Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Cruising the Chesapeake Bay - 2012

June 12, 2012

After Wes picked me up at Baltimore International, we made our way to his home in Port Deposit, MD. We celebrated our reunion with a fine bottle of French wine. Unfortunately, the following day, the very day we’re supposed to take off sailing, we woke up to rain. Definitely not the type of weather that spurs one into action to get ready for a cruise on the Chesapeake Bay.

In spite of these headwinds, after a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and coffee we got ready and drove to Weis’ grocery store to stock up with food supplies for our cruise. Next, we dropped in on the local beverage store to get wine and beer. Maryland is one of those (backward) states where beer, wine and spirits are sold separately and are not available in grocery stores. Coming from California, needless to say (but I will), it’s kind of weird.

By the time we got to the boat in Havre de Grace it was raining hard. We sat in the car for a while, hoping for the rain would subside. But that never happened. After a while, we decided to drive back home and hope for better weather the next day.

A U.S. Coast Guard training vessel at anchor near Annapolis 

As luck would have it, Tuesday morning the sun peaked through the clouds and brought with it a fresh northerly wind - perfect for a sail going south on the Chesapeake. We drove to the marina and loaded up Belle Helene. Soon enough we were sailing directly downwind the channel towards Annapolis with a full headsail and a mizzen.

After an eight hour sleigh ride we motored into Annapolis and  picked up a mooring. It had been a glorious sailing day.

Underway to Solomon's

There was really no reason to hang around Annapolis in the morning. After a large cup of espresso, we started the engine and motored out of the harbor. The wind was coming from the NE, just what the doctor had prescribed.

For most of the rest of the day, the wind came from the NNE at about 15 knots. Just perfect for what we needed. By late afternoon we were heading into the bay that led to an  anchorage known as Solomons Island.

We found the spot we had anchored a couple of years ago and dropped the hook. We got settled, opened a bottle of wine and relaxed. A local, yet well know bar, the Tiki Bar, had some loud patrons that we hoped would exit before we wanted to go to sleep.

At anchor at Solomon's

A couple of Mallard ducks enjoying the dinghy

We were relaxed and eating dinner down below, when we noticed pier pylons appear in our view. This was odd - it was not a good sign. We popped our heads out of the companion way hatch only to notice that Belle Helene was bearing down on a set of empty docks - our anchor was dragging!

It took a quick response (which we like to attribute to experience) to avoid calamity. But that is just what we did. In seconds we were under power and repositioned the vessel to a safer area. 

This time we let out a lot more anchor rode.
That night we both slept well, knowing we had re-anchored and put out a lot of extra rode.

June 15

By now a routine, we had our espresso coffee followed by a generous serving of oatmeal, walnuts and blueberries. While picking up anchor, we found that on our second attempt at anchoring, we indeed had paid out a lot more anchor rode. It took a while to pick up all the chain, but soon enough we were underway, passing through the harbor entrance.

We decided to set course for Smith Island, about 25 miles on the east side of the bay. Again, the wind was a favorable one, as it blew from the NNE at about 15 knots. It was hard to believe life could get any better. We sailed for about four hours and came along Smith Island mid-afternoon.

The last time we had attempted to enter the channel at Smith Island we abandoned the attempt because we ran aground in the midst of it. Although the charts had denoted enough depth to handle Belle Helene, we must have found an unusual spot. This time things were different. We were there during an incoming tide and although the depth finder reported some shallow areas, it was sufficient to get us into the harbor.

On our way to Smith Island

We found our way to the Smith Island’s small marina - and I do mean small - three guest slips, Known as the Smith Island Marina, it was run by, Pauli, a very nice lady originally from Ohio. Pauli told us a little about island life, the town of Ewell (it is a dry town), and that she could probably find us some beer, wine or for that matter, anything else should we be in need. We weren’t.

Tied up at Smith Island Marina

Dinner and wine

A typical Chesapeake Bay flat-bottom crabbing boat

View of Smith Island Marina

A crab shack next to the marina

Structures around the fishing docks

Later in the day we took a short walk around town. Although it was a clean and friendly place, it had the look that it had seen its heydays. Definitely on a downward trend. There were some cars but most folks drove golf carts to get around the island. We were soon back at the boat ready for a glass of wine and dinner.

In the morning, after a shower and breakfast we were under way to Onancock, a small town also on the east side of the bay, five miles up the Onancock Creek.

Living large 

We lunched on soft shell crab sandwiches that Wes had bought in Smith Island at Ruke's Seafood- the sandwiches are made of small crabs that have molted from their shells. Indeed they are somewhat soft,  yet crispy and crunchy. They are deep fried in a light batter then placed between two slices of Wonder bread. Pretty tasty particularly when chased with a Yuengling beer (advertised as being the oldest beer in America).

The sail was pretty uneventful until we decided to turn east and motor the last ten miles into the wind and choppy seas. We pounded into the heavy seas for about ten minutes until the diesel began to sputter. It produced its last, valiant effort and quit - unusual for a diesel. All the pounding action likely stirred up the dirt in the fuel tank, causing it to plug up the fuel filter.

Wes quickly got the diesel restarted. We then came to the conclusion to backtrack and spend the night at Tangier Island instead on pounding our way to Onancock. The sail to Tangier was an easy beam reach and in a couple of hours we were tied up against the dock at Parks Marina, in Tangier Island.

Tied up at Parks Marina in Tangier

Downtown Tangier

Most places looked neat and tidy.

Wes and I standing in front of the church.

The cemetery had many headstones with the same last names.

A church's parking lot. 

The wetlands 

A beautiful B&B in town.

At the dock we were greeted by non-other than Captain Milton Parks, the owner of the marina and a well known personality in the area. At 81 years old, a retired crabber, he is one of these crusty individuals with leathery skin that enjoys giving advice to boaters as they arrive. All in good nature, though.

The following morning, a Sunday, Wes and I took a long walk through town and the outlying area. Tangier is another one of these places where people drive around in golf carts. It being Sunday, many of the carts were parked in front of the Methodist church. Also evident were all the burial plots in the front yards of homes. Wes’ comment on that custom was that it was a good choice as long as you didn’t sell your house.

Traditionally, history states that Tangiers was settled by a Captain Crocket and his eight sons in the 1600’s. A few other families followed, gradually increasing the population of the island. As we visited a cemetery, it was clear that many of the graves belonged to just a few family names. Makes you wonder about the in-breading that went on.

As we prepared to leave the Parks Marina to head through the narrow and shallow Tangier channel, one of the gems of wisdom we got from a fellow sailor was “Stay between the dotted line on the chart plotter.” People say the darnedest things, don’t they?

Leaving Tangier via channel.

The sail from Tangier to Onancock went smoothly and we soon found ourselves entering the lengthy, crooked channel. Lots of nice yet modest homes lined the channel, some with beautiful green lawns, most with large southern-styled porches and Adirondack chairs sitting out. It took another hour before we were anchored in eight feet of water just west of the town of  Onancock.

After securing the boat and sipping a glass of wine, we rowed ashore to see where from the live music was coming. We sat down at the outside bar of the wharf restaurant, right on the waterfront, within sight of Belle Helene. The grey haired singer-guitarist was playing a lot of 70’s and 80’s soft rock.

Wes rowing around the boat in Onancock.

Preparing crab with a ball peen hammer

Marina area in Onancock

The next day we walked into town to the grocery store to re-supply a few things. On the way back we stopped at a Burger King and used their outside picnic tables to eat our lunch, which consisted of a sandwich, a banana and a Heineken to wash it all down. As we were walking back we were offered a ride back to the boat by one of the locals. Nice folks. He said he was driving around because he was bored. Mildly odd, but the heck - it beat walking all the way back.

Dinner was comprised of a rib eye steak, couscous and salad with a bottle of French Cabernet Sauvignon. Afterwards, we had a glass of tawny port. Can life get any better?

We pulled up anchor at noon the following day after attempting to get propane. Although unsuccessful in that attempt, Wes did find an intriguing wine corker at an antique store that proved to be an irresistible buy.

Motoring on Onancock River

It took a full hour to wind our way back out to the open waters of the Chesapeake. We had planned to sail to the west side to the town of Reedsville, but after noticing that the wind was due west, we opted instead for the northern harbor of Crisfield, about 25 miles north.  

Entering Crisfield harbor

Our morning staple - oatmeal and fruit

Pulling up anchor

Motoring - not a breath of wind

The entrance to Crisfield’s inner harbor is narrow, with a four story condo development on one side and industrial buildings and an open field on the other. Once inside, the harbor is a well protected anchorage with a marina on one end and a Coast Guard station on the other. A few restaurants and bars fill up the remaining spots.

Although Crisfield is the the crab capital of the bay, we passed up the opportunity and instead went on a futile search for propane. Unfortunately, the only provider of propane was too far of a walk and while it would have been nice to have the propane, we were getting by using the barbecue to cook dinner and make coffee.

The following morning we headed north, back to Solomon Island - we had started our slow trek north to Belle Helene’s home port of Havre de Grace. It was a long day of continual motoring but we made the anchorage by 7pm and were sipping a glass of wine at a nearby restaurant accompanied with a dozen oysters by 8:30pm.

Enjoying a dozen oysters 

On the morning of June 21, as we were headed out of the Solomon harbor area, one of the F-18 fighter jets roared overhead as it was on its final approach to Patuxent Naval Airbase. I thought of Joan and Gary’s son, Benjamin, and how just a year ago it could have been Benjamin in the cockpit.

Again the day’s journey consisted of a long motoring trip - there was hardly a puff of wind.  We ended up anchoring south of Annapolis on Caden Creek for the night and left early the next day for the long haul back to Havre de Grace. The weather forecast was for thunder and lightning towards the evening with light winds.

We motored all day and into the evening. By 8pm the weather forecasts were being proven right (for once). The nimbus clouds surrounding us were beckoning rain, thunder and lightning. Soon enough we were in the midst of a torrential downpour served up with a heavy dose of crackling thunder and bolts of lightning. Visibility was less than a hundred yards.

A beautiful sunset

An osprey keeping an eye on us.

One of the historic lighthouses on the bay.

But after about a half hour the weather improved and we were able to see the end of a deep reddish sun setting towards the west. Soon afterwards, we picked up Wes’ mooring in Havre de Grace.

On Saturday we took a drive and visited two local wineries - Dove Valley and Mt. Felix. Dove Valley’s wine turned out to be sub-par, with peculiar aromas and off tastes, particularly their Pinot Noir. Mt. Felix had better wines. They had a very crisp, French-style Chardonnay that was excellent. A couple of their aged, red varietals blends also deserve a mention, but they were a bit pricey. Most of their reds use the Chambourcin grape as the primary grape which they then blend with either Merlot, Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon to make various blends.

Coffee on the porch

Port Deposit

At Dove Valley Winery

View of Wes' home 

View from Mt. Felix tasting room 

Owner of Mt. Felix and his dog

The Bees Nest

Wes with Port Deposit friends 

The owner and his wife were a pleasure to talk to and we had a thoroughly enjoyable visit at their winery. As is so often the case, the owner and his wife have day jobs that afford them the ability to have the winery. A nice hobby.

In the evening, we walked over to the Bee’s Nest and listened to a superb R&B band until late at night. We struck up a conversation with some of the locals that Wes knew and enjoyed some more wine. All in all a nice finish to another successful sailing adventure.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Visit to the National Parks with Erika and Gabi

June 4, 2012

We began our road trip to the national parks with Erika and Gabi on June 4. We took a similar trip last year with our Dutch friends, Maarten and Maria. This time we did it a little differently by making Death Valley's  Stovepipe Wells, our first stop instead of our last. While in Death Valley, we toured Bad Waters and the Artist’s Drive, with a brief stop at Painter’s Palette. Amazing colors of chocolate browns, strawberry, mint green and various other colors mixed throughout. It looked like a tasty dessert.

Bad Waters and salt crystals

Painter's Palette - this photo doesn't do it justice

Next we headed for Zion in Utah, arriving in Springdale in the afternoon. We checked into the Best Western that’s located towards the western side of town with a dramatic view of some of the craggy peaks surrounding Springdale, Utah.

Taking the park's tram to Temple of Siwawa while studying the maps.
The next day we took the shuttle into the park’s reddish canyon taking it all the way up to the Temple of Siwawa. It’s a nice, easy walk next to a river, with lots of interesting rock formations to see along the way. The path ends after about a mile after which one can forge the river towards the Narrows, a slot that’s another mile or so up the canyon. We stopped there as most people do and returned along the same path.

Along the trail

After hiking the Temple of Siwawa trail, we took the park shuttle to the Grotto stop. We hiked along a trail to the Emerald Pools, which lie at the base of the falls. Nice hike with great views of the valley, rock formations and the river below. From there we headed on to the Zion Lodge where a fresh and cool beer awaited us.
The hike from the Grotto to the lodge

Underneath the Emerald Pools

The next day we took a day trip to Bryce Canyon. Where as Zion, one is in the canyon looking upwards to the majestic rock formations, Bryce is more or less the reverse - the drive is along the top of the ridges, with views looking downward. Quite spectacular.

Natural Bridge in Zion

We took the same approach to Bryce as we did with Zion and drove to the far end of the rim drive, and then re-traced our steps, stopping numerous times to absorb the breath-taking views of the pinnacle-like formations known as hooddoos and the valleys below.

View from the rim walk

We took an easy hike along one of the rim trails from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point, that offered spectacular views. The last place we stopped was outside the park at a spot called Fairyland Point. It is interesting because here the hooddoos are very near. We took the opportunity for a short hike into the canyon along a narrow ridge. Marvelous views.

Along the Fairyland Point trail
A view of the Fairyland Point trail

Looking for slots, we found this rather wide one.

Early the next day we checked out of the lodge and headed to Kanab, We used Kanab as a base to see the Grand Canyon. We stayed at a superb bed and breakfast called the Purple Sage in the heart of Kanab. Kathy and Tory run the immaculate B&B. Our hosts were extremely welcoming and offered us the best rooms in the house. 

We break for coffee!
Coral Pink Sand Dunes
The Purple Sage B&B
Erika as she thinks...."Where do I start?"

After checking in, we still had time for a short drive to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, just a few miles out of town. These dunes consist of extra fine grain sand and indeed look pink.It would have been fun to hike through the dunes but it was fairly hot in the sun.

View of the Grand Canyon from trail near the lodge

In the morning, after having a huge breakfast consisting of yogurt, a mammoth platter of fruit, an omelet, toast, orange juice and coffee, we drove to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We toured most of the scenic points available in the North Rim, starting from the lodge overlook and then onward to Cape Royal, Angel‘s Window and Point Imperial. Our personal favorite is the Angel’s Window. It’s dramatic, an easy walk and has great views of the Colorado River. By late afternoon we were saturated and satiated of dramatic views of the canyon and headed back to our B&B in Kanab.

View from near the lodge

View of Angel's Window

On the way back home, I had the misfortune of encountering a sheriff’s squad car, while I was driving through an area that I thought was a 55 mph area. It was a 35mph area. He gave me a slight reprieve by writing me up for only doing 5 miles over the speed limit. Perhaps it was my UC Davis Water Ski team t-shirt that did it. He told me afterwards, that he used to water ski a lot.
In the evening, a glass of wine on the porch.

In the morning Kathy offered us breakfast on the patio. I talked to Tory about what else he does to keep busy. He told me that he was a scout for private hunters of which some pay upwards of $265,000 for a annual hunting permit!!! 

Dream Catcher breakfast area

Backyard art

After breakfast, totally satiated, it was an easy drive to Lake Powell, where we had reservations at the Dream Catcher B&B. We arrived at 1pm - too early for normal check-in. But Eric and Jared were most accommodating. They showed us our rooms, helped us with our luggage and even packed us an ice chest full of premium beers to take with us on our boat excursion we had planned to take on Lake Powell.

On the cruise excursion on Lake Powell.

Getting more narrow at every bend.

View of Lake Powell

The Glen Canyon Dam

Bridge over the Colorado River.

Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ

Horseshoe Bend

It was just a few miles down the road from the B&B to the Lake Powell National Park and the marina docks from where the boat trips leave. We purchased the longer of the two boat trips - a 2 ½ hour tour extravaganza, taking us along narrow inlets, around an island and to the Lake Powell Dam. It was an interesting trip, but we all concluded that the one hour trip would have sufficed.

Before heading back to the inn, we opted for a Mexican dinner and to sightsee the horseshoe-shaped river bend on the Colorado River. The walk to the bend was through loose, sandy terrain with a bit of a grade to it. The round trip distance was about 1.5 miles. With a strong wind, it was not a comfortable walk. But the dramatic sight of the river bend far below us made the arduous trip worth it. 

We got back to the inn late in the evening. Eric and Jared offered us wine and spirits and asked when we wanted breakfast in the morning. I like these B&B’s! With a glass of wine in hand, we walked over to the Jacuzzi that was situated on top of the garage. The stars were numerous.

Dream Catcher B&B living room

I got up early the next morning and found the coffee ready, hot and strong. The breakfast table had been set up to eat on the patio. After all of our gang was up and ready, we had an outstanding breakfast, while we watched Eric feed the large (and chunky) lizards that came around to feast on breakfast scraps. The occasional rabbit would bounce along the back yard too, foraging for its breakfast in the desert landscape of their backyard.

Life imitating art? 

A fabulous breakfast
One of the fat lizards waiting for a handout.

After breakfast we thanked our fabulous hosts and began our drive to Las Vegas. With a brief stop at the Starbucks in St. George, it wasn’t long before we were checking in at the Hotel Paris. Our rooms overlooked the Belagio fountains. 

Gabi diligently working on her tan.

Too many desserts - what a quandary to be in.

 Dinner at Restaurant Mon Ami Gabi

Delicious trout





We mostly used Las Vegas as an R&R stop. We ate well, gambled little and spent the mornings relaxing at the pool. Las Vegas wouldn’t survive on our kind of tourist. One of the evenings, we had the obligatory buffet dinner at the Mirage hotel. On our second evening we had a memorable dinner at Restaurant Bon Ami Gabi, right at our hotel. After two days, we made the long trek home, arriving in Shell Beach about seven hours later. Home sweet home.