Sometimes we learn the hard way. We dropped anchor in Herring Bay on the evening of July 22nd 2016, hoping to lighten the intensity of the passage south down the Chesapeake. Not recommended. Rolly, rolly, rolly. As one wave, then another, then another rolled under our anchored vessel. The sun was setting. Should we stay or should we go? Could our stomachs make it overnight in this spot?On the chart: Herring Bay, ever heard of it?
Probably not. That’s ok. On our chart Herring Bay appears to be clearly outlined as an open indentation in the western shoreline with what we considered protection from the open Bay. We were willing to try anything to prevent ourselves from having to sail an 18-hour day of Prospect Bay, Eastern Bay, south past the Choptank, to Solomon’s like we had done before. Sailing a huge, long day like that is exhausting and can be unenjoyable. We both had the expectation going into this journey to take our time trekking down to Jamestown, our intended destination of our final summer sailing trip. Little did we know what lay ahead of us.
We had left Mears Point at 0830, hailed the bridge at Kent Narrows for the 0900 opening, and had sailed, with light to moderate winds (surprise for the summer), the 10 miles through the Eastern Bay. Our speed was between 5.1 and 6.1 knots that day. We were both happy to have an alternate route than what we had done sailing this way before. This time we had added the anchorage at Herring Bay.
Cruising Guide Description
The Chesapeake Bay Cruising Guide marks Herring Bay as a potential dockage and anchorage spot on the western shore, but we failed to notice the clues it gave that it may not be the best place to anchor for the night. It reads that “you can anchor between Holland Point and Rockhold Creet at the base of the Fairhaven Cliffs…some boats do stay over night. Open to cooling breezes, but it can be rolly. The Verizon signal is strong here, as are some boat wakes!” Hint: Don’t anchor here for the night. You will be uncomfortable.
Clueless to Discomfort
We dropped anchor after being out on the water for seven hours. The winds had died down a bit, but the July temperatures had not. It was still hot. We followed the directions on both the chart (as far as depth) and the Cruising Guide (as to what to look for). It was a bit tricky to stay in the deepest part (we always fear running aground with our low draft) but out of the channel. We finally felt like we were in a secure anchor location, but we were clueless about this place.
The Fairhaven Cliffs were pretty in the distance as we scanned the horizon in the cockpit. For the first few minutes, all seemed well. I headed down below to put together a chicken pasta dinner in the galley for us, and Damian made some notes in our log. Jet skis zoomed around us, and a several boats (mostly power) chugged through the channel. Their wakes bounced and bobbed Gem&I up and down in a steady motion. We both assumed the wakes would settle given some time.
But it didn’t calm down. I braced myself against the galley counter each time the boat rolled. I used our gimbal stove to prepare our meal and clipped the skillet and the pot securely. Then I started to feel the churning in my stomach. Was I feeling seasick? I mentioned my concern to Damian, who reminded me to look at the horizon. I quickly peered out of the portholes above the galley to catch the horizon in an attempt to balance and control the queasiness I was feeling. We just kept bouncing. I told myself to muster through.
Dinner and our seasick cat
BoohBah (our nickname for our cat, Schnitzel) was happy to have his life jacket off as it made him rather toasty in the summer heat. He meandered around the deck and cockpit like usual, awaiting his supper. Before long, dinner was on the table, and we had laid out a plate of cat food on the floor of the cockpit for our little guy. Together we talked about our upcoming sail planned for the next day, enjoyed the sunset, and discussed the possibility of visiting my grandparents (who live along the Chesapeake Bay in Seaford) along the way.
We had not finished but two minutes, and BoohBah was hacking up his meal on the deck above the hatch.
“Oh, no! I think he’s seasick.”
“Poor kid. What should we do?”
After a quick cleanup of the cat’s mess, we turned around to see him puking up more of his food in the cockpit. From there, he wheezed and wheezed as if to dry heave. But he had nothing left in his little tummy, so nothing more came up. Damian and I were greatly concerned. We did not want him to get dehydrated in the apparent heat.
Having just digested my own dinner, my full stomach was also telling my brain that something was not right too. How was I going to sleep with the boat rolling like this? I wasn’t most likely. It would be a miserable night, and in the back of my mind, I braced for it.
Damian, on the other hand, was contemplating in the cockpit. Schnitzel lay exhausted beside him, beat from traveling all day and from the violence of being sick. As the sun set behind the cliffs to the west, he shared with me the idea of possibly pulling up anchor and setting out for a night sail to Solomon’s. He just couldn’t get over how helpless the poor cat was and how much more he would have to endure if we stayed.
Hearing this new plan, I was relieved as I had been dreading my future attempts to sleep at anchor here too that night. We had never night sailed before but felt the need to leave Herring Bay and find refuge at an air-conditioned dockage location further south. One we would be familiar with in Solomon’s along the Patuxent. We knew that was still many hours away though. It would be a long night, especially now that the wind was almost non-existent.
We left Herring Bay at 2000 hours. Damian noted later in his log that Herring Bay had been a “horrible anchorage.” We motor sailed the whole way and arrived in Solomons at 0400 in the morning. It was still dark when we chugged our way in and found an empty slip at good ole Harbor Inn Marina.
Our attempt to dock in the dark
Exhausted, we backed into the slip that had two sailboats docked on either side of it. I was on the bow with two, ready lines to throw over each piling. But the slip was meant for a much larger vessel than ours, so the pilings were very far apart. Thus I had to do one at a time. I hoisted the line over the right piling on the starboard side of the boat, which glided our moving boat far to starboard, almost rubbing against the resting boat beside us.
Nevertheless, it was close enough for our cat to jump on board. Here I was on the bow of the boat, pushing off on this piling, trying not to slam Gem&I into the sleeping boat beside us, and my cat goes running off like a sneaky little burglar on someone else’s vessel! Damian, at the helm, was watching the whole episode ensue. How are we going to coax our feline friend to get back on board his home boat? At the same time, we are trying to dock this thing, in the dark, without waking up the Harbor Inn marina populace.
“BoohBah!” I whisper-shout toward the neighboring sailboat.
“Let’s just dock this boat, and then we will worry about getting Booh-Bah,” Damian whisper-shouts back at me.
Damian cut the engine. It was then that I heard the snoring. It was coming from the open hatch of the other docked sailboat to our port. Now, let me tell you, my Pa used to snore so loud that it sounded like a train whaling down the hallways when my cousins and we would stay with my grandparents. This snoring was definitely of that caliber and made us well-aware that these boats were loaded with real sleeping people that we better not wake up in the midst of our docking debacle.
We got right back to work pushing ourselves over to the other piling to loop the line over it from the bow. Damian secured the two stern lines in the back and then raced over toward the vessel with our visiting cat aboard. Schnitzel had been gallivanting all over the deck, peering into little places, and exploring the boat as if he had been invited on over to take the grand tour. How embarrassing! Not sure what convinced him to leap back over to our boat, but we were oh so grateful.
We plugged ourselves into the power on the dock and started up the air-conditioning. We climbed down below with the cat, boarded up the hatch, and settled in for the a good night’s sleep as the sun crested the eastern horizon and began its morning ascent.
Your Turn: We would love to hear from you! Let us know what are your “never again” anchorages that you encourage others to stay away from on the Chesapeake Bay and explain why.