Two Geezers on a Boat

2It’s dusk on Swan Creek, just north of Rock Hall on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I whisper to Bud, “If there’s any voyeur left in you, take a look at that powerboat off the starboard beam.” Bud peeks out the open port.

“He’s naked,” I say. “You can tell because of his white ass where his shorts protected from the sun.”  “I can see the woman’s bare boobies,” reports Bud.

And so it went, a week in late August and early September aboard the same 28-foot Tartan sloop Bud and I’d chartered about four times previously. Short But Sweet is a sweet-sailing boat we enjoy returning to, just right for two sailors who enjoy seeing the world from a moving platform. With a Scheel keel, a patented design that puts weight at the bottom, she draws just four feet, perfect for the thin waters of Chesapeake Bay and its many rivers.

The beauty of this week aboard came about largely because of Bud’s superior planning. Way back in 1957, when we both served aboard the heavy cruiser USS Salem in the Mediterranean, Bud wrote about ports in advance of the ship’s visits so the crew would know what they were seeing. It wasn’t always boobies. For this week, Bud stuck to a theme: short runs only. No day and night powering into the tannin-laced waves of the Chesapeake. Plenty of free time on the anchor or tied to a dock. Only one dinner aboard. No masses of dishes to wash: Bud chose paper bowls. Result: a rested crew of geezers, him 76, me 80.

Age was catching up, though, just over the horizon. I fell once when a powerboat wave caught me. Luckily, I was below and hit the deck without injury. Bud, to his surprise, fell twice, the shock of it on his face when he tripped over a line up forward, and another time, off the bow as we approached a dock. He got his Keen sandals wet and scuff marks on his legs. Still, we swam in the rivers and creeks of the Chesapeake almost every day, rinsing off sun-induced sweat. I committed the sin of losing Bud’s 40-year-old bar of saltwater soap overboard, down into the deep brown water for fish to ponder.1

Because we sailed in the northern half of the big Bay where the water is less salty, we saw and felt few jellyfish and their nasty stinging cells. On our first trip over the rail, though, in an anchorage just south of Kent Island Narrows, Bud came aboard in a big hurry after getting stung  on his leg. I plunged in and got stung, too. The irritations disappeared overnight.

My delight on the voyage was the gulping, chewing, tasting that gem of seafood, Callinectes sapidus, the Bay’s blue crab. I had it any way I could get it: crab imperial, lump crab sandwich, crab soup Maryland style, which means vegetable soup with a little crabmeat hidden in it. Sapidus means savory. They sure are.

Bud revealed over dinner one evening that he had been chosen vice chairman of an advisory committee that made recommendations to the Connecticut town where lives. His official title, Vice Chair, Shellfish. He pointed out that as the town defines it, shellfish includes only clams and oysters, not crabs or lobsters. He does love to eat those shellfish, though, so his selection was apt.

On our second day out, we powered through an open bridge at Kent Island Narrows toward the broad-mouthed Chester River. On Channel 13 the bridge tender, unseen behind his tower’s dirty windows, wished us well. Before noon we anchored in 10 feet in the Corsica River at Emory Creek. Was that Sardinia we could see in the distance? Four other sailboats lay to moorings, apparently part of a sailing club. We were the only visitors. This stop was the only one we’d make for dinner aboard. No crab imperial, just Annie’s white cheddar cheese pasta and a bottle of Italian Trentatre, a blend of three red wines.

On the way to our daily destination, I called the charter operator, Dick Zimmerman of Hartge Yacht Charters back in Galesville, MD, to ask why the speedometer had stopped working. He made all of the usual suggestions, such as loose wiring at terminals. I’d already checked the transducer input cable and two power terminals. I figured the spinning transducer wheel, hidden in a tiny well through the hull somewhere, might be jammed with a piece of seaweed or part of a jellyfish. Where was that through-hull? Under the forward berth, Dick said. Great, I thought. I’d have it working in a minute.

At our Corsica River anchorage, we both jumped in the turgid but only slightly salty water. I swam forward, to try to feel with feet and hands the paddlewheel we sought. My hand touched the transducer head for the depth sounder but not its brother the speedo six inches away. Bud suggested going at it from inside the boat. Later, he treaded water like a hovering osprey, found the bladed wheel for the speedo, spun it with a toe, and we enjoyed instrumental speed again. Thereafter, the meter’s speed read just a little faster than what Bud saw on his Garmin GPS.3

The anchorage in Swan Creek teemed with sailboats gearing up for the Labor Day weekend. A south wind, though, tossed the boats in the anchorage all night. It had looked on the chart like such a good hurricane hole.

Henderson’s Wharf Marina in Baltimore welcomed us 18 miles across the Bay, on the mainland side. This major city with a long history looked as if it had turned the corner, tacked, so to speak, out of its dismal decades of crime, corruption, and economic distress. We stayed overnight at the marina and found crab meals ashore.

We left Baltimore just after dawn, heading south for Whitehall Bay and an anchorage in Mill Creek. The lures here were a good anchorage and Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn, the only restaurant on the creek. As we expected, Cantler’s was flooded with boats and with people who’d found the place by car. Bud went ashore, reporting a 90-minute wait before one could get a table. Bud came back aboard, and I went ashore to try to find a phone so that I could inform my family of our location. My cell phone had run out of juice, and I’d left my charger at home. The man at the door let me use the restaurant’s land-line phone. While talking, I overheard the man say there was a 20-minute wait for carryouts from the bar. Our lunch concern was over. I went back to the boat and told Bud. We climbed the 30 steps from dockside to the restaurant and enjoyed a crab salad (Bud) and a lump crab sandwich (me) right at the cool but noisy bar.

Afterward, we powered to the south end of Mill Creek, anchored, and swam. Bud soaped up, rinsed in the not-so-salty water, and rinsed with the boat’s solar-heated shower hung on the backstay. Boats, power and sail, came and went, dancing between red and green daymarks. Kestrel (means sparrow hawk), a cutter of about 45 feet, anchored inshore of us and soon invited a couple aboard a 30-footer to tie alongside. A woman on Kestrel climbed down a stainless steel ladder and swam. No screams. No jellyfish, reported Bud, who made his second swim of the day.

On the last full day of the week, we sailed south past Annapolis and the Severn River to tuck into the South River for a stop at a restaurant we’d discovered the previous year: Yellowfin Steak and Fish House. It happened to be a special time when prices were half-off on the menu. The tab for it all, including beer: $74. Harness Creek, off the mouth of the South River, sheltered us for the night.

In a week that went too fast, we returned to Hartge’s to sample figs from a cluster of small trees set upon by crows. We refilled Short But Sweet’s diesel fuel tank and fresh water tank. The boat was due to head out the same day with another charterer aboard. We hope he found as much enjoyment from that short boat as we did.