Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Baltimore to Elizabeth City NC – In Dixieland we’ll make our stand!

The world looks different from the waters edge. Local differences seem to be more acutely punctuated when traveling by water than if the same distances were covered by land. Pat and I only covered a linear distance of ~230 miles this week, but in the 4 days that we actually traveled out of the last 9 days, we passed through very different areas. Geographically the Chesapeake appears to be fairly similar from one end to the other, but culturally there are worlds apart from the northern to the southern end.

We had just left Annapolis about 2 hours earlier on our way to Solomons Island when the VHF channel 16 crackled to life with an exchange that began with “thanks for giving me so much room A**hole” The response was only partly intelligible and even less intelligent, but Pat and I could not believe what we had heard. Initially we dismissed it as mindless ramblings from two people who had spent too many hours dragging bait around in the water. Less than an hour later another similar exchange from a different pair of bait draggers was over heard. Clearly we had stepped into the twilight zone of boating, where the common courtesies seemed to be considerably less common, and Coast Guard and FCC prescribed radio protocols were out the window.

The exchanges on the radio were an unfortunate epilogue for our stay in Annapolis. While it is terribly unfair to paint the entire community with the experiences from only 3 days first impressions, however unfortunate, are lasting. So much so that it will likely be a long time before I feel the desire to visit again. Firstly the area is a little pricey, which in itself is not a reason to avoid the area. Other areas like New York City and Baltimore were equally expensive, and we are looking forward to our next visit in both places. In Annapolis however we genuinely felt like we were sources of revenue that they would never see again, so it was time too exploit whatever they could.

At the Annapolis Yacht Basin for example, the dockmaster asked us how long our boat was and then charged us an additional 2 feet because our dinghy was hanging from the stern on davits. When I noticed what he had done, he steadfastly refused to adjust his calculation, offering instead to get out a tape measure for a more precise measurement. My argument that his dock did not get any longer to accommodate the extra length did not seem to hold any sway. It was only when we extended our stay due to weather by an additional 2 days did he relent and charge us for the actual 42 feet of our boat. I could go on about other examples, but as I said earlier 3 days is not a trend, it is only a first impression. In the end however the $6.00 will not make either of us rich or poor but it will be a very cold day before he sees Threepenny Opera back in his slips.

Fortunately we met up with John M and wife Alex for dinner in Solomons Island which changed our mood considerably. We had a great evening out, and with a little local knowledge from John, we saw a very different perspective of Maryland. So now our position has changed from we will never be back, to we will never be back in Annapolis!. Thanks John, it was great to see you guys!!

The universe has a way of evening things out. As we moved further south and into the Intra Coastal Waterway there was a dramatic change in the attitudes of the people we met. From the lockmaster at Deep Creek who provided a history lesson as the locks filled, to the volunteers at the Dismal Swamp Visitors Center, everybody was genuinely interested in making us feel welcomed. Since we have entered the famous “ditch” we have encountered nothing but the famous southern hospitality.

The highlight of this hospitality is in Elizabeth City NC. It is the only major town on the Dismal Swamp Canal route through Virginia to the Abermarle Sound area of NC, so geographically it is a logical place to stop. In other words we were a captive audience, but despite the natural advantage given by location, we were welcomed by town volunteers who waved us in and helped us tie up to free docks in the middle of town. Each slip had been donated by local businesses for the purpose of attracting boaters to stop, re-supply and to visit.

One of the greeters was a well groomed gentleman whom I saw several times during the day. At about 4:30 he stopped by Threepenny Opera to ask if we had everything we needed and if there was anything he could do to make our visit more comfortable. We chatted for a while and during the conversation it turned out that our greeter was none other than the Mayor! To apply proper perspective the town has a population of nearly 20,000 residents and is home to the largest US Coast Guard training base in the country. Without a doubt we will be back if only to experience the welcome.

The pace of travel will change now that we are in the ICW. We are no longer going point to point, but rather we can adjust our daily travel to suit our mood. Since the waterway is largely protected for the next several hundred miles, we can stop almost at will and drop the anchor to spend the night. Our initial goal of the Florida Keys is tantalizingly close, a mere 1200 miles from where we are today. Hopefully we will find more gems like Elizabeth City along the way!

Have a great week. I know I will


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Auspicious said...

Sorry you only saw the tourist-heavy bits of Annapolis. A very good deal are the City moorings in the harbor. In addition to the large dinghy dock at the head of City Dock (known locally as Ego Alley), every City street that ends at the water is a dinghy dock.

There is reasonably-priced moorage along City Dock with power, water, and--recently--cable TV.

On Weems Creek, the Academy anchorage, Spa Creek above the drawbridge, and Back Creek are lots of space for anchoring.

There are lots of welcoming marinas along Back Creek, and the establishments in Eastport are very welcoming to cruising sailors. Don't miss Davis' Pub on 4th Street.

It's worth noting that the cruising sailors who return year after year for the Boat Show (and incidentally for insurance rates in the hurricane belt to drop) don't stay in the marinas immediately surrounding the harbor.

I will say that I absolutely agree with you that sailing and cruising don't have to mean camping. I want A/C when it is hot and heat when it is cold. I want to be able to watch movies and use my computer and any number of other energy-demanding activities.

If you pass our way again please drop a note ahead of time and I'll be very happy to show you a much better experience than you last had.

Not much we have been able to do about the CB-style traffic on VHF. Unfortunately that is not unique to the middle Bay.

sail fast and eat well, dave
S/V Auspicious

Pat & Addison said...

Thanks Dave for your kind offer. We will take you up on it when we pass through your area. It might be awhile however because we are currently in Cape Coral with plans to head much further south after the hurricane season.


Auspicious said...

Clearly a case of to each their own. I find Annapolis much more to my liking than nearly anywhere in Florida. I head south by leaving the Chesapeake for Bermuda and the turning right toward either Green Turtle Cay or Tortola.

There is much in North and South Carolina worth visiting but I have shuddered through every visit to Florida I have ever had to make.

That said, I hope you have enjoyed your time there as clearly my tastes are not universal. See you in the islands.