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Sailing Undiscovered Waters to the “Middle of Nowhere”

Anticipation abounded for this trip - one perhaps more typical for trips to more exotic places, as it is beyond anyone’s recollection as to the last time the Club visited Solomons Island. Indeed, the locals freely, and perhaps proudly, referred to this part of the Bay as “the Middle of Nowhere.” That anticipation was amply rewarded with sustained good sailing on wide expanses of water, exquisite locations to enjoy while at the dock or at anchor, wildlife in the seas and the air, and a variety of quiet distractions, from beautiful beaches to dramatic cliffsides. Sites like the huge white cross and seaside chapel at St Clements Island, as well as curiosities such as the yellow “Potomac Line of Fire” buoys and prohibited areas added to everyone’s enjoyment. And yet, as satisfying a trip it was, at least some crew walked off the dock hoping to return for what else could be experienced on these new waters.

On Friday afternoon everyone traveled from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York to Safe Harbor Zahnisers Yachting Center, an award-winning marina in Solomons, Maryland. Two sloops had been chartered from Sail Solomons – a Catalina 445 (Ripple) and a Jeanneau 39i (Moxie). Skippers, First Mates and First Mate Candidates arrived early enough to complete boat reviews and checkouts with the charter company. The loading of gear and provisions was then coordinated as each remaining crew member arrived. That all done, the crews traveled to a group dinner at the “Bugeye Grill,” a local restaurant overlooking the Patuxent River, so that the crews had time to get acquainted over good food and drink.

Early Saturday following a quick breakfast and after some last-minute coordination and assistance addressing a technical issue with the charter company, both boats departed the marina and entered the Patuxent River to begin the initial 33 nautical mile leg. In short order both boats raised sails and headed into Chesapeake Bay. Although the winds seemed gentle at first, it wasn’t long before each vessel was cruising at speeds of seven to eight knots. The crews ate lunch while under way, passing the U.S. Navy Gunnery Area Lighted Buoy D, Point No Point Light and then Point Lookout Lighthouse on the north side of the Potomac River on the way to Smith Creek, the anchorage for the night. By late afternoon the boats had sailed up a few miles into Smith Creek where Ripple dropped anchor, and Moxie then rafted up. By about 4:00 PM the crews began exchanging hors d'oeuvres in the Sailing Club’s traditional appetizer dinner, accompanied by plenty of socializing. A good time was had by all..

Early Sunday morning the two boats wound their way back into the Potomac and, despite the dead calm, raised sails and began motor-sailing towards Coles Point Marina, located a short thirteen miles further up and on the Virginia (south) side of the Potomac.

Ripple under sail Moxie ghosting along

This patience was rewarded with building winds and eventually both boats were cruising in excess of eight and a half knots, sailing several miles further up the Potomac before turning back to the marina. That allowed many crew members to experience the thrill of driving the boat at those speeds. The Potomac is so wide for so much of our trip north that we had to remind ourselves we were not on Chesapeake Bay anymore.

Both boats arrived at Coles Marina mid-afternoon and proceeded to enjoy the marina’s amenities. These included a welcoming warm-weather dip in the pool, a beach and campgrounds for a quiet walk, and a marina store, as well as the usual shower and rest room facilities. Each crew arranged dinner on board since the marina barbecues proved unavailable.

Late Monday morning, the crews having replenished their water tanks the day before, boats made their way to a self-serve pump-out station at the marina prior to beginning another short sail of about eleven miles back across the Potomac to an anchorage in Canoe Neck Creek on St Clements Bay in Maryland. The wind again began gently, but soon picked up strength allowing the boats to begin to cruise at up to seven knots, as clouds also seemed to build.

Moxie was first to arrive at the anchorage a little after noon and dropped anchor. Ripple arrived shortly thereafter and rafted up. The early arrival gave the crews a chance to relax, eat, drink and socialize. A few members of the two crews played a sometimes heated game of Nautical Trivia, a board game that incorporates a number of sailing concepts and, of course, nautical trivia. After a close game – which Joel Mack ultimately won and was awarded a flexible flashlight – with clouds continuing to build, the skippers decided to move the raft and re-set with Ripple’s anchor.

“Shortly afterwards, the skies validated the skippers’ wisdom, as dinner was made and eaten to the sound of the rain and thunder and followed by the rainbow and evening sunset.

Tuesday morning after breakfast the crews broke the raft and both boats made their way out of Canoe Neck Creek and into St. Clement Bay. Despite the lightest of winds, Moxie raised its jib in hope, and joined Ripple in motor-sailing past St. Clement Island and the huge white cross and shoreline chapel on it, and into the Potomac to sail fifteen miles further up-river to Colonial Beach, Virginia. After having passed one of a number of intriguing “Potomac Line of Fire” buoys, both boats pulled into Monroe Creek and docked at The Boathouse Marina. Crews once again refilled water tanks and took advantage of the good marina facilities. At the recommendation of the marina the crews scheduled a group dinner at Oomboon, a French Thai fusion restaurant located about a mile away from the marina. Although golf carts were provided by the marina, most of the crewmembers decided to walk, and took a route crossing four blocks to the Potomac Shores to take in the sites and scenes along the beaches and what was, in fact, the Virginia-Maryland border.

Oomboon far exceeded hopes. The space provided suited our group’s needs, service was thoughtful and accommodating, the food was delicious and fantastically presented, while the prices were quite reasonable. The walk back to the boats through a town little changed since probably 1960, made everyone a little sentimental for summers past.

Wednesday morning the crews arose to an uncharacteristically chill and breeze, compelling everyone to bundle up. After the crews had breakfast, both boats departed and retraced the course out of Monroe Creek and channel and back into the Potomac. With strong and variable winds sometimes exceeding eighteen knots, both Ripple and Moxie cruised swiftly eastward along the Potomac’s south shore at speeds sometimes exceeding eight knots, covered the twenty miles to the Lower Machodoc Creek in no time. Within Lower Machodoc Creek the boats wound their way past the spit of Narrow Beach, and then squeezed between a collection of fish traps and shallows of the back creek to find a peaceful spot at which Ripple first anchored and Moxie rafted up. By 3:00 PM most of the crews were already settling in, relaxing, socializing and/or starting evening drinks, when a man on a jet ski approached with seeming purpose.

The driver very kindly offered bags of ice and volunteered to take our trash ashore for disposal, refusing any offers of compensation, but freely shared stories about the creek and surrounding areas and pronunciations of local area names. Then just as quickly he departed, much to the surprise of some on board; to others ,certain lyrics came to mind:

If you come down to the river

Bet you gonna find some people who live

You don't have to worry 'cause you have no money

People on the river are happy to give

                   Proud Mary by John Fogerty

Early Thursday morning, following the crews’ breakfasts, Moxie departed the raft and Ripple weighed anchor. Both boats then retraced their courses between the fish traps and shallows of the back creek and past Narrow Beach spit, back out into the Potomac where everyone enjoyed the breeze and the views. Ripple sailed wing-on-wing, while Moxie pursued a course of a series of tacks. Both managed to cruise at speeds of up to seven knots, swiftly covering the twenty miles downriver to Coan River Marina, with both arriving and docking at their respective slips in the marina by about 3:00 PM. The crews once again proceeded to settle in, relax and socialize. They enjoyed meeting a friendly German Shepherd who served as first mate on one of the resident sailboats. Following dinners on board, crews visited between boats, sampling some bourbon Bob had brought along. By 10:00 PM, it was lights out on both boats. The Coan River Marina’s facilities were generally more than adequate, although it was disappointing that their pump out machinery was out of service.

After a very early Friday morning breakfast, with incoming bad weather in the forecast, both boats left their slips to make the thirty-five mile sail to return to Zahniser’s Yachting Center on Solomons Island. The fleet proceeded across the Potomac and then back into and up the west coast of the Chesapeake Bay, being seemingly chased by storm clouds. About midway up the coast of the Bay, the Moxie crew was astonished to see a large pod of dolphins too numerous to count, but more than fifty, leaping, diving and feeding along Moxie’s starboard side. The scene was so fantastic, everyone was mesmerized ... and then the dolphins were gone. Jeff, manager of Sail Solomons, met each boat at the office dock and took over the helm to pump out and refuel. Finally docking by 3 PM, the two boats seemed to be all packed and were moving bags, coolers and trash off the boats within minutes of tying up. Hugs and kisses and promises to do it again and then, as with the dolphins, all were gone.




Ripple:: Gary Brubaker (Skipper), Joel Mack (First Mate), John Francischetti (First Mate), Virginia Malik, Jan Cornelius, Eleanor Popolizio

Moxie: Bob Rainey (Skipper), Hank Jelinek (First Mate), Beth Jelinek, Walter Wronka, Mary Ann Gordon, Mary Wojchik

     Photo Contributors: Mary Ann Gordon, Joel Mack, Bob Rainey



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