Mill Creek, Arnold, Maryland
39° 03.836 North
076° 30.577 West
The Forgiveness of Mud and Time -
By Douglas Bernon
Beyond other places we’ve returned to on our trip north, the Chesapeake Bay resonates powerfully. All day as we sailed north from Solomon’s Island, I recalled not just favorite anchorages but also absurdities, victories and crises, and I entertained Bernadette with a burnished account of my life in this area 25 and 30 years ago.
But that was the early 70s, when Cheech and Chong seemed like better models than Warren Buffet. We were more interested in organizing mid-winter dog races on the frozen pond than in planning for any tomorrows. At Fiddler’s Hill I fell in love for the first time, made friends whom I still cherish, and found a base from which to explore Annapolis, the Chesapeake, and the beginnings of adulthood.
Just before dusk, Jim called on the cell phone, asked where we were, and upon learning we were only three miles away wouldn’t accept mañana as an ETA. Proclaiming we should be daunted neither by the low tide nor past experience, he insisted we’d be immune from shallows if we were to follow him carefully into the creek. “Raise your anchor,” he told us. “I’m on my way.”
In 20 minutes, we spotted Sea Worthy, a Grand Banks 42, with Lori and Jim on the fly bridge, making her away toward Dobbins. Effortlessly, she rotated a 180 degree turn (I do envy twin screws!). Jim motioned for us to fall in behind. With gracious — and, no doubt, painful — restraint, Sea Worthy crawled slowly up the Magothy while we unrolled all our canvas and cranked up the RPMs so not to lollygag too far back. At the entrance to their Creek, they stopped completely, we caught up with them, and positioned ourselves right behind them.
In what may have been, but probably isn’t, a series of directly-related events (except in so far as they all happened to us), our tachometer had gone silent on the way up the Chesapeake, as did the alternator on our engine, and our top-of-the-mast wind indicator. It was like Ithaka had been holding things together long enough to get us to Mill Creek, and now that we were here, she was letting things rip. We have both a high-output alternator, belted to a power take-off at the front of the engine, and our regular, smaller alternator, which charges the start battery. By rerouting the power, we can use either one to charge both the house bank and start bank, which is what we’d resorted to.
We’ve had one high-output alternator die on us in the past several years, but this was the first fatality for our smaller alternator, an event for which, I pre-maturely complimented myself, we were entirely prepared because I’d bought a spare from another boat back in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala, thinking it fit perfectly. Now that I was paying real attention, and trying to make it work, I discovered the fit wasn’t close enough. So, we ended up trading in the one that didn’t fit, and buying a rebuilt alternator in Annapolis, which worked just fine, but the lessons learned and doses of humility in this little tale were many.
In addition to the tach, wind-indicator, and alternator, one of the electrical relays in our 110-220 volt charging system was refusing to do its job, so there was no way we could plug in to shore-power. Not a big deal, because we rarely do plug in, and now we were joyfully suckling at the bounty of the Ellis’s fridge. Not using much juice aboard, we only had to run the engine every four or five days, which is what we did for the several weeks we lingered at Mill Creek, until I could find and install a replacement relay and add one to our spares kit.
I’d love to state that I diagnosed all these problems on my own, proceeded calmly, and before you could say picofarad, made good all the repairs, but in fact that’s not so. Perplexed by some of the power problems, eventually I dinghied down the creek to Peninsula Yacht Services and got help from Mark, the electrician there.
I also got remembered.
As I’m explaining my various problems to Dean, Peninsula’s owner, who was sitting in his office, I watched his eyes glaze over, and his focus leave the room. He was looking inside, watching some previous movie, which is, I guess, how he so clearly recalled the scene.
“Hey,” he said. “Aren’t you the guy I pulled down off that shallow a few years back? No one gets stuck there. You were hung up bad, right?”
“Ummm, yeah,” I admitted. “That would be me.” So much for one’s delusions about accomplishments. In the real world, at the end of the day, we’re remembered best for our screw-ups.
“Well, welcome back,” he added. “Whacha need this time?”
I continued my explanations about alternators and tachs and got the help I sought. As I dinghied back to Ithaka, I thought of how clueless I generally felt when I first moved to Annapolis as a young man, and how over-my-head I felt when we were here several years back, just starting this cruise. I laughed at how familiar both feelings remain today. What we’re doing and where we’re doing it doesn’t much matter. Neither does how clever we might imagine ourselves to be at any given moment, because the more we all push our envelopes, the more fresh opportunities there are to demonstrate how little we know.