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Wednesday, October 29, 2008


In Baltimore, we chat to a man on the quayside. He asks where we're from, we tell him.

"You sailed here? Get outta town!"

Issie is very offended. Why do we have to leave town?

Doing things in Cambridge

Some photos being:
- Max and Issie get serious shore side playtime.
- Dad and I get playtime too - recaulking the coachroof and chainplates
- You've gotta eat crabs in Maryland - a dozen steamed crabs caught in this very river. A messy task with the hammer but oh so tasty.
- Balancing on the old rails in the docks

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Maritime Cambridge

Cambridge has a rich maritime history, and some of it was still developing right in front of our eyes.

The harbour basin we were in is fringed with a mix of new apartments and docks for local yachts and fishing boats. At the far end, a drawbridge opens to allow access to the upper creek, and the frequent opening and closing provided plenty of entertainment for Max.

Over the far side of the basin, an old and nicely restored Skipjack is moored. The Skipjack is a traditional sailing boat built to dredge for local oysters, and there is still a good fleet of them around, especially as the regulations limit oyster fishing by modern motor boat to a few days of the week but allow more fishing by sail driven boats. Next to this fairly well kept, white painted example we notice a mast sticking out of the water. On closer inspection this belongs to a sunken Skipjack. Asking around, we discover that she is a restoration project, the largest boat of her type built, and she has sunk at least twice at her moorings. She is a sorry sight, the decks a foot below water and covered with weed.

So it was intriguing to see a crane arrive a couple of days later and begin lifting the mast from the sunken vessel. We wandered round in the afternoon, by which time the boat had been pumped out and was floating again, and looking almost more sorry for herself than before. You have to wonder about the dedication, drive and, frankly, the sanity of the people who continue to try to rescue such craft
and return them to working order.

Cambridge is home to a maritime museum with an associated boatyard and workshop where old local craft, both sail and motor, have been restored and saved. Many are still in the midst of this process, like the upside down hull of a skipjack, laid out on the grass by the creek and covered in a makeshift tarpaulin shed. Surrounded by bits of wood, old and new, slowly taking shape into a living, working boat, we could just wander freely around - there was little going on in the cold October weather.

In the museum, there was a treasure trove of beautiful artifacts and spectacular models, artfully arranged and explained with plenty to keep everyone, young and old, interested for a good hour. It was only a little, three room museum but, like the town it lives in, it was full of quirks and character. Max enjoyed re-arranging all the little model boats they had for sale into a neatly organised 'marina'. I particularly liked a model motor boat which had been built to commemorate the launch of the rebuilt vessel and had a plaque attached that read:

"This fine little ship is the ultimate result of the efforts of the many captains whose advice, suggestions, recommendations, additions, subtractions and deletions have made the vessel what she is today. Without such devotion and attention this christening ceremony could have been held twelve months sooner."

With boats, at least any boat worth paying attention to, it was ever the same.
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Monday, October 27, 2008

Any town named Cambridge gets our vote....

Cambridge really did turn out to be better than Oxford, and in so many different and unexpected ways.

We arrived after a short trip down the Choptank River, wound our way through a narrow channel into the harbour and prepared to anchor in a little space marked out as available in the pilot guide. As we did so, we noticed a long length of quay wall, with a yacht alongside and signs on the dockside. Hey, get the binoculars, what do those signs say? Docking limited to 48 hours? Great, that means it's free. Out with the lines and fenders and we were soon tied up alongside a dock for the first time since, oh, St Lucia, I think. In a country where marina berths go for $100 a night for our boat, this was great.

The kids jumped ashore and wouldn't come back. There was a ten foot wide strip of grass running along the dock widening to a small lawn and trees a bit further along and they were soon sitting under the tree playing all sorts of games that didn't involve being afloat. The town turned out to be everything that Oxford was not. It had a main street, a range of shops and restaurants, small museums and, quite simply, stuff to do.

It also had an edge, a clear history of boom and bust, challenges, empty stores on Main Street and a 'wrong side of the tracks'. This is a town with a breadth of community and commercial life. This is the sort of town we like.

We planned to stay for two days, but almost as soon as we were tied up other boats arrived muttering about the forecast. Checking it again, it was clear we were in for a couple of days strong winds from the north, exactly where we wanted to go. We could make a break for it and get away before the wind arrived, but then be stuck in a lonely creek halfway to Baltimore whilst it blew through, or hang out here in a sheltered spot with lots to see or do. A no brainer, really, so we stayed. The 48 hours docking turned out to be irrelevant too, it was clear we could stay pretty much as long as we liked.

The kids were enjoying playing so much that they refused to sight-see for most of our stay, so Gesa got a chance to wander the town and browse, shop, chat and search out a good cup of coffee. She did plenty of the former, making friends with storeholders up and down the main street, but almost failed on the latter until Kate, owner of a lovely little European giftware store, took pity and rustled up a cup of espresso from somewhere. On a later stroll though town, Gesa took me to her store and before Gesa could introduce me, Kate said 'you must be Nick, I've just been checking out your website'. the next evening, she turns up on the dockside on her way home to say goodbye, with a bottle of wine as a gift. Now either Gesa spent a lot more in that store than she's admitted to me, or Cambridge has some of the nicest store owners we've ever met. Actually, it's probably both....

We've got a lot more stories to tell about Cambridge - I'll try to write some - but right now, here in the also beautiful Baltimore, we've been so busy seeing, doing and enjoying that I'm too tired to write much worth reading, so we'll try again later.
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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Issie and Maxism

Background. We have a policy of answering the kids questions properly whenever we can. As a result they have a pretty good working knowledge of the birds and the bees, among other things.

So today they are playing 'astronauts'. The blanket is down as their magic carpet, the walkie talkies are space radios, they have their underwear on their heads as space helmets and they have landed on the moon. We are busy doing other things, hearing snatches of their play conversation until our attention is caught by the following exchange.

'so you can't have sex on the moon' says Issie.
'what's sex?' asks Max.
Issie goes on about the birds and the bees...'and that's how to make a baby,' she concludes.
'oh. so why can't you have sex on the moon?'
'erm...because it's inappropriate' says Issie.

Gesa and I are stifling giggles by this point, with some difficulty. I'm just impressed with Issie's use of 'inappropriate'.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ah, Annapolis

Some towns are just, you know, right. Not too big, nor too small. Not too posh, nor too grungy. And perhaps it helps to visit them on a warm and sunny week when everyone is in party mood for the biggest boatshow in North America. Whatever it is, we really liked Annapolis.

There are many, many boats in Annapolis. Come boatshow weekend, there are even more, as visitors arrive to fill up the anchorages, and local boats are pushed out of their marinas to let the show display hundreds of yachts to the rest of the world. We knew it would be busy and sure enough, the main anchorage, off the navel academy, was packed with boats. The books warned that this could be busy and choppy at the best of times, so we headed for a little place called 'Back Creek' about half a mile away. This creek is lined with marinas and the narrow channel was already filled with anchored boats swinging with inches to spare from the occupants of the local marinas. We joined them but didn't feel comfortable as Ty Dewi threatened to add new go faster stripes to a very expensive looking yacht berthed on the edge of the creek.

A brief exploration in the dinghy revealed more space further up, and we eventually decided copy another boat and anchor 'stern to' the bank of the creek. This involves dropping the anchor then reversing towards the bank and running ashore with a long line to hold us in place. It meant we wouldn't swing to the wind and current and could be sure of being out of everybody's way. It's a little more awkward to set up but we were staying for a full week so it was worth it. Max really enjoyed helping me to run the lines ashore and tie them to the nearest tree.

We found a local supermarket and laundry to get the basics dealt with. The laundry was quite a walk with all our heavy bags of dirty clothes, so we planned to do the washing first then carry the clean clothes back along the road to the supermarket, get the groceries and call a cab to get back to the boat. As it happened we got the laundry into the driers and Gesa headed off to get a headstart on the groceries.

I do the tedious folding and packing, load the kids up with a little bag each and lump the big bag of clothes over my shoulder. Sadly, dirt doesn't weigh much so they are no lighter on the way home. We've staggered about fifty yards when Max looks down into a nearby ditch and says 'Daddy, why do people throw rubbish there?'. I'm preparing an explanation of the evils of the world when I see that there is also a shopping trolley (cart, in this country) from the supermarket we are heading to. Seeing an opportunity to both do a good deed and ease our burden, I drop the laundry bag, scramble down into the (thankfully dry) ditch, and yank out one perfectly good shopping cart. We dump the bags into it, the kids hop on each side and I push the whole lot half a mile to the grocery store. Bingo.

The next day, we go to the boat show and have a lot of fun - a different post for that.

My parents arrived in DC on Tuesday and we rented a car to go and collect them. Having a car for a day allowed us to go and get a lot of shopping and other errands, so the boat is filled up with juice, tins, pasta and other heavy stuff that takes too much carrying most of the time. Max and I drove out to Dulles airport to pick them up and had a lot of fun doing that. Even the notorious Beltway traffic turned out to be blessfully mild on the way home and we all arrived in time to relax on board in our beautiful Annapolis anchorage before a good meal at the local pub.

We spent another day just wandering the town between boat shows - the sailboat show ends and a few days later the powerboat one begins. With quieter streets and more relaxed store staff, we had a nice day seeing a bit more of the place. There are some beautiful streets and buildings in Annapolis, the state capital of Maryland.

It has many claims to a place in history, and two of the more celebrated ones are the author Alex Haley and the lawyer Thurgood Marshall. Haley's classic saga 'Roots' is commemorated in a delightful series of statues near the waterfront where his main character, Kunta Kinte arrived in a slave ship from Africa. Marshall was the first African American supreme court judge and won the famous case of 'Brown vs Board of Education in Topeka' which sounded the death knell for the 'separate but equal' separatist policy towards education for black Americans. It's fun, and important, to learn more about these things and to give the kids an appreciation of how important they are and how fortunate we are to have so few of these issues and struggles to deal with.

We left Annapolis after a glorious week during which the sun shore regularly, temperatures almost hit 90 degrees, we met up with many friends and welcomed family back aboard again. What more could we want.

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Issie has a great set of 'kids Shakespeare' books which she is really getting into now.

'My favourites are Twelfth Night and Helmet', she told us yesterday. That'll be the one about the crazy Danish protective headgear, then.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oxford Roadkill

Oxford may be a sleepy little place devoid of much entertainment but, if you will permit the slightly gruesome topic with a nod towards forthcoming Halloween, this town does have the most interesting roadkill.

In a short walk we saw the two following animals who probably met an untimely end under the tyres of an oncoming SUV.

A beautiful little bat
And a very small turtle or terrapin

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Oxford, MD

Here we are in Oxford, Maryland. True to form, Oxford is a sleepy, unremarkable town of the banks of a minor river. This Oxford is really sleepy, with a large collection of elegant old houses, a couple of inns, a few boatyards and the occasional antiques store and yacht sales office.

On reflection, it's surprising that there is even a playground, as the town feels as if it is populated by the over fifties, but perhaps it's for when those grandkids come to play. It isn't helped by the fact that last weekend's hot and sunny weather has given way to cool, windy, cloudy autumn weather and the wind whips the dusty orange leaves around the park in a cold whirl of oncoming winter.

It's the sort of day to curl up in a cafe/bookstore and read to the kids whilst cradling a hot mocha. Sadly, Oxford has no cafe, the resturant we headed to had closed for the season ten days ago and only the local mini-market was selling anything edible. So it was back to the boat for coffee and donuts instead.

So although Oxford is probably rather nice in the summer, it lacks entertainment value right now and we will head on tomorrow a mere eight miles to the town of Cambridge. Obviously this will be a more lively, happening town with a vibrant commercial life and even nicer inhabitants.

We have 'nana and grandpa' on board right now so the kids have twice as many adults to entertain, be entertained by, wind up, jump on and generally seek attention from. And they are making the most of it. They could do with some beach time, though - we tried yesterday because Max demanded a trip to the beach so I wrapped up warm and took him - but he only lasted fifteen minutes. It'll be good to go south once more!

After Cambridge we will move on and explore a little more of this Eastern side of the bay, there are certainly plenty of little creeks and inlets - then we will head up to Baltimore fom where Mum and Dad can travel easily to New York and we can head for a day trip into Washington DC to see this nation's great capital.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Fear not, my American friends, we are not sadly mistaken because it is Canadian Thanksgiving today, a month before the local version. We almost forgot, surprising because back in Cambridge we used to celebrate each year with a big dinner for our Canadian friends.

Here we were lucky enough to be meeting up with friends from Ontario, Ken and Grace, who were in town for the boatshow, and they mentioned it was the holiday. So we invited them aboard yesterday for dinner, they brought a couple of cooked chickens, we prepared the vegetables and had a really lovely evening. The pumpkin pie wasn't cooked in time, but we'll enjoy that tonight instead. It was a beautiful night in this anchorage, near Annapolis - not a breath of wind, mild and a full moon. Lovely.

From here, my parent's arrive tomorrow and we'll spend another day in Annapolis before we head off across Chesapeake Bay to explore the more rural East side of the bay, which is supposed to be beautiful. We'll probably take them up to Baltimore by the end of their stay so they can get easy transport to New York for the second part of their trip to the USA. Right now we're tidying the boat, preparing the shopping list and picking up a hire car in the morning because this is America, so there is no easy public transport from the airport to here.

We're looking forward to their visit and getting back out on the water again after a week here in port.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Photos from our trip to Worton Creek

- It's getting colder, we wear boots, jeans and jackets these days.....
- .... and the geese are flying south
- but we can still stay warm around a campfire on the beach
- and watch the sun setting.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

A beautiful anchorage

We have been slowly making our way down the upper reaches of the Chesapeake towards Annapolis, where we will stop for provisions, laundry and the Boat Show - the biggest sailboat show in the USA. Meanwhile we have been travelling a couple of hours each morning and catching up on school and maintenance in the afternoons.

Yesterday we stopped at a place called Worton Creek. It is a gorgeous tree and beach lined bay which leads into a narrow winding creek hiding a few marinas and homes. We stayed outside in the little bay and explored by dinghy. There was almost no wind, and as the afternoon wound down we took the kids to the beach and built a campfire. Digging a hole in the sand, collecting driftwood and sitting around a little fire as the sun set, drinking a beer and chatting. It was a very beautiful spot. The kids set up camp a few yards down the beach and built their own 'fire' with dry sticks, so we were all content.

This morning was a little more cloudy and the trip was bumpier and colder with the wind against us, but we're just ten miles north of Annapolis now and whilst still beautiful, it is more built up. This is clearly easy reach of Washington DC and the waterfront homes show that clearly. Tomorrow we'll motor on a little and find a spot to stop for a few days.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Delaware City

Here we are in the metropolis that is Delaware City. It seems that the founders of this rather nice little village had aspirations, or at least good marketing skills, for Delaware City is a small, tidy waterfront main street and a few homes, then the nearby oil refinery which seems to be what people do around here.

I think it's been two days since I reported our trip to Ocean City. Whilst anchored there, we had a nice meal on the boat then lamented the fact that we couldn't watch the vice-presidential debate. This is a major event here although any of you Brits who expect a debate to involve two parties robustly making and defending their arguments would find that America has morphed the concept of 'debate' into a sort of two-at-a-time interview with the minimum of conflict between the participants. None the less, since the election is happening during our stay in this country, I feel obliged to take an interest. So we were delighted to find that we had excellent wifi coverage, good enough to view the whole thing on

Oh dear. I don't know how many of you saw any of this but let me say that I found Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, to be cringeworthy in so many ways. Clearly armed with a list of prepared statements, a permanent cheezy smile and the inability to ever answer the question asked. Really, America needs to let their good interviewers grill their politicians directly. John Humphries (BBC Today Programme presenter) would eat Palin for breakfast.

Joe Biden, the Democrat candidate, was statesmanlike and assured, but he didn't exactly have to try very hard. I'd been fairly impressed by John MaCain and Barak Obama in the previous debate, but could hardly watch Palin. So it was with some amazement, or maybe dismay that having watched what was, to me, a one-sided contest with an embarrassment of a republican candidate, the pundits were saying it was fairly even! Perhaps much of America really will be taken in by the 'I'm just a regular Mom ready to change Washington politics for ever' line. Maybe intelligent, thoughtful, diplomatic and experienced candidates are just too boring for this country. Much better to have a go-ahead, action centered type like, oh, let me think - George Bush. Sounds good, huh.

Enough politics; if I haven't lost my readers already then let me tell you about the sailing.

Friday saw us leave Ocean City for a fairly short thirty-five miles to Cape May. The weather decided to stretch it out for us by blowing from exactly where we wanted to go - a 'noserly' as we call it. But the sun was shining, the water was fairly flat so we sailed, beating to windward. In our boat that's a pretty tedious task but is was fun on this day. By four o'clock we had to give up and motor the last eight miles but we settled into a pretty sunset at Cape May Harbor and cooked up a good steak.

The following day was a long trip - sixty two miles around the cape and up to Delaware City. The tide runs strongly in the Delaware Bay and you have to go with it or you'll never get there before dark. That meant leaving Cape May at about six in the morning, so we got up in the dark, had a coffee, followed the lit buoys out of the harbor and set sail as the sun crept over the horizon. It was beautiful, and as we rounded Cape May itself, the wind came in from the perfect angle and we sailed for the next four hours. Conditions couldn't have been better. Slowly the wind died away and we had to turn the engine on for the second half of the day, but with a strong tide under us and fine weather, it didn't matter, we loved the trip.

After a brief exploration of Delaware City docks, we decided there wasn't enough depth there when the tide goes out, so we came out and anchored in Delaware Bay itself. Deitmar treated me to dinner at the local restaurant where the food was average, the service friendly but incompetent and we still had a really good time. I dropped Dietmar at the docks at seven am this morning so he could get back home and then Gesa and the family arrived with Mike and Pam at about two pm. Even though they have only been away a few days I've missed them and it's funny how Issie and Max suddenly seem more grown up. I think a short break allows us to see the progress of the past months in perspective instead of the blurred and jaded vision we get when we are so close for so long.

Tomorrow we rise early and go though the twelve mile long Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, a big ditch that links these two great estuaries. For there, it's a few days of gentle cruising to Annapolis, where we hope to visit the boat show and meet up with various friends, then my parents arrive from the UK to cruise in the Chesapeake Bay. It's all go!

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Great sailing

We're making fast progress down the Jersey Shore towards Atlantic City. The wind is a good force five and it's coming from forward of the beam, meaning that we're making progress towards the wind. Normally this is hard work, but today it's just at the right angle to go fast and, most importantly, it's blowing off the land so we have almost flat water here a mile off the beach.

This coast is one long thin barrier beach between the open ocean and protected pools behind the beach and before the mainland. There is the occasional inlet where we can get in from open water for a sheltered anchorage, and this is where the fisherman, power boats and occasional sailors congregate. I imagine that in summer it is a playground for families and anyone who likes to be on or beside the water yet now as autumn begins it is cooler, windier and suggests a bleak and harsh winter landscape. I wouldn't like to be on this shore in a big easterly winter gale.

Last night we anchored in a narrow channel at Manasquan. Whilst there was plenty of water around, most of is was very shallow and we had to stay to the few areas of deep water. To anchor in the channel carried the dual problems of getting in the way of the locals and having the boat swing at the turn of the tide, probably onto the nearby mudflat. We solved this problem, however, by laying out two anchors, one ahead as usual and the other astern, so we were held parallel to, and on the edge of, the channel. It worked a treat, although I still got up briefly at two am to make sure she stayed put at the tide turned.

A nice dinner of steak, potatoes and grilled red pepper went well with a beer and we rounded off the evening with a nice single malt, a little of which has survived the last year aboard, hiding cautiously in a secure little nook, making sure that the rum is noticed and drunk first....

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

At sea once again

So I have left New York Harbor, but Gesa and the kids remain in the city. Let me explain.

We are off to cruise in the Chesapeake Bay for a month of so before returning to the Caribbean. The trip from NYC to the Chesapeake involves about a hundred and eighty miles of sailing along the Jersey Shore and up the Delaware Bay. Harbours are few and far between, so it is best done in four long hops. So I have taken aboard a crew, Dietmar, who is a friend of other cruising friends. Gesa and the kids are staying in the city with Mike and Pam, my aunt and uncle, and will travel with them to meet us at the other end of my trip.

So this is a chance for me to have some enjoyable day sailing, nice food and a few beers in the company of my new friend. Hopefully the kids will give Gesa some time to relax on shore and we can meet up ready to head through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and into the huge network of rivers and creeks that is the Chesapeake Bay.

I'll have a little time, hopefully, to write a bit more about our time in New York so look out for that over the next few days. Right now we are enjoying a gentle sail in the warm sunshine, a couple of hours away from our stop for the night at Manasquam. We have sailed out of New York and under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and so my dream of sailing in that harbor is fulfilled. Now I'm happy to visit by aeroplane again, for the harbour offers scant reward for the effort required to be there. There are only a few places to keep a boat, and all but one of them are extraordinarily expensive, rates up to five dollars a foot would have seen us paying $250 a night in a marina. Fortunately the 79th Street Boat Basin has moorings on the Hudson for the bargain price of $30 a night. It's great, but the River is wide and busy, so it is far from a calm anchorage and our mooring was a long dinghy ride from the dock. We were happy to stay ashore for most of our time here, and so lucky to have such generous hosts in Mike and Pam.