Saint Clement, Pray for Us

After our lovely visit to St. Mary’s City, we got another pre-dawn start to our next historical destination: St. Clement’s Island, which was the first landing site of the Ark and the Dove before they settled at St. Mary’s City. There they celebrated the first Catholic Mass in the English New World, and waited as negotiations with the Yaocomaco Indians proceeded for the settlement of the St. Mary’s site.

It was an absolutely gorgeous sunny day, although there wasn’t a breath of wind. We motored the whole way there.

The island couldn’t be more beautiful. There’s not much there. At one end is a replica of the original lighthouse (which the Navy dynamited in the 1950s after it was declared unsafe), a bell tower, and a 40 foot tall cross dedicated to the memory of the first Marylanders.  St. Clement's IslandThat’s about it. There are picnic tables, grills, restrooms, and even a little stage that Felicity particularly enjoyed running about on. For the whole day, we were the only people on this little piece of heaven. The kids collected shells and rocks at the beach. We grilled hamburgers and ate a picnic lunch. We walked the length of the island, reading all the signs, soaking up the history, the beauty, and the sunshine.

Sammy named his little caterpillar friend “Daddy” after Alan.

It was a day I will never forget and I can only hope my children will remember. Truly that day it was our own secret paradise. All ours, and yet, not abandoned, but pristinely maintained.

At some point the breeze finally started to pick up a bit. Alan went down to the boat to check on the lines and returned musing that we might need to just hunker down there for the night, it was getting a bit rough. We soaked up a few more minutes of sunshine on a bench in front of that big cross, then decided it was time to leave. By that point ‘a bit rough’ had turned into uh-oh scary rough. The wind had picked way up and it was beating right into the island. The boat looked like a bucking horse as the bow surged up and down with each wave.

We got the kids into life jackets before even walking them down the pier toward the boat. Alan leaped aboard first, then grabbed each kid in turn by the shoulders of their life jacket, heaving them aboard and walking them safely down below. When my turn came, I assumed I’d have to grab on and help pull myself up, but before I even knew what had happened Alan had grabbed me and flung me on board like it was nothing, even as he grunted that I didn’t have shoulder straps.

I tried to take a picture that would show how rough it was, but the picture doesn’t begin to convey the situation. The only indications are the soaked pier and that Alan had all our lines doubled.

After checking and re-checking the lines, Alan sat to listen to the weather on the radio and worry. A cleat on our stern snapped right in half, and Alan worried some more, as it began to get dark. As the wind and waves continued to beat us all around, Sammy and Felicity blessedly fell asleep and Savannah experienced seasickness for the first time before falling asleep as well. I noted with a detached bemusement the irony that there at St. Clement’s Island we were in our worst sailing predicament yet. Maryland’s first settlers, surely travel weary after their ocean voyage, had named the island for Saint Clement because he is the Patron Saint of Sailors.

We reached the decision point. The weather reports indicated that the winds were only going to get stronger the next day. We had to try to get out of there. Alan said it was go time, say a prayer, and I said several. I was absolutely terrified that I wouldn’t be capable of doing what he needed me to do.

How we actually got out of there is a bit of a blur. Through a series of tying and untying lines from the pier, Alan managed to get the boat turned around so the stern was toward the pier in the next slip down from where we’d started. I was on board, catching lines and tying them off (badly and messily) and doing my best to keep us off the pier. Both of us nearly fell in the water at least once, but thankfully, neither of us actually did. At one point we were very nearly beaten into the pier. Alan was trying to pull the boat back with the lines and was absolutely at the end of his metaphorical rope with exhaustion. He gasped to me, “Watch…the dinghy….it’s…not…mine.” As if I didn’t remember the dinghy was borrowed? It was safe anyway. He was imagining it being crushed between the starboard side of the boat and the pier, but the tide had dropped enough that it had slid cleanly under the pier.

We did manage, after what felt like hours, but I’m sure wasn’t, to get all untied, with Alan back aboard. One of my big fears had been him somehow not making it back onto the boat after the lines were off and I had no choice but to get out of there before getting blown back into the island. I gunned the motor, which luckily was strong enough to get us away from the island without getting thrown back into the rocky point.

Darkness had set in completely as Alan rushed around undoing the mess I’d made of the lines, securing them properly and I steered us away from the island. I made a whole slew of LOST references in my head at this point. After he got things cleaned up a bit, Alan dug out the spotlight to check things out. Lo and behold, I’d missed an unlit marker by…. not very much. (I’m terrible at judging distance, but more on that another time.) That spooked me terribly. Why the heck would they put an unlit marker in the middle of the channel in the Potomac anyway? As much as possible I avoid steering at night now. After Alan took over I was able to appreciate the beauty of the sky full of stars and just a sliver of red moon.  It took us about an hour and a half to get to our anchorage that night: a nice protected little cove in Breton Bay.

All in all, our adventurous night cost us only a little bit of fiberglass damage and that broken cleat. Not nearly as bad as it could have been. Perhaps Saint Clement was looking out for us after all.