Volume 16, Issue 23 - June 5 - June 11, 2008

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Bay Reflections

Who Owns this Bay?

Touch the Chesapeake and she is yours

by Al McKegg

A boat’s freedom of travel fascinates me. To go somewhere in a car there must be a road, but boats go wherever there’s water.

Obviously there are restrictions. If it’s too shallow, you run aground. If you take a little boat into big water, you may sink. But within certain constraints, the water provides a route to much of the world.

My sailboat, Mucho Bondo, is a humble craft. She was designed by an Australian company named RL Yachts, but she’s definitely not a yacht. She’s small — 24 feet long and less than a ton — and at one point in her life was headed for the junkyard. She sat on a trailer in a friend’s driveway for a year, partially covered by a tarp, soggy and smelling of mold. When I climbed into her cabin, I could see the pavement through a large hole in her hull.

The trailer, brand-new and solid, was worth more than she was.

The friend, dispirited by his wife’s repeated taunting about the useless wreck in the driveway (they’ve since divorced), made me a package deal: boat and trailer for $1,500. In a burst of generosity he included a porta-potty.

Two friends and I towed the boat to my house, where Janet, my wife, climbed onto the trailer frame and peered in the window at the mold, the peeling wall coverings, the gaping hole in the hull.

“I hate it,” she said. “I’m never going to see you.”

In the short run, Janet (above) was right. I spent countless hours and thousands of dollars repairing fiberglass, replacing deck fittings, upgrading Mucho Bondo to meet our needs. Gradually she became safe and seaworthy, and her looks improved. With the old wall coverings stripped away, the interior now has varnished mahogany trim, wood recycled from Kubota tractor crates.

As Janet learned that Mucho Bondo could take her to some of the most beautiful places on the Atlantic coast — solitary places where hawks migrated and dolphins leapt — her resentment vanished. She took a how-to-sail course and became an enthusiastic and competent first mate.

But the boat is still a boat, not a yacht. She comfortably accommodates two people if they like each other, but there’s definitely no room for a butler or a wine cellar.

Now picture: Mucho Bondo at anchor, rocking gently in six feet of water in a protected Chesapeake cove. A hundred yards to the south, some of the priciest real estate in Maryland. Separated from the shore by hundreds of feet of lush green lawn where peacocks strut, a modern mansion with a garage larger than my home. At water’s edge, a boathouse big enough to house 10 Mucho Bondos.

The mansion commands a glorious Bay vista to the north and east: patrolling ospreys, diving terns, squabbling gulls, plump white clouds piled on a horizon that edges miles of sun-flecked Bay.

I have the same view from Mucho Bondo. I also have the warm salt breeze on my skin, the birds’ calls in my ears, the gentle lap of waves against our hull. Unless that mansion’s owner spends time outside home, the Bay is little more than an animated painting hung outside the picture window.

In its fullness, I own it.

As evening approaches, I move, sail up a narrow, secluded creek, slipping past a great blue heron fishing in the shallows. Awaking at anchor under shading sycamores, I watch a raccoon hunt for clams and mussels at creek’s edge and a belted kingfisher cackle in flight and dive for a fish. This, too, I own, in its fullness.

Afloat or ashore, you can’t really buy it. If your boots stand on it and your eyes and ears drink it in, you own — much as Robin Hood did Prince John’s woods and fallow deer — that which a lord thought was his.


Sailor Al McKegg, of West Friendship, writes voyages and sea yarns for Bay Weekly.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.