When I was a kid, we always took our vacation on the boat. It was an inexpensive vacation. But it was also a lot of fun. In the 1960s we didn’t have air conditioning in the house so it was frequently cooler to be on the boat than in the house. Plus you could jump in the water to cool off. We would always leave on a Friday evening and come back on the following Sunday, so 9 or 10 days.
One year our sailing club decided to take a sailing trip down to the southern part of the Chesapeake Bay. Not as far as the bridge tunnel, but we did get to the Potomac. I think we did 2 full weeks that year but could be remembering wrong.
It is so long ago, I don’t remember a lot of it because one day on the boat can be kind of like the next. We probably got to the South River or West River on the first night. The next night might have been Solomon’s Island or there might have been another stop in between. I will never forget the entrance to Solomon’s Island though.
Mysterious Sand Bar
We had never sailed that far south before so we were using charts to make sure that we were in the right place and didn’t run aground. We thought we were in the middle of the channel but we saw what looked like a sand bar up ahead, right across where the channel was supposed to be. So we consulted with the chart and looked at the water and consulted the chart some more. We approached slowly and finally realized that it was no sand bar but sea nettles so thick that you couldn’t see the water. You could almost have walked across them. I have never seen anything like that since.
I was a teenager at the time. We had a couple of college age kids along too. We went to a local restaurant and sat outside at tables. The parents all sat together and the kids were all off by themselves. We had several cute girls in the group so we attracted some guys from the local marine biological research station. The college age kids and the biologists (they might have been in college too for all I know) started downing beers. They put down an impressive amount. When questioned they said there wasn’t much else to do around there. I remember a number of funny stories were swapped including one about a college fraternity called Groove Fi Groove.(It was the 60s remember).
The next day we left Solomon’s to go to the Potomac. Leaving was just as much an experience as coming. It was pea soup fog. You couldn’t see much more than a couple hundred feet. We were using the compass to make sure we were headed for the next marker. Then we heard a fog horn and it sounded like a large freighter. But we had no idea where it was and we didn’t know if we were in the channel or not. Scary! Not fun at all.
Today, ship design has improved so much that when a freighter goes by you, they barely throw any wake at all. They are much more efficient moving through the water. When I was a kid, they would put out 3 or 4 foot wakes if they were moving at all fast. You would really get rocked.
When it is foggy out, sound travels really well. (On the Bay, it is usually only foggy when it is flat calm. Not true in New England. It can be foggy and pretty windy.) We could hear the wake and the engines of the freighter. It sounded really close. We never saw it and it obviously didn’t hit us. But the thing we never figured out was why we never felt any wake. It is possible it was further away than we thought because sound can trick you in a fog. But, waves usually travel for miles. We are regularly rocked by power boats on the other side of the bay. Still a mystery to this day.
Don’t remember where we went in the Potomac. Just one of the first creeks and then we started heading home. The first stop was Tangier or Smith Island. Everyone on the islands are related to each other. There are only something like 6 last names. They still speak a kind of Elizabethan english if I remember correctly although TV is probably changing that. But they have a reputation of being very insular and not liking outsiders. So the organizers of the trip contacted them ahead of time so that we wouldn’t get shot at when we arrived.
The channel is a bit odd because there are actually several islands and you can go right through. Normally the red buoys are on the right as you go upstream and the black or green ones on the left. That doesn’t work on a cut through an island. So they keep the buoys the same all the way through and when you come through one way everything is normal. When you come up the channel from the other direction, everything is backwards.
We all anchored and we had some of the local people coming by to offer freshly caught crabs. For sale, not as a gift. My parents bought some and had them for dinner. A bunch of kids came riding by in skiffs. We heard them saying they had never seen so many yachts. That was funny to us, because the boats in our club weren’t that big. Many weren’t much more than day sailers. In the years since, people have traded up and you might call them yachts now, at least some of them. Not true back then.
The local kids were just so comfortable on the water. You could tell they had been around it their whole lives. They played a game which we really enjoyed watching. One would sit in the very bow of the skiff and the other would be in the back steering. The one steering would twist and turn, speed up and slow down and try to throw the other one out of the boat. No one fell overboard but it was a lot of fun to watch.
I don’t really remember the rest of the trip. We might have stopped at Dun Cove on the back side of Tilghman Island. If I remember correctly, on another trip that is where my mother put us aground as the tide was going out. The boat ended up tilting sideways. We were stuck hard and had to wait for the next high tide and even then had to get the Coast Guard (Marine Police?) to help pull us off.
Oh, almost forgot. Each evening the boats would raft up together. The parents would always be on one boat drinking and the kids would be on another boat. We were telling stories and playing games and tricks on each other. One time a couple of the kids got one of the guys to close his eyes. Then they told him to draw a donkey in the air. Then they said to point to his nose. He said I don’t know where that is. They said, Just point. So he did. Then they had him point to the ears, the feet and finally his ass. While this was going on, one of the girls had opened her mother’s jar of cold cream. When he pointed to the ass, she moved the jar so that his finger went into the cold cream. It felt like shit to him and he jumped a mile. We laughed for quite a while.
Anyway, a fun trip.