Issue: From the Chesapeake Bay Magazine Archives
Destination: Potomac River

Potomac boating  
A family cruise from D.C. to Solomons would have 
been just lovely had the wind gods not intervened. [June 2006]


By Chuck Royster
 
Honey, let's chill out this weekend," my wife Cee said. "Why don't we take off early Friday, take the boat to Solomons, have dinner, chill out and come back Sunday? Charles can swim, and we can sip wine and [eyebrows raised with a sensuous smile] watch videos!"

"Yahoo!" I yipped. "Times a' wastin'!" And like any good ol' boating male worth his bottom paint I spun on my heels, grabbed my charts, canceled my golf game with the boys and headed for the river! It doesn't get any better than this. Like a kid in a candy store, I was off to the races--planning, purchasing, packing, checking (the weather), and charting in anticipation. In fact, I was bending over my charts in the den, double-checking the GPS coordinates, when my 13 year-old son, Charles, noticed my frenzied air of excitement. Looking over my shoulder he asked, "What's up, Pop?"

"Solomons!" I replied. "This weekend." I didn't take my eyes away from the chart, but I could hear the concern in his voice when he said, "You mean the Bay?" 
"Yup," I said. "Weather looks good. Better start pulling your gear together, Son, 'cause we're not coming back till Sunday." When I turned around, he was gone, and I could hear him upstairs snatching his X-Box out of its cabinet and rummaging through his collection of video games. I knew that I would see him again in the pantry, stuffing his weekend duffel with snacks, cookies and sodas.

I immediately understood the bit of trepidation in Charles's voice, for my family is a pack of dedicated upper Potomac River Rats. Say the words Georgetown, Alexandria, Fort Washington or Occoquan and our (freshwater) salt begins to rise, for we know every buoy, inlet, dock and cleat around these parts. But say the word "Bay" and we imagine having to lash ourselves to the helm amidst towering waves and howling, gale force winds. After all, on the Po-Toe-Mack, small boat warnings are displayed when there is a five-knot wind and two-foot chop. 

Charles's concern was still on his mind Friday morning as he and I parked the truck at James Creek Marina to fuel High Falutin' Floozie II. We were loaded down with beer, groceries, seven new-release videos and four bottles of merlot. After we put on our PFDs, I began the ritual of raising the hydraulic hatch and checking the engine, power steering and out-drive oil reservoirs, while Charles uncoiled the dock hose and slid down the gunwales to begin topping off the water tank. With late arrival slip reservations at Zahniser's Yachting Center in hand, all fluids checked, stores loaded and blowers on, I cranked up the engines to move to the fuel dock. "Your mom said she would finish up work around eleven. We want to be ready," I said. Charles, with a look of disbelief, said, "Okay this is going to be tight," and scampered off to remove the fenders and release the lines.

I knew what was on his mind, for I was well aware that a weekend trip to Solomons and back with almost 200 miles of nautical travel time included, was truly an aggressive undertaking. From our dock, we had to run 99 miles downriver, swing a wide arc at Point Lookout and then run another 20 or 25 miles up the Bay to get to Solomons. Throw in a following evening wind and a south-bound current, and on a good day, with clear weather, you have a solid, five to six hour run each way. It's a great trip if everything goes right, but it can turn into a real booger if anything goes wrong. And Charles knew that.
He and I had made this trip two years earlier when he and I brought Floozie II down from Turkey Point, just north of Baltimore, where we had bought it. That trip had convinced him that running the Bay was vastly different from running the Potomac. He knew that on the river, "rough water" meant that he had to worry about holding on to his root beer soda; on the Bay, it meant he had to hold on to his hat, head, a firmly mounted grab rail and anything else he could get his hands on. While I knew that Charles loved boating, I could see signs of mixed emotions in his face. But surely enough, when Cee arrived at 11:15, he released the stern and bow lines, pushed off from the dock and nimbly flipped over the bow rail to land on the foredeck. I heard him yell, "Clear, Pop!" as he took his favorite "harbor station" seat on the sun pad.

By the time we passed under the Wilson Bridge, I was in macho hog heaven--clear sky, bright sun, cold brewski in the cup holder, twin 454s thundering my favorite 3300 rpm tune and Smooth Jazz lilting through the cockpit woofer. I was smokin' south for a weekend with my favorite girl. All was well. The god of the Potomac was good, for we ran effortlessly in mirror-flat water past all of the familiar stops. We careened past Mattawoman Creek and passed under the towering power lines near the Quantico Marine Corps Base. With no time to stop, we chose to forgo the mouth-watering crabs at Captain Billy's Crab House on Pope's Creek and blasted through the wide expanse of Kettle Bottom Shoals. We once again marveled at the large, beautiful white cross on St. Clements Island, and by 4:30 or so, we were still on plane between St. George Island and the mouth of the Yeocomico River. At green can buoy "9", we began to pick up a bit of a chop.

"Uh-oh. Here it comes," said Charles, staring at the chart.
"It doesn't look bad," I said. And it wasn't . . . until we hit the Bay and changed course to head north. We immediately got caught by a 15-knot headwind. Boreas, the god of the north wind, was clearly on a rampage. So much for running on plane; the boat was bouncing and slamming from one seven-foot crest to the next. I looked over at Charles, who had taken Cee's place on the port side companion seat. Cee had gone below and was actually trying to take a nap through this madness. Just then, we crested a really big one, and with too much power. Floozie slammed down hard on the other side. The uppermost cabinet door flew open in the galley, and every dish on board came crashing out. I pulled the throttles back and settled in for a long, slow and uncomfortable 20-mile ride. With the wind on the bow I could just tolerate six or seven knots of speed. Charles disappeared below to clean up the galley mess. As I sat at the helm, grinding along, I was thinking: "As long as it doesn't get any worse, we'll be okay."
 
It got worse, and it got dark. Night fell like a curtain, and a sudden squall began to pelt us with rain. I looked down, and there was Charles in his rain gear, with a big "I told you, so!" grin on his face as he handed me my rain jacket.

We pulled into Zahniser's just after dusk, and I was pooped. Charles and I tied up the boat, hooked up the shorepower and shut down the genset. We made it. The rain subsided and we showered and changed. The three of us walked over to the Zahniser's Dry Dock Restaurant for dinner, which was delicious. Our weekend was now in full swing.

Saturday dawned bright and beautiful. After breakfast on the boat, Charles took off to the pool, and Cee and I settled in with our videos. Later, we sat on the deck and caught the afternoon sun while reading and sipping our wine. Around three o'clock we walked over to the pool and joined in several great conversations at the bar. We took another trip to the restaurant and then settled in with more videos and wine. On the other side of the bulkhead door, Charles conquered Rome (playing "Age of Empires" on his X-Box).

Sunday morning, we decided to end our lazy weekend with a late-morning mimosa brunch overlooking the busy Solomon's harbor. Around 11:30, while Cee and I were still sipping our mimosas, eating, laughing and playing footsie under the table, Charles was squirming in his seat, nervous as a cat. His mind was on the trip back. He was looking up at the sky, checking out the wind and noticing how "Old Glory" was flapping and snapping loudly on the flagpole with the increasing wind. "Pop, we better get going, before the afternoon wind picks up!" he said ominously. After he repeated the appeal for the third time, I reluctantly acquiesced and paid the tab, finally agreeing to end the beautiful weekend and start on the trip home. Charles was wasting no time; by the time we arrived at the boat, he had on his PFD, had repacked his gear, turned on the blowers and removed and stowed the fenders. This kid was on a mission.

While the day was bright and sunny, the reality of Charles's concern about the increasing wind hit me as we tried to refuel. The fuel dock was fairly exposed to the Bay, and Floozie was rocking so hard in the wind that Charles and I had to hold her away from the dock with our feet. This was a mere prelude to the true rocking we got as we entered the river beyond Solomon's harbor. 

It was now about one o'clock in the afternoon. Just as Charles had predicted, Notus, the god of the south wind, was, by this time, wide awake. The Bay was a line of symmetrical rollers, each six to eight feet tall, marching northward like Grant through Richmond. The rapidly moving crests of water slowed for nothing and kicked the butts of everything foolish enough to venture into their path. We were headed into the teeth of it. At a mere 1800 rpm, each wave lifted Floozie's nose and slammed her into the next trough. It was readily obvious that the 20-mile ride from the Patuxent to Point Lookout was going to be a slow, bone-shaking roller-coaster ride--and a miserable one at that.

I looked over at Charles standing next to me. He was holding on to the forward cockpit grab rail, feet spread apart and knees bent in preparation for the next big one. He looked back at me with an all-knowing, smart-arse smile. "See, Pop. I told you so."

For the next two hours, we paid the price for our Solomons weekend. Whenever I got the feeling that the wind was moderating, I would goose the throttles up a bit to try to make better time, but Notus wasn't having it. He would only slack off for a moment, and then go back to his steady blow. Sometimes the approaching roller would be so big I had to throttle down to where I could just keep steerage way, lest Floozie be launched into the air. I sat at the helm, totally focused, working the throttles and methodically grinding the grist that he sent me. By the time we approached the channel marker at Point Lookout, I was beat.

Then the gods smiled. No sooner had we entered home waters, than the winds subsided, and the water went mirror flat.  Finally, I brought Floozie up to 3300 rpm, synchronized the engines, set a return course on the GPS and prepared for an enjoyable ride into the glorious afternoon sunset.

"I'll take her now, Pops," said Charles as he checked our position on the GPS and slid behind the helm to take control. I quickly made a long awaited, and much needed trip to Floozie's rest facility below. When I arrived back on the bridge, Charles had her comfortably in mid-channel, making steady and smooth progress toward home. Now contented, he looked over at me and smiled. "At last," he said, "Mother Potomac!"

Chuck Royster's story on the Dragon Boat Festival in Washington, D.C., appeared in the March issue. Confirmed river rats, he and his family are most often seen zipping around the Potomac aboard High Falutin' Floozie II, their 36-foot Doral.