We woke to drizzle and dragged ourselves and the anchor up to face the day. About two hours after leaving Rhode River it turned out to be the venue of a drama far greater than we’d expected. Monitoring channel 16 on the VHF is generally agreed to be good practice for yachtsmen. Turns out, though, that if you hear a call for help you’re obliged to render it. Hence many boaters simply switch their radios off until, like agnostics, they switch them back on with a cry for help. We are true believers. The drama playing out was a boat fire on a 25’ Catalina at the mouth of the Rhode River. A call to Coast Guard turned into a Pan-Pan-Pan, the boaters equivalent of a cry for help or a long-avoided confession. The Coasties kept calling and for long minutes received no reply. A voice cracked out of the ether, “Coast Guard this is ‘Selkie’ we are in the area and will lend assistance,” hailed a pucker British accent. That was the point at which we knew that all would be well. Several minutes later the captain of the stricken vessel finally confirmed that all aboard were wearing life jackets and they were doing their best to manage things and that despite a Mayday call things weren’t as bad as they might appear. Then, nothing… minutes passed, nothing. What the hell happened, we wondered? We waited and then got distracted by our own navigational questions, until 20 minutes later the Coast Guard ordered a stand down and that things were finally looking up. And indeed that sparked a bit of wind and we picked up a couple of knots.
The weather never really lifted. It was a cloudy day, but any day on a boat makes for a better time. Mostly. With the best of intentions we focused our efforts on continuing south. The dual challenges of waking late and Autumn’s shorter days made for ambitious goals with conservative ends. Eventually we turned east into the channel between grounding and Tilghman Island and on into the Choptank River. With a drop in the wind we started up the engine confident that all would be well. Hah! Coughing and spluttering Otto gasped and wheezed and sounded like he had the day before. Unhappy indeed. He cried out for a draught beer, or at least some filtered fuel. There was enough of a draft that we continued on to the bay past Todd’s point and dropped the anchor under sail – just for grins of course. Having worked out that the secret to anchoring in the Chesapeake is to do as little as possible and let the anchor set itself, we figured that even with a wind shift we’d be set for the night. And we were.
The next morning, that would be Saturday, we decided, with a small craft warning in the forecast, the least we could do would be to trouble Mr. Buffet for a lift from our new-found friends at TowBoat US. In short order Trevor turned up with his vessel the Tow Jamm II – earning bonus points for the worst/best pun within a hundred nautical miles. To Oxford we cried! And off we went to Brewer’s Oxford Marina because they answered their phones first. Trevor was both charming and complimentary of Aleta, ‘she moves well through the water.’
The adventure begins when things go wrong. Had we not run out of gas for a second time in two days we would not have walked the entire town of Oxford, dined well at Doc’s, or met Eric the mechanic. None of that would have happened. Whatever the cost of our chagrin and embarrassment at now having, really(?), run out of fuel twice, we found solace in a wonderful neck of the woods populated with non-judgmental people that gave away as many flavors of ice cream on the last day of season as you could eat. We gassed up on departing and armed with the knowledge that all we have to do to keep going is continue to turn valves until every permutation of fuel filter was aligned with each and every fuel tank, the likelihood we’d ever stop faded like an old photograph.
We liked Oxford. We thought we might stay longer. But the south called and on we went.