Volume 16, Issue 32 - August 7 - August 13, 2008

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Where We Live
by Steve Carr

The Bay at Night

For some the Governor’s Cup is about winning; for me, it was about magic

I hadn’t been competitively sailing for over a year, so I jumped at covering the Governor’s Cup, matched up with Annapolitan David Kim, on his snazzy Benatau 40.7, Lani’kai.

Sailing stories are usually about tacking and strategy. Sailors love that stuff. Give them enough rum, and they will talk all day about what happened in any particular race.

But my story is about magic.

The recreated Dove — one of the vessels that brought Maryland’s first colonists to America in 1634 — met racers at the finish line.

How 11 people, all strangers to me, left Bert Jabin’s marina at 4:30 in the afternoon, gathering with boats of all shapes and sizes out near Thomas Point, and ended up 13 hours later at St. Mary’s College.

Light winds and no rain were forecast. Luckily, the wind didn’t listen to the prediction: We had a steady 10-knot breeze pretty much the whole way as we beat down the Bay on a scrumptious summer night.

As the sun set like a fireball, the wind picked up and a whole new race began. I don’t think I have ever seen the Milky Way around Annapolis. But on this moonless night, there it was, with the Summer Triangle framing the middle of the twinkling mix as Jupiter loomed in the southern sky like an incoming white sun. Shooting stars blazed across the sky every few minutes, and we squealed like little kids as they burned into the atmosphere.

As if to mirror the light show in the sky, bioluminescent walnut jellies transformed our boat wake into a light show of glowing delight.

Sailing in the dark is trippy. And when you are racing with other boats, it’s hard to know who’s who. You see all these little green lights atop each mast and try to guess if it’s your competition or a boat from some other fleet.

Most boats are tricked out with the latest GPS software, so navigating is fairly easy, but checking the sails requires light. So we constantly saw flashlights shining on the front sails of our distant competitors. A big brown bat followed us from Herring Bay to Plum Point, eating the insects attracted to the light.

Adding to the light show, Calvert Cliffs and the LNG terminal at Cove Point are like spooky amusement parks on the water. As we sailed by the glowing spectacles, the radio jabbered at us to stay outside the half-mile safety zone.

The biggest threat when sailing at night on the Chesapeake is commercial container traffic. Barges and large ships are big and fast. From the time you see one until it passes is a matter of minutes. We dodged a large barge somewhere around Point No Point. The wind had almost petered out and we were hugging the Western Shore, trying to stay out of the strong current blasting up the Bay. The captain of the tug came over the VHF radio asking what all the radar blips were on his screen. On hearing it was the Governor’s Cup sailboat race and there were 150 boats in his path, he uttered an expletive and let loose with seven long blasts on his horn. There were no mishaps.

The Pax River bombing range at night adds to the surreal experience, with bell buoys and the faint silhouettes of floating targets bobbing back and forth like toys. This is the darkest section of the Upper Western Bay because the Navy has kept its land undeveloped. From Cedar Point south, it’s black nothingness for miles and miles.

Until we saw the piercing strobe light of the Point Lookout Lighthouse as daylight painted the sky a cloudy gray.

As the sun rose behind us like a red supernova, we tacked up the St. Mary’s River to cross the finish line by the college in third place, saluting the folks aboard the committee boat. After that, the biggest party on the Bay cranked up, and the stories poured forth with the rum.

On the 12-hour motor back to Annapolis at day’s end, we encountered a storm of savage proportions, complete with hail, deafening thunder, lightning blasting the water around us like a bombing range and gale-force winds.

As a press guy, I really was just along for the ride. And, boy, what a ride the 35th Governor’s Cup was!

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