Thursday, January 19, 2012

Annapolis : The Navy town: "Go Navy beat Army!"
The sailing town of Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay was our next destination and, being 230 miles south from New York, we decided to break the trip into daytime hops over the next four days. Our first leg would take us from New York to Atlantic City, the gambling capital of New Jersey.
Just like Las Vegas all the casinos have a theme, Wild West, Far East etc with the common denominator being card tables and poker machines.
Now cold is something that we really aren’t that partial to, having said that we did sail up to Maine where it can get very cold , but the day we poked our noses back out into the Atlantic Ocean to head south we foolishly thought that it would start to get warmer. Wrong. Our top temp that day was only 13c and that was without the wind chill factor. We were rugged up  like a couple of bears for the seventy mile trip. Beanies, gloves, scarves, thermals and whatever else that looked remotely warm was the wardrobe of the day. The weather might have been cold but the fast, flat water sailing took our minds off it. With one reef in the main and a full jib, we made good time sitting on 8 – 10 knots all day and getting to the anchorage in  Atlantic City  just before dark. We resisted the temptation of going ashore and throwing money away in one of the fancy establishments and simply stayed on board for the night.
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Sometime during the day we noticed that we’d acquired a third crew member, a small bird had landed on the back of the boat and was  hitchhiking  a ride with us down the coast, mind you he could have found a better place to perch than on the transom grab rail. Sure hope he enjoyed his new destination.
The next day was a mirror image, fresh nor’westers  again gave us flat seas and a lovely brisk reaching breeze and with less than 40 miles to Cape May we were there just after lunch. Cape May was a cosy little harbour and we anchored just outside the Coast Guard station. For such a small waterway we amazed at the number of marinas and sports fishing boats that called the place home.
Having checked the forecast we had a feeling that we might have to use the iron sails over the next few days so  we filled up the diesel tanks, had a nice meal ashore at a restaurant  that had come with a good recommendation and  hit the hay early so we’d be bright eyed and bushy tailed for our next leg up the Delaware Bay.
It was just on eight the following morning when suddenly the air was filled with the unmistakable tune of the Star Spangled Banner ringing out across the anchorage from the Coast Guard stations’ loud speakers. It was a lovely  way to start to the day and seeing the USCG officers standing to attention on the deck of their cutter was a great example of the patriotism in this country. Our trip up the Delaware bay was about as exciting as watching grass grow, the highlight…. one passing ship and  a nuclear power plant on the northern shore.
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Sadly, the wind gods no longer favoured us and we motored the entire 80 miles up the bay and into the C & D Canal. It was just on dark, as it  so often seems to be, when we pulled in to the small town anchorage of Chesapeake City about half way along the canal. The fog had started to roll in and we didn’t feel much like going ashore, so after a bite to eat we fell into bed after what was a very long and boring day. The C&D canal is a man made canal which joins the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. It’s nearly sixteen miles long and provides a shortcut for the likes of us destined for the upper reaches of the Chesapeake and for the many of the large ships that service the cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Day three was yet another motoring day finally making it into Annapolis mid afternoon. We dropped the hook amongst about fifty other boats who were also there for the  the same reason  that we had come all this way, to see the Annapolis Sail Boat Show. Regarded as one of the biggest and best boat shows in the USA we spent the next couple of days crawling over and ogling at the immaculate new breed of boats that  were on offer, not that we were in the market to buy, but it never hurts to stay on top of the game. It was a fabulous in-the-water exhibition with lots of catamarans, charter boats and monohulls, the majority being straight out of the box.
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As with most boat shows there were some very good deals to be had and we did our bit for the economy snapping up boat gear at extremely good prices. At times in some of the display tents it looked like a feeding frenzy as the bargains literally walked out the doors. There was something for everyone and the size of the crowds attested to the popularity of the event. We also got to catch up with our good  friends from Deltaville, Donny and Judy. They had just taken delivery of their their brand new Passport 55 which was on display ay the show. She was a beautiful boat and was attracting her fair share of attention from potential buyers.
Annapolis is not just famous for the boat show, the city is also home to the prestigious United States Naval Academy, and this institution is really something special. We spent nearly two days,one on a guided tour, wandering through the immense grounds and seeing pretty much all there was to see including the spectacular Noon Formation of  the 4,000 mid shipmen, both women and men who attend the academy.
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The Academy grounds, buildings, museums and chapels were all beautiful. But in keeping with Navy traditions, life as a midshipman is not always fun as the fellow alongside the statue in the centre picture above found out the hard way. He had lost a football bet and was told by his superiors to stand alongside this statue for a couple of hours and pose for photos with the tourists. Another young woman we saw had to recite the mess hall lunch menu by heart at the top of her voice every minute for the half hour preceding the Noon Formation. She had an excellent memory and was nearly hoarse by parade time and she copped  lot of wisecracks and laughs from her passing colleagues. We wondered what bet that she, too, had lost  to deserve such punishment.
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This parade was spectacular, my photos just couldn’t do it justice.There was lots of tradition, officers yelling commands and  a large noisy brass band playing marching tunes.The precise  movements of such a vast number of people flowed seamlessly. They Navy are really good at this stuff and the hundred or so spectators, like us, were mighty impressed.
It’s not an easy road to be accepted into the academy, the qualifications for entry are daunting. For starters you need to be in the top 20% of academic achievers at your school, you must be extremely athletic as it is mandatory to participate in sport ( they take sport very, very seriously), you must demonstrate a record of community service, you need a personal recommendation from your local Senator or Congressman and you then you are eligible to  to apply.
IMG_7140  Of around 20,000 applicants each year only 1,400 make the cut, it’s that tough to get in. Once accepted the students, or Plebes as they are called, have in front of them 4 years of grueling work, their day starts at 5 am and finishes at around 9-10 pm, there is very little down time. The discipline is amazing and at times it seems over the top, but those that last the distance come out with an officer’s ranking and an ability to lead people into battle. We were lucky enough to chat to a few of the Plebes and  could not fail to be impressed with their courtesy, maturity, confidence and sense of purpose. These young people were at the academy for all the right reasons and  they knew, that for each of them, they were in the right place.
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The academy has produced a ton of outstanding achievers -  1 President, 2 Nobel prize winners, 24 Members of Congress, 46 Rhodes Scholars and 52 astronauts. There are 32 inter-college sports to choose from, but the one that unifies the Academy more than anything else is college football, the passion here has to be seen to be appreciated. The Navy’s football mascot is Bill the goat and there are a couple of them, all kept at an undisclosed location for fear of being abducted and yes, there have been previous kidnaps. Bill attends every game, as do thousands of students, all decked out in their finest uniforms, it’s a very stirring sight. Not surprisingly, the mortal enemy are the Army, and Annapolis is adorned with “Go Navy – Beat Army” signs just about everywhere you look, they live for these games.
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While we didn’t get to see a game live, we were lucky enough to catch the second half of one game on the TV, it was a huge occasion with Navy and Army students in regimental uniform filling the stadium to capacity. Such is the significance of these matches that President Barack Obama was in attendance, and he sportingly shared his time and seating evenly, first half of the game in the Army ranks and the second with Navy. Naturally we were rooting for the Navy guys, and they won a hard fought contest. It was really neat to watch it and we almost feel like we were part of the Navy gang. Go Navy – Beat Army!!!
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Annapolis is also the home of some cruising buddies, Greg and Vicky off Erin Brie.
We had last seen them in Thailand in 2008 and bumped into them again this year up in Maine. Knowing that sooner or later we would be in their neck of the woods we organised to see them while we were in town and It was great to catch up and relive tales from our collective cruising adventures over a meal at their local Italian pizza place. They have decided to retire from cruising and are  now looking to get a power launch, it would certainly be a perfect coastal craft around these parts.
The town of Annapolis had a lot of walking appeal, not real big and mostly flat. With a huge variety of pub-type restaurants there was no shortage of places to have a feed. And the bonus was that it’s all right there down by the waterfront.
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So if you are up this way in October be sure to put both the boat show and the Academy on your list of things to do. You sure won’t be disappointed.
Cruising Notes. Formalities: Call CPB Maryland  on # 4189622886. Supermarkets:The big ones are out of town and you will need a car, but in the main street there is a CVS/Pharmacy that sells all the basic needs except for fresh meat & veg.

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