Not...Burton on the Bay
Vol. 9, No. 31
August 2-8, 2001
Current Issue
Bay Adventures: Miriah Called the Wind to Us
Dock of the Bay
Letters to the Editor
Bay Reflections
Burton on the Bay
Chesapeake Outdoors
Not Just for Kids
Eight Days a Week
What's Playing Where
Music Notes
Sky Watch
Bay Classifieds
Behind Bay Weekly
Advertising Info
Distribution spots
Contact us
Every Voyage an Odyssey
by Sandra Martin

All voyages begin with fair prospects, but could ever a prospect have been so fair as this? The late July sun, squarely at our back, has painted the Bay with highlights of gold and lowlights of azure and deep purple. So smooth is our passage that only color breaks the shining surface ahead. Behind us, our wake spins silver and churns cream. I stand sentinel at the bow, bathed in the wind that washes away my cares. As I turn to follow the course of a quintet of pelicans, sunset strikes the heavens thunderously orange.

There’s nothing virtual about reality, I remember all over again. Neither memory nor art compares to being there. And there without compare is on the water.

Monsters on the Horizon
Where yon monster is bearing down on us full speed ahead.

I have been watching it grow. From a profile on the horizon to a ship of indeterminate direction to a presence over there, it has risen above us with immediate solidity - without breaking the silence of the deep.

We are a modest-sized Sea Ray, powered by one inboard-outboard engine. From inside, we’re comfy and commodious. Now I see that we are tiny and frail in the hands of the Bay. We are a puppet. The Bay pulls the strings.

The monster is as broad as a city block. It is as fast as a locomotive. It carries a load of box cars that, on land, three locomotives would pull. Evergreen and CSX, their logos are writ in letters big as billboards. Its massive bow cuts the water like a chain saw cuts ice.

Despite the good guidance of my guide from Tidewater Press, How to Avoid Huge Ships, I tremble as the wake this vessel throws reaches out to rock our little boat.

“To the captain of a small vessel, the distance to objects over the water appears to be much greater than it actually is,” writes Captain John W. Trimmer, striking my heart cold. Come a little closer, and we will be churned beneath heavy bows to crash and crush against a cold steel hull. Approach an hour later, and we would not see the long line linking this floating commercial colossus to the tiny tow boat that tugs it along.

Today we merely rock and roll over its widening wake onto the smooth road of water pressed flat by its mighty passage. Behind us, as the huge barge speeds into scenery, the molten sun melts beneath the horizon.

We have escaped. This time.

Magic Carpet Ride
I am no Odysseus, but my beloved Chesapeake Bay is as full of trials and monsters as his Aegean Sea. Pleasant as the prospect that begins each voyage, this is a reckoning we must make. Maybe this is why I love my weekend voyages so.

Bill Burton, who fills this space most weeks, will tell you that the only good he finds in a boat is transportation to a fishing hole. I enjoy many a fresh-caught fish dinner, but I think of my boat as a magic carpet, able to transport me from ordinary to epic life. Out here on the water, the colors are brighter, the breeze is fresher, the road freer, the soul soaring - and the dangers so huge you can’t miss them.

Like that primal furnace steaming on the Western Shore.

On the water, you get the big picture. Water is the major element of our planet. Out here, the view is 360 degrees water, and the land shrinks to the brushy, chimerical line of the horizon.

Heading south, you can’t miss this one. Look toward the Western Shore south of Chesapeake Beach, and this monster pops into view, doubling and redoubling its size as our distance shrinks. From Plum Point to Cove Point, it dominates the long, smooth sweep of Calvert’s shore.

Look for it on your Maryland Cruising Guide Chart 8, and it’s barely a scratch, just above 38 degrees 26 minutes latitude, called ‘power plant.’

But the water puts our world into perspective, and out here, you can see the elemental power of Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, where the very atoms of matter are exploded into energy. It’s not fear of explosion nor loose radiation that prickles the hair all over my body. It’s not even fear of being sucked into the thirsty mouth the power plant opens onto the Bay to cool its fiery innards. It’s another monster I must evade to reach my destination. That, this trip, happens to be Vera’s White Sands, where the danger is much more alluring.

Just as Odysseus had his Scylla and Charybdis, I’ve barely navigated round the atom-splitting demon of Calvert Cliffs when another terror rises. The Cove Point Liquid Natural Gas facility is nearly as big on my chart as it is on the water, where miles of pipe stand like giant industrial spiders a mile and a quarter out into the waters of the Bay.

Boaters braver than I thread among their legs, seeking thrills or fish. By next spring, if the facility is indeed reactivated, terrors will abound as many more of those huge ships, tankers 1,000 feet long and 150 feet wide, carry loads of liquid natural gas to unload at the plant.

The Use of Monsters
Clearly, I’m no brave Odysseus. But like him, I believe in monsters. We meet them everyday, but they’re so guilefully disguised - like the Sirens that wooed Odysseus and his men - that we can’t call them by name. We can’t arm ourselves for battle, can’t feel the spike of adrenaline, can’t feel the certainty of fighting for life and right.

Out here on the Bay, once again I live by my wits - and my chart. Danger sharpens my senses, and I stand vigilant for the crab pot float, the staked fish net, the shoal, the wreck. I’ve seen the Cyclops, that great one-eyed people-eater, in the shining eye that illuminates the state’s massive mid-Bay public works project, the reconstruction of Poplar Island with thousands of barge loads of muck dredged up from Baltimore’s harbor.

To get to Vera’s, we will evade still more monsters: ship-wrecking shoals, whirlpools and the looming concrete mass of the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge, which will make our little boat so small as we pass under that I fear a big fish will swallow us.

There, we will linger too long lotus-eating in the land of Circe. To reach our home, we must run ahead of a storm, looking over our shoulder as Zeus hurls lightening bolts and Poseidon roils the waves.

So far, every voyage has ended with fond memories. For even when monsters have struck, we have returned home - heartened, with stories to tell and fair prospects for another voyage.

Editors Note: Bill Burton is recuperating from surgery to repair tears in his rotator cuff. He will return when his writing arm is unstrapped.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly