Maiden Adventure aboard Juan2bFREE
Solo Sailing a SJ-21 on Chesapeake Bay
The purpose of the following travel journal is simple: To give back what I received.
One year ago, I read
someone else's account of his experience in a small sailboat on the Chesapeake.
It was this internet article which inspired and encouraged me to plan and undertake my own adventure.
It is therefore only fair that I submit my report of this trip in the hope that perhaps one or
more small boat sailors may wish to try it as well. Their efforts will surely be rewarded.
Here is a map of my route (click to see)
I had originally planned this trip for early June. I was all ready to go when a
few days prior to my departure, we experienced a major growth in our business which necessitated
that I postpone the trip. It was a bitter-sweet disappointment because we had anticipated
this expansion for a long time yet I needed a vacation badly and
I could not envision that things would sufficiently settle down to the new level to allow me to
reschedule for this summer. As it turned out, the beginning of August emerged as a possible
time for my trip and though less than ideal for the Chesapeake, I could not afford to be choosy.
It was then or never. I was actually reluctant to get too excited for
fear that I might be disappointed again. Alas, I was not.
Prior to embarking on this trip, I had mapped out the route and verified the
doability of my plan with sailors who were familiar with these waters. Some of my internet sailor
friends on the
were extremely helpful.
Aug 1, 2001
Juan2bFREE and I
left Pittsburgh at 10:45 and other than the major congestion on the Beltway,
we had a smooth ride to Edgewater, MD, a bit south of Annapolis on Route 2.
At 4:30 we arrive at the
Pier 7 Marina on the South River
right off of Route 2.
The Marina owner charged $85 for launch fee, full use of facilities and for
keeping car and trailer for up to one week. If I had wanted to, I would have been able with
this arrangement to dock there every night and then venture out on smaller day trips.
But that was not my plan. After sweating through stepping the mast, the setup and provisioning, I
finally launched Juan2bFREE at 7:30. Right after the launch, as I tried to dock
my little 21-foot sailboat in the 30 foot big slip, I lost the anchor. Plop! It had gotten
caught in the painter and nimbly dislodged itself from its bow pulpit fitting.
Luckily, it was my cheap back-up anchor, but nevertheless, I had to get a replacement
before embarking on my cruise the next morning. Stupidly, I donned my swimming trunks
to dive after the anchor. After all, the water was only 8 foot deep at most (RIGHT!).
Alas, in the setting sun, the water was very murky and as I groped for my hook,
I encountered a sea nettle, a small type of jelly fish with stinging tentacles.
(This is something I really should have anticipated from my extensive
preparation, you would think - Ha !) I quickly resurfaced with less pain on my arm than the
pain of embarrassment for my total stupidity.
I was hoping that the morning rays might sufficiently illuminate the bottom so that I might
retrieve the anchor with my boat hook. Nevertheless, I made sure that I knew the location
of the closest West Marine store and their morning opening hour. (Lucky for me, there was one
right in Edgewater, no more than 5 minutes away) I was not about to leave the
dock on a 5 day trip without a second anchor. As it turned out, I needed
to pick up a new one.
After the boat was secured in its slip, I took a shower at the Marina facility (just press 1-3-2)
and then headed to the nearby Marina Restaurant where surrounded by the sounds of music,
lots of noise, the smell of brew and crabs, I happily indulged in a Yuengling
along with a huge plate of Angel Hair Pasta steeped in olives,
gorgonzola and lots of other little goodies. THAT hit the spot after a very exhausting day.
Following a delightful meal, I just returned to what would be my digs for the next week and
plopped in for a sound sleep in my rocking cradle.
LESSON 1: ALWAYS secure anchor in pulpit fitting while in water.
The salty air awoke me at 6:45 and I set out to finish preparing the boat. Mostly, it was a
matter of deciding where everything would or should be stowed for efficient access and stability.
I still had to stop at West Marine for the new hook and some ice for the cooler. So, I fortified my resolve
on a "vacation breakfast" (eggs over-easy) at Friendly's and then took care of business.
The West Marine Store in Edgewater had the exact anchor I was looking for.
Finally, I parked car and trailer in the designated spot and was ready to go. WHAT A FEELING!
Perhaps a little thing to ocean-going voyagers but to me and Juan2bFREE, we were embarking
on a new horizon - filled with expectant anticipation. At 10:00 we motored
out of the marina into South River .
Along the way,
I began to ready the sails and sheets. With winds coming right up into the South River,
I ended up motoring out quite a ways toward to Bay.
By the time I reached Turkey Neck Point a southerly breeze of 5-10 knots filled my sails
for a broad reach toward the
which I could actually see well in the 12 mile distance
right from Turkey Neck Point.
As I was setting out on this first-time solo voyage, I was somewhat surprised by a keen sense
of the danger of falling out of the boat, especially while motoring. I took this fear to be
a very healthy sign - it caused me to be extra careful.
I used the harness and clip extensively and took pains to steer clear of cocky confidence.
When single-handing, the danger is actually a lot greater when motoring because
the boat will continue going full speed ahead with or without helmsman whereas, under sail, the boat
would (presumably) soon round up with sails uselessly flapping in the wind.
At first, the going was not particularly fast (3.5 to 4 knots max.) due the wakes of larger
boats which kept pounding my little craft causing it to slow down with each splash.
By 13:20 I finally reached the
I hove to and had a somewhat hurried lunch. Though
I had a tiller lock, the balance of the boat combined with the wave action simply did not make it
possible to sail while going below to fix lunch. With the boat hove-to, I did not have to worry
about boat balance and could take care of bodily needs. After that I attempted to set my spinnaker
but had difficulty in the building breeze of 10-15 knots on the bouncy bow. I really was a little
too afraid of falling out and decided to leave it be. Instead, I enjoyed the building wind and
began to surf at times. In my unfamiliarity with these waters, I had to really pay attention
to the compass and look for the ATONs (aids to navigation) in order to make sure that I would not
get caught in the long shoal which lies directly in front of Swan Creek.
My new binoculars and the excellent navigational maps came in very handy.
I had the map clipped to a clipboard with a magnifying glass in easy reach. My sunglasses
do not have my newest "reading" prescription and therefore were not of much use making out
the small notations on the map.
As I swung around the northern tip of Kent Island, the southerly breeze gained still more force
and I was amazed to find my little craft cruising at a clip of 6 knots even though the jib
was often-times ineffective due to my low point of sail.
At 16:30 I neared the mouth of Swan Creek and though I was directly in the marked channel,
I promptly crashed into a shoal (not the major one in front but simply an unmarked area
which extended a little bit into the navigable channel). I lurched forward and the force was
sufficient to bend the keel bolt somewhat. It was still useable but I did want to replace it.
I docked in
Haven Harbor Marina
with difficulty in a 35 foot slip. The winds came from an
unfavorable direction and it is simply not an easy task to single-hand into a slip that was
intended for a boat twice our size. There were lots of
ospreys to watch my fumbling
but ultimately, with the help of my great boat hook, I got Juan2bFREE properly secured and
immediately headed for the excellent facilities. When I got into the shower, my body and
entire equilibrium were still "at sea", rockin' and rollin'.
LESSON 2: Raise CB while motoring and perhaps release CB pin lock but beware of sloshing water into the inside of boat from wash inside the CB box
LESSON 3: When single-handing, heave to if you want to eat or take care of other bodily needs.
I strolled along a lovely country road to have dinner at the quaint Swan Point Inn half a mile from the marina. Upon returning, I
listened to the wind howling in the shrouds of the 40 footers which instilled a bit of uneasiness and
some trepidations about the next days beat down south toward the Chester. I was concerned less
for the weather/wind conditions than for my timing to make it to Corsica River.
But I figured that I'd make up on the subsequent broad reach toward the Corsica what I'd
lost on the way south toward the Chester.
Whatever the concerns, they were short-lived, as I retired into my little ship, totally exhausted but
pleased with the 26 nautical miles of the first leg of my journey.
Upon awaking, I had a primitive breakfast at the Marina, purchased, ice, fuel and more water -
anxious to get an early start for my new destination, Corsica River. In hindsight, I would have
probably enjoyed a nice quiet anchorage in Swan Creek a lot more than docking in Haven Harbor - being a midget
As I got out of Swan Creek
back into the Bay, winds were brisk and waters choppy. The beat along the Eastern Neck took nearly
three and a half hours. Nevertheless, this was very enjoyable sailing with some excitement as
the rail was digging in and some provisions below deck found new locations. What a difference from
small lake sailing: reasonably consistent winds and long tacks.
As I rounded the southern point of Eastern Neck Island, winds piped up across Kent Narrows to
about 15-20 knots. I could clearly see the Bay Bridge far in the distance as well as the Kent
Narrows Bridge to the south glistening in the early afternoon sun. The next two miles were an
exciting reach which, despite my loaded boat, provided me with an intoxicating surf ride. Coming
up into the Chester, the new course became a broad reach on noticeably bigger waves which were
presumably generated by the longer southerly fetch... what a gas as I skated down their backsides!
At one point, I had a bit of a scare as a huge power boat closely zoomed past me as I followed the Chester
on a run. The violent rolling motion of the boat made me fear for an accidental gybe and I quickly
headed up (momentarily) in order to stabilize the boat. The wake of that power boat had caught up
with me (off guard) from behind on following seas which seemed to amplify their effect. I had
not experienced such a large wave before. Thereafter, I was very mindful of power
boats approaching from behind and luckily, there were very few and their wake did not compare to the first
After an nicely controlled gybe to follow the eastward bend of the Chester, I soon approached
the Red "9" marker which provided the cue to head due east for the approach into
Corsica River .
Since the winds were strong and the channel quite narrow, I decided to drop canvas and motor into
the Corsica with a released keel pin. I am glad I did because near Town Point the water got very
thin and though I was on course for the next channel marker, I ran the keel into a shoal.
This time though , I was prepared and it was easy to simply raise the swing keel a few inches
and continue unscathed.
Beyond this bottle neck, the Corsica deepens back into a consistent 10 foot depth.
As I puttered along, I was struck by the rural beauty of the reed-lined shore.
Ospreys nested on every pole and marker. At Cedar Point, the Corsica provided me with a superb
nook for my first night at anchor.
I prepared to set the anchor gently gliding to a
choice spot in the little bay
and after dropping the hook, I drifted backwards until it was time to give the rode a good tuck to see
if the anchor was setting. It worked like a charm and I was set for the night. After tucking in
sails and setting up the tarp, I pulled out and inflated the plastic rowing dinghy to
explore the surrounding shore line.
It was a bit cumbersome and I ended up not using it on other evenings
but on this occasion, it was fun to get ready and to row away from the anchored boat.
This shoreline was particularly inviting and thus I got to test out that the rubber raft inflated
properly and that I could ready it and launch it from my SJ-21.
The Corsica is a gunkholer's glory.
The little beach near my anchorage may have been a great
place to cool off on a warm June day. However, by August, these backwaters are infested by sea
nettles. I had in wise forethought purchased one of those nifty solar showers which I hoisted on
the front deck from my jib halyard and provided me with a refreshing cleansing
I would have been very uncomfortable without the ability to completely get clean at the end
of the day.
All of the day's excitement in 96 degree heat caused me to consume mass quantities of liquids.
I never drank so much water in my life. A good friend had told me to drink water that was NOT
chilled because it was much better for the body. I followed his advise and must say that it worked
particularly well - especially while underway. I never dehydrated and always felt completely up
to the tasks at hand. Nevertheless, after the long hot day and pure exhaustion, a few cold
Yuenglings were a pure delight.
I was pleased to see that there were no "bug problems" and
thus I did not even bother to set up the
companionway screen which I have in case of bug problems. Since my boat did not yet have a
permanently fixed anchoring light at the mast head, I had planned to hoist a candle powered
storm light. While attempting to set it up hoisted by the jib halyard, a huge testosterone
machine powered by and its wake caused the mast to bounce so energetically that I had to
think of a better way of securing it. In the meantime, the other (very expensive) light which I
had suspended at the edge of the tarp danced right out of its loop and gracefully
plopped into the water where it now contributes to a significant increase in the value
of submerged Corsica property. (NO! I did not dive after it, even though
it was in no more that five foot of water.)
As I sat down to jot down a few notes on the 26 some nautical miles of the past 12 hours,
I heard an incessant orchestra of crickets giving rise to the most amazingly orange
full moon. What a peaceful delight. Is this paradise?!
The light still needed to be properly secured. Once that was done, I was down and out in
seconds, filled with a certain sense of accomplishment. Never mind the books and fine vacation
reading which I had brought along. They remained untouched despite a sincere desire to
do some reading.
Arose at 7:00 and had my first cup of self brewed coffee on board. Not bad at all !!!
My little hiking stove still worked like a charm and the muesli was just the right thing
to get me ready for another day.
The NOAA forecast called for lighter winds and overcast skies with a chance for late day
showers. Winds were still southerly and it would have taken probably four hours to beat
myself up to the Kent Narrows Bridge. Not having been there before, I really wanted to be
there for slack waters or outgoing tide. According to the tide schedule, I wanted to get
there before noon. Thus, I opted to motor all the way to the Narrows. In this manner,
I got to see, how far exactly the small internal tank of my 4 hp OB would take me and
what it would be like to refuel underway. I certainly had plenty of fuel and thus I set
out puttering along at a comfortable 5 knot clip on half throttle. The SJ-21 really is
not that heavy and a little bit of fuel takes you far, far. Indeed, I was impressed.
We reached the Narrows at 1100 hours and it was not difficult
to find the entrance to the channel as a parade of motor boats and
sailboats of all sizes queued up the narrow straight toward the
would probably make a good launch location. We had to wait for the 12 o'clock
opening of the draw bridge and I was first in line to putter through the Narrows southward into
Prospect Bay. However, I did not immediately continue but instead headed for Wells Cove for
lunch on board and some fresh ice. I ended up having to take a goodly walk before I got to a
fish store which sold ice. I did not mind the walk despite the heat and I probably would
have had lunched in one of the many inviting Restaurants in the immediate vicinity,
if I had not been by myself.
I could tell a big difference between this Saturday weekend traffic and the previous days.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of this traffic was in form of high powered three story high
motor yachts which cause a total mess of wakes across the entire Chesapeake. This has to be
experienced to be believed. I had read about these weekend warriors in their fearsome chariots
appropriately named Warlord and Terminator. And you can try to imagine
their awe-inspiring wakes but it is quite another thing to sit in a little
21 foot nutshell, bobbing up and down like a tiny cork, as these
huge monsters ruthlessly plow their path to whatever-the-heck-destination-they-please
(may it be far away) causing waves that would surely be bigger than you might encounter in a
major storm. It was fair to say that on this Saturday and Sunday with winds being no more
than 10 knots and frequently a lot less, I did not see many waves which were actually caused
by the wind. Luckily, winds picked up once I got back underway from the Narrows and I set
sail on a southerly course.
By then I had determined to head for the Wye East River, South of Wye Island. The beat toward
G"3" around the tip was pleasant and there were several
all headed toward
I got a kick out of making it there first despite that fact that initially
all of them were well ahead of me. Once I rounded Drum Point into Shaw Bay, I dropped
canvas and motored on into the Wye in search of a suitably secluded anchorage.
There were lots of little nooks and crannies but most of them were already occupied by some
powerboat or other. Some larger bays were populated by some very large sailing yachts as well.
Due to the fact that many of the quiet little coves were already spoken for, I ended up going
up the Wye a lot further then planned. I had no regrets about this though as I got to see even more
of the breathtaking
beauty of this river.
Finally, about six miles into the Wye, I found a nice little
spot and dropped the hook for the night.
I noticed that the Wye was apparently crabbers delight as I found myself dodging numerous cab
pots. The working boats patrolled the pots and checked them constantly for a potential catch.
Even the next morning, Sunday, they were early at work checking their pots. This was a real
That evening, it became very humid. Beyond the Wye and across the Bay, you could hear a few
thunderstorms but they remained a distant rumbling. Very briefly, I heard a few drizzles on
the tarp as I gently slipped into slumber.
Once that night I woke up and actually got out into the cockpit. Gone was the humidity.
The full moon sparkled silvery in the clear sky. The crisp windless air over the Wye
formed a gunkhole atmosphere, so eerie and sublime that you could taste it on
your skin. It was the only night I woke up to watch the elves dance on rays of moonshine.
The next morning, I awoke in a steamy
cloud of fog.
Winds were forcast not to exceed 10 knots
and overall pleasant conditions. Well, that is relative when you have to deal with the weekend
I decided to make the most of it. My plan was to head for the Miles River and stop in St. Michaels
for lunch, ice and a visit of the Chesapeake Maritime Museum. Then I was going to continue on to
The exit from the Wye was foggy and steamy. But soon the winds picked up a bit and the fog bank
disappeared. The sail toward St. Michaels was reasonably smooth despite the powerboats and as I
got closer, I opted for my iron wind. This worked much better as I puttered around the harbor and
got a closer look of the water front of this charming town. I
docked right at the Museum
and was able to keep the boat there for the duration of my visit.
The Museum is well worth the visit and some of the rooms were air-conditioned which provided
an additional incentive to linger. Outside, a band was playing blue-grass as crowds of visitors
munched on crab claws and chips. No crab for me, but a snow cone helped to relieve the heat.
I got a good look at the old Skip-Jack sailing vessels which once were working
boats but now are used for tourist outings.
Despite the 99 degree heat, I enjoyed a stroll through the town and ended up at a nice little
waterfront restaurant for an excellent yellow-fin tuna sandwich. By 2:00 I returned to
my boat and got back underway again. After a motored exit, I set sails for
Tilghman Creek and I was reasonably confident that there would not be a space problem with this
being Sunday evening. It was a nice easy sail to Tilghman Creek. I could make it out
in the distance and had no difficulty finding
the narrow entrance
into the creek. I was right, there
were lots of good little anchorages. Rather than taking the first available one, I
motored up the
relatively short creek
to explore the setting.
It was a delight. Since the water was very thin and I did not want to constantly check my
depth sounder, I simply cranked up the keel a good bit and puttered on without concern.
Once I set the anchor everything seemed to be fine until about a 30 minutes later when winds
suddenly shifted 180 degrees. Luckily, the hook held and the cove was so protected that I really
did not need to worry about drifting off into dangerous cliffs.
This would be my last night at anchor for tomorrow, I would be heading on another long leg back
to the South River. I had a special keen appreciation of all the sounds and sights and
which clearly was in charge of this cove.
Alas, this night should remain in my memory for another reason. While I had not had any mosquito
problems during the previous evenings, this location had some very small tiny mosquitoes. While
I sat outside, they were a mild annoyance but I did not realize that they also had taken up
residence inside of the cabin. Thus the mosquito netting did nothing to get rid of those that
were already inside. The little beasties made my night a misery. I was so tired that I actually
had resolved to hit the hay by 9:00. No such luck ! By 12 midnight I was still up trying to hunt
down these micro-monsters which I heard but could barely see. Ultimately, exhaustion overcame
me and I succumbed to becoming their full course meal during a long sweaty night.
LESSON 4: Beware of your anchorage and onshore/offshore winds and what they may bring.
LESSON 5: Use bug spray sooner rather than later.
Got up at 7:00, bitten up but relieved that the night was over. I immediately began to
ready my boat and my mind for the final leg of my journey. I scrubbed the deck and put lots
of odds and ends into place. With a strong cup of coffee in hand, I reviewed the charts and
plotted the course for the last day afloat.
A strange feeling. At 09:45 I weighed anchor and in the light morning air,
I motored out of Tilghman Creek.
By the time I rounded Tilghman Point, a light breeze announced its arrival.
Though it was a beat toward R"2" I kept to sailing and this was a good decision as winds soon
began to build allowing for a respectable 4 knots under canvas alone. This nice breeze
made for a totally delightful beat southward along the western side of the Neck.
Once I approached the G"9" Bell, I could fall off onto a brisk reach and then broad reach past
Bloody Point Bar. Winds picked up a bit more and in the absence of power vessels, the gentle
waves allowed for great momentum. I was now reaching across the Eastern Bay toward the Southern
tip of Kent Island.
The point of sail and conditions were perfect for my
which I had safely stowed
away after several unsuccessful attempts to use it under less favorable conditions. Here, the
temptation was too great and thus, I locked in the tiller and began to set up this 150% gennaker.
Everything went well, the trips to the bow were not unreasonable this time and I hoisted the
sock and opened the chute. WHOW! the extra power got us on a
wonderful 5 knot ride!
I was now crossing the main Bay and even though the waves were somewhat larger, the chute
stayed up well and did not flop around as it had done on a previous occasion. Several times
the course and wind shifts necessitated gybing and I developed a pretty good routine and
confidence in doing it alone without deploying the spinnaker sock.
All the while winds continued to build as we approached Thomas Point and by the time I arrived
at the mouth of South River, we had nearly 15 knots,
soaring under a reaching spinnaker
into a wonderful joy ride reaching 7 knots - what a grand finale !!!
Juan2bFREE came into its own FREEDOM on a last hurray of this glorious journey.
We sailed most of the six miles up South River back to 7th Pier Marina. For the last mile,
I dropped sails and motored as I began to ready everything for the take out. By the time
I reached the pier, most lines were already well tucked away ready for the dismantling and
dismasting. As my feet touched the dock, I mentally recited the blessing for having been
safely returned to the point of my departure - as a newly initiated seafarer.
Within a few hours, I emptied the boat of my gear and stepped down the mast. I did not finish
all tasks but rather left the final job for the next morning. It was getting late and I was
desperately in need of a shower and a good meal as well as some rest. I headed to Annapolis
where I stayed in a Hotel, enjoyed a nice dinner downtown and strolled along the city docks as
I wistfully admired a 40 some foot cutter-rigged beauty appropriately named Shamayim (heaven).
The next morning, I just had a few more things to do to get the boat ready for the road.
The return trip was smooth sailin' and in fact, I made such excellent time that I ended up taking Juan2bFREE
right up to Moraine State Park, her home port.
So there you have it, a 115 nm maiden voyage sailing adventure which - despite the fact that it took
place in the least desirable month for the Chesapeake - fulfilled the hopes and expectations
of this sailor and surely will have him coming back for more.
See you out there ~~~_/)~~~~~
August 27th, 2001
MOST USEFUL tools in the preparation for this trip were the following:
Cruising the Chesapeake - William H. Shellenberger
Also, the ASA classes in basic keel boat sailing, coastal cruising and bareboat chartering constituted the appropriate safety measure prior to embarking on my first multi-day solo sailing adventure.
Guide to Cruising Chesapeake Bay 2001 Edition - Chesapeake Bay Magazine
Maptech Waterproof Chart Number 44 - Annapolis to Cambridge
Maptech Waterproof Chart Number 43 - Baltimore to Annapolis