Camping Out the Storm ~ Chesapeake Float 2015

 Crossing Tangier Sound


Getting out of Smith Island at low tide is proving a surprising challenge. A text comes through from home saying the storm knocked out the power, the same front heading our way. VHF weather says rain and high wind, with gusts to 30+. We dallied longer over lunch than prudent, we realize, and now dark clouds are filling the sky to the southwest.

Everyone ties in reefs and shoves off. We have three miles of sailing within Smith Island just to get out, and all dead into a wind still coming from the southeast. Beyond that it’s another 7 miles to across Tangier Sound. A couple of hours of sailing, at best. That’s a lot of time for wind and waves to build in the Sound.


Finally clearing the Big Thorofare


The Big Thorofare is running short on water, at almost low tide. Kevin MacDonald and Eddie manage to slip through, but Obadiah and Slip Jig bottom out tacking across the channel. We have to short tack hugging either side of the channel markers, and this slows us down more. The wind is picking up. It’s spitting rain and gusting. We batten things down and pull out the foul weather gear. By the time we exit the island we’ve lost site of little t and Una. No one has seen or heard from Mike since he turned back at Ewell with a jammed rudder.

It’s pretty bumpy in the shallows, but the wind is coming gradually around from the south, and steady. We’re in the lee of Tangier and the flats, which offer some protection from the wave trains crossing the Bay. In deep water the chop switches to long rollers and occasional white caps.


Ken in his O’Day


There’s a sail on the horizon, surprisingly coming our way. Who the heck would be coming this way in this stuff? Turns out it’s Ken in his O’Day coming to check on us. Instead of growing stronger the wind eases a bit, just enough, and the three boats have a long, fast, broad reach across the Sound. By the time the boats are tied up and gear stowed the rain is coming and going in wind driven sheets.





Joe Manning’s new Marsh Cat Makani






Two Marsh Cats


Weather report says the worst is yet to come, arriving overnight. Friday will be all high winds and rain. Only one boat in the whole group has an enclosed cabin. The idea of spending the night and a long day under a tarp, or even a tent, in gale force winds and blowing rain holds little appeal. We decide to stay ashore on Janes Island and let it blow over.

This is a great state park, with showers, ramps, docks, campsites and cabins. We manage to snag a couple of the cabins, the last available even this early in the season. Joe Manning, who stayed behind to meet a friend, scored the luxury model, with three bedrooms, a fireplace, kitchen and bath. Nice digs for the guys who skipped the Smith Island trip. For only a couple of dollars less I secure us a no-frills single room hut with two bunk beds, but we’re glad to have it. Comes with electricity, a space heater, and a view of the marsh – luxury is relative.


The bunkhouse cabin



Cabin interior






The key to small boat happiness is realizing there are no lemons, only lemonade, and accepting that you can’t choose when to make it. With dry clothes and the prospect of a dry bed for the night, we’re in a celebratory mood, and all meet in Crisfield for a seafood dinner. Our group has grown, and now fills a table set for a dozen. After dinner, drinks and Meg’s Cookies® around a campfire, and music in the cabins until the rain settles in for good.

With Friday expected to be a washout, new plans are made. Some will drive south on the peninsula to scout future launch sites at Chincoteague and Onancock. Several of us will take the mail boat over to Tangier for the day. I am all in with the latter group. For me an adventure of yet another kind.




One Reply to “Camping Out the Storm ~ Chesapeake Float 2015”

  1. Hi there! I loved your account of that trip. I’m a DC fine art photographer, small boat sailor, and sometime kayak instructor. I’ve kayaked the eastern shore, but would love to sail it. I have an Arno Day dory at the Washington Sailing Marina, but will bring something bigger down from Cape Cod, where I have a few boats.
    The website below is being fixed, by a friend so it’s taking forever, but there are other links on its holding page.

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