7 Nov 2018 – Of Naval stuff and a return to Reedville


November 8th, 2018


North Atlantic 2017 – 2019, USA

Written by

Richard Farrington

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By Richard. Posted on November 8th, 2018 in North Atlantic 2017 – 2019, USA.

37:50.5N  76:16.4W

Gavin’s tour of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis on Tuesday 30 October was a highlight of our time here in the US.  There are around 4000 students here, who get a free University degree over four years in return for some Naval service on completion.  They are known as Midshipmen, dress as Naval Officers but don’t get paid much more than a stipend.  In return, they can study anything from art history to astro-physics and the campus has some of the finest sporting, leadership and academic facilities we’ve seen anywhere.  Towards the end of their studies, they are assigned to the various arms of the US Navy and Marine Corps, depending on their results and the ‘needs of the Service’.  The grounds are beautiful (of course) and a series of bequests, many from students themselves who allocate a proportion of their pay during their careers, complement the Defense Department funding to deliver a very impressive institution.


Part of Dahlgren Hall, USNA with a replica of a Wright Brothers aircraft – Annapolis was the original home of US Naval aviation

The Superintendent’s Residence is the second largest residence in the US after the White House – an indication of the wider influence of the Navy.  They have a flotilla of patrol boats for practical training, a fleet of yachts and small craft that are in use every day (they believe, unlike the Royal Navy, that seamanship is best taught on the water) and acres of space.  To be honest, it is more impressive as a site than Harvard – though I’m not sure that the academic standards are as rigorous!


John Paul Jones’ tomb beneath the Naval Chapel at Annapolis

The final resting place of the ‘father of the US Navy’ John Paul Jones is here.  He was actually a Scot who got on the wrong side of some influential British aristocrats when he flogged a man who then died from his injuries.  Something of a bully, he eventually joined the Americans for the Revolutionary War (the War of Independence for those with a British education), had success as a privateer, was the first Commanding Officer to fly the ‘Grand Union Flag’ on a US warship and captured some minor Royal Navy units.  Whilst he was usually successful in overcoming less well-armed opposition, he couldn’t always control his men, was not a politician and fell out with his superiors.     Eventually he joined the Imperial Russian Navy as a mercenary with the rank of rear-admiral.  Back in favour with the US, he was appointed as US Consul to Algeria (a plum posting… not) but died of kidney failure in 1792 before taking up the post.  His body was mummified and buried in Paris, but in 1905 an enterprising American diplomat exhumed him and brought Jones to be interred in a magnificent sarcophagus at the Naval Chapel here. 


Tecumseh, the great Indian chief who was allied to the British in the war of 1812, is revered by the US Navy.  He was a great unifier and orator: my favourite quote is ‘show respect to all people, but grovel to none’


A proper Mission Statement!

Interestingly, there are some Midshipmen who are here on sports scholarships and the Naval Academy Football team competes at a fairly high national level.  In Britain, the highlight of the Armed Forces sporting calendar is the annual Army vs Navy Rugby match at Twickenham, which usually gets more spectators than an England International match.  Here, the same rivalry exists, but the Army Navy game is between Annapolis and West Point.  In other words, it’s a match between students training to be Officers in the two Services (three if you remember that many Annapolis midshipmen end up in the US Marine Corps which is regarded as a separate Service here), not the ‘all ranks’ representative teams that the UK Armed Forces put out.


‘Hands to Dinner’ on a massive scale: 4000 midshipmen descend on the galley in ‘formation’ every lunchtime

In terms of Officer training, not every US Navy officer passes through Annapolis: there are a number of routes and training establishments feeding the machine, but this place is indisputably the ‘jewel in the crown’.  Alumni include Alan Shepard, the first American in space and one of more than fifty astronauts who came through these gates, President Jimmy Carter, Senator John McCain and a host of statesmen, governors, ambassadors, captains of industry and a significant percentage of the leadership of the US military.  The Mission Statement clearly works!


Weems Creek on the Severn River near Annapolis

On Saturday 3 November we spent some time in the forenoon at a buoy on Annapolis Harbour as the locals prepared for the annual tug’o’war between the towns of Annapolis and Eastport across Spa Creek (the losers end up in the water).  We were waiting for a part for the new radio to turn up: I did not want to dismantle the old system until I had everything I needed onboard to create a fully working replacement.  Eventually the FedeX truck found its way through the crowds and after taking on fuel and water we left for Reedville around 4pm.  We had a good breeze from the north west and we were comfortable entering Reedville in the dark.


One of America’s most iconic lighthouses – Thomas Point, just south of Annapolis

With 20 knots of wind abaft the beam and a favourable tide, we made very good progress south.  It wasn’t as cold as it has been in recent weeks and we reached the entrance to the Wicomico River around 3am.  As we nosed our way into Reedville, past the menhaden factory and towards the floodlit Morris-Fisher chimney stack, the wind dropped away to nothing and you could see the stars reflected in the mirrorlike surface of the water.  There isn’t much street lighting here and we didn’t want to risk damaging the boat or Dave Godwin’s dock by coming alongside in the dark, so we anchored in the pool in front of his house instead.


Reedville in its autumnal colour scheme

On Sunday morning, we went alongside and started work dismantling the VHF radio system.  Fortunately those awfully nice chaps at Oyster did a fine job when they built the boat and it was easier than I hoped to trace the wiring from the instrument panel at the chart table through the engine room and up to the steering position.  We went ashore to catch up with our friends Neil and Ley Langford (ex-Crystal Blues) who were reported to be staying nearby with Walter Keith and his wife Mary, but the house seemed shut up and there were no signs of life.


The Morris-Fisher Stack – a beloved Reedville landmark

The following morning we borrowed Dave’s car to take the outboard motor into Kilmarnock to treat it to a well-deserved service whilst it is still under warranty.  Since we bought it in Gibraltar a year ago, it has been in use almost daily and I’ve been impressed with the smooth running and the power output which is significantly more than the old 2-stroke 5hp Mariner that we had before.  On the down side, the Mercury 6hp seems to use slightly more fuel (possibly because I like going faster!) and when you let it idle, it sometimes over-speeds.  I think there’s probably some dirt in the system somewhere, perhaps from when we gave it a swimming lesson off Union Island earlier in the year.  It poured with rain as we did a few chores in town and stocked up on wine for the Caribbean.  That afternoon, Dave and Carol returned from their weekend away and we enjoyed a good gossip in their lovely kitchen.

Tuesday was my birthday.  Through the magic of Facetime we spoke with our elder daughter Anna who is living and working here in the US, Julie’s mother Anne who has recovered from the illness that worried us earlier in the year and received a lovely video message from our daughter Lizzie who is backpacking through New Zealand at the moment.  Many thanks to everyone who got in touch by various means!  Julie made a huge coffee cake, we had drinks with some neighbours and a very fine dinner with Dave and Carol, so all in alI I had a pretty good day!   Into the bargain, Dave and I went to see his boat in refit in Cockerell Creek, we picked up the outboard from its service (it had a broken water pump, interestingly) and commissioned the new radio system, which includes a wireless handset and speaker up in the cockpit – probably a development of the technology that Raymarine acquired when they bought up TackTick instruments a year or so ago.


Reedville sunset

We have been watching the weather carefully for a week or so now, looking for a window to head south and east to the British Virgin Islands.  Ideally we want a stable period of northerly winds to push out from the Chesapeake area, past Cape Hatteras and across the Gulf Stream towards Bermuda, before heading south.  Some of our friends (Lyra Magna, Wildside and Cloud 9 of Kingswear) left at the start of the week with the ‘Salty Dawg Rally’.  We have an opportunity today to push south to the entrance to the Chesapeake (Norfolk, Little Creek or Hampton Roads) before some dirty weather comes through for a couple of days.  There is another window opening at the weekend and we will need to decide whether to head offshore then, or just push round Cape Hatteras and into somewhere like Morehead City or Beaufort on the North Carolina coast for a couple of days.  So with mixed emotions, we said goodbye to our friends Dave, Carol and Reedville this morning and headed for Hampton Roads.

Currently the plan is to embark supplies tomorrow for a two week offshore passage starting as soon as the weather looks favourable enough.  We’ve done all the preventative maintenance we needed to on the machinery, mast and rigging, I have recommissioned the watermaker, the new VHF is working well, our fridges are cold and we have enough tea.

There’s no wind (a common feature of our time in the Chesapeake) so we are motoring south in glorious sunshine – it’s almost warm enough to take your coat off – and we are surrounded by pelicans, a sure sign that we are headed south.  Ashore, people are digesting the implications of the US mid-term elections…