We left the Tred Avon on Sept 28th, cruising 17 miles to San Domingo Creek, on the back side of St. Michaels. Getting here was a little tricky. We had heard about this “must see” anchorage from the same friend who recommended reading “Chesapeake”, so we really wanted to check it out. We were not disappointed. We anchored in one of the fingers off of the creek, with beautiful homes scattered around the shores.
We lowered the dinghy and cruised up to the public dinghy dock, and walked the quarter mile back into St. Michaels. As it was later in the day, we just strolled around, stopping in the small local market for important items like chips and beer. We went back to the dinghy, noticing the beautiful colonial homes lining the areas away from the main street. People take great pride in their homes and yards, and the neighborhoods are welcoming. One home had an out-of-this-world garden, where strangers were encouraged to visit. It was funky and fun and beautiful, and Kathleen could not imagine how much time and effort went into creating and keeping up this treasure. We got back to the boat with time to spare to enjoy a cocktail on the rear deck enjoying the view. Oh, and there were eagles again!
The next day we came back, armed with bags and cart to go grocery shopping. We had another lovely trail to walk along for most of the way, but had to be careful while walking on a busy road for a bit – however, we needed to get food and some other items for the boat, so needs will out, as they say.
After putting the groceries away, we decided to try our hand at crabbing again, still with our original net. This time, we did have some luck in netting quite a few crabs, but they were all too small to keep. No matter though, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon and we now had groceries, so no fear of running out of sustenance… The sunset that night was spectacular – more so than usual – so, of course, we have pictures…
On our last day here, we went to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Intending to spend at most 90 minutes visiting, it was 3.5 hours later that we finally decided we had to stop – and there was still more to see. It is an amazing place with so much information and artifacts to see. It was definitely a highlight of our visit to St. Michaels.
After grabbing some lunch, we returned to the dinghy and headed back to the boat. Neil decided to try the hookah (no, not that kind, a dive system that uses an electric air pump, 50’ of hose, and a regulator to allow one to dive without tanks). He geared up in a snazzy wetsuit (initially bought to avoid jellyfish, but never used for such as the water had been too warm to wear), swim mask, fins and flashlight, and jumped in to check out our zincs on the hull. (Zincs are sacrificial anodes affixed to the hull, shafts, thrusters, etc to reduce corrosion, and have to be replaced from time to time). Although the hookah worked as planned, Neil couldn’t see six inches in front of his face as the brackish water was too murky. So, after a short test/play in the water, we called it quits on this venture, and decided to hire a diver to check out the zincs and clean the hull in Solomon’s Island, a later intended stop.
When Neil told Kathleen that the next port was Cambridge, she seriously wondered if the colonists had no imagination whatsoever or were just extremely homesick for England. Either way, we cruised four hours from San Domingo to Cambridge on a day that started out cold and rainy and ended up beautiful and sunny. The watermen were out in full force as it was the second day of Oyster season. It was amazing to watch them work. All were standing on the edge of their boats and were using very long “tongs”, 10-15 foot long scissor arms that open and close a rake-like device to scoop up oysters from the bottom of the river. The muck and oysters were hauled into the boat where both muck and too-small oysters were manually sorted out and thrown back in.
At one time, oysters were so prevalent here in the bay that they created oyster reefs that reached high off the bottom and close to the surface, dangerous to unwitting boats plying the waters. Once harvesting began as demand for the delicacy rose, “keeper” oysters were greater than SIX INCHES or more across, anything smaller was thrown back in to grow some more. “Tonging” was the traditional way of harvesting oysters, and there was a ban on motorized boats initially. However, industry and demand ran roughshod and in a very short span the once dangerous oyster reefs were decimated. Along with a huge increase in pollution from upstream runoff and from the air, the oyster population was nearly wiped out.
Conservation efforts to Save the Bay have been on-going for decades, and make modest headway. Oystering, crabbing, fishing and eeling are still major industries here; hopefully ecologists and marine biologists can continue to work on ways to heal the bay and recover its health.
Back to our journey… once we arrived at the marina in Cambridge, we initially tied up to the fuel dock to pump out the holding tank. While undertaking this job, we were hailed by some familiar voices on the dock and saw Frank and Beeb, boating friends we had met in Vero Beach! It was a terrific surprise to be at the same marina, and spent the afternoon with them catching up. After leaving them, we went for a relaxed dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Following what was now becoming a familiar pattern, we downloaded a walking tour of Cambridge and indulged in that for the morning. Cambridge’s most famous resident was Harriet Tubman. There are many buildings that are tangential to her and her work, both positive and negative. It was disturbing to walk across the area where humans were once sold as chattel, today just a quiet space in front of the court house. Amazingly, the building served the same purpose then as it does today, a courthouse. It was also incredible to see places where the underground railroad operated – often very near institutions that upheld slavery. The courage and grit of these past warriors was humbling, as well as intriguing.
The town has a lot of interesting history from every decade, much like the other towns we visited, but each distinct in their own ways. Cambridge is a bit quieter, not quite as touristy as Oxford and St. Michaels.
The rest of the day we spent on Granuaile – Kathleen doing yoga, Neil figuring out our next cruise route and catching up on some reading. There are worse ways to spend one’s time.
Sunday we were underway by 8:00 am. As we move closer to winter, sunrises are noticeably later, and sunsets frustratingly earlier. Our plan was to travel back to the west coast of the Bay, docking at Calvert Marina in Solomons, MD. The last time we had been here was 30 years ago, visiting a friend stationed at Naval Air Station Pax River. We were looking forward to returning.
About an hour into a mostly uneventful cruise, the navigation electronics, autopilot, chartplotters and displays, started posting error messages and/or went offline. After three attempts at rebooting the entire system, we determined that the problem was not going to be resolved with a simple hard reboot. We continued the cruise to Solomons with autopilot inactivated, manually steering via the helm wheel and wind speed/direction instrument inoperative.
We entered the harbor to Solomons with Neil at the helm. It was a bit tricky as there are several marinas here and a confusing array of navigational buoys/day markers (i.e. when Kathleen contacted the Calvert Marina harbormaster to request directions to our slip, he asked where we were. She responded, “we just passed marker Red 4.” His response was, “Well there are a couple of Red 4’s, but ok). We got to where we needed to be, and were once more on a facing dock, this time between two other boats. Neil turned the boat 90 degrees, and moving astern basically parallel parked our 50 foot boat while Kathleen called out directions, closing distances and speed for him. Teamwork!
This visit was meant to be a work on the boat stay. Neil had ordered a new fuel injection pump for the generator to be delivered to a yard nearby and picked it up the next morning. This was to address a fuel leak issue discussed in an earlier blog post. While Neil worked on installing the pump (no small task for a rookie so took most of the day), Kathleen washed and scrubbed the dinghy top and bottom, and washed the boat decks and starboard hull. We were both pretty sore after that day.
The next morning, we spent several hours waxing and polishing the transom and starboard hull. It is hard, straining work. After we were done, we arranged a car ride with a local resident at the marina to a nearby Giant grocery store and SERIOUSLY restocked. We are not often near a large grocery store AND have transportation, so we take advantage of it when we can.
Once all of our groceries were stowed, Kathleen tried her hand at rockfish (which is delicious!) while Neil worked on diagnosing our electronics problems. Suffice it to say that Kathleen had more success.
Wednesday was intended to be a rest day, meaning a break from physical labor. Neil spent the entire day working on the electronics issue, with the help of our electronics expert on call in Florida who guided Neil through troubleshooting steps. It was very frustrating and he didn’t make any breakthroughs. Kathleen made a batch of butternut squash soup, and then got knocked low by a wicked headache, so she was out for the day. Definitely not one of our finer days on the boat.
Thursday was much, much better. It started with more frustrations for Neil, as no yards in the area had any time or technicians available to help us diagnose the electronics problem. So we had no choice but to continue working it on our own. After a morning of checking each device one by one, Neil confirmed that the dome radar was causing communication errors on our boat’s electronics system bus leading to other devices such as the autopilot computer and the wind instrument to fail. The root cause appeared to be a slightly unseated cable connector from the dome radar to the system bus. A couple days of testing at the dock was successful but we needed a few days of cruising to know for certain. (As of 10/22, all is good!!)
In the middle of this, the previous evening we had difficulty starting the generator (the one Neil had just installed a new fuel pump on). Neil had been starting the generator twice a day even though we were at the dock with shore power, to confirm no further problems before we continued our cruise south. Hoping it was just air in the line, he bled the fuel system again and the generator started fine. Problem seemed to be fixed. Unfortunately in the light of morning, the problem was still lingering, so he had this issue to diagnose and fix also. Turned out that during the fuel injection pump install, Neil had dislodged a connector to the preheat glow plug relay. Quick fix and success, generator now reliably starts.
Kathleen spent the time getting caught up on trip log entries and writing this blog. Around 1:00pm, she went up to the marina office to see if our mail had arrived (we had it forwarded here from our postal service in Florida) and was so excited to find her absentee ballot in the mix. After carefully completing it, we walked into town to the post office, about 3 miles away. Kathleen felt unusually proud and excited for being able to vote, and was silently praying that 3.5 weeks would be enough time for it to be delivered. Fingers crossed. Life on a boat, huh?
We had a nice snack at a local restaurant on the water directly across the creek from our boat, and then Uber’d back – we were both too tired to contemplate another 3+ miles back, and we would have probably run out of daylight anyhow!