My Travelling Experience in Yankeeland

I sailed, or rather motored out of Hampton on July 18th and rounded Old Comfort Point before I could switch off the engine and see my speed rise to 5,8 knots as the wind freshened. That night I entered the Piankatank River to anchor in Godfrey Bay at dusk; I really was on my way north up the Chesapeake. The Chesapeake Bay extends for more than 250 miles, and with its many inlets is a fabulous cruising ground. It is unfortunate that the American charts show no topography at all, with the exception of the very many chimneys and water towers. Navigation is comparatively simple, though care must be taken to keep outside the many fish traps which extend as far as two miles offshore. All the gas stations provide a free chart of the whole area on demand and these are a fund of information, giving pictures of the many light towers and beacons and buoys; they also list all the facilities available to a yachtsman everywhere.

It was suggested to me that I stop off at Tangier Island because the people tend to lead a life cut off from the mainland. Owing to the shortage of ground, they bury their dead in their front gardens! I saw this to be so and am still wondering quite what happens when a house is sold; perhaps they also find it an embarrassing problem!

The island is really small, apart from extensive marshes and saltings; the doctor is the only man permitted a car and the island is ‘dry’. With Irwin and Jean Siegel who were also visiting the island in their yacht, I listened to an interesting lecture on crabs, peelers, crackers and their value, the latter important to the people of this community. After crabs are caught those which appear to be about to peel are separated; as soon as they have been seen to peel in their wirecage trays, they are boiled and sold for about six times the value of a normal crab. These peelers are eaten complete, because their shell is only paper-hard, and this obviates the laborious process of removing the meat from the shell.

From Tangier Island, over on the east coast, I sailed to Smith’s Creek on the north bank of the Potomac. There I found Odd Times, and soon Peter Rose was over in the dinghy to swop news. We had both been warned against sailing up to Washington, and for one evening only endured the all pervading aroma of this sewer.

It took two more days of motoring to reach St Michael’s, where I arrived at the yacht club in time for a crab-and-beer party on the lawns. Now there is a ritual for eating Chesapeake Bay crabs, and after a demonstration by Lyn Heggarty, I set to on ‘Operation Crab’: I would add that the calories gained in eating the these gol-darn cra-abs!’ Judging by the crates of beer at each chair, no one went hungry!

At the end of the crab party we were all invited to change before cocktails, and after cocktails came dinner; no one seemed to pay much attention to the speeches, having their eyes on the main liquid chance. The yacht club was host to the Annapolis Yacht Club that night, but be that as it may, well over 200 people filed through Dawn Star’s tiny saloon, the only yacht lit by kerosene lamps, and I have no idea how much scotch was drunk by the time I simply had to ask the last girl to leave before I fell exhausted into my bunk at ten to four in the morning.

‘Bang!’ At the sound of gunfire I woke and saw it was 0730. On deck smoke was drifting across the foredeck of Griffin as Buzz Grubb fired another broadside; this was the signal for ‘Bullshots’ to be served, a real morning eye lifter of vodka mixed with bouillon soup! Breakfast over, we all went for rum punch at the club, ending the party with speeches and ‘God Save The Queen’.

Before lunch I motored the two miles to St Michael’s Museum dock, berthing next to Odd Times. When the sightseers began to collect I was glad to see Gus van Lennep arrive to take us over to his old house out of town for showers and a meal. We had last met Gus and Vida in Bequia, and for two days it was a relief to be free of the yacht and see something of the country. We swam in Dundas and Emily Leavitt’s swimming-pool on their large estate, it being impossible to bathe in the Chesapeake because of the jellyfish, or as they are locally called, ‘nettles’.

On approaching Annapolis from the south, the imposing buildings of the Naval Academy stand out well, and after turning to port past them, I saw the massive pagoda-shaped all-enshrouding roof of the Annapolis Yacht Club. The Na val Academy is the home of 4,000 United States midshipmen currently under training for the United States Navy. Captain Paul Jones, the father of their Navy, lies buried in the crypt under the church.

Captain and Mrs Bowen entertained me very well at the Academy, and to return their hospitality I took them sailing one evening. We had an enjoyable sail, only marred by Charles running us aground in front of the Academy of which he was captain! In all fairness, he had asked for a chart six seconds before we hit, and had been in a sail boat but three times in his life.

The crest of the Naval Academy which now adorns the bulkhead of Dawn Star is a happy reminder of an unforgettable visit to Annapolis. It is a fine old city, and its handsome capitol is the oldest in the States still in use; it was here that Washington resigned his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and became President of the United States.

From here I phoned Carol Erb at Rockville. I had met her at the St Michael’s Yacht Club and she came and picked me up for a whirlwind two-day tour of Washington.

The capital has many fine buildings, and a year previously I would never have dreamt that I would be walking up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, or be at Arlington Cemetery at noon to see the daily ceremony of changing the guard. After lunch in an English-style restaurant in old Georgetown, with her husband Joe, we went out to the Capitol, where the Congress Representative for Maryland, Charles Mathias, arranged for me to have a tour of these magnificent buildings and to see Senate and Congress in session, where many who have highlighted the recent political scene were pointed out to me.

In the evening we dined at a French restaurant and then I gave a talk about my voyage and some experiences to the Erbs’ many friends at their house, where a party went on till the early hours.

I visited the White House in the morning, but I think for quite a different reason than Mr Harold Wilson’s appearance.

I regretfully left Annapolis very early on July 31st, anchoring for the night at Still Pond, thirty-five miles to the north on the east bank of the Chesapeake.

The next day I entered the Elk River and motored into the Delaware Canal, anchoring in the man-made anchorage at Chesapeake City.

This city is now unbelievably dead, with about fifteen residents; there used to be a ferry here over the canal, but a bridge now goes overhead, and with the long approaches to it, the city has been completely bypassed. Houses were left with their doors open and I saw one bank, though probably because it was the only one it did not even have a name!

I visited one of the three bars in the evening to meet local colour; and while I might stand corrected, I did hear that bar hours were from 0600 to 0200; I hardly know why they bothered to close!

I was fortunate to have a two-knot current helping me through the canal, but not so fortunate as a frigate of the United States Navy. She had just entered the canal and as her bridge drew abeam of Dawn Star, I dipped the ensign. Seventy pairs of eyes aboard her with as many pairs of binoculars were trained on me as we passed, and a seaman was dispatched from the bridge to return my salute, then it happened; she tended to go over to starboard and swiftly her bows rose higher and higher out of the water as she ploughed up on to the canal bank. Her engines went full speed astern, black smoke rose in puffs and with the periodic wailing of three blasts on her siren, I turned south into the Delaware deciding that with the American War of Independence long since over, discretion would be best exercised in retreat.

Just as it turned out, I entered Cape May canal and anchored a mile inside on the south bank, which was the weather shore. However, during the night the wind went completely round, and this then became the lee shore; I awoke to find the tide down, and the yacht heeled right over. There was nothing for it but to lower the dinghy and run the kedge anchor off across the canal. Back aboard Dawn Star I slipped the cable after buoying it and hauled her off on the rising tide; the cable and anchor had then to be recovered into the dinghy before returning to the yacht and hauling both aboard again. The whole operation took just two hours, and I went on to anchor in Cape May harbour.

That evening I capsized the dinghy for the thirteenth and, I thought, last time. A couple aboard a sail boat heard my cries for help. So tired was I after the morning’s exertions that I was unable to clamber back aboard. Alex and Ava Fowler hauled me aboard and we lay rafted together for the night; I was able to confirm over breakfast the simple reasons for the brain drain from England. He was an engineer draughtsman, and at least three times better off in the States.

At Cape May I had to leave the Intracoastal Waterway as the bridges to the north would only permit a masthead height of twenty-nine feet, so I sailed for Atlantic City, spending the night as one of only five sail boats among well over a thousand motor yachts, which were mainly concerned with fishing offshore.

Out of the harbour before dawn, I pressed as fast as possible for New York harbour and did the last eighty-four miles in seventeen hours, anchoring in the yacht harbour under Atlantic Highlands, Sandy Hook.

I was so glad to see Jane Robinson when she came down to take me off for the day; for shopping by car; for a lunch of ‘peeler’ crabs at the Beach Club; for a bath in which I could lie back and let the aches ooze out with the grime; for dinner at night with her and Bill her husband while we yarned about the Virgin Isles, where I had last seen them four months before.

Peter Rose arrived with Odd Times and on August 10th we motored in company up New York harbour, passing the Queen Mary outward bound as we went under Staten Island Bridge. The Statue of Liberty appeared out of the haze, but we were unable to stop, for if we were to meet our schedule and carry the tide there was little time for delays. Across the Hudson River, the skyscrapers of Manhattan loomed up high and we left these to port on entering East River where the tide helped us along at a great pace, past the United Nations building to Hell’s Gate, Rickers Island, and over to moorings off City Island Yacht Club.

Here I sent back the strip charts of the Intracoastal Waterway to Al Leverentz in Grand Bahama and after a day in New York went out to Huntington, Long Island, to see Pat and Jim Kerez, Swiss friends who had been waiting a month to see me.

On August 12th Peter Rose and I parted company when I sailed over to Manhasset Yacht Club. There a friend of Jim’s drove me out to Kennedy Airport where we located a new genoa which Sadlers of Burnhamon-Crouch had made and flown out for me. On the return journey his car engine caught fire and I was left at the roadside for nearly two hours while he sought help. Eventually I got back to Manhasset where Jim Kerez and I embarked aboard Dawn Star. By 22:30 that night we were moored in Huntington Harbour; for once I had a real pilot who knew the way in to this lovely anchorage which was once an enormous gravel pit.

For two days Jim and Pat worked hard to help me prepare Dawn Star for the return crossing of the North Atlantic, not the least task being to store ship and preserve five dozen eggs. To their friends I gave a talk on the voyage one evening, and sadly left Huntington. Making my way up Long Island Sound past Port Jefferson and entering Mattatuck Inlet, I motored a mile up river to secure alongside the Anchor Inn where I dined well. The evening developed into a party, at which I promised to take a lady down river at eight in the morning. To my surprise, she came aboard and woke me; so I was held to my promise, which was a good thing, or I would not have made Block Island before dark. I anchored in the Great Salt Pond, a totally enclosed wide harbour with lowish land and few trees; rather desolate really.

Perhaps it was because I had heard so much about Newport, Rhode Island, that I was so disappointed with what I saw. The base for the America’s Cup Races and the final port at the end of the single-handed Transatlantic Races, it had little to attract me. The place is a commercial port and each bar had its own individual entertainment act. In one I saw long-haired youths singing and the discordant noise could be heard down the road; in another a semi-nude girl was dancing a jig on a beer table.

Hard liquor cost about £1 per bottle and I was advised that bonded stores were not worth the candle as the cost of shipment from Boston would equal the saving in duty.

I obtained ‘clearance out’ and as I filled in all the forms, sorted the bits of paper and the numerous copies, and paid 10s. 6d., I thought how much easier the formalities would probably have been had I been a Cuban refugee! I had my last haircut and the United States coastguards who, along with many others, told me I was stupid to attempt to cross the Atlantic at the height of the hurricane season, checked that there were no known hurricanes down in the Caribbean, and I would have three weeks clear anyway.

Hurricane or not, I was all but out of United States dollars, and had been told that no more would be forthcoming from England.

So I motored out past the Brenton Reef lighthouse in a thick haze and with main and genoa set at last, made over to Cutty hunk Pond; that night I enjoyed a big ‘gamming’ aboard a United States yacht till all hours. In these anchorages I noticed that the Americans anchored with a very light anchor by my standards, and with a length of nylon line bent on. By dawn, several had invariably dragged, but for some reason they refuse to increase the weight of this ground tackle.

I sailed to Martha’s Vineyard and picked up a mooring in Vineyard Haven, a very lovely spot with a sandy beach and trees, though it is full of day trippers. In the evening I dined with George and Charlotte Dyer, whose brother, Dundas Leavitt, I had known at St Michael’s, and we sat down with half a dozen lovelies to eat an enormous fish over a yard in length. They all came aboard the following morning to see the small white yacht. I would cheerfully have stayed but at night the weather was becoming colder, and winter seemed only round the corner, so I went over to Nantucket, anchoring in the pool of this once-famous whaling station, now largely turned into a tourist trap. It still has its fascinating old-world charm, and here I bought my last fresh provisions and embarked the maximum amount of fresh water I could carry – thirty-three gallons. I had also two gallons of gin and several bottles of rum and brandy. My last dinner was aboard Charles and Cora Sandars’s yacht and the buzz seemed to have got round the yachts in harbour, for many of them came over to Dawn Star in the morning, while I prepared for sea.

At 11:00 on the morning of August 23rd, 1966, I weighed anchor and went out of the harbour under power. I made sail, streamed the log, and by 14:00 Nantucket Island had disappeared astern in the fog, while I settled down to sea routine on a voyage which proved to be sheer misery for nearly every one of its forty-four days.

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