The Route South

Sunday, July 30, 2006


I’m hot, you’re hot, he’s hot, she’s hot.
I’m hot, you’re hot, he’s hot, she’s hot
“Hot, Hot, Hot!”
Buster Poindexter

Unless you live in Seattle or San Francisco or maybe Alaska you know what Buster was talking about. I returned to my “Cindy by the Bay” (apologies to Tony Bennett) just in time for a heat wave. The forecast was for record-breaking heat for most of the country, from the Rockies to the Atlantic coast. The Chesapeake in the summer is famous for the three H’s, Hot, Hazy and Humid, so we decided to do a road trip

Sunday July 30, 2006
Today we went across the Patuxent to visit Sotterley Plantation, a pre-American Revolution site. This place, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, receives very little play in the cruising guides but friends told us about it and we decided to have a look. The old plantation house has been restored and is opened, with a guided tour. The plantation is managed by a foundation and most of the work, including the tour guides, is done with volunteers. We had an enjoyable and informative trip through the house as well as visiting the old slave cabin, icehouse, smokehouse, Customs house and gardens. The site is high on a long bluff, overlooking the Patuxent, with a trail down to the wharf. As we sat on the long porch overlooking the river, the breeze cooled us off and I could see myself whiling away the afternoon, swinging in my hammock while my serving wench brought me cold drinks. Cindy was less enthusiastic.

Tobacco was the cash crop that put the New World on the map and Sotterley was just one of many plantations that prospered. The plantation has had only three families as owners in its three hundred year history. Without a doubt, when most of the others fell by the wayside, what saved it is that the last owner, a Mr. Satterley (note the difference in spelling), was a wealthy New York lawyer and the son-in-law of J.P. Morgan. Obviously, he had plenty of money to restore and preserve the plantation. It was a working farm until sometime in the 1960’s when the last surviving family member formed the foundation to manage the property upon her death. It is a beautiful location and gives insight into what it was like “back in the day”. Cindy kept pointing to things that reminded her of her family home, a pre-Civil War plantation in Ghent, Kentucky.
Patuxent River view from Greenwell State Park.
Barn and equestrian facility at Greenwell State Park.
Rolling fields - Sotterley Plantation.
Plantation house - Sotterley Plantation
Riverside view of Sotterley
Slave cabin - Sotterley Plantation
Garden - Sotterley Plantation

Monday July 31, 2006
We headed out in earnest for our road trip. First stop was to be Mount Vernon, of George Washington fame. It is sited on the Potomac River, just south of Alexandria and Washington DC so back across the Patuxent we went. We traveled north to US-301, over the bridge across the Potomac and into Virginia. We were amazed at how much better the roads seemed to be in Maryland. As we got closer to DC the road traffic increased and became much more hectic. Finally we found the turnoff of US-1, to take us to Mt. Vernon. Having spent the previous day at quiet Sotterly Plantation, we were taken aback at the crowds when we arrived at Mt. Vernon. The parking area was huge and the entrance, gates and Visitor’s Center were built to accommodate masses of tourists. It reminded us of Disney World, in Orlando, a place we have been fairly successful at avoiding. But we paid our $14 each and followed the herd in. The grounds are open for wandering around and there are several areas where there are docents in period costumes explaining various aspects of the plantation life and describing what it was like there for George and Martha. Actually, it was mostly Martha’s house. George was busy beating the British and being the father of our country. Remember your high school social studies…the capitol was originally in Philadelphia. Since Air Force One was a horse carriage back then, poor George didn’t get to see much of his beloved home and when he retired to Mt. Vernon after his years as President, he only lived for a few years. The waiting line to take the guided tour of the house was about 15-20 minutes but we found some shade to make it tolerable. Unfortunately, much of the exterior of the house was under renovation, with scaffolding and tarps spread out. Certainly, a big old place like this has got to be under constant renovation but it was disappointing that it was unsightly. I didn’t take a single picture. Once inside though, the tour was pleasant, informative and air-conditioned. The furnishings were mostly Washington’s own. Truly, George Washington slept here!

Perhaps the big surprise of the day was to find out that Mt. Vernon doesn’t belong to us! We assumed that, as a national treasure, it was owned and operated by the National Park Service, but somehow, this place has either slipped through their fingers or they didn’t want another money pit. Another foundation is hard at work managing yet another pre-Revolutionary War plantation. That’s got to be a tough job. By lunchtime we were hot, hungry and ready to get on the road. We had a couple of Martha-burgers (Yuck!) at the food court in the Visitor’s Center before heading to the mountains. Although the history of the place was great, I preferred Sotterly.

Back out on the highway, we picked up the Beltway around DC and headed west on I-66, past Dulles Airport on the way to Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park. It was 103° on the car thermometer. We missed the worst of the traffic by waiting until after morning rush hour to head to DC and Mt. Vernon and now we were out of DC before the afternoon rush. The drive wasn’t unpleasant and it wasn’t long before we were off the Interstate at the town of Front Royal, the northern entrance to Skyline Drive. (No, its not Fort Royal…look it up) As the car climbed into the mountains we happily watched the temperature drop lower. By the time we got to the first Visitor’s Center, it was pleasant; the temperature was fully 10 or 12 degrees lower. We had an enjoyable drive along Skyline Drive, stopping at several times but it was so hazy that the scenic overlooks weren’t.

We stopped at the night at one of the NPS lodges, Skyland. If the term “National Park Lodge” conjures up visions of the great lodges of Yosemite or Yellowstone you would be sadly disappointed. However, this place was very nice and I’m sure that at a different time the view would have been spectacular. When we checked into our room, we found that the plate glass windows faced west, directly into the sun. The cross ventilation was provided by a one foot square opening window in the bathroom and a small opening window in the front door so the room was quite hot. Since this place was built without air-conditioning, we were beginning to think we had made a big mistake. However, we asked the young lady at the front desk and she moved us to a different room, one with a ceiling fan and it made all the difference in the world. After dinner at the lodge we took a drive further down Skyline Drive. I was hoping to get some dramatic sunset photos but the sun just kinda’ disappeared into a muddy, hazy sky. No color and no view. We did see lots of whitetail deer though.

Tuesday August 1, 2006
After breakfast, we put our stuff in the car and headed out. It got down into the low 70’s overnight and we rolled the windows down for the first two hours of the drive. Unfortunately the temperature climbed as we traveled down to the lower elevations and as we approached the end of Skyline Drive the windows were up and the air-conditioning was back on.

We headed east on I-64, skirting Charlottesville, until we got to the exit at the town of Keswick. A word of explanation; there are two Jane’s in our life. In order to keep them straight we call them “Doctor Jane”, a doctor friend or “Sister Jane”, not a nun but a lawyer and my sibling. Since Sister Jane and her husband Sam used to live in Keswick, we thought it would be fun to find their old homestead. Unfortunately, too much time has passed and we couldn’t identify the turnoff onto the small road that led to their house. Keswick has changed quite a bit, but it is still horse country.

We traveled up Route 231 to Gordonsville, which we remembered from an earlier visit, and on up Route15 to the town of Orange, where we stopped for lunch at Jean’s Dinner. We are really in Small Town America. Jean’s is just like thousands of other diners around the country, linoleum floors and Formica tables - a place for working folks grab a bite and take a break from the workday. We were the only strangers there…everybody knew everybody else. I think we ate for about $10 total. Route 20 led us to Route 3, past the Wilderness and Chancellorsville National Military Parks, the sites of famous Civil War battles. (I know… some of you still call it the War of Northern Aggression) It was over 103° again so we didn’t stop, a mistake we will remedy the next time we are that way. Route 3 took us through Fredericksburg, the site of yet another famous Civil War battlefield and on to US-301, the bridge into Maryland and back across the Patuxent and home to MORNING STAR. All told, our road trip was over 500 miles.

Wednesday August 2 & Thursday August 3, 2006
Man it’s HOT! 103°± in the afternoon. We do chores or run errands in the morning and then confine ourselves to air-conditioned quarters after lunch. There’s a movie theater in Lexington Park, on the other side of the river, near the Patuxent Naval Air Station and in mid-afternoon we abandon ship in favor of the dark, frigid climate of the movies. One day we saw “Miami Vice” and the next we saw “Monster House”. “Miami Vice” was based on the TV show of the same name. Fast cars, fast boats, fast women. What’s not to like? Well, there was a lot of violent gunplay and what little dialogue there was, was hard to understand. “Monster House” was aimed toward kids and the story line was fairly predictable - mean neighbor man living in an evil, haunted house, terrorizing the neighborhood kids. However, the entire film was computer animated and it was fascinating. They have come a long way since Walt Disney did “Fantasia” one sheet of paper at a time! We enjoyed it but I imagine that the seven year olds in the audience had some bad dreams that night.

Every evening we take a harbor cruise in the dinghy in order to check out any new boats and to see who has left. I’ve noticed that the dinghy has been going slower. Since the boat has been in the water for at least six weeks it must be time to clean the bottom. One morning we removed the outboard motor and emptied the boat so we could flip it over. I figured that I’d be able to scrub it off with a brush in no time flat. Wrong! There was a solid carpet of slime and growth almost ½” thick covering the bottom, both on the fiberglass bottom as well as the air tubes. Well, four hours and two trips to the hardware store and three scrapers later, the bottom of the dinghy was clean again. We decided that when I leave every two weeks, we would raise the dinghy up on the davits to discourage this in the future. Interestingly, there were only one or two barnacles.
Cindy kept two crab traps off the back of the boat.
They had to be checked, emptied and rebaited daily.
Harvest time!
UMMM!  The fruits of her labors.

Friday August 4, 2006
The heat is finally starting to break. This morning there wasn’t the oppressive, breathtaking blanket of heat when we walked out of the cabin. It’s only going to be in the mid-90’s today with rain forecast for the afternoon and evening hours. We decided to drive up to Annapolis since we enjoy visiting that town. There is a great marine supply store, Fawcett’s, located on “Ego Alley”. Our plan was to drive to Annapolis, visit Fawcett’s, have lunch at Middleton’s Tavern (circa 1750), wander around a bit, stop by the ice cream shop and then head back south, stopping at Herrington Harbor along the way. We are starting to interview marinas and yards for a winter home for MORNING STAR.

As we approached the bridge over Spa Creek in Annapolis, Cindy pointed ahead at a couple walking along the sidewalk and said, “that looks like Chuck and Barb Shipley”. We pulled over and gave them a ride. Their boat, a Krogen 48 named “Tusen Takk 2”, was tied up in Eastport, on the south side of Spa Creek. They were walking to Fawcett’s so they hopped aboard. We had lunch together after shopping and then parted ways as they had more shopping to do.

Herrington Harbor is huge! They have dry storage for probably 3000 boats. We talked about the price and the process with their very knowledgeable staff. We have a lot of studying to do since we don’t have to winterize our boats against freezing in Florida and don’t have a clue what we need to do.

Saturday August 5, 2006
Although it didn’t rain last night as promised, it is definitely cooler this morning. We started the engine and headed out across the Bay, destination, the Little Choptank River. As we crossed to the Easter Shore, we both commented that the haze was gone, we could see both shores clearly. Without a doubt, this is the clearest day we have seen since we got here.

When we got to the Little Choptank we decided to head up Fishing Creek. The water was pretty thin and we didn’t much care for what we saw so we did an about-face and headed back down the river to Hudson Creek. We heard about this creek from Krogen friends and decided to check it out. There was one boat anchored near the moth of the creek. We ran up the creek for about two miles. The water was pretty shallow and the creek was pretty narrow so we went back to the mouth to anchor. Fortunately there is plenty of room so we didn’t crowd the sailboat that was there first. In fact, another powerboat came in and anchored before sundown and there was room for everybody. By late afternoon it was getting pretty warm so we fired up the genset and air-conditioner and ran it until well after sunset.

Sunday August 6, 2006
We originally thought we would stay out two nights but frankly, we didn’t care much for the Little Choptank so we decided to head back to Solomon’s. It was a beautiful day with very little breeze, perfect for running a trawler down the Bay.

We were back at the mouth of the Patuxent around lunchtime so we headed up the river to see Sotterly Plantation and Greenwell State Park from the water. We have heard about St. Leonard’s Creek and it sounds like a great anchorage. The run up the river was pleasant, the State Park and Sotterly were interesting and St. Leonard’s creek looks very pretty. However, we decided to head back down the river and tie up in our slip for the night. We are both flying back to Clearwater on Tuesday and since Cindy won’t be staying on the boat, we have chores to do to get the boat ready for our absence. A refreshing swim in the marina’s pool chased the heat away for a couple of hours. Dinner and a good night’s sleep prepared us for our day of chores on Monday and a Tuesday departure