Issue: February 2006
One Day Last October

The author takes a solo cruise to Cherry Point Cove on the Rappahannock River.

 

     The Route 3 bridge from the Northern Neck of Virginia to Gloucester arches gracefully over the Rappahannock River about seven miles upstream of Windmill Point. It’s a tall bridge that even the big menhaden steamers can pass under. Dixie and I have been over (and under) it many times. For the last couple of years my attention has been drawn to a largish cove nestled along the north shore at Cherry Point. From the top of the bridge the cove looks beautiful. What a wonderful anchorage it would make, I thought.

     A good while back I had driven down to see the cove from land. A broad sandy beach wraps around the cove for about a mile of shoreline, and walking the water’s edge, I had come to a steamboat’s cabin and pilothouse tucked up on the high ground-all that remained of the steamer Potomac. One winter, early in the last century, she was caught in the ice outside of Baltimore and rammed by a close-following sister ship. Before the Potomac sank, she was dragged back to port where she was converted into a barge. Captain Ben Colonna, a prominent figure in the area’s menhaden fisheries, decided to preserve the pilothouse and officers’ quarters, which were barged to this beach near the site of a menhaden plant. He had it dragged ashore. Then he cleaned it up, painted it and converted it to a residence. In a photo of the late 1930s, bright with fresh paint, handrailing and lattice skirt, she made a beautiful picture. Now she was looking rather decrepit. A hundred feet farther down the beach were the remains of the menhaden plant. A crumbling foundation and tall iron tank, rusting and vine covered, were all that was left. One of these days, I thought, I’ll get back here by boat. It’s not too far from my dock in Reedville, and in the right kind of weather the anchorage would be perfectly secure.

     One thing led to another and it wasn’t until last October, with winter gales approaching, that I finally made a pitch to my favorite cruising partner, “Come on, Dix! Let’s do it! Let’s take one last cruise of the season in our comfortable trawler.”

     “I just can’t,” she replied. “I’m due to be at that conference in D.C. There’s no way I can get free. I’ll be back late Sunday and maybe we can talk about it.”

     Well, when my mind is on to something like this, it doesn’t let go easily. “I know that look in your eye,” Dixie continued. “Don’t even think about it! You’ll kill yourself. At least give me a chance to call the insurance company and get double coverage.”

     The next day she left for her meeting in Washington, but I was still thinking about Cherry Point and that beautiful beach. I could see it so clearly. I’d only have to climb aboard Moon Song and crank up the engine. As the boat made reassuring murmurings, I’d drop the dock lines. Why not? I grabbed a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and headed to the dock.

     The day was soft and warm with a light westerly breeze. A short jaunt down Cockrell Creek took me past the Crazy Crab Restaurant, around the tall smokestack at the Omega fish plant, down to the Great Wicomico and out into the Bay. Once clear of the fish traps off Dameron Marsh, I set the autopilot. Then I just sat back and scanned the shoreline with my binoculars. After rounding Windmill Point it was a straight shot past Mosquito Point up the Rappahannock to the cove of my dreams. On the charts it doesn’t look like much of an anchorage, with no protection to the east or south. To the north and northwest, a high bank makes anchored boats secure. Offshore of the mouth of the cove was an anchored barge. I circled around it, and then headed north and snuggled up to the beach. So far, so good.

     Anchoring single-handed is another matter. At low throttle Moon Song is heavy and stable. In neutral she drifted to a pause while I pulled about 125 feet of rode and 12 feet of chain from the chain locker. The anchor slipped gently over the side. As Moon Song began to slowly fall off, I paid out the rode. The depthfinder read 10 feet of water. I gave the anchor plenty of scope, feeling it begin to bury itself in the soft mud. Abruptly the big boat pulled to a stop and sat there, rumbling contentedly.

     Now it was the time to sit on the foredeck and take bearings. The first thing I noticed was that the pilothouse of the Potomac was gone. (Later I learned that it had been carried to Irvington, Va., and refurbished. It’s a major exhibit at the new steamboat museum there.) But the sandy beach was still as I remembered it, bright and sparkling in the late October sunlight.

As the sun began to drop behind the trees, I retreated to the cabin, fixed myself a sandwich and headed up to the flybridge. My little radio played softly as I munched my peanut butter and watched the lights come on ashore. The anchor light was lit, and the only thing missing was Dixie. (Did I mention Dixie, my favorite cruising partner?) I wondered how she was faring at her conference. But I proved that a man can take care of himself, right? Later, snuggling down in the warm berth, all I could hear was a little boat traffic out on the river. The steady breeze out of the northwest didn’t bother Moon Song much. What tranquility!

     The next morning, I woke early and after a peanut butter breakfast, I dinghied ashore to stroll the beach. I missed the pilothouse, but the remains of the fish factory were just as I remembered them. Rowing back to Moon Song I noticed the breeze had a little sharp edge, a reminder that autumn storms were coming soon. Back aboard I cranked up the engine, hauled up the anchor and turned Moon Song out into mid-channel, where I joined the parade of fishing boats and sailboats. We headed out toward Windmill Point.

     Thanks to the autopilot, the rest of the trip was pleasant and uneventful. Moon Song glided into her slip and was soon secure. I shut the engine down. It’s a short walk up to the house, where I fixed a glass of iced tea and plopped down into a comfortable chair.

I’d no sooner fallen asleep when I heard the front door open. “Hi, I’m back,” Dixie said as she walked out onto the porch. “I’m glad to see you here safe and sound. I thought for sure you’d try to take the boat around to Cherry Point by yourself.” She stopped suddenly and looked out at Moon Song. “Wait a minute,” she said. “What’s that piled up on the anchor? Is that mud?”

     “I dunno,” I said. “Where did that come from?”