Cruising the Chesapeake

Julie Elliott

Inspired by an article in the July Yachting Monthly, we decided to spend our summer holiday this year cruising the Chesapeake Bay on America’s east coast. We’ve had ExtroBitionist for 5 years now and enjoy cruising the Northumbrian coast. However each time we’ve attempted to head north for a sailing holiday in Scotland, we’ve been either storm bound or fog bound in Amble. Enough was enough!

Hunter 310

Hunter 310

This was an ideal opportunity to combine sailing holiday with a chance to visit the USA and to see New York in particular. We chartered a Hunter 310 from Sunsail (£610 for 7 days). They were great to deal with, organising all our flights and hotels in Annapolis, Sunsail’s base.

We flew to Baltimore on 30 August, arrived at tea time, checked in to our Annapolis hotel and headed straight downtown. What an attractive and lively place. Annapolis is the colonial state capital of Maryland. This was Labour Day weekend and Annapolis was buzzing. It was also full of new recruits to the US Naval Academy, Officer and a Gentlemen types in white uniforms. Sadly they all looked about 16! I must be getting old.

The next morning we woke to the tragic news that Princess Diana had died. As the only Brits in Annapolis, we spent the day receiving the condolences of the American people.

Annapolis is the sailing capital of America. Being Sunday there were vast numbers of boats out from ‘Bob Maxwell’ type motor cruisers to J Class racing machines. The Town Dock in Annapolis is known as ‘Ego Alley’ for the steady stream of posing boats passing through.

Julie at the helm

Julie at the helm

On Monday we picked up our boat at Annapolis Landing Marina. The Hunter 310 is an American boat and ours was brand new. It was most definitely a cruiser- roller reefing jib and main and a weird tail fin carrying the traveller. Not quite the boat we’d chose but as a luxury floating caravan and gin palace, unbeatable. Stuart from Sunsail gave a very professional briefing on the boat and charts and suggested an itinerary. He even loaned us a car to go to the supermarket.

We set off in baking heat and light winds. Our first night would be at anchor in Lake Ogleton a short hop down the coast. We’d planned to sail around in the bay getting a feel for the boat. However with little wind and a minefield of crab pots to avoid, we decided to anchor early. It was an idyllic spot- beautiful houses on the waterside with private moorings. We cracked open our case of Bud and I posed on deck while the speed boats and water-skiers whizzed around. Then as the sun was setting we ate dinner on deck in swimming costumes- bliss. It would even have been romantic if only Alan was!

Next mooring we left at 9am motor sailing in light SW winds up to the Chesapeake Bay bridge making for Rock Hall. It was a scorcher and I wished I’d brought a hat. Navigation was easy, buoy hopping from the directions shown on the chart with helpful distances and courses. You have to be careful though, the depth in shore is only around 8 feet. We got the engine off at last, had a pleasant sail and reached Rock Hall at 1pm.

Rock Hall is a small fishing town much like Newbiggin, our home. A working town where the ‘Watermen’ fish for crabs. The seafood in the Chesapeake is fantastic. We spent the evening at The Old Oars Inn, had some great catfish, were entertained by Ed one of the locals and met Charlie the off duty barman who was from Stockton. He was delighted to meet some people from ‘Why-aye-man-land’ and also very drunk. So were we when we left.

Woke the next day to strong winds, rain and a stonkin’ headache. Storm bound on holiday again but at least it wasn’t Amble. We paid up for another night ($45- excellent showers and a swimming pool) and then it got out lovely so we went for a walk. Another wild night at the Old Oars and one of the locals insisted on giving Alan his Baltimore Orioles baseball cap.

Thursday morning was windy but OK to go. From sweltering heat we were now in Trax thermals. Had a good sail, with a small jib set, into the Chester River and down to the Kent Narrows. We’d planned to stop here but with the howling wind and horizontal palm trees we decided to press on to St. Michael’s. Once through the bridge, it opens every half hour, it was beautiful- open water sparkling in the sunshine and a pretty green shoreline and islands. As we entered the Miles River the wind picked up. 6 hours after setting off we were in St Michaels anchored in Fogg cove. We ate on board but could have gone ashore by water taxi.

Sunrise over Chesapeake

Sunrise over Chesapeake

There was a gorgeous sunrise the next morning. We spent the day in St Michael’s after rowing ashore. This place is ‘so quaint’- the houses, the shops and maritime museum. And the crabs were fantastic. We whiled away a couple of very pleasant hours over a big pile of crabs with Old Bay seasoning, a local spicy delicacy, and a pitcher of Bud. Then we staggered off to the supermarket to restock our enormous fridge.

We left on Saturday morning, got the sails up and had a decent sail in light SW winds up to Eastern Bay. We headed up to Bloody Point Light and then across the Chesapeake to Rhode Island. We anchored, in sweltering heat again, and enjoyed another dinner on deck.

This is a great area to sail. You could return time and time again and never run short of pretty anchorages, creeks and villages to visit. Unfortunately due to jellyfish you can’t swim from the boat but most marinas have pools. The only other drawback was that Sunsail had failed to provide the promised cassette player. So Alan made up for this by singing his favourite Scottish folk songs. There were teething troubles with this new boat- the sink in the heads flooded when the water pressure was switched on. Fortunately I’d remembered to bring a plumber with me.

We reluctantly returned the boat to Sunsail on Sunday after a good sail up the Chesapeake past the famous Thomas Point Lighthouse. We got pumped out and refuelled (only $14 ) and handed the boat back to Stuart. He was very laid back.

We finished up the holiday with a very comfortable stay at the Waterfront Hotel in Annapolis, wallowing in a luxurious king-sized bed with great views of the harbour. And then 3 nights in New York. What a shock to the system after the tranquillity of the Chesapeake. We loved it- the pace, the noise, the jazz bars and shops. New York was everything we’d expected and did not disappoint.

This was a brilliant holiday. We’d seen Bald Eagles in Rock Hall, enjoyed great seafood and a lovely cruising area, met friendly people and had an exciting city break in New York- and we were still speaking to each other after two weeks. Amazing!