Running from Storms, a Line on the Prop, and an Amazing Evening at a Mooring
With the debate about our plans finally over, we prepared the boat to leave the Inner Harbor for Annapolis with Vicki aboard for the trip. It felt like we were leaving with so much undone in Baltimore, having barely explored the city and just scraped the surface of Fell’s Point, one of my new favorite urban neighborhoods. But Margaret and I hoped to return for a day or two after our stay in Annapolis. After securing the boat, we explained Vicki’s responsibility on Bear – the same that we had given to Brian when him and Brooke were aboard – to sit in the v-berth while we raised the anchor and keep the chain from piling in the anchor locker. Fortunately, Vicki was as nonplussed by the assignment as Brian was. Moreover, she did just as good of a job, making raising the anchor, which typically involves me running from the bow to the v-berth after every twenty or thirty feet of chain we bring in, a cinch.
While heading back down the Patapsco would have been interesting on its own, having Vicki with us, seeing the waterfront and being on a sailboat for the first time, made it even more entertaining. She asked dozens of questions about how things worked on the boat, wondered at the same sights we did on the way up the river, and sat on the foredeck and watched birds through her binoculars, which I realized later in the day were far superior to ours.
Before long, we were passing by Fort McHenry. Right then, a huge boom concussed the air, so loud that Margaret, who was at the helm, ducked, thinking that we were being fired upon. Once we looked around, we realized that we actually were being fired upon from a group of National Park Service rangers demonstrating a War of 1812 style cannon for bemused visitors. After we got over our initial shock and ascertained that no more fire was coming our way, it became a pretty cool moment. I found out later that daily cannon demonstrations at the fort are just part of the war’s bicentennial activities up and down the Chesapeake.
While all this was going on, we continued to hear regular securité calls from the Coast Guard warning of a particularly nasty line of thunderstorms moving through the area. Though these were passing to the north and west of us, we checked the radar and noticed another line that was just forming all the way out west of DC, but could, potentially, pose a threat to us. By the time we were out the Patapsco and on Chesapeake Bay itself, we were all hanging out on the foredeck with the autopilot steering. When I made my regular trips back to the helm to check our course, I also re-checked the radar and watched as the storm gathered strength and continued heading in our general direction.
As we were coming up on the entrance to the Magothy River, the storm had moved far enough to the northeast that I was fairly certain it was going to hit Annapolis, probably within a half an hour of our arrival one way or the other. Moreover, it looked nasty with a dark burgundy color at its center on the radar that seemed particularly menacing. I knew we should give up on getting to Annapolis and find protection in the Magothy. But at the same time, I knew Vicki was planning on making an 8pm bus out of Annapolis that night.
I finally made my concerns known to Margaret and Vicki and pushed the idea of running into the Magothy to get protection, hoping they would see the wisdom in my plan. Initially, they both looked at the radar and debated my interpretation of the storm’s arrival in Annapolis. I was trying to let them come to the same conclusion I had already arrived at, that we needed to seek shelter in the Magothy, so that I did not have to unilaterally make that declaration. For a moment, I thought my plan was going to backfire, and I would have to overrule both of them. But, in the end, they asked me, as captain, what I would do if Vicki was not on a schedule, and I told them that, without any more hesitation, I would head into the Magothy and try to pick up a mooring at the Gibson Island Yacht Club for extra protection and security. They both responded that that, then, is exactly what we should do.
Needless to say, I learned a couple good lessons there. First, I realized that Margaret trusted my judgment and, so too, did others. In fact, it might not be too much to say that Vicki and Margaret were actually relying on me to make informed decisions that were in their, and the boat’s, best interest. Second, I got another reminder that there are times that, as a leader on the water, I need to take decisive action and not seek consensus. I certainly knew that from my days as a sailing instructor, but it had been a while and I guess I needed the refresher in this new context. In the hours and days afterwards, I reflected on not just what had occurred at that moment, but also my responsibilities to Margaret – and any guests who might be aboard – and to Bear. I think it was my first real step towards recognizing what it means to be the captain, which is not something I had really given much thought to previously.
As we raced into the Magothy, Margaret called the yacht club on the VHF and secured us a mooring if, as the manager said, we could make it in before the storm arrived, something he clearly doubted. We threaded our way through the narrow entrance to the river and crossed the wide bay at its mouth to the even tighter Magothy Narrows, which led into Gibson Island and the mooring field. With Margaret down below looking at the chartplotter and me proceeding cautiously, but not too slowly as flashes of lightening brightened up the otherwise darkening sky to the southwest, we made our way through a thin, nearly unmarked channel into the mooring field and picked up a ball.
Over the next few hours, we watched as the storm passed to our south, bringing only a little rain to Gibson. The towering clouds, lightening flashes, and crashes of thunder were magnificent, entertaining us while we made and then ate dinner. After it cleared some, I dove in the water to both cool off and check out the propeller, which, with our recent drop in speed, I had feared was becoming encrusted with growth. With my snorkel and mask on and a large screwdriver in hand (to scrape the barnacles off with) I dove under the boat, only able to see about a foot in front of me. Even with the poor visibility, I realized on that first dive down that it was not growth, but a short stretch of line that was fouling our prop. Without too much effort, I was able to get the rope free.
Needless to say we were fortunate it did not do anything more than slow our progress over the last couple days. Surprisingly, it was not polypropylenes, like that used to attach crab pots to their floats. Instead, it was a low stretch line about a quarter inch in diameter, like something a slightly smaller sailboat than ours might use for a halyard. We will never be sure when we picked it up, but Margaret and I both believe it was during that rough trip down to Rock Hall. There had been a moment when I was at the helm and the speed suddenly dropped precipitously. Perhaps it was right then that we picked up the line and, maybe, cut it off a much larger piece that was lurking in the water.
The rest of the evening the sky and scenery around Gibson Island continued to amaze us. Birds, which Vicki identified for us, flew about in the fading light. The clouds continued to billow, rolling and growing and tumbling down to the east. In the opposite direction, the sunset painted the sky crimson. Then as dusk settled over, unimaginable shades of pinks and purples continually shone on those crazy clouds in the east. Finally, the last wisps of red and orange danced on the western horizon. But the most incredible thing that we witnessed was a doe with her two fawns picking their way through the marsh at the waterside. Every once and a while, the two fawns would poke at each other and chase one another in circles, seemingly playing tag. It was a special night to be sure. But, like good cruisers, we were asleep by about ten.
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