In my last article about our May east coast sailing adventure, we were staying in a delightful marina in Baltimore. We woke to clear skies, enjoyed our usual breakfast of cereal and bananas, coiled our lines, and then eased out of the slip. As we sailed out of Baltimore Inner Harbor, we enjoyed seeing the many cargo ships, waiting to be unloaded and loaded.
Because it was Sunday, there were few boats on the water and little activity on the shore. As the wind picked up, we raised our sails and tacked back-and-forth, and then circled around the Baltimore Lighthouse several times, trying to peek inside through the tattered curtains.
A few days later, Rich purchased a small watercolor of the lighthouse at an art gallery in Annapolis. The painting now hangs in his office, next to his many other sea-themed paintings.
That evening, we dropped anchor by Dobbins Island, a small, kidney-shaped island in the Magothy River, which is a popular for partying, water-skiing, and hanging out in the calm and shallow water. When we arrived, quite a few boats were anchored, and many small boats and dinghies dotted the shore with people in bathing suits, sun-tanning, drinking libations, and talking loudly.
Across from the island, was a large house, which had a sizable replica of a lighthouse, complete with a bright light on the top. The house, built on Little Dobbins Island is very controversial because it was constructed without permits. In 2005, the county ordered the lighthouse, pool, and gazebo be torn down. Fortunately, for us, the lighthouse stood and was operational, six year later.
We enjoyed a pleasant dinner and evening, reading and planning the next leg of our trip. Around 10 p.m., we decided to call it a night. Rich checked his GPS one last time to make sure our anchor was holding. It hadn’t!
We threw on warm clothes, started the engine, pulled up the anchor, and circled around to find a good place to once again anchor. After two attempts, the anchor held when the engine was revved up in reverse. Rich reset the GPS to track a circle around the anchor, and we once again got ready for bed.
Throughout the night, Rich woke briefly to check the GPS. If our boat started to drift, the GPS was supposed to sound an alarm. Around 3 a.m., Rich woke and thought the water breaking against the boat sounded funny. He flicked on a flashlight, picked up the GPS, and screamed, “We’re dragging anchor! Get dressed!”
Rich threw on some clothes, started the engine, and pulled up the anchor. I was a bit slower and more thoughtful, flipping on the “instruments switch” in the control panel, and popping off the cover of the depth meter as I scrambled onto the deck.
It was pitch black outside, but I could see three things: The anchor lights on top of the masts of the two sailboats by Dobbins Island, and the light in the mini lighthouse on Little Dobbins Island. The latter was maybe 100 feet away, which meant, we drifted across the Magothy River and were dangerously close to grounding the boat.
When we studied the GPS track, days later, there was no doubt that we’d grounded the boat, but it’d miraculously rocked off the sand and was “floating” when we discovered we were no longer anchored.
With the depth meter, we could navigate into the deeper areas of the Magothy so we had a least a few feet of water beneath our keel. To make matters worse, it was rainy, windy, and cold outside. Barefoot with rain gear, I tried to discern where Rich wanted me to drop the anchor, but was often drown out by the wind or the anchor would hit bottom within a few second, but not catch and the boat would quickly drift from where he wanted to anchor. Our first three attempts were failures. One attempt was perfect, but as the boat started to spin around, we noticed we were within a foot of a channel marker.
Another attempted seemed to hold, allowing us time to dry off and make some coffee. But after watching the GPS for an hour, we saw once again, we were dragging. Throughout the ordeal, words were exchanged until we came to our senses and realized screaming at each other wasn’t going to make the anchor hold.
For our final attempt, around 5 a.m., we decided to drive away from the island and the other sailboats to deeper (20 feet) water. The anchor held, but with an hour until daybreak, we opted to have another pot of coffee, catch a few winks while sitting up in the galley, and then, sail to Annapolis.
Tired, but relieved we didn’t have to call a towboat, we pulled up anchor as the sun started to rise. The anchor as surprisingly heavy, and as it got towards the top, I noticed a red string tangled in the chain. At the end of a string was a brick. The extra weight of the brick may have been enough to set the anchor! The boat, a 32-foot Hunter, had only a light anchor, ten feet of chain, and the rest was line (rope). There probably wasn’t enough weight to hold the boat in windy weather, especially on a sandy bottom.
The morning was drippy and very windy. We raised the sails and Rich let me take the wheel. We flew down the Chesapeake at up to 7 knots! It was some of the most accelerating and fun sailing I’d ever done. I stood up, feet wide apart, hands gripping the wheel as the boat skimmed across the waves.
Rich took over as we approached Annapolis so I could research the marinas in the area. There are a lot of marinas and not finding the Annapolis City Marina, we called the harbormaster. We were looking in the wrong place! Plus, the lack of sleep had caught up with us.
The harbormaster, recognizing we hadn’t the foggiest idea what we were doing, asked if we wanted to stay along the seawall. “Sure, why not? What’s the seawall?”
We were directed down a narrow channel, smack dab in the middle of downtown Annapolis. Because it was mid-morning, we got a perfect spot and didn’t have to negotiate, thankfully, around many boats.
Unfortunately, Rich, unlike me who’d tied off the boat and was walking back-and-forth on top of the seawall, didn’t realize the sidewalk was a few feet beneath the seawall. As he stepped off the boat, he stumbled and fell off the seawall. I thought he’d broken something. The harbormaster wanted him checked out by a paramedic.
Annapolis, however, proved to be lucky place for us. After a few days of taking Advil and a little hobbling, Rich was back to normal with nothing more serious than a few bumps and bruises.
After eating lunch, we walked a few blocks to the United States Naval Academy. After having our ID checked, we waltzed over the visitor’s center to watch a short flick and then take a formal tour of the campus. I didn’t know what to expect because visiting a military academy isn’t high on my list. However, I was enraptured with the architecture, size of the buildings, and the physical, mental, and emotional rigors cadets must undergo during their four years at the academy.
The tour guide’s husband and son had both gone through the academy so she could relay first-hand the challenge of the Plebe Summer and the first and subsequent years in a cadet’s life. Plebe Summer is “designed to turn [1,200] civilians into midshipmen.” It’s seven weeks in length with each day beginning at dawn with rigorous exercise (in Maryland humid heat) and ending at dawn. There’s no television, leisure time or movies.
Those who survive Plebe Summer, return home for a few weeks before starting their first year, which is equally regimented with midshipmen earning more privileges and freedoms as they complete each of their four years at the academy. A typical schedule is:
- 5:30: Arise for personal fitness workout (optional)
- 6:30: Reveille (all hands out of bed)
- 6:30-7:00: Special instruction period for plebes
- 7:00: Morning meal formation
- 7:10: Breakfast
- 7:55-11:45: Four class periods, one hour each (midshipmen can choose to earn one of 22 majors that lead to a Bachelor of Science degree)
- 12:05: Noon meal formation
- 12:15: Noon meal for all midshipmen
- 12:40-1:20: Company training time
- 1:30-3:30: Fifth and sixth class periods
- 3:30-6:00: Varsity and intramural athletics, extracurricular and personal activities; drill and parades twice weekly in the fall and spring
- 5:00-7:00: Supper
- 7:30-11: Study period for all midshipmen
- 11:00: Lights out for plebes
- Midnight: Taps for upper-class
Midshipmen are issued several different uniforms and hats, which they must keep in regulation condition and wear for almost everything they do from attending classes (khaki pants and blue shirt) to working out (blue shorts and white tee-shirts or fatigues for military exercises) to getting an ice cream in downtown Annapolis (white pants, shirts, and shoes). They march to meals, are expected to keep their rooms ready for military inspection, and are required to be in their rooms, studying for several hours per night. They are also issued a cap, which they wear for four years, and then ceremonially throw up in the air upon graduation.
Since 1845 more than 60,000 young men and women have graduated from the academy, served in the military, and then gone onto various careers, including President and nearly-President of the United States (Jimmy Carter and John McCain). Click hereto see the photos on the academy’s site.
Once accepted into the academy, everything is paid for including tuition, housing, food, books, computers, uniforms, dry cleaning of uniforms, athletic gear, and personal toiletries. Plus, midshipmen are given a monthly allowance for extras they may want to buy!
I recall the tour guide saying it costs around $350,000 per cadet over a four-year period. Do the math. To graduate 1,200 midshipmen costs $420 million!
The entire 338-acre campus of the Naval Academy is a National Historical Landmark. Founded in 1845, the academy is home to numerous magnificent Beaux-Arts style buildings built by Ernest Flagg, a brilliant architect. The largest is Bancroft Hall, which is the largest college dormitory in the world with 1,700 rooms, 4.8 miles of corridors and 33 acres of floor space. The central rotunda and first two wings were built in 1901-1906. It later was expanded to encompass eight wings on five floors.
The Hall has its own zip code. It houses midshipmen, has offices for officers and chaplains, a barbershop, bank, travel office, small restaurant, textbook store, laundromat, uniform store, cobbler shop, post office, gymnasium, full medical and dental clinics, and optometry and orthopedic clinics.
The next stop in our tour was the Naval Academy Chapel, which had dramatic stained glass windows and a serene ambiance. In the crypt beneath the chapel is John Paul Jones, America’s first naval hero who exclaimed “I have not yet begun to flight,” when the ship he was on, the Bonhomme Richard, was confronted by the British frigate HMS Serapis. After heavy fighting and extensive damage to both ships, Captain Pearson of the Serapis surrendered. A few days later, the severely damaged Bonhomme Richard was sunk.
As a side note: Yesterday, for Seattle’s Seafair, Rich and I were on the USS Bonhomme Richard. We’d applied and been accepted to take an all-day trip on a military vessel, but didn’t know whether we’d end up on a Canadian ship, U.S. Destroyer, U.S. Coast Guard ship, or the Bonhomme Richard. A few days before, I was writing about John Paul Jones and when I learned he’d commanded the Bonhomme Richard, I tracked down Rich and announced I knew which ship we’d be on. Sure enough, I was right!
The massive marble and bronze sarcophagusin which Jones’s body is interred is a bit creepy. My imagination doesn’t allow me to get past the vision of a skeleton with bits of putrefied flesh, yellowed teeth, tangled hair, disintegrated clothing, and tarnished war metals.
After visiting the chapel, we scurried to Preble Hall, where the U.S. Naval Academy Museum is located. We found this exhibits so interesting we returned the next day. I was enthralled by the Class of 1951 Gallery of Ships, one of the world’s finest collections of warship models from the 17thcentury to modern times. The ships, made of wood and bone, were built to show what the actual ship would look like when completed. The detail of the ships is extraordinary.
By the time we left the museum, Rich was in a lot of pain from his fall earlier in the day. We returned to the boat so Rich could lay-down while I busied myself by cleaning the outside of the boat with buckets of water (from the river), white-wall cleaner, and a sponge. It kinda’ fun… if you only do it once or twice a year during a charter.
As the day drew to a close, groups of midshipmen started to emerge from the Academy to enjoy the cool evening, frequent restaurants, shops for stuff, visit with other midshipmen, etc. They wore white pants or skirts, white shirts, white hats, and white shoes. They walked with confidence and civility, and most likely, relief with the end of the school year drawing to a close. Many were probably days away from graduating and getting assigned to a ship or other role within the Navy.
The streets were also filled up with local folks: Couples on dates, parents with young children, pierced and tattooed teens with their skateboards, senior citizens holding hands, and boat-owners, like Rich and I. It was a perfect evening for strolling, bopping into the many small shops that line the narrow streets, people- and cadet-watching, and of course, tracking down and eating ice cream (our priority).
Downtown Annapolis is picture-perfect with historical brick buildings, including the capital buildings, charming restaurants and shops, ornate early American churches, boutique inns, and extraordinary row houses from the simple to ornate. I loved walking around Annapolis!
The next day, we awoke to flooding. Unusually high tides combined with unusually large amount of rain resulted in water seeping through the seawall and covering the parking lot and bricked plaza with a foot or so of water. Most of the water didn’t reach the nearby buildings, but did make a mess of the recycling and trash that’d been left out for garbage pick-up. Check out the pictures in the slide show.
Within a few hours the water receded, and life returned to normal. We chose to further explore Annapolis, taking a bridge across Spa Creek to an older part of town where a small maritime museum was located. Unfortunately, when we arrived, there was a cadre of teachers and parents waiting for bus-loads of children. We opted to skip the museum, in spite of the occasional dribble turning into a full-blown downpour. By the time we got back to the boat, we were soaked!
We spent the rest of the day ditching raindrops as we toured the Maryland State Buildings (Annapolis is the capital of Maryland), St. Anne’s Church (each kneeling bench was covered with a unique needlepoint pillows, which must have taken the members years to create), Banneker-Douglass Museum, and the Annapolis National Historical District, which has more than 1,500 restored and preserved buildings and houses.
That evening, we once enjoyed the ambiance… and I worked up the courage to stop a group of midshipmen and ask whether they’d pose with me for a picture. They were very polite and patiently answering my numerous questions.
We spent the rest of the evening, sitting in the cockpit of our boat, marveling at the city and its residents until our eyelids grew heavy. Sadly, we climbed into the galley, falling asleep listening to the voices outside. The next morning brought clear skies as we pushed off the seawall and headed to our next destination.