Ospreys, Bugs, Mud, and Calm

The Chesapeake Bay is a beautiful place to have a boat.  There are thousands of miles of coastline, you could cruise here for a lifetime and still see a new anchorage whenever you wanted to.

This time of year is the beginning of breeding season for the Ospreys.  In the last few days we have seen far more of these amazing birds that we have seen seagulls.  Not that there is anything wrong with being a seagull…

Every daymark and fixed navigation light on the bay has its resident osprey nest, a huge pile of large sticks.  Once the eggs are laid, the nest is under constant surveillance by one parent of the other all the time.  I imagine an unattended osprey chick would be just the thing to attract one of the local Bald Eagles.

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We get the stink-eye for sailing a bit too close to the channel marker this osprey calls home.

The Osprey, and a whole host of creatures here in the bay are here because of the huge number of menhaden, a large herring like fish that school in these waters in huge numbers.  Depending on where you are from, they are also called mossbunker, bunker, pogy, bony-fish, hard-head, Bug-fish, bug-head, Fat-back, Yellow-tail, yellow-tailed shad, green-tail, and probably other names.

There is a large fleet of 170 foot long purse-seine boats that roam the bay scooping up menhaden by the ton.  They locate a school of fish, frequently with the help of a spotter airplane, and use a pair of small boats to pull a net around them.  The bottom of the net is snugged tight, and the whole school is then winched onboard.

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A menhaden purse-seiner recovers her dories after pulling in her nets.

Anchoring here in the bay is different than we have gotten used to in our months in the Bahamas. In the islands we were always anchored in clean sand.  The anchor typically came up cleaner than it went down.  Here the bottom is sticky, cohesive mud. It clogs the anchor chain, and requires careful attention to rinse off before it gets into the chain locker.  Another complication, is the bottom is frequently composed of a layer of very soft gooey mud on top, with hard, dense pack silt under.  It takes time for the anchor to find a bite in the underlying layer, and the top layer is too soft to hold.  If you pull on the anchor right after you drop it, it just plows through the soft layer on the surface, but after sitting overnight, the windlass struggles to pull it free of the deeper layers it has sunken into.

When we visited here in the ast, it has always been in the fall.  With the approaching usmmer, we are picking up new cruising skills.  We are learning to be SURE that we have the boat buttoned up and fully screened at least an hour before sunset.  The number of mosquitos here is pretty spectacular.  I have seen places where they are thicker, but not as far out on the water as we usually anchor.

Another aspect of summer on this bay is there is little or no wind–except in the thunderstorms.  Now, to be fair I am exaggerating–a bit. But we have put more hours on our engine in the last week than we have in the previous three months.

Any negatives aside, the scenery is beautiful, the grocery stores are well stocked, the anchorages are delightful, and the people are friendly.  Can’t get any better than that (unless they kill the mosquitos!)

We are waiting out a rainy, blustery day on a mooring off downtown Annapolis, and will be moving to Back Creek in a few days, once again we are going to run through our project list and skim off the cream.

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Landed!

We arrived and anchored off the short of Norfolk in a drenching rain yesterday afternoon. We are anchored off the large Navy base here.  We can see three aircraft carriers from our deck and during the day we are entertained by a steady stream of helicopters to-ing and fro-ing from the airbase.

Once again, as soon as we arrived, we tried to check in with Customs and Border Patrol. Once again we found the staff friendly, but completely ignorant about what to do with a private boat arriving from a foreign country.  This time we decided not to fight the system, but accept the word of the Customs officer we spoke to that we had complied with the rules, and we were done.

He first asked for our cruising permit number.  I explained (again) we were a US flagged vessel and neither had one, nor needed one. He asked for the name of the boat, and our decal number, proving that we had paid our annual Customs fee, and… that was it!

Not one question about what goods we had on board. Not one question about who, or even how many how many people were on board, if they were all US citizens, or—anything! Now, I am all for reduced government interference in my life, but this really makes me wonder what the heck we are paying these people to do!

In every case we have gone through this process–outside of Florida and Puerto Rico–I have known more about the procedures and rules than the Customs officers I was dealing with.  We filed all our required online notifications, and made the calls we were required to make, and fully complied with all of the instructions we were given.  But I know the proper procedures were not followed.  If our next blog post is datelined Fort Leavenworth, you’ll know why…

With that rant done…

We said good by this morning to our crew so they can head on to Maine to get back to work.  It was a real delight having Alicia and Annie along.  Hopefully we can catch up to them later this summer in the cold waters of Maine.

Karen did a quick swing by the grocery store this morning to restock the galley.  We will be heading up the Chesapeake to Annapolis where we will be having mostly minor boat repairs and maintenance done before we head further north.

Now the part you all have been waiting for…  Pictures!

First a short slide show of Karen’s photos from Cape Eleuthera, including one of her favorite shelling beaches:

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And then photos from our passage north with Alicia and Annie:

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Closing in…

Time 27May18, 1430 local
Lat N 35° 14.1’
Lon W 75° 07.0′
Nautical miles from Cape Eleuthera Marina, Bahamas: 627
Nautical miles to Norfolk Harbor, Virginia: 118

We covered miles quickly riding the Gulf Stream north. With a variety of sights to see. We have just turned the corner around Cape Hatteras on our final reach toward the entrance of Chesapeake Bay. We should be anchor-down in Norfolk this time tomorrow.

In the category of new phenomenon observed was a miniature waterspout. The weather was settled, some scattered clouds, and moderate winds when we saw a swirling spray of wind whipped water about 100 feet across and similarly high. It lasted for about 15 minutes moving on a course parallel to ours.

[…Insert writing break here to land and clean a 25lb mahi-mahi…]

We sailed past a feeding school of small tuna, who left our trolled offerings unmolested.

Yesterday we also hooked, fought, and lost boatside a nice mahi-mahi. Today, we put one in the freezer. Hooked once again on our go-to lure: a 4inch plain cedar plug.

Our return to “civilization” is apparent by the suddenly crowded ocean. Cargo ships, commercial and recreational fishing vessels, cruise ships, military craft of various sizes, suddenly it doesn’t feel like our own private ocean anymore.

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Stepping on the conveyor belt

Time 26May18, 0830 local
Lat N 31° 59.8’
Lon W 77° 09.5′
Nautical miles from Cape Eleuthera Marina, Bahamas: 432
Nautical miles to Norfolk Harbor, Virginia: 301

Yesterday’s excitement was when we supplied about 15 minutes of entertainment to a school of a dozen spinner dolphin. I think we noticed them first as they were lounging on the surface dead ahead of us. When the boat got within about 100 yards they suddenly darted toward us and set up station bow-riding. They had fun riding along with the boat, we had fun watching. Definitely a win-win for everybody!

Within the past couple of hours we have moved onto the eastern fringes of the Gulf Stream, which is now adding about one knot to our boat speed. For most of the remaining miles north we’ll be riding it for a significant speed boost.

At this point all of our routing models have us arriving at the mouth of the Chesapeake on the afternoon of the 28th.

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A slow crawl

Time 25May18, 0830 local
Lat N 29° 58.9’
Lon W 77° 10.0′
Nautical miles from Cape Eleuthera Marina, Bahamas: 312
Nautical miles to Norfolk Harbor, Virginia: 402

It’s not fair to say the weather has failed us, it has been beautiful. Sunny, clear, warm, bordering on hot, breezes steady. The problem has been those “steady” breezes have been slow and steady. Enough to move us at 2 to 4 knots. The weather forecasts have been promising more wind “tomorrow” for about three days. We might have to breakdown and motor for a few hours…

Otherwise, it is beautiful, empty ocean sailing. We were visited by a small flock of tropicbirds for an hour yesterday. Also, a very odd visitor, considering we are almost 200 miles from the nearest land: a large butterfly.

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A slow crawl

Time 0830 local
Lat N 29° 58.9’
Lon W 77° 10.0′
Nautical miles from Cape Eleuthera Marina, Bahamas: 312
Nautical miles to Norfolk Harbor, Virginia: 402

It’s not fair to say the weather has failed us, it has been beautiful. Sunny, clear, warm, bordering on hot, breezes steady. The problem has been those “steady” breezes have been slow and steady. Enough to move us at 2 to 4 knots. The weather forecasts have been promising more wind “tomorrow” for about three days. We might have to breakdown and motor for a few hours…

Otherwise, it is beautiful, empty ocean sailing. We were visited by a small flock of tropicbirds for an hour yesterday. Also, a very odd visitor, considering we are almost 200 miles from the nearest land: a large butterfly.

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Uneventful days at sea

Time 1900 local
Lat N 27° 50.4’
Lon W 77° 10.0′
Nautical miles from Cape Eleuthera Marina, Bahamas: 186
Nautical miles to Norfolk Harbor, Virginia: 549

We are churning out the miles at a reasonable pace in delightful weather as we slowly settle into a routine of keeping the boat moving. Today was hot, bright, and sunny and we are sailing pretty much downwind, so breeze on deck is light. Below decks when we are closed up for sailing can be pretty stuffy. Fortunately, things cool off nicely as the sun sets.

The ocean is calm, winds off our quarter at 12 knots, and the water is that indescribable color of the deep ocean. Our most exciting wildlife setting came late last night as the setting moon cast a shimmering reflection on the water. A large pod of dolphins jumping clear of the water was silhouetted against the silver glow.

Sailing in the This part of the ocean there is so much floating weed I haven’t tried trolling lines yet. Maybe tomorrow!

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