Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Froth and the Fury

I just submitted this article to Chesapeake Bay Magazine. Haven't heard anything back yet.


My second annual Chesapeake Bay sailing trip took place last summer aboard my 23-foot sloop. From my first trip I knew that the Bay was full of possibilities but could never have imagined that my trip would include meatball surgery or that I’d come uncomfortably close to some of the Bay’s largest fish. I guess this is what draws me to the Chesapeake year after year.

I had the same crew as the previous year although we made some changes in our route. Instead of heading south from my marina at Rhode River, we would go north to visit Dustin, an old college buddy whose parents lived at a waterfront property in Chestertown, Maryland. We were excited for things to come, including motoring under the Route 213 drawbridge to get to the property. On Wednesday everything was ready to go with a new spinnaker pole that I’d bought cheap at a local used sail equipment store.

We headed out early Thursday with “sheep in the pasture”, meaning there were whitecaps on the bay with high wind. We were heeling up nicely, cruising at about seven knots toward the mouth of the Chester. I’d had my crew read Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” to get them ready for the long motor trip upriver to our final destination at Dustin’s parents’ house. That book was good preparation but instead of meeting a half-mad trader like Mr. Kurtz in the novel, we were going to meet Dustin’s Scottish-born father, a mad scientist type who had developed some important discovery that contributed to the field of gastroenterology. We couldn’t wait to see him and his family. When the wind started to die, dusk began to fall and we decided to settle down for the first evening.

Our dinner was simply a celebration of life. We packed steaks, beers and poetry into watertight bags and waded ashore. While the flames of the sand-set grill lit his face from below, Mason recited an epic poem he’d written about sea travel. It was like no poetry reading I’d every witnessed. It was full of blood and beer-swilling boyhood adventure. After the grill was ready we cooked up the steaks and chewed down these half-cooked pieces of meat.

Shortly after we started wading back to the boat we began to step on something alive under the pitch-black water. These stepped-on creatures felt to us like slippery dogs. They were knocking us off balance as they swam away from our feet and we screamed out loud into the night. We had no idea what kind of large fish we were walking on but Mason and Rollin’s idea for protection was to push me, their captain, in front so I’d step on the beasts before they could. It wasn’t until I’d gotten home and posted on a fishing message board when I figured out that we had been stepping on cow-nosed stingrays.

The next day we motored our way up the Chester River to the heart of darkness. On shore was a rural idyll of rolling green hills and farmland. When we arrived at the drawbridge in Chestertown we were excited to blow our air-horn to signal the draw-tender to raise the bridge. We’d read that blowing the horn is how it’s done but a five-second blast resulted in no lifted bridge. Finally we just called the draw-tender at the cell phone number posted on the concrete bridge pillar. Up it went and we motored smoothly through. Shortly, we spotted the mad doctor’s house on the right.

Dustin’s parents were perfect hosts and we were treated to a crab feast on the sprawling waterfront lawn at sunset. It was low tide and my boat rested firmly on the mud bottom of the river, listing to its side. After dinner the crabs had digested enough to take a walk through the countryside at night.

We headed out, drinks in hand, toward the cornfields and darkness of the outskirts of Chestertown. Finishing my drink, I stowed the empty bottle in my pocket. Feeling the need to behave like children, we played the game of who-can-scare-the-other-guy-the-most. As I lunged out from the edge of a cornfield to scare Rollin, I fell right on the bottle which shattered in my pocket with the force of my body hitting the ground hard. As I stood up, I felt a warm drip and trickle of blood down my leg and onto my bare feet. Lifting my pant-leg exposed the deepest cut I’d ever seen on my body.

Not wanting to go to the emergency room and not having an insurance card on me, we convinced Dustin’s little sister to snag her dad’s doctor’s office keys and that Mason would stitch me up. Luckily, Mason is a Physician’s Assistant, having spent the last few years sewing up wounds almost daily.

As we walked into the doctor’s office everyone set to work trying to find painkiller, rubber gloves, gauze and stitching. Meanwhile, I lay on the table in my briefs while the sticky blood was blotted off of me. Mason then rubbed alcohol-soaked gauze through the bloody gash on my leg before he injected me with painkiller. In no time he set to the business of nervously sewing five stitches into the side of my thigh. After Finishing up, we locked the office and walked a block to the nearest bar so as not to interrupt the flow of the evening.

The next day we motored back down the Chester out to the Chesapeake. We had a full final day’s trip ahead of us crossing the Bay. It was overcast and windy and there wasn’t a sole but us out there. We made it back early and the stitches in my leg were feeling fine. In a span of a couple of days I had enough stories to last me through the year. But as I’ve come to realize in this second annual trip, there are no shortage of stories to be had on the Chesapeake in summertime.

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