We were feeling pretty impressed with ourselves after our training. After all, we trained for 30 hours on a 57’, 53,000 lb vessel. What could go wrong if we took it on an overly long trip from Washington DC down the Potomac River, around Point Lookout in Southern Maryland and up the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis Maryland? In short, this would be a 155 Nautical Mile trip one way. In theory, the trip should take approximately 13 hours one way at 1850 RPM.
Mom and dad used to use an old term “cocksure” for someone strutting around like an old rooster in charge of the hen house. Merriam-Webster defines it as “feeling perfect assurance sometimes on inadequate grounds” which pretty much summed up our pre-trip attitude.
As Thursday drew near, we became less cocksure and a bit more apprehensive. After all, this would be the first time we would be navigating the Potomac on our own. We left at approximately 10:00 am (much later than planned) and headed south. The day was overcast but no rain. It was in the 40’s. The day was pretty uneventful and we pulled into Solomon’s Island about seven hours later. The trip is normally 8-9 hours but feeling frisky we pushed the envelope and ran the engines at 2400 RPM for several hours. They purred like brand new kittens after a hearty dinner.
The next morning we met our Captain and his wife who traveled with us to Annapolis. That portion of the trip was about 4.5 hours up the Chesapeake. The ride was a bit intimidating but having the Captain with us gave us more confidence than if we had traversed it alone. We went to Annapolis because this was the last boat show before the end of the season and a good excuse to exercise our new skills.
We spent two nights moored at the Marina next to the boat show. Friends met us there and we enjoyed a couple of days looking at all the beautiful, over priced boats.
We also bought ourselves two nifty life jackets which you can wear for long periods of time without being cumbersome to wear. They inflate when you hit the water if you should end up falling overboard. As it were, we were glad to have them on the ride home.
As we were getting ready to head home from Annapolis we reflected back on what our marina friends had told us “be careful near point lookout.” This is the southern most point in Maryland where the mouth of the Potomac intersects with the Chesapeake Bay. We were warned that it could be extremely dangerous.
We left Annapolis later than we wanted at about 8:00am on Sunday. The weather was overcast, wind 15-20 knots at our backs, we were traveling south with the current leaving with us. Even though it was a bit choppy, we made good time and saw the worst of the clouds blowing away from us as we moved along. The storm and winds that day was a by-product of Tropical Storm Hanna a few hundred miles east of us. As the morning progressed so did the winds. Gusts of up to 20-25 knots were not unusual. Again since they were mostly coming from the north and we were heading south, it was manageable—until we got close to point lookout.
Arriving at point lookout, as we were just about to turn North to head up the Potomac, our Starboard became cross wise with a large swell (6’+) which tipped Someday Came sideways pretty dramatically. Petra, while holding on to Mali (our dog), lost footing, flew across the boat and landed behind Denver on the ground—pretty scary moment for everyone, thank goodness no one was hurt. Thus began the 4-hour trek up the mouth of the Potomac in some of the worst seas Denver and Petra have ever been in, let alone maneuvering a 25+-ton vessel.
We slowed Someday Came down to 700-800 rpm and just kept the bow semi-square into the waves which by now were steady at 6’-8’ with winds gusting 30-35 knots. Water coming over the bow was now common and were getting steady water spray over the total height of the vessel. If there was a silver lining, there were minimal clouds so no thunder, lightning, or rain… just unrelenting winds and heavy seas. By this point we both put on our brand new life vests. As a rule, Mali always has a life vest on anytime we are underway.
As we were battling the wind and waves, Petra was continually going below to check on what the latest item was that broke—inside was a mess. After a short time below Petra came running up to the helm and screamed we were taking on water. This is where this adventure of ours went from serious to dangerous. The port and starboard portholes forward were under heavy water pressure with the bow of the boat constantly low on the waves. The water was just flowing through them as if there were no seals or windows stopping them. Petra stuffed towel after towel below them to help soak up the excess water and after they soaked she would throw them into the guest shower and replaced them with dry towels. It didn’t take long for her to go through all of our towels. Being below deck in those seas would make anyone sick and Petra was no exception. After a little Dramamine, and hanging out on the deck for a while with fresh air she started feeling better.
During all of this time, we called Captain Jim to let him know what was happening. He asked for our Latitude and Longitude and went right to work finding us a marina we could duck into to wait out the rest of the storm for the evening. Denver had the great idea to muscle through and continue up the Potomac through the evening to get home… after all, the seas had to get better the higher up the Potomac we went. Petra would have none of that. She (the smarter of the crew) wanted to pull out of the mess we were in and fix what was broke, clean up, get rest, and get on with it the next morning after the weather broke.
We ended up docking that evening at Colonial Beach Marina. We spent the rest of the evening cleaning up, had some grilled cheese sandwiches, and went to bed. We were exhausted… good call Petra.
The next morning was windy but not as bad, as expected the water was much less troublesome the further up the Potomac we traveled. We experienced white caps with waves at 1’-3’, and we were just fine with that. The rest of the trip was uneventful and beautiful.
We learned quite a bit about our vessel and ourselves this trip.
Next time we pull into a marina at first sign of bad weather.