After several days of waiting out weather in Hampton, we were delighted to be greeted by sun and reasonable winds on Day 204. We were ready to make some miles before the weather turned ugly again. The Captain suggested a long 12+ hour day, perhaps anchoring near Hoopers Island. And he promised that we’d sail past the “Ghost Ship” of the Chesapeake! He knew I’d perk up at that opportunity, since it had been five years since we had been in camera-range of the rusted bombing target.
We left the marina at 7 am, and lo and behold, there was Dreamtime on the AIS ahead of us. By the time we caught up to them outside the shipping channel, we were on the radio exchanging a few greetings about sail plans, floating trash, and photo opportunities while our two Gozzards were side by side.
We had also heard sécurité announcements about a submarine in the area. And before we knew it, sure enough, there it was, stealthily slinking by with a patrol boat making sure we kept our distance. Yep—we’re not going to mess with that.
After we rounded the mark, we put both sails up, waved goodbye to Dreamtime, and focused on making some distance. The Chesapeake Bay is so wide at its southern end that it felt like we were on the ocean, with land barely visible on one side, and not recognizable on the other. Any passing boats were far away, so no need to slow down for them. No crab pots either, remarkably enough. It was quite peaceful in the middle of the wide bay, just like the ocean. Ahhhh. And although we had cell phone reception on the ocean, we did NOT have reliable cell reception on the Bay, at least not at the southern end.
It was going to be a very long day so we implemented two-hour shifts at the helm. We both have enjoyed these breaks in the routine. Eventually the winds died down, and we had to motor most of the way. As we crossed the Virginia line with Smith Island to our east, we began scanning the horizon for the Ghost Ship. And there it was, between Point Lookout and Smith’s Island at coordinates: 38.02.439 N 076.92.08W.
Commonly known as the SS American Mariner, this ship was commissioned in December 1941 (as the SS George Calvert, MC Hull 20), then decommissioned a year later, but renamed and used in various capacities by all four armed forces of the US military before intentionally being scuttled in shallow waters in 1966 for use as an aerial bombing target by the US Navy (several references, but here are two: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USAS_American_Mariner), http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/53/5312.htm).
I’m always interested in a good maritime story, so was glad that we could sail by for our second time. In 2011, we passed the starboard side of the rusted hulk. This time, we viewed the port side. It appears that rust is inflicting more damage than bombs ever did, as parts of the ship seem to be collapsing in just the brief five years since our last visit.
It’s my understanding that bombing drills ended in the early 1970s although our charts still indicate “stay away” notice to mariners. I tried to convince Captain Safety to let us get closer, but alas, he was intent on obeying the warnings. Perhaps he muttered something about unexploded ordinances. Okay, okay.
Before sunset, we anchored in a peaceful cove near Lower Hoopers Island at the mouth of the Honga River. The next day we were up and out early, taking advantage of east winds on a beam reach for several blissful hours of pure sailing.
We were looking forward to a relaxing evening in Annapolis with our friend, MaryMarie. She and her husband own a beautiful waterfront home with dock space for their Gozzard, and an occasional open slip for visiting friends. We spent the evening of Day 1 with them in the fall, and we were grateful when MM’s travel schedule allowed us to spend our last evening there as well. How fitting! So Belle Bateau cozied up to Eleanor Q, and the two boats whispered sea tales while the sailors shared sea adventures up in the warm inviting house.
Day 206 dawned dreary and dismal, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits as we ran a few errands and then set sail for Charm City. Visibility was poor and I yearned for windshield wipers on our dodger. But radar helped to ease my mind when I was at the helm, and being in familiar waters eased tension as well. Ha! To finally be in waters where we had “local knowledge!”
As we approached Baltimore with Fort McHenry on our port and the stacks of Lehigh Cement on our starboard, we could see our marina in the grey and rainy distance in Canton.
Naturally, the rain picked up as we got closer. It’s just been that kind of year. But we donned our foul weather gear and prepared to eyeball slip #D12 somewhere in a line of power yachts. Oh to have our old slip back again on C docks. But never mind, we were back! Belle Bateau and her crew have returned after 2,026 nautical miles in 206 days, with 385 engine hours, and countless adventures.
There was no fanfare and no one to greet us as we entered our new slip, wrapped lines around the cleats, tweaked the fenders, and ducked back into our warm cabin to wait out the rain before connecting power cables. The rain abated as we left the dock less that two hours later to meet friends and matchmakers, Curt and Barbara, at Pasticcio, one of 50+ restaurants within walking distance of our marina. It was there that we were warmly welcomed back to “Balmer, Hon.” It took Curt perhaps a nanosecond to get Dudley laughing so hard that he wiped tears from his eyes. Barb and I toasted to “boys will be boys,” and we enjoyed the warmth of rekindled friendships.
For me, this has been a dream come true. Although the sailbatical has come to a close, my cruising desires have only just begun. I have ambitious sailing plans for the summer, including several classes with the Annapolis School of Seamanship, private instruction through Sea Affinity, accompanying cruising friends on short passages, and more sailing on the Chesapeake Bay with Captain Dudley. And yes, both of us will be returning to the working world, and in the short term, will live on the boat. The blog will continue, and I invite you to follow along as I candidly share the adventures of my sailing quest, on Belle Bateau, and beyond.
I am grateful for this unique experience, and thank my captain, and our beautiful Belle Bateau, for making dreams come true.