Paynes Point at Mattox Creek to Mount Vernon – October 15, 2012

We are beginning to wonder if we are destined to not reach Washington DC. Ironic, isn’t it, that we anchored at Paynes Point? But we sailed off anchor once again and that meant it should be a good day.

We started later than anticipated this morning because the alarm didn’t go off. To start our course today we had to sail through the Middle Danger Zone where the Naval Surface Weapons Center in Dahlgren, VA operates a firing range. As we set out at 8:00am the range was within operating hours (8-4 M-F). If our alarm had gone off we would have been through the range prior to 8am. When I hailed the Range Patrol on the VHF to determine if we could pass he politely told me that the range was “hot” (active) and directed us across river until firing ceased. Sheesh! Fortunately the firing was done within the hour and the Range Patrol hailed us to inform us we could navigate as we liked to continue up river. (Mr. Range Patrol called me “Captain” on the radio, so I took it upon myself to assume that rank for the day!)

We were on our way again and needed to make tracks today because anchorages were looking grim as we continued up river. The temperature was in the 60’s and it was rainy. A strong current kept us at only about 3 knots despite potential for a nice downwind sail. The river was less scenic than I had anticipated, more industrial. And there are Danger Zones everywhere! After we had gotten the ‘OK’ to proceed through the Middle Danger Zone we soon thereafter were sailing through the Upper Danger Zone. We heard thunderous “BOOM’s”, not sure from which direction and we seemed to be the only target on the river. We also wondered what exactly was meant by the zone on the chart labeled Unexploded Ordnance…we were starting to get a bit jumpy!
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The Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge marks the “official” separation of saltwater/freshwater in the Potomac River. The buoys begin counting once again as you enter fresh water heading upriver under the bridge. Under we go!
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Farther up the river we passed Mallows Bay known for being home to the WWI Ghost Fleet. Between our guide book and the internet we learned about “the grandest white elephant” fleet built to provide cheap transatlantic transport. The fleet was not finished in time to have any impact on WWI as hoped, but did cost the american taxpayer quite a lot of money along the way. If you have a little time to read the whole story it is very interesting. We saw some wrecks breaking the surface, but the google maps satellite picture shows how many vessels are sunk in such a small space.
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We spotted several bald eagles. As the guidebook pointed out, the eagles did seem to enjoy sitting atop buoys. I grabbed the camera just in time for this guy! Brian slowed to round the buoy and I snapped a photo just as we got too close for comfort and this bald eagle started to take-off. Another soared high overhead after we startled him from his perch on a green can.

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Our wind had built nicely after passing under the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, and then tapered once again. Brian was determined to make Mount Vernon by sunset and so when we couldn’t maintain 5 knots via sail we motored. The current had at some point switched to our favor and it was nice to have the extra “oomph” rather than fight it. Where the river narrowed we cut corners as best we could to make our channel as straight as possible. The sun had finally come out as the day neared an end, but we were watching a storm build. Radar told us we’d likely stay dry. That was good news considering I had already re-stowed our four weather gear. Watching the clouds billow, we stayed our course through a sunny patch.

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And continued onward seemingly into the calm eye of the storm.

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We set the hook just in time as raindrops started falling.

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One thought on “Paynes Point at Mattox Creek to Mount Vernon – October 15, 2012

  1. Love the Mallows Bay story. The more you look at it with Google Maps, the more wrecks you see!
    Great storm cloud pictures, too
    –Mark

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