Sunrise over the Chesapeake Bay

The alarm went off at 4:30 AM, followed by a muffled “you awake?” from the salon. Gerry, apparently well-rested despite the racket of rain drumming above our heads all night, had sprung into action.

While I fumbled with the coffee mill in the galley, Brian and Gerry got busy prepping the boat; checking the engine, filters, oil, and checking out the instruments that came with Morning Light. Once they had the lay of the land, there were eight dock lines attached to tall pilings at all four corners that needed to be undone. By the time they’d started the engine,  I was handing mugs of coffee up the companionway to the cockpit. Brian pointed the searchlight at pilings while Gerry began steering us slowly down the channel leading into the Chesapeake Bay.

Expertly navigating the shallow, narrow channel in the dark, on a boat we’d never driven, we were already feeling pretty great about our decision to bring Gerry on as our captain. He knew the stretch like the back of his hand, and pointed out interesting landmarks along the way. After a stretch of motoring in total darkness, we started to be able to see as we moved into the wide open bay, and the sun rose shortly after. Tiny fishing boats began zipping by us, dropping crab pots marked with tiny florescent orange buoys. Gerry sent me forward to the bow to point out these hazards and signal with my arms which way to steer around them. Lines in the water can cause severe (expensive) damage when they get caught around a propeller, so while a little boring, it was an important task.

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My first turn at the wheel

With daylight came steady, chilly rain. Having sweat buckets in Annapolis just a few days prior, all of us (even Gerry) had packed too light, but luckily I had a stash of winter clothing that I’d thrown on board as an afterthought the weekend prior. I put on my fleece-lined running tights, fisherman’s sweater, and winter shell before taking my first turn at the helm, right around the time we entered the narrow waters of the C&D canal. Unlike driving a car, keeping a sailboat on a straight course is an exercise in constant correction of the rudder, a little to the left, then a little to the right, back and forth, over and over.

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Brian updating the ship’s log and manually plotting our course for the next day.

We’d been underway nearly 14 hours and the sun was setting by the time we hit the opening of the Delaware River. We navigated into a protected anchorage and dropped the hook to stay for the night. The anchorage was located smack next to a nuclear power plant, but what it lacked in natural beauty, it made up for by being a solid place to get our anchor to catch and hold us safely for the night. Exhausted and chilled to the bone, we cracked beers and gobbled down pasta with homemade sauce that I’d made in Brooklyn and reheated. Gerry’s entertained us with stories from his childhood growing up in England, while Brian made his first entry in the Captain’s log. It was lights out by 8:30, and we slept like the dead, looking forward to a less rainy stretch tomorrow.

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Next up – Day 2: Delaware Bay to Atlantic City