A Spring Sailing Charter on the Chesapeake
On a spring bareboat charter, old friends learn lessons of sailing, science, and camaraderie.
A faint yet perceptible strain of emotional distress arose in the main saloon of La Mia Stella, the well-appointed Jeanneau 42 DS we’d taken out for a few days last May to explore Chesapeake Bay.
“I’d meant to bring one of those little birthday candles,” sighed crewmate Melissa Dobson. She looked at me with melancholic blue eyes before drifting up the companionway stairs.
“But I forgot,” she added, pausing mid-climb. “Anyway, Mac doesn’t like a big fuss over his birthday.”
On deck, her husband and my longtime CW colleague, Jeremy McGeary, was all business. The night before, over dinner, we’d agreed to shove off from the idyllic La Trappe Creek anchorage we’d had to ourselves—save for the crabber and the radio chatter he brought with him before dawn—no later than, in Mac’s words, “0830, pronto.”
We’d already come to learn that when the captain, a veteran voyager, issued orders to crewmembers Dobson and Lembo, he meant them. Birthday—any birthday, much less a 62nd birthday—be damned.
So while we hustled into our deck chores, Melissa and I let thoughts of cakes, candles, ribbons, and champagne flutter away in the lightest of eastern-bay breezes. The water was glassy and the air was hot, though scents of mountain laurel and honeysuckle lent that quintessential freshness that trumpets spring.
With each inhalation, I wavered between daydreaming and marveling at the beauty of vast Chesapeake Bay. This was my first time sailing here, and the first time I’d chartered with Annapolis Bay Charters, situated at Port Annapolis Marina on Back Creek. I was already bowled over by the scenery on land and in the water: verdant, marshy grasslands set against low-lying forest, classic-plastic production models mingling freely among crabbers and varnished one-off gems nudged along by yards of canvas. This place was a sailor’s pigout!
But just after we made our way into the Choptank River and I was starting to fantasize about snapping up some real-estate brochures for the flight back home to Newport, Rhode Island, Captain Mac brought me back—pronto—to the here and now.
“Here we go!” he blurted, darting out from one of the twin helms and grabbing a pair of binoculars from the cockpit table. What he spied, as we headed on our course northwest toward Knapps Narrows, off the north tip of Tilghman Island, was a tall gong buoy of some sort, but it was undulating and bore the colors of M&Ms.
“Huh?” I muttered as I peered at the strange thing. “What is that?”
None of us knew. So Mac revved up the iron jib and we headed right for it, whatever it was.
“Oh my god, Mackie, they’re balloons!” Melissa exclaimed.
So they were—a bright, tall, bountiful cluster of balloons the color of the rainbow, right there, tethered only to the surface of the water by strands of intertwined ribbons, undoubtedly planted there by the Fates.
Thanks to the boat hook and to multiple practice sessions of crew-overboard drills in sailing lessons some years earlier, Melissa in no time hauled the plastic bouquet aboard, reclaiming the thwarted birthday celebration while saving the lives of dozens of birds and fish in one fell swoop.
As she made her way back to the cockpit from the foredeck, the two of us broke out in song: “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!”
From my days spent in Washington, D.C., when I hear the word “Smithsonian,” I think of history, museums, and the National Mall.
Little did I realize, before embarking on this trip, that the vaunted institution also includes one of the leading active scientific research stations in the world. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is situated on more than 2,600 acres along 14 miles of undeveloped shoreline—about 50 percent of the entire waterfront—of the Rhode River. The Rhode River is also a sub-estuary of Chesapeake Bay, which is the largest estuary and watershed in the United States.
Since 1964, SERC and its team of 100 scientists in 16 laboratories, under the direction of 21 primary researchers, have conducted some of the longest-running research, analysis, and data collection about ecosystems in coastal zones. SERC also houses a large invasive-species lab that includes the National Ballast Water Information Clearinghouse, where data about fouling organisms that hitch rides in the hulls of ships clearing in to U.S. ports is analyzed.