A Chance Meeting on the Chesapeake Bay

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A calm day on Chesapeake Bay

A calm day on Chesapeake Bay

It was a typical late August afternoon on the Chesapeake Bay, where the winds were light and my mood anything but. NOAA radio had predicted 10 knot winds out of the west, but (surprise, surprise) the winds turned out to be light and out of the southeast. I was my usual grumpy self when reality fails to meet expectations, and Peg, my first mate, was her usual grumpy self when I’m my grumpy self.

“Don’t you think we ought to tack away?” Peg suggested, as we continued on what she felt was a “collision course” with a sloop that was barely visible on the horizon (well, maybe a little closer than that, but not much). “They’re on the starboard tack, you know!”

“Relax, honey! We’ll cross his bow with room to spare. And besides, we’re only doing 2 knots, for Pete’s sake. We could have lunch and take a nap before we get anywhere close to him!”

Admittedly, it did seem a little odd, given all the open water available to him, that he’d chosen to head directly for us. “Whatever,” I thought. “He’s probably just riding the tide and chasing the ripples like we are.”

We were “sailing” that day in our Capri 25, which we’d purchased in a private sale some 10 years earlier. She was fast, wet and fun when the wind was up, and faster than most when it wasn’t, although that was little consolation in the current conditions. When you’re out for a day sail you want to sail, damn it, not flail!

Peg and I had talked a lot over the years about moving up to a boat that we could cruise on, one that we could sail down the bay for a week or two, exploring the gunkholes of the Eastern Shore. We started talking about it again that afternoon. Interesting, I thought, how the topic of buying a cruising sailboat only seems to come up when the wind is down.

The author and his wife out for a sail

The author and his wife out for a sail

Crossing the sloop’s bow with more than a football field to spare, I looked back at her, prepared to offer a friendly wave. What I saw was a man, the captain I assumed, standing amidships, waving his hands over his head and yelling something. At first I thought he needed help, but it didn’t seem like that kind of wave. Peg thought she heard him yell something about “my boat.”
All of a sudden it hit me. Could that be the guy who sold us the Capri?

“Tom Talling, is that you?” I shouted back, totally amazed that the same old brain that can’t remember where I parked the car can dredge up a name from over a decade ago. “Tom, is that you?”

After an affirmative and a “come on over” wave, we came about and eased alongside while Tom snapped picture after picture. With the initial pleasantries out of the way, Tom told us he was now sailing the Catalina 320 that floated there beside us: a beautiful boat that looked much like what Peg and I have imagined owning while bobbing around on so many of those windless August afternoons.

It was clear, though, that Tom didn’t want to talk about his Catalina. It was the Capri that captured his attention. He looked at her like a man who had just bumped into his old high school sweetheart…the one he always regretted breaking up with. The emotion was palpable. In fact, I started to feel a little jealous. After all, he had known her longer than I had.

After Peg and I gushed about how our boat sails and the fun we’ve had with her over the years, I shared with Tom the fact that sometimes, especially on these painfully windless days, we’ve talked about moving up to a cruising boat like his.

“How’s your Catalina sail?” I asked.

“Oh, fine. She sails fine,” he answered, then quickly returned the focus. “Do you fly the spinnaker?”

“Not as much as we used to,” I responded. “The last time we had it up, we got caught in a building breeze down at the mouth of the Sassafrass and she got up on plane! It was a wild ride for two old people! Thought I’d never get the sail down.” Tom’s smile told me he knew the feeling well.

After exchanging email addresses and saying our goodbyes, we tacked away into the windless afternoon.

“Wasn’t it great to see Tom?” I asked Peg, as we floated off to the east. “And how about that gorgeous Catalina of his? What a beauty! Wouldn’t it be great if we…” But before I could finish, the boom swung, the sails filled, and off we charged on a beam reach. End of conversation.

Alan Keene, a retired mental health care professional turned writer, sails his Oxford Dinghy and his Capri 25 on Chesapeake Bay

Photos courtesy of Adam Cort (top); L. Alan Keene

August 2015

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