Photos and Text by Jordan Snyder
There are islands and villages in the Chesapeake Bay that have been forgotten by time. These islands are so remote that the locals speak their own unique English dialect. Where beaches and shorelines are pristine and undeveloped. Where the local people lead simple lives, work unbelievably hard and are incredibly friendly. And their roots, livelihood and future success depend on their harvests from the Chesapeake Bay waters. Where time moves at a slower, more peaceful and meaningful pace.
Sailing to these islands and exploring aboard a small boat enhances the experience, intimacy, and understanding of how wonderful these people and islands truly are. And aboard our 31' sailboat called Base Camp, we did just that.
We set aside 8 days for our sailing exploration of the Tangier Sound and left from our home port of Casa Rio marina on the Rhode River just south of Annapolis. Our plans included 2 days of sailing south just to get to these pristine islands with a stopover at Solomons Island to break up the 80 mile sail. We explored as much as possible throughout the adventure. One of our many trip highlights was an afternoon anchorage off the undeveloped northern tip of Smith Island. The unspoiled beaches were accessible only by dinghy where we discovered a Galapagos-like setting of wildlife in natural harmony including many species of shore birds, pelican nests right on the beach with eggs hatching before our eyes and Terrapin turtles crawling all around.
Our Tangier Sound sailing adventure included peaceful and secluded overnight anchorages, docking at the famous Parks Marina and strolling thru the tiny island villages of Tangier and Ewell.
Rare old growth forest, tons of wildfowl, endangered species and much more ...
We sat motionless and in silence, watching a great blue heron Heron just 15 feet away from us. He was laser focused and on the hunt, frozen still on the shore edge. Cocked and loaded, his razor sharp beak was aiming to plunge lightning fast into the shallow water and snap up a fish for dinner.
Base Camp, our 31' sailboat, was anchored in barely 5 feet of water at the head of Dividing Creek surrounded on three sides by the Wye Island Natural Resource Management Area and what we consider the crown jewel of the Chesapeake Bay. Wye Island is located in the tidal recesses of the Chesapeake Bay and surrounded by the Wye River and the Wye East River. There is almost 3 thousand acres of protected land and 6+ miles of hiking trails to explore and capture by camera. We anchored so close to land that we could practically reach out and touch the tree branches lining the shore. And we indeed had stadium seating for the constant display of waterfowl all around us.
Wye Island is rich in wildlife and waterfowl with some wildlife even being on the endangered species list. There is an old growth forest with a 275+ year old holly tree. There are miles of hiking trails lined with wild berries for the picking. Add into the mix our approach from a sailboat and you have the perfect recipe for worldclass photographing opportunities.
From the deck of Base Camp we continued to watch the heron hunting. In the past hour we had seen about a dozen of these twiggy-legged majestic creatures. Some of them were even perched on branches precariously high up in trees seemingly defying all laws of gravity. More impressive still were the numerous bald eagles continually swooping and diving into the water catching fish in their sharp talons. The inviting protected island sanctuary, rich in food supplies above and below the water attracts enormous quantities of migratory and wintering birds.
Once our private great blue heron show was over, we ventured to the island with cameras, tripods and trail-maps in hand. Boarding our dinghy, we floated about 15 yards to a designated landing area, bumping the bow of our inflatable into the shore just before stepping onto dry land.
As we explored, we kept a keen eye out for the endangered Delmarva fox squirrels. They can easily be distinguished from the common gray squirrel by their larger size, lighter color and shy, quiet behavior. And rather than jumping from tree to tree, Delmarva fox squirrels will descend down a tree and travel on the ground to the next tree.
The trail meandered through the forest and past empty anchorages like Grapevine Cove where we spotted a rope swing dangling over the water and an old Adirondack chair perfectly positioned to watch wildlife activity. It invited us to sit awhile and ponder our good fortune for discovering such a peaceful and beautiful place. The photographic subjects on the Island seemed endless. Giant pines trees lined the trails with frogs and mushrooms at our feet. And of course there is the rich waterfowl.
A next stop on our adventure might be the close but small and quaint water town of St. Michaels though we didn't want to leave our Crown Jewel of the Chesapeake.
Most of us have heard about the Great Pacific trash pile swirling around out in the ocean, far far away. Yet, the microplastics particles we are finding are practically invisible to the naked eye, and most of us Chesapeake Bay boaters don’t realize the extent of these microplastics floating right in our own backyards. From the many samples we have collected off the decks of Base Camp, we seem to average around 20 pieces of microplastics in every single 1 liter water sample. So far, our samples have come mostly from the middle of the Chesapeake with a few taken in the C&D Canal.
Where is all of this plastic pollution coming from? That is probably the number one reason for building a global database to map microplastics. It will help scientists study the sources, composition, and distribution of microplastic pollution throughout the world. What has been determined so far is that microplastics pollution come from many different sources such as plastic water bottles that enter our waterways, float on the surface and over time are broken down repeatedly by the sun, wind and wave action into microscopic particles. Furthermore, it has been determined that clothing such as fleece are playing a large role in the pollution problem. Fleece is made from polyester which is a plastic and as we wear it and wash it, tiny fragment of the fleece garment actual shed or flake off. Shedding of the fleece while in the laundry send those polyester fragments directly down the drain into our water system. The cosmetics industry is a major player too: plastic microbeads (polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene) are added to many personal care products, such as exfoliating creams and toothpastes. These too are ending up down our drains and into the water system. Currently most water treatment plants are not equipped to remove floating microplastics during the treatment process, so particles from fleece and plastic microbeads enter the waterways directly from household drains.
While aboard Base Camp, we will continue to explore the Chesapeake Bay and enjoy its many picturesque gunkholes, lighthouses, sandy beaches, and charming towns. We will also continue to gather water samples for the global database and speak to local high school students on the topic. We plan to apply for a federal grant to expand our sampling and cover as much of the 200 miles of Chesapeake Bay as we possibly can with more sophisticated sample gathering equipment. From samples at river headwaters and confluence to the centerline of the bays shipping channel, these samples will help build a much-needed and detailed data set for scientists to study and help seek resolution to this international pollution issue. We are optimistic that adding purpose to our passion for sailing will also increase awareness of the issues locally.
Jordan Snyder is a lifelong explorer and sailor, running a sailing adventure company called Base Camp Sailing. He spends lots of time exploring the Chesapeake Bay and oftentimes ventures on crewed and singlehanded Ocean expeditions. Follow his adventures and environmental quests at www.BaseCampSailing.com
For our approach, we sailed just inside the aptly named Smith Point with the town of Sherwood and their public pier off our port beam. I scanned the water for signs of the ancient underwater spring. An occasional bubble of water or splash from a fish would catch my gaze as I hoped to re-discover that illusive fresh water spigot hiding below our keel. The town used to have many springs. Unfortunately they had all dried up possibly a century ago or more. But we still were in search of a 'waterhole'.
We dropped our hook about 100 yards off the shore in 7 feet of water. The land around us had a few older homes hidden in the trees along with lots of undeveloped shoreline. The town pier was in our sight. We had discovered a beautiful anchorage. However, it had very little wind protection. My boat Base Camp was now rafted up with our buddy Breezin, an immaculately maintained and skillfully sailed boat. We had rafted together many times before that we knew the drill including exact location for fenders, how to run the lines and what drinks/appetizers would appear from each cabin once the sun began to set.
The search for the waterhole continued. Perhaps it was a short half mile walk up quaint and peaceful country roads. Our expedition was now searching for Lowes Wharf Bayside Grill 'waterhole.
After a short dinghy ride to the town pier our expedition of 3 sailors was now travelling on foot. We would stretch our legs and continue the adventure to find that illusive waterhole now hoping for frosty cold brews and orange crushes.
From the end of the pier we continued our journey up Sherwood Landing Road and eventually turned right on Lowes Wharf Road. We ran into locales tending to their gardens outside charming homes. After crossing Tilghman Island road and walking just a short distance, we discovered our waterhole, The Bayside Grill. Views of the Chesapeake Bay from their outdoor sand bar were picturesque with Poplar Island in the background. The bar was empty since it was a weekday, but I could imagine the spring break like scene of volleyball and corn hole being played with music blaring from speakers on the now empty stage. With a few drinks at the bar, the expeditions tanks were finally filled. We were ready to set out for the return walk back to our dinghy tied up at the pier, dinner on our boats and a few more drinks to finish out a perfect night and successful expedition in search of the waterhole.
Aboard Base Camp, we are always looking for new and different adventures. This may include exploring a quaint shore-side town for local food and drinks after a long hot day on the water. Waterhole Cove was a perfect adventure mixture of water and shore-side time. Visiting a local attraction by boat always make the adventure much more fun.
Wish to join us on an adventure? Go to our Sail with us page and inquire.
Engine issue, electrical and battery charging challenges, sleep deprivation, and crew drama seem like the norm with an ocean passage on a small boat with strangers. My recent offshore passage from St. Martin to Bermuda was no different. The Catalina 470 was a beautiful yacht for the passage. We were an experienced 3-man crew to sail and take round-the-clock watches as we headed almost due north for this May, 850-miles passage.
I flew into St. Martin on a Friday, arriving on the runway made famous by YouTube. This runway, only a few yards from a beautiful beach, gets blasted with plane prop-wash during each landing or takeoff. The beach goers photograph airplanes one minute and then roll across the beach as they are blown away by the gale force winds from jet engines.
The inside of the boat was huge. Comfy reclining bucket seats on the starboard side and the galley table dropped down to make practically a king size bed. It all felt rather extravagant. Not surprisingly, it was tough to negotiate this enormous cabin every time the boat heeled. Handholds were rare. Lunging across the salon to get to my bunk in the bow was always a thrill. Luckily I never landed on any sleeping crew. While there may have been some drawbacks to the size of this luxurious boat, it also allowed for 200-gallon fresh water tankage and 80 gallons of diesel. Both extremely essential on an ocean passage.
The deck and cockpit with dual helm stations were nicely laid out with lots of room to move around. All lines led to the cockpit with an electric self-tailing winch on the coach roof, roller furling main and head-sail. We also got plenty of shade from the dodger and bimini. Electronics were pretty standard: Raymarine chartplotter (qty 2), AIS, auto-pilot (rock solid), RADAR (never used), a GlobalStar Satellite Phone, and SPOT tracker. Tony, the boat owner had done a great job prepping the boat for our passage. He was experienced with blue water sailing and knew the drill: we prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. We had spare fuel, lots of extra bottled water, new EPIRB, life-raft, jacklines, tethers for our harnesses, and much more.
The first red flag of our trip came the moment I boarded the boat. I noticed 2 generators, spare group 27 batteries stashed in lockers, lithium jump starting batteries, chargers and other odd quantities of battery gear. Something was telling me to expect electrical problems. I would not be disappointed.
The follow morning we provisioned the boat with food for the 3 of us to last 8 days. St. We loaded up on lots of fresh fruit, veggies, eggs, and snacks. We planned for cold cuts for lunches and pasta dishes for dinners. Tony was generous to ensure his crew was happy.
We needed to be off the dock at Porto Cupecoy Marina by 3pm sharp in order to pass through 2 swing bridges during their limited opening schedule.
Within 2 hours of leaving the dock and navigating the bridges, we were out in open waters crossing the Anguilla Channel. With winds out of the East we needed to navigate around the island of Anguilla before setting a due north course for Bermuda. With the SPOT beacon we sent location updates to family and friends every 6 hours. The SPOT also forwarded lat/lon information to a cool tracking website called www.ocens.net. By evening, we were well on our way. Darkness crept up, the moon was just a few days from full and the winds out of the east were a perfect direction to let the boat steer itself with autopilot at about 7 knots. We established a strict watch system at night from 8pm to 8 am. With 3 crew on the boat, we each took a 4-hour time slot. Tony took the 8pm-midnight slot, John volunteered for the dog watch of midnight to 4am and I took care of 4am to 8am. During the day, one of us was always in the cockpit as there were no assigned watches. It worked out great and I loved my watch. I took a cockpit shower at dawn each morning while everyone else slept. It was a great way to start my day. Later in the trip I offered to swap watches but everyone was happy with theirs.
The second red flag came when I noticed that the 2 bow and 1 stern navigation lights were wrapped in saran wrap. I thought I had seen everything but this was a new one. I forgot to get a photo, but yes, each fixture was wrapped with a few layers of that wrap. Apparently the lights were loose and leaked as the wrap kept them secured in place and protected them from potential waves splashing up on the pulpits. I also learned that the navigation lights used 75 watts (3 x 25 watt bulbs) of power and the boat's electrical system didn’t have the capacity to run the lights all night without our autopilot eventually shutting down when power got low. So ... we ran the engine. All night long. And ... in order to start the engine, we had to start one of the 2 generators first to provide enough cranking power to turn the 75hp engine over. If neither generator started, we had the lithium jump start batteries and other backup options. Now things started to get interesting.
For the next few days our passage went totally smooth. With winds 12-18 knots from the East, we maintained a very consistent 170nm each day and were making excellent progress. Eventually we went without navigation lights at night and didn't run the engine in order to charge batteries. However, as John, the other crew was not comfortable sailing all night without navigation lights, tension was building between him and Tony.
Around day 4 we suddenly had all sorts of power issues. My suspicions about electrical issues continued to come to fruition. We had no power to start the engine and even after starting a generator, we could not start the engine. Obviously, the only reason for the generators was to get the engine going. Tony relied on the engine to charge the system and he relied on the generators to start the engine. However, even with the generators running, running, the engine would not turn over. So, we ended up wiping out spare batteries and jump start batteries only to not start the engine anyway. Sweat dripping everywhere from anxiously working in the cabin, we took a break to gather our thoughts. An hour later Tony worked his magic as he connected batteries directly to the engine with a remote starter switch. The engine fired up. We were about 200 miles from Bermuda.
We slowed our progress to time our entry through the cut at Saint George harbor perfectly. We arrived at the Spit buoy at 6am as the sun began to rise. I motored our craft through and to the concrete wall to tie up at the immigration building at about 7am. In just a little over 6 full days, we arrived in record time to beautiful Bermuda.
GRIB files, maps in motion, satellite imagery, NOAA point forecasts, smart buoys and weather apps. These are just a few of the hundreds of mind-boggling options we have at our fingertips these days to gather on-the-water weather forecasts and conditions. And if you don’t like what those forecasts are telling you, just check back in an hour and it all might change. And even though we joke about notoriously incorrect weather forecasts, we still check and rely on these forecasts for planning our sailing adventures. Let's look at a simple and detailed process for pulling up weather forecasts.
On Base Camp, my Pearson 31-2, I focus on just a few websites and graphs to help predict and forecast the weather. I use the NOAA sites for planning the next sailing expedition and for setting expectations on departures and destinations. Reading and understanding the information on these websites is what I cover in this blog. An additional blog entry will follow with information on real-time weather/sea state conditions that you can use while you are out on the water.
Using a few weather models, I have become pretty accurate with the results of my process. Of course, the short-range (within 12-24 hours) forecast is going to be much more accurate than long-range data.
I start with NOAA’s ‘Point Forecast’ for the Annapolis area shown below (link here). This area is Base Camp's home cruising grounds. However, you will be able to drill into any cruising area as I show you how to do it later in this blog.
Many people are familiar with this site. It can be considered a starting point to get a quick snapshot of a 7 day/night forecast. I sometimes find this forecast somewhat misleading - much of the report shows forecasted minimum and maximum wind conditions with little regard for the timing of these conditions. However, there are two very useful links within this page that are my special sauce. First, there is a map in the right column. This is where you can drill into your cruising grounds by panning and zooming the map and then clicking on any place you want in order to get a forecast for your specific area.
Second, the 'Hourly Weather Graph' (link here) - the very extra special sauce of pretty detailed information - is so important to me that I have it set as my browser home page is (drum roll please) ... Clicking that highlighted image below the map, also located on the right column takes you to my weather forecasting crown jewel with a wealth of detailed and very pertinent information.
This Hourly Weather Graph has lots of detailed data for your specific location as selected on the previous screen. It can be further customized to your needs. The top graph is hourly predicted temperature. The second graph is wind speed, direction and gusts. I find wind information THE MOST IMPORTANT prediction information for planning my sailing adventures on the Chesapeake Bay. The bottom graph shows precipitation potential. You can customize your charts from the list and radio buttons at the top of the page, submit a specific 48-hour time period, and manually forward in 48-hour increments. This hourly forecast graph is bookmarked on my cell phone and my home screen on my laptop for weather forecasting on the Chesapeake bay.
Check back in a few weeks for some more great information on weather/sea state condition reports while you are actually sailing on the Bay. My blog will also include information on great apps for real-time tide, current, wind and sea state conditions.
We found amazingly empty white sand beaches, aquatic wildlife, tranquil anchorages and much more while sailing on the Sea of Cortez out of La Paz, Mexico. For a week over the 2015 holidays, we bareboat charted a 38 foot Catalina from a small outfitter and sailed off into the sunset.
Unlike many other chartering destinations throughout the world, the cruising grounds of the Sea of Cortez consist of peaceful desert and sand with no development, which means open seas, solitude, and family time.
The next day we made it to the sea lion sanctuary at the northern boundary of our cruising grounds. Dozens of tour boats all via'd for about 4 mooring balls and snorkeling access to the sea lion populated waters. We got super lucky in grabbing a mooring just as a tour boat was leaving. We spent about 90 minutes snorkeling and photographing the activity. Afterwards we dropped the mooring and headed south to another anchorage for our second night.
Contact me for more information and details on chartering and sailing in the Sea of Cortez.