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Fall Solitude Page 2

The northwest winds blew fresh and cool, ushering in some of the finest autumn weather I'd ever experienced on Chesapeake Bay. The light, shifty breezes and stultifying humidity of summer were gone, and I congratulated myself for waiting well into September before making the passage south aboard Sonata, the 36-foot Pearson cutter my wife, Liz, and I lived aboard. We'd come down the coast from
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A light afternoon southerly sprang up, strong enough to convince me to kill the engine. We sailed in blissful peace, crossing the bay on our way to Chrisman Creek, a hidey-hole behind Fish and Crab necks near the York River. I'd lost count of how many Crab Necks we'd passed on our passage down the bay, and I recalled how many Seal Coves there are in Maine, thinking it an interesting, if inconsequential, phenomenon. Memories of rafting up with friends on the Severn River came to mind as we inched along, savoring the warmth of the autumn sun.

Much of the lower Chesapeake is comprised of marsh and flats that often extend well offshore. The Poquoson Flats to port, just before the entrance to the York River, are a good example of this, with depths of one or two feet seemingly miles from land. We stayed in the channel, carefully lined up on the daymarks, and motored into Chrisman Creek at the mouth of the Poquoson River, the depthsounder's alarm shrieking when we got close to the anchorage. For sailors used to cruising in Maine, with its bold, rocky shores, it was strange to anchor with only 35 feet of all-chain rode.

We sailed into Hampton Roads the following afternoon, and it was like we had entered an entirely different Virginia. Everywhere were ships, ships, and more ships at anchor and at the terminals. Tugs and barges steamed in and out of the Elizabeth River. Tall buildings loomed on shore. After so long in the solitude of the upper and lower Chesapeake, our senses were overloaded as we watched for commercial traffic and gawked at the doings in one of the nation's busiest harbors and the site of the vast military complex that is Naval Station Norfolk.

The sun was low, coloring the windows of buildings ashore in glints of orange. The sounds of the twin cities filled the air- the wail of a siren, the thump of a pile driver, the roar of a jet. A dozen or more cruising boats were anchored near Mile Marker Zero of the ICW. Sailboat masts poked above the seawall of the nearby marina, beckoning us. We'd finally arrived at the ICW after sailing offshore from Maine and running Delaware and Chesapeake bays, and yet our journey had just begun. Ahead lay new adventures and new memories.

"This is the real deal," I said to Liz, "the real ICW."

Cruise Notes

CRUISING GUIDES: Waterway Guide Chesapeake Bay 2009, Dozier's Waterway Guide Publications, 2007, $39.95; Cruising the Chesapeake by William H. Shellenberger, International Marine, 2001, $39.95; Atlantic Cruising Club's Guide to Chesapeake Bay Marinas by Elizabeth Adams Smith, Jerawyn Publishing, 2006, $32.95.

DESTINATIONS: Deltaville

(www.deltavilleva.com) and Urbanna (www.urbanna.com) both have a selection of marinas and waterfront restaurants. A major attraction in Norfolk (www.norfolkcvb.gov)

is the battleship USS Wisconsin at Nauticus (www.nauticus.org). The Portsmouth Naval Museum and the Portsmouth Lightship Museum (www.portsnavalmuseums.com) are also interesting. Both cities have marinas, but most cruisers head for one of the marinas in downtown Portsmouth. A ferry service runs between Norfolk and Portsmouth.

CHARTS: NOAA charts, 12225, 12235, 12237, 12238, 12253; Maptech chart kit for Chesapeake and Delaware bays

WEATHER AND NAVIGATION: Wind conditions vary, but expect southerlies during the sailing season from early spring to late fall. Frontal passages bring gusty northwesterlies, particularly in September and October. Summer months are known for light winds, temperatures well in excess of 80?F with high humidity, and violent afternoon thunderstorms that require caution.

The bay is well marked. However, you'll need to pay attention to pilotage on longer passages in the lower bay. If you run aground in mud or sand, backing off isn't usually difficult; there are few rocks. Crab-pot buoys are common, but they're generally not a problem in channels.

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