The river and marshes are swaddled in fog. Scattered around the cove, I can just see the nearest boats. The far ones not at all. There’s still a breeze, which is odd. Means the fog bank covers a wide area. It’s a grainy fog, almost a mist. Can’t tell if that bell donging is a distant buoy or another boat out in the channel. Coffee will be good this morning.
A catfish in the nearest fish trap along shore leaps and splashes, looking for a way out. I heard splashing all night, and only now see what’s making it. The fish is about as big as my arm, and rolls on the surface.
By the time coffee is ready the shroud has lifted enough to see Phil sitting up in the Curlew. He’s wearing a raincoat. Curt works his yuloh, and sweeps Annie silently over to the Caledonia Yawl.
Rigged up, anchor up, sheet in, Aeon peels off and we sail smooth loops around the others, mostly all sleeping. This is unusual. I’m not an early riser. The gentle rocking of wind and waves, so soothing back at the far end of the cove, were a bit more vigorous just a little farther out, and sleep was more fleeting for the other guys, I hear. Kevin B says it was the worse night for sleep of any he’s had on the water. Still, better to have wind and waves than bugs.
A few of us head back to Dames Quarter Creek for a pit stop and to check the status on the others arriving today. About thirty teenagers mill about on the gravel lot at the dock, gearing up for a day on the water. Some staff from Natural Resources are giving a talk, and a couple of local watermen, too, describing for the kids what to see, what has changed. The kids are volunteers, here to mark a canoe trail through the marsh, a dozen canoes ready to launch.
George is here with a friend, and the Bolger Dovekie is already backed down the ramp. Good thing. It could take a while for all those canoes to launch if you found yourself in line behind them. Two of the guys still to come are having transportation issues. One has a bad alternator, but is in the shop and expects to arrive later. Another has a broken trailer axle, not quickly fixable.
When the Dovekie is rigged and ready we head back out to open water. This day will bring a variety of wind. NE in the morning, steady and mild, only to fade to nothing by noon, then swing around 180 degrees to come single-reef strong from the West, to fade out again at end of day, and change direction and pick up again from the Southeast at dusk. Back and forth, up and down.
We all head upriver, hoping to explore the Wicomico, only to find ourselves wallowing in the noonday sun at the mouth of the river. Sails slap and luff, masts wag slowly “no no no” at the sky.
Some watermen are backing a deadrise against the tide, taking in a drift net. They’re about a mile away, but the air is so still I can hear them talking over the diesel engine. A breath of air comes slowly up from the Bay, just enough to riffle the surface, just enough to get Aeon moving, so I jibe over and ghost back out of the river to have a look.
They finish stripping the net, unfurl it again into the sea, and pass me on their way upriver to haul another. A crewman is tossing bycatch over the side with a snow shovel. They’re probably hunting for Rockfish. Everything else, now dead, goes back in the Bay. I sail in their wake on a trail of floating dead, white bellies like footprints across the water. They bob just under the surface, against the steamed glass that separates their water world from ours.
The wind picks up and Aeon is moving well again, curling up a little bow wave. Kevin B sees I’ve found a breeze in open water, turns out of the river to follow. Soon he catches and passes. The wind builds more, kicking up some chop, and we’re romping along at a good 5 knots. Enough he dodges into a cove to tie in a reef. It’s getting sporting. I luff up and wait, crabbing upwind, then we head off again.
We aim for Dames Quarter Creek for the second of three times today, angling against the wind toward the south shore. We’re both thinking the same thing: This wind may not last, and the tide will turn soon. If we keep going the other way upriver, following the rest of the guys, we could find ourselves up the creek without a breeze, with slow going to get back against the tide.
We see Doug’s tall cream gaff sail gliding above the marsh grass as he cruises out of Dames Quarter. He’s overcome the aforesaid alternator adversity and has a brother-in-law onboard for a rare trip east. We all turn and head out into the Nanticoke.
The wind does fade. Yes, it does. But not before other boats have caught us, and they all make a run to the west, following the sun. I watch them coast to a stop on the horizon as the wind evaporates. The sea goes slick silver calm, the sun sinks into it like a tarnished coin. I can see them all in silhouette, black on silver, as they drop sail and crank up the outboards. I have just enough breeze left to get next to shore and ride a tidal eddy back, and we all meet at the sandbar in the mouth of the creek.
Actually, I meet them on the sandbar. Cutting it close, Aeon eases to a stop in soft sand at the tip of the spit. I hang a foot over the side and shove us over. Kenny marvels that Aeon is sailing in ankle deep water, and calls for a camera; but too late, we’re over, clear, and into the lagoon.
Tomorrow’s forecast has grown steadily worse. Winds to 15 knots is doable, but gusting to 25 not so much. Possible squalls. I will bow out tonight; my drive is too long to wait it out for Sunday. The others will spend the night in the lagoon, maybe hang on another day, see if things improve. They raft up and I grab a group photo, then circle several times and tie up on the end. Dinner, drinks, and more bugs in the quiet evening air.
In the dusk we say goodbyes and I row over to the ramp. The watermen’s deadrise from earlier in the day is tied up at the dock, that big spool of drift net behind the doghouse. By the time I get loaded up the wind shift has come again as predicted, another 180 degrees, and is freshening.
No bugs tonight.
Distance Traveled: 14.5 miles
Max Sustained Speed: 5.4 knots
Elapsed Time: 6 hours 42 minutes