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VOYAGE INTO A ROMANTIC PAST
Carleton Mitchell
October 09, 1961
There is a colonial charm about the quiet villages and sprawling farms that border the Chesapeake. On these pages a famous yachtsman describes the endless variety of cruising waters in the bay's upper reaches
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October 09, 1961

Voyage Into A Romantic Past

There is a colonial charm about the quiet villages and sprawling farms that border the Chesapeake. On these pages a famous yachtsman describes the endless variety of cruising waters in the bay's upper reaches

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It was blowing a gentle little southerly, a final breath of summer, as Finisterre ambled across Annapolis harbor. The sky was blue, very blue, dappled with small clouds, the sky of a warm October afternoon, yet in the shadow of the mainsail a chill was in the air. Along the banks of the Severn the yellows and reds of fall accented the lingering greens.

I stood in the cockpit, leaning against the mizzenmast. Occasionally I touched the spokes of the steering wheel with one foot, half dozing in the autumn sunshine, reflecting on the ease of cruising as opposed to the tension of racing: of getting up in the morning not knowing where I am going, maybe waiting for the wind to decide for me, not caring if the proper jib wasn't set; leaning back at evening over an anchor-down drink; falling asleep at night hugging the thought there would be no urgent summons from deck....

"Hey, skipper," said Bill McWilliams, breaking into my reverie. "The jib's soft. Wind's come ahead. Shall I trim?"

I looked at the masthead fly, then at the making wavelets, splintering the sun shafts into glittering points. As so often happens in fair weather, the breeze was advancing with the clock: it had been mirror-calm at sunrise and through the early hours. The first cat's-paws appeared around 10, as we had gotten under way. Now it had freshened to good steerageway. Later, if it followed the usual cycle, it would strengthen through the afternoon, perhaps working up to a rousing, rail-down wind around 4, to taper off at sunset to a night of sibilant whispers in the treetops.

Having gotten no answer about the jib, Bill strolled aft. "Where are we going, by the way?"

"I dunno," I replied lazily. "I haven't given it much thought."

What I really meant was that here on the Chesapeake there were so many delightful prospects I hadn't been able to choose. The whole area is such a lacy pattern of creeks and bays and rivers that it is hard to decide whether it is water bounded by land or land bounded by water.

"Any suggestions?" I asked Bill.

An old Chesapeake hand, Bill squinted at the sky. "If we go anywhere down the bay," he mused, "it will be a beat to windward. If we go up, we'll be reaching." He sat on the cabin top and sprawled his legs across the lifelines, thereby casting a vote for sloth. He looked so comfortable I flipped on the automatic pilot and went forward to join him.

Harbors literally lay in all directions. Even if we chose to turn around and sail west, up the Severn River instead of continuing into the open bay, we could pick from a multitude of anchorages, as the Severn is typical of Chesapeake tidal rivers, although it is a lesser one by bay standards. On its southern shore, even before you get to Annapolis, there is Back Creek; then Annapolis, lying between Spa and Dorseys creeks, then a ladder of creeks; each a good anchorage: Weems, Luce, Saltworks, Chase, Clements, Brewer, Forked. Then the Severn broadens to Round Bay, a body of water large, open and deep yet wholly sheltered, with Little Round Bay off its western side and Little Round Bay Creek beyond that. And still farther west the Severn continues another two miles, past other creeks, to end finally in another bay large enough to have its own sailing club. Thus almost every Chesapeake tributary must be thought of as a microcosm of an infinitely varied cruising world.

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