It’s Thursday, instead of the weekend, so we have the ramp to ourselves.
Some of the guys are already there. Pete and Ron are rigging up. Kenny is launching.
Phil is in the water and motoring about, burning a winter’s worth of gunk out of his carburetor. He’s got a custom inboard in his Curlew. Actually a lawn mower engine. He’s an engineer by trade, so this is maybe the third motor in this boat. The other two were fine; but, you know, guys like to tinker. This one is the best yet, he tells me. It’s surprisingly quiet, but it’s going so fast it looks like he’s in need of a water skier. The boat nearly planes back and forth in front of the dock. There’s no clutch, however – clutches are non-essential gear for woosies – so if you’re on board you should be sitting down when he starts it up. And, of course, no reverse. I had a ’67 Ford LTD like that. Parking required strategic planning well in advance.
We’re waiting for Kevin, who is on his way somewhere between Baltimore and nowhere. There’s no rush. It’s a nice spot. Quiet and isolated, stuck off in the marshes. Another house has fallen down here, just behind the ramp. The roof and gable all that’s visible above the reeds.
Like most creeks around the Bay, there’s a sandbar across the mouth of the creek, and you can see it from here. A long white tongue where birds gather at low tide. Also common, there’s a good anchorage behind it.
This is my first time in the water since last Fall. Launching sooner rather than later is prudent. Gives one the opportunity to remember what you’ve forgotten in the intervening months. Pete concurs. “Oh yeah, right. I was going to fix that last year.” Better to get that part out of the way before you leave the dock. I’m also the slowest at whatever, always, and need a head start on everything.
For an hour or so I tack back and forth in Dames Quarter Creek, up against the marsh and back.
We’ll stay nearby tonight – there are others arriving tomorrow and we’ll need to meet up with them – but will go as far as we can and back in a day. About 16 miles, it turns out.
Kevin arrives and launches quickly, as always. Wow he’s fast. Heading out of the creek we pass Phil and Kenny who landed on the sandbar for a look around. Out in the mouth of the Wicomico there’s a steady 10 knot breeze coming out of the WSW that will last until sundown. Warm and sunny. Pretty close to perfect.
The day is filled with long easy reaches and runs. Briefly we head out into the broad water of the Nanticoke, an area behind the outer islands forming Tangier Sound. From there we get a glimpse of Curt in Annie and Kevin M. and Mike crossing over from Smith Island, where they spent the night. But the wind is lighter here. We round a buoy and head back into the Wicomico around Great Shoals. The Smith Island boys chase us upriver, and we reach back and forth into a Ellis Bay and out until they catch up.
When the sun gets low so does the wind. I’m spending too much time taking photos, falling farther and farther behind. It’s rather pleasant and quiet. Going upwind is not a sprits’ls strong point, anyway, and I don’t even bother with having the board down. Eventually Pete comes looking for me and suggests a tow so I can get in by breakfast. Obadiah’s sail is about four times as big as mine.I assume he means tow with a motor, anyway. I decline, but put the camera down, and the board, and take up sailing with more seaman like earnestness.
The wind dies completely before we all get to the lee of Stump Point Marsh, where someone has the bright idea we’ll anchor for the night. I’m rowing directly into what used to be the wind with the sail still up. I hear Kevin B. crank up his outboard across the bay and start towing Ron behind.
It’s a pretty spot, but in the flaccid evening air the blood sucking bugs converge on us like monkey men in OZ. We up anchor and beat feet. The motorized pull the motorless, and we head in a convoy back across to the south shore on a slick calm, going not quite fast enough to outrun the bugs, which follow along behind in a visible cloud like we’re trailing smoke.
Still, it’s a pleasant ride. From my vantage point behind Kenny I can finally focus on taking photos. I really should just give up this sailing stuff and just go along as a passenger on somebody else’s boat.
Kevin B. drops anchor a spot in the bosom of another marsh, which is no less buggy, maybe even more so. But apparently we’re not moving again. There’s a wind shift expected this evening, and we just hope it comes before we’re all bloodless desiccated husks.
When I say bugs, allow me to explain to those of you not familiar with wetlands in the South: Mosquitos are one thing. They’re actually pretty big. Netting keeps them out, and bug spray usually repels them. We’ll take your mosquitos any day. Here we have something called Noseeums – so called because they are so small and light-colored you can’t spot them. So small they squeeze through fine mesh screens. And they are ambivalent regarding chemical warfare.
In Georgia the only thing that keeps them away is a quarter inch layer of rancid pluff mud, or Avon Skin-So-Soft. Basically, there is no escape. They get in your eyes and nose and ears and mouth and hair and clothes. Even show up in photos and video, like there’s something wrong with the cameras.
This much I can assure you: My wife’s organic Burt’s Bees® All Natural Herbal Insect Repellant is far less effective at keeping these things away than a ball peen hammer to the head, which, if employed judiciously, completely masks the sensation of bug bites.
Drowning oneself mercifully comes to mind with alarming speed and clarity. We’re all getting really twitchy really fast. It’s dinner time, when we finally get a chance to talk. It’s one of the highlights of the trip. But nobody is enjoying any of this. Curt makes a valiant effort to tough it out, but retreats to the only closed cabin among the fleet: his. Bastard. The rest of us resort to heavy drinking. Which helps, by the way.
About the time the sun goes down the wind sidles around 90 degrees and suddenly picks up. All it takes is about 5 knots of breeze and the little buggers are blown away. It swings around another 90 degrees and holds at about 10 knots all night. We’re saved!
not spots on the lens, gnats in the air
Scattered around the little creek after dark, no need for a tent, the stars are bright. Waves lap the hull. The boat swings slowly back and forth on the tether. It’s like sleeping in a big cradle.
Distance Traveled: 16.5 miles
Max Sustained Speed: 4.8 knots
Elapsed Time: 6 hours 32 minutes