Ragged Mountain Natural Area
postcards from the road
I have changed the way I do MASCF. I now only take a tent and a sleeping bag – no stove, no provisions. Just sailing gear, a cooler and libations. Easier. After a fitful night of sleeping among the sonorous snorers of St. Michaels (I now pack earplugs every year) at dawn one can go to the Steamboat House for cheap coffee and donuts (gratis), or walk a few pleasant blocks through the morning mist in town, and get a good coffee and omelette for a few bucks. At The Blue Crab cafe, where one is apt to meet fellows of like mind and demeanor.
On the walk back, take a shower and a stroll along the docks.
Another change made over the years is to begin sailing as soon as possible. I used to hang around the museum for all the events, which are fun, but that meant I was often late getting on the water. Now I go sailing right after breakfast and don’t come back until time for dinner. It’s wonderful sailing, with beautiful boats coming and going to make a stunning view.
Zigzag along the docks – an appreciative audience waves and takes photos. In small boats like mine the technical challenge of threading docks and the mooring field is fun, hones handy skills. Reach across the Miles River when the wind is up, break free of the crowd to take deep breaths again, the sound of wind and waves absent of human chatter.
There’s a certain logic to this. The festival has become so well attended that finding dock space is like playing musical chairs. The moment you move a boat to use it, another will slide in to take your place. Someone is always circling nearby, looking for a slip. Once you slip the lines and pull out, may as well stay out.
Around noon the fleet will embark and swarm out to you in earnest. Boats everywhere. You will have missed the instructions for the race course, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t care, primarily, and secondly the course will likely change, as is it does today. There is so little wind today at the start, the committee shrewdly at the last minute shortens the course by half. As I’ve said before, it’s not a race, it’s a parade. Prizes will be awarded, true, but not just to the fastest boats.
After the race, many who have not been on the water all day will stay out, remembering again how nice it is to be free of land. “Oh, right, this is nice.” There’s a lot of cruising in close company to admire each other’s boats. The last of the cold front that brought the rain last night drains away, the skies clear, barely enough wind left to fill a light sail.
Then dinner, always a pleasant affair with congratulations, and much giving of thanks. It’s a devout congregation. A sort of religion, the people of small hand-made boats, and a tent revival. Very Quaker. The gods are fickle, but the ministers are kind.
After dinner, Webb Chiles gave a talk this year. He does routinely what few of us would do, ever, though some might like to. Around the world alone, over and over, in a too small boat. The “monastery of the sea” he aptly calls it.
Steve sent a text saying if I arrive in time, meet at the Chesapeake Crab and Steakhouse for dinner.
There I found him, with Webb, Curt, and Tom. First order of business was to recount how each of us had come here. Tom had trailered his Pathfinder 1300 miles all the way up from the Florida Keys. Webb, of course, had sailed in Gannet most of the way around the world to get here, dodging a hurricane on the way. Steve started in Cambridge and sailed Spartina for two weeks on a circuitous route of about 300 miles. Curt started on the western shore and sailed Annie across the shipping channel in the dark from Shady Side, Maryland. I weathered DC rush hour traffic towing a boat and risked aggravating Homeland Security.
So, for all of us, the trip to St. Michaels was an adventure of trials and tribulations. Being mariners all, some of us approaching ancient, the telling of the tale is part of the package. Mine would have seemed more adventurous in other company. Except perhaps for Tom, though, all would choose their tribulations over mine.
After dinner I found Dave Gentry and pitched a tent in the dark and rain. The campsites had filled up more than I’ve seen on a Thursday. I understand they had the most people ever on the Wye Island gunk hole trip. And Kristen, the museum president, was on her way back from solo-ing in a kayak for 60 miles around Kent Island.
Friday morning was cool and breezy as a front blew out the rain. Good sailing. Took a bunch of photos of boats along the docks, then launched Caesura and spent the day on the water, returning in time for the traditional festival kickoff of steamed crabs and raw oysters.
I’m going to tell you about the fine time had at MASCF this year, I swear. First you have to hear about the terrible time getting there.
On a good day, the drive would take four hours. On this day it took six.
Things were still going fine when I passed Dave Gentry in Fredericksburg. He had two of his skin-on-frame canoes on top of the car, so was easy to spot. A honk and a cheerful wave. Dave only lives a couple of miles up the road, but somehow we meet more often at boating events than around town. (Neither of us is sure this is a bad thing.) He was also enroute to St. Michaels.
We’re running a little late. Anyone who lives anywhere near Washington, DC, knows you don’t want to be within 50 miles of it during rush hour. Which is more like rush four hours – it starts at 3 and lasts to 7. But with a little luck we’d be on the far side of DC by the time the worst traffic ramped up. That luck went the other way, literally.
If you use mapping apps, you know software engineers keep trying to make them smarter. For years they’ve tracked the speed of cars moving slower than normal and warn you when there’s a problem ahead. Gives you the opportunity to plan your route differently. Very handy.
Then they started suggesting alternate routes while you’re underway. This was more intrusive, but still helpful. In Google Maps, the voice assistant would say “Tap if you want to accept this new route.” I rarely took these alternate routes, because the time saved was minimal, and it was dangerous to try to grab the phone while driving and find and tap the button before it disappeared. Just wasn’t worth it.
Well, apparently, that function changed with the last update. Now, regardless of what route you planned to take, Google will automatically reroute you. That’s the default. Now the message says, “Tap if you don’t want to accept the new route.” There are multiple problems with this. Let me innumerate them:
I did not know these things as I blithely wended my way towards the gaping maw of our nation’s capitol. The app worked fine before.
So at 3:30 when the little voice assistant said, “There’s a slow down ahead. You can save 11 minutes by taking this alternate route,” I ignored her to reject it. Moments later, I suddenly found myself in an exit only lane on my way toward the Pentagon, which closes at 3pm precisely because the 23,000 people who work there swamp all of DC with traffic so badly, all by themselves, they have to close early.
I, as a human with a modicum of experience, knew this. Apparently, the app does not know this. And does not know that with excruciating predictability the traffic in DC is about to explode. Nor does it know that I am towing a boat on a trailer. I, however, do know this.
Within moments I’m penned in on all sides next to the Pentagon by angry aggressive drivers, caught like a stick in a current flowing right toward the center of DC and the National Mall.
Well, I would have seen the Capitol, except Google didn’t know I was towing a boat on a trailer, and I didn’t know that since 9/11 trailers are not allowed on Independence Avenue within several blocks of it. I found out this little detail when, around 4pm with the roads jammed with cars, police suddenly swarmed off the sidewalk toward me waving their arms and blowing whistles, and a patrol car whipped out across six lanes of traffic to block my way with lights flashing and sirens whooping.
There, in the middle of an intersection, blocking a total of nine jammed up lanes of angry traffic, surrounded by armed police persons, it was explained to me that I could not move one foot further forward.
They cleared the intersection and made me do a 270 u-turn right there, with the trailer, heading off somewhere into south DC and into the narrow one lane neighborhoods of Capitol Hill. All the while Google kept saying “Rerouting, make a u-turn, return to the route,” trying to send me back to the armed police officers.
From the time Google Maps took me off the highway to save 11 minutes, it took me 2 hours to get out of DC and back to where I would have been if I’d just stayed on the route planned.
Around dark, as I was rolling into St. Michaels, Dave Gentry called to see where I was. He had just arrived. He, too, had been rerouted into DC along the same “faster” path.