2013 Chesapeake Bay Cruise

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Combined ASA103-104 Intermediate Coastal Cruising 


June 15-19, 2013




Igor Bakhir, Greg Beyer, John Kratochvil


Frank McKee

Sailing on the Chesapeake Bay is delightful anytime but even more so in the Spring. Our Maryland School of Sailing & Seamanship ASA104 class gave four Captains the opportunity to experience this pleasure up close and personal. Captains Igor, Greg and John and the author reconnoitered at the school headhunters in Rock Hall, Maryland. Mission possible? Plan and execute a five day journey to places in the northern Bay aboard the S/V ACADAME, an impressively pristine and equally stable Island Packet sailing yacht.

Our crew came from parts far and wide. Igor, from Washington, DC; John, from Portland, Oregon; and Greg from Cumberland, MD.

One of the first tasks for the crew to do as part of this challenging class is to provision the boat for our trip. In the kitchen, I’m know for my ability to turn a silk purse into a cow’s ear or, in this case, make Dinty Moore beef stew into cuisine, but decided to spare the crew this gourmet pleasure. We loaded up on water (one gallon minimum per day per person) as well as fruit, cereal, pasta, juice and cookies. We were loaded for bear!

The ASA 104 class emphasizes boat and crew preparedness. We reviewed all boat systems including propulsion, cooking, fire prevention and general boat readiness. Our crew was enthusiastic and more than capable for this challenge that lay ahead.

One might rightly think that four people who never met one another spending five continuous days a challenge. Surprisingly, sometimes all it takes is to just add water and a boat and the magic begins. Friendships are made, bonds are forged and the common interest of excellence and sometimes survival becomes manifest.

We quickly learned the makeup of our team. All were accomplished sailors transitioning to seamen. Igor, a software engineer who immigrated from Russia, Greg a physician and owner of an experimental plane and John was a retired international economic development executive with an extensive background in sailing.

One of the greatest things – and there are many - about teaching at the prestigious Maryland School of Sailing is that instructors are afforded the time to actually teach, something not readily available at other  schools. Tom Tursi and Rita Hanson have placed the highest priority and emphasis on safely and thoroughly producing sailors, not just handing out certification books and churning out students with inadequate training and a false confidence in their purported ability to charter and safely captain a boat. They do it the right way and allow their instructors to do the same.

Wise, safety conscious students also recognize that the cost per day between the Maryland School and other schools are the same.

My fellow Captains and I sometimes discuss the difference we see in alum from MDSchool compared to others. Boat handling skills, docking, preparedness and general seamanship are but a few and we are always ready to catch up the ones coming in from other schools so they do not get left behind.

My teammates were ready for our voyage. We spent time evaluating weather and tides and I also gave a thumbnail sketch of possible destinations. I had one request of them. If possible, I asked if we could arrange to be in Annapolis on Sunday evening so I could enjoy a Father’s Day dinner with my family. They graciously accommodated me and, as things turned out, I had a delightful dinner at The Boatyard, a local hang out for Annapolis sailors, located in Eastport.

In the Northern Bay the destination options are almost infinite. We carefully reviewed several and decided to embark with destinations Baltimore, Annapolis, St. Michaels and the Magothy River as our ports of call.

Baltimore Yacht Club is the place I call home. It is a facility commanding a breathtaking and unparalleled view of the Bay. The team charted our course which, that day, measured approximately 30 nautical miles.

Igor was our designated Captain selected based on the alphabetical sequence of his first name compared to others. John eagerly assumed the role of engineer and Greg embraced the navigator slot. We buoy hopped out Davis Creek and down the Chester rounding Hall Point and scooting up the Bay towards our two landmarks, Hart Miller Island and the candy cane towers that frame Middle River.

Running 30 minute splits on helm made the time fly by as we made way with a near nonexistent SW wind. It wasn’t long before we had the tip of Hart Miller and the tower in sight. Rounding Hart gives a great view of the mouth of the Middle River. Weekends bring out the boaters and also present some interesting rules of the road situations. One of my fellow Captains, Don Boccuti, says the first rule of the road is to act like the other guy didn’t read the book. This is good counsel especially on weekends. We encountered several situations that required action on our part and our team handled things perfectly.

Baltimore Yacht Club’s bluff is flanked by the Bay and Sue Creek. Entering can be tricky and local knowledge is not required but it helps. Igor did a masterful job of navigating the narrow entrance keeping the green fixed buoy to our left. I had called ahead to the Club and made arrangements for us to have a slip on the side of B pier. BYC, as we refer to it, is comprised of 250 boats about 70 which are sail. We have the usual oil and water (sailors and power boaters) not mixing but it is good natured and both sides have a mutual respect for each other.

Our bath facilities are second to none and my team put them to good use. Saturday featured a Father’s Day cookout and we were treated to one of the best barbequed dinners imaginable. We were the last ones seated but still had plenty of steak, chicken, hot dogs and a variety of salads. We passed on desert simply because there was no more room in the inn.

One of our members, my friend and fellow sailor Valerie, was at the dinner and I explained to her that I had a class in port for the evening. Valerie is an accomplished sailor and racer and a bundle of energy. When I mentioned that Igor was from Russia she uttered something in Russian and said she speaks the language. I invited her to stop by our table and she graciously did so during our meal. She and Igor seemed to be solving at least half of the world’s problems in a language that was beyond me but brought them great enjoyment and laughter.

After our daily debrief, we all retired and I spent the evening aboard my S/V IMAGINE berthed two slips away. The morning beaconed.

Morning cereal, fresh fruit and a briefing began our day. We bid BYC goodbye leaving on good tide to Annapolis. Exiting was similar to arriving and we passed Hart to our right and headed down the Bay to Baltimore Harbor. I had a treat in store for the team and they followed a previously calculated heading that would take up to the Patapsco River to a one of a kind buoy residing in the shadow of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

In its shadow, between the months of May and October, boaters and drivers crossing the bridge will find a “Blue, Red and White” buoy that marks a very famous site. It was here that Francis Scott Key composed our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner aboard that British vessel HMS Minden during the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Everyone enjoyed the diversion.

BRW Buoy3.jpg (390538 bytes)

Click picture for larger view

After leaving the Patapsco, we headed on a 180º course paying careful attention to our bow and stern for large vessels. This is critical in the Bay especially in the vicinity of shipping channels. In addition to lookout we carefully monitored VHF channels 13 and 16.

Another rite of passage occurred when we passed under the Bay Bridge. I never tire of it nor grow complacent when traversing it. When on tide, strong back wash occurs creating a hazard if coming too close to the bridge pilings. As a result, I never go through without the motor at least idling just in case.

Entering Annapolis Harbor also never grows old. The domes and steeples that line the horizon present an image that is unduplicated anywhere. Even though I’ve sailed out of that area for years it never dulled the beauty of entering Maryland’s Capitol, a place laden with tradition and history.

We grabbed a ball in Annapolis and almost immediately recognized that a large cruiser with a genset running up wind of us necessitated a change of address. We spoke with the Annapolis Harbor Master on channel 16 and asked if there were any other balls available. He directed us to a ball on the opposite side of the field. Greg had a chance to make yet another masterful landing. We made up a bridal and ran it through the mooring line only to learn later that the Harbor Master asks that lines from the ball be tied directly to a bow cleat so as to reduce wear on the ball eyes. That’s a new one on me!

I had a special meal celebrating Father’s Day and returned to ACADAME via water taxi. The morning wakeup call in the Annapolis mooring field is usually the sound of Midshipwomen and men performing calisthenics on the area close to the bulk head. Sleeping topside makes the sound even louder so I had an 0530 rousing. The team decided the evening before to shower ashore. It was most welcome. Right after showering we headed back to the boat and reviewed our course to St. Michaels.

John was our Captain of the day. After going through our daily mechanical inspections and reviewing our safety plans we headed to St. Michaels fastidiously following our charted course. Leaving Annapolis we turned right heading south toward two well-noted landmarks – Thomas Point and Bloody Point. At one time both were manned light stations but are now automated. They represent a long gone nostalgia of the Bay. Our team appreciated them both. Bloody Point has interesting underwater topographic characteristics with depths going from 80 feet to less than 5 feet in a blink of an eye. Careful location awareness and holding course is critical. Our team did fantastic and would have a chance to do it all over again the next time in much less favorable conditions. More on that later.

St. Michaels is one of my favorite spots on the Bay. It can be a little tricky to get in but again our team showed careful seamanship on entrance. John landed us in the Chesapeake Maritime Museum under the watchful eye of a retired US Navy Commander who was in the boat beside us. We had another delightful night ashore and even visited 3 locations searching for soft shell crabs, a delicacy John wanted. He was simply not to be denied and, judging by his enthusiastic eating, was not disappointed.

We racked early after rehydrating our drinking water at the local Acme and topping off our meal with some ice cream. The Museum is a beautiful place with working schooners and antique boats of all types. The bygone era previously mentioned is dutifully preserved there. The Maryland School runs an executive leadership and team building program out of here and it is a place that time just decided to leave behind. A must see in my book.

On day 4 morning we performed our daily mechanical tasks and Igor got us out of the tricky St. Michaels’ Harbor as well as any local crabber could have. We had a few options to get to our destination that evening. The Magothy River is a lovely tributary between Annapolis and Baltimore with outstanding anchorage and views. It was our intent to head there via one of two routes – up Eastern Bay and through Kent Narrows or back around Bloody Point. Kent Narrows has been virtually unnavigable lately so it was an option I was reluctant to take even with high tide occurring based on our expected arrival time. So, the decision was made to go back around Bloody Point.

Like most late spring days on the Chesapeake there is always a chance of storm. We had been carefully watching our weather and saw that storms were forecast that afternoon. And, boy, did they ever come! Cell phone use onboard it generally frowned upon unless it related to the boat mission. We were observing an approaching front that was about 90 miles long. There was simply no way to miss it. Winds were not forecast to exceed 20 knots so we felt comfortable from a safety standpoint heading out. Also, the Maryland School Island Packets are amazing boats in any weather and in a storm they are unmatched for safety, survivability and performance. We were to put all of those attributes to the test later that day as well as the preparedness and performance of the crew.

The weather started to deteriorate when we rounded Bloody Point to which we gave significant leeway. Channel 16 was abuzz with several cries of distress and also warnings from nearby vessels many of which had limited or severely restricted visibility. We were on a heading and broke into two 2 man crews, one man on watch and the other on helm. We activated ACADAME’s radar, reduced our speed and headed to the Bay Bridge. We were in the proximity of but not running in the shipping channel. We declared a “security” alert announcing our presence to the nearby world. We also contacted the Coast Guard on Channel VHF16 requesting an AIS report of any large vessels north or southbound in the shipping channel or in the area. Some comfort was found when the Coast Guard advised us that there were none. We had no desire to see any of those big boys face to face. Our visibility was restricted to about 8 feet in front of the cockpit and we were exercising the most extreme caution as we proceeded in an unrelenting deluge. We also decided to abandon the Magothy because of the exposure to large vessels we would likely encounter in route. Our fall back was to head to the Corsica River a normally delightful place off of the Chester River. That destination was also eventually altered.

Igor had activated a weather radar app and we could see the big red blotch just hanging over us. We also knew it would pass. In all it lasted close to 3 hours and did not dissipate entirely until some 4 hours later.  We emerged from the weather front unscathed but resembling drowned rats. Even John with his Pacific Northwest rain gear looked a bit worse for wear.

Our eventual destination that evening became our origin. It was back to school HQ where we could plug in, dry off and enjoy a nice meal in town. And, that is exactly what we did.

John decided to leave a little early so we were reduced to a crew of three. We tested (everyone did great), worked on docking and headed out to the Chester River to do some leisurely sailing.

Returning crew and boat safely at the end of a class always bubbles up good feeling but also brings out a sense of small sorrow that friendships made will, for the moment, be separated, if not by water then by time and distance.

This team had some extraordinary members who not only persevered in tough conditions but also helped achieve our stated objectives – safety, education and fun.

I would consider it a high privilege to crew for them anytime in the future and, today, feel humbled to salute them as Captains. 

Respectfully submitted,
Francis X. McKee, Master Captain


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