Chesapeake, 1969


© by Ellis Simon


It's July of 1969 and I'm the Power Squadron Commander this year.  It's been a good year so far.  We've given several Piloting classes and the squadron is a beehive of activity.  As commander, I'm expected to attend District functions and the District Rendezvous is coming up on July 15.  It's to be held in Baltimore, and the Chesapeake offers outstanding cruising, of course.  I've traveled up to Long Island Sound once, but that is the extent of my cruising experience.  Marilyn has not been on any extended small boat cruise, although she's the veteran of several trips to and from Panama on ships as a child.  In the four years I've been in the squadron, friends have been regaling me with tales of the wonderful cruising in the Chesapeake.  So I schedule two weeks of vacation for our first big cruise.  We'll see the Bay and then take the Amberjack to the District Rendezvous. 


We have two children who will also be taking their first cruise.  Donald is just under three years old and has been weekending with us on the boat all his short life. Leigh Ann is just six months old, but she's been with us on the boat all spring and hasn't presented any real problems.  We reason that it will be just like a long weekend to the kids.  If we run into bad weather, we'll just lie over and wait for it to clear.  The only tight spot in the plan is to get from Baltimore to our homeport, Forked River, N. J., in one day.  Still, if the weather is with us, the Amberjack, with her 18-knot cruising speed, should be able to cover the distance in one long day.


SATURDAY, JULY 1.  Food, fuel, supplies, toys, coloring books, baby food, disposable diapers, tools and whatever have been loaded and we get an early start for Cape May.  There is a typical southeasterly wind predicted so I choose to stay inside the protection of the barrier islands and run down the Intercostals Waterway. 


From Forked River to Atlantic City, the waterway is crowded but relatively uncomplicated.  Through Atlantic City the waterway becomes more of a canal, with houses lining both sides.  Numerous bridges must be dealt with. Some we can get under by lowering the radio antenna, but others must be raised.  The infamous Atlantic Avenue Bridge only rises on the hour and the half hour and of course, I hit it just after it closes.  Finally, at 2 pm, we're clear of the speed-restricted area.  But I still can't run on plane, for the channel is narrow and twisting and any speed is inviting disaster on an unseen sandbar.  At 6 o’clock, we pull into Cape May Harbor.  After refueling, we drop the hook off the Yacht Club and have dinner.  Later we drift off to sleep to the music wafting over the water from their Saturday night dance. 


SUNDAY, JULY 2.  We awaken to dense fog that has rolled in overnight.  Will it be covering the Delaware Bay as well?  I can do dead reckoning to run up the Bay, but the currents will be strong and I can't discount the possibility of major shipping traffic even though it's Sunday. 


After a thoughtful breakfast, I decide to at least run down the Cape May Canal and have a look at conditions on that side of the Cape.  The run is quiet, except for the heavy small boat traffic.  All the small fishing boats are trapped by the fog and are trying their luck along the canal.  At the western end of the five-mile cut is the terminus for the Cape May to Lewes ferry line.  The fog is still thick, and the moored ships tower over us by the time they become visible.  I find some water across from the terminal where we can drop the hook and look the situation over.  A ferry comes in through the breakwater and heads for the terminal.  Visibility toward Delaware Bay looks a little better than it has been to the east.  I have enough visibility to avoid a collision if we run at hull speed.




MONDAY, JULY 3.  We get started in late morning after getting a good night's rest.  Today is a short run, out of the Bohemia River and into the Sassafras.  Ten or fifteen miles, tops.  The weather is hot, humid and sunny, but weather isn't really a factor as the whole trip is in relatively protected waters.  We proceed up past Ordinary Point to Fredericktown.   Fredericktown looks busy, crowded, and expensive. Several large marinas extend out into the harbor.  After refueling, we decide not to tie up at a dock, but to go back down the river to Ordinary Point.  As we passed earlier, there were several boats at anchor behind the point.  People were swimming in the water and picnicking on the beach.  It looked like just the place for the kids to spend the afternoon.   


Once we're safely anchored, I get the aluminum skiff down from the shelter and take Marilyn and the kids over to the beach.  The sand is a dirty brown, but there's plenty of water to rinse off in.  When I've tired of swimming in the water, I get some gunk holing in.  Nancy Creek, right at Ordinary Point, and Turner Creek, across the Sassafras, are beautiful and relatively unspoiled. There are a few houses along Turner Creek, and a crab boat or two on moorings, but Nancy Creek is almost like a game preserve.  Hundreds of geese feed in the shallows. Other birds, which I can't name, abound.


Along about eleven o’clock this night, we get one of those unsettling scares.  A rather noisy boat, looking like a crab boat, comes up the river and circles us.  They have no running lights.  There's a lot of boisterous discussion, which I can't make out in the exhaust noise.  There is one sailboat and the Amberjack at anchor.  In the past year or two, there have been a number of unsettling stories about attacks on anchored boats.  Not in the Chesapeake, but still, you never know.  Anchorages are generally selected for their remoteness.  Even if you get off a radio call, it would take an hour or more before help arrives on the scene.  Under cover of darkness, the pirates would be long gone.  With great relief I watch the mystery boat disappear into the main channel.  I listen carefully to the beat of their exhaust to make sure it keeps fading.  The rest of the night doesn't afford me much sleep.


TUESDAY, JULY 4.  Another hot day.  We leave Ordinary Point in the Sassafras and travel down to the Bay.  South we go, past Horton Point.  The sun is hot and the water sparkles in a light chop.  It's an easy run at hull speed. We're in no hurry, so we may as well enjoy the scenery. Not far below Horton Point, we start to see the infamous nettles in the water.  Stinging jellyfish of all sizes and shapes, they make it nearly impossible to swim in the Chesapeake in the summer.  By the time we get down to the Chester River, the water is milky with them.  There's no way you could get into that water without being in serious pain.


The objective for tonight isn't established.   Kent Narrows is one possibility, but I want to explore the Chester River first.  The 38-foot tower north of Kent Island is easy to spot miles up the Bay.  In due time, we round Eastern Neck Island and start up the river.  Wide and deep, the only concerns are the long fish traps that extend out from shore to midstream.  Round bend after bend we go until we reach Chestertown, the head of navigation.  By now the temperature is closing on 100 degrees, and we're deprived of any air by the land on both sides.  It doesn't take us long to decide that we don’t want to spend much time in Chestertown today!  So we turn around and head down stream.  As we turn into the dredged cut to Kent Narrows, there are several small outboards idling gently through the flats on either side.  One or two people in the bow are scooping huge crabs out of the water with nets.


We check in at the Kent Island Marina and are assigned a slip under one of the large shelters, which are common in this area.  Once we're tied up, life becomes almost bearable.  The merciless sun is off us, and a gentle bay breeze blows through the open sides.  The marina is excellent, sporting a ship's store and a large salt-water pool.  Marilyn takes the kids up to the pool while I wash the collection of four days of travel off the boat.  Then I join them for a swim in the surprisingly cool water.  The only problem is the mixture of salt and chlorine, which is pretty strong above the surface of the water.


WEDNESDAY, JULY 5.  The amenities at Kent Island are so good that we decide to lie over for another day.  In the evening, we're able to watch history in the making as the Apollo spacecraft lifts off for the trip to the moon. This is the trip where the astronauts will try the first landing on the moon.  We can almost feel the rumble as the giant Saturn V rocket pours out its seven million pounds of thrust to lift its six million pounds of weight. 365 feet above the flames, three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins ride in the tiny capsule.


Just before the trip, I bought a small portable TV that can be powered by AC or by the boat batteries.  This night, the reception is pretty good, as we're not very far from Washington.   


THURSDAY, JULY 6.  I take Donald up for a last swim in the pool before departure for Saint Michaels.  The holiday is over, and we have the pool to ourselves.  While he plays in the kiddie pool, I get in some serious exercise by swimming twenty laps.  Then it's back to the boat and we get underway at noon.


The marina is just north of the Route 301 drawbridge and we have to mill around for five or ten minutes until the bridge goes up.  We pass through and head south into Prospect Bay.  At this point, I realize there's something wrong with my eyes.  They're getting sore and raspy.  Then they start to glaze over.  I can't see!  In swimming the laps, I had my eyes open underwater much of the time to keep myself in line.  The heavy mixture of salt and chlorine has taken its toll.


What to do!  There's no way I can navigate or even operate the boat much longer.  I decide we'll have to anchor somewhere and get some medication on my eyes. Just to the west of Prospect Bay is a closed bay, Crab Alley Bay, which has reasonably safe water.  We round Parson Island and run up into the bay.  Marilyn gets the anchor down just as my eyes blur over completely.  I stumble into the cabin and lie down.


Fortunately, we have a complete first aid kit aboard, in a watertight container.  I get a treatment with boric acid from the little glass eyecup.  Then I just lie there with a damp cloth over my eyes.  The afternoon passes and the eyes aren't getting much better.  We figure it's too late to get a berth in Saint Michaels anyway, and we're safely anchored, so we decide to sit it out and see what the morning brings.     


FRIDAY, JULY 7.  Good news!  When I awaken at seven, the sunlight is streaming through the open hatch and I can see again!  Except for a little tenderness, the damage seems to be gone.  A funny poketa-poketa noise grows louder and fainter every twenty minutes or so.  Curiosity steadily grows, so I finally drag myself upright and peer through the hatch.  A classic Chesapeake Bay crab boat is working a trotline nearby.  He's put one end of the line right near the Amberjack, and that's why the sound of his ancient engine keeps getting louder and fainter.   


Commercial crabbers here either use one of these long lines or crab pots.  More on the crab pots later.  The crab line is about a quarter of a mile in length, with each end anchored on the bottom.  The line passes over a wide pulley on the gunnel of the boat.  Every six or eight feet, a piece of bait is tied to the line.  Bait and all go over the pulley.  As the boat idles along, the line is lifted gently from the bottom and any crab feeding on the bait comes with it.  As the bait nears the surface, the crabber simply scoops the crab up with a net and drops it into a basket.  When the boat reaches the end of the line, they just reverse direction and go back down the line.  Crabs are so numerous and so hungry here that more crabs are on the line on every pass.  Unfortunately, this method of shell fishing is illegal in New Jersey.


We up anchor and run the eight miles across Eastern Bay and up Miles River to Saint Michaels.  I'm surprised to find an old familiar landmark sitting at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum dock.  Barnegat Lightship was taken out of service several years ago and replaced by an unmanned sea buoy.  Here she sits, with her name emblazoned in white against her red hull.   


The Amberjack has no refrigeration, so we have to pick up ice every day.  With the sweltering heat, it is even more imperative.  We pull in to a fuel dock and find that all they sell is bags of cubes.  We've found that these are costly and don't last very long.  There's nothing we can do, so we buy a couple of bags.  As we're sitting at the dock, Marilyn informs me that the fresh water pump won't run.  With a baby and a toddler, fresh water is a must.  A quick check shows that there are no pumps to be had in Saint Michaels.  I could go back up to Kent Narrows and try there, but I want to get on down the Bay.  Our plan is to come back to Saint Michaels later in the trip and try to connect with Dot and Bill, who are bringing the PeggySue down for a week.   


So we leave for Cambridge.  It's a good-sized town and should have a marine supply house.  Our route lies down Eastern Bay and through Poplar Island Narrows. There is no wind and the heat is oppressive.  There are no other boats in sight.  I engage the autopilot and start to troubleshoot the water pump.  The motor is the culprit, and one of the solder joints has melted.  It's not likely that this is the only trouble with the motor, but it's the first thing to try.   


I have a soldering iron and an old converter, which can give me a little ac power from the batteries.  The converter has clip leads, and since the batteries in the Amberjack are located in a cabinet on deck, I decide to connect directly to the battery terminals.  The first lead goes on without incident, but when I touch the second terminal, there is a tremendous explosion.  I've forgotten that the batteries are under charge and producing hydrogen gas.  My face was only two feet from the battery and I'm now covered with battery acid.


There's no fresh water, the pump is dead, and the bay water is swarming with nettles!  Marilyn comes to the rescue.  Icy water from the ice chest washes away the acid before it can do any significant damage.  I don't wear glasses, and it is pure luck that my eyes are not damaged.  The top of the battery is shattered, and the battery no longer holds a charge.   Marilyn makes a pointed suggestion that I put off any more repairs until we are safely docked.  I retreat to the flybridge and sulk, but I have to agree with her. Two near misses with the eyes in two days is far too much.  Time to be much more careful.


The day is getting longer and we want to be sure to get a slip for the needed repairs, so I get the boat up on plane and we go charging along at 20 knots.  As we're making the turn eastward into the Choptank, just below Tilghman Island, something in the water just to port of the boat catches my eye.  I see the tops of four concrete columns in a perfect square about a foot below the surface.  They look like the abandoned base of a navigational light.  I yank the throttles to idle and stop the boat.  What if we had hit them?  What the hell are they, anyway?  Am I in the wrong place?  Did I make a mistake?


Checks and double checks yield no new information. We're right off Sharp's Island Light, in 12 feet of water. There is nothing on the chart that even vaguely resembles an obstruction.  I put the engines back in gear and move out slowly, at hull speed.  I haven't gone a mile when the mystery is solved.  I see two more "columns," but now, at the slower speed, I'm able to watch them swim away as we pass.  The "columns" are fish, sea rays.  Four of them had been swimming in such a precise box formation that they looked like concrete columns.


As we come to the mouth of the Choptank, we see a number of the classic old Chesapeake oyster boats.  About 60 feet in length, they have a high bow and a low deck. The wheelhouse is situated at the stern.  Each oyster boat is towing a string of six to ten sailboats, Lightning class, from the looks of them.


Up the Choptank, we swing north into the Tred Avon River to Oxford, but we don't see anything that tickles our fancy to stay overnight.  So it's back to the Choptank and on up to Cambridge.  We are able to get a slip at the Cambridge Yacht Club and settle in for the afternoon.  The yacht club is hosting a large sail regatta the next day, and that was why all the oyster boats were towing sailboats up the Choptank.  We watch them arrive all evening until there are hundreds of small boats off the docks.  A neighboring boat has a young family and the lady of the boat kindly offers to watch the kids so that we can get up to the yacht club restaurant for dinner.  It is air conditioned and wonderfully cool and we enjoy a pleasant meal.


SATURDAY, JULY 8.  I try the soldered connection and the motor still doesn't run, as I expected.  There's a small hardware and electrical store in Cambridge, so I get on the bike and pedal down the cobblestone streets to see if I can get magnet wire to rewind the motor.  For once, I get lucky and they have a spool of wire I can use.  An hour or so later, the water pump is back in service. ‹R


The regatta is in full swing.  More and more boats pile in by land and by sea.  The makings for a grand party are set up under a circus tent in the parking lot. Only one thing has been left out.  The wind.  The sailors paddle their boats out a hundred yards and run up their sails.  They hang there limp.  Not so much as a ripple mars the surface.  After a few desultory pushes on the boom, they drop the sails and paddle back.


By noon, the heat is oppressive and we can cut the humidity with a knife.  Marilyn has rigged a wading pool on the deck and Donald has been playing in it, but he's getting cranky and there doesn't appear to be much promise of him taking a much-needed nap.  Leigh Ann is in worse shape, trying to catch a nap in her baby chair. We'd wanted to spend another night at Cambridge and take part in the big clambake, but it is just plain brutal. I decide to take early departure and get on down the Bay.  At least we'll have the breeze from the boat's motion and maybe there'll be a breath of air on the open Bay.   


So we fire up the engines and take our departure. Once underway, the air seems cooler.  Also, as we work out to the mouth of the river, it probably is a little cooler.  I've just passed the Choptank River Bell when I notice that the soggy haze is getting darker rather rapidly.  I look up into the towering column of the grandmamma of all thunderstorms.  It's obviously coming my way and coming fast!  I turn the boat around and open the engines wide open.  I don't know where I want to be, but I know where I don't want to be.   


A panicky look at the chart shows a perfect little hidey-hole --La Trappe Creek, on the north shore of the Choptank.  It only takes ten minutes to cover the couple of miles, but it seems to be an eternity.  Once inside the creek, I find that there are perhaps a dozen boats already at anchor there.  We find a spot and hurriedly get the anchor down.  Then we get the hatches battened and the canvas secured.  I'm just zipping the last of the canvas when the storm hits.  The wind howls and the rain comes down in sheets.  The electrical display is impressive.  But we're snug in our little anchorage.  The weather cools a little from the storm and the late evening is the first pleasant weather we've had in nearly a week.   


SUNDAY, JULY 9.  It'll be another hot one today, but at least there's a breeze out of the southwest.  Today I plan the longest run since we got to the Chesapeake, 55 nautical miles to Crisfield.  The run down the Choptank is quiet, but when we hit the open Bay, there is a 2-foot chop on the bow.  Still, it's a comfortable ride at hull speed and I angle over toward the western shore to get in the lee.  We pass Calvert Beach and continue down past Cove Point.  Here, the ride gets bumpier as we angle across the Bay to Hooper Strait.  Once through the Strait, the water quiets down, but a new challenge appears.


Crab traps, thousands of them.  At times it seems almost impossible to get through the maze.  I'm continually zigging and zagging to avoid getting one of the lines in my wheels.  Fortunately, I've been warned of the consequences.  This is no place for an autopilot!  On south past Deal Island we go, trying to stay in the deeper water where the pots are a little less numerous.  The turn into Little Annemessex River goes without incident and we arrive at Crisfield.


The marina at Crisfield is new and stands in stark contrast to the shabby look of the town outside the imposing chain link fence.  The shellfish industry is depressed, and it shows in the town.  Houses and buildings are rundown.  Oyster boats, apparently out of service, lie at the commercial wharves.  We get a first class slip under the new shelter and settle in for the afternoon.  A walk through the town with Donald toddling and Leigh Ann in the stroller shows little of interest. This is not a tourist center like Saint Michaels.  A few rundown stores and bars line the single main street. Back at the Amberjack, we settle down for the evening as a squall line approaches from the west.  Rain thunders on the metal roofed shelter, almost as loud as the peals of thunder.  Late in the evening, the television is the center of attention.  The Apollo 11 team is in orbit on the moon and the lunar lander is making its descent to the surface.  The signal fades in and out as the astronauts make their preparations for the first walk on the moon.  Finally, after what seems hours, Neil Armstrong plants his foot in the lunar dust and says the famous words, "One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind." 


MONDAY, JULY 10.  The rain has stopped, but it's still overcast and a fairly stiff breeze is blowing out of the northwest.  The bay would be a rough ride for the kids, so we'll just have to take a layover in Crisfield.  The humidity hasn't left us yet, even with the rainstorms.


TUESDAY, JULY 11.  The weather has cleared, and it promises to be another hot summer day.  We leave the marina and travel up the Annemessex Canal to the Big Annemessex River.  From there we retrace our path to the north back to Saint Michaels.  Seas are about one foot, allowing me to make good time and we slip past Parrot Point into Saint Michaels harbor in the early afternoon.


All the slips on the south side of the harbor, adjacent to town, are taken, but we're able to get a slip at the marina on the north side.  It's a long walk to town with the two little ones, but better than anchoring out.  Saint Michaels is a major tourist draw and the marinas are Saturday afternoon busy.  We walk around the harbor and stroll down Main Street.  Traffic is heavy, both on the road and on the sidewalk.  The quaint old homes and stores with the brick sidewalks make this a very pretty place to visit.   


We walk down to the Chesapeake Bay Marine Museum but it's near closing time, so we decide to save it for tomorrow.  The Crab Claw is a boisterous restaurant right on the water next to the museum.  Second floor dining under a shaded roof and overlooking the harbor is too much to pass up so we get into the long line.  Once we get a table, it's worth the wait.  Heaping trays of huge steamed crabs, with mouth-burning hot old bay sauce, come with dill pickles and cheese on the side.  A pitcher of cold beer helps quench the fire the sauce creates.  All this with a view of the busy harbor.


WEDNESDAY, JULY 12.  After a pleasant breakfast on deck, we hike over to the museum.  It is well done, with an actual Chesapeake Bay lighthouse, which has been reconstructed on the grounds.  These lighthouses, all of which have been automated now, sit on pilings at strategic points in the Bay.  They resemble octagonal two story houses with the light at the peak of the roof in the center.  There is a covered porch around the structure. When they were manned, the crew lived and worked in the fifty-foot circle of the railing while the bay waves rolled by below them.


Of course, the lightship is a required tour.  Then there are examples of the various small craft that have been used on the Bay.  The highlight for Donald is a large salt-water aquarium, which has been set up to showcase the Bay's flora and fauna.  Large crabs scuttle along just inside the window.  It's impressive to see just how large a good-sized blue claw crab is when it's walking along the bottom.


While we’re at the museum, we see the Yohes’ boat, “Peggy,” enter the harbor and tie up at the fuel dock.  When we get together with them, they propose to anchor out for the night in the Wye River, just across from St. Michaels.


But first we both need ice!  July in the Chesapeake makes ice a much-valued commodity.  From our walk around town, I’ve located a real old-fashioned icehouse several blocks from the harbor.  The blocks from this source are much larger and colder than the overgrown ice cubes in the marinas.  The question is how to transport 25 or 50 pounds of ice to the boat.  I have a dubious solution in the form of the old bicycle.  It’s shaky but it works, and we soon have plenty of ice in the box.  Bill Yohe decides to borrow the bike and do the same, but he isn’t quite so adept at bike riding.  After a couple of dumps in the dust, he gets 25 pounds back to the boat and we’re ready to go. 


The Wye River meanders around Wye Island, and you could actually circumnavigate the island if you can get under the 10-foot clearance of the only bridge to the island.  We don’t need to go that far up the river for our purposes, however.  We anchor where the two branches of the river rejoin after passing the island.  There is a strong northeasterly wind, and the tall trees on the island shield us from it.  It is one of those windy, restless nights, made pleasant by the sheltered anchorage. 


The other thing that makes the night memorable is the crabs.  There are thousands of them, and they are attracted to our anchor lights like moths to a flame.  We are able to net them by waiting until they edge in close enough and then coming down over them with the net.  We take hundreds of ‘keepers’ and certain ladies in the group uttered such language you’d never believe.  Since it is a waiting game to let the large ones get within range of our nets, claims were laid and threats were brandished. 


THURSDAY, JULY 13.  Today is a repeat of Wednesday with more crabbing.  It is also an opportunity to get down the skiff and do a little gunk holing.  The wind abates somewhat and we stay put on the hook at the mouth of the Wye.


FRIDAY, JULY 14.  The fun part is over and we have to make the run over to the Sue Island Yacht Club near Baltimore for the Power Squadron District 5 Summer Rendezvous.  Approximately fifty boats are descending on the club for this event.  It’s an easy run up through Kent Narrows and across to Rock Creek.  The only unusual sight is Yohe, sitting on the very bow of the “Peggy,” scooping yet more crabs out of the water as we go. 


We raft up with other boats at the yacht club and make the transition from boat gypsy to squadronite.  I’m intrigued by one of the permanent residents as he goes about making a batch of margaritas.  He starts out with a three-gallon flower-watering bucket.  When he has the batch complete, the bucket is full.  He insists that I join them is helping to empty the bucket.  By evening, I need assistance to get back on the Amberjack. 


SATURDAY, JULY 15.  Today is given over to District Five activities.  There are the opening ceremonies and the captains’ meeting for the Navigators’ Contest.  The Amberjack won’t be running in the contest, but the Peggy will.  With just a single boat running, Trenton Falls neither wins nor looses.  The afternoon and evening are taken up with more partying. 


SUNDAY, JULY 16.  I'm up way before dawn.  My plan is to get the Amberjack up on plane and keep her there until we're back in Forked River, 170 nautical miles away.  If things go well, the trip will take about eleven or twelve hours, counting fuel stops.  We should be in our home berth by six pm at the latest. 


We slip the raft lines from the Peggy Sue at 4:30.  The trip down the river and into the bay has to be taken slowly.  Its still night, and I don't want to hole the boat on some unseen flotsam.  Once out in the Chesapeake, the light comes and we're able to get moving.  The bay is calm and we make good time up to the mouth of the C&D Canal.  The Canal is also calm and the current is with us.  As we slow down to pass Scheaffers Dock, it occurs to me that maybe I should fuel up.  The gauges say 5/8, but I have no data on fuel consumption at steady planing speed.  I see no signs of life at this early hour so I choose to press on.  The water is like glass, and if we can make it into the Cape May Canal, we can fuel up and still be assured that we'll end the trip today.  If I stop now, I loose perhaps an hour of quiet water.


I turn into the Delaware with some trepidation.  Will it be rough, or will it be quiet?  Quiet is the word for now, and we roar on down past the submarine wreck and past Reedy Island.  An hour of quiet running goes by, but the fuel gauges are dropping far too fast for comfort.  They're down to a quarter tank now, and at this rate, they'll be flat empty before the Cape May breakwater.  Now I'm really regretting not stopping when I was only a few hundred feet from the pumps. 


As we reach the lower bay, I decide to run up the Cohansey River and refuel.  I can't tell from the chart how far up the river we'll have to run, but we'll just have to try it.  As we angle over to the east bank, the glassy surface of the river forms up into a six-inch chop under the freshening breeze.  The tide is still on the top half of its cycle, so there shouldn't be too much of a shoaling problem.  The mouth of the river has a rather long channel that runs to the south, downriver, with a sandbar protecting it.  At the top of the sandbar, there is a narrow channel, which can save considerable time.  Gingerly, I ease the Amberjack into the cut.  It turns out to be about ten feet deep and we're soon inside.  The first part of the river is wide, and I get back on plane, but after a couple of miles, it starts to narrow down.  Prudence calls for hull speed so that we can kedge off if we find a bar. 


We plod along, for what seems an eternity, but is more like a half hour.  We come to a marina on the riverbank that is largely one long floating wharf.  I'm a little surprised at the quantity and size of some of the boats.  Rather fancy for such an out-of-the-way place.  They have gasoline and we get secured to the fuel dock.  While I'm pumping, several other skippers congregate next to me. 


"Which way you headed?" They ask.

"South, to Cape May."

"How was the water out there?"

"OK, just a little chop -- Why?"

"It's been blowing up a storm out there for three days now.  We've been stuck here since Friday."


Now I know what the fancy boats are doing in this place!  We finish fueling and cast off.  As we pass one particularly large yacht, perhaps 70 feet, I recognize the skipper as one of the group on the float.  He appears to be making ready to depart.  It also appears that he and his wife are the entire crew on this large vessel.


As soon as the Amberjack pops out of the little north cut, into Delaware Bay, it's obvious what they were all talking about.  The waves are now running a nasty chop, around two feet.  Two feet wouldn't be so bad, but they're really steep and rough.  I gun the engines and get her up on plane.  For the present, we're heading squarely into them.  If they don't get any worse, we may still make it.  Spray sheets out from under the bow and flies fifty feet to either side.  The ride isn't comfortable, but it's dry and fast.  My heading into the wind will take us out into the shipping channel, and into deeper water where I hope it won't be quite so rough.  Inevitably, though, we'll have to turn to the southeast and then these seas will be off the bow.  We'll just have to see.


As we move further south and further toward the channel, the seas get higher and steeper.  I've made at least one mistake.  The seas are a combination of the strong southerly wind and the opposing ebbing current.  I've now gotten to where the current is strongest.  I bring the Amberjack down off plane and start slugging it out with the bay at 1600 rpms, which is well below hull speed.  It's obvious that we're going to take a pounding at any speed.  Just then, I look off my port quarter, and here comes the 70-footer that left after us.  He's also taking a pounding, but being much larger, he's still able to stay on plane.  As he overtakes us, a couple of feet to the east, I have one of my inspirations.  Why not get in close behind him and let him be the windbreaker?  I know I have the speed, but I don't know whether the water will be quiet enough.


Soon as his stern passes, I angle over and push a complaining Amberjack through his huge wake.  Then I open those Chryslers up and close in to the third wave in his wake.  It's quieter, and I'm able to stay on plane, but it's no fun!  The wind is ripping over the starboard bow, and the boat speed combined with the wind speed is giving a boat wind of about forty knots.  This wind is catching every drop of bow spray and pushing it horizontally over the flybridge.  My single bath towel is soaked and my eyes are full of salt water. 


It's no picnic down below either.  Marilyn has the two kids on a blanket between the two engine boxes, hanging on for dear life and praying fervently for deliverance.  How she stands the screaming engines and the slamming around with no view except of a spray filled wake, I do not know.


A couple of times, the owner of the ship ahead turns the wheel over to his lady and comes back to the transom to gesticulate to me.  I can't hear a word he's saying and besides, I have all I can handle to keep some eyesight and keep the wildly pitching Amberjack squarely behind him.  He gives up the second time and goes back to the helm just as a particularly steep couple of waves pass under him and hit the Amberjack on the starboard bow.  The bow goes up on the first and then dives through the second, lifting a couple of tons of seawater to roll back into the cockpit windshields.  We can't take much of that abuse, so I reluctantly pull back the throttles and bring us down to a saner speed.  Our lead ship thunders off into the distance and we're left easing through four footers that come every five feet. 


For the first time in over an hour, I'm able to get the salt water out of my eyes and, more important, have a look about to see where we are.  While running behind the "Bridgit," I had to assume that he would pilot, and stay in deep water, so I had to make damn sure I didn't ram him.  The continuous shower makes navigation impossible anyway.  When I drop off his stern, I'm of the impression that he's heading straight south to Indian River, or some other Delaware port of call, so I'm looking off to port, to spot some landmark.  Nothing looks familiar.  In desperation, I look at the receding yacht.  He's about a half mile ahead now and turning a sharp left.  Then I see it!  The Cape May Canal Breakwater is just a half-mile away!  I ease the throttles forward and make one of the most welcome inlet runs I've ever made.  It's 12:30 on a windy but sunny Sunday afternoon in July.  The canal is crowded with revelers, and it's hard to relate to the cold, windy, and watery hell we've just left. 


Once inside the Canal and bucking the current to make way to the east, I notice that the Amberjack is not responding to the helm as she normally does.  She responds, but is definitely mushy.  Once out into Cape May Harbor, I drop the hook and have a look under the hull.  The port rudder is gone, sheared off at the shaft.  The starboard prop still has its rudder but the prop itself is covered in a great ball of junky line that could only have come from a crap trap.  It takes repeated dives with a sharp knife to clear the line. 


Eventually, the prop is clear and we're ready to get underway again.  It’s 2:00 pm and we still have seventy nautical miles to go.  The wind is still with us, however, and there's no likelihood that the ocean will be any better than the Delaware Bay.  Fortunately, the three days of wind have pushed a lot of water into the inlets and the water level is two feet above normal.  We can go up the Intracoastal Waterway with a fair degree of safety.  One of the problems with the inside route is that is meanders a lot and is longer.  Another, more serious problem is the no-wake zones, where you can spend considerable time creeping along at five statute miles per hour.  Still, we push on, slowing down here, turning there, and watching out for the small boats.  We hardly get the engines synchronized on plane when we hit another of the no-wake zones. 


Just before five o'clock, we enter the canals of Ventnor and Atlantic City.  These waterways are lined on both sides with houses and boathouses.  It is very similar to pictures of the canals of Venice.  It is also very much a no-wake zone.  The Albany Avenue Bridge brings us to a complete stop.  We've just missed the once an hour opening, and have fifty minutes to wait.  There is no way we can get under the bridge, so I just drop the anchor and there we sit.  The wind has intensified as the afternoon passed.  It's strong enough, even in these protected waters, to send a small chop up against the Amberjack's bow.  I'm sure glad we're not several miles offshore.


The time passes, and the bridge finally opens.  Forty miles to go.  But Marilyn has had it.  It's been a long, tense, scary day and she wants to rest.  The kids are tired and cranky as well.  So we modify our plans and go right at Absecon Channel, under the Brigantine Boulevard bridge, and in to the Atlantic City State Marina for the night.  But there's still one more little trial for Marilyn.  I hook up the shore power and am just beginning to look around the dock when a scream comes from the cabin.  When I ask what's wrong, she tells me that every time she touches the water faucet, she gets a shock.  She wants me to try it, but I'm no fool.  I don't like shocks!  The carpet on the cabin sole is still wet from the Delaware Bay, and we have a classic case of reverse polarity on the shore connector.  When this is corrected, the shock situation disappears and we're able to settle down to a much-deserved dinner.


MONDAY, JULY 17.   The cruise is into overtime and we get an early start for the two-hour run to Forked River.  There is little traffic; the weather is warm, sunny, and windless.  The run is uneventful and we are in the home slip by midmorning. 


THE SEQUEL.  The next Friday, as was the custom, we arrived at the boat at about ten pm, with two sleeping kids.  The kids were handed aboard and Marilyn was getting them tucked in.  I was sitting in the shelter at the helm.  I noticed a familiar sweetish odor that I couldn't quite place.  I grabbed the flashlight and lifted the hatch between the two engines.  There was a little water in bilge, maybe a few inches, but it was red in color.  I reached down and dipped my hand in it, then sniffed it.  Gasoline!!  There was a fuel leak and tens of gallons of raw gasoline in the bilges.  Worse still, Marilyn and the kids were sitting on top of it!


My first move was to minimize the possibility of a spark.  Nothing should cause a spark, but I had to be sure.  The ac power was the biggest threat.  I jumped up on the dock, sniffed the air, and then pulled the dockside power.  I got back in the cockpit and told Marilyn, "Don't ask questions, just get the kids and get off the boat!"  Together we got Donald and Leigh Ann bundled back up to the truck, which was a safe distance away.  Now came the question of what to do with the gasoline.  There was no way I would try an electric pump to handle the stuff.  Fortunately, I had an old siphon, which was still functional.  I got this hooked up to the water hose and started pumping.  I should have located some empty drums and pumped it into them, but I wasn’t as smart then, and my first priority was reducing the explosion hazard.  So I pumped gasoline out and ran water in until the bilge was relatively safe.  As the gasoline was sucked out, it was mixed with large quantities of water.  To assure that there wouldn’t be a problem, I sprayed the surface with a second hose.  It evaporated without incident.


The tanks, which are long and flat, to fit under the low deck, had been flexed in our wild ride and two seams had opened up.  There was no alternative to tearing out the rear cockpit and taking out the tanks.  They were resealed and served without further problems.  So the toll of a few hours of hard running to meet a time schedule has been one rudder and one fuel tank.  And I didn’t make the schedule either.  It would have been far better to lie over and use the calm of the early morning.  But such wisdom and patience is still many years away.