May 30, 2013

Day 216 - May 29, 2013: Atlantic City, New Jersey

You can't stay at Cape May on the Jersey shore with out a walk on the beach, so we got back on our bikes this morning and rode through the city to the shoreline. The beaches are wide, well-groomed and clean, and run for miles along New Jersey. It was sunny and calm, but the water was very cold or I would have brought a suit and taken a swim (and I am used to Lake Michigan). We had this part of the beach to ourselves, perhaps because it was early in the season, early in the morning, and not a weekend.

Anne in the Atlantic surf
Larry relaxing in the sun
Cape May homes facing the Atlantic
After a last pass through the town, a stop at a grocery store and seafood market (for fresh salmon), we went back to Great Laker and departed east through Cape May Harbor and out into the Atlantic Ocean. This trip northeast to Atlantic City was our first real experience with open ocean cruising, and we were a bit apprehensive. It turned out that even with 10 to 15 mph winds on our stern, and the 3 - 4 foot waves in 9 second swells, the ride was amazingly comfortable.

Atlantic City is known for gambling, conventions and leisure. The famous boardwalk first appeared in 1870 as a way to keep guests from tracking sand into the hotel lobbies, and at one time extended for over 7 miles. This city has experienced economic ups and downs since WW II and has adopted gambling as a strategy for growth, although some casinos have closed recently due to hard times. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy has added additional burden to this area. As we approached, the skyline revealed long beaches, many hotels, amusement parks, an old lighthouse now hidden behind some buildings, and some large windmills rotating in the distance.

Southern Atlantic City skyline
Northern Atlantic City skyline
We anchored in Brigantine Bay, which is inside the Absecon Inlet, with a view of the city and grilled the fresh salmon for dinner. This salmon turned out to be without question the best we have had on this trip! To celebrate, we had two pieces of dark chocolate each for dessert! After the sunset, the hotel lights came on, illuminating the sky and reminding us of Las Vegas. One hotel was covered from top to bottom with colored moving lights advertising their casino restaurant and entertainment.

This hotel was a movie screen

May 29, 2013

Day 215 - May 28, 2013: Cape May, New Jersey

We decided to get up at 5:30 a.m. in order to ride the tide down Delaware Bay to Cape May. The sun rose in the east behind the power plant, making for an interesting contrast between man's and God's creations. Marking the channel were several substantial lighthouses which were long ago vacated by their crews because of total automation, and besides us, there were only a couple of fishing vessels out busily setting and retrieving nets.
Sunrise over the Delaware River
Lighthouse in the Delaware Bay
Fishing vessel "Morning Star" up early setting nets
If the tide is falling in the direction you are cruising, there is a tidal current sweeping you along and you gain speed and save fuel. This was the case as we departed, and there were times we were going up to 4 mph faster over the ground than relative to the water! Making such good time, we traversed the entire Delaware Bay and arrived before noon in Cape May.

Cape May is at the southern tip of New Jersey along the Atlantic Ocean and is recognized as the country's oldest seaside resort. Vacationers from Philadelphia began coming here in the mid-1800's to take advantage of the miles of beaches and the ocean breezes. Cape May is also noted for the largest collection of well-restored and maintained Victorian homes outside of San Francisco. They are painted in a variety of colors, and no two look alike. I'll bet painters make a good living here!

We docked at Utsch's Marina, and after I did some maintenance on the generator, we rode our bikes through the downtown, followed by dinner at The Lobster House.

Victorian home in pink and maroon
Victorian home with extensive lattice work
Victorian in pink and green

May 28, 2013

Day 214 - May 27, 2013: The C&D Canal, Delaware and anchoring behind Reedy Island

A nearly perfect night is hard to describe, but we had a clear sky with almost a full moon, not a whisper of a breeze, and water as smooth as glass. We could hear the birds chirping into the evening and early in the morning. Rising early, as we departed the anchorage, I noticed a tall structure along the shore which seemed out of place. After getting closer, it turned out to be a four-story set of wooden stairs from the home's sloping lawn over a cliff and straight down to the dock. As a boat owner with a dock, I can appreciate how important it is to have access, but this sets a record! I wonder what the neighbors think?

A four story set of dock stairs!
We turned north and traveled almost to the northern limits of the Bay and turned into the C&D Canal, which is a 14-mile long deep ship canal that connects the Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware River. It cuts across Maryland and Delaware and was motivated by the need to provide a short-cut from Baltimore to Philadelphia. The project was started in 1804 but the canal was not completed until 1829 due to funding and construction difficulties.

A few weeks ago I exchanged messages related to my dinghy with the owner of a new American Tug 395 who keeps his boat on the C&D Canal. We were keeping in touch, hoping to meet, so he could see my dinghy, and we could see his new boat. We arranged to meet Nick and Robyn just inside the entrance of the C&D Canal at Chesapeake City and had lunch at Schaefer's Canal House restaurant where you can dock right in front of your table. It was great fun sharing tours of our American Tugs, telling them about our Great Loop trip, and learning about the Hudson River from Nick who grew up in that area. The crab cake sandwiches were great, too!

Schaefer's Canal House restaurant
Together with Nick and Robyn in front of their new AT 395
We continued on the canal, encountered a number of tugs and many pleasure boats, and soon entered the state of Delaware which is our 14th state so far on this adventure. Exiting the canal, we turned south and anchored behind Reedy Island. The Delaware River is wide here and the shores flat and mostly barren so far, except for the power plant we can see to the east. We are poised to go south in the morning through the Delaware Bay.

May 27, 2013

Day 213 - May 26, 2013: Anchoring up the Sassafras River

It took longer than expected for the storm to pass over, but we thoroughly enjoyed our four-day stay in Rock Hall with Ken and Peggie. They took us by car to tour several places in the area, and we enjoyed many hours sharing meals and great conversations. Their condo dock was the perfect place to stay inside the harbor, with water and electricity and neighboring boaters who were so very friendly.

Our great hosts in Rock Hall, Ken and Peggie
Our temporary port of refuge in Rock Hall

We were in need of a cruising fix, and luckily by mid-afternoon today the winds began to abate. The weather reports showed the front had passed over, and we gained the confidence to go four hours north to the Sassafras River. It proved to be sunny, with only moderate waves, and made for a pleasant trip. This river is reported to be one of the most beautiful along the Bay, and the entrance to the river revealed high sandy cliffs with homes perched along the edge, some of which seemed to be barely holding on.

Home along the sandy cliffs of the Sassafras River
We turned into Back Creek, the location of the Mount Harmon Plantation, dropped anchor and took a dingy ride. This is a restored 18th century tobacco plantation which you can tour, but unfortunately was not open. We could see the manor house and a building on the water called the Tobacco Prize House, where tobacco was pressed and stored before shipping. The scenery here is indeed beautiful and relaxing.

Mount Harmon Plantation manor house
Tobacco Prize House

May 23, 2013

Day 212 - May 22, 2013: Rock Hall, MD

While we wanted to stay in Baltimore another day, mother nature is nudging us on. The storms that have created terrible tornadoes in Oklahoma will bring high winds, waves and thunderstorms across the Bay starting tomorrow, and it will not be safe for boating. So, we took a last bike ride through Fell's Point, one of the fast growing and most hip areas along the waterfront, stopped for some supplies, and headed out for our last Bay crossing. We passed Ft. McHenry, where soldiers defended Baltimore from the British during the War of 1812, and where the flag was raised giving birth to the national anthem.

Ft. McHenry hidden behind bunkers under the flag
Scott, my daughter Heather's husband, whose parents, Ken and Peggie, live in Rock Hall have invited us to visit. Their condo is on the water and has a dock that we could use while we were there. We have a lot in common besides our children and grandchild, as they were avid boaters and have enjoyed extensive travel.

Rock Hall harbor and a monument to the oystering watermen
We are planning to stay here a couple of days while the weather blows over, and I will resume posting  regarding the cruise when we depart.

May 22, 2013

Day 211 - May 21, 2013: Touring Baltimore, MD

Instead of the sounds of nature, last night we were entertained with trains in the distance, planes landing overhead, and an occasional siren in the city. The evening air cooled off quickly, and it became another "one sheet" night.

We took the bikes out early in full sun and rode the full length of the horseshoe-shaped Inner Harbor following the base of the Baltimore skyline. There were the usual young people running with earphones, local entrepreneurs selling their wares to tourists, and many groups of school children led by teachers who were perhaps tired of the classroom and needed a day outside.

Inner Harbor inlets with sidewalks and bridges
Looking north across the Inner Harbor 

There are many sign boards of local history to read, a group of historical ships to see and tour, the National Aquarium and more. We passed the famous USS Constellation that was the last all sail ship in the U.S. Navy, the USS Torsk submarine that served in WWII and holds the record for the most number of dives (11,884), and the United States Chesapeake light ship, built in 1933, that lighted a number of points along the East Coast and the Bay.

USS Constellation
USS Torsk

After a really fabulous lunch at the award winning Gia's Ristorante in Little Italy, we stopped over at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House which tells the story of Mary Pickersgill sewing the flag that inspired the national anthem.

Gia's Ristorante
Mary Pickersgill's house where the flag was sewn
I took a quick trip over to West Marine to get a small inverter to power Anne's computer and chargers while we are not on shore power and began installing it. Later, we rode up to Little Italy's Viccaro's Italian Pastry Shop and stood in line to get some great gelato and pignoli cookies. It is nice to be so close to so many things to do and places to eat.

May 21, 2013

Day 210 - May 20, 2013: Moving on to Baltimore, MD

Annapolis is a great city, and before moving on we wanted to see just two more places: The Maryland State House and the Charles Carroll House (which was in view from Great Laker on the mooring ball).

In 1695, Maryland's governor moved the capital from St. Mary's to Annapolis, and the first State House was built starting in 1772 on a hilltop site overlooking the Severn River. This State House is the oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use and the only one to have been used as the U. S. capitol (from Nov. 1783 to Aug. 1784). It has been rebuilt and added onto three times, and still retains the original and largest wooden dome in the country. This dome has a lightning rod and grounding system designed by Ben Franklin which is still in place and working. One notable event of many was that General George Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief of the army here in 1783. We did a self guided tour of the building and grounds.

Maryland State House
Working Senate Chamber
Then we walked over to the Charles Carroll House. In 1689, Carroll left his native Ireland to escape English discrimination against his Catholic faith and carried a commission as Attorney General of Maryland granted by Lord Baltimore. He first settled in St. Mary's and later moved to Annapolis and built his home and surrounding gardens which housed three generations of Carrolls between 1706 and 1832. Charles Carroll was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, and General Washington was a guest at his home.

On the way back to Great Laker, we picked up sandwiches at The Big Cheese Deli and then departed for Baltimore, MD. On the way we passed under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the only Bay crossing between the Atlantic and Baltimore, and under the Francis Scott Key Bridge, where Key wrote the Star-Spangled Banner while observing the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Francis Scott Key Bridge
We arrived at the Inner Harbor East Marina, right in the heart of Baltimore in 80 degrees, with high humidity and almost no breeze. While we have had little use for Great Laker's air conditioning so far, we are thankful to have it and expect we will be using it some this week.

May 20, 2013

Day 209 - May 19, 2013: Touring Annapolis, MD

Today we went to the service at the United States Naval Academy Chapel. We were surprised to discover that this was Baccalaureate Sunday, honoring the graduating Class of 2013, and providing an opportunity for the midshipmen to dedicate their commissions to God.

The minister gave a stirring message on "Courage Matters." His theme was that our society has diluted the notion of courage, applying it too commonly to people in everyday activities. He emphasized to the midshipmen that real courage is standing up for the survival of one's religious beliefs and/or the country's existence in the face of injury or death. He noted that the midshipmen are surrounded here in the Academy with the history of many Navy personnel who have exhibited this real courage, and that they may be asked to do the same.

This service was a very emotional and stirring event. Besides the beauty of this immense chapel, the incredible pipe organ and choir, the hundreds of midshipmen in full dress whites with their families proudly filling the pews, and the power of the pastor's message, there was a tangible but unspoken air of honor and respect for the Navy and these graduates. We understood in the strongest way the importance of the Navy traditions we saw being repeated here, and we left walking slowly and quietly sharing what we had just experienced.

Immense chapel seating
Stunning Tiffany stain glass window
It was midday, and we went over to Chick and Ruth's Delly (yes, a strange spelling), which is a famous eatery here since 1965. The crab cakes, mine on Eggs Benedict and Anne's as an entree, were just plain delicious. After eating every bite of the very large portions, we walked the historic areas enjoying the quaint narrow side streets, the historic homes, churches and buildings, and the sunshine. We finished the afternoon with a long dinghy ride up the Spa Creek to see the many boats and waterside homes.

Chick & Ruth's Delly
Main St., Annapolis, MD
Individual historical row houses
River front homes

May 19, 2013

Day 208 - May 18, 2013: Annapolis, MD, and the United States Naval Academy

At dawn, we headed back across the Bay to Annapolis, MD, taking the shortcut between Tilghman Island and the mainland at Knapps Narrows. The channel is narrow and shallow in places and can have a strong tidal current. In the middle we encountered one of the few low bridges on the trip (under 12 feet) where we needed an opening. Shortly after, we passed the third of the three remaining screw pile lighthouses at Thomas Point Shoal, this one still actively in use.

We approached Annapolis before noon in cloudiness and possible rain and chose to stay at the Spa Creek Mooring Field. It is under a bridge just past downtown and is in a very protected end of the channel just yards from a dinghy dock. It borders a park and promised still water and a quiet evening.

Knapp Narrows bridge
Thomas Point light house

Great Laker on the mooring ball in front of the Charles Carroll House
A major purpose of coming here was to see the United States Naval Academy, and we took the dinghy to the downtown dock, which is several blocks from the entrance gate. Tours, led by very knowledgeable docents, are given every 15 minutes or so and cover many of the buildings across the campus.

The academy was founded here along the Severn River in 1845 on a 338-acre site, which was previously Fort Severn, and has produced some of our Navy's finest leaders ever since. Many of the buildings are majestic and stately, suggestive of European palaces and cathedrals. There are 4,200 midshipmen here, and all live in the largest dorm in the country, Bancroft Hall, which is an incredibly beautiful building. The athletic buildings are state of the art, and there are classroom facilities next to the dorm, churches on the campus, and a museum of naval history which is outstanding. Yes, two days, and I already secumbed to seeing another museum!

The entrance and center section of Bancroft Hall
The Academy Chapel
Inside the Bancroft Hall entrance

Being selected to the academy is a high honor, and I respect these fine young people for choosing to serve our country.

When Anne attempted to start the generator to prepare dinner, I discovered it was overheating due to a failed water pickup impeller. The rubber vanes on these pickups do wear out, and I had brought a spare along in case it was needed. After putting the new one in, the generator ran cool again. There are benefits to good planning!

May 18, 2013

Day 207 - May 17, 2013: St. Michaels, Oxford, and the anchorage at Dun Cove

This morning I told Anne that after the marathon 3 1/2 hours we spent yesterday, I was "museum-ed out" and was hereby on strike until further notice. While I love history, and while every town has a very well done museum, the ones here along the Bay have quite a bit of repetition, and I'm loosing my enthusiasm. Odds are I'll bounce back soon.

We went back into St. Michaels this morning and rode our bikes to see more of the downtown and the Inn at Perry Cabin, which was selected as one of the top 500 best hotels by Travel + Leisure. Then we did some gift shopping before taking the dinghy back to Great Laker.

We turned back south through the winding narrows of San Domingo Creek, down Broad Creek into the Choptank River, and north up the Tred Avon River to Oxford. This small town is one of the oldest in Maryland (1683) and was one of the two original ports of entry. It enjoyed the wealth of international shipping, nearby tobacco plantations and of course fishing, claming and oystering. Today, it is a near picture perfect vacation and boating destination. Surrounded by river views, it has quiet streets lined with dense trees, and traditional New England-style homes faced with picket fences. Our bikes helped make touring the town fun and easy.

Oxford beach view of the Tred Avon
Quiet streets lined with trees
Who could resist a porch, a picket fence and a view?
Great Laker anchored in Town Creek
Some of the many sailing vessels here in Oxford
While we only stayed in Oxford about 4 hours, we really liked it and would come back again and stay longer. However, our goal was to move on to an anchorage nearer the Bay to give us a head start in getting to Annapolis in the morning. There is nothing better than cruising on glass, and when we turned into the Choptank River it was just that. Our anchorage was in Dun Cove on Harris Creek.

Incredibly flat water on Choptank River
Grilling a big juicy steak for dinner
A burnt orange Maryland sunset