Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

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Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby Fernando » Tue Apr 06, 2021 12:03 am

Has anyone tried to sail around the Chesapeake bay in a dinghy / DS?

Thinking of the bay more like a wide river than a round bay, we can imagine sailing up river, say, from Baltimore to Havre De Grace. Then down river on the east coast to the mouth of the bay. Then back up river on the western shore to Baltimore.

Grateful for any references to anyone who has done it, written up about it.
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby tomodda » Tue Apr 06, 2021 11:05 am

Quick question, where do you live? Have you sailed the Chesapeake Bay before? I LOVE the Chesapeake Bay and will be happy to respond to your question and write ad infinitum about the Bay, but wanted to know what you have in mind first. Quick answer - I don't know of anyone who's "circumnavigated" the Bay in a DS. Not that you cant but the camping aboard is difficult though not impossible (it's a DAY sailor). Similar trips are done all the time, I've done the Annapolis out to the Chesapeake Light Tower and Back race in a Hunter 50 (in the early '80s). But the real beauty of the Bay are all the side-trips, tributaries and bays. You can spend a lifetime there, aprox 150 rivers and creeks flow directly in to the Bay, with countless sub-tributaries. You are still shopping for a DS (best of luck!) but once you have her, may I suggest side-trips to get started? From South to North, check out the Mobjack Bay, Choptank, Miles River/Eastern Bay... any of those is a multi-day expedition in itself and have places of great beauty.

Fair Winds!
Last edited by tomodda on Tue Apr 06, 2021 3:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby Fly4rfun » Tue Apr 06, 2021 3:03 pm

Interested in this as i am considering going over to explore that area to do some sailing
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby tomodda » Tue Apr 06, 2021 3:28 pm

As I've written before, let me know when you're ready and let's meet up. One thing that works well with our DS's is to just rent an airbnb in a good location then toss the boat in at one of the many public (free!) ramps. Then either daysail and pull it out at end of day, or park it in a marina for relatively cheap.

I've got a trip planned for late September doing exactly that - rented a house in Urbanna, my son is coming down from Philly, some friends may come up from NC and we'll putter around the local creeks and towns. The season is good for sailing till late October, so assuming everyone vaccinated by then (I have my second shot next week!) I'd be happy to split a house with some forum-members for a long weekend. Think about it, we can nail it down in the summer sometime. Likewise, May and June are good on the Bay if you're ready, perfect time for Northern Bay (above the Potomac). If you want to "get your feet wet," lets do the Upper Patuxent, or the South River/Rhodes River area. Lot's of great spots for "multi-daysailing."

In the meantime, for Fernando and anyone else interested, read Steve Earley's blog - he's been sailing the Bay in an open boat (Welsford Pathfinder) for years. At 17'4", it's very close in size to our boats, but a WHOLE different animal. More displacement, more freeboard, more space overall. Slower too, of course but there are always tradeoffs. Nevertheless, Steve has had some amazing adventures up and down the Mid-Atlantic, and he shows you the Art of the Possible on a small boat:

http://logofspartina.blogspot.com/
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby Fly4rfun » Tue Apr 06, 2021 6:53 pm

Tom, I would be open for that, it would be good experience for me, and a chance to learn more about the boat from old hands
G.
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby Fernando » Tue Apr 06, 2021 11:30 pm

tomodda wrote:Quick question, where do you live? Have you sailed the Chesapeake Bay before?!


I live in DC but moving to Severna Park later this month. I grew up sailing every week of the year but then jobs and travel got in the way. Other than a charter in the BVI a decade ago, and renting a Flying Scott out of the DC Sailing Marina every once in a blue moon, I have not sailed much. But with the move to the bay, my hope is to start sailing again :D .

I agree that short 0.5-3 day sails are probably ideal. That is probably what I'll do most of the time (after I get a boat...). Would love to hear any suggestions you may have in the Annapolis area, and connect for group sails. One aspect I like about a DS is that it is trailerable. Makes it easier to explore other areas of the Bay.

What I have never done before is dinghy cruising. I've been watching some videos by Roger Barnes, of the Dinghy Cruising Association, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJzhO5yoaGw as well as as Tim https://ilur.tumblr.com/. Both sail Ilurs https://smallboatsmonthly.com/article/ilur/, which are French kit boats based on traditional work boats from Brittany, France. As you say, more spacious, simpler, and also slower. I think a DS is a nice compromise, and way more affordable :)

This being said, I also like to have a challenge in the back of my mind. And the idea of planing a "circumnavigation" of the Bay sounds like a lot of fun -- even for an armchair sailor! How long might it take, roughly? Not that I would want to rush it but I only have so many days of holidays. Nor do I plan on an "endurance" type of sail. There would be stops and refreshments along the way. Would love to hear your thoughts.
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby tomodda » Wed Apr 07, 2021 12:40 am

Ok, gotcha. Hope your new home is near the Magothy. Not my favorite river (too many houses! too many stinkpots! Jetskis, ugh) but it can be pretty. Plenty of nice sailing spots in day driving distance of you, though. The limiting factor is pretty much the boatramps, there's never as many as we'd like... with parking, without insane fees (I'm looking at you, Talbot County), and at reasonable distance from good sailing grounds. But they're out there, all it takes is a bit of planning.

As for a "circumChessiegation," well.. crawl, walk, then run, take it slow, huh? From NorthEast River to Cape Henry is 200 miles, straight line. Figure 500 miles for a circle route, and that's without really going up any tributaries. Steve Earley did a 460-mile Chesapeake trip last year, Eastern Shore only, took him 21 days. So that gives you a ballpark. Without getting into too many gruesome scenarios, the real problem with such a trip is being in a hurry, trying to "make miles," trying to meet deadlines (such as work). That causes you to try and sail in marginal conditions when you should just wait it out, leading to mistakes - deadly mistakes. Which is what I call a very complicated and expensive way to drown, you'd save yourself a lot of aggravation just jumping into the local creek holding a cinderblock in your hands.

Anyway, it's late (midnightish here) and I'm being morbid. Dinghy cruising is great, but the margin for error is MUCH smaller than in a "big boat." You need to plan and sail VERY conservatively. What's OK for a daytrip (pounding upwind for 8 hours thru a hollow chop, for instance) can lead to deadly mistakes when you finish your day exhausted, searching for a secure anchorage in the dark, rather than pulling your boat out and sleeping at home. You need years of shorter trips to understand the difference between a safe trip and being a hair too far "over the edge." So, please take it slow. I've never overnighted my DS, but have done a good bit of camp-cruising on a Hobie 16. Same rules apply. On a positive note, one trick from back when I did a lot of cruising - start early! Wake up before dawn, get the hook up as soon as it's light enough to see. Sail till 3PM, 5PM max then anchor, beach, or get a slip, get your campsite or "night mode" sorted out. Well before you're tired, well before dark, well before anyone else takes up the good spots, plenty of "time buffer" for any unknowns. Then spend the late afternoon enjoying the scenery, swimming, fishing, reading... isn't that the REASON we're sailboat cruising? Enjoy it!

I'll share some ideas on local cruising spots maybe tomorrow. But one of my favorite trips in your area is Severn River/Spa Creek (Truxton Park), around Thomas Point, up South River and into the cove on Harness Creek (38°56'03.0"N 76°30'25.3"W). You get a little bit of all the best that the Bay has to offer. Funny thing is what's 2 miles on land is 12-15 by sea. So it may take all day, but you can anchor then swim ashore and Uber/Walk back to your car. Do it all in reverse the next day! Or do it out of Mayo, less distance. The great advantage of the DS is it'll go into much skinnier water than most other boats want to deal with. For instance, the bar in front of the Harness Creek Cove keeps most of the idiots out but is absolutely no big deal for our DS's. So use this "superpower" to your advantage!
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby GreenLake » Thu Apr 08, 2021 4:10 am

Fascinating. I've visited the area a few times, but from the land side only. Love following your discussion.
~ green ~ lake ~ ~
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby Fernando » Tue Apr 13, 2021 12:43 am

tomodda wrote:As for a circumChessiegation, well.. crawl, walk, then run, take it slow, huh?


Rest assured. I don't plan to buy a beat up boat and set off on a 500 mile circumnavigation the next day.

I agree with the need for preparation, and caution. A dinghy is more exposed to the elements, and physically demanding.

At the same time you are often closer to shore, which in the bay is often a soft, muddy one.

Regarding time I certainly would not want to rush it. At the same time a circumnavigation has to have some sense of purpose. Going up every creek is great for day sailing. However, it would make the round trip years long. After all, if you stretch out the length of Bay coastline, it is longer than the West coast of the USA. Here is another datum. Frank Dye, on his 16ft Wayfarer class dinghy Wanderer, made 600 miles in 11 days (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Dye). Admittedly that was in the open ocean. But at least we now have a ballpark range of 11-25 days. We could now spend hours looking at charts, and prevailing winds, and currents but my guess is the final number will be in that range.

Not a bad guess for 5 minutes of banter :) .
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby GreenLake » Tue Apr 13, 2021 2:38 am

The Texas 200 covers 200 miles in 5 days - with winds that tend to be "ideal" because of the direction of prevailing winds. Just factor that in.
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby tomodda » Tue Apr 13, 2021 12:29 pm

Fernando:

Here's wishing you best of luck finding a suitable boat for yourself, be it Daysailer or megayacht. Fun to dream, but get yourself out on the water first, no?

I wrote earlier that I'd list some of my favorite cruising grounds in the Chessie, so here we go, pretty much from North to South, and from memories of many past sails. Trying to write a positive and negative about each trip. Any of these places would be wonderful for a few days puttering around on a properly-equipped DaySailer:

Bohemia River, Sassafras River, and the little side creeks inbetween. Beautiful area, avoid in the summer though! (no wind, too many stinkpots) September is best.

Rockhall and Points North. Go creek hopping up the Eastern Shore to Still Pond Creek. That sounds like a great weekend to me and right across the Bay from you. Great swimming spots, mind the jellyfish though!

Rockhall and Points South/East. Go up the Chester. Queenstown is an obligatory stop, but so many great side-creeks. West Fork of Langford is one of the prettiest creeks on the Bay. Make a cruise of it, go all the way to Chesterton. Only "snake in paradise" here is dealing with a winding river, you're sure to have the wind against you somewhere.

Notice I haven't mentioned the Western Shore above the Magothy. I've never liked it, but I could be wrong. Too urban (Baltimore and environs), too many restrictions (Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and I've sailed by during artillery practice, not fun), or too shallow and boring (Head of the Bay, going to Havre). On a positive note, the very top of the Bay, off Perry Point, has the only natural rock obstruction (an actual ROCK, not rip-rap) in the entire Chesapeake, hitting it makes you appreciate the mud and sand everywhere else (don't ask me how I know).

Eastern Bay up to St Michael's and Beyond - Great Sailing! Always a fair wind coming out of somewhere. And lot's to explore - Cox Creek, Wye River, up the Miles, visit St Mike's, the Maritime Museum. Added Bonus, you can sneak thru the Kent Narrows to the Chester, making it a two-fer. If you're ever serious about doing a Chesapeake circumnavigation, this is the place to practice, and right on your doorstep. Snakes in paradise? With a strong westerly wind, the Eastern Bay will kick up a real snotty chop, among the worst in the Chessie. And due to it's shape, there's usually a cross-sea too and gawd forbid if you have wind against tide. Try Kent Point in a Southwest gale, or running for shelter before a line of squalls off Poplar Island.... As I wrote, this is the place to practice your circumnavigation!

That's it for today, let me know if this is useful at all. If so, I'll write more.

Tom
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Re: Sailing around the Chesapeake Bay

Postby tomodda » Tue Apr 13, 2021 3:53 pm

P.S. Rereading my own post, I'm really not writing what I'm thinking.... Apologies for bring all "I've seen ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion," but yes, I do mean to scare you a bit. The Chesapeake is beautiful, but no joke. Comparing a trip around it in a DaySailer to Frank Dye's North Sea crossing is totally apples-and-oranges. For instance, you can't compare miles/day because it's a completely different type of sailing and weather patterns. Most importantly you can't compare survivability of a capsize with a Wayfarer - the DS1 is well-nigh impossible to self-rescue and the DS2/3 very difficult. Most of the Bay has less than 22' depth, so you can add getting your mast stuck if you turn turtle, pounded off if there's any chop. Yes, the shorelines are "soft" but once you're up in Tangier Sound or Hooper Strait, you may as well be on the Moon - there's no-one to help you and no-where to run. It's not a question of "looking at charts and prevailing winds," it's what are you going to do when it all goes "pear-shaped"? If and when you do get a DaySailer please think very carefully about what she can and can't do, and why. The DS is meant to be sailed light. Load her up with 20 days of supplies and gear and water and she becomes a death trap in any rougher seas, especially the Chesapeake's high frequency, short wavelength, steep waves, aka "chop." They may not be tall (8 feet at the extreme most, more typically 4 or 5 in a storm), but you don't want to be wallowing around under one as it breaks! What corners will you cut to stay light? Engine? Spare drinking water? A good anchor with rode and chain? The risks start adding up fast. Stick to 3-4 day trips, spend that "weight cost" on a good anchor.
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