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Plowing Mud; Could Have Been Worse

After several weeks of work on various projects, I left Whitehall Marina near Annapolis on June 7th to begin our pre-cruising shakedown trip to the northeast. Rhoda, Tristan, and Jenn had arranged to meet me between the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, so I motored and sailed solo up the Chesapeake all day and into the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

I was hand-steering up the middle of the 450-ft-wide canal and needed to go below to get a shirt from my duffel bag. I was in a straight section of the canal with no traffic in sight, so I engaged the autopilot to maintain the current heading, watched it to confirm that it was working, and then went below. I quickly moved the duffel to get better light, grabbed the shirt, and within a few seconds was back in the cockpit -- and was aghast to see that we had changed course 30 degrees and were heading for the rocks lining the bank of the canal! WTF?

I disengaged the autopilot and then starting experimenting to try and understand what had just happened. Through trial and error, I realized that the compass at the helm and the remote compass used by the autopilot were out of sync by 30 degrees -- but why? I pondered that for a minute, then glanced below and did a palm to the forehead. I had moved my duffel to the cabin sole and left it there in my rush to get back to the cockpit. The duffel also contained a collection of steel tools, and they were positioned within a foot of the remote compass. Duh!

Our rendezvous point was the small sheltered lagoon at Chesapeake City, MD. Following tips from Active Captain, I hugged the port side of the entrance to avoid grounding, but still plowed through soft silt for 100 feet or so. Once inside, there was sufficient depth and good holding. The weekend festivities were in full swing at the large restaurant overlooking the anchorage with several dozen transient powerboats at the docks, but the only other boat that joined me to anchor in the lagoon was a cute 20-ft trawler. They dropped a bow anchor close by but there was still enough room for both of us to swing. Then they dropped a stern anchor, so I casually went on deck and struck up a conversation, easy to do since they were only 50 feet away. I admired the boat -- it was very well cared for -- and noted the need for both of us to swing if the light wind shifted, and that I (obviously) hadn't placed a stern anchor. The skipper explained that his wife, the other person on board, didn't like for the boat to swing. "Oh", says I, but that's all that was required since he started pulling up the stern anchor. Later I realized their intention as they sat on their "back porch" which was perfectly oriented to watch the sunset.

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