Sunday, July 31, 2016

Washington Channel, Washington DC

The Washington Channel is a remarkable body of water at the head of sailboat navigation on the Potomac River. It lies along the waterfront of SW Washington DC. It is well marked and easy to access. The anchorage is about two miles long, 1/3 mile wide and about 15 deep. Fort McNair with the National War College guards the western entrance.
National War College

The East Potomac Park comprised the eastern shore of the anchorage. An amazing open air fish market, Captain White's lies to the north while I-395 thunders overhead. The Tidal Pool is continuous with the Washington Channel but is closed to traffic. The Washington Monument is clearly visible to the north. Most importantly it lies only 10 long blocks from the Washington Mall. Buses and Metro access is available for those who do not walk.

Few cruisers seem to come this way. It is at the end of a 110 n. mile run up the Potomac River. Most of the trip is by motor as breeze is a problem on the Potomac. White Pepper was the only boat to arrive in the week we were there. To be fair we were there in July when it is blisteringly hot.

Massive changes are about along the Washington Channel. The Wharf Corporation plans to remake the entire waterfront. No less than 6 cranes are busy all day erecting huge buildings.
Massive Construction

The Capitol Yacht Club and Gangplank Yacht Club will be consumed in the building. The docks are being completely reworked. Anchoring will be banned in the channel and 8 new mooring balls have been installed just this month, July 2016. Holding in the channel has been reported as poor. Thus White Pepper was pleased to be on one of these new mooring balls when on our second night a powerful thunder storm blew through. The wind was swirling about 40 knots and hail as large as golf balls rained down. Locals said it was the worst thunder storm in a long time.
White Pepper on a mooring ball. Washington Monument in background.

We visited family, who live in the area. We renewed acquaintance with old cruising friends, JR and Drena from Journey, who have temporarily swallowed the hook and live nearby.

However, the principal charm of this anchorage is its close proximity to the Washington Mall. The mall is in my opinion the best tourist attraction in this country and it is all completely free. One day we did all of the main monuments—Jefferson, FDR, MLK, Korean War, Lincoln, WWI, WWII, John Paul Jones and waved at the Washington Monument. Another entire day was spent at the Aerospace Museum. The next day we spent avoiding the ferocious heat viewing the National Gallery of Art. Jan and I could only see one quarter of one of the two buildings in one entire day. We spent the last day with the kids at the International Spy Museum which is a commercial, but very fun, experience.

I do have one snarky comment about the Aerospace Museum—that is that the artifacts of the old space race, such as the Gemini capsule, are starting to show signs of age. Then I realize that all of this was over 45-50 years ago. Very upsetting. Remarkably the paintings in the National Galley some of which are over 800 years old look quite fresh and new. I wonder if they have not been restored somewhere along the line. It was amazing to see some of the most famous paintings in history right there in our national gallery.

Finally after a week White Pepper was driven off the mooring ball by the relentless heat. Hopefully, it will be cooler on the Chesapeake Bay. However, Jan pointed out on our last day, that one week on our mooring ball was cheaper than one night at any Washington DC hotel. And since we took most of our meals on the boat, the cost of our Washington DC visit was almost negligible.

Potomac River

The Potomac River is widely hailed as a cruising ground; however, few yachts seem to visit. White Pepper saw few cruisers during her visit of July 2016, although to be fair it was blisteringly hot that week. Indeed we were virtually alone on the trip to and from Washington DC and saw no one else arrive during our week in DC. The trip from the Chesapeake to Washington, DC is about 110 nautical miles but well worth the effort.

Locals seem to divide the Potomac at the 301 bridge just north of Dahlgren, VA . The US highway 301 bridge is the only bridge spanning the Potomac until DC itself. This opinion seems reasonable. South of the 301 the river is wide, currents are mild, the river is salty with numerous jelly fish in the summer. South of the bridge, the country side is bucolic, the homes are river retreats and fishing camps. There are numerous creeks and inlets to shelter the cruiser. North of the 301 the river narrows and the current picks up. The water is mostly brackish with few jelly fish. The dwellings assume mansion size. Also history appears—Fort Belvior, Mount Vernon, Fort Washington, Quantico. More importantly to the cruising sailor there are no anchorages past Dahlgren (Upper Machodoc Creek) until Washington DC.

White Pepper chose to break up the trip upstream beyond the 301 bridge with a stop at Belmont Bay Marina in Woodbridge, VA on the Occoquan River. Belmont Bay is a fine marina but does charge $2/ft.

White Pepper favored the Virginia side going upstream with a stop at Kingscote Creek off of the Coan River. This is near the so called town of Lewisetta . The town consists of literally one broken down general store, two streets of modest homes and one general use chapel. White Pepper could not even buy a beer but was able to procure two delicious Popsicles.
Tongue in cheek at Lewisetta General Store

The next stop was Dahlgren on the Upper Machodoc Creek. Dahlgren is the home of the Naval Firing Range which actually fires live rounds down the Potomac on occasion. White Pepper stumbled into on of these firing sessions and had to be politely escorted off to the side of the Potomac much to the embarrassment of her captain, who could scarcely believe that such practices were still in place in 2016. Regardless the Upper Machodoc Creek is a lovely and straight forward anchorage.
Local racer going out for Thursday race. Dahlgren Naval station in background

Just be sure to check the Dahlgren Range firing schedule either online or by phone before venturing nearby. The next day found
White Pepper picking her way carefully up the narrow and shallow Occoquan River to the Belmont Bay Marina which is carved out of a hillside near Woodbridge, VA. There is no anchorage in Belmont Bay or on the Occoquan River. At Belmont Bay Marina Jan and I had a delightful rendezvous with children Kristi, Layla, Pat and Richard all of whom live nearby. After three days it was off to Washington DC and the Washington Channel which is posted in another blog post.

After an eventful and thoroughly enjoyable week moored in the Washington Channel White Pepper started back downstream. Catching the ebb tide we clocked 8 plus knots downstream. This is not as hard as it sounds because a reasonably fast yacht can actually ride the ebb tide downstream. The ebb and flood are slow moving standing waves which can be rode much as a surfer rides his waves. Anyway we were able to cover 65 nautical miles in less than 10 hours to arrive back at Upper Machodoc Creek. Jan had taken the precaution of calling Dahlgren range control to assure there would be no firing when we arrived or left the next day. On the way downstream we favored the Maryland side of the Potomac. Our last stop of Smith Creek. Smith Creek is deep, well protected, and quite convenient to the Chesapeake Bay. It is near the lovely St. Mary's River which was the subject of a long blog post in 2008. From Smith Creek it will be on Solomon's.

Smith Creek

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tangier Island is a Cemetary

Tangier Island is a cemetery. Tangier Island is many things—a 250 year history treasury, a Godly respite from modernity, a disappearing wetlands testimony to “climate change”, a last bastion of the Chesapeake “waterman”, and I could go on. But the island is also a cemetery! I am sure that there are more graves and gravestones on the island than people. This fact should not be a surprise since Tangier has been inhabited by Europeans since 1680s. Also the current population is declining and maybe now numbers about 600 or less.

Tangier is a small, flat island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. There are about 800 acres of land exposed above the water line. Only 89 acres are dry enough to support habitation. When John Smith discovered the island and named it in 1608 there were about 2000 acres above ground. It is estimated that the island loses about 9 acres of area each year to erosion.

White Pepper has always heard about Tangier Island and desired a visit. We set out for the Island from Mobjac Bay in a surprise July norther. It was quite a bash to weather. The boat performed magnificently, the crew less so; and Aphrodite, cat, was miserably sick. There is no anchorage at Tangier. The only marina, Park's Marina, is primitive to say the least. Mr. Park is a marvelous specimen at age 92, but frankly the boating world has changed since 1976 when the marina was built.

Regardless, Tangier Island is worth all of the hassle to get there and dock.

However, White Pepper's overwhelming first impression was of the cemeteries which are everywhere. They surround the beautiful Methodist Church, they are in the parsonage, they are in lots all about the town, but most of all they are in people's yards. Most of the headstones carry the name Pruitt, followed by Crockett, Park and a few Dise. I am very sensitive to keeping relatives close by, but the custom of family plots in the front yard is fairly unique to White Pepper's voyages.

I conclude with a display of these cemeteries. Baring immense human intervention all of these will be underwater within a few centuries.

Hampton, VA

White Pepper spent a delightful 6 weeks at the Customs House Marina in Hampton, VA. The initial reason to stay in Hampton was to spend time with old friends, Rick and Cindy from Dark Star and Steve and Val from Barefoot'N. However we were rewarded with many new friendships on the dock, Betty on Kanoa, Pete, David and Laura on Beaujolais, Woody and Chris, and others.

Part of the time in Hampton was spent on the many ongoing chores aboard the White Pepper. Jan fabricated new chaps for the dingy, Habanero 2. This was an immense effort that occupied 2 weeks and could not have been accomplished without Cindy's 1960's Kenmore sewing machine--”a beast”.

Karl cleaned the Racor. There was 25 years of muck in that fuel filter. He also filled in the waste water deck fill hole with fiberglass as it was no longer needed with the composting head. A 30 amp power inlet was replaced. Karl also addressed damage to the engine from the leaking and spraying so called drip less stuffing box (see previous posts for details.) The main sail was unbent and packed off to Doyle Sails of Hampton. There Jim ably repaired the batten pockets and leach line tape.

Destroyed old 30 amp power inlet.  Not quite sure why it dissolved.

Most of the 6 weeks was spent in sight seeing and parties. Hampton is a great party town. First there was the Pirate Festival in Hampton, then the Harborfest in Norfolk, and the Fourth of July holiday. And, of course there are weekly block parties in the restored old Hampton. We were twice invited aboard the bay tour boat, Miss Hampton, which we can highly recommend. Sundays were split between the ancient Methodist and Episcopal Churches. Both are still active and effective after 250 years. St. John's Episcopal Church is the oldest continuously active Protestant Church in North American and was the subject of a previous post.

We toured Jamestown and Yorktown for 2 days. Karl revisited the 1950's with visits to the Mariner's Museum, Fort Monroe, and the old home stead in Newport News.

Arresting statue of Pocahontas, reconstructed walls of Jamestowne in the background.

Modest house on Buxton Ave., Newport News possibly my home in 1956.

Finally it was time to leave. Sadly to be sure White Pepper took leave of her friends, hopefully to see them in the near future.

Customs House Marina from the Miss Hampton.