Creek AnchorageAll of our non-sailing friends ooh and ahh when we talk about owning a sailboat (a 30′ Catalina), imagining an exciting day under sail, battling big swells and taming sails stretched to the limit while the rail is buried under water, me at the helm braced against the heeling boat while the Admiral man’s a jib winch, trimming the big genoa to keep us on track.

They’re always a bit surprised when I say that the best part of sailing is when you’re done.

On a recent weekend we went to the marina, looking forward to an overnight trip to a nearby creek. We ran down our checklist: full water tanks, Jamaican beer, snacks and dinner ingredients.  We crank up the diesel and creep out of our slip and head for the open water. It’s warm but with low humidity if feels more like September than July.  We pass two young ospreys on a daymarker nest and they give us a wary eye as we motor within a few feet of them. Seeing that we have no food for them so they return to scanning the sky for their parents.

As we motor out of the lee of the creek we feel the breeze begin to build and after another mile we point into the wind and raise the main and unfurl the jib. Then there is that delicious moment when we turn off the engine, fall off the wind and the boat takes  off. We are sailing, almost silently.

It is the near silence that I enjoy most when underway.  The sound of water rushing past the hull, the burgees flapping in the breeze. Neither the Admiral nor I are particularly chatty when we sail. A few words about our course, an offer to trade places at the helm or trim the sails is enough. While one of us is at the helm the other one reads or snoozes and works on a tan.

If we’re lucky the breeze is steady, but most days on the Chesapeake Bay  it comes and goes, from a whisper to a stiff breeze. Today we start low and slow. The water is almost glassy, but we watch cats’ paws approach us from several hundred yards away and the breeze gradually builds until we’re moving along at near hull speed, easing the pressure on the main to keep us in trim. As the day winds down we head for our anchorage.  We sail as long as we can, dropping the main and furling the jib only when we have to start the engine to get anchored.

We know our favorite anchorages well and this one is one we return to frequently. In the bight of a small creek, we are surrounded on almost three sides by a dense, tree-lined shore. Hot, sweaty, and tired, we set the anchor. The Admiral opens the fridge and pulls out two icy Red Stripes, almost too cold to hold. They go down quickly.

The sun is still warm and because it is inevitably in our eyes, we position ourselves under the bimini until it slips below the tree line. As it does, ospreys screech for their dinner and gulls circle the area, looking for a free meal. A heron skids into a landing on the nearby shore and doing his best impression of Mick Jagger begins stalking small fish along the shoreline.

We take turns taking a hot shower in the head, rinsing off the salt and grime and put on clean clothes. It is now that we unveil the Holy Trinity of Sailors: Bombay Sapphire, Tonic and Ice. We mix them into a delightful nectar and listen to Emmylou Harris and k.d. lang coming from the stereo below. I crank up the gas grill on the stern rail and once it’s ready throw on a couple of burgers. While they sizzle the Admiral goes below and dishes out some potato salad. Simple food always tastes better aboard and the night air has sharpened our appetites, so dinner disappears quickly.

After enjoying a few more minutes relaxing in the cockpit, it’s time to turn in. We climb into the v-berth and pull up the flannel sheet. The boat rocks gently as the breeze flows down the hatch, and serenaded by crickets and peepers we are asleep within minutes. And that is why we sail.