Missing Okoumefest Again - Our Skerry Chesapeake Adventure

Last year we missed OkoumeFest because of my poor planning against family priorities.  This year, we thought it would be cool to sail in to Matapeake Beach during the festivities after a few days on the Chesapeake.  Because I like the name, we launched at Hoopersville on Monday morning hoping to work our way up the bay.

On Sunday afternoon, friends dropped us off with our Skerry at Rippons in Hoopersville, then took our truck and parked it at Matapeake.  Because there is no lodging on Hooper's Island, we hung hammocks in a picnic shelter across the road from Rippons Sunday night for an early Monday launch.  It rained hard and the floor below us flooded, but we stayed dry in the hammocks.

Monday morning we launched into the Honga River fog and rowed about a mile south to The Thorofare, through it and into the open bay.  Once in the bay we raised the sails of our gunter-sloop rig and waited for the wind.  The prediction was for 5-10 knots all day, but we had pure slick calm. We were confident in the prediction, so we waited for wind.  While we waited, we had some interesting visitors, one of which broached right next to the boat.

We finally got tired of waiting, but maintained confidence in the prediction so we started rowing with the sails up and the dagger board and rudder down.  We rowed that way for a long time and eventually came upon the most southerly bit of Barren Island, where we stopped for a break.

It was beginning to get late, but the breeze started to pick up and we decided to try to sail a bit.  We came to the main part of Barren Island and landed there for the night.  We pulled the boat up high on the beach, but not above the tide line and tied her off.  We hung our hammocks in the trees and fixed supper.

  Just as we were finishing supper, warnings began to come in from several directions (VHF, cell phone weather, texts from friends) about an eminent violent storm system.  It was already almost upon us, so we secured our gear and climbed into our hammocks.  We have weathered many storms in our hammocks without getting a drop of water on us.  This storm was different.  Sustained winds of 35 knots gusting to 50 with copious rain, hail, etc.  If we had been trying to swing our hammocks like swings, they would not have swung any higher than the wind was blowing them.  Rain was blowing horizontally and our rain flys were flapping violently.  We were soon soaked in our hammocks and were actually lying in puddles of water.  These storms lasted basically all night.  I listened to the waves thundering on the beach and realized that, when the tide came in, the boat would be splintered.  We got up in the middle of the night and went down to the beach in the dark to save the boat.  She had already blown over on her side and was half full of sand, even though the sails were flaked and she had been sitting flat on the beach. We (heroically) lifted her up over and through the bushes to get her above the tide line.  By this time we were becoming hypothermic from sleeping in water and were both shivering uncontrollably.  I had some emergency reflective blankets that we put into our bags and they allowed us to get through the rest of the night.  When the sun hit my hammock Tuesday morning, I could see the silhouettes of (literally) hundreds of mosquitos waiting on the outside of the hammock.  The mosquitoes and sand fleas had been bad before the rain and, as I had suspected, they were worse after.  I "netted up" before I got out of the hammock and we started getting ready to get off that island asap. 

It was still pretty breezy by the time we were ready to go, but we needed to leave.  We brailed the mainsail against the mast and rowed out past the rip-rap breakwater, which involved beating some pretty significant current.  Then we raised the jib and began to run with the wind and current up the bay.  The following seas were pretty big for a long time, so it became very tiring to hold the rudder even in this easy run.  Eventually, the wind and seas began to die down and we raised the mainsail in an effort to make better progress.  Of course, the wind died and we basically rode the current up the bay. 

We made Taylor's Island by late afternoon and had to make a decision about where to stop for the night.  We had considered James Island, but as more storms were predicted, we were afraid that if we made James Island, we may be stuck there for a long time.  Neither of us wanted that and we only had enough drinking water for another day or so.  We decided, a minute too late, that Taylor's Island Family Campground near North Point was our best bet.  We had already passed it by about 0.1 mile, so we turned around and started to beat back to it.  We tried for over an hour, but could not make any progress against the current, even though the wind was picking up a lot.  At one point we were sailing and rowing at the same time and still not making any progress.  We realized we were not going to make the campground and, in fact, would be lucky to make landfall at all before being swept around the point and into the Little Choptank River.  There was one private dock between the campground and the point.  With a lot of effort and luck we awkwardly made that dock.  By the grace of God, the nice lady who owns the dock happened to see us and came down.  Because more storms were predicted, she helped us put the boat on her lift.

  THEN SHE OFFERED US A RIDE BACK TO OUR TRUCK AT MATAPEAKE! Storms were predicted daily for the rest of the week and we were both ready for a bed, so we took her up on her offer.  After a good meal and hot shower, we enjoyed warm dry beds Tuesday night in the Holiday Inn Express at Kent Narrows.

Wednesday morning we drove back to Taylor's Island and loaded up the boat.  We didn't really know what to do with ourselves for the rest of Wednesday and Thursday so we began the drive back to Brevard, making it about 2:30 a.m.  Thursday morning (today).

We're disappointed to miss OkoumeFest again, but we had a great time testing our Skerry and ourselves in big water.  We saw amazing beauty in both the Chesapeake Bay and it's people and experienced amazing power of nature.  Of all our trials, none was the fault of the boat.  She did what she was supposed to in every situation enduring a lot of strain and taking some hard knocks with nary a complaint.

Hooper and Olin Williams - Brevard, NC

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RE: Missing Okoumefest Again - Our Skerry Chesapeake Adventure

   What a frightening adventure! I'm glad that you (and your boat) survived unscathed.

RE: Missing Okoumefest Again - Our Skerry Chesapeake Adventure


Great tale! Thank you for sharing.

I have the plans for the Skerry and thought it may be a tad tight to sail/camp two in it. Sounds like you folks do just fine?! 

We've been hammock camping out of our canoe and backpacks for five years now. Have been in a few impressive blows lake side, but not the full rath the Chesapeake or ocean. We love our 'Superfly'. We also use bug socks which are half mesh and hal solid material. Handing to rotate from inside when spindrift (rain or snow) comes in under.

And I just purchased a dji Spark as well. Sounds like we may be from the same tribe :<) Gorgeous Skerry



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