A Travellerspoint blog

Delaware City, DE

overcast 74 °F

We decided to head to Delaware City, on the Delaware River. That location should put us in reach of Cape May, NJ. The transit included the 14 mile long Chesapeake-Delaware Canal. I thought that the tide in the canal might be against us part of the way, slowing us down, so we chose to leave very early, giving us more time. I was up before 0530 and was very groggy, not having slept well the night before. It seemed a good idea to check the engine first thing lest I forget it later. Up went the hatch. Looked at the coolant .... good. Pulled the dipstick to check the oil .... good. Closed everything up and noticed as I headed to my next task that I still had 18-in. of dipstick in my hand. Ooooops! Not a good plan. We were underway by 0615, the sky overcast. the temperature comfortable, and with a haze on the water. Rather than restrict visibility, for some reason, that particular hazy quality of light made it much easier to see things on the water like buoys. Regardless, we turned on the navigation lights just as a caution.

We made good time, taking the same 1-1/2 hours for the reverse trip back to the Bay although at that point it seems to be more the Susquehanna River than the Chesapeake Bay. We had about 8 miles when we turned north, pretty straightforward, a wide deep channel suitable for commercial traffic which left us plenty of room as there was no commercial traffic. There were a couple of long, straight stretches that had lighted ranges, different from my USN days in the 60's when they were painted placards with lines down the center that had to be brought into alignment. The lights were very bright and visible at a distance of well over 6 miles.We passed close enough to one to get a decent look at the light .... a sealed parabolic reflector, probably no more that 6~8-in. in diameter. The light source had to be LED's, based on the quality of the light. I was amazed that something so small was visible at such a distance.

The trip to the canal was quite bucolic and quite pleasant. There were some houses along the way, but not so many and not so big; some barns and an occasional silo made it clear that this was the country not the suburbs. Most of the riverfront land was undeveloped, a startling change from many places where every inch of waterfront has been overrun, auctioned off and built up. There was a sole exception, something Carol and I had never seen in all our on water miles: a modular home park with great water views. And why not? There must have been several hundred of these looking out over the river/bay.


We hit the canal about 0930 and, sure enough, the tide was slowing us down, way down to about 4.5 knots. The canal is an interesting piece of American history about which I had never heard until we started planning this trip. It first opened in 1829 after 65 years of discussion, planning and financial failure. The object was to get from Philadelphia to Baltimore more quickly and the canal absolutely aces that, knocking well over 200 miles off the trip. I just don't have the sense of economic history that makes that time saving an important goal.


In its current iteration, the better part of two centuries on, it's a piece of work: 14-miles long, 450-ft. wide, 40~50-ft. deep. The canal is for ocean going vessels, maybe not the very largest, but pretty big. There are six bridges that span the canal. The run of the mill ICW bridge has 65-ft. of vertical clearance; all these bridges have a minimum of 135-ft. The first picture is the westernmost bridge at Chesapeake City. I suppose it is a bit of an artifact, probably built before the days of CAD/CAM, Excel and even calculators. Imagine a civil engineer building something with no more computing power than a slide rule and it remains standing. Of course, the Roman Aqueduct still stands and it predates even slide rules. The other bridge is a very old Conrail bridge; the center span goes up and down with cables, pulleys and huge concrete counterweights in the end towers. 135-ft. is about 2.5 times our mast clearance and neither Carol nor I thought that there was that much space above the mast going under the Conrail bridge. One of the other bridges seemed older and three were fairly contemporary including one that was a concrete suspension bridge similar to the ones in Charleston, SC and Brunswick, GA.


We didn't pass any large vessels in the canal but we did have to dodge three large tugs with huge barges. Lots of room, lots of depth, no problems although the prop wash and wake ricocheted back and forth across the width of the canal making for a bumpy ride. For this reason, almost the entire length of both canal banks is lined with a rock layer to prevent erosion. Except for the Chesapeake City area the canal was largely undeveloped. It was a pretty and peaceful ride. There is some tree that grows in profusion, mile after mile, along the canal banks that was in full flower; I haven't yet figured out what tree it is but they added some beauty to the passage. I had speculated that when we got to the canal's midpoint that the tide would start to work for us and at 6.8 miles that exact thing happened and we made much better speed on the last leg.


We exited the canal into the Delaware River and turned north into the tide and the river's current. The last mile was a long one, or at least a slow one. The marina is down a long, narrow channel but the water depth is pretty good. I'm not sure how we turn the boat around to head back to the channel but that's a problem for another day and the Annapolis Book of Seamanship. This marina has one point of distinction: it's the only one we have seen with landscaping and gardening. We noticed these rogue Iris out a starboard port, unexpected along the bank and so close to the water. Iris being Carol's favorite flower, although she much prefers purple ones, she lobbied for their inclusion in the blog. Big pressure on a captain to keep the crew in line.


After a cloudy, overcast day our arrival at the marina was a shock: the sun came out, it got hot and we were beset with flies and flesh eating gnats, miniature winged piranha, which were having us for an after luncheon treat. We had thought that we had left these gnats behind in Brunswick, GA. Their appearance here was not a welcome surprise since they pretty much make the cockpit off limits. I have been worried about being too cold ... today Carol hinted about the air conditioning. Big Change!


After several futile hours on the internet and blank stares from some local people I finally cracked and confirmed the code: the trees are Honey Locusts and they are ubiquitous in the area. I was told by Tim at the marina that they are thick along this street and are, now, at the end of their flowering season. A couple of weeks ago he said that the fragrance was almost overpowering. These are really big trees; we planted one at our first house in Chicago but it bore nothing in common with these giants. Maybe it just needed more years to grow; but, had it gotten this large it would have dwarfed the house.

Wednesday afternoon got quite warm by some people's standards. When I returned to the boat from a walk about Carol was splayed out on the settee, gasping, like a fish out of water, sweating, suffering and florid from the 82o "heat." In an act of mercy I turned on the A/C so that the Nordic Princess would not melt into a small puddle, dribble down to the bilge, and be pumped overboard. I thought that the weather felt pretty nice.


The marina is quite different in one other aspect, there is only one long floating dock along the canal. There is a very nice walk way along the bank of the canal that ends up in the center of a very small town, one main street, one side with buildings, the other having a park that abuts the canal, a very nice effect. The promenade ends at this former and, according to the signs, future renovated and restored hotel dating from about 1830. Hard to see how that will make economic sense, but commercial real estate is not my field.


I was unable to find when the town was established but it must have been a busy place by the early 1800's since the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal was first proposed in the 1760's These two houses positively reeked of 18-something, perhaps earlier, and look like they were designed by the same guy. The two churches that I saw dated to 1848, Episcopal, and 1852, Catholic.

Tuesday, 05/21/13, was the 49th day of the trip, seven weeks on the water. It has not gone as I planned it at the kitchen table in Spring Creek; in fact the only trip we made as laid out was from Cape Charles to Tangier Island. Everything else has been ad hoc. For all that the trip has gone well enough. I haven't shot Carol .... no guns on board; she hasn't left me .... no car. We had only two dates assigned to any part of the trip: (1) if we make it to Maine, don't arrive much before July 1st; (2) be back in a safe harbor by early August for hurricane season. Without any conscious plan, we have been drawing out the Chesapeake portion of the trip waiting on better, i.e. warmer, weather. My axiom in Chicago was that the weather was never consistently nice until after Memorial Day. We will get to Long Island after Memorial Day and that's probably an OK thing.

It's looking like I made a bad call on the weather. We laid over in Delaware City to avoid some weather that was inconvenient. We are now faced with weather that is too bad to head down the Delaware River to the Bay and then into Cape May, NJ. Carol, who can get sea sick sitting at the dock, would not appreciate the prospect of high winds over shallow water with big, choppy waves. The weather forecast has been moving the onset ever earlier on Friday, 05/24/13, the day I had thought to leave, from the evening to the early afternoon, closing the window and raising the stakes. After 66 years I'm pretty well used to doing stupid things but still aspire to avoid premeditated stupid things. So, it looks like we will spend the weekend here in Delaware City and wait for the weather to break fair.

Posted by sailziveli 09:34 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating

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