Get Ready, Get Set, . . .

Autumn on the Chesapeake finds cruisers in varying states of chaos and expectation. "Passage Notes" from our April 2010 issue

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In Pasadena, Maryland, Mark and Julie Kaynor¿s varnishing led to more work for them.Wendy Mitman Clarke

The dictionary de-fines "poised" as a state of equilibrium or readiness, but as we sit here on Chesapeake Bay in early autumn, poised to leave for points southeast, I'm not too sure that we fit the modifier. The entire month of September has been spent, in fact, in a state of complete disarray as Johnny, my husband, repowers Osprey, and even as our namesakes fly south purposefully overhead, we're ignominiously stuck on the dirt. There's only one thing to do at this stage, and that's work like mad, tie up every loose end, and draw motivation from the memories of where we've been and our dreams of where we want to go: Panama, the San Blas islands, and the Galapagos-for now.

There's a comfort, though, in knowing that we're not alone. The Chesapeake in autumn serves as a staging ground for hundreds of cruisers in much the same situation, all of us are busy making our plans, dreaming dreams, and burning the midnight oil to finish projects that are far more efficiently accomplished here than in the islands.

Based at Oak Harbor Marina in Pasadena, Maryland, close to Baltimore, we're sharing this rather twitchy time with our friends Mark and Julie Kaynor, who sailed in on their Tayana 37 cutter, Rachel, after cruising in Maine for most of the summer. They'd planned to stay a few days to work on varnish until Julie reached into a locker and a nut with a hunk of bolt still attached fell into her hand. As if opening Pandora's box, Mark started looking closely at the eight-inch bolts that fasten the 10-foot-long genoa tracks to the toerail, and what he found was crevice corrosion in the fasteners and serious deterioration in the tracks themselves. Off came the tracks, and in went Rachel to a transient slip that marina owner Ken Broman gave the Kaynors while they started searching for various replacement tracks and fasteners.

Lately of Blacksburg, Virginia, Mark, 57, and Julie, 52, bought Rachel in 2003 and lived aboard for two and a half years in Deltaville, Virginia, while maintaining their jobs as partners in an I.T. consulting business before selling their share and going cruising full-time. Since then, they've spent two winters cruising through the Bahamas, going farther afield each time, then to Maine and New England in the summer of 2009. They also have a transatlantic to the Azores under their belts, which they did crewing with two friends they'd met at the boat show in Annapolis, Maryland. As I commiserated with them at Oak Harbor, their winter plans were still fluid, but their sights were set on the western Caribbean. "We like to get to know and hang out with the local people, whether it's in the Chesapeake or the Bahamas or Maine," Mark says. "We like making new friends, meeting new people. We're learning all the time."

Stopping by Oak Harbor for dinner on the deck one night were Roger and Jane Jennings, whom we'd also met in the Bahamas last winter. With a home port of Campbell River, British Columbia, Roger, 58, and Jane, 57, sailed for 30 years aboard a Westsail 32 in the Pacific Northwest while raising their son and daughter and working full-time, Roger as a customer-support manager for Pratt Whitney and Jane as an occupational therapist. "It was always the dream to go off for an extended period of time," Jane says. In 2008, they retired and bought a Kelly-Peterson 44, now called Sereno 55, and sailed her from Maine to the Bahamas. They cruised in the Bahamas last winter, then sailed back to the States and laid the boat up in Deltaville while they went home for a while.

They showed up at Oak Harbor en route to Sereno 55 with a monthlong list of projects, among them fixing the watermaker, repairing the upper extrusion on their furling genoa, fine-tuning their navigation systems, rewiring a lot of the electronics, and painting the bottom. "The hardest part is the logistics, getting all the parts and pieces," Roger says. "And when you start getting pressured with time, you don't think straight, and you make mistakes." They also wrestle with what Jane calls "the eternal question: What do we need versus what do we want?"

They love the Bahamas, but this winter they'll be heading farther into the Caribbean, which they hope to explore east to west over a couple of years, flying back to B.C. in the summers to see their children. After that, it's anyone's guess. "I think we have the luxury of not knowing. That's why we're cruising, we're open to a lot of experiences," Jane says. Roger adds, "It's not all where you go, it's who you go with and how you go there. It's the people you meet. It's the whole package."

A few miles south of Oak Harbor, at anchor in Mill Creek, Nancy and Dave Gohlke and their sons Christopher, 13, and Josh, 10, had finished the most pressing jobs aboard their Morgan 41 ketch, Liberty, on which they live and cruise full-time. Based out of Houston, Dave, 46, and Nancy, 43, bought the boat in December 2003 with literally little more than the dream of cruising, since they'd never even sailed before. Two months later, they took their first sailing lesson, and since then-first over a six-month trip, then over the last two years-they've cruised thousands of miles through the waters off Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, the Gulf Coast, the Keys, the Bahamas, and the U.S. East Coast. They were hanging out in Mill Creek to visit friends but also to attend the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, where they spent their time probing the possibility of switching to a catamaran.

No matter what the decision, their cruising plans encompass exploring as much of the Caribbean as possible and returning to the places that they've loved the most so far. "Lighthouse Reef, Belize," says Dave. "For me, the Jumentos," says Nancy. "People have said lots of great things about Grenada and the San Blas, so I'd like to explore there," says Chris. As for Josh, he's with his dad: Lighthouse Reef. It's where he first learned, at the age of 5, to swim six feet down and pick up sand dollars.

Nearby in Annapolis, Kevin and Karen McPadden look entirely too tanned, rested, and ready aboard their Tayana 37, Dream Seeker. Maybe this is to be expected: They've owned Dream Seeker for 25 years, living aboard full-time and cruising part-time for the duration. They're used to this state of pre-flight pressure, since they've lived lives of six months off work, then six months on since 2004. Kevin, 56, is the service manager for Annapolis Harbor Boat Yard from April to October, while Karen, 57, is a hair stylist at the Edgewater Senior Center. They spend summers working and prepping Dream Seeker for a winter of cruising in the Bahamas; last summer's projects included rebuilding the watermaker and wind generator, replacing the lifelines, and the annual task of refinishing the teak.

"I just got the watermaker done," Kevin says. "All the work gets compressed into a month, but I do better under pressure." When they go, it's a no-agenda thing. "I'm not a dreamer," Karen says. "I live in the moment for what I have now."

Wendy Mitman Clarke and her family are continuing their ramble southward through the islands on Osprey.