We’ve had some good responses to our April Cruisers Exchange column in which we responded to a letter from a couple who was concerned about the Bay’s many restricted areas, particularly on the Potomac. In that column, we shared some of our experiences, so now it’s time to share a few of our readers’ stories.
Tom Miles of Heathsville, Va., tells about his brushes with the military while boating on the Chesapeake and concludes with some very good advice he got from his father, a Bay waterman:
I'm sure I don't have nearly the number of hours of cruising as many of your readers, but at 78 years old, I have done a fair amount of it. I encountered situations only twice where restricted zones or activities came into play. Once was when running south in the Dahlgren area. I got a call that I had strayed into their restricted zone and that I should run farther to the eastern side of the Potomac. They were correct - I had not paid enough attention to where I was. I corrected my course and proceeded without further incident or communications with the range people. On another occasion, I was crossing from the Potomac River to Crisfield, MD when I observed a Navy destroyed maneuvering south of me. I had not heard anything on the radio, but I guess something might be going on around the targets in the Tangier area. I called the Navy vessel, and they advised me that in fact there were conducting exercises, that they were watching me, and while I was OK, I might want to head a little farther north before continuing eastward. That way, we'd both be more comfortable. I did so, and continued without further incidence.
Those were the only two times in my life where I have ever run afoul of restricted areas or restrictions in general.
As far as cruising around the Naval Base in Norfolk: I have cruised that area many times. There was never a restriction in place more than a few yards from the piers and vessels moored there. A prudent skipper would not want to cruise any closer than allowed anyhow. I was usually operating a one-engine boat and I always ran such that if that one engine should quit unexpectedly, I would have space and time to react. Think about Murphy's Law. My father taught me that: He was a waterman, and our workboat had one engine - a six-cylinder engine from a '47 or '48 Pontiac (with no marine gear). We ran the waters of Hog Island Bay on Virginia's Eastern Shore. As you know, you have to stay in the channels over there. That Bay is not like the Chesapeake Bay where you can go almost anywhere and still be in good water. Dad taught me to run on the windward side of those channels: If anything were to happen, I'd have time to get the anchor down before being blown onto the lee shore. It's a good rule for boating, and for life in general.
Bottom line: The Sheuermanns should have no reservations about retiring and boating anywhere on the Chesapeake Bay or the rivers feeding into it. You might mention to them that they consider the Northern Neck of Virginia as a great place to look for a retirement home. We live eight miles up the Great Wicomico River, one of the prettiest and pleasurable rivers on the Bay. Water depth is not a problem.
And this one is from Larry Freedman, also of Virginia, who writes:
I have been cruising on the Potomac River for a long time. My boat is kept on Aquia Creek about 20 miles north of the Harry Nice Bridge. The three “danger areas” marked on the charts are not due to test firing from the Dahlgren Lab. Instead, they are due to areas of the river where the bottom is not smooth, but instead has a lot of “towers” that stick up from the bottom. Most don’t come closer than 12 feet to the surface, but there are a few spots where they extend up to 4 and 5 feet from the surface.
In all our years traveling past the Dahlgren Lab, we have only seen them shooting into the river once. When they’re doing this, they have patrol boats out to make sure no one strays into the firing zone and you have the option to wait and watch the action or to skirt the zone to keep on going.
(Editors’ note: With all due respect, Mr. Freedman, these are, in fact, Danger Zones regulated by the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va. The buoys used to delineate the Middle Danger Area are specifically called “Line of Fire” buoys. For a full explanation of the danger areas south of the Nice Bridge, see U.S. Coast Pilot District 3, Section334.230 Potomac River.)
Thank you, readers, for your responses. Write us at CX@chesapeakeboating.net.