Cruising the Chesapeake Bay


          Last week, Lila and I had the opportunity to ride the “FITZY”, a cruiser (or trawler) up the Chesapeake Bay from Norfolk to Baltimore with Pete and Sandy Fitzwilliam.  Pete’s brother Dave, who is letting Pete and Sandy sail the Great Circle route around the eastern part of the United States over the next six months, owns the boat.  Pete and Sandy left Florida in April heading up the east coast, will go through the Eire canal, the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi and some other mid-west rivers back into the Gulf of Mexico and finally over to western shores of Florida.   This is a route that many sailors would love to take and about which books have been written. 

             Pete was a Captain in the U. S. Navy and we have known each other for at least thirty-three years.  He has commanded four or five major ships and is the type of person with whom you would want to go to sea.  He instills both confidence and understanding in boat handling, and is willing to teach others.  Sandy is a perfect team player, certainly supporting this project and Pete in every way.  Well, we signed on for the leg described above and did so within sixty seconds after getting their email describing the trip.  It was a wonderful learning experience for me, in addition to being fun and being able to share time with great friends. 

              As I said earlier, Pete is careful, conscientious and conservative…all the characteristics that I do not have, so our working well together was guaranteed.  We left for Norfolk on Saturday, arriving at Little Creek Naval Base that afternoon.  This was our first look at the “Fitzy”, …a 42 feet long trawler, with two cabins, a salon, a galley, a rear open deck leading to the flying bridge.  Ship operations can be accomplished and are fully identical from both the flying bridge and the salon. 

              When we arrived on board, Pete soon qualified us on the operations of various controls within the cabin, e.g. air conditioning, head (bathroom to you land lubbers), etc.  It did not take long for Pete to direct me down into the engine room, so I could get qualified on the engines…e.g. checking the oil, coolant, batteries, transmissions on each of the main engines and the generator engine, which provides 110v AC when we are not on shore power.  Pete was absolutely great about including me in learning every facet and aspect of the ship operations, having me stay engaged at all times.  I was at the helm most all the time always remembering that Pete was close by and he was the Captain…he was in charge…that was reassuring.  .

                Pete would linger over the charts as we cruised always checking our position and continually reviewing his observations with me.  Each morning, over coffee, we would prepare a navigation plan to reach the destination for that day.  There was a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) receiver on board and I would insert our waypoints from the navigation plan and establish a route to the destination.  In addition, I was responsible for line handling and tying up the boat at pier side and making it secure each time we came into a marina. 

             We really had no problems except for some idiot (me) who poured water into the crankcase by mistake…we did not start the engine and had the crankcase oil changed and then continued on our journey.  I guess the most fun I had was learning and executing the navigation procedures…setting up the plan and watching it unfold with the help of the GPS, the compass and the ever ready charts that were used to identify and confirm buoy positions and water depth along the route. Operating the ship was relatively easy for we had the GPS as I mentioned and autopilot that kept the boat on a steady heading with amazing accuracy. 

              Always on the outlook for crab pots and other boats moving about kept us on our toes at all times and required manual operation of the helm periodically.  The boat is fifteen years old, built by Heritage West and is considered a trawler because of its design configuration.  It sails at about nine knots powered by two Perkins 6-cylinder inline diesels.  As I mentioned, we had a Garmin GPS, a Raytheon radar and Fathometer.  The boat even had a dinghy that we could lower into the water with a winch. 

              The weather on Sunday and Monday was quite windy which prevented us from heading out to sea, but we did get away early on Tuesday morning.  We headed north into the bay making good time and decided to spend the night at the Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia.  After getting set at their marina, we walked into town and saw the sights, which took us less than thirteen minutes.  We then walked around the Tides Inn, had a cocktail party aboard the boat and then dinner at the Inn.  The following morning we were off to an early start, before we had that unfortunate experience with the engine (which I cannot stand to mention again) and that prevented us from making a planned visit to Tangier Island. So instead, we went across the bay, south around Tangier Island and then to Crisfield, Maryland, where we toured through town, which now took us only twelve minutes (we were learning what to look for), then had a cocktail party aboard the boat and went to dinner at a local restaurant. 

             Now the next day we were really getting into this routine so we planned another trip across the bay…this one to Solomon’s Island, Maryland.  But this time we went awry because after arriving at Solomon’s Island we toured through the town and were inadvertently drawn in for happy hour at a local bar and delayed there for a while.  Well, when we did get back to the boat, and I do not know how, we did not have a cocktail party aboard the boat that evening, …we just had dinner and went right to bed because we were so bad…oops, I mean tired. 

              The next morning Pete and I did our navigation plan for yet another transit across the bay to St Michaels, Maryland.  Our expert planning and judicious cruising had us in St Michaels by about 3:00pm, giving us more than enough time to scope out the restaurants and walk through town.  This was a much longer journey, as St Michaels has many tourist gift shops and that tended to slow Sandy and Lila down considerably.  After our cocktail party aboard the boat we headed the forty feet down the pier to the restaurant of choice and had a seafood buffet that was just excellent.   Altogether we made about twenty trips to the buffet each and had tasted mussels, king crab legs, oysters, fish, roast beef, and much more. 

             Well, our last day on board arrived and our journey was to take us from St Michaels to Baltimore, Maryland through Eastern Bay, Kent Narrows and into the Chester River.  We headed north through the Kent Island narrows, with the bridge opening as we arrived and successfully transited the narrow channel that took us to the mouth of the Chester River, then across the Chesapeake Bay one more time and into the Patapsco River heading into Baltimore Harbor.  The transit up the Patapsco River to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is about six miles. 

           During that transit, a weather front started to move through the area kicking up some high winds and a little rain.  Only here did we meet some ferocious winds and some crazy people in a sail boat that flirted with death as they darted in front of our boat.  Sailboats under sail always have the right of way so we had to give way.  Our 42-foot trawler facing off against a six or eight foot sailboat is no match.  We could have come close to killing them, if it were not for our urgent stopping of the boat to avoid a collision.  Following that harrowing ordeal, we were in our slip in downtown Baltimore within about fifteen minutes. 

We all had an excellent time and Lila and I thank Pete and Sandy and Pete’s brother, Dave for letting us share a piece of that experience with them.