From There to Here...
Vol. 9, No. 23
June 7-13, 2001
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From There to Here, There’s No Better Way to Go Than Sailing
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...There’s No Better Way To Go Than Sailing

story and photos by Scott Dine

It was inadvertent that 20 or so years ago I got my training for Chesapeake Bay while sailing in southern Illinois on an Army Corps of Engineers lake known as Carlyle, named for the pleasant farm town at the southeast corner.

Inadvertent because I had no way of knowing I would eventually live on a larger body of water with the same characteristics as Carlyle: lots of wind creating a short chop on a shallow body of water.

The shallowness of the lake was something of a thorn in my keel. I managed to run aground, well, early and often. Lake Carlyle shoals to a depth of three feet almost in the middle of the lake's northern end. When sailing in a 12-knot wind that pushes the Adrianna over to an angle, the four-foot, three-inch draft is less than three feet. When the wind dies, gravity kicks in and the keel drops down onto hard clay.

The wind died.

So there we were, still at an angle and banging on the clay bottom three feet below. We banged away for two hours.

A passing powerboat alerted a friend who came out and pulled us off. We had owned the sailboat less than a month.

A year or so later, having developed knowledge and confidence that enabled me to know how to sail out of a cove, I ran aground as I sailed out of a cove. As the keel hit the mud, I glimpsed the backside of my then 10-year-old son as he scooted down the companionway shouting to his mother, "He did it again, he did it again."

From Adrianna, we see the Lady Maryland, a two-masted, gaff-rigged schooner belonging to the Living Classroom Foundation in Baltimore, pass along the Rhode River.

The Far End of I-50

The Chesapeake was always a thought off in the back of my head. After all, Lake Carlyle sits just north of Interstate 50. Head south from the lake to Highway 50 and turn left, I would say, because there's a better lake near the end of the road.

The boat made the journey from Illinois to Maryland on the back of a South Carolina truck driven by a man who looked as if he hadn't slept in several months. While the driver napped, Scott Isaacs of Parrish Creek Marina and his staff carefully unloaded Adrianna, our C&C 25. For nonsailers, that's Cutbertson and Cassian, a Canadian-built boat popular on the Bay.

The following day, they put up the mast, helped me attach the outboard and off we went, out Parrish Creek and into the West River toward our new slip near Galesville.

Of course we ran aground. Right there by the Shady Side Elementary School, fortunately emptied for spring break. I should say, 'Of course, I ran aground.' I motored to the first green marker, started around the far side and squished to a halt in the mud. 'Red right, returning,' I mumbled.

A kindly waterman in his Bay-built stopped, threw me a line and shouted, "The water is over there," pointing to the left. I thanked him, embarrassed, and he related he'd done the same thing many a time.

The West River that first day was misty and chilly. I could see homes emerging along the shore. I went three miles under power out of Parrish Creek into the West River. It was the first time I navigated to a destination I couldn't see from the starting point.

Navigating by 'Miner's Map'

Navigation on the lake was pretty simple: Twist your head as far as possible to the right and then to the left and you've seen all of Lake Carlyle's shoreline. You're ready for a Trans-Carlyle voyage. Here on mid-Bay, the same technique works. Or so I thought. It dawned on me one day (actually, it happened about dusk) that halfway between the mouth of West River and Kent Island, about two miles, is the equivalent of being a quarter mile past Lake Carlyle, where a farmer would be sailing his plow.

Or, as my son said while headed toward Thomas Point light from the West River, "this is different for us. You can't see the other end." He was looking south.

The principal navigation chart for Lake Carlyle was called the "Miner's Map." A little guy with a light on his hard hat was the publisher's symbol. Illinois is coal country. The Miner's Map pointed out water depths, old water towers and capped oil wells. (Illinois had a lot of energy in years gone by.) The water towers were highly visible, and on hot days the capped oil wells had a certain recognizable odor that wafted over the lake. A hog farm near the northeastern shore added another sort of perfume to the mix.

I would need more detailed help in direction finding on the Bay.

As with most of the other good that's come into my life, the unexpected happened. An office retirement gift took the form of a GPS receiver. A chart book of Chesapeake Bay came for Christmas from my daughter. The GPS receiver offered up latitude and longitude that I could use to check my position on the chart. I figured out that longitude lines run up and down (north and south) and latitude lines back and forth (east and west) on the chart. The GPS receiver also displays a knot meter and compass. And an odometer. And a clock. Hog heaven with no odor.

New Standards of Navigation

So now I sail according to the compass on the GPS, occasionally checking latitude and longitude against the chart. I may not be where I am supposed to be, but at least I know where I am.

The GPS is black and techie looking, an item that might go on a jet airplane. A compass is brass and nautical looking. And some of the boats, particularly the newer powerboats, look more high tech than nautical. "They look like space ships to me," says Bill Ross, a dock-mate in Galesville.

Ross sails a 31-foot Cheoy Lee ketch with Necessity in gold letters on the stern. Built in the late 1960s, Necessity has a fiberglass hull with a lot of mahogany attached. The masts are spruce. All the wood surfaces are sanded and varnished. Mast fittings and ventilators are all freshly chromed. The boat looks as classy as fine furniture.

For the past month or so, Ross has spent every spare moment sanding and varnishing Necessity.

Ross says he has a "disease" that makes him seek sailboat perfection. Ross sums up boat maintenance this way: Start at the "pointy end" and work back toward the "roundy end," and by the time you get finished with the roundy end you have to start back to work at the pointy end.

Ross is a career Coast Guardsman, a captain. I have never seen Ross in his Coast Guard uniform, but I suspect he looks about like his boat, perfectly groomed and ready to sail. I am the sort who looks more like Willie or Joe in a Bill Mauldin cartoon from World War II. To a certain extent, my boat is a home kept by Willie and Joe. But I am learning. Besides, I, too, am diseased. My disease is called photojournalism. It is incurable. I can relate to Ross.

I am amazed at Ross' knowledge of the slightest detail ("You varnish wooden masts so you can see the problems. Paint the mast and you hide the problems.") I am amazed at how he is transformed by the wind and the water when he gets Necessity underway. I suspect that Ross is a very good commander as he is a very good teacher.

Wondrous Sights and Strange Hazards

We didn't see any barge traffic on Lake Carlyle.

And certainly no car carriers with red letters as big as a Cadillac spelling out toyota. Or the Pride of Baltimore. Nor were there cargo vessels anchored off the town of Carlyle, the local Annapolis. So the first time I saw the Lady Maryland, I nearly lost my jib.

I was headed up the Rhode River to avoid what I thought would be a period of thunderstorms on the Bay. As I pulled the jib off the forestay, the Lady Maryland passed by quietly. I scrambled to get the sail down (nearly dropping it in the water) with a camera in hand. Lady is a two-masted, gaff-rigged schooner belonging to the Living Classroom Foundation in Baltimore.

The first encounter with a crab pot was a different kind of scramble. The boat halted at the mouth of the West River in an area that I thought was pot free. Knot meter showed zero knots. Zero? But there's wind. The outboard motor was started. The throttle turned, and the boat began to move. Slowly. Very slowly. Hardly at all.

I looked at the motor, which is mounted on the transom next to the rudder. The pot had been blown into a crab-free lane. I spotted a line wrapped around the rudder. I hauled the trap under full throttle back to my Galesville slip. Now I keep a knife on board for such emergencies.

A few days later, a 40-foot power boat traveling at least 25 knots passed about 30 feet off our port side. The accompanying stern wave hit us broadside and nearly knocked my wife, my daughter and myself off the boat. We were hauling sails down, and the crackle of Dacron fabric drowned out the approaching powerboat.

I have no desire to discuss the virtues of wind-power versus petroleum-power, but skippers with petroleum-power often seem to have very little knowledge or respect for others in the same water. I say often because on a recent day, five petroleum-powered boats passed, three showing total disregard for my position. We turned into their wake in order to avoid rolling. Of the other two, one took a wide berth and one dropped speed.

It is difficult for me to imagine why anyone wants to drive a huge petroleum-powered recreational cruiser at a speed of 25 knots at any point of the West River. Traffic is heavy, especially on the weekends. A children's camp on the Rhode River often uses the West River for sailing. Stern waves reaching shore cause erosion of the banks.

Pleasures Aft and Fore

We took a great deal of fun out of Lake Carlyle, Illinois. Twenty years ago, when Adrianna was brand new, I often joked that the boat was not three feet too short; it was two kids too long. Both children are now in their early 30s and bring their friends.

Adrianna and the Bay are just right.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly