Thursday, July 9, 2015

The C&D and beyond.

Northern Chesapeake

I am, in fact, home already; back in Michigan. It was a beautiful, indelible, life changing experience, but the trip is over. More on that later. Here, I pick up where I had left off - on the Delaware River, just south of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

The sun was going down as we arrived just off Port Penn, Delaware and the locals were swarming at the end of opening day for Rock Fish. We had come off the river and gone behind the underwater dike and dropped anchor near Reedy Island. Fishermen and fisherwomen, young and old, in all manner of boats, shouted back and forth checking on each other's haul. Everyone seemed to know everyone else and many greeted us warmly as well. By the time we had made some supper, the fishing boats had gone home leaving us alone in the quiet backwater with a beautiful sunset splashing over the quaint town.  The haunting silence of a gigantic nuclear plant on the New Jersey side of the river belied the actual peace and quiet.
Port Penn Sunset

As was our habit, we woke with the freshening dawn and hoisted the anchor. And as usual we were greeted with an amazing sunrise. Eleanor glided back past the bizarre dike, now partially visible at low tide, and re-entered the Delaware River. Even the nuclear power plant looked less daunting in the soft morning light. We knew it would be some time before we raised any sail again. And even though we were way north of "Mile Zero," we had begun the first canal slog of many to come.

Delaware Sunrise

The C&D Canal connects the Chesapeake and the Delaware River; hence the name. We entered at the eastern end, and it was marsh to the south and woods to the north, for miles straddling the dead straight canal. It was beautiful in its own way but not overly inspiring just the same. The wilderness was broken occasionally by a fixed span bridge looming out of the trees. We passed a marina hidden back in an oxbow created by the canal cutting off what was a bend in the river. Chesapeake City, DE is a charming river town with an inviting marina on the north shore and a couple interesting looking restaurants in town to the south. We passed rambled down homesteads, fabulous vacation homes and a boatyard with tugs and barges in varying states of repair or neglect. We were moving toward our destination and it was a beautiful, if slightly overcast day.

Open Water again.

Through the canal, we reached the relatively open water of the Elk River. We had crossed over into the Chesapeake Watershed, a huge body of water with hundreds of rivers, creeks, bays and coves. Rivers that feed the watershed extend well into the Allegheny Mountains of Central Pennsylvania. With one eye on the depth sounder and the other on the increasing boat traffic, we crashed through the waves and kept close to the marked channel. The sun was out but the wind opposed the current stirring up the chop. The new open expanse of water gave us the false sense that we had lots of water below us as well, but we had to be wary for there were many small shoals and shifting bars. The captain's philosophy is that there are fewer surprises in the channel than out of it. I smiled and scribbled that in my journal.

The Ugly Side of Consumerism

As we got further into the upper Chesapeake, the commercial traffic increased. There were barges and tugs with strange assortments of cargo and gear. We passed by the mouths of the Bush River, the Gunpowder River and the Back River. At the confluence with the Patapsco River, came much more traffic and bigger ships, including container freighters headed for the City of Baltimore, just upriver from there. We eased by the Belvidere Shoals, yet another "Sandy Point" and headed for the Governor William Preston Lane, Jr. Memorial Bridge. After a delay caused by World War II, Gov. Lane had been instrumental in getting construction started on the bridge, affectionately called the "Bay Bridge."

Just under the bridge and off to the west, we got out of the ship traffic and smack into the cacophony of America's Sailing Capital - Annapolis, MD. We dodged a group of dinghy racers, stayed out of the way of buzzing launches, tried to interpret where the anchorage actually was and which boats were actually anchored. Beyond the anchorage into town, the mooring balls were all occupied and the whole space thrummed with activity. Much had changed since the captain was last here. Alex gave me the wheel and I kept Eleanor in a slow circle as he went below and poured over the chart.

Alex emerged, as captains do, with a plan. We could just fit under the Baltimore Annapolis Blvd Bridge. Beyond it, Skipper Bob's ICW Anchorage List promised a quiet anchorage in a creek where the Navy had some hurricane moorings. We strained our necks watching the massive concrete bridge beams flirt with Eleanor's masthead antenna, but we made it under - just. Beyond the bridge and a little farther upriver, we found the peaceful creek and dropped anchor between a beautiful old trawler and a little sailboat. Eight or ten other boats gently tugged at their anchors between the banks of neighborhood docks and patios. We were deeper into the heart of Annapolis, but it was much quieter.  We made a simple supper and sacked out, never leaving the boat. The next morning we would start all over again with the dawning light.

Sunrise over the Bay Bridge

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