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~ A Cut Above ~


We received this letter from Melanie Hodgdon who completed an ASA 104 level Intermediate Coastal Cruise in Chesapeake Bay on September 19-23, 2001.

My husband Ed and I had already passed ASA classes 103, 104, and 105 in Maine, so when we decided to take another sailing class we had our sights set on ASA 106, Advanced Coastal Cruising with The Maryland School. Luckily, when the school evaluated our sailing resumes they and rightly decided that we were better suited to the 104 level. Not only that, but they insisted that we each get 4 days of captaining experience under our belts before taking their 106 level. How right they were! We may have passed ASA 104 already, but from a school with far less rigorous standards than those held by The Maryland School. Clearly, not all sailing schools are created equal. 

We arrived in Rock Hall on Tuesday, after a day and a half’s travel from Maine, with the class scheduled to begin Wed at 9:00 on a gorgeous 45' Island Packet cutter, HALIMEDA. Ed and I have spent about 12 years boat hunting and have settled on the Island Packet as "our" boat, so it was nice to be able to spend some time on one, even if it was much bigger than anything we'd ever own. We had arranged to sleep on the boat Tuesday night and met our other two classmates, Dean and Dennis, on Tuesday evening, enjoying a good supper out and meeting some of the other "boat people" in the marina. Wednesday morning we met our fearless leader David Appleton, whose photo you can find on the website. Dean, Ed and I expressed our interest in practicing boat handling under power; especially docking and getting into and out of slips. We felt that these skills in particular had been under-emphasized in our previous ASA 103 classes. Although David told us that (a) because of her size, HALIMEDA  isn’t generally used for such practice and (b) these skills belong in ASA 103, during the following days he did an exceptional job in taking advantage of opportunities to let us practice. By the end of the class we all felt, if not 100% competent, at least sufficiently knowledgeable to figure out the best way to dock under different wind and sea conditions. This is reassuring. I know on our next charter, Ed and I will approach docks and fuel stations with far more confidence and good cheer than we felt last time! 

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Wednesday we spent half a day going over the boat mechanically and provisioning it. We finally left about 2:30 p.m. and headed to Annapolis, which we reached at about 7:15 after a stunning beat with the rail occasionally under, a quick duck under the Chesapeake Bay Bridges, and the sun making the wave crests sparkle. This was real sailing and turned out to be the finest weather conditions we would experience during the class! We were lucky enough to find dockage literally in town, in Ego Alley, so we could step right off the boat and go to dinner.  Ed and I actually were bitten by the sailing bug years ago in Annapolis, and it was a dream come true to return to this lovely town by boat. That evening we all got into a knot-tying frenzy and sat in the cockpit until 11:00 in the near dark tying knots, eating munchies, and telling stories.  Wonderful... 

The next day brought driving rain and hard winds, so Ed and I had a great opportunity to try out the foul weather gear we'd purchased in time for our charter last June. We hadn't gotten any real rain then, so I was thrilled to put it to the test. I was warm and dry and comfortable, which was great. Certainly worth the price. We beat from Annapolis southeast towards Oxford in poor visibility and I was amazed at the seakindliness of our heavy cruising boat. Granted we had far from typhoon conditions, but after sailing a lightweight, fin keeled “go fast” boat this past summer, we knew what white knuckled sailing was all about. Frankly, at our age, the thrill had lost its appeal. We eventually passed through Knapp Narrows and under the draw bridge, giving Dennis some radio practice. I think the next time any of us are forced to sit in our cars while a boat passes through a drawbridge, we’ll see the experience in a different light. We anchored that evening in a cove off the Tred Avon River near Oxford, MD, which is a lovely place.  Scenery is wild but the country is low, undulating, with lots of marsh grass that softens the shore. So different from our "rocky coast" home in Maine. 

Friday we headed to St. Michaels, which boasts a large marine and crabbing museum, an interesting downtown, and – most important - showers. Coming out of popular St. Michaels on a Friday afternoon we discovered about a zillion boats headed towards us, which was quite disconcerting for me as helmsman, used to sailing in relatively deserted Maine. Frantically chanting COLREGS under my breath, and horrified at the stupidity of a handful of jetskiers, I made it through yet another momentarily uncomfortable but confidence-building experience.  We passed back through Knapp Narrows, remembering that the navigational aids consider the middle of the bridge to be “home” so that red on the right returning works from both directions, changing in the middle. This took a bit of getting used to, but makes sense when you think about it. We were able to tie up right at the town dock in the shadow of a lighthouse, and went out for a great crab cake supper and a tour of the museum. 

Saturday we'd voted to have a leisurely start with a nice breakfast, then take our ASA 104 exam. We all passed, and this took us to noon. I made sandwiches, and then we cast off and headed north to spend our last night at anchor in a river near Queenstown. We managed to hit the Kent Narrows drawbridge conveniently on the hour so didn’t have to hang around waiting for the next scheduled lift, and followed the clearly-marked but very narrow channel out the north side. At Dennis’s request we took a small detour to explore the Wye River; when we turned to backtrack to our original course we found a fleet of sailboats returning to their Wye River homes, so had a lovely motor going “the wrong way” through the fleet. That evening we dropped the hook like pros near a raft of about seven sail and power boats, then went over the exam questions, grumbling about misread questions, tricky questions, and stuff we hadn’t known but should have, then settled down to Captain David’s delicious stew. Dean regaled us with card tricks, plus his Magic Cork Trick, which none of us could figure out at the time. (Dean, Ed just mastered it this morning – triumphantly!) 

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Sunday we reluctantly lifted anchor and headed back to Rock Hall. Winds were light, and after sitting around with minimal progress, we wound up motoring the whole way. With time to fuel up and get the holding tank pumped, we’d maneuvered Halimeda back into her slip by about 11:30. With another two hours spent cleaning up the boat and ourselves, our group sadly dispersed about 1:30, less than 120 hours from our initial meeting. Amazing to think of all the experiences that got crammed into those 120 hours! The beauty of the class was that the learning, while constant and occasionally intense, was shared by a group of strangers united by a dedication to competency and a love of sailing. This made for a spirit of camaraderie and mutual support that was manifest almost immediately. It was challenging, but the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment were almost impossibly high when compared with the actual length of the class. We’ve already talked about meeting again for ASA 106! 

Melanie Hodgdon 
Bristol, Maine
September 2001

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