May 29, 2024  

Adventures of the Damn Yankee
Ahoy shipmates! Here's your chance to experience sailing the Caribbean! Our guest writer aboard the Damn Yankee provides a weekly narrative relating the adventures of life at sea. Join the crew aboard the 36' Catalina as her First Mate recounts the exploits of a couple who have moved into the lifestyle many dream of living. Insightful and compelling, Gwen Schuler will keep us posted in a series of articles and photographs as she and her husband Jim set sail for adventure. Dock here regularly!

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Lord of the Reefs
Installment No. 14
One Particular Harbor
Installment No. 13
Lucayan Marina Village, Bahamas
It’s Better in the Bahamas
Installment No. 12
The Bahamas
The Crossing
Installment No. 11
The Florida Keys
Changing Channels
Installment No. 10
Wrightsville Beach, SC
Follow in our Wake
Installment No. 9
Beaufort, N.C
Into the Ditch
Installment No. 8
ICW, The Ditch, Virginia
Down by the Waterside
Installment No. 7
Norfolk Harbor, VA

Mileage, Majors and Norfolk
Installment No. 6
Norfolk Harbor, VA

Installment No. 5
Zahniser's Marina, Solomons Island, MD
Portlights and pianos, Boat Show Week
Installment No. 4
Annapolis, Maryland
It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me, but my darling when I think of thee.
Installment No. 3
Great Oak Marina, MD
There's a glitch
Installment No. 2
Upper Chesapeake Bay
Let the Adventure Begin
Installment No. 1
Fairlee Creek, Maryland

Mileage, Majors and Norfolk
After dodging submarines and troop carriers and a container ship I forgot to mention, the tugs were a piece of cake. Nonetheless, the hour or so needed to negotiate up the remaining channel and glide into a slip at the Waterside Marina felt like eigh

Installment No. 6 -- Norfolk Harbor, VA
'Hey Jim,' I shout from the bow, 'we're putting some miles beneath the Damn Yankee's keel now.' The water courses away from the hull in a steady stream of lacy froth.
He sends me a nod coupled with a quick wave from behind the helm.
'It feels good!' I yell into the wind. I'm happy to be underway. The early morning sun warms enough to suggest the possibility of shorts this afternoon.
The Damn Yankee doesn't hide her exuberance as she noses through the slight troughs rolling across the water. Unconsciously I shift my weight to absorb her rise and plunge as she makes headway down the Bay like a frisky colt released into a sweep of pasture.
Past New Point Comfort, Mobjack Bay opens for crossing toward the mouth of the York River. No longer merely names of rivers and tributaries or corner sketches in the Guide to Cruising the Chesapeake Bay they are becoming recognizable expanses of water bounded by solid terrain fringed in a tincture of olive and russet.
Wind fills the sails. The tell-tales flutter straight out as the Damn Yankee shoulders into the waves while the hours slip by.
Shorts were out of the question but the late afternoon sun still warmed my face through the fall chill. We'd had a good run. Jim heads the boat into the Poquoson River beyond York Point into Chisman Creek.
'We're one-hundred and thirty miles, give or take a few, past Great Oak.' Jim says, moving aside so I can take the helm. He heads forward to set the anchor. It's my turn to smile and nod as I address my attention to handling the gearshift. Our trusty Bruce digs in within minutes and thus far, I haven't confused the gearshift with the throttle. That is for me, an accomplishment.
Defying the evening chill, Jim and I settle in the cockpit with glasses of a good red to enjoy the quiet and the sunset along with three other sailboats obviously headed south. We watch their wind generators slowly turning in the evening breeze while we sip our wine. In life, there are always special moments.
'I really wanted that first hundred miles, Gwen. I guess it's a mental thing…' he muses out loud.
'And how many more miles?' I tease.
'Only eleven hundred,' Jim answers with a laugh, 'or possibly another hundred more.'
Ever the optimist, I respond. 'But we're on our way.'
'Yep, we're on our way' Jim repeats lighting one of his favorite cigars.
Waking to a second sun washed morning in a series of such mornings we've a short day scheduled. Short and a pair of shorts are definitely in order.
Virginia's tidewater passes to starboard where centuries of our history lays gently, appearing timeless in color and shape. My mind drifts imagining untold decades of calm and turbulence.
Gliding between the rock jetties into Back River the tangy essence of the salt water pulls me reluctantly back to the present.
'Jim, just look at all this!'
'As soon as we're docked, I'll look.' But he pulls the throttle back and pauses a moment to follow my gaze.
Homes, newly built on a grand scale, tower in pastel succession all along the promontory. Their multi-paned windows glint against the sun as I shield my eyes and crane my neck to see. Ochre colored piers stretch for yards above manicured green lawns or tan marsh grass down to the water where sloops and cruisers await a weekend excursion. It occurred to me there has to be an unwritten rule of scale when using the word, 'Hampton' to designate a locality.
In minutes we are tied up and stretching our legs dockside. We stop and exchange pleasantries with other boaters enjoying the sunshine of a fall Saturday.
Salt Pond Marina Resort is yet another haven on the Bay. The staff was friendly and helpful, from the easy handling of our lines as we slid into the slip to a zip in a golf cart so we could do laundry. I could have happily stayed a week. Beautifully landscaped, set between the beach and a tributary culminating in a natural basin, it's quiet offers the opportunity to slow down.
Salt Pond would be a good choice.
The docks run from A to P and beyond. I lost track as we stroll the docks surrounded by more sailboat masts than a sorcerer's broom closet. Bloody Mary's in hand we headed for the beach.
Irrationally, I'd never connected the Chesapeake with beaches. Yet, here we were standing on a wide expanse of sandy beach complete with a scattering of shell fragments and the sound of surf breaking. Who knew?
Major Steve and Cynthia Shepard
Major Steve and Cynthia Shepard

Another beautiful Chesapeake Bay sunset

'We try to come here as often as we can. I grew up in the area and yes, it's beautiful,' said Cynthia Shepard as she leaned toward us from the next table. 'We're staying just down the road. This is a get-a-way weekend without the kids. And you…?'
'On our way to the Bahamas,' Jim says, 'we'll be cruising for the next few years.'
'Really? That's great!'
And so we chatted relaxing on Salt Pond's wrap-around porch high above the basin. One beer later and an invitation to the Damn Yankee set us all in the cockpit with full glasses of wine.
Jim and I were feeling like adventurers having chosen a less traveled path into retirement. But Steve and Cynthia trumped our flush status. Included in communities throughout the world, Major Steve Shepard of the United States Air Force and his wife, Cynthia had lived everywhere. For nearly twenty years in the military from Korea to Alaska and points in between, Steve and Cynthia had moved their family over and over again in service to our country. Suddenly, Jim's and my little jaunt seemed self-indulgent.
As he and Jim exchanged military anecdotes laughing, interrupting each other and completing each other's stories I paused to listen feeling respect for their shared experiences.
Dusk crept closer. The Shepards rose to leave. Some would relegate our encounter to chance. But since Norfolk, Virginia was our next destination, I would more fully appreciate our indebtedness to those military families.
Early Monday, Jim and I eased out between the jetty to a teeming mass of curling whitecaps. Like perfectly formed miniature breakers, they slapped against the hull and each other. The Damn Yankee lurched forward into heaving seas. The twenty knots of wind out of the northwest sliced across the wave peaks sending plumes of spray over the decks. Jim held the wheel and his course. I held my seat.
'We'll be okay,' Jim said. 'The boat will handle this fine. We'll be in by noon.'
I nodded lips clamped in a tight line waiting for the boat's next roll.
Noon couldn't come fast enough. Despite the bright sunlight, the Bay churned in a vicious black murk. I hate that!
With my stomach fluttering and my fingers curled over the edge of the seat, I concentrated on the sunshine and Norfolk while ignoring the howl of wind in my ears. I told myself; I've been there and done that many times over the last thirteen years. I still wished fervently that I didn't have to do it again.
Two hours later the Bay had settled down. So had I.
'Is that a submarine,' Jim asks?
'What?' I jump up and peer through the dodger window. 'Damn!' I mumble under my breath. 'It is.'
Black and ominous, the submarine thrusts itself toward the Damn Yankee not two hundred yards off our port side. I watch transfixed afraid to look away.
When it passes far enough for me to focus elsewhere I raise my gaze only to view the looming hulk of a troop carrier bearing down off our stern while a second submarine carves the water to starboard another three hundred yards off our bow.
'At least we're all headed in the same direction,' I comment.

Jim is calling on the hand held to no avail. He shoots me a look. I know I sound inane. I want to go below but I remain topside. We're in this together.
We may be rounding Old Point Comfort but I couldn't see any comfort to be offered here.
'We need to cross the channel.' Jim states as he scans the watery expanse before us. He turns the wheel into the wake of the fast moving sub then turns to watch the troop carrier as it advances closer.
I back up in the cockpit wanting to be as far as possible from the mass of steel advancing steadily closer. Its bow wave curls higher and rolls faster.
I'm thinking more in terms of, a channel too far. I do not want to be anywhere between those green and red markers. I want to chug up another channel to the Waterside Marina.
'You can't get there from here,' I whisper under my breath.
'I'm out of the channel now,' Jim says. 'We'll let that troop carrier pass us.' I catch his reassuring smile but I can tell from his intent expression that he's nearly as unnerved as I am.
'I wish I knew which channel that ship was going to enter.'
I bite down on the inside of my cheek to stop myself from shrieking 'You don't know which channel?' My gaze remains glued to the bow wave. I expect too much from Jim, I know. I'll remain silent.
The troop carrier veers away upstream. Its massive shadow passes beyond us. I let out the breath I'd been holding. The Damn Yankee bounces forward in its wake into the channel. We're going to make it. We are not going to be run down. We'll have lunch together in Norfolk. We both begin talking at once.
'Look to your left, Gwen. There are four; no, five aircraft carriers right there.'
There were six. Too big, too awesome, they represented might and power. Majestic was another word that came to mind. The words tumbled over each other as I stared through the binoculars. Even secured to the docks at ease they imposed their military power. All hard lines and angles as their decks rose high above the water while their structures towered even higher. The fighter planes on deck could have been toys. I knew they were not. Our flag fluttered high off their sterns. We passed slowly behind. I thought of Major Shepard piloting one of those planes. I considered the fearsome damage any one of those carriers could inflict in the name of right. I blinked away such thoughts.
For the moment I'd forgotten my reading. We were deep within
Norfolk Harbor with the Damn Yankee's engine humming along moving us slowly forward. I'd never felt so small and insignificant. So many berthed ships along the harbor, at a moment's notice, could fire up their engines to start their props turning and swamp the Damn Yankee sending her to an ignominious end.
I was having an up day so far.
Beyond the big ship anchorage there was only a slew of ocean tugs whose positions Jim needed to keep fixed as he proceeded.
After dodging submarines and troop carriers and a container ship I forgot to mention, the tugs were a piece of cake. Nonetheless, the hour or so needed to negotiate up the remaining channel and glide into a slip at the Waterside Marina felt like eight hours of head current.
We couldn't order drinks fast enough. Perched on stools at Joe's Crab Shack the beer was cold and tasted like survival.
'Do we have to go back the way we came to pick up the Intracoastal?' I was almost afraid to ask the question.
'No Gwen,' Jim laughs 'we keep heading south. We're within spitting distance.'
'Really?' I scan beyond the window into the harbor. 'Is there a sign?' I pick up a french fry from my plate and wave it for emphasis. 'I'm picturing a signpost with an arrow nailed high and pointing south.'
'Don't worry. We're here for a few days.' He snatches my fry and devours it with a swig of beer. 'We got through Norfolk Harbor. I'm glad that's over. Now we only need to contend with the bridges…'
'What bridges?'
'You'll see,' Jim responds with a knowing grin.
'I'll have another beer!'

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