Washington, DC

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Chesapeake Bay                    Potomac River               Mount Vernon              Washington, DC     

Chesapeake Bay to the Potomac
6 November 2005  


We finally dragged ourselves away from the enjoyment of Annapolis on Sunday 6th November and headed out into Chesapeake Bay along with hundreds of other boats. Wanting to test our newly installed alternator charging system and with Izas ribs still on the mend, we decided to make our first hop fairly short.

After an uncomfortable one hour in the Chesapeake with a 3 foot sea and winds up to 22 knots, we turned into the combined estuary of South and West Rivers, headed for West River and then turned into Rhode River. Total journey 13 nautical miles.

Rhode River

7 November 2005

Rhode River was a great choice. After the enjoyable bustle of Annapolis, Rhode River was a superb contrast. Quiet, surrounded by banks of trees in all shades of autumnal colours and all we could hear in the evenings were Canadian geese.

We left the Rhode River on 7th back out into Chesapeake Bay which is 6 miles wide at this point. As we turned south we noticed the US Navy frigate that had been anchored off Annapolis was also heading south. After 9/11 and the USS Cole incident, all boats have to stay well clear of US Navy vessels. We listened to radio calls from the frigate to various boats to confirm they would stay well clear. Many boats also called the frigate to wish them a good journey down the bay. The frigate's officers did not seem too sure how to respond to such contact. Maybe we should have invited them for tea?

Solomon's Island
8 November 2005

That night we anchored at Solomon's Island, a mini Annapolis with boats and marinas everywhere, a great maritime museum and best of all a bakery and a West Marine shop within walking distance.

We departed Solomon's Island on Tuesday 8th to make the final hop into the Potomac. This trip took us past one of the many US Navy target ranges. Each side of the target range was patrolled by a "Range Boat." easily identifiable by the antennas on board. These guys are there to warn off all recreational boats that stray into the area on an active day. Tuesday was an active day, so we had to divert around this, adding a few miles, but giving us a better view of the coast line. At this point the Chesapeake is around 10 miles wide.

On our way south down Chesapeake Bay, we passed Calvert Cliffs, an area of prehistoric fossils. In the Solomon's Island museum there is the fossilised skull of a 28 foot whale that was probably killed by the sharks teeth buried in its skull. The size of the teeth indicate a shark 50 foot long weighing over 50 tons. Scary!

Fish trap markers are laid like minefields in the entries to all rivers along Chesapeake Bay and often right in the navigable channel. The floats themselves are not a danger, but the rope tethers to the fish traps below are propeller shaft killers. The water is too darn cold to have to dive on our propeller to clear a rope jam.

One of the greatest inventions of mankind is the chartplotter. In these waters, the charts are accurate to within a couple of metres. Connected to the Autopilot, the system can be set to steer a heading, follow a route of waypoints, steer to a wind angle and wake you up if the anchor is dragging. We are always backed up by old fashioned paper charts and we only use the chartplotter in tight areas as a guide to what lies ahead and channel routings.

The second greatest invention of mankind is our latest gizmo, a wireless remote control for the system. With this we can steer the boat remotely from anywhere on board, plus view depth, heading a speed data. The reason we mention this here is that it is a great tool for steering the boat remotely through a minefield of fish trap markers.

Potomac River
9 November 2005


Canoe Neck Creek

We entered the Potomac River heading for Washington, approximately 90 nautical miles upstream. The river is around 6 miles wide at the estuary. We had been warned of rough water at the entry where tides and wind meet and of heavy river traffic. But, we entered on absolutely flat, glasslike water with no other boat in sight. After a very sunny run down the coast, we now had hazy grey skies causing the Potomac ahead to merge with the sky in an eerie grey haze. Quite uncanny.

The river was so quiet, we could have been on the Amazon, Orinoco or the Mississippi 300 years ago, We half expected to be greeted by natives in canoes and here we are heading for the capital city and seat of power. After traveling for around 20 miles, we still had seen no other traffic.

We spent Tuesday night in a very small cove off Canoe Neck Creek on the west side of the Potomac. Only room for one boat and that was us. Arrived as the sun was setting, but awoke on  Wednesday morning surrounded by fog, so had to delay leaving, which reduced our travel for the day as the daylight hours are much shorter now.

10 to 11 November .Mattawoman Creek

Wednesday night - .After passing under the 301 highway bridge  and some pretty menacing looking power cables, we reached Mattawoman Creek, now only 25 nm from Washington and spent the night there. We knew there was a cold front coming through early Thursday with winds forecast up to 40 mph. To reach the best anchorage in the creek with deeper and wider water, we had to follow a narrow meandering channel of only just over 6 feet deep according to the charts. Unfortunately, there had been some shoaling and we came to a sudden stop in 5 feet of water on a mud bottom. It was soft enough to reverse out, so we anchored in less sheltered water than we had hoped.

The wind started during the night and we were being held by the current at 90 degrees to the wind, when the wind gusted broadside the anchor was eventually dragged through the mud and by morning we had moved far enough to have to re-anchor fairly rapidly, and IT WAS COLD! We spent Thursday on hot drinks and good books while it blew through so lost a day there.

Mount Vernon

  George Washington was a farmer before he became a politician. He inherited the estate at Mt. Vernon, just south of Washington from his older half brother when he was 27. He expanded it to 8000 acres and became a pioneer farmer introducing new crops to the area that did not deplete the soil and new crop rotation techniques. He also designed a circular barn on two levels so that horses could trot around the upper level over the wheat so the corn would be separated by their hooves and drop through the floor boards where it would be collected. Previously this was done outside manually or with horses, losing a great deal of the crop into the ground or blown away on the wind.

A small part of the original area remains and is preserved and in 2002 they rebuilt the barn to George Washington's original design. The mansion and many of the original buildings are also preserved.

Although the Potomac River is quite wide for most of the journey to Washington, the majority of the width is too shallow for larger boats or those with a deep keel like Dream On. As we drew closer to Washington we had to be more careful to stay within the narrowing deeper water. At Mt. Vernon, a channel had been  dredged into a jetty so that boats can visit. Visits are limited to 2 hours and there is only room for one of Dream On's length. We pulled in there long enough for a tour of the estate and lunch before heading off for an anchorage just south of the Woodrow Wilson drawbridge on the way into Washington.

Washington, DC

12 to 18 November



No doubt as a result of 9/11, there is a great deal of military helicopter activity as Washington is approached. This was particularly true around the Quantico US Marine headquarters, where we could hear some target practice with heavy munitions in the distance and were closely inspected by a Chinook helicopter several times as it appeared to be patrolling the Potomac.

Also Washington has a very busy downtown airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Traffic landing from the south approaches along the last section of the Potomac, so the skies are very busy.

Dream On's mast is too high to go under Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Unlike most drawbridges in the US which open at regular intervals or on request, the Wilson Bridge is on the main Washington ring road so will only open for recreational traffic between the hours of midnight at 5am Monday to Friday and 10pm to 7am weekends and holidays.

We planned to book an early morning opening on Saturday so we could enter Washington in daylight. However, as Friday was Veteran's Day, a holiday, the bridge advised us to join a previously booked opening for 10pm that night. This meant arriving in Washington in the dark. Another challenge!

We anchored just south of the bridge in Smoot's Cove for 5 hours and pulled out of there at 9.30pm to head out into the channel. First we had to find the correct route through the new bridge construction and this meant looking through all the gaps in the new bridge to find the drawbridge section of the old bridge. After finding a group of unlit construction barges in the middle of the river and avoiding them, we found the correct, and totally unmarked entry.

Although it was night, the moon was up and there was sufficient light from the city of Alexandria to our left and Washington ahead to see fairly well. The river widened to around two miles again and as we approached Washington, we passed quite close to the airport and its dazzling lights. Still very busy at 11pm. All the way from the bridge we could see the illuminated Washington Monument and the white dome of the Capitol building.

At Washington, the Potomac splits into two, the Potomac goes left to the north west and the Anacostia River to the north east. Washington City sits on the peninsular between these rivers. As the Potomac turns off to the left, there is the entry to Washington Creek, which is separated from the Potomac by a long slender island containing Potomac Park and the Jefferson memorial.

The creek runs parallel to the Potomac and rejoins it 1 mile further north, close to the Jefferson Memorial. The marinas and anchorage are in Washington Creek. Again, we were the only boat moving and the creek was wider than expected so there was no difficulty in finding anchoring space in the area opposite the Capital Yacht Club. (Only one other boat was anchored out).

As recommended in our waterway books, we immediately called the Washington Marine Police to inform them of our arrival, (another post 9/11 requirement). No problem there and a "Welcome to Washington, enjoy your stay."

Washington, DC

  12 November 2005  

  Saturday morning, 12th November, we awoke to the sound of bagpipes! Moored at the yacht club directly opposite was the mega-yacht "The Highlander" with some kind of expensive reception on board. We learned later that the boat belongs to Malcolm Forbes (the publisher). There was a piper on the top deck welcoming guests.

We made the 2 minute dinghy ride to check in at the Capital Yacht Club which offers shower, laundry and wi-fi internet connection to anchored yachts for a small fee. The Capital Yacht Club looks like an old gentlemen's club and we were made very welcome.

However, the real bonus of our anchorage was that we could see the Washington Monument from the boat and it was only 10 minutes walk from the yacht club to the National Mall, where the Monument stands to the west and the Capitol to the East. We really were right in the centre of Washington. Later we walked to the original building of the Smithsonian, "The Castle" which stands on the side of The Mall and was within 10 minutes of leaving the boat.

While in Washington, we visited a number of the Smithsonian Museums, the Art Museum, the American History Museum, the Air & Space Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum. Just 5 minutes walk away, and all free.

Back on board in the evenings for a gin and tonic in our little oasis, with a view of the Washington Monument to the north, the bustle of central Washington to the west and Potomac Park behind us. Beyond the park, the Potomac and beyond that, Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon building.

On the Wednesday, a serious cold front blew through. We were fairly well protected in Washington Creek, so no dramas, but a vicious temperature drop from 78F at midday to 50F by 4pm and by Thursday morning 40F.

We were given a bridge opening for 4.30am Friday morning, ending an enjoyable 6 days in Washington.

With the present unsociable drawbridge schedule and new bridge construction activity, there are very few visiting sailboats. In fact we seemed to be the only visitors in town with a mast that required a bridge opening.

The Potomac River, Southbound
  18 to 21 November 2005  

  So, we awoke at 3am on Friday 18th in order to be at the bridge by 4.30am. IT WAS SO COLD. There was ice on the decks!

After an uneventful journey out of Washington, we found the bridge opening in the dark. Road traffic was still heavy mostly with heavy trucks so we had to wait a little while for the opening. Once through the drawbridge and carefully through the new bridge construction, we then had to spot any unlit anchored construction barges. We carried on down the river in the dark and on into daylight to reach our anchorage in the early afternoon to catch up on sleep.

We spent our first night back on the river in Port Tobacco River, approximately 45 miles down river. A very pleasant anchorage but the temperature that night was in the mid 20's F! (-4C). Now, Dream On is a tropical boat and not equipped for these temperatures. Our cabin dropped to the mid 30's F (+2C) that night. Not for wimps this cruising game!

When we left the anchorage early on Saturday morning, it was beautifully clear, but again, we had ice on the decks for the first 3 hours.

Sunday night and another 45 miles down river almost at the mouth of the Potomac, we turned into St. Mary's River. Fabulous spot. We were able to moor at the St. Mary's College jetty for the night free of charge and walked around the newly preserved archeological site of the first landings in Maryland and the first state capital of Maryland dating back to 1634.

St. Mary's River was one of the most scenic rivers we have visited, with some fabulous houses in beautifully landscaped gardens. This was our last anchorage in the Potomac River. From here we headed back into Chesapeake Bay and south towards Norfolk, Virginia.

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