Potomac – It’s Bigger Than You Think

A cursory look at the chart gives the misleading impression that the Potomac River is only a quick sail up the Chesapeake. A distance of maybe 12 miles or so. But a more thorough study reveals the painful truth: that it’s over 70 miles from Hampton to St Mary’s, where we planned to meet our fellow OCC rally folks.

We left Eve at the fuel dock at around 0800. So, even with the wind strong enough to sail at a reasonable speed, we had to use the engine to keep above 6.5 knots to stand a chance of arriving in St Mary’s before dark. But after six days of motoring from Bermuda, 12 hours more didn’t seem so bad.

And on arrival in St Mary’s, as we entered the anchorage just before dark – in appreciation of our ‘herculean efforts’ – we later learned, we received welcoming cheers from the OCC crowd on a hill overlooking the bay. I suspect sundowners were involved.

 St Mary’s

Shortly after dropping our anchor at the back of the fleet, Julian and Patricia (our fellow Odyssey friends we last met in Antigua) joined us for drinks. Then Lydia and Bill Strickland came along in their dinghy to say hello. They also give us a welcome pack and some ideas on what to do in St Mary’s the next day. Lydia is the force of nature behind this rally and has done an exceptional job.

The next day we awoke to a nearly empty harbour. And by the time we returned from our walk around St Mary’s, Lady Jane was alone in the bay. So, just after noon, up went the anchor and on we pressed towards Leonardtown, where the British had last invaded in 1812.

Potomac panic

The only yacht in St Mary’s

Arrival in Leonardtown

The townsfolk May have been worried at the sight of so many British boats arriving off the town dock. And if not, they must have been a little perturbed by the sight of an amorphous blob consisting of several lashed-together rubber dinghies wobbling down the river.

Someone in the rally floated the idea of a dinghy raft-up. And given that we had still to experience one, Maria and I were more than game. The underlying construct of the raft-up is to bring something to eat (to share) and something to drink, and to tie your dinghy to one already positioned up-tide of the river. Then more people arrive to build up the raft and eventually you have a floating rubbery party.

I confess that the Doritos we brought to share could not better the gastronomic creations concocted by some of the OCC rally members. But in our defence, we only knew about this raft-up less than an hour before. Some of the food being passed around was excellent. The dinghy party continued until well after sunset – giving us chance to meet new friends and have a great time. And to appreciate the wildlife. The Chesapeake is full of life: we have seen dolphins, rays – and ospreys nesting on the channel markers – in all the areas of the Chesapeake we have visited so far.

Leonardtown – The Town

The next morning we listened to a talk on Cuba by Neil Langford on Crystal Blues. Neil and Ley spent a lot of time in Cuba and Maria and I were intrigued to hear about their experiences. And we wanted to pick up some knowledge about sailing there. Neil’s description of Cuba brought it to life. And if ever we were to waver about visiting, we certainly won’t now. He talked about the places less-sailed, the alternative marinas and anchorages in which to stay, and about the music scene and most things in-between. Well done, Neil, it was a fantastic and inspiring talk.

In the pack that Lydia gave us was a map describing a self-guided walking tour of Leonardtown. We thought that sounded a great idea. So, with the map in hand, we tied the dinghy to the excellent dinghy dock and headed towards town to take a look around.

Walking towards us as we made our way up to the town was a local woman taking a break from work. We started a conversation with her and told her about the rally, and she insisted that we meet her friends. Cindy works for the judge at the Leonardtown courthouse and was thrilled to bits that we had come here. She guided us up the hill, past the courthouse, pointing out some places of interest on the way, and took us to the town hall to meet her friends and colleagues. They too were very pleased that we made an effort to visit their town. And the town is well worth visiting – it is as lovely as the people.


The Mayor of Leonardtown

We arrived back on Lady Jane in plenty of time to get ready for that evening’s entertainment: a cocktail party on the dock – sponsored by Ullman Sails – and dinner at the Front Porch restaurant.

On the way to the dinghy dock, we came across broken down dinghy with Janellen and Bob from the boat Alpine Blue in it. With seemingly no chance of restarting their engine, they passed us their painter and we gave them a tow.

The drinks reception comprised of local craft beers and enough quality wine to tilt horizontally the hardest of drinkers. Lydia made a superb crab dip and the sun kept shining.

As we walked up the street to the restaurant, a car stopped by. In the passenger seat was Janellen and in the driver’s seat was the Mayor of Leonardtown, Dan Burris, who offered a lift to the restaurant. And how could we decline? It isn’t every day that a town mayor offers to act as our driver.

The staff at the Front Porch restaurant, aided by Lydia’s organisational skills, did a great job serving dinner . To my knowledge, everyone got their food on time and it was good. That’s quite an achievement given the size of the crowd.

Up the Creek

Dan the Mayor suggested a trip to the winery the next day. So, as we planned to stay for another day anyway, that sounded good to us. So we made arrangements to go there with Joel and Donna Penne onboard Seaquel.

So, late the next morning, one hour after low water, we assembled at their boat and headed off down the creek. Joel and Donna in their suitable-for-the-journey inflatable kayak, and Maria and I in our less-suitable inflatable dinghy with outboard motor. But you can only work with what you have, and that’s all we had. Besides, I think our travelling companions appreciated the tow to the start of the creek.

Donna and Joel volunteered to go first so that they could point out any areas of shallow water. This was just as well; as we travelled further upriver, it was the deep bits that were in short supply. Occasionally we needed to lift up the outboard and row. And we needed to get out and pull the dinghy over an extremely shallow bit. But somehow we made it, then tied the dinghy to a tree and strolled over to the winery.

The Port of Leonardtown Winery is a cooperative, making wine using grapes grown by local farmers. None of the grape producers produces sufficient volume of product to make wine production economically viable, but this works. And the wine is good. We each tried the wines on the tasting menu, and later shared a bottle of wine. All courtesy of Joel and Donna’s kind generosity.

The way back was much kinder to boat and passengers. Not only was it high tide, but the current also gave us a much-appreciated boost back to Leonardtown.

Later that evening, Donna and Joel treated us to a lovely evening with dinner on board their boat. Lovely people and we are very grateful. Then, the next morning we left Leonardtown to start our journey north towards New York.