29 Oct - Cape May to Annapolis
In the end, the threat of the Friday night storm won over the prospect of a pleasant passage up the Delaware. Very high pressure west of the British Isles was pushing all the weather systems heading eastwards further into the US coast and we needed to be hunkered down somewhere to ride out gusts of 50 knots. Our destination was the Sassafras River, where there were several promising anchorages and some mooring buoys.
So at dawn on Thursday 25 October we left Cape May to starboard and headed into the mouth of the Delaware. First obstacle: some extensive shoals off the headland. We have Navionics charts on the boat chartplotter and our IPad; interestingly, for this piece of water, the two pictures were very different. The boat system showed a sandbank with under a metre of water over it, whilst the iPad showed five metres in the same place. Eyeballing it, there was plenty of white water around, but I judged this to be ‘overfalls’ rather than rollers breaking on a sandbank. We slowed down as far as possible, donned lifejackets, prepared for the worst and took the route that offered the deepest water on both charts. It never got shallower than 5 metres – the chartplotter’s 0.6m sandbank has moved elsewhere!
The Ship John Shoal lighthouse, Delaware River
Half an hour later, we were ploughing our way north into short steep seas and a 25-knot headwind. Our speed over the ground varied between just under three knots and just over seven as we threaded our way through patches of overfalls, around sandbanks and between fishing floats. It was bitterly cold, but the sun was out and we managed to stay warm-ish. By the time we reached the eastern entrance to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal it was mid-afternoon; we were about an hour late getting there, so rather than fight the tide in the canal and in the northern reaches of Chesapeake Bay, we anchored just north of the canal just where we had been back in July. The wind had dropped and we had a good rest before getting up reasonably early on Friday morning to take advantage of the light winds to check the mainsail for damage and restow it properly. All fine there: I think the key is to keep the tack of the sail as close to the boom as possible and the foot fairly flat during unfurling and furling – easier said than done in strong winds.
The passage westwards through the Canal on Friday morning was very straightforward, but the wind had gone round to the south west (ahead of the bad weather) so we had little choice but to motor all the way down the Elk River, into Chesapeake Bay and then east up the Sassafras.
Nature showing off in the C&D Canal – despite the rather grey day
What a pretty river this is! Low sandstone cliffs, the autumnal colours in the trees, some fine but not too ostentatious properties, marsh grasses, ospreys, numerous little creeks for ‘gunkholing’ (not in an Oyster 485) and a very sheltered basin at the eastern end where we decided to pick up a buoy for the night and ride out the storm. It turned out to be wet and windy, but with nothing like the intensity predicted – perhaps we were just too well sheltered?
Fine waterfront property on the Sassafras River, Maryland
Saturday was wet though, so we stayed put until things perked up a bit in the afternoon before moving down the river a mile or so and anchoring in a delightful bay on the south side of Knight Island. Saturday night was Film Night onboard and we watched Quadrophenia for the first time in over thirty years. Great to see some young actors who went on to become major stars and a very interesting piece of cinema, reflecting the mood of the early 1960s and the aspirations of young people which echo across the decades. We spent the following day going through our supplies, spares and tools, updating our ‘where is it’ lists ahead of the big offshore passage down to the BVIs and before we bring crew onboard for the passage home next year. I found a few old friends in the process!
Chesapeake crabber using a line of pull traps, often baited with a piece of rotten chicken…
By Sunday morning the remnants of the bad weather had gone through, the sun was breaking out and the wind was moving back into the west, so we motored down the river, out into the Chesapeake and south towards Annapolis. By mid-morning, we were enjoying a glorious sail in warmer weather than we’ve seen for a few weeks. There were one or two other yachts making the passage south – we have started to see some Canadian boats heading for the Caribbean in amongst the US fleet from Long Island and Maine, along with those European yachts who made it this far north in the first place. Much of these waters ice over in the winter – the salt content is pretty low in this area and people either winterize their boats ashore or head south to Florida and the Caribbean.
‘Good numbers’ in the northern Chesapeake!
We reached Annapolis late afternoon and anchored on the south side of the harbour in quite deep water. The weather was superb: we sat in the cockpit in shirtsleeves and had a quiet beer, watching the Naval Academy yachts racing in the harbour and a host of other boaters making the most of the weekend.
US Naval Academy yachts racing off Annapolis on a Sunday evening
We spent the week in and around Annapolis and the Severn River. We got in touch with Gavin Lowe, who is the Royal Navy Exchange Officer on the staff of the Naval Academy here and he gave us a really memorable tour of the campus. I did a deal with the local Raymarine agent here on a replacement for the ailing VHF and we did a fair amount of maintenance – a full rigging check, Julie serviced all the winches, I serviced the engine and we generally got ourselves ready for going offshore again. We explored the Severn River a bit and spent a couple of very peaceful nights anchored in Weems Creek. Old sailors will remember the company Weems & Plath, makers of magnificent nautical instruments which we used at sea in the days before laser rangefinders and GPS; the company is here, still selling clocks and sextants online, but they seem more focused on leasing real estate these days.
Annapolis from the top of Escapade’s mast; Naval Academy to the right, Eastport on the left