It took two years, but eventually we got Magus home

Magus sailing downwind on Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Albert Presgraves

January/February 2022

By Albert Presgraves
For Points East

Our Banjer 37, Magus, had been stored on the hard at Zimmerman Marine, in Cardinal, Va. My wife Jenny and I, with our two dogs, left the boat there on our way back from the Bahamas in 2017 (see “Round-trip ticket: Bahamas,” Midwinter 2021). For several reasons, I chose to start the last leg singlehanded.

We’d left Magus at Zimmerman’s because she needed a bit of work done on the engine and related systems: rebuild transmission, replace exhaust manifold and elbow, replace injectors, replace engine mounts – and she needed her bottom painted. This was May 14, 2019, before COVID was a thing, and I was hoping to get back to Freeport, Maine, by June 15, but early on, plenty of schedule uncertainties loomed, from weather to crew arrangements.

Magus was at the dock when I arrived. The next day, the marine technician and I took her out on the East River for a trial, and everything was great. Five days after that, I’d completed my list of projects and taken on provisions for the next month. It was May 19 when I left Mobjack Bay for the 30-mile sail north to Deltaville, where I anchored in Jackson Creek on the south side of the town.

The next morning, I left early for a 35-mile sail across the bay to Crisfield, Md., the “Blue Crab Capital” of the World, on the Eastern Shore, just north of the Virginia line. It was a glorious day of broad-reaching at a steady five knots.

Once there, by asking the first person I met, I was able to get the phone number for my elementary school friend, Tom, with whom I walked along the marshes and backwaters of the Chesapeake, with paths of oyster shells keeping us just above the high tide level. I spent an extra day in Crisfield waiting for better weather, to visit more with Tom, and to enjoy this laid-back town in the off-season.

My next destination was back to the western shore and the Patuxent River up to St. Leonard Creek. I tied to the dock at a community subdivision, where another old friend, Ed, lived, and we caught up on our wayward lives. A couple of days later, Ed and I sailed Magus down the river to Solomons, at the mouth, and his wife Karen met us for dinner at a waterfront restaurant. I spent the night on their dock.

I rose early the following day for the 45-mile trip north to the South River, just south of Annapolis. It was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and I motored up the wake-filled river to Gingerville Creek, where I picked up a mooring just a few hundred feet from the house owned by friends Bill and wife Katie. Bill and I enjoyed a kayak trip up the creek to explore the marshes and birdlife, and, on Memorial Day, we went for a sail on their Beneteau 321. Our destination was Cantler’s Crab House, for a crowded but enjoyable dining experience.

On Tuesday, May 28, I motor-sailed out to the bay and had a great sail up to Annapolis on the Severn River. I motored into Chase Creek to visit friends Jim and Linda Mumper, who also live in a community with a dock, where they keep their well-traveled Grand Banks trawler, Leilani.

Did I mention it was notably hot, over 90 degrees for several days? A couple of thunderstorms blew through while I was at Bill and Katie’s, and thunder and lightning continued off and on. But we had plenty to do and talk about, and the nights were comfortable.

It was soon May 31, and I departed for a lovely day sail to Baltimore, where I planned to visit our daughter Echo and her boyfriend, Chris. I found a nice restaurant with a dock, Captain James Crab House, in the Fells Point area of Baltimore Harbor. I felt a little guilty staying for three nights, but they seemed happy to have me on the free dock, and no other boats wanted to use it. This was an excellent location, with plenty of waterfront sights and shops, and it was near a Safeway for groceries.

Echo and Chris helped me secure the dinghy on deck in preparation for the New Jersey coastal passage. We had an early dinner, and thunderstorms came in, but never strong, just rain. It was still hot.

I had been trying, without success, to find crew for the passage from Cape May, N.J., to Maine, so I continued along by myself. Without crew, it could take two more weeks to get to Maine, but it could take as few as seven days with crew. In 2012, Jenny and I and Echo did it in seven days from St. Marys City, near the mouth of the Potomac River.

While in Baltimore, I met Andy, a friend of Echo’s, and he agreed to meet me in Cape May on Wednesday for an overnight up the Jersey Shore to New York City. Although this would be a help, he was even a bigger help than I’d expected.

The next morning, I left early to motor-sail up the bay, but it felt good to have two hours with the engine off. Chesapeake City, in the C&D Canal, makes a good stop before the long leg down Delaware Bay to Cape May. I got in at 3:15 p.m., and the town’s free dock was already full. Hopeful that a spot might open, I tied up at the Chesapeake Crab Deck and Tiki Bar for an early supper. I walked over to the town dock and determined that all the boats were staying for the night.

I chatted with the Chesapeake Crab Deck dockmaster, who said if I left early in the morning, I could spend the night for free. Yay!

I left at 5 a.m. and was able to catch a fair tide down Delaware Bay, but I had an annoying engine situation. Just after entering Delaware Bay, the low-oil-pressure alarm sounded, so I shut down the engine and investigated. Due to inadequate checking on my part, an engine oil hose had worked its way against the alternator belt, and the resulting hole leaked oil onto the belt and sprayed all over the engine compartment, slowly draining the oil from the engine.

Fortunately, I was able to make an emergency oil-hose repair, and I had just enough clean engine oil aboard to continue after an hour or more delay. The temporary hose repair leaked more and more as I continued down the bay, so I collected that oil in a container, pouring it back into the engine every half-hour or less. I was worried about how I would get the hose fixed, but I made a lot of phone calls, and I had a plan.

I made it into Cape May at 5 p.m. and tied up at the Lobster House, on Fisherman’s Wharf, with hopes of another free dock. That didn’t work out, so I ended up staying the first night at South Jersey Marina, where a big shark tournament was starting the next day. They wanted me out early in the morning, so I rushed around town to get a replacement hose and more oil. I wasn’t sure where I would do the messy cleaning and repair work, but the marina was fine with me staying until noon, largely because the expected bad weather kept a lot of the fishing boats from arriving as planned. That meant I could finish the project and take a shower before moving over to Utsch’s Marina for the night.

Soon, crewman Andy and his wife, Lucia, arrived by car. It was windy and cloudy, and a line of rain squalls came through just before dinnertime. The three of us went to the Lobster House for take-out to tables at the dock.

Andy and I departed the next morning; with the wind greatly reduced, we motor-sailed. The wind got lighter, and we had some showers in the afternoon. We motored all night, anchoring off Coney Island Creek before dawn: 120 miles in 21 hours, at an average speed of 5.7 knots. We waited a few hours for the current to be favorable in the Hudson River and, more importantly, in the East River and then raced through New York City to the west end of Long Island Sound. We talked about where to stop in Connecticut so Andy could catch a train back to Baltimore, but then he offered to continue to Newport, another overnight run, all motoring with little wind. The engine ran flawlessly.

The next morning, we arrived in Newport, took a mooring, and tried to get Andy on a bus. We were too late, but Uber got to the train station on time for a short ride to somewhere in Connecticut, where he joined Lucia, who was visiting family. Andy’s crew assistance saved me as much as a week of traveling, probably more, with weather uncertainties.

I stayed in Newport for the rest of the day, enjoying the small city and buying food supplies. Newport marinas had the highest dockage rates I’d ever seen, charging at least $5 per foot per night; for Magus, the cost would be $185. The city did have a Maritime Center, with a dinghy dock and clean and hot coin-operated showers. Overall, Newport was accommodating to visiting boat people.

I also made a great find: the Newport Lobster Shack, a fisherman’s coop on Long Wharf selling fresh and cooked seafood and sides. I had lightly fried lobster tail strips, which were outrageously good, with the regular fixings of fries and coleslaw.

The following day, I motor-sailed to Woods Hole, taking a mooring at the Woods Hole Yacht Club. In the morning, I left at 9:30 a.m. to catch the fair tide through the Cape Cod Canal on my way to Provincetown, at the tip of the Cape. Once there, I anchored near the Coast Guard station for a bumpy night in the strong southeast wind, with a hard rain and fog the next day. It was calm for a short time the next afternoon, then it cleared, and a strong northwest wind developed. Magus was reasonably protected from this wind direction.

The north wind was subsiding the next morning as I departed for Gloucester. Before noon, the wind had gone light, so I motored the whole way. I arrived in Gloucester just after 3:30 p.m. to find the fuel dock at Gloucester Marine Railways had just closed for the day. I anchored in the harbor in preparation for the easterly weather forecast for the next day. Gloucester is a major fishing town, so the diesel prices are good, $.50 to $1.00 per gallon lower than anywhere else I’ve been.

The next day would be June 13, 2019, and I walked around the town and bought fresh bread. I returned to Magus just after the rain started, and, around 10:30 a.m., the wind came in strong from the southeast. The temperature was in the low 50s, day and night. The weather had turned cool in Cape May and stayed that way. Gloucester is another great town, but I did not do much sightseeing on this visit.

My plans for getting to Freeport changed as the weather changed. The forecast called for the wind to go light from the west overnight and then fill in from the south and southwest the next day before another front came through that night. I fueled up in the morning and made it to the Isles of Shoals just before dark, as the wind picked up fairly strong.

Fortunately, there were plenty of moorings and very few boats. I decided to leave at 2 a.m. and sailed a little, wondering if it had been wise to tow the dinghy. But the wind soon died down, and I motor-sailed the rest of the way to Freeport, arriving at our mooring around noon.

Jenny surprised me by hitching a ride on a lobster boat to meet me. After we reconnected from the month apart, she helped me get things in order to leave Magus on her mooring. I was back at our house in the early afternoon. It was June 15, right on schedule.

Albert and Jenny continue to have fun, living and gardening in Freeport, Maine, on Bliss Woods Farm, where Jenny trains dogs at her Whole Dog Camp. See more about their adventures and plans at alpeaks.blogspot.com.