If I could find a single word with which to describe the summer of 2003 from a boating perspective, I would have to say; "It sucked". Yea I know, that's two words, but the point remains. This well deserved, if purely subjective, description was arrived at based on a number of reasons. Starting with the fact that, beginning in about the middle of May and lasting up until the end of June, we were plagued with rain almost every other day, and on practically every weekend. In fact, only 5 weekends out of the entire year had been rain free up until that point. With the weather deck stacked against us, before I knew it, the month of June was in the can, and in waltzes July. In the beginning of July, we had a about a 2 week span of some decent weather. Hopes for a boating friendly summer began to cautiously rise again. But then, starting in late July and lasting through most of August, we had a bad case of the "muggies". Not real hot, but REALLY humid. So humid that even 75 degree temperatures felt like 90+. It was definitely too uncomfortable for me, a person who has become hopelessly spoiled by living in a new house with central air conditioning. With the oppressive humidity also came unsettled weather. So consequently, we were getting afternoon deluges of thunderstorms almost daily . If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn that I was living in south Florida instead of Pennsylvania. So in another blink of an eye, July and most of August had slipped away into the annals of history right behind June. By the end of August, the daily thunderstorms had backed off a bit, but the humidity remained. Finally, by the beginning of September, the weather had finally decided to become a bit nicer. Clear, comfortable days and lower humidity. It remained to be seen however, if we would have a decent fall, or whether I'd be getting the snow blower ready by Halloween. You never really know.
Taking the really crummy weather into consideration, I guess I have an excuse for only having taken the boat out a grand total of 3 times this season. The first time was to our old local hangout, the Schuylkill River. The second trip was to our now closer hangout, Blue Marsh Lake. The 3rd and final time, was to the Chesapeake Bay. This was certainly a far cry from the every weekend boating excursions which I used to partake in, back before the demands of family life forced me to cut back from my formerly vigorous weekend aquatic recreational schedule. Competing activities, a backup of seemingly never-ending chores, and with only so many weekend and vacation days with which to do them all, and there isn't much time left over. Then add in the effects of the persistent unpredictably bad weather and well, you get the point. It's no wonder that the days seem to fly by so fast as I get older.
The less than optimal weather was having its effect on my friend Art as well. He had been restoring his 25' Wellcraft Suncruiser for a long time now (Close to 9 years), but progress has been slow. It's tough to become enthusiastic about working on something when sweat is pouring in your eyes, or rain is falling. Weeds had begun to grow around the wheels of the trailer. Wasps have claimed it as their home. Even the neighborhood stray cats have appropriated it as the kitty version of the local maternity ward (and urinating on the carpet as well, ugh!). Art had been playing a game of tug of war between the gradual improvements resulting from his refurbishing efforts, versus the relentless deterioration due to the effects of time and weather. But there was some renewed hope, a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel as it were. Art has finally begun to talk seriously about actually putting the boat into the water (I can't wait to write the story for this event!). But he didn't want the aggravation of trailering (Understandable, considering the size of this thing), and wanted instead to find a good marina to take it to and leave it in the water. After much deliberation and weighing the pro's and con's (and some arm twisting by me), he had pretty much decided to keep it at the Chesapeake Bay. The decision was based mostly on the large expanse of water to play in (and become grounded on), the scenic area, and the relative closeness. We had then decided, way back in late July, to take a weekday off and take my boat down to scope out potential marinas in the northern part of the bay. After cursing the weather for the next several weeks, we finally got our break in the second week of September. Timely, now that summer is almost over. Such sets the stage for the 3rd (and most likely final) run of my boat and the only boating story worthy of telling this year...
The day started off well enough. The weather was a little cool, but the sun was aggressively shining through scattered patchy clouds. I began my trip by topping up the gas tank in the boat (I had been, up to this point, running on last year's leftover gas). Yowch! Thanks to our price gouging oil "friends", who had invented a "shortage" to jump the prices up by 20 cents a gallon, it just cost me $65 to fill the boat tank (About $25 more than normal). Good thing it wasn't totally empty. After meeting up with Art on the ham radio, we set out from our respective homes to meet up along the way to our destination, which was Delaware City, DE, where I would put the boat into the water. I left a little earlier than Art, since my journey was a bit longer, and mostly on roads which were only 2 lanes, and subject to heavy traffic. Going down, things worked out pretty well. The traffic was not as bad as I had feared and I ended up being about 5 minutes ahead of Art by the time we met up on RT-1, just south of I-95. He then followed me for the final few miles to the launch ramp.
As expected, thanks to it being a Wednesday in the off-season, the ramp was practically deserted. There was only one other boat preparing to launch when we arrived. The tide was up and overall, things were looking pretty good. I was a bit concerned that the weather pattern was funneling in a stiff ENE wind which, I feared, would make the bay uncomfortably choppy. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, as I started readying the boat for launch, and told Art to go ahead and park his truck in the lot. I wondered why he hesitated and gave me a strange "are you f-in' nuts" look, and I would soon understand why. Emerging from the distant parking lot, Art came walking back with both arms fully loaded down with stuff. He had the look of a soldier going off to do battle. I had expected him to have a small cooler and his cameras, but I was not expecting the sheer volume of equipment which he had brought with him. Had I known that, I would have had him unload it all first before he parked (sorry dude!). When we hoisted his stuff on the boat, I learned the full extent of the amount of "stuff" which he had brought. He had his handheld GPS, a handheld marine radio (in a waterproof case), an inflatable PFD, a digital still camera, a digital 8mm video camera, a cell phone, as well as his lunch. He had also bestowed upon me, a gift of a first aid kit (Was he expecting us to be marooned?). This was a far cry from the Art of olde. I guess he has learned his lessons after all the escapades back in the 80's. A person could be hard pressed to find someone more prepared for an outing than Art. A bit ironic since he hasn't owned a boat that's actually seen water for over 9 years now. In any case, I was glad that Art had brought his digital camera along, as my own camera gave up the ghost after taking just one shot. Otherwise I'd have no pictures to show.
Speaking of which, here are some shots of the Delaware City launch ramp and surrounding area:
The time was about 10:00 AM, give or take, when we finally hit the water. The plan was to scout the bay for marinas, eat lunch, make the return trip and be back on the road by around 3:15 PM in order to avoid the worst of the rush hour(s) traffic. So that left us with about 5 hours to cover roughly 90 miles of waterway, and scout out some marinas. Good thing I have a fast boat. Once we launched the boat and warmed up the engine, we set out on the segment of the original C&D canal which runs through Delaware City. We headed first toward the Delaware river, so that I could show Art the sights of the quaint city, and historic Pea Patch Island. We never quite made it all the way out to Pea Patch though, for as soon as we hit the Delaware River, we were hit by a strong wind, stiff chop, and blowing spray. This was not looking so good. Not wanting to deal with this mess, we turned around and headed back down the splinter canal. On the way back down, I said a silent prayer for better conditions in the main body of the C&D canal and for the rest of our journey. As the old branch canal merged into the main body of the C&D itself, my hopes were lifted somewhat as the canal was relatively calm, its narrow profile preventing much wind blown chop from forming. I ran the engine RPM up to about 2800, set the trim tabs to 7 degrees down, and settled on a cruising speed of 37 MPH. Art fired up his GPS, as he planned on tracking our "voyage" and entering in waypoints to mark the various places we would visit. The first thing that I learned was that my boat's speedometer was off by an optimistic 4-5 MPH. Ok, so I'm not as fast as I thought.... (Bummer!)
We stopped at one marina located along the C&D, which is called Summit North. Here are some pics of the C&D canal and Summit North Marina:
We moved further along until we reached the point where the C&D merged into the Elk River. We cruised south past Old Town Point, and then toward the mouth of the Bohemia River, where some other potential marina candidates were waiting for our critical inspection. My fears of a nasty wind blown chop had begun to abate somewhat as the Elk River looked no worse than normal. Setting the trim tabs at 8 degrees of down tilt, and with the drive trim set for normal running, we were pretty comfortable. We started to checkout a marina along the Elk, which had an island in the middle of the cove. The first thing I noticed as I started heading in, was the bottom coming up rapidly. I dropped off of plane in 5' of water, not wanting to get caught in shallow water. I quickly consulted the chart and saw that the whole cove was less than 3' deep at MLW (luckily for us, we were at high tide) with only a narrow access channel leading into the marina. Not a good choice, especially for grounding prone Art, so we turned back out and moved on toward the Bohemia River.
The Bohemia River is quite a bit shallower than the Elk, having no 45' dredged shipping channel. It is fairly straightforward though, and does not usually get any shallower than 5' in the main channel area. There are a number of nice marinas along either shore. The further upstream you go, the more sheltered and calmer the waters become. On the upstream side of the RT-213 bridge, there is a nice, fairly sheltered, and calm area for anchoring, and a popular place for water skiing/tubing.
Here are some pics of the Bohemia area:
When we finished touring the Bohemia, we headed back downstream toward the Elk River again. We turned south and in the direction of the Sassafras River. Passing the Turkey Point Lighthouse, we entered the main part of the bay. It was here where we saw the greatest chop of the day. I had previously bumped up the speed a bit to make up some time, and we were running at about 41 MPH by my "generous" speedometer (37 MPH by GPS). Bumping the tabs down another couple of degrees kept the tendency to pound down to a manageable level. Art took some video of the area at this point (see the video here). It will be interesting to see if his camera's image stabilization worked to any great degree.
By the time we ran through the "minefield" of crab pots, and entered the mouth of the Sassafras River, the chop had fallen off again. The Sassafras, like the Bohemia, does not have a deepwater dredged channel and one needs to remain aware of where they are to avoid getting too close to the skinny water which can be found outside of the marked channel. The major marinas are pretty far upstream, clustered right before RT-213 crosses over via a drawbridge. Some of these marinas exude an air of opulence and the size and splendor of some the boats which are kept there pretty much reinforces that feeling. Some of these places might be a little rich for Art's blood, but others might be reasonable. This is my favorite marina area. From here you have close access to Ordinary Point, a cove which is a popular spot for afternoon rafting and beaching. It's also close to some prime anchoring spots, like Still Pond. Duffy Creek Marina also has one of the best prices for on-water fuel in the area.
Here are some pics of the Sassafras area marinas:
After our whirlwind tour of the Sassafras marinas, we headed back to Ordinary Point to anchor and have some lunch. I let Art have a turn at "driving", hoping that it will energize his desire to get back to the water all that much faster. I used the opportunity to play around with the GPS. It's really a neat toy which stores all sorts of interesting data, as well as giving you a relative idea of where you are. When we dropped anchor, it was around 12:30. We were a little behind schedule, but I figured we'd make better time on the return trip since we didn't have to stop anywhere. At one point, I had to chuckle. Both Art and I were standing at opposite points of the cockpit, trying to talk on cell-phones. He was trying to check in to his job, which always seems to have problems any time he takes a day off. I was talking to the boss too, but it had nothing to do with my employer. Neither of us had much luck getting a consistent, reliable connection. This underscores the reality that there aren't cell phone towers in the middle of the bay, and coverage is likely to be spotty.
We pulled anchor and left Ordinary Point at 1:00. I bumped up the speed again to about 41 MPH, to make the return journey a bit quicker, while not pounding the fillings out of our teeth in the process. We reached the end of the Sassafras River in fairly short order, and we were once again into the rougher stuff in the bay which continued up to the entrance into the Elk River. As we proceeded up the Elk, I showed Art the navigation lights which the commercial ships use to line up the proper course (59 degrees magnetic) to stay centered in the channel. As we continued upstream, the wave action subsided somewhat and I eased back on the tabs a couple of degrees. The tide was also running out, and was against us, which translated to an even greater discrepancy in the speed showing on the speedometer versus that displayed on the GPS, which shows speed relative to land not the water itself. In the final stretch of the C&D canal, before turning off into the Delaware City branch canal, I pushed the engine up to 4000 RPM, to give those secondaries in the carb a workout, with a displayed 50 MPH speed showing on the speedo. Taking the 5 MPH speedo error, and adding the 3 MPH tidal current, and it was a bit disappointing to see that our over-land speed was only 42 MPH on the GPS. Oh well......
We arrived back at the ramp just before 3:00 and, after wiping the boat down and unloading, we were on the road by 3:20. The worst part of the day for me was the relentless traffic on the return trip home. It took me about 2 hours to get home. It was worth it though, but not something I'd want to do every day, or even every weekend. Art made it home in just over an hour, which was a further indication that my new home, while closer to the bay in air miles, was a much tougher journey to get to by road.
The data for our trip, as well as some info on the C&D Canal can be found here.
Conclusion: A bad day of boating is still better than a good day at work. A good day of boating, is orders of magnitude better than the best day at work. It's just a shame there were so few of them this year. But, as they say, there's always next year. Now if I can only get Art to finally put his boat in the water.........