USPS Compass

Chesapeake Bay cruise provides
education in school of hard knocks

A few years ago, my wife, Jackie, and I discovered that some vacations must be chalked up as learning experiences.

Back in September 2001, we were headed for Kent Island, Md., excited to be taking our first extended cruise aboard the MacGregor 26X we’d bought earlier that year.

After rigging and launching our boat at a public ramp, we discovered we couldn’t park there overnight. We had to move the car and trailer across the bridge to Sandy Point State Park. Rather than derig the boat, I sailed to Sandy Point while Jackie drove there.

The clear day and gentle but steady winds seemed to bode well for our weeklong vacation. I met Jackie at Sandy Point, and we left the park under power since it was already about 1600 and we wanted to reach Kent Island before dark.

In the shipping channel, I suggested we take time to watch a freighter pass by. Jackie urged me to move on, but I assured her I’d keep a safe distance. Two minutes later, our Yamaha outboard began to run rough. I shifted the motor out of gear, hoping to rev it without a load to unclog the fuel line. The engine stalled and refused to restart.

Looking north, I saw the freighter coming closer, but it was still at least a mile away. I thought I heard its horn blast. Happy to be on a sailboat, we raised sail and cleared the massive ship’s path. Our boat rose and then descended in the freighter’s bow wave. We weren’t quite far enough away. I’d learned my first lesson, but school was still in session.

Although I’ve been sailing for 40 years, I wasn’t comfortable docking the large, heavy MacGregor 26X under sail. We knew we had to get back to Sandy Point to have the motor checked out, but the narrow channel entrance faced directly into the wind, and only 40 feet separated the bridge and a large rock break wall. We couldn’t return, and the sun was beginning to set.

We could either head for the marina south of the east-end bridge on Kent Island or sail up the Severn River to Annapolis, Md., on the southwest side of the Bay Bridge. Visibility would be limited and maneuvering would be difficult in either harbor, but we chose Annapolis, hoping to drop anchor or grab a mooring ball.

When we started sailing, I didn’t see any boats on the Chesapeake. But 20 minutes later, I noticed the portside lights of a small vessel and set a course to intercept it.

They were going north and agreed to tow us to Sandy Point. The towboat headed for span two of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, left of center. Comparing my mast to the bridge’s height, I wasn’t sure we would clear it. I blasted my air horn to alert the motorboat skipper, who told me not to worry. But as the bridge approached, a collision seemed imminent.

The towboat wasn’t slowing. It wasn’t until we were a couple of boat lengths from the bridge that I realized we would easily pass under.

Arriving safely at Sandy Point, we moved the trailer into place, winched the boat onto it and pulled it from the water. The park police arrived to tell us that the park closed at sunset, and we needed to vacate pronto. I pointed out that it would not be wise to drive with the mast up.

It took us two hours to remove the sails, and the officer returned twice to check our progress. It was at least 2200 when we pulled out of the park with directions to a marina that serviced Yamaha outboards.

At the marina the next morning, the mechanic said he couldn’t service our boat for a week. Fortunately, he told us how to diagnose the problem. First, he said to look in the fuel pump to see if water—which would show up as light-colored bubbles—had condensed or leaked into its attached jigger-sized reservoir. I saw nothing.

Second, he suggested checking the fuel tank for water. Not only didn’t I find water there, but I also found no fuel.

Suddenly, it hit me. The motor wasn’t malfunctioning; it was out of gas. And to make matters worse, I had another fuel tank on board. All I had to do was change the fuel line to the other tank.

By the time we drove back to Sandy Point, put up the mast, rigged the sails and launched the boat, we’d lost a full day of our weeklong cruise.

I told my story in confidence to a fellow squadron member who, it turned out, had no compassion. I received the Bent Prop Award at my first change of watch. —Selden Campen

Back to top | Back to Compass

Privacy policy | Contact Compass staff | USPS website | Archived issues

© 2007 United States Power Squadrons. All rights reserved.