the post office in time that I had not even completed my full close-out checklist, so we returned to Vector to tidy things up before dinner. That gave me a chance to look up some of the local eateries, and we opted to tender across the canal to Schaefer's Canal House, where we had a nice meal on the patio overlooking the canal.

Another Ro-Ro in the other direction, only a few hours later. The Corps of Engineers has a control center here in Chesapeake City that determines where and when these enormous ships will meet and pass each other; we monitor their channel under way.

Under normal circumstances we would have spent just a single night here, but we wanted to attend the interment of our friend's remains in Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. While we were much closer when we were in Annapolis, Solomons, or even Kilmarnock, we needed to keep moving north. Chesapeake City is really the last place along our route where it is a reasonable drive to and from Arlington in a day. Our next landfall will be in Cape May, New Jersey, which is a very long drive owing to having to round all of Delaware Bay first.

We had booked a rental car for Friday morning, but I was concerned enough about being able to get into the basin and anchor the boat that I wanted to arrive a full day ahead of time, giving us enough time, if needed, to execute a backup plan, such as taking a slip at the Summit North Marina a bit further along the canal, or even backtracking to, say, Havre de Grace. Once we were securely anchored in Chesapeake City, though, all was well, thus giving us a whole extra day.

Thursday afternoon a thunderstorm blew through, briefly lining us up with these three trawlers next to us.

I got a couple of things done around the boat on Thursday, and caught up on email and organizing some photographs. We also took time out to just walk around the quaint town. The basin and most of the town date back to the construction of the original canal in the late 1820's, and quite a few of the buildings in town were constructed mid-19th century. Several have been restored just in the last few decades. Many of the original residences are now shops selling souvenirs, gifts, antiques, and other tchotchkes. There are several boutique hotels in town dating back to the same era.

We had dinner in the basement-level bar of one of those hotels, Bayards, overlooking the canal. The bar was appropriately named the Hole in the Wall, and on Thursdays they have half-price drinks and a prime rib special. Bayards also has a full dining room on the main level, and an outdoor bar called the Umbrella Bar.

We needed a spot for Enterprise Rent-a-Car to pick us up Friday morning -- you can't very well tell them you are in an anchorage. So we arranged for them to get us at the Bohemia Cafe in town and we waited for them over coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Their office is actually in Elkton, twenty minutes away on the other side of the canal.

By 10am we were in possession of a bright blue Chevy Spark, which is the epitome of the "pregnant roller skate" cliche, but it got great gas mileage and was perfectly adequate for our needs. We headed south forthwith, stopping right back in Annapolis so Louise could go to a quilt shop there. It was too far to get to from the anchorage there, and a cab ride seemed unnecessary in the face of renting a car on Friday. From there we proceeded directly to Arlington for the interment.

The nice reception after the interment ran to 4:30 or so, by which time traffic in the metro DC area is simply miserable. We decided that rather than sit in traffic for hours fighting our way out of the city, we'd instead sit in traffic for mere minutes and claw our way into the city instead. We have reciprocity at the City Club of Washington, and we had a light dinner there around 5:30, a bit early for us. Dinner at these clubs is an unhurried affair, allowing us plenty of time for the traffic to abate before getting back on the road.

We did make one more stop, for some groceries, before returning to the Chesapeake City docks. Fortunately, the docks are in a city park with free parking ( 24 hour limit), so we had a place to leave the car overnight.

When we made it back to the dock we were surprised to find that this sleepy little town becomes party central on summer weekends. The waterfront Chesapeake Inn and Marina was packed, with all slips and parking completely full, and a line out the door for the patio dining -- and this was at nearly 10pm. We could see a similar crowd at Schaefer's across the canal, and we presume Bayard's and maybe the Tap Room were doing land-office business as well. We counted ourselves lucky to find an available parking space at the park.

This morning we returned the rental car, picking up a couple of gallons of gas for the dinghy in the process. And then we were ready to leave, except the tide and current situation meant we needed to wait until nearly 5pm to get out of the basin. So instead we tendered back over to the Chesapeake Inn ourselves and had lunch on the patio, with a great view of today's parade of arriving boats. We sat down to lunch just before noon, and by the time we finished eating, the marina was again full.

While overnight dockage is $2 per foot, lunch dockage is free, and the locals come in droves. Shortly after we returned to Vector, with every slip at the marina as well as the free city docks full, arriving boats started anchoring over near us. The Inn sends a water taxi out to pick up dining guests from anchored boats. Several small boats anchored a bit too close for comfort, but I figured they'd hardly make a scratch if we obliterated them in a sudden blow.

This boat was incredibly close. I think I could have boarded him from our tender.

These two were just a tad further, but had used two anchors at opposite ends, so if we swung around we'd hit them for sure.

At 5pm I called canal control to make sure no major traffic was approaching, and we headed out of the basin. Knowing I needed the whole channel and would be powering out into the current, I made a Securite call on the radio, which did not stop some idiot in a center console from cutting me off just as I was winding up. With full power in reverse I avoided crushing him like a walnut, and somehow did not run aground in the process either, but it got my adrenaline level up. We discovered during this incident that our air horn solenoid has again stopped working, so I will need to find a replacement, ideally one with more longevity than the one that lasted less than a year.

Bad things seem to come in threes, and today we had trouble lifting the dinghy motor due to a failing latching mechanism, and the shower sump pump quit working. I don't have the parts to fix any of these latest failures, so we'll be on the hunt at our next stop.

Once we were out in the canal we again had a fair current, and it was just a two hour trip to the Delaware River. It's not really possible to have fair current in both the canal and the river, and so we dropped the hook immediately north of the canal jetty, at the very same spot where we waited a few hours for a fair current in the canal on our way back from Philly last year (map). We'll spend the night here, and continue downriver on the ebb tomorrow morning.


  1. Sorry to read of the passing of your Red Cross associate. My condolences.
    On a completely different note, it seems that anyone with a few bucks and a place to keep it on the hard can have a boat. No matter how untrained or boneheaded they may be. Not that I'd want to invite more bureaucracy, but the passing of tests is sometimes warranted in these situations.
    Keep on motorin'.

    1. Thanks, Bob (and sorry for the delay, I am behind on comments).

      Many states are now requiring basic boater education as a legal requirement for operating a boat. I took a class when we were still domiciled in Washington just so I could get a completion card, in the event we ever went someplace where it was required. Most, however, are phasing in the requirements in such a way that people actually old enough to own a boat don't need to take the class.

      Still, it is a far cry from the amount of skills training necessary to operate a complex machine in a challenging environment. I could not imagine doing what we do without the 40+ hours of on-water training we received at the outset.


Share your comments on this post! We currently allow anyone to comment without registering. If you choose to use the "anonymous" option, please add your name or nickname to the bottom of your comment, within the main comment box. Getting feedback signed simply "anonymous" is kind of like having strangers shout things at us on the street: a bit disconcerting. Thanks!