The Schooner Alliance calmly slipped away from the fuel dock at Georgetown Yacht Haven and headed downriver towards the main body of the Chesapeake Bay. After weeks of yard repairs taking longer than anyone anticipated, the crew is relieved to be underway at last. Winds are light from the west and Alliance turned more than her fair share of heads as she motored down the Sassafras River. After entering the Chesapeake, Alliance turned north for the Elk River and onto the C&D Canal bound for the Atlantic Ocean.
Sailing the inland waterways of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is a novel experience for most involved. However, given the vast sailing background of the crew aboard Alliance, there are plenty of stories shared and people pointing out local landmarks adding bits of history over our first sunset.
The first watch of the day starts very early, just after midnight. Each watch lasts four hours and consists of someone standing at the lookout to keep an eye out for marine traffic or obstacles in the water. Another crew member heads below to conduct a thorough boat check, making sure that everything is ship-shape and reporting anything out of the ordinary to the watch leader. After making sure that everything looks good there is time to relax and enjoy the tapestry of stars laid out above the ship. This close to shore there is still some light pollution, but the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye nonetheless.
My first boat check of the trip is complete and all systems are normal, though there are a lot of ladders on Alliance. Chef Ben has prepared brownies for the overnight watch crews.
The first watch of the transit is complete. I got to spend some time steering the vessel as we navigated the C&D Canal which was a unique new experience. After all that I am ready to get some sleep and see where we are when I wake up!
The first full night aboard is complete, and honestly, I slept better than I expected. Having never slept aboard a ship underway I was unsure of what to expect. While I was sleeping we stopped for a couple of hours so that Tom could do some work on the engine. Had no one told me, I would’ve been none the wiser. A quick snack and coffee before lunch.
After sandwiches and chips for lunch with other assorted snacks, we are fully away from the shore now without any land in sight. Captain Ben has also implemented crew meetings at noon every day so that we can check in and stay up to date on all the systems of the boat.
We conducted our first emergency drill of the voyage. A man overboard was called at 1246 and the crew lept into action. The small boat was deployed quickly to retrieve our “victim”, one of Alliance’s life rings. The victim was reached quickly and we are back underway.
The first full daylight watch is complete with nothing exciting to report. The winds are light and the day is warm. Now it is time for chores. Mike and I are responsible for cleaning the floors and toilets of the crew cabin area of the ship. This is a smaller area, so the task is easy enough for the two of us to split up.
All of the chores are done and there is enough time to take some photos and get some filming in before a quick pre-dinner nap.
Dinner is ready in the galley. Chef Ben has made a Mediterranean feast for dinner including kebab chicken and falafel! This is one of my favorite meals that I have had while aboard one of our schooners. There are certainly worse places to have dinner than on the deck of a schooner while sailing the Atlantic Ocean.
The night air is cool but certainly not cold. A sweatshirt and a pair of jeans will suffice to keep me warm tonight. One constant thing to remember when standing night watch is making sure to remember that you are harnessed to the deck. This isn’t so bad as you stand at bow watch because you don’t move much. During boat checks the constant clipping and unclipping get somewhat tiresome.
There are several fishing boats that we can see on the horizon tonight. We generally keep a substantial distance from them, rarely coming closer to them than a couple of miles.
While on my second stretch of lookout, Captain Ben alerted me to something in the water that he called “Tron Dolphins”. I didn’t understand what he meant until I looked over the bow and saw a group of seven dolphins dancing around the bow. In the darkness, as dolphins swam around the water they disturbed some bioluminescent algae leaning glowing streaks of light behind them. It is truly an incredible experience!
Coffee and granola bars for a quick breakfast before lunch. One unintended side effect of this transit is that it has dramatically reduced my caffeine intake, though I can’t say I have felt much by way of repercussions from this so far. A bit of filming before lunch.
Lunch and a quick staff meeting. All seems to be normal, we are anticipating heading into a stronger headwind later today or early tomorrow.
It continues to stay warm without much breeze for relief. The seas are calm and we continue to motor along making decent progress.
My watch has been completed along with my chores for the day. I am heading below to get some rest before dinner. The winds are picking up slightly.
I awoke from my pre-dinner nap to a lot of motion and noise from the ship. The sound of waves crashing against the hull along with the howl of the wind made for a somewhat foreboding wakeup call. I was fairly surprised that this didn’t wake me up before my alarm. I went above deck for dinner and to see what was going on. We are sailing through a 24-knot wind blowing directly into our faces. This wind is also creating a three to five-foot swell that we have to drive directly through. The ship rising and setting down as we crash through more waves is slightly hypnotic and altogether a new experience.
Dinner was sausage, rice, and beans. Unfortunately due to the motion of the boat, I have been getting fairly nauseous and dinner was not cooperating with my stomach. Chef Ben has given me some ginger chews to help and Mike has found our supply of Dramamine. I am attempting to stay hydrated and get on a good course of anti-motion sickness meds.
I am back on watch with a pocket full of ginger chews. The wind and waves have not relented but the air has turned cold and that is helping tremendously with my motion sickness.
Working through boat checks with the rough seas is making things much more difficult. I am finding that I have to go very quickly to avoid any flare-ups. I am hoping that the winds will die down soon.
The winds have calmed and the seas are flat once more. We are back to making steady progress with the motor and meals are far more enjoyable now. Even though the sun is fully up the air has remained cold. We are entering the Gulf of Maine. This crossing marks the furthest we will be from shore for the entirety of the trip. This is a strange feeling, like standing near the edge of a tall cliff.
Nearing the end of the watch there seems to be a large fog bank rolling in from the east, something to keep an eye on. Capt. Ben is hoping that it will burn off and break up before it becomes problematic for us.
As a part of my chores for the day, I am helping Chef Ben to prepare the evening meal. Mostly this means peeling garlic and chopping vegetables, but I enjoy this kind of work so it is no bother to me. We are having pulled pork tacos for dinner along with seasoned sweet potato fries.
The fog came in so Capt. Ben had to rip up the fog horn which seemed to be pointed directly at my bunk, making naps slightly more difficult. The tacos and fries came out wonderfully if I do say so myself.
One thing I will miss after this trip is over are the spectacular sunsets. The sky is painted in every color of sunset from the brightest reds and yellows to the darkest blues leading into the starry tapestry of night.
It has only gotten colder and getting prepared for watch takes a little bit longer. Layering on all of my foul weather gear, which sat neglected for the first half of the trip, adds a bit of bulk and certainly will make getting in and out of the bilges slightly more difficult. However, something is refreshing about the cold salt air now that the wind is not as biting as yesterday.
As I am sitting at the stern of the Alliance I can look through the map that we have for navigation and we are tantalizingly close to the Nova Scotian mainland! One interesting note. When we were first underway and I was relieved from the watch at 0400 it was still pitch black outside. After traveling east and northeast for five days, the sun is already starting to rise as we are relieved from watch. This is something that I knew intellectually but had no practical understanding of until this trip.
Taking all of the layers off after watch is becoming an equally daunting task. However, my tiredness only drives my desire to be back in my warm bunk.
When I awoke, someone pointed at the horizon and for the first time since departing southern New Jersey I saw land! We had come upon Nova Scotia in the early morning. We will spend the day steaming along the coast bound for Lunenburg. It is nice to see land again.
While near the Gulf of Maine and Nova Scotia, we came across a pod of whales. They would breach briefly and then dive back under. No one ever got a close enough look to identify them, but they were a cool sight nonetheless. Being this close to shore also means most people have cell reception again and it was a nice relief speaking with loved ones again.
We are officially under 100 miles to Lunenburg! We are making steady progress towards our destination and then on to home.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t spend a good chunk of my watch staring at our navigation screen watching miles roll away. Though this has been an amazing trip, I am also excited to get home.
After coming on deck I was stunned to see that we were nearing shore! We had entered the channel leading into Lunenburg, and around us was a beautiful array of scenery that was reminiscent of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The shores were rocky in places with large stands of pine trees. It was truly a spectacular sight.
We have docked at Adams and Knickle in Lunenburg. Pete, our Second Mate, called Canadian Customs and we are officially cleared in thus bringing our adventure to a close. It was truly a remarkable experience and one that I will never forget. Now all that lies between us and home is 28 hours of driving and 1,600 miles of Canadian highway — maybe we’ll see a moose!
This blog post was written by ISEA Marketing and Communication Coordinator Harrison Fischer about the experiences aboard Schooner Alliance during leg 1 of the transit from Maryland to Suttons Bay. If you would like to contribute a blog post to Inland Seas please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog is provided on behalf of Inland Seas Education Association (ISEA). ISEA’s mission is to inspire a lifetime of Great Lakes curiosity, stewardship, and passion in people of all ages. We do this through hands-on educational programs based on our schooners or in our local watershed. To learn more about ISEA please visit scholarship.org.