Chesapeake Pain, Fuel Issues and Annapolis Fun

Day Twelve on the Vicious Voyage to Cold Water and Mosquitoes

The 48 hours on the Chesapeake between Fleets Bay and Annapolis were the worst of the trip. The powers that be started to stick it to us around 7 pm on Thursday with a storm that dwarfed the blow in Belhaven. And unlike Belhaven, we were not already at anchor, nor in fact near a possible anchorage as the light waned and winds began whipping out of the northwest. Within minutes, the rain was coming sideways with bullet force, “like a cow urinating sideways on a rock,” as Aaron recalled the old farmer’s saying. We measured the biggest gust at 48 knots. Lightning was crashing spectacularly close around the boat. We agreed that we hadn’t expected such weather in the Chesapeake. There was much hysterical laughter and rubbing of hands.

After the storm blew over, another appeared on the horizon, also intent on pasting us. We made for the nearest anchorage and reached it near 10 pm. One rule of good seamanship is to never anchor in the dark in an unfamiliar harbor. We shattered that rule and took it a step further by choosing a dark, unfamiliar harbor with a twenty-foot wide channel and shallow water on both sides. Faithful readers of this journal won’t be surprised that we ran aground in the muck. After several minutes of maneuvering, we managed to work free and promptly anchored in the middle of the channel at 13 feet of water. Having had no meal since breakfast, we had some quick soup and turned in at 11 pm.

Friday promised to be an enjoyable sail. We had only thirty miles to cover and we were planning to meet Aaron’s college friends in Annapolis for some much-needed socialization. Trouble started when a trickle, then a plague of flea, flies, gnats, darning needles, and several unidentified but large species of biting insects descended and enveloped our boat. By afternoon, the deck was thick with crushed bug cadavers and the air was thick with curses. Their blood ran over our tired hands. Five miles outside of Annapolis, our engine sputtered and stopped. We hurriedly dropped anchor. The gas gauge said we had almost a quarter of a tank. In fact we had none.

With several more oaths not fit for these pages, we set about identifying the problem and developing a strategy for fixing it. Having failed in these things, we called Father for a more experienced opinion. On his advice, Aaron stood watch while I jetted around in the dinghy with a spare gas can looking for a place that sold diesel. We proceeded to refill the tank and then opened up the engine room. It’s important to understand that diesel engines do not operate like car engines. When our engine runs out of gas, simply putting more in will not allow it to start. Instead, we had to bleed the engine, getting all of the air out of the system, which required fixing an electric fuel pump, unscrewing fuel filters and nuts, and finally praying. After almost an hour of work, the engine still would not start.

In a halfhearted move, toggled batteries and turned the key. The engine burst into beautiful song. Our astonishment was off the charts. Imagine this: You’re walking through the forest. A thirty-foot black bear leaps out from behind a rock and growls, “Password!” “Edward James Olmos,” you say. The bear nods and does a short jig before turning into a cold two-liter bottle of root beer labeled “Congratulations.” Such was our surprise.

We motored tentatively into Annapolis, got the anchor to snag after three attempts, and breathed deeply. Putting on normal clothes and deodorant in anticipation of landfall, we took the dinghy into the beautiful city of Annapolis. Our anchorage was beside the U.S. Naval Academy, and downtown Annapolis wraps around the piers and promenades at the waterfront. Everyone was out on the balmy Friday night, and we met Aaron’s friends, Learmouth,Waggoner, Nathan and Kelley at a restaurant for some food and drinks. Later, we brought the party to the boat and sat in the cockpit drinking and chatting until late. It was a splendid end to a difficult two days.

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