Summer on the Chesapeake Part 3: A Series of Unfortunate Events

We depart Baltimore heading back south along the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake.  It’s only a matter of a hours before we start with a seies of mechanical problems.  Then the problems keep coming as we continue south, ultimately proving the most challenging three weeks we’ve had since starting this cruising adventure as the Ladies Luck and Doom engaged in combat.  Despite it all we still see some great towns and enjoy some new stops in the Chesapeake Bay.

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We’ve now been living and full-tine cruising on See Level for two-and-a-half years.  We love the adventure and the simple lifestyle.  I’ve written about the many places we’ve visited, the people we’ve met, the fun and the funny.  Of course there have been speedbumps along the way of the mechanical variety or things beyond our control.  We’re pretty good at finding the silver lining in these, and overcoming challenges is all part of the adventure. 

Then we left Baltimore.

What followed was a series of misadventures and bad luck that kept coming like clowns out of a Volkswagen.  It’s been one of the most challenging periods we’ve ever had – on land or on the water – with ups and downs that kept us cautiously wondering what we might find at the next turn.   We still enjoyed our many stops, though with major itinerary adjustments.  Semper Gumby, the cruising motto.

Eastern Shore of Maryland

Georgetown Aug 28-29

Chestertown Aug 30-Sep 1

Kent Island Sep 2-3

St. Michaels Sep 4-5

Cambridge Sep 6

Shortly after leaving Baltimore, we scored a Mechanical Fail Hat Trick.  That same ‘check engine’ alert that we had during our afternoon cruise a couple weeks earlier happened as we exited the Patapsco River and kicked up the speed, not too surprising since engines do not have an inherent ability to heal themselves.  This time Dave determined our starboard turbo was not… well, turboing.  Not critical, just meant we were now a slow trawler rather than a fast cruiser  (we’ve certainly been there before) so we continued across the Chesapeake Bay to Georgetown.  Then after cruising up the lovely Sassafras River to get to our marina we discovered that our bow thruster was mysteriously not working.   More mysteriously, the remote that Dave uses to drive the boat to dock suddenly gave up the ghost.  

Getting ready to get in the river.
Dating back to colonial times, it was a supply site during the Revolutionary War and burned by the British during the War of 1812. Now it's just a sleepy residential and marina spot.

Although it had been a  ‘what’s next?’ kind of day, it was still nice to be on the move again and have a new place to explore. Except there really isn’t much there except a beautiful setting and some nice marina amenities, so we had time to start problem solving.  Dave donned snorkel gear and discovered the bow thruster was all barnacled up from our month in nasty Baltimore water.  He cleaned it off, and the bow thruster was fixed — yay! But the battery on the remote was kapooey and would need to be sent back to the company.  The turbo was the biggest problem, and Dave now had a mission. 

We headed back down the Sassafras River, around a corner,  and up the Chester River to get to Chestertown – a long day of 60 miles at our new top speed of 8 mph.  The Bay was choppy, and we missed the stability of our faster speed to even out the bumps.  But we saw more of the beauty of the two rivers, and were rewarded with a magnificent sunset once settled at the Chestertown Municipal Marina.    

Leaving Georgetown on a slightly foggy morning.
An incredible sunset our first night in Chestertown.

Chestertown is now on our list of favorite places.  Its history spans three wars – Revolutionary, 1812, and Civil. Historic homes of the easily walkable downtown are well maintained.  It’s a college town, home of Washington College, has a fantastic Saturday farmers market, restaurants and shopping, and a park with an iconic fountain. A dinghy ride further up the Chester River was an outing one beautiful afternoon.   on

The iconic 'Lady In the Park' at Fountain Park in Chestertown.
We met a family who had just returned from a year traveling around the country giving away children's books in this funky converted school bus.
An old plantation at the edge of town.
Had some fantastic cinnamon rolls at the Chestertown farmers market -- so good they didn't make it back to the boat.

In between the fun stuff, Dave continued working the turbo issue, eventually realizing he did not have the right tools and thus this was a bigger job than he could do himself.   Noting in the meticulous records of the previous owner that both turbos had last been changed out in 2017, he contacted him and learned it had been done in Deltaville VA   just a few days travel from Chestertown.   (Deltaville is well known among boaters for the numerous maintenance facilities, marinas, and boatyards).  A call to Chesapeake Cove was answered by the owner himself, who told Dave ‘Sure!  Come on in next Sunday and we can change out the turbo for you on Monday.’  Wait – that was suspiciously too easy.    Did we just get an immediate yes from a boatyard?    And as a bonus, the same mechanic who changed out these exact turbos was available?   Either this was a total miscommunication or Lady Luck was smiling on us indeed.

We quickly adjusted our itinerary to get to Deltaville on 9/10. It meant we would have to cross back over to the western shore, forgoing some planned stops further south.  But these were all places we had visited two years ago and we decided to ride this gift horse.

By now it was Labor Day weekend with a great weather forecast, which meant the Bay would be quite busy with local recreational boaters.  A good rule of cruising is to stay off the waterways during peak weekends, and we had somehow scored a spot at Kent Island Yacht Club for the holiday – and at a ridiculous low price!  Then after we booked it, we received an email inviting us to all the festivities the Yacht Club was hosting – live music, a rubber duck race, special menus, kid events, and an open swimming pool. So we made the short trip back down the Chester River, encountering very heavy boat traffic already on that Saturday morning, with a lot of bouncing from wakes coming at us from multiple directions as we got closer.  We were warmly welcomed at the dock by Club members, and our spot allowed us to enjoy the live music from across the channel and watch the continuous boat parade through Kent Narrows. With the turbo repair arrangements falling into place so easily, and then seemingly a blind squirrel finding an acorn at Kent Island Yacht Club, it seemed Lady Luck was once again in our corner after our trio of unfortunate mechanical events. 

Au contrare mon frére.   For it was Lady Doom’s turn to pack a punch.

On Sunday of the weekend at Kent Island, we were about to head over to the Club lawn for the festivities when Dave yelled ‘OH MY GOD!’  I didn’t even have time to turn around before hearing an engine rv and then “BAM!!!”  Caught broadside in the strong current and pushed uncontrollably sideways toward us, in a last desperate measure a Sea Ray had tried a power turn,  swinging his stern right into See Level at ramming speed and impaling one of his cleats into our port bow and damaging our anchor.  The couple felt quite badly, and the good news is they have insurance.  We left the cleat in the hull with waterproof tape over it and call it our new hood ornament, because if we pulled it out we’d be calling it a hole and water would get it.  But now besides needing the turbo fixed, we need fiberglass repair.  While this mishap admittedly cast a shadow over the rest of our stay, the weekend events and the multi-generational family community the Kent Island Yacht Club had created did much to lift our spirits.

OUCH!!! The broken cleat impaled in our bow, about 3' above the waterline.
Something that actually moves slower in the water than us with our bum engine: The the Kent Island Yacht Club rubber duck race.
Our view across the channel at Kent Island with a rising full moon. We could hear the music, too.

From Kent Island, it was a very short trip (even at our reduced speed) to one of our favorite stops at St. Michaels.  Besides seeing this charming town again, languishing poolside while listening to music brought us back to the how-good-this-cruising-lifestyle-is mindset.  Working the boat repair issue, as Luck would have it we had reserved a spot at the premier Atlantic Yacht Basin months before to store the boat for a month while we did some traveling in Oct-Nov.  So Dave called and discussed our now additional need for fiberglass repair, and arrangements made.  Another path forged to overcoming a challenge.

Looks like Barbie and Ken decided to visit the Italian market it St Michales
St Michaels sunset

Continuing south along the Eastern Shore to Cambridge in the middle of the week, it was nice to travel without incessant wakes tossing us around.  We saw almost no other boats other than working crab boats, which of course meant that we’d traded incessant wakes for incessant crab pots.    The Choptank River Lighthouse marked our entrance to the Cambridge Yacht Basin Marina, a place we had visited two years ago and now would be a quick familiar overnight stop.

Choptank River Lighhouse sunrise.
We did notice a recently installed statue honoring Harriet Tubman in front of the Cambridge Courthouse. She escaped from a nearby plantation and started her Underground Railroad career here.
Cambridge Yacht Basin at night. The boat on the right with the string lights is actually an old Navy YP boat converted to a pleasure craft.

Back Down the Western Shore to Norfolk

Solomons Island MD Sept 7

Kilmarnock VA Sept 8-9

Deltaville VA Sept 10-11

Little Creek VA Sept 12-Oct 7

It was the time of year for pop-up thunderstorms to threaten most afternoons, so early morning travel was key and we wanted to get as close to Deltaville as we could in case of weather delays.  From Cambridge we crossed the Chesapeake for another one night stay at the same marina at Solomons Island we had stayed before.   Next the same Looper friends we had visited on our trip north had contacted us asking when we would be heading south and invited us to stay at their dock  again a few miles from Deltaville again.  We gladly made the long day of travel to Castle Astle in Kilmarnock for the weekend. Those two days were a balm to soothe our wounds.  We attended an antique boat show in nearby Reedville with them, and then just relaxing in the peace of their creekside home (Roxy loved their cool floors!), watching football, great conversation, and home cooking was a much needed much appreciated break from our boating woes.

Unusual sunset at Solomons as the edge of a thunderstorm passed by.
Sunrise departing Solomons
Antique rudder burial ground.

We said our good-byes to Dave and Sonia in mid-afternoon on Sunday and embarked on the short trip to Deltaville.   Approaching the narrow channel entrance, we found ourselves stuck behind a very slow-moving small barge with a crane.  Rounding the corner we came to a dead stop as they positioned the crane and we could see why it was needed: just 15 hours before our arrival a severe thunderstorm had come through and lifted the roof off one dock and dropped it onto the next one!  This storm missed us by just a few miles; it was as if Professor Doom-bledore had taken a shot at us – but been deflected by Professor McGonaLuck.  It was really feeling like we were caught in the feud between the Luckfields and McDooms ever since we left Baltimore.

There are boats under that collapsed roof. Some owners were on them and had to be rescued, but fortunately no one was hurt.

But Monday was a good day as Tod (yes, one ‘d’) the mechanic showed up first thing the next morning and worked all day and even stayed late to change out what did prove to be a frozen up turbo.  A limited test at the dock the next morning showed we did have some turbo pressure (compared to zero pressure with the old) and then headed out from Deltaville to go to Norfolk, squeezing past the crane loading rubble onto a barge to access the buried boats.  We dodged floating debris for a good 5+ miles into the Bay before it was safe to pick up speed and finish the turbo testing.  We watched excitedly as the turbo pressure rose equally between the two engines…until the starboard maxed out at 15 psi and the ‘check engine’ alert sounded, well below what it should be.  AAAAaaaaaack!!!  While this should have been an all or nothing, somehow we had lodged in the middle – working much better than before, but still not giving us full power. 

We continued on to Little Creek in Norfolk, discouraged and puzzled by this outcome and still a slow trawler, where the Volvo-Penta mechanic we have worked with previously would be a few hundred yards from oiur marina.  Near the Little Creek entrance, we had scores of dolphins swimming across our bow —  a sign of Good Luck to submariners.   There were some complications with our marina reservation at our usual Little Creek Marina such that someone with a dead engine was in our spot, so we had to go to another marina across the way for the first week of our planned month there.  But we were still back in a familiar area where we could walk to the beach, our favorite Klassic Donut truck was at our favorite COVA Coffee every Wednesday, there was a favorite farmers market on Saturdays, and it was our favorite neighborhood to walk Roxy. We had a bunch of routine doctor and other appointments scheduled, so we rented a car for a few days.  We were settling into our Little Creek routine and completing boat and human projects while waiting for Walt & Kyle the Mechanics to be available. 

The Wednesday morning donut truck. Note the line. It's like this every week.
At the farmers market. This dog has no sense of propriety.

But the Doomster saved his best for last, I’m afraid.  A week later we moved the boat the 1/4 mile to the Little Creek Marina where we would be for the remainder of the month, the usual place we stay.  Once settled, Dave hopped on his scooter to go back the short distance to the previous marina to retrieve the rental car.  Fifteen minutes later he walked onto the boat and announced, “I fell on the scooter and broke my wrist.”  I looked up to see his already-swollen left wrist dangling at an abnormal angle.  Off we went to the ER, Dave obviously in a lot of pain but not complaining, where he indeed had a nasty fracture of the large bone in his lower forearm.  He had surgery the following day to put in a metal plate and a bunch of screws, with strict instructions not to do more than wiggle the fingers of that hand in its splint.

Tropical Storm Ophelia made its way up the mid-Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay right after Dave’s surgery.  We bounced around on the rollers coming into Little Creek, the wind howled and rain poured, and a storm surge pushed the floating docks higher than we’ve seen them there.  All the regulars at the marina were there checking on each other and adjusting lines of unoccupied boats, and no one had any damage.  But between Dave’s accident and the storm, we were so ready to do nothing but beach walks and eat Klassic donuts for the next two weeks.   

Why Dave is my hero

While he said he ‘fell’ off the scooter as he turned to enter the lot where the car was parked, it sounds like it was more of a Launch and Subsequent Failure to Fly when the front wheel hit something and basically stopped cold.  No one was around, and while he was immediately in a lot of pain, the man still pushed the scooter another 100 yards to car, somehow managed to get it into the trunk with just one hand, drove to the marina, and walked down the dock all the way to the boat.  The man is unbelievably stoic.  I would have been curled up writhing in pain on the sidewalk.

Dave had a rough first couple of weeks with pain, swelling, and bruising of his entire hand that was visible beyond the post-surgical splint.  But he is slowly getting better, the stitches are out, and he has graduated to a custom splint that he can take off to shower and do some hand exercises the physical therapist gave him.  He’s very limited in what he can do and not supposed to lift anything greater than a pound, but adapting pretty well. 

In the meantime, they completed the installation of our new solar panels that was started before his accident, so all major boat projects of the summer are now complete.  The mechanic came down and while taking things apart to get to the turbo discovered a pipe that had become disconnected so it was a simpler, faster, and cheaper fix than he thought (when does that ever happen on a boat?) and See Level is back to full power.    The remote was sent to the company in Miami, they sent us back someone else’s, we sent that one back, and the correct one is reportedly on its way to Norfolk.  The arrangements are all made for the fiberglass repair, the other guy’s insurance is making it easy, repairs will be covered and we will get a new anchor.  So things are coming together, as we knew they eventually would.

Playing with his newly installed solar panels and monitoring system.

Final Thoughts

Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.      – Charles Swindoll

As much as it felt like Good and Bad Luck were duking it out over this last six weeks, there were always fortuitous aspects of each event. A broken turbo didn’t cripple us, just slowed us down.  Getting hit was a bummer, but no one was hurt, the damage wasn’t severe, and the repairs will be paid for by someone else.  Even Dave’s accident happened in Norfolk, a city with great access to medical care. The closest ER happened to be the only one that had a hand surgeon, who saw him in the ER and schedule surgery for the next day.  If we had been in a remote small town somewhere I don’t even want to think how we would have managed to get him the care he needed. 

We each have plenty of moments of feeling overwhelmed, but we try to focus on the positives.  And it’s the people around us that ultimately get us out of our own heads.  Friends that offer us time away from the boat, dockmates that check on us and lend a hand when needed, mechanics and boat repair folks that come through for us.  And Dave’’s brother Chuck, who has chauffeured us on errands all for the price of a Klassic donut. 

I am learning new skills as I take over jobs that Dave normally does, such as refilling the fresh water tanks.  I did some recalking of windows.  Hauling the heavy stuff on and off the boat and stowing it deep in lockers (and retrieving it later) is now in my wheelhouse. I know where Dave keeps most of the tools and can change out the propane tank.  I zip up Dave’s jackets for him and open my own jars. 

It occurred to me that this challenging period has added a new dimension to the name See Level.  While a periodic storm kicks up waves, it’s still considered sea level whether you’re at the crest or in the trough.  And all you can do is ride ‘em out until the water calms again, because it always does.  Then you can relax and enjoy the view. 

Oh – and did I mention that right after Dave’s accident we celebrated our 25th anniversary?  Which brings me to another favorite quote from a greeting card, of all things.


It’s not the destination or the journey.  It’s the seatmate.

Dave swelled up so quickly that they had to cut his wedding ring off.

Pops’ Stats Corner*

  • No of Days: 42
  • Travel Days: 9
  • Miles Traveled: 367.9 (319.9 nm)

*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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8 thoughts on “Summer on the Chesapeake Part 3: A Series of Unfortunate Events”

  1. So sorry to hear about Dave`s accident. Hope he gets better soon. After reading all about your mechanical issues I thought by myself…at least nobody is hurt. But not quite. Hope we still see us in Fl. Be safe.

  2. Julie K Swedback

    Great blog, Karen! And GORGEOUS pictures as always. So sorry to hear about Dave’s wrist. Having fractured my ankle in three places, I can feel his pain. Happy 25th anniversary! it’s hard to believe you’ve been cruising for 2 1/2 years. It seems like just yesterday that Dave was dancing on the boulevard during one of our driveway happy hours. Miss you both and hope that Lady Luck is stowed away somewhere beneath the deck.

  3. Happy 25th Anniversary ! Glad to hear Dave is on the mend! Great pics! 2 1/2 years already? Keep cruising!

  4. Happy 25th anniversary you two romantics!
    You guys are managing the worst of a bad spell of poor luck with aplomb. And Dave needs a new hobby, because doing handstands on two wheels is a challenge for youths

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