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by Dan and Jan Ahart


Chapter Twenty-Three


We arrived in Baltimore on August 4, 2000 and anchored at the "Inner Harbor," which is located in the heart of the city. Less than 100 yards from where we were anchored was a city operated dinghy dock, which gave us access to all the activities available at this rebuilt area of the city. Just a short walk away were dozens of shops, restaurants, a huge aquarium, a Coast Guard cutter, a WWII submarine, a Coast Guard Lightship and the recently restored USS Constellation. The Constellation is a three masted, square rigger launched at Norfolk, Virginia in 1854. She was the last all-sail warship built by the United States and the only surviving civil war vessel still afloat. In 1859, she served as Flagship of the African Squadron charged with intercepting slave ships bound for the Americas. She captured three ships and released over 700 slaves to Monrovia, a territory set up in West Africa for freed slaves. During the Civil War, she served in the Mediterranean protecting American shipping. She served as a training ship for the U.S. Naval Academy from 1871 to 1893. During WWII, she saw duty as Flagship for the Commander of Battleship Division Five of the Atlantic Fleet. She was decommissioned by the Navy in 1955 and berthed at Inner Harbor on July 2, 1999 after a nine million dollar, five year restoration.

As we were examining one of the masts, the Constellation's rigger spotted my Aggie cap and asked us if we were from Texas. It happened that he was from Corpus Christie and he went out of his way to answer our questions. He gave us a wealth of information about the restoration of the ship, the manufacturing technique of the masts, various fittings and sails. He was a full time employee of the National Historic Seaport, which is the responsible organization for the preservation of the Constellation. His duties included adjusting and replacing all standing and working rigging as needed. His information, plus the hand held recorders given to all visitors gave us a great understanding of the Constellation's construction and her various missions. She has been about 90% restored but only partially furnished with tools and furnishings as she would have been when on active duty. Because of the poor condition she was in before the restoration, approximately 70% of her planking, ribs, deck, masts and booms had to be replaced. Finding massive oak timbers to replace those that were rotted was impossible, so much of the large replacement wood is laminated, but the restorers did a marvelous job of fitting the new wood to the old with great precision. Some interesting original equipment is still aboard, such as the huge line stoppers for the anchor line, the steering gear and much of the Captain's cabin as well as the wardroom.

We also toured Fort McHenry, which is located just outside Baltimore, and is the site of the battle, during the war of 1812 which inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the Star Spangled Banner. The war of 1812 with England was similar in a way to WWI and WWII in that the U.S. did not want to get involved, but was reluctantly dragged in. England had been at war with France since 1793 and had an irritating habit of boarding American merchant ships and pressing American seamen into service in the British navy. The U.S. finally had enough of this and declared war on England June 18, 1812. The United States Navy then began protecting American merchant ships. The United States never intended to carry the war further, but after the British defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in April of 1814, they turned their full attention to the U.S., intending to teach the rebellious and uncouth Yankees a thing or two. They did just that at Bladensburg, Maryland and Washington, D.C., burning most of our capital's buildings to the ground. They then turned their attention to Baltimore, anticipating another easy victory, but they were repulsed at Fort McHenry even after bombarding the fort for 25 hours from the morning of September 13, to the morning of September 14, 1814. The commander of Ft. McHenry, Major Armistead had a special flag made 42 feet by 30 feet so the British could see it clearly from two miles away. He knew that the British would stand off at least two miles and bombard the fort, because the fort's cannon only had a range of two miles. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and poet, was aboard a British ship in the harbor under a flag of truce. He was trying to win the release of a prisoner of war. He witnessed the all-night bombardment and the famous flag, now at the Smithsonian, was visible to him and the British throughout the battle. Frustrated after firing over 1,500 projectiles, without subduing the Americans, the British fleet retreated from Baltimore and sailed to New Orleans, intending to burn it to the ground, but they ran into a frontier General by the name of Andrew Jackson. On January 8, 1815, Jackson and his army of volunteers nearly exterminated the British invasion army, of some 25,000 soldiers. Thus ended the war of 1812.

We left Baltimore on August 8, 2000 and headed South. That night, we spent anchored off the West bank of Rhodes River. The next day, we set sail South for the Potomac River. Our intention was to sail between the navy firing range and the western shore of the Chesapeake, but no sooner had we adjusted our sails and settled in for a nice day of sailing, than we and all the other boats in the area were contacted by the navy Range Control boats and requested to turn East and sail well East of the firing range, which would soon be in use. The firing range is a buoy marked area roughly in the middle of the bay, southeast of the Patuxent River Naval Facility. The range area is about one square mile in area and is sometimes used by ships and planes to practice firing at floating targets. We were well South, and out of sight of the area by the time it was in use, but we could hear the booming of the navy guns and we saw two warships enroute to the area.

Some time after returning to a southerly heading, and at least three and a half miles from land we were suddenly inundated with flies. The wind was out of the northwest at five to ten knots so perhaps they rode the wind out to us. However they got to us, they swarmed around us by the hundreds. We felt like we were in a nightmare remake of "The Birds," with a disgusting twist. They were so bad, that we took down the sails, started the engines and generator, so we could run the air conditioner, battened all hatches and retreated inside the cabin. It took about an hour to kill all the flies inside the cabin and the floor was so littered with them that we had to get out the dirt devil and vacuum them up. There were three other sailboats in our immediate vicinity and we wondered how they coped without an inside helm.

We entered the Potomac River and three hours later we were in St. Mary's, which is a small college town on a beautiful bay on the St. Mary's River. We were still bothered by a few flies and other assorted bugs, but after dark we were able to open the boat. Once the sun went down the cool air and absence of bugs was a real relief. The next morning we motored over to the college pier and after obtaining permission from the marina manager, filled our water tanks and disposed of some garbage. We then sailed down the river and out into the Potomac once more. This time, we kept the cabin closed and used our mosquito screens over the hatches in lieu of running the air conditioner. As long as we were moving, this worked well. Our original intention was to sail up river to Colonial Beach, but shortly after noon, we changed plans and anchored in the Lower Machodoc Creek. The next day, turned out very windy with winds out of the northwest. The forecast called for rain and thunderstorms, so, we decided to stay at anchor and get a few jobs done on the boat. These included sanding and varnishing the dinghy oars, putting a new plug on a shore power cord and the inevitable rebuilding of one of the toilets. Manual flush toilets on boats are operated by a systems of valves that are operated by a pump handle. When one considers how many times a day one of these things is pumped, it is amazing that they last more than two years. The rebuilding process is really not bad, just dismantle the pump and replace the valves and gaskets. Certainly no worse than cleaning gutters. The other good news was that when the rains came, it was with considerable efficacy, which allowed us to top off our water tanks.

After two days of wind, rain and wonderfully cool temperatures, we left the Lower Machodoc at noon on the 14th and sailed northwest to Colonial Beach, Virginia, a small waterside town of mostly weekend and summer homes. It is also home to a small fishing, crabbing and oyster fleet. The channel into the harbor is narrow and the availability of anchorage space is very limited. However, our guidebook indicated that at least two restaurants had piers that could be used by patrons. We stopped at the first one and talked to the manager during dinner. We obtained permission to stay at the pier overnight and we obtained directions to the nearest supermarket, about two miles away. So, for the cost of a delicious seafood dinner, we found a secure overnight facility, albeit without water or electrical hookup, and an opportunity to replenish essential basic foods, such as pizza and ice cream. The next morning we left at 0900 and motored over to the only fuel dock in town intending to purchase fuel, fill our water tanks and drop off some garbage. But, alas, our clocks and those of the locals must have been out of sync. After looking around for about 20 minutes for any sign of human stirrings, we cast off and continued our journey North.

A weak cold front had moved in overnight, which cleared the air and brought cool temperatures and a mild North wind. It was a beautiful day to continue our journey. We motored all day and spent the night in Mattawoman Creek not far from the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia. The next day we visited the pier at Mount Vernon to ascertain the mooring and anchoring rules for a stop on the way back from Washington, D.C. We finally arrived at our anchorage in downtown Washington at 1700 on August 16th. We were within sight of the Jefferson Memorial and walking distance to the nearest subway station. Stay tuned.


Dates: 2000-08-04, 2000-08-16
Locations: Baltimore, MD; Washington D.C.
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The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.