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Up the Bay River

Sailing on the Lower Broad, April 2015, photo by Paul Clayton.

After an unusually hard winter it was a pleasure to get down to the marina for a week of mid-April sailing. To get things started, I accepted Scott and Evonne's gracious invitation to join them for an afternoon sail aboard their 1977 Pearson 28 Selena. Good northeast winds of 15-18 knots made for plenty of speed as we took a long board out to the ferry crossing, tacked around and came back.

With a forecast of a couple of days of southerly winds and then a shift around to the north, I started making plans. I had four, or at most five, sailing days to work with. I was keen to go somewhere I hadn't been before. Bellhaven seemed achievable if I could make Bonner Bay, or better yet, Campbell Creek on the first day.

Monday morning I cast off and sailed out into the creek. I flipped on the depth sounder and found it not functioning, which was a bit perturbing, but carried on out into the river. It was soon clear that, while the wind was blowing out of the right quarter, its speed left a lot to be desired. Bonner Bay would be a stretch and Campbell Creek was out of the question. As I slowly sailed downriver, I started thinking about a Plan B. It occured to me that I had never been any higher up the Bay River than Bonner Bay. I didn't have my Claiborne Young guide with me, but I could remember that Claiborne had been enthusiastic about the upriver scenery and reassuring about the depths (the river is used by the Bayboro commercial fleet), so I decided to scrub Bellhaven and make for Bayboro. That way I could use my trusty Lower Broad Creek anchorage for the first night.

At anchor in the mouth of Burton Creek I watched as a boat came in under full sail and continued up Lower Broad. After that I settled in for dinner and a quiet night on the hook.

In the morning I found more wind, still from the southwest, and made a quick run up the sound to Maw Point. I made the cut and soon reached Bay River marker 1, the first of 22 markers I would pass on this well-marked river in the course of the day. As I turned to port, the winds came closer, and I laboriously beat up the river as far as Bell Point, due across from Vandemere, where I dropped sail and started the motor. From here, the river turned into a broad, straight highway to the southwest, with the wind blowing from directly ahead.

House on Bay River. Photo by Paul Clayton.

It was a good thing that the river was well-marked, because not only did I have a non-functioning depth sounder, my chart book ran out just above Vandemere. I had my tablet-as-a-gps running in the cabin, and could jump below for a look now and then, but the steady progression of markers gave me some reassurance that I was on the right branch and not straying into shoal water. I motored up the Bay River dead into the wind, stopping every marker or two to replenish the tiny fuel tank on the Yamaha from my two gallon can. Fortunately Valor will bob along duck-like with head to wind with sails down for long enough to refuel and fire the engine up again. I noted several windward bays that looked like they might provide cover for the night. Eventually the waters narrowed and started to wind, and soon we were in a narrow channel. With less fetch, the waves died down, though the wind was still more or less on the nose. Ahead I saw a boatyard with floating docks and noted in the back of my head that it could be a potential mooring for the night. I continued upstream past several old-fashioned river shacks with docks and boats parked out front, finally coming to the top of the river at Bayboro. The run-down fish house sported one small crab boat and a decrepit shrimper on the dock. The scene was deserted of people except fo an older couple out walking their collies ashore, who waved and smiled as I turned the boat and headed back downstream.

As I approached the boatyard, I tried hailing, but got no answer. As I came alongside, I called out to a man on a big steel trawler,asking if the yard took transients. He said the crew had all gone home, but he didn't think it would be amiss for me to tie up for the night. With wind still blowing strong, I approached dock, missed it, and had to take another loop. The trawler captain caught Valor's bow pulpit and held me alonside until I could get a couple of lines set. Thanks Sirens Call.

Hurricane Boatyard in Bayboro is a full service facility that also allows do it yourself and offers dry storage. The yard is an authorized Caterpillar dealer servicing commercial boats and has a fifty ton lift. The overnight transient rate is $1.00/foot and there is a decent, clean shower. In April 2015 most of the yards in the area are full and overbooked, but staff at Hurricane told me they had capacity and could handle boats on short notice. I think the decline of the Bayboro commercial fleet has hurt Hurricane's business and they are trying to put more emphasis on the recreational market. They might be worth a try for anyone having a hard time getting in one of the Oriental or Adams Creek yards.

By the morning the wind had clocked around from south to north and was still blowing hard. The forecast called for northeast winds 20 to 25 with higher gusts - in fact, there was a small craft advisory in effect for the sound. I went up to the boatyard office to pay the dockage and told the lady that if things were too bad out on the river I would be back. I certainly hoped that wouldn't be the case because things weren't expected to get much better for a couple of days. In fact the boat made better headway going north than it had coming south - the winds were just as strong but there didn't seem to be quite as heavy a chop. Along about marker 8 I put up the jib and reefed main, and motor-sailed out to marker 5 where I was able to kill the motor and beat downriver. It was cloudy and cool even in my foul-weather gear, and I wrapped up in a piece of sunbrella that Suzanne had given me, concerned not to let my core get too cold in case I ran into rain.

Down near Bonner Bay I had to take a tack to keep from getting set on the shoals at Pine Tree Point, and then was able to come a little more free on the port tack as I sailed out into the bay. At marker 1 I made the cut for Maw Point. Out in the sound, the waves were rolling in from the northeast with an occasional set of five footers, trough to crest, and Valor was corkscrewing and rolling, but demonstrating the seaworthiness of a Cape Dory by never coming close to broaching. I was glad to be going south and pitied the snowbirds going the other way - mostly trawlers taking an awful thrashing as they powered into the wind and waves. With the preventer rigged on the reefed main and the small jib to starboard, I was able to run wing-and-wing to Piney Point (lot of repetition to these Point names!), which I rounded with a tack to the port and then set up on a starboard tack to run up the river.

Bluewater boats on Town Dock, April 2015, photo by Paul Clayton.

With the fair wind I made good time up the river and turned in the Oriental channel. The old town dock was taken but there was room on the new one, and I took a spot across the dock from a big Monk trawler. The owners kindly invited me aboard and I got a look at the interior of this beautiful boat. Chris and Durene were delivering their Monk home to Wilmington after purchasing it in Solomons a few days before. After many miles and years aboard their Caliber 33 Impetuous they had decided the time was right to retire to power. They had anchored the night before in the lower Bay River and had a nerve-wracking time of it when the winds shifted from S to NE and left them on a lee shore. Just where I would have been if I had not fortuitously stopped over at Hurricane yard.

After an early dinner at Toucan's I sauntered over to the old town dock to take a look at the two big cruisers tied up there. Aboard one I found a friendly couple sailing home from the islands with an Irish Terrier and a cat. Their Liberty 38 is a very salty looking bluewater boat, with outside chainplates and high gunwales - kind of like a big Westsail. I don't expect to see another any time soon since only six were built before Liberty succumbed to high resin prices and the luxury tax.

Across the dock was Islander 36 Release and her owners Ken and Francie with their spaniel Skipper, on their way home to their maple syrup farm in Vermont after wintering in the islands. They knew all the Matthews Point snowbirds, and had spent lots of time with Dale and Cori on Hi Flite. When they found that I knew them, Ken got his camera out and they got pictures of each of them with me to email to Dale and Cori. It was a real pleasure to meet these nice people and I hope our paths cross again.

Next morning the wind was still blowing out of the north, which made for a quick trip home to Matthews Point. Four days on the water - five, if you count day-sailing with Scott and Evonne - new mileage, heavy weather, good conversation on the town dock - I got my money's worth out of this week.