Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 24, 2010

Ship’s Log: September Blue – Voyage to Tax Town

Captain’s Log: 201005.21

Washington Monument

The View From My Bedroom

September Blue currently rides quietly at the dock in our nation’s capitol.  (For my three international reader:  Washington DC.)  If I stick my head out of the forward hatch I can see the Washington Monument. I’m at 500 Water Street, if anyone wants to come to visit. You’ll need to e-mail ahead, though.  The dock is a fortress.  Our nations capital is a bit of a hole, and dockside security is appropriately tight.

Today felt a lot like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, except that I rode a boat instead of a plane.  To get where I am right now I woke up at 6:00 AM in Knoxville Tennessee, and hit the road at 7:00 AM, driving the Silver Beast, September Blue in tow.  Five times did my lady wife call unto me, asking, “Where are you?”

Five times, did I get to cut and past the answer: “Somewhere on I-81, somewhere in Virginia.  If you want to see a long haul, try driving the hypotenuse of Virgina.  If you want a stressful long haul, try doing it after getting a call at 11:00 advising you that the Marina closes at 5:00, so you need to get here by then . . .  You know, after you’ve done everything you can other than rack up a speeding ticket the size of Bruce Ismay’s ego.

The voyage from Knoxville, TN to Washington DC takes about eight hours, so I was able to make it to the Potomac River by 3:00 PM.  The problem?  My hosts, the Gangplank Marina, have neither a boat ramp, nor trailer parking.  So it was necessary for me to launch elsewhere, motor to the Gangplank, catch the Metro back around to my vehicle . . .  but I get ahead of myself.

My launch ramp is a public boat ramp called the Gravelly Point boat ramp, and was recommended to me by the Gangplank Marina staff. It’s just around the point from the Gangplank, and took me less than 40 minutes to negotiate the river to make it to my slip before the office closed.  But first, the launching.  The boat ramp is a public ramp in a park by the same name.  It’s an excellent ramp.  Most guides claim that there are only two ramps, but both ramps have a finger dock on the opposite side, so four boats can launch at once.  The water was high when I was there, but the ramp seemed ideal.  September Blue was afloat long before the tailpipe of the Silver Beast started blowing bubbles.  And trust me, many’s the ramp where that is not the case.  Plenty of dock space, too.  No cleats, but all of the pilings stick four feet above the dock, so I just cleated off to the pilings.

There was a stiff breeze blowing, but, alas, I had no sails.  I’d hit the ramp at 3:00, with no idea how long it was going to take me to cross the river, so I had decided to motor with the mast still rigged for highway cruising.  It was a decision I will not casually make again.  The launching went smoothly, and the motor fired right up.  I let it warm up as I moved my luggage into the boat and parked the Silver Beast. Carefully placing a glass of tea in the cup holder I had absolutely no chance of reaching, I shoved off.

First off, the Tennessee River and Charleston Harbor have me spoiled.  WOW is the Potomac shallow!  The chart I have borrowed shows the Gravelly Point Boat ramp at a whopping five feet deep, with the mouth of the inlet choking down to three feet deep.  As September Blue draws four feet with her daggerboard down, I was a little stressed.  But the markings on charts are low-water markings and represent a worst-case scenario.  My side-scan sonar was showing seven feet of water at the dock, and it quickly turned into twelve feet as I got under way.  And just as quickly turned into eight feet.  Then seven, then six as I exited the inlet.    I don’t think that I found 20 feet of water more than twice until after I’d rounded Hains Point and found the main channel.  By comparison, the average depth of the Tennessee River where I normally sail is 40′.  It’s normal for me to feel uncomfortable in less than fifteen feet of water, and to head back toward the main channel.  Some of the deeps run to 75′ in the high water season.  So you can understand why eight feet of water wigs me out.  Eight feet can turn into two feet entirely too quickly to suit me.

I met the dockhand who got me all signed in, and I left my poor boat looking like a tornado had hit it.  Because I had a problem.  The Gravelly Point Marina only allows four hour parking.  So I walked to the DC Metro Station and headed for Ronald Reagan National Airport.  Why?  Well, while there were closer Metro Stations to Gravelly point, the airport was the only place I could  be sure of immediately finding a cab.  I caught the Blue Line at Waterfront and relaxed.  As I relaxed I examined the map.  Yes.  The Blue Line does end up at Reagan.  After looping up through Foggy Bottom!  This subway is going to take me an hour out of my way!!!  What’s the hurry? Well, in addition to wanting to get the boat rigged before sunset, I’ve got people hosting my trailer.  You wouldn’t believe what it costs to park a car or trailer in downtown DC, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s hourly, and not counted in pennies!  So I’ve gotten some friends of a friend to let me park my rig in their driveway for a week while I’m in DC.  I took the cheapest parking I could find in the city, and made them accept half of that amount.  But I need to get there before the middle of the night.  So I went over the station and got on the Blue Line back to L’Enfant station.  Then back up the stairs to the Yellow line, which does not go directly to the airport, but manages to get there without looping up across the top of the freaking city before doing so.

Exiting at Reagan National Airport, I manage to find the cab stand with only two wrong turns.  Then I get in the wrong cab.  The boat ramp, apparently, is in Virginia.  Silver Cabs don’t go there.  They only go to DC proper.  Eye roll.  Out of the cab.  Into a White Top cab.  Who rolls his eyes.  Why?  I’ve just taken a cab 1.2 miles. I could have walked it faster.  There was even a greenway.  Live and learn.  I tipped him well.  Not his fault I’m an idiot.  Back into the Silver Beast, and off to a place called Temple Hill.  It took me about forty minutes to drive there.  If you’ve been keeping track, you’ll know that I’m now in five o’clock traffic.  But it wasn’t that bad a drive, and my hosts were very nice.  They gave me a lift to the nearest Metro Station (about three miles away) and then it was BACK around to the Marina, and rigging the boat while racing the sunset.  But I’m rode hard and put up wet, so that’s it for tonight.  More tomorrow.

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  1. I am assuming that there is a reason you are going through all this?

    • A similar reason to why you went through all you did to get Ginny: to have a child. She’s her own reward.

      Sailing is the same. I went through all of that to go sailing on the Potomac. It was a rewarding adventure. Even when Caitlin ran us aground.

  2. I assume the reason was to save your employers housing money while you’re on business?

    • Well, that’s one way to look at it. From MY perspective, it was all about getting my employers to pay for the gasoline and wear and tear on my towing vehicle to take it to DC. The fact that my miliage charges will be cheaper than buying me a plane ticket just makes it a win-win. If my bride hadn’t wanted to come up to see me, I would have camped on the boat and gotten them to pay my slip fees as well.

  3. Gangplank is actually at 600 water street.

    • I stand corrected.

  4. Welcome to DC and NOVA. We’re our own little world, but you’ve found the Metro, and you’ve gotten docked.

    You didn’t get mugged. We’ll exempt the cabbie. You were kind in tipping. You’ll have him spoiled. Not knowing the area is factored into the rather exorbitant rates DC and NOVA cabs are allowed to charge.

    Enjoy your visit. Might I suggest tea today at the National Cathedral. If you call right now, you can get reservations, and the view from the tower where they serve tea is worth the price, which goes toward maintenance of the cathedral. You might also be interested in the “Stories of Exploration” exhibit at the National Geographic.


  5. Skip the meetings as often as you can, go to the museums and sail!

    There, now. My job as Bad Influence is complete.

    • Can’t. My boss is there.

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