I jumped up and squealed when I saw the pelican dive down into the placid, silver-plated waters of the Chesapeake on a cool November morning. My friend looked at me carefully and said, “You haven’t been this far down the Bay in a long time, have you?”
Truth. We live on our sailboat. We get out all we can during the season, but we’re at a stage where kids and work and schedules dictate the small golden windows of opportunity when we can sneak away for a day or two on our St. Francis 44 catamaran. We’re guilty of hitting the same anchorages and destinations again and again, because we know they’re kid friendly and dog friendly and will get us home in time for whatever we have scheduled the next day. For the last 11 years all of the sailing I’ve done has been while pregnant, breastfeeding, diaper changing, bum wiping, snack serving, or kid wrangling. Not exactly magazine cover sailing fantasy sort of stuff.
A friend asked if I would crew on his Leopard 48 catamaran from Annapolis to Portsmouth, VA, where they would prep for the ARC Caribbean 1500. I jumped at the chance. A sweet boat with all of the bells and whistles, a good friend whom I trust, and the chance to sail without my kids. Heck yeah! Don’t get me wrong. I am all for family sailing and showing the kids the joys of boat life, but when that’s the only kind of sailing you’ve done in a decade, it’s nice to switch gears. As a boat-schooling mom, I was looking forward to a little time off from the daily grind.
Casting off on a dead calm day, we motored along at eight knots gliding across the glassy waters. The sun never quite seemed to rise all the way, hanging low and sprinkling perpetual sparkles on the surface of the Bay. I couldn’t help but notice the quiet. The water was quiet. The skies were quiet. The boat was quiet. And my head was quiet. Not a word was spoken for a long time. We just slipped along wrapped in the silence like a cozy blanket on a fall day. When words were finally exchanged, my friend acknowledged how delicious the quiet was. “I’m glad we don’t have to say a word to each other and it’s okay.” We both needed the head space and the middle of the Chesapeake was just the place to find it.
During the peak season up in Annapolis I feel a little like I’m driving in rush hour, dodging regattas and other weekenders, fishing boats, Baltimore shipping traffic, and crab pots all around like speed bumps. This Monday in late fall the Bay was like a ghost town: empty, still, and draped in muted beauty. Care free, we zig zagged off course chasing congregations of birds, hoping to scare up some fish. I sat on the back steps, toes dangling in the water as I used to do when I was a little girl learning to sail my Sunfish on Lake Michigan. It’s something I could never do in front my kids for fear they’d mimic me breaking every safety rule we’ve set for them.
The salon of the Leopard 48 offers a dazzling almost 360 degree view, so that even inside off watch I felt like I was center stage in a soft blue watery theater. I just kept staring. Every channel marker had a story to tell, dinged up and bobbing knowingly as we passed. The seagulls and cormorants and pelicans doing their aerial dance, daring you to turn the boat off course and follow them. Once in a while another boat would breach our watery world, passing elegantly on their way from one chapter to another in a book of passages.
We turned into the Great Wicomico to anchor for the night. The sun left just enough pastel glow on the clouds to guide us as we snugged into Sandy Point. After sleeping the deep sleep of travelers, we followed the morning light back out on to the Bay. Sitting two stories up in the raised helm station all of my senses engaged. My eyes squinted happily in the November sunshine. I smelled the water getting saltier as we ticked off miles southward. I was boogying along to my own music in the stereo system set up just for the helm. I sipped a warm cup of tea and ran my hands along the silky smooth finish of the boat’s custom, homemade wooden wheel. It’s strange how being out on a boat is so very isolated from “real life,” yet makes you feel so very alive.
Casting my gaze all around, I forgot how the Chesapeake widens so much down south. I am used to seeing land on both sides up by Annapolis, and now it was falling away, just a yellow reminder on the electronic chart plotter. I was awakened from my trance by a single word: “dolphins!” Out on the bow in a flash, once again I squealed as I watched a pair leap side by side just to starboard. Quickly they moved on as all wild and free things do. My friend joked that my squeals probably scared them off.
Down at the mouth of the Bay, where the Atlantic Ocean beckons, it’s easy to fall into the magic spell that every person who loves voyaging by boat has experienced at some time or another. It’s that moment when conditions are perfect, food is stocked up, the company is good, winds are favorable, and you think to yourself, “Let’s just keep going. Why stop here? Let’s just go and go and go.” Because if you’re someone who truly loves boats, the going is the thing. But this journey wasn’t meant to be over that horizon. Not today. The daily grind called, deadlines waited. Life back on terra firma needed us.
Taking a right at Hampton and making our way up to Portsmouth I was in awe once again as the scenery switched from a halcyon hush to the orderly bustle of the real world. Tug boats, workboats, and concrete buildings filled the stage. It was business as usual where land meets sea, and I marveled at the coordinated chaos of a busy port. We docked, and then it was deck scrubbing and laundry and packing up and saying farewell.
Just like that, I was back in the car driving home answering a hundred questions from my kids about my mom-cation. Recharged and refreshed, I happily chatted with them about the trip. No, I didn’t get a photo of the dolphins. Yes, we made really good time on that fast cat. More than anything I wanted them to know that we are so very lucky. We live on this large, protected, gorgeous Bay filled with wonders. The next time we head out on our own boat I hope they take the time to look up from their peanut butter and jelly, Legos, and dolls to savor just how beautiful sailing the Chesapeake truly is. And maybe even jump up and squeal.
by Cindy Wallach