Sailing Lydia Down the Chesapeake Bay

by Gerald Todd

In July 1980, my friend Mark Rooney and I sat in a South Baltimore sub shop and talked about the possibility of sailing his 16 foot sailboat, Lydia, to Norfolk, Virginia. At some point we settled ourselves to do it and began gathering what we would need for the trip. We planned to sail by day, and anchor at night, travelling down the bay in four day long hops. Leaving from Baltimore's Inner Harbor, we would sail first to Poplar Islands to spend the night. The second stop would be Solomon's, MD. Deltaville, Virginia would be the third, and the last leg would end at Willowby Spit, in Norfolk, where we were living. We took what we thought was ample for a four day-four night trip plus a young tabby cat named Horatio.

The trip didn't exactly follow the plan. Instead of 4 days, it took us 18 days to finally reach Norfolk, 12 of which were spent in Solomons visiting and waiting for more Northerly winds. The trip ended with the boat anchored in the Poquoson River, just 20 miles sailing from Norfolk, and was eventually taken the rest of the way by trailer. Soon after, I returned to Baltimore, and later so did Mark. Lydia came back by trailer August 18th, 1981.

Lydia is a WindSprite class day-sailor, 16 feet long, built by Eugene Kelly in Fells Point in 1977. She was the prototype for 15 later WindSprites that were eventually built and sold. She carries about 150 square feet of sail in a Marconi sloop rig, and is built of fiberglass. She has a 10'cockpit with bench seats that run fore-and-aft along either side. There's a small cuddy under her foredeck for storage and we carried a wooden tool-box aft between the seats that provided more storage and room for sleeping. Mark bought Lydia while he worked with Eugene building the boats in August of 1978. We sat in Maria D's, the same sub shop mentioned above, one night and listed various names until we came up with Lydia. Lydia was the name of the frigate commanded by Captain Horatio Hornblower in C.S. Forester's novels. Today, years later, I own Lydia, and Mark and I still sail her, although neither of us is planning so bold an adventure for her.

What follows is a transcript of the "log" we kept during the trip, word for word. Reading it today, it sounds kind of melodramatic, but then again I was 19 and Mark was 16 and this was our big Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn adventure.

Log of the sloop Lydia.
click a pic for a larger version Wednesday, July 9th, 1980
We are departing Baltimore from Bunker's house. All gear except stores and cat (Horatio) are on board. The weather is fair, the sky's clear and the wind's out of the North-West at approximately 10 miles-per-hour. We've said our good-byes and hope for a prosperous trip. The next entry will be under-way
Mark S.Rooney

We left the finger piers, Baltimore Inner Harbor, under reefed main and square. [the "square" was a blue, 6' x 8'tarp] On board are provisions and stores for four days sailing, Mark Rooney, myself, and one cat named Horatio Nelson Hornblower.

Took down the square and bent on the jib. The cat's stillmeowing. Winds are NW at 10 mph. All is going well. Lydia is doing about 6 knots.

Shook out the reef in the main, the winds are now Westerly about 6 mph. Lydia is making about 4 knots. Cutis Bay is two points forward of the starboard beam.

Just before dawn
Jibbed main

Good Bye Baltimore
Passed under Key Bridge, running free. The cat's asleep. Good-bye Baltimore!

White Rocks
White Rocks on the starboard beam.

Maryland Beach on the starboard beam.

Bodkin Point
Came-about to clear Bodkin Point shoal marks

Came-about to set new course southward to Bay Bridges.

Wind lightening, the square has been set forward of the jib. Gibson Island is abeam, Baltimore Light is ahead, and we've seen the first sailboat of the trip.

We passed Baltimore Light and have adjusted our course for Sandy Point Light.

Wind's freshening out of the North. We took in the square. Sandy Point's abeam.

Bay Bridges
Passed under Bay Bridges, moving towards the Eastern Shore. Will sail down Kent Island to Poplar Islands.

The wind's died, Jerry is at the helm while the captain goes to sleep on the foredeck.

Still no wind, the boat's doing less than 1 knot.

The wind is picking up, but has changed direction to the South-East. Speed 4 knots.

Jerry sailing to the Rhode River
After tacking to Curtis Point, we tacked again for a mile. We decided, after considering the weather situation, to come-about and reach back to the Rhode River to spend the night. The winds are South, to South-East at 15 mph. Lydia's showing main and jib. We have to repack and bail. The seas are picking up, 1 to 2 feet.

We've landed on the medium sized island in the Rhode River across from the Y.M.C.A. camp Letts, repacked the boat, bailed, and ate dinner. We then anchored offshore to sleep.

Thunder storms came up. We've taken down the mast and re-anchored closer in to shore. The storm amounted to only a ten minute drizzle, and a light show. Exhaustion, and Mark's sunburn made the night very uncomfortable.

Thursday, July 10th
We slept late! Raised sails and left for Solomons Island. Winds are North-North-West at 10-15 mph.

Entering the bay from the Rhode River. The wind's changed from North-West to South-East at 6 mph. We are sailing close-hauled for Cove Point.

Winds just East of South and shifty. We're not making much progress. Our speed is about 1-2 knots.

The wind's shifted to the South-West. Poplar Islands are now 2 points off the port-bow. Our course is almost due South. we'll try to make Solomons tonight. Our Bread and water are almost gone. Wind speed 6-8 mph.

Poplar Islands are 2 points off the port-quarter. The sun has set and it's getting dark. We'll have to attempt Solomons by night.

We've rigged a lantern on the foredeck. We are now about 2 miles off-shore between Knapps Narrows and Chesapeke Beach.

Wind's veering off to North-West and the sea's getting larger, about 1-2 feet. Removed the lantern.

Friday, July 11th
We've pasted Sharps Island light.

Just Passed what was once Sharps Island.

A container ship just passed about 100 yards away, and gave us a 7 foot wake, but we, and Lydia, are ok.

Winds about 12 mph, seas up to 3 feet. Must reef the main.

We are in the shipping lane, a ship is coming up and will pass very close. Quickly we raised sail and headed East to get out of the shipping lane.

Ship just passed, and we survived the 10 foot wake. Heading South-East. Wind now 15 mph with a 3-4 foot chop. The boat's very dry under jib and reefed main. I am very glad to have a trained crew. Jerry is the only person I would have at my helm at a time like this. The sea's making it hard to write. We are now running for Solomons Island, about 10 miles ahead.

The wind is finally calming; it's North-Easterly at 10 mph. The seas are very infrequent, about 1-3 feet. We are wing-n-wing, headed for Solomons. We are 2 miles South of "Red 64, Flashing 4 second bell" and 1-1/2 miles South-West-by-West of James Island. Our next mark, "CP Mo (A)," is about 2 miles ahead. Lydia is making 4-5 knots. Jerry is still on the helm, I've already told him I will buy him a beer in Solomons. He sure earned it on the helm last night.

"CP Mo (A)" is 2 points off the starboard-bow. Lydia's wing-n-wing on the port tack. Mark and Horatio are asleep. Cove Point is ahead. Seas are 1-2 feet. Swells from astern. It's now full light, and all is well.

Shook out the reef as we passed "CP Mo (A)" steering a close-reach across the ship channel. The visibility is getting pretty bad.

We've passed Cove Point Light House, coming up on Little Cove Point. On the port tack, wing-n-wing.

Just saw a shark among the crab pots!

Passed Drum Point. Wind's getting flukey.

Lydia at Solomons Island
We made it! We landed at Solomons Island beside the "River and Estuaries Research" pier.

Saturday, July 12th
Spent the day with Miss Dana Briskoe who I [Jerry] met in Baltimore just before our trip.

Comments: [Here's Mark being Captain John Smith]
Enjoying St. Marys county very much. It's hot one day, wet the next; very much like New England. The Patuxent is a very small but very deep river, South-East of Washington, DC, and North of Point Lookout.

The shores are covered with Maple, Oak, Poplar, and Holly. I've also noticed a nice grade of pine that grows somewhat inland of the river and forms a belt around the shores.

The weather is the only thing holding us up for the second part of our trip. As it goes now, we appreciate Dana and her mother's hospitality. It feels good to be out of the rain and thunder, and into warm beds.

Our stop here in Solomons also gave Jerry and myself a chance to ease our minds of the constant concentration sailing a small boat on the bay requires, and of the constant exposure we've had, and will have to endure. We now feel more confident and composed to continue our trip.

Mark S.Rooney

Sunday, July 13th
Using the Briskoe's speedboat, we've towed Lydia to their property on Cuckleds Creek. Last night was spent at Dana's house.

Tuesday, July 15th
All our gear is aboard, the water jugs are filled; we're ready to sail!

Comments: [Jerry]

After a most pleasant stay at the Briscoe residence, it is time to leave. We could never be more thankful for they're having us.

Jerry Todd
on board sloop Lydia

Departing Cuckleds Creek, St Marys county, en route down the Patuxent River.

On the Patuxent the winds are South-East at 10-15 mph. Leaving with a bone in our teeth under reefed main and jib. Expect to enter the bay in about one hour. Winds picking up,gusting to 20 mph.

Out and Back
2000 Comments [Mark]
We entered the bay with just the reefed main up. Seas were 4-5 feet with frequent rollers. Sailing about 110ø (just under due east). The seas seemed to be increasing as we were beating against them and a Southerly 20-25 mph wind. We were of Barren Island, West of Hoopers Straits, when we decided to try and anchor. We anchored off Barren Island's weather side about 1700. After considering the situation, we decided that even if the wind eased the sea would probably persist. The only safe harbor we could go to without giving up already gained mileage was Solomons. Anchored only 15 feet from the shore, we raised sail and anchor, and headed for Solomons on the other side of the bay. (A tricky maneuver we performed very well.)
Heading back across, we were on a converging course with a tug-in-tow. We luffed the jib to slack our headway, fell in behind the barges, missing them by a few feet. The seas were off the quarter, and we were surfing down waves a boat-length apart and 5 feet high! Lydia was doing 10-12 knots on the average! For the amount of water hitting the foredeck, very little came inboard. Jerry was at the helm the whole time out and back. As we entered the Patuxent, we didn't mind the 2 foot chop at all!

We anchored back at the research pier at about 1930. The weather tomorrow should be the same, according to the radio, so our stay is being made longer.

Mark S.Rooney

Wednesday, July 16th
We are now hunting for part-time jobs to help us continue our trip. Our provisions include: 1/2 jar of jelly, 1/2 jar of peanut butter, 3 oranges, 1/2 box of cereal, and 4 gallons of water.

Friday, July 18th
Barb and Barry came down and brought us a "care package." We spent the weekend with them.

Sunday, July 20th
Cleaned out the boat and shook out the sails. Put a number '1' on the mains'l, that we bought with the $50.00 Bunker sent us on the 18th via Glen, Lester, and Joan. (Barb and Barry left this morning.)

Thursday, July 24th
We were woke by the racket made by the research boats getting ready to leave. last night one of the worst storms to hit Solomons since Agnes passed through, knocking down trees and power/phone lines, and breaking windows. The winds were clocked at over 80 mph!

After leaving messages of "thank you" everywhere and having some coffee, we set sail. We are now passing red #4 headed for the bay. The winds are light and variable out of the North. Sea's fairly calm.

Point Lookout abeam. Winds North-East 8-10 mph. Sailing under reefed main and jib, sea 3-5 foot. Feeling pretty good, headed for Smith Point light house.

We passed Smith Point light house about 0330 and we're now approaching #48 Red. The wind's Northerly at 10-15 mph. Sea's are 1-2 foot, with occasional swells 3-4 foot.

Windmill Point Light
After passing Windmill Point Light by about 50 yards at sunset, we passed Stingray Point light. It was already dark,and we were close enough to wake up what must have been at least a hundred seagulls! Later we came across a large ketch aground with no lights on at all expect interior lights.
After a frustrating try to enter the channel; in which we almost hit a cable running between some net stakes right at water level; we came about to try again. Finally, we made the channel into Deltaville, Virginia. We are now anchored within 50 feet of day marker #10 just outside that channel.

Friday, July 25th
Woke up and immediately got under way.

Passed flashing red 4 second #6

Passed flashing 4 second #3. Wind South-South-East, 5-7 mph. Lydia making about 2 knots. Wolf Trap is 2 points off the port-bow.

Comments: [Mark]
Ocean like swells picked up around 1500, just after we passed Wolf Trap. In the York River channel, while we were reefing the main, we almost lost our rudder! It had worked loose and come off, but the lanyard held it to the boat. It was looking like our sail on the 15th; large seas, foul wind, and it was getting late. We couldn't show any more sail safely, and we couldn't make decent headway with the main reefed. We decided to head for the Poquoson River at the mouth of the York River. just before dark we anchored just off the Wildly Boat Shop on Chisman Creek, which extends North of the Poquoson.

Comments: [Jerry]
After walking 3 miles to the nearest phone, we attempted to contact Norfolk. All we found out was our apartment had been rented out, and nobody, but our room-mate, knew where our belongings were, and he was leaving for Seattle in the morning. With our morale in the bilges, we walked back to the boat to try to sleep.

Saturday, July 26th
When we awoke, we went in to the marina and called Norfolk. After talking to our room-mate, Allen Collins, we found out what happened to our things. He agreed to postpone his trip a couple of days and pick us up.

On the Poquoson
As it stands, the marina owner is allowing us to let Lydia stay anchored off the marina. We are going to sail or trailer her the rest of the way.

Comments: [Mark]
This is the close of the trip. We made it, almost. We are just 20 miles sailing out of Norfolk. As it goes, the trip wasn't one of our better ideas. We are pretty mad, because we came 183 miles, and because of problems ashore, weather, and money, ie: supplies, we can't make the last 20. Lydia stood up well to the pounding, and performed well in favorable weather. We learned a lot about ourselves, about the bay and the weather, about seamanship, about what is probably the most important thing - survival.

The people we met along the way who helped us, even when only a morale boost, represent what is definitely the most important thing we learned, humanity.

Both Jerry and I want to thank the following people, because we couldn't have made it without our friends;

Capt. Stevens D. Bunker, Baltimore, MD
Barbara Folderauer, Baltimore, MD [now Mrs. Todd]
Barry Macciocca, Baltimore, MD
Dana Briscoe & family, Hollywood, MD
The people of the Solomons Pier Restaurant Solomons, MD (especially Hilda& Mike)
The lady at Sheppard's Marina, Solomons, MD


Mark S.Rooney
Gerald A.Todd
-of the sloop Lydia

and thank you Lydia for bringing us though!

August 18th, 1981
Lydia was trailered back to Baltimore; three years to the day after her purchase from Eugene Kelly by Mark.

Back to Lydia's Page

copyright 1980, 1990, 1997, & 2005 by Gerald Todd Jr. and Mark S. Rooney