Issue: December 2005
Of Butterflies and Thanksgiving

If what we do today foreshadows the events of our future, this Thanksgiving cruise to Hopkins Creek carried with it the promise of pleasant days to come.


     I wanted to overnight on Spirit, my 23-foot Kittiwake sailboat. Alas, I have limited accommodations, so I invited my friends, Bob and Nancy Shoemaker (they have a Bertram 33 named Shoe In) to meet me where we could raft together and “share” amenities. We decided on Hopkins Creek, a little gunkhole near St. Helena Island on the Severn River (the one near Annapolis), and we picked Thanksgiving weekend so our college-age children Stewart and Patrick (who are best buddies) and the Shoemaker’s daughter Kate could join us. We would meet on the river Friday afternoon, barring ice or bad weather.

     The day was cold and windy, but clear. Stewart met me at Spirit’s dock on Weems Creek, and off we went. No sooner were we clear of the creek than Shoe In appeared, right on schedule. The wind was over our shoulder as we headed upriver, moving along at a spritely pace. Spirit fairly danced in the wind. We had decked her mast with a bough of holly in honor of the holiday to come, and the little boat seemed to giggle at the joke. Shoe In came alongside and Nancy and Patrick climbed aboard for a sail. We moms chatted as the boys proceeded to “race” every other boat under sail on the river. Stewart’s just being on the boat seems to make her go faster; he absolutely spanked a Dickerson ketch that looked twice our size, and he would have carried the day if the other boats in the “fleet” hadn’t tacked and begun sailing back the other way.

     The Severn is a great sailing river. There’s plenty of room, for the most part, and usually plenty of wind that comes piping down between the river’s high banks with enough oomph to carry just about anything with it. Going out and back on a summer afternoon is a dandy way to spend a few hours. Actually getting somewhere, though, can be tricky. This time we were lucky to be able to reach down the river, nearly to St. Helena, before we had to begin tacking toward Hopkins Creek. I do have an auxiliary outboard, but I’d frankly rather row than use it. So Stewart, as designated rower, invited Shoe In to tow us into the anchorage. Great idea, that. Hopkins Creek is protected by a long sandy spit that reaches like a skinny arm across the creek’s mouth. The result is a deep narrow opening scoured clean by the tide. We would have been hard pressed to sail in under the best of circumstances. Even rowing would have been tricky if we’d been up against a tide, and small as my auxiliary is, it may not have been able to push us through either. With the sun dropping down, we were starting to feel the cold (not that rowing wouldn’t have warmed some of us up), so we gratefully made the tow rode fast and settled in for a Shoe In sleigh ride.

     What a terrific place to drop the hook! High embankments kept out the wind, and that sandy spit broke the waves. The creek won’t support anything more than two or three boats at anchor, but we had no competition on this particular weekend. Spirit was soon rafted snug with Shoe In, and we had gathered in the Bertram’s saloon for dinner.

Is it the limited space of a boat’s cabin that makes everything seem more fun? Whatever the answer, being in such close quarters certainly heightens our awareness of other people, and we’re more considerate of their comfort. We focus more on what is said, pay more attention to what is done. The jokes are funnier, somehow. Maybe it’s the fumes. But in this case, if there were any fumes, they were quickly dispelled by Nancy’s fine cooking. A pork loin was soon grilling on the barbie and a fine wine sparkled in the grown-ups’ glasses.

     It was too cold and raw to enjoy the outdoors-no one was up for a late-season dip in the creek, for example. We dutifully went outside to ogle the moon, big and round and silver that night, flashing a cold beauty on the water as it edged above the treetops, but with our breath coming out in frozen clouds, we scuttled back to the warmth of the cabin in short order. With six of us, we had enough for “Catch Phrase” teams, and that’s how we whiled away the remainder of the evening-the early hours anyway. When the last game was over, the adults began thinking about warm blankets and soft pillows. Not the kids. Out came the VCR and in went a movie: The Butterfly Effect, about the notion that each single event in our lives-though it be as insignificant as the brush of a butterfly’s wing-alters and directs our future. It was past my bedtime, but I figured I’d be sociable and watch the opening bits. Two-plus hours later, I finally stumbled back to Spirit and climbed into my cozy V-berth. The forward hatch was open to the sky, and the moon sailed through a wisp of cloud high overhead. It offered no warmth, only the promise of moonlight to come and more dazzling nights at anchor. I thought about the movie I’d just seen and this quiet gathering of friends and the gaiety of our evening games. If this was the starting point for the rest of my life, I couldn’t choose a better path. Nor could I seek a better one for my son. For that I felt supremely thankful, and saying as much to the powers that be, I drifted off to sleep.