Comparing Places -
August 14, 2003
Before this year we had moved either further south or further north to do our summer cruising. The main point was to be somewhere safe for hurricane season. We spent four summers in the Caribbean (Venezuela, Trinidad, and Guatemala) and four in Chesapeake Bay. This year we decided to head for new waters and ended up in New England. Although it seems like half the world lives here (see last week's entry, "Joining the Crowd"), it's all new to us. With barely three weeks of New England cruising under our belts, we'll brazenly offer our opinions on how cruising up here compares with what we've experienced in the Chesapeake in previous summers (we won't attempt a Caribbean comparison because, well, it's really not comparable).
It's hot, hazy and windless in the Chesapeake in the summer. Except when there's a thunderstorm, then it's VERY windy and not so hot. It's definitely cooler and windier in New England (each time she steps out of bed in the morning, Eileen regrets she threw out her tattered slippers a few months ago). It's also foggy and rains a lot. The locals tell us that the amount of rain we're experiencing this year is unusual. We don't know whether to believe them. There's so much mould growing inside "Little Gidding" we're thinking of starting up a commercial mushroom growing operation in the bilge. Comfort-wise, we'd say it's a draw between the two climes.
Both places are well charted and have good aids to navigation. Interestingly, you won't find an island named "Rhode" on a New England chart. By the same token, neither Chesapeake, VA, nor Chesapeake City, MD, are located on Chesapeake Bay.
If you pay attention to the charts and the buoys, you're safe. If you're like us and sometimes stray where you shouldn't because you weren't watching the markers or forgot to check the chart, you'll pay the consequences. There's a lot of shallow water in the Chesapeake and we've ploughed the mud on more than one occasion. In New England, the water's deeper but there seem to be an awful lot of rocks poking up from the depths. We'll take the mud over the rocks.
Early morning summer fog in Narragansett Bay
Annapolis in the Chesapeake claims to be the sailing capital of the world. Newport in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, boasts the same. There are a lot of boats and boaters in both bodies of water. Rhode Island can lay claim to the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, arguably the designers and builders of the world's finest yachts (now a museum in Bristol). Respected companies like Hinckley, Shannon, Alden, Freedom, and Pearson continue this boat building tradition. Annapolis has the prestigious US Naval Academy and the US Sailboat Show, the world's oldest and largest in-water sailboat show. Newport's main waterfront drag is called America's Cup Avenue for all of the campaigns that have been fought in local waters (it might be a few years before this happens again). Several cruising rallies and world racing events start out of the Chesapeake. We won't declare a winner in this category - it could result in some spilt blood.
English is not spoken
in either place. In the crowded waters near Norfolk, the radio traffic
on channel 13 (the commercial boat channel) is non-stop.
It's always a toss-up whether a waterman is telling you you're on a collision
course or wishing you good morning. In Boston, a music fan asked Eileen
to sign a CD for "Barb". The woman looked at the inscription
in dismay and said, "My husband's name is Barb, not Barb; that's
The Herreshoff museum in Bristol chronicles an illustrious boat building tradition. In the foreground is "Spartan", a NY Yacht Club 50 built in 1913; behind is "Defiant", Bill Koch's 1992 America's Cup contender
Friendliness of the Natives
We've felt welcome wherever we've cruised in the Chesapeake AND in New England. People ask if they can drive you to a local store, give you advice on where to go and what to see, and invite you to join them in social activities. A couple of examples. Last Wednesday, we went to the Portuguese American Citizens Club in Jamestown for dinner. It's got the best prices in town for food and beer. It's also the happening place on Wednesdays because that's karaoke night. The club was packed with people of all ages; we all sang together and had a great time. Eileen's rendition of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" brought the house down.
In Tangier Island a few summers ago we stopped in at a sandwich shop for soft shell crab sandwiches. Our accents gave us away and we had to admit we were Canadian. At this announcement, the woman behind the counter produced a letter she had received from a cousin in France and asked if we could translate it for her (ALL Canadians speak French, after all). We gulped and struggled through the missive. Soon it became a group exercise as everyone else in the restaurant offered their comments. By the end of the evening, we knew the life stories of half the population of Tangier, plus those of a good portion of France.
We're not suggesting that the Chesapeake and New England are identical. Far from it - they're quite distinct in physical landscape, history, and culture. But from the viewpoint of a transient cruiser, there are common threads that make both places well worth visiting. It's convinced us that we want to continue exploring new cruising grounds. Maybe next summer we'll make it all the way north to the Canadian maritimes. We hear they have fog and rocks there, too ...