The Upper Chesapeake Bay is shallow. Sailing in ten or fifteen feet of water is not something to which Lake Ontario sailors are accustomed. Depths measured in hundreds of feet with navigation buoys few and far between is the norm. Not so on the Chesapeake, miss a channel marker and the keel is in the mud. And then there are crab pots. Small buoys mark the location of the steel traps sitting on the bottom, hook one around the keel and the boat will come to a stop. Pick up the line in a spinning prop and the motor will come to a screeching halt. Hard to see, crab pots are hard to avoid.
The shipping lanes are crab pot free and relatively narrow and deep, if you can call 40 feet deep. Barges and freighters are confined to these narrow channels sending recreational boaters and fishing boats to the shallows for safe passage. This was our route to the Magothy River from Still Pond Creek.
Soon after we entered the main channel in the Bay, the Viking Queen, a 200 meter car carrier came from astern heading south, meanwhile a tug pushed a laden barge north. Our AIS indicated they would pass abeam of us. With no room in the channel for a small sailboat we sailed just outside the channel. After this close, but safe, encounter we continued under power as once again the wind was absent.
Entering the Magothy we headed north to anchor behind Gibson Island in cove offering good protection from wind and seas in all directions. Standing on the bow, ready to lower the anchor I signaled Susan to put the motor into neutral, expecting to coast to a stop and I would drop the anchor. That was the plan. On cue Susan put the motor in neutral; we kept moving. After repeated attempts it was apparent something was seriously amiss as we continued along at 2.5 knots. Time for Plan B, anchoring with the motor off.
Aiming for our anchoring spot, Susan killed the motor, we coasted to a stop, dropped the anchor and hoped it would set. The normal procedure is to drop the anchor, let it settle in and put the motor in reverse to help the anchor dig in. Without the motor we relied on the very light winds to set the anchor. We were fortunate, the anchor held, and the transmission failed in a safe place. Had we lost control of the transmission in a marina, considerable damage would have been done to Second Star and probably others. This with a newly installed transmission.
The cause of our trouble was quickly determined. A simple, but essential part had become disconnected. The transmission is controlled by a cable, the jacket of which is secured to a plate attached to the transmission. Engine vibration loosened the nuts securing the plate. Unsecured the adjustment plate fell off; shifting gears was no longer possible. Digging into our spare parts inventory I found a lock washer that would keep at least one nut in place until a better solution could be found.
After arriving on the Magothy we received an invitation to attend the Fall gathering of the Chesapeake Bay Sabre Owners Association being held nearby. We accepted, motored over to the gathering and spent a pleasant afternoon with fellow Sabre owners. Later Susan remarked that she didn’t think it was possible to talk about sailing and sailboats for hours. She is no longer of that opinion.
Our preference is always for small towns and secluded anchorages rather than the popular and crowded areas. Leaving the Magothy, a river of the latter category, we motored over to Rock Hall, a small town on the eastern shore with a long history of watermen working the bay. As Susan and I walked the streets of Rock Hall we wondered what living there would be like. Then we learned locals refer to newcomers, i.e., those not born in Rock Hall as Chicken Neckers. Some newcomers embrace the name even winning awards in local waterman competitions for the best Chicken Necker in a category. While I have been called a number of unflattering names, I think I would decline a Chicken Necker moniker.
From whence does the Chicken Necker term come? Many years ago, the watermen of Rock Hall had a successful crab fishery in the surrounding waters using traditional baits and crab traps. Immigrants to the eastern shore would shun those traditional practices and use chicken necks as bait and crab off of local docks and piers. It was not a term of endearment.
While in Rock Hall we stayed at a marina and took care of the usual chores, laundry, re-provisioning, pumping out the holding tank, and this time buying locknuts to properly repair the adjustment plate on the transmission. More important, we celebrated our wedding anniversary at the Harbor Shack, a funky waterfront bar and restaurant frequented by locals and well-advised visiting chicken neckers. It was a restaurant well suited to our tastes and style.
We left Rock Hall, heading to the Chester River to anchor in a tributary, Grays Inn Creek. It would be a short day and with light winds we sailed under Genoa for a few hours. As the breeze faded, we began motoring. Suddenly, the dreaded and too familiar overheat alarm sounded. Shutting the motor down and diving into the engine compartment I found the alternator belt hanging loose, our old nemesis had returned. The pivot bolt for the alternator had loosened due to motor vibration allowing the alternator to shift slightly causing the belt to come off. Early in our trip, that bolt had been replaced, however, it was too long. Washers were inserted to take up the slack, but they were insufficient allowing the nut to loosen, the alternator slip, and the belt fall off. Combining both prescience and procrastination, the correct length bolt was purchased in Rock Hall but not installed. Drifting in the mouth of the Chester River, the bolt was replaced.
We ended the day in what is our current favorite anchorage, a cove on Grays Inn Creek. Surrounded by woodlands and fields the cove was peaceful and the solitude welcomed. Over the coming weeks our schedule would be full.