I've done the trip 3 times during Thanksgiving Week in the mid 90s with my father- on his 35 ft O'day. We didn't have a gps
or cell phone
, just a VHF
. Oh yeah- and a Loran
C to nail us down to within several hundred feet. We always went clock-wise.. He's done the trip before by himself going both ways.
The trip always started in the Magothy River - just across Dobbins Island on a very cold Saturday morning. The first day- the anchorage would either be the Bohemia River or forge on thru to just on the other side of the C&D Canal. There is a nice little spot just on the south side of the jetty for protection - surrounded by two shoals. The next day would be sailing down the Delaware river and bay. Option 1- we'd anchor
at Cape Henlopen and the following day would be Ocean City behind Assateague Island. Option 2 - we'd continue through the night past Cape Henlopen on into the ocean, either hugging the coastline or on one trip- going about 50 nm out. We wouldn't stop until we arrived in the Chesapeake Bay
at Cape Charles. From there we'd go to a place called Mill Creek off the Great Wicomico. On to Dun Cove near Knapps Narrows. The last night before returning to the Magothy - we would drop anchor
in the Wye River - either in Shaw Bay or Dividing Creek.
That was the trip detail for when everything went to plan...
During one circumnavigation
, we were motoring about 15nm's or so off Chincoteague when the coast guard came up to us to check us out and who we were.. After showing them our identity papers and boat registration
- they went on their way - still heading east. (The only other boats we would see at that time of year were ships and tugs - not one pleasure boat the whole trip.)
As they headed off out to sea- we cranked up the engine
- and in about 1 min, it sputtered out. The cause wound up being the fuel pump
. Unfortunately- we didn't have a spare. Our only option was to start sailing.. (I wanted to call the coast guard back- but my father didn't want to deal with them for towing us 30 some odd nm's). We started sailing on a tack that led us towards Cobb island. We didn't have much wind
, 5-10 kts at best. No engine
meant not being able to charge the battery
for running lights, depth
finder, etc.. So to maximize our tack, we wound up getting a little too close to the surf- my heart started skipping beats as we scraped the ocean floor several times. It was dusk- running aground near the old Cobb island coast guard station would obviously not be good. So we tacked again heading south east- this time making sure that on our next tack, we'd have a good course right up into the Chesapeake Bay.
We arrived at the mouth of the bay around midnight. The wind
had died down to pretty much nothing. The bay bridge tunnel at the time was having major construction being done to it. There were construction barges everywhere, our maneuverability was extremely limited. The only thing going for us was that the tide was taking us in at about 1 knot
. The little wind we had was from the SE. As we passed under one of the spans- (they were increasing the lanes from 2-4 on the bridge) I noticed two barges on my port and starboard- about 300-500ft out in front of me- closing in. We passed through them- but barely. I couldn't have gone several hundred feet past when I looked back and saw that the path that I had just gone through was completely blocked. It was a very close call. I don't believe they ever saw us.
That night wound up being very uneventful. At dawn- we were just past Cape Charles. We had a steady 5-10 knt wind from the NE which progressed us past the mouth of the Potomac
. Once again, by night fall, the wind died down to nothing. All night and the following day - we finally reached the Calvert Cliffs area. It was around 3pm. Dark storm clouds started coming in from the west. We had been sailing with our main jib
. The sky was so dark- you couldn't separate the sky from the water
.. We took down the main and put up the smaller storm jib
minutes before the storm came. And when the storm reached us- it literally went from calm hardly any wind- to 45-50 mph winds from the NNE. That was nov 26 1996. The front page of the annapolis
newspaper read, "tornado like winds hit annapolis." Waves were 4-5 ft and crashing. The bow would dip in the next wave constantly. And it wouldn't let up for the remainder of the trip. When night finally fell on us- I really didn't know how we could keep this up. It was pitch
black, 50+ mph winds, constant spray- and we were exhausted. My dad was on the helm
the whole night- tacking every 15 min or so. Around 4am- we passed under the bay bridge. And right before 6- we had a very tricky process to face- docking
in the heavy winds under sail.
We lowered the jib
halfway and made the most use out of our last tack to push us closer to our slip.. We made it to about 5 slips away and pulled ourselves with the docking
That was a trip I'll obviously never forget. I use it as a reminder for when I cruise today - to always expect the unexpected and to carry an extra water
pump and 2 extra fuel
pumps. That was my last Delmarva trip. I still cruise the bay.