Summer on the Chesapeake Part 2: Big Cities on The Bay

We spend a week in Washington DC with visiting family, then head back down the Potomac and up to Baltimore.  Stops range from a peaceful anchorage to small remote marinas to the very nautical and familiar town of Annapolis.  

Open the Google Map in a separate window and you can click on the various icons to see pictures, route data, and/or read the associated blog. 

In Part 1 of our Summer on the Chesapeake, we left off as we were just arriving in Washington DC.  We have a week there, joined by family, hitting all the high points.  Then it’s back down the Potomac and up to Baltimore, where we spend a full month.  Both cities left us impressed with the positive changes. 

Washington DC

July 13 – 19, 2023

I mentioned in my last blog that rounding the last turn on the Potomac and approaching Washington  DC, we were a bit awestruck.  In ten short years, the blighted area we had known as the waterfront which had been home to an aging commercial fishing fleet, bare lots, and scattered mostly-neglected structures had been transformed into a mile-long stretch of glass-fronted high rise hotels, tall condominiums with seven figure price tags, fancy restaurants and bars, marinas, public piers, and a vibrant park-like waterfront pedestrian way.  We pulled into Capital Yacht Club right in the heart of this new area known as The Wharf, extremely welcoming to transients and a great location for easy access to all DC has to offer.  The only negative was that the nearest grass for Roxy was up a block and across busy M St. 

The Wharf, from old commercial fish market to bustling high end tourist area.
Nightime view of the Case Memorial Bridge from the boat.

The best part of our week was having my sister Elaine and her husband Rich visit for five days. We had a great time hitting all the tourist high points.  We did a White House Tour, joined the summer masses for an abbreviated Capitol Tour (really only saw the Rotunda and a hallway of closed doors), the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum (under renovation but there was a great Wright Brothers exhibit), American History Museum, Holocaust Museum, and the National Archives. We walked the entire loop of all the monuments along the Mall – all 22,000+ steps according to my watch – and Rich found his uncle’s name on the Vietnam Memorial.  We took them on a dinghy ride by the Navy Yard and had a trio of Marine One helicopters loudly buzz overhead along the Anacostia River.  One evening after a day of touristing, we stopped to pick up dinner right by the marina.  Ominous gray clouds gathered as we waited for our order, then made a mad dash back to the boat as the wind picked up.  Elaine and Rich were thrilled to witness a good thunderstorm (from the comfort of the boat) as we dined on tacos, followed by a spectacular double rainbow. 

At the FDR Memorial
Karen photobomb!
One of our favorites, the Korean War Memorial.
Selfie of my sister taking a selfie.
The Capitol Dome.
Most intense double rainbow I've ever seen.
Roxy thinks this is the best work of art ever!

After they headed back to California, I needed to get a new military ID card so we went to the Navy Yard where we had a great conversation with John the ID Clerk as he processed my new card, laughing that a sign was necessary to say a Costco card is not official government-issued identification.  Then we wandered by our old haunts on base, noting that at least on this centuries-old base very little has changed.  Our final evening in DC we took the water taxi to Old Town Alexandria. We were outside on deck of the taxi when we were waked big time by a fellow water taxi, throwing a wall of water over the bow and drenching a group of teens standing right on the bow (and fortuitously keeping us dry).  We enjoyed a wonderful dinner and evening with former neighbors and friends John and Kelly. There’s really nothing like old friends with whom you can pick up where you left off no matter how long it’s been.

As we departed the next morning, I looked back to once again see all the buildings of the revitalized waterfront in the early morning light, none of which we even had a hint was in the works when we were last living here in 2012.  It was quite a transformation. 

None of this was even here ten years ago.

Back down the Potomac

Jul 20 – 22

Stafford VA
St. Mary's MD
Ridge MD

On towards Baltimore!  We made a speed run back down the Potomac, rendering honors once again as we passed Mt. Vernon.  Turning up Aquia Creek to get to Stafford VA, we were met with a crabpot minefield.  But we made it through without snagging one, and as we approached the bridge before Hope Springs Marina an oncoming boat slowed and was waving at us.  When we finally got close enough to yell at each other, it turns out they recognized our Looper burgee and they themselves had done the Loop in 2020.  The burgee is absolutely a limitless letter of introduction everywhere you go.  Hope Springs was isolated and peaceful, with an occasional train rumbling over the nearby bridge.  And there was plenty of grass for Roxy after our week in the Vast Land of Impermeable Surface of DC. 

Apparently it was planned that the swings would be in the water.
Train rumbling past the marina at Hope Springs in Stafford.

An early morning thunderstorm delayed our departure a bit, and we crossed over to the Maryland side of the Potomac and anchored in a beautiful bend of the river in St. Mary’s, right near St. Mary’s College sailing center.  Shortly after we got the anchor set, what was obviously a beginner sailing class of kids came off the small dock a couple hundred yards from us.  Within two minutes we saw two collide and another capsize.  So we decided it might be best to weigh anchor and move a couple hundred yards further away (when we dingied to shore, one of the instructors thanked us for moving). 

The college conveniently lets boaters use their dinghy dock, but it was also just a beautiful setting.  Next to the campus is the site of the Birthplace of Maryland, with active archeologic excavations of the first capital of Maryland.  We walked among the reconstructed buildings and toured the replica of the Dove, the ship that brought the first Maryland settlers over in 1634.  They said Roxy could even come aboard, but she preferred to cool off with a wade at the tiny nearby beach.  That evening, there was a free outdoor concert of the Chesapeake Orchestra, and we enjoyed Gershwin and Bernstein along with several hundred others on the nearby campus green with a magnificent sunset over the water.

Orchestra concert at St Mary's college
Roxy preferred a cooling dip to touring the replica of the Dove.
Sunset over the anchorage at St. Mary's
On the St Mary's campus

Our next stop was just a few miles around the corner, so we had the morning to walk through the totally deserted St. Mary’s campus this summer weekend.  We were surprised to find the St. John’s Museum (no, that’s not a typo – it really is the St. John’s Museum on the St. Mary’s campus) open, the site of ruins of one of the earliest wealthy settlers that had been buried under farmland for 100 years.

When we finally weighed anchor around noon, we had a couple crabs clinging to the anchor chain – that was a first.  An hour later we arrived at Pt. Lookout Marina in Ridge MD.  There was only one young man working the docks, which included the fuel dock, and he had to deal with fueling boats and finding the owner of a car blocking access for the pumpout cart.  We drifted for about 20 min while he sorted everything out.  We partook of the pool and the onsite restaurant, but the weather forecast pushed us to move on the next morning lest we get pinned down here for several days and we didn’t get to explore further as planned. 

Continuing Up the Chesapeake Bay

July 23 - 26

Solomons Island MD
Annapolis MD

From Pt Lookout we left the Potomac and turned north into the Chesapeake Bay.  As we were tooling along, we noticed a roiling of the glassy waters off to starboard.  It was a group of dolphins fishing so furiously that they created a small wake on the glassy water — quite a unique sight.  Approaching Solomons on a Sunday afternoon, there was a ton of boat traffic funneling into the inlet we were getting waked like crazy in the close quarters of the narrow channel, rattling everything in our cupboards until turning off to Calvert Marina.  This is a former amphibious training base during WWII, but there’s little remaining evidence of the former base other than an occasional random stretch of sidewalk or curb.   

We were waiting out weather for a couple days, and since we had been to Solomons before and most things were closed due to the Curse of Monday, we opted to just hang out at the boat and work on various projects.  The bad weather never materialized, so we took the opportunity for a sunset dinghy ride. 

A take-off on the classic Key West marker.

Annapolis was our next stopover, a perennial favorite among cruisers and quite familiar to us from Life Before Boat.  We were docked right on Spa Creek and looked pretty small compared to the mega-yachts next to us at Yacht Basin.  In fact, a guy came over from one of the yachts to ask about the boat, saying ‘We’re looking for a new tender for our boat and liked the look of yours.’  Seriously?  A 50’ boat is a dinghy candidate???  Sheesh! 

Strolling through Dave’s old stomping grounds at the Naval Academy, we watched the plebes form up midday (newly sworn in midshipmen doing their summer indoctrination to the ways and traditions of the Academy) and had a lovely conversation with a woman who invited us to share the shade of her table at a coffee shop right by the former Bilger’s Gate.  We explored downtown (really hasn’t changed much in 40 years), grabbed a bite at the iconic Chick & Ruth’s (also hasn’t changed much in 40 years), watched all the sailboats tacking to and from the Wednesday evening regattas, and took a dinghy ride up Spa Creek and Ego Alley.   We enjoyed walking among the neighborhoods and downtown, reacquainting ourselves with all the history.  Roxy even made a friend as we strolled past a fenced yard.  One big negative:  very limited grass, like DC.  Everything is paved, and any church or park had prominent ‘no dogs’ signs, requiring Roxy to look for alternatives like mulch or gravel. 

Noon formation during Plebe Summer.
Breakfast at the timeless Chick & Ruth's
Waiting on Main St Annapolis for Dave to come out of a store.
Cruising Ego Alley in the dinghy.

Baltimore MD

Jul 27 – Aug 27

Ft. McHenry to port as we approach Baltimore Harbor.

It was a little lumpy on the Chesapeake as we made our way from Annapolis,  until we turned up the Patapsco River toward Baltimore.  Just past the famous Ft. McHenry o’er whose ramparts Francis Scott Key watched the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air in 1813, we pulled into  Anchorage Marina and were met by Wayne, the best dockmaster we’ve ever seen.  This was to be our home for a month, chosen based on recommendations.  Not only did it not disappoint, it exceeded our expectations.  

Baltimore is another big city with which we are familiar over decades.  Also like DC, we were impressed with all the positive changes that have occurred.  Our marina was a perfect location for everything.  In one direction was Fells Point, with its restaurants and renovated neighborhoods, and just beyond that was Inner Harbor with the Constellation, Aquarium, and ship museums.  In the other direction was the newly redeveloped Canton neighborhood, where old canning and industrial buildings had been renovated into upscale condos while doing a great job on maintaining the vibe of the industrial port of yesteryear.  Across the river we could see the Under Armour headquarters next to the Domino Sugar processing plant.  Large cargo ships came and went, an occasional giant cruise ship could be seen, and tour boats passed frequently – including a pirate ship with a chase boat at which passengers could shoot water cannons as it circled around.  We had a supermarket right across the street, a West Marine and ACE Hardware two blocks away, and a short scooter ride away was a fantastic Italian Market and another retail center with a Target.  What more could we need?  How about a free breakfast put on by the marina every Saturday?  Check! Live music Saturday evenings on the dock patio?  Double check!! Friendly local boaters and several other Loopers to hang with?  Triple check!!!

We only found two downsides.  One was the utter lack of squirrels, much to Roxy’s chagrin;  we saw one squirrel – one! – the entire month.  The second was how incredibly nasty the water was.  We’d clean at the waterline, and within hours it was already brown again.  Plus there was a constant flow of trash, especially plastic drink bottles, floating past.  The city had a regular garbage scow plying the waters all day.  Several  ‘trash wheels’ positioned at big storm drains gathered trash coming from runoff.  We thought they were brilliant.  But it seemed impossible for these efforts to  keep up..

One of the Trash Collection boats that patrolled the Harbor all day.
One of the five Trash Wheels , all with different names. The solar-powered water wheel turns a rake that scoops the funneled trash up a conveyor built and into a dumpster.
Too hot docks on some days meant we put her in the wagon for the long walk to land. She was not a fan.
Saturday evening live music at the marina. always drew a crowd.
Baltimore Harbor as the lights come on.

Most of the month was spent doing boat projects.  We recaulked almost everything (what a messy job!), and Dave changed out our air conditioning unit in the saloon and the heat exchanger on one engine, did routine engine oil and fluid changes, and tackled a long list of small fixes and improvement.  I did a lot of cleaning, dinghy treatment, sewing projects, and spent way more time than I wanted migrating the website to a different hosting platform. 

It wasn’t all work, though.  Dave did a quick overnight trip back to Stillwater to help honor his high school track coach.  I took an evening Spanish Tapas class at a cooking school near the marina.  We did see Barbie and Oppenheimer (the movies, not the people, because one isn’t real and the other is dead), dinghied up the Harbor, scootered around some neighborhoods, and hung out with new and old friends at the marina.  Son Scott and Ashley one Sunday afternoon, casting off the lines and taking them out for a quick spin in the harbor.  That was the first time we got a ‘check engine’ alert when we took it up to high cruising speed, which is about as vague as the ‘check engine’ light on a car.  Dave couldn’t find anything amiss on an initial check while we drifted in the harbor, but it was time to head back anyway so back to the dock we went.

Cafe Dear Léon, one of our absolute favorite cafes in all of our travels. Note the line in the background.

We had a regular Saturday routine:  breakfast with friends there at the marina, walk over to the farmers market in Fells Point, stop off at the popular Pitango bakery for an early afternoon coffee and people watching, back to the boat for the afternoon, then four hours of listening to live music and watching the sunset at the marina.  Later we discovered and became regulars at Café Dear Léon in Canton, where they bake everything fresh every morning, and always have a line out the door.  In the Small World Department, we struck up a conversation with a young couple next to us there one morning and learned they had just moved to Baltimore two days earlier from the city in So Calif next to where I grew up.

Regulars at the Fells Point Saturday farmers market.

All in all, we really enjoyed our month here.  It was fun, productive, and relaxing.  Plus we made several new cruising friends, both Looper and non-Looper.  What a great combination of all that is good about the cruising lifestyle.

Final Thoughts and Musings

This six weeks was a continuation of our déjà vu theme as we revisited several familiar places from our past, only this time it was big cities.  Most remarkable was how areas had been transformed.  In DC, it was the rise of a whole new modern mini-city.  In Baltimore, it was renovation of the old to look new but still feel old in a historical way.  And Annapolis was simple timelessness and tradition.  Closing out the big city part of our Tour de Chesapeake, we were left with three thoughts to ruminate on as we prepared to head back south down the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake. 

  • We liked seeing so much transformation in DC and Baltimore.  Yet there’s a gnawing question: what happened to those few people that previously lived or had a business there?  Pretty sure the developers didn’t give any of them one of those million dollar condos.    

  • Baltimore’s campaign against the trash in the harbor is admirable, with the patrolling garbage ‘harvesters’ as well as the strategically located trashwheels.  But what if it was attacked at the root cause, such as getting rid of single use water and drink bottles, which seem to be one of the major contributors?

  • Finally, about that ‘check engine’ light…

Pops’ Stats Corner*

  • No of Days: 44
  • Travel Days: 6
  • Miles Traveled: 248.1 (215.7 nm)
The Abraduck Lincoln Memorial?

*Pops is the family’s affectionate name for Dave’s dad.  He had a mind for sports statistics, earning him the nickname Numbers from the coaches of several Stillwater teams with whom he worked.  This regular section of the blog is in his honor, because it’s the kind of thing he would love.

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