Sunday, May 27, 2007

A matter of perspective

Calm & foggy on the Delaware Bay [written mostly by Doug]

May 26th, Saturday of Memorial Day weekend: we departed the Chesapeake City basin at 6:55am to catch the tide. We have a light westerly wind, as forecast (see, those guys aren’t always wrong!). The tide is ebbing so the current is with us… a good thing, the water moves fast up & down the Delaware Bay. At times our speed towards the next mark is over nine knots… a nice boost from our usual seven knots.

There are clusters of fishermen in outboards, anchored or drifting; most of them would consider nine knots to be painfully slow. Their motive is to hurry up & get there so they can spend their time sitting, looking at their lines in the water. It's a matter of perspective.

We have seen some big ships coming up the channel, the photos show a Dutch ro-ro (a roll-on, roll-off cargo ship equipped with gates & ramps to drive trucks aboard) at the eastern end of the C&D Canal. The small boat in the first photo is a sportfisherman about 50' long. The second photo of the same ship shows it going under the highway bridge, which is 136' high.

Most people never think about the tremendous tonnage that is moved every day so that we can live the way we do. We all see 18-wheeler trucks on the roads & highways, but we don’t see ship traffic in the sea lanes & harbors. Traveling by water gives you an up-close perspective on these heavy haulers at work. Just like us, they have to thread their way through the clusters of fishermen, and it's a lot more difficult & dangerous for them than for us. Those big ships don't exactly turn on a dime.

The channel has numerous markers, red on one side & green on the other. On a foggy day like this, it's difficult to see them and even more difficult to distinguish their size & color. We have a radar set which works well, set for a range of six miles. This gives us a view of both shorelines in the upper Delaware, and will give about a ten minute warning of a big ship approaching up the channel. It is not so good for spotting markers because you can't tell whether a dot on the screen is a marker or a fishing boat. Sometimes, studying the chart will tell whether a channel mark *should* be in a given spot, and it's nice to see that there is a glowing radar dot there..... usually a whole cluster of dots. But it will not tell the mark's color. Some of the channel marks are easier to see & show up large & bright on radar, because they are lighthouses. The photo is Ship John Shoal marker about halfway down the Delaware Bay.

It’s true that America’s rivers, harbors, & waterways are an important economic asset. This is a basic lesson from our history, for example the Boston Tea Party…. but it is just as basic & important today, with millions of tons being delivered every year. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to visit the museum at Chesapeake City (arrived as it closed and it's closed on the weekends), but I can relay a little the history of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. If you want to read more about it, and see some pictures, here is a good resource:

Since New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore were all major ports very early in colonial times, there was considerable rivalry and also considerable traffic between them. To sail from Boston to New York required going around Cape Cod, to reach Philly from either meant braving the currents & shoals of Cape May, and to reach Baltimore required sailing around the whole DelMarVa peninsula. This meant delay as well as risking difficult navigation and exposure to storms… and in wartime, exposure to enemy vessels ranging from privateers to U-boats. Canals offered shortcuts for all these routes, an obvious advantage. George Washington and Ben Franklin were among early promoters of canals.

In the early 1800s, a canal was begun near the present C&D but excavation was too expensive. A canal was completed connecting the Susquehanna & Schuylkill Rivers so boats could move from the Chesapeake to Philadelphia and thus into the Delaware River, but this was a long and slow route. In 1829 the C&D Canal opened on its present route, mostly funded as an effort between the several neighboring states along with the federal government. There were several locks, which limited the size of vessel which could pass through the canal and required water upstream of the locks. Work continued to enlarge the canal & eliminate the locks, along with adding a steam pump to supplement water for lock operation thru dry seasons. In the late 1800s over a million of tons of cargo per year moved through this canal hauled by mules walking along the bank with towropes attached to their harnesses.

We’ll look at more canal history later, but right now that’s probably enough. As I type this, Kathie is piloting the Winnie W toward the entrance to the safe harbor at Cape May, at the southern tip of New Jersey. It’s less than 12 miles away and will complete a voyage of slightly over 60 miles along the canal, under bridges, past barges & ships & fishermen, over the fortunately calm waters of Delaware Bay. I feel very lucky to be able to see all this from such a safe & comfortable vantage, and have tried to share this perspective with you all.

For members of the Hank fan club, the photo at right shows how he spent much of the day contributing to our progress.

Doug & Kathie


Anonymous said...

Doug & Kathie, I really enjoy the "charts for dummies". I haven't sailed those areas you have traversed, but have driven to many of the ports/towns. Your sea views put a lot of the seaboard in better perspective.

I'm glad things are going well. I'd put you with some of my commercial friends, Zane, McAllister,Express Marine,for some free dockage, but I don't know how you would get on with 3000-6000hp neighbors coming and going all night.

Have a safe holiday. If you slow down we might catch you on Ontario. If not we will catch you on the Tenn.


bentwood said...

Kathie and Doug: Nice picture of Ship John Light. It is near the entrance to the Cohansey, near my home town.