Once again, our hopes for a bit of fall cruising in the Chesapeake were foiled by the weather, which compelled us to make tracks while we could. We took advantage of two glorious calm days to cover the miles down the open and potentially challenging Chesapeake, and into the protected ICW.
October 29 – November 1, 2019
Annapolis, MD to Solomons, MD to Portsmouth, VA
Days 16 – 19
Making Hay While the Sun Shines
We picked two gorgeous days to run the 155 miles from Annapolis to Portsmouth, Virginia. This was a gift, as the Chesapeake can be a long, hard, uncomfortable slog if the conditions aren’t right.
As in pretty much all things boating, this was a trade-off for us. We had hoped to spend a day or two in St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore, then stop in Cape Charles at the bottom of the DelMarVa peninsula. However, we looked out at the weather pattern and it just wasn’t right for that plan. We were staring down yet another gale, followed by a day or two of strong post-gale northwesterlies. So we transitioned to Plan B and used the weather to make tracks down the bay.
The first day, from Annapolis to Solomons, was calm and lovely from start to finish. We had mostly sunny skies, and a light easterly fading to flat calm. It was just 45 miles. We averaged 9 knots, were in at the fuel dock at Solomons Yachting Center by 1:30 to take on fuel, then got a slip at Zahnizers Yachting Center for the night. This was our first stop at a Safe Harbor Marina since our own marina, New England Boatworks, was purchased by Safe Harbor, so we took advantage of our “family” discount.
Bruce washed up the boat while I took the pups for a walk then enjoyed a nice leisurely run up to the Calvert Marine Museum and back down the peninsula through town, past the infamous Tiki Bar, to the University of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory , and back up the lovely boardwalk along the river. It is a pleasant little town.
There are a lot of restaurants we have yet to try. The only real disappointment was that since it was Tuesday, the Lotus Kitchen, home of Kim’s Key Lime Pies, was closed. Tragic! Best.Key.Lime.Pie. EVER. We will simply have to stop again on our way north.
We did have a fun evening. Matt and Laurie of First Light were in town. We all walked to Anglers Seafood Bar & Grill, where we had eaten on our previous trips. While we normally might have liked to try something different, we had heard that Anglers was going to be closing for good in December, so this would be our last shot. That link will probably be broken shortly, sadly.
With yet another good day in the forecast, we got a very early start for the long 100 nautical mile run to Portsmouth, Virginia. I was up at 4:30 to get the dogs fed. After coffee, the four of us went for a nice walk around the dark and quiet neighborhood, and were back on the boat by 6:30, ready to go.
The sky was still pitch black. We waited until 6:50 when we began to see some glow in the east, then started the engine and took in lines. It was still quite dark as we made our way down the river, with running lights from a couple of crab boats both ahead of us and behind. By the time we approached the entrance, the eastern sky was burning bright. A beautiful start to the day.
Most of the day was much like the day before: calm, partly cloudy, flat and fast. We ran at about 10 knots for a while, enjoying the conditions. I did a few things in the galley, which is always fun while the traveling is calm, the pace is reasonable and the navigation not too tricky. It helps pass the time nicely.
The pups convinced Bruce that on a long, flat calm day, it is essential to fire up the BBQ and grill a nice steak. That kept Pepper, Mattie and Bruce entertained for a while, and it smelled great! Steak for everyone for lunch!
By mid-afternoon the easterly began to build a bit, and the chop began to develop. The current also turned against us. We increased our speed and tried to keep our ETA between 4:30 and 5:00. By the time we turned into Hampton Roads we had the full ebb against us at about 2.5 knots. We had known this would happen, but could not avoid it. We pushed down the throttle and, along with five or six other boats, pushed against the tide. It was not a relaxing way to end the day.
We grabbed a slip at Tidewater Yacht Marina. It is large, easy to get into, and the docks are decent. After a long day with a stressful finish, it’s usually nice to get off the boat. Fish and Slips is the on-site restaurant, and we always seem to have a fun evening there. Both locals and transient boaters flock to it, and we meet fun and *crazy* people…!
Sitting Tight While The Wind Howls
With the gale schedule to blow in late the next afternoon, we decided to stay at Tidewater. This would give us some boat-time and some land-time. We are always hungry for a bit of both.
Portsmouth is an interesting town. Rich in history, it offers a lot to the curious visitor, although you have to be willing to look past the rough and troubled modern veneer to discover the historic treasures. The Olde Town Portsmouth web site and the visitors center are helpful in bringing the charm to the surface and will help you find the interesting sites and activities.
Modern times appear not to be particularly kind to Portsmouth. The broad avenues are lined with buildings in need of repair and the majority of storefronts are vacant. The businesses that cling to life are doing just that: clinging. It is sad in so many ways. So much potential, but so little hope?
The walk along the Elizabeth River is very pleasant, and I did enjoy walking down the main boulevard, High Street, in spite of it’s down-and-out condition. The historic government buildings and churches, the Commodore Theater, and the numerous monuments and historic plaques, are captivating. It is easy to bypass the lovely residential streets of Old Towne, but they are worth exploring. Property owners have a clear sense of pride in their assets, if not the funds to do what they might wish.
If you like to cook, The Kitchen Koop is a delightful gem. Right on a corner on High Street, it looks a little outdated at first, but the inventory will interest cooks of any sort, whether on a small cruising sailboat or a luxury motor yacht. I always find something I “need”.
The forecast gale blew in right on schedule late on Halloween night. We had a gorgeous evening and sunset, then went to Slips and Fish for a simple supper. Our bartender, Nurse Nita, was a hoot and kept us entertained all evening. Bruce celebrated the holiday by finishing up with a Zombie Brain Hemmorage. Oh wait, I had two Zombie Brain Hemmorages.
At about midnight all hell broke loose. The wind did a 180 and came in hard out of the north. We heard stories the next day of folks getting up in the middle of the night to re-tie lines at the marina. I don’t know what happened out in the anchorage, but I would not be surprised to learn there were problems. Gusts right out on Hampton Roads approached 60 knots.
The next day it blew hard all day long. We were happy to be snug in our slip, with freedom to wander around town, walk the dogs, and for me, go for a nice happy run. Bruce found time to get some more waxing done, and also time to fret about engine mounts some more. The long run from Solomons gave him plenty of time to fuel that issue.
Although we were ready to leave the next morning, a call to Coinjock eliminated that plan. No room. We had to wait an extra day, all for a taste of prime rib! It was a gorgeous day cool, blustery fall day to be on the water, but it was also fine for more long walks with the pups around Portsmouth, and another great run for me. And another weird dinner with some crazies at Fish And Slips. Not bad. Not bad at all.