Saturday, June 21, 2014

Anniversary Sailing

Every year, Bill and I plan a sailing trip to celebrate our anniversary, and this year was no exception. We decided to check out a few new anchorages this time, and we wanted to head south to catch some crabs since they aren't running very well up in the northern part of the Bay this year.

Our original intention was to sail to the Choptank River on the first day, but we had a later start than we anticipated, and didn't leave the dock until about 10am. They were calling for severe thunderstorms beginning around 4pm and we wanted to be anchored by 3pm to get ready for the storms. So we set our sights on Whitehall Bay near Annapolis.

Overview of Whitehall Bay

As we approached Whitehall Bay, we decided it was too exposed from the south, so we weaved our way into Mill Creek instead. Based on our timing we were there at low tide; the channel was reported at 7 feet, and since Phoenix draws 6.5 feet, I was biting my bottom lip as we threaded the needle up the creek before anchoring just past Hidden Point. We didn't bump bottom, but a local fisherman has since told us that we were brave for coming in there.

The entrance to Mill Creek -- make sure you stay in the middle of the channel
We dropped anchor just after 3pm and quickly set the snubber, set up the squall-proof wind scoop and our aft hatch dodger, and prepared for the pending thunderstorms. There were tornado warnings just to the south of us, and the band came through shortly after 4pm. We mostly had rain, while the brunt of the storm stayed to the south, and headed straight across the Bay to the Choptank River. Needless to say, we were pretty happy that we ducked in early and didn't try to make it to the Choptank that day.

A quiet evening after the storm passed

Mill Creek is a relatively quiet, residential creek that can be peaceful during the evenings, but some of the boat traffic can leave a sour taste in your mouth. The crab boats woke us up promptly at 4am, and the wake boarders decided to do laps around the boat from 7-8am while we sipped on our morning coffee. Not my favorite way to wake up! The plan was to wait until the incoming tide between 10-11am to make our departure easier, but with all the boat traffic, and a quick look at the tides, we decided were ready to haul anchor and head out by 9.

With only a light breeze, we motor sailed our way to the Choptank River, up Broad Creek, and ultimately set our sights on San Domingo Creek. There is a small town dock in San Domingo Creek that takes you to the back side of St. Michaels, and we heard that it was far less hectic than the normal approach on the Miles River.

I think Bill was determined to give me some gray hair this trip, since the entrance to San Domingo Creek was even tighter than it was getting into Mill Creek! Since we left Mill Creek on the incoming tide, we arrived at San Domingo Creek on a falling tide, so again I was holding my breath and biting my lip as the depth finder and sonar showed shallower and shallower water. We meandered our way up the creek and anchored in 12 feet of water. Braver souls continued up the creek and dropped anchor much closer to St. Michaels, but with 7 feet of water at low tide, that area was out of our comfort zone for anchoring.

Anchorage at San Domingo Creek

San Domingo Creek was everything we'd hoped it would be: calm warm water, great swimming (surprisingly no sea nettles), easy access to St. Michaels, and picturesque homes -- both new and old -- peppering the shoreline.

A far less crowded anchorage if you want to visit St. Michaels

One of the historic homes on the water

One of the newer homes on the creek

A cool old tug boat at a residential dock
The only bummer about this anchorage, like many in the Chesapeake, is the commercial crabber wake up call at 4 or 5 am. I swear these guys are bitter that they're up so early and you're not -- so they feel the need to blast by your boat and hit you with as much wake as possible! But if you can lull yourself back to sleep until a more hospitable hour, it certainly beats the Miles River.

The city dock near Water Park is the back entrance to St. Michaels from San Domingo Creek. When you arrive, you are just a short walk away from the south end of the main strip.

The crab boats at the city dock on San Domingo Creek

Plenty of room for dinghies, or you can rent kayaks, paddle boats or bikes
 We spent a few days in San Domingo Creek, wandering around St. Michaels, swimming, catching a few crabs, and just relaxing. St. Michaels still has a lot of charm, but things have changed quite a bit since our last visit, and the main dock is now frequented by some serious mega yachts, Like m/y Casino Royale.

Only a few crabs made it into our bucket, but they made delicious crab salad sandwiches!
Who needs to eat out when you have grilled lamb on board?

Nothing is more quintessential St. Michaels than the Crab Claw

163' m/y Casino Royale in St. Michaels
It was a down wind run on the way home, with 4-5 foot waves. We sailed wing and wing until we hit the Bay Bridge, then the winds died down a bit so we started the motor and motor sailed home.

Sailing Wing and Wing
Another great trip and I didn't get a single gray hair. But each time we go out it simply makes us wish that Phoenix was move in ready. Soon; very soon...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Taking Time Out for Family

Sailing and boat work season are in full swing, but sometimes you have to take  time out to visit with family. My grandfather was turning 90, my father 65, and the whole gang was getting together to celebrate in California, where I grew up.

Originally Bill and I didn't think we were going to make it, but where there's a will there's a way and so we decided to surprise everyone and fly out for a mini-vacation.

Before the birthday festivities began, we rented a car and drove out to Half Moon Bay -- just south of San Francisco. The temperatures were a cool 60 degrees for a daytime high and 50s at night, but it was nice to spend some time on the beach and check out different marinas.

Pillar Point Harbor and Marina

Pillar Point -- equal parts sailing community and commercial fishing area

Catch of the day -- Ling Cod, Rock Cod and a Snapper

Sailboat delivery -- if you look closely you can see the sea lion checking out his seamanship
Strolling along the beach in Half Moon Bay

Wouldn't be a trip without at least one selfie!
For Happy Hour, we went a few miles north to the Moss Beach Distillery. Once a speakeasy in the 1930s called Frank's Place, this historic restaurant has a fantastic view, delicious oysters on the half shell, and a great local crowd. Legend has it that the restaurant is haunted by The Blue Lady, but unfortunately she didn't make an appearance while we were there. We were treated to several dolphins jumping through the water down below, but alas, no ghosts.

Moss Beach Distillery -- formerly Frank's Place

The view from Moss Beach Distillery

Happy Hours are complete with bonfire and ambiance!
The next morning we checked out the famous Mavericks -- where some of California's most difficult and dangerous surfing takes place, as seen in the movie Chasing Mavericks. Since neither of us surf, we stuck to checking out the views. The waves weren't super impressive that day, but the scenery was still gorgeous!

Maverick Point

Bill checking out the scenery
We picked up some fresh King Salmon and a few Dungeness crabs and it was time to hit the East Bay for some family fun.

Time to pick the crabs and make crab cakes -- good think we stocked up on Old Bay!

Hanging out with our niece and my second cousin

The kids (Dad included) had fun playing in the sprinklers
Four Generations of Family
Next up was a trip to Lodi to check out my uncle's vineyards and award winning wine at McKenzie Vineyards. He treated us to a tour of the facility, the vineyards, and showed us where the new tasting room will be located.

Uncle Les showing his Silver Medal winning McKenzie Vineyard Zinfandel

An amazing, giant cork tree with some of the McKenzie Vineyard old vine zinfandel grapes in the background
We're home in Maryland now and getting back into the swing of things. It was a wonderful, whirlwind trip -- so good to catch up with the family and to celebrate Dad's and Grandpa's birthdays with them. Now it's time for the California crew to head East for some sailing adventures aboard Phoenix!