The forecast changed abruptly on Sunday morning, and did a 180. A broad storm front was now approaching from the Midwest. So heading for the Bay was definitely out.
But there was still time to get to a local reservoir. Probably all for the best: It’s been so long since I’ve sailed these boats, so much chaos and mayhem in the intervening years, I need to step out slowly.
How long? Looks like four and a half years. Based on photos and posts here on this blog, the last time I sailed one of my own boats was MASCF in October of 2018. That’s incredible.
Got gear collected and did a dry run in the yard. Lights on the trailer work, tires not flat – check. Blocks corroded, but serviceable – check. Lines and spars intact – check.
We left home in sunshine and arrived thirty minutes later at Beaver Creek under grey skies, darkening to the west over the mountains.
Backing a trailer, turns out, is a little like riding a bike. It’s a part of your brain you don’t use for anything else; so once you find where that is and open the lid, it’s still there, right where you left it. Confusing and wobbly at first, but it comes back. Same with the sailing part. In a few minutes, everything feels familiar again. Fortunately, boats don’t hold a grudge. All this time ignored, and Aeon was just happy to be out on the water again. Light puffy wind, nothing too ambitious. Tacking and jibing, reading wind signs on the water and in the trees on shore.
After an hour the Blue Ridge to the west disappeared. We turned back. Got to the ramp and mostly loaded before the sky opened up and dumped rain on us.
Looking at these photos, we realize how much older and grayer we are now. It’s been a tough five years, for all of us.
It’s a detailed compilation of how centuries of black enslaved and freemen of the Outer Banks and coastal NC learned the dangerous trade of navigating those waters from early settlement, so their white owners wouldn’t have to take the risks. But this skill gave them a valuable advantage when it came to vying for freedom, or assisting others in escapes, as the Civil War approached. (Thanks for the recommendation from Steve Earley.) In some cases, they joined the Northern Navy and assisted in raids and blockades of Southern ports, because they knew the dangerous shoals so well.
The photo above, though, was included in the Sailing to Freedom book. It looks very similar to the larger version of my Melonseed skiffs, which is what caught my eye. What a fascinating backstory to the engraving.
A group of slaves escaped in this boat by sailing from Norfolk all the way to Philadelphia. That’s hard enough to do now, with modern weather forecasts and GPS, when you’re assured of getting help if you need it.
I can’t imagine doing that in the mid 1800s, when contact with anyone at all could mean capture and/or death.
Finally getting back to the video from Saint Michaels. Kinda nice to have, now that the boats are put away. Wood stove season has arrived and leaves are falling off the trees.
Some of the sailing clips include Dave Gentry in his Chautaqua sailing canoe, Steve Earley in his Pathfinder Spartina, Jim Drake in his Coquina Molly Malone. I had a lovely long glide along John England in his sprit skiff as he ghosted all the way around Yankee Point and the lighthouse – a long unbroken clip, a piece of which appears above.
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum staff were working on several restorations, steam bending mast hoops and splicing steel rigging.
The race on Saturday was a real nail-biter. Almost no wind, so the boats drifted in close quarters all the way to the finish line in slow motion. Captains and crews throughout were close enough to lob creative disparagements from boat to boat, along with a few cold beers.
. . .
I’ve been asked about the music. Back before the internet was really big, there were these things called bulletin boards and chat rooms organized by interest. Very low tech, and very non-commercial, homespun affairs. There were some good ones put together by amateur musicians, who shared self-made recordings for supportive critiques, tips and tricks, etc.. The music was shared freely without reservation. Some really good stuff by really talented people. I still have some of those recordings I’ve saved all these years, and still play them.
All the music in this video comes from Tom Atwood. He’s now a professional photographer, and looks like he’s still making music. You can find him online here:
Sunday is my second favorite day of the festival. Some folks pack up and leave early. Those that linger are here for the boating, and stay as long as they can, savor it.
Fall comes later now to the Mid-Atlantic, but the leaves are starting to turn. You know the season is nearly over, winter coming soon. Another reminder to get it while you can, cuz it won’t be around much longer.
I have changed the way I do MASCF. I now only take a tent and a sleeping bag – no stove, no provisions. Just sailing gear, a cooler and libations. Easier. After a fitful night of sleeping among the sonorous snorers of St. Michaels (I now pack earplugs every year) at dawn one can go to the Steamboat House for cheap coffee and donuts (gratis), or walk a few pleasant blocks through the morning mist in town, and get a good coffee and omelette for a few bucks. At The Blue Crab cafe, where one is apt to meet fellows of like mind and demeanor.
On the walk back, take a shower and a stroll along the docks.
Another change made over the years is to begin sailing as soon as possible. I used to hang around the museum for all the events, which are fun, but that meant I was often late getting on the water. Now I go sailing right after breakfast and don’t come back until time for dinner. It’s wonderful sailing, with beautiful boats coming and going to make a stunning view.
Zigzag along the docks – an appreciative audience waves and takes photos. In small boats like mine the technical challenge of threading docks and the mooring field is fun, hones handy skills. Reach across the Miles River when the wind is up, break free of the crowd to take deep breaths again, the sound of wind and waves absent of human chatter.
There’s a certain logic to this. The festival has become so well attended that finding dock space is like playing musical chairs. The moment you move a boat to use it, another will slide in to take your place. Someone is always circling nearby, looking for a slip. Once you slip the lines and pull out, may as well stay out.
Around noon the fleet will embark and swarm out to you in earnest. Boats everywhere. You will have missed the instructions for the race course, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t care, primarily, and secondly the course will likely change, as is it does today. There is so little wind today at the start, the committee shrewdly at the last minute shortens the course by half. As I’ve said before, it’s not a race, it’s a parade. Prizes will be awarded, true, but not just to the fastest boats.
After the race, many who have not been on the water all day will stay out, remembering again how nice it is to be free of land. “Oh, right, this is nice.” There’s a lot of cruising in close company to admire each other’s boats. The last of the cold front that brought the rain last night drains away, the skies clear, barely enough wind left to fill a light sail.
Then dinner, always a pleasant affair with congratulations, and much giving of thanks. It’s a devout congregation. A sort of religion, the people of small hand-made boats, and a tent revival. Very Quaker. The gods are fickle, but the ministers are kind.
After dinner, Webb Chiles gave a talk this year. He does routinely what few of us would do, ever, though some might like to. Around the world alone, over and over, in a too small boat. The “monastery of the sea” he aptly calls it.
So, for all of us, the trip to St. Michaels was an adventure of trials and tribulations. Being mariners all, some of us approaching ancient, the telling of the tale is part of the package. Mine would have seemed more adventurous in other company. Except perhaps for Tom, though, all would choose their tribulations over mine.
After dinner I found Dave Gentry and pitched a tent in the dark and rain. The campsites had filled up more than I’ve seen on a Thursday. I understand they had the most people ever on the Wye Island gunk hole trip. And Kristen, the museum president, was on her way back from solo-ing in a kayak for 60 miles around Kent Island.
Friday morning was cool and breezy as a front blew out the rain. Good sailing. Took a bunch of photos of boats along the docks, then launched Caesura and spent the day on the water, returning in time for the traditional festival kickoff of steamed crabs and raw oysters.