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Old 09-24-2018, 01:01 PM   #1
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Chesapeake Bay/Potomac River confluence

Does anyone have any comments on cruising the ICW at the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac river? I've heard the conditions can be rough.
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Old 09-24-2018, 02:07 PM   #2
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I've been around Point Lookout (northern side of the Potomac's mouth) several times in small boats. It can get rough, but I've never seen it dangerously so. I guess it can be dangerous in the right circumstances such as a strong northeaster blowing against an outgoing tide.
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Old 09-24-2018, 02:59 PM   #3
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I live about a mile inside the Jetty at Smith Point - so I enter this body of water each time I go out. There's a massive volume of water coming down the Potomac and it can certainly get sporty where the Potomac meets the Bay. But I wouldn't call it particularly treacherous in comparison to the rest of the central Bay.

Easterly winds in an ebb tide and strong Northerly winds that have been blowing for a day or two make for some pretty short, choppy seas. But it's not anything any prudent mariner should be concerned about.

Obstructions are well noted and you have lots of room in the Bay to pick your water. For Easterly winds, I prefer to run closer to Smith Island and Tangier Island. For Westerly winds, hang on - it's only 8 miles across until you can find a lee. I give the ships the channels and they are well marked on charts.

The Little Wicomico has plenty of nice, protected anchorages.
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Old 09-24-2018, 03:06 PM   #4
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Look up the El Torro II sinking.

A party boat that sunk back in the 90s at the mouth when a strong cold front came through in the Fall.

Yes....the bay can get very snotty there and I avoid crossing in anything but milder conditions if I can help it.

How bad does it have to be life threatening? I don't know but in anything stronger than 20 knots of wind opposing tide and it will be lumpier than I like it, the rest of the bay will be uncomfy and that section downright nasty.
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Old 09-24-2018, 03:50 PM   #5
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One oddity about the Chesapeake is that the current flow is maximum at the time of high and low tide. The current is slack at mid tide. If the wind is up and it is against the current, time your crossing of the mouth of the Potomac to the time of mid tide when the current is slack.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/...nd%20downs.pdf
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Old 09-24-2018, 03:57 PM   #6
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One oddity about the Chesapeake is that the current flow is maximum at the time of high and low tide. The current is slack at mid tide. If the wind is up and it is against the current, time your crossing of the mouth of the Potomac to the time of mid tide when the current is slack
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Old 09-24-2018, 04:09 PM   #7
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I have tried to attach a pdf file discussing the tides and currents in the Chesapeake. Apparently the file is too large. If you PM me I'll send a copy. It won an IBI award for out door writing a couple of years ago.
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Old 09-24-2018, 04:11 PM   #8
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Just a couple of weeks ago we were coming down from Solomon's to the Rappahanock. Tide had just switched from ebb to flow with about 15 kts of wind out of the ENE. Everything was good until we got about mid way across the Potomac when we started rolling to the point of not being able to stand. Took about a 30 degree cut to port to head and had a much smoother ride. Probably added about 20 minutes to the trip but well worth it.
I don't know how many times I've crossed the Potomac; sometimes good, sometimes bad. But I would describe it more as "uncomfortable" than "dangerous". It is worth looking at the tides and winds predicted for when crossing. That much volume of water coming into the Bay has a powerful effect. Worse comes to worse, you can look at transiting Tangier Sound, but that has different issues.
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Old 09-24-2018, 04:35 PM   #9
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We have crossed the mouth of the Potomac many times and been beat up a couple of times. We've even entered Hoopers Straight and run down Tangier Sound to avoid the Potomac when it is very windy! In the 30 years I have lived on the Chesapeake I believe 7 lives have been lost at the mouth of the Potomac.
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Old 09-24-2018, 04:44 PM   #10
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Dangerous and uncomfortable are different animals on a boat...till multiple things go wrong.

As an assistance tower, I was in plenty of situations that required great care to fix, but the day before or after might have been ho hum.

People assume they can handle rougher weather than normal...but only as long as things stay normal.

I avoid rough weather whenever I can...but that is because my old trawler and single engine isn't a USCG rescue craft...which is what comes to help when you are getting your a** kicked.
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Old 09-24-2018, 04:57 PM   #11
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Didn't mean to take the subject lightly. My current rule of thumb is if it is blowing more than 14 knots on the bow, I ain't going. If the dog starts puking, I have about 10 minutes to come up with "Plan B". By adhering to those simple rules I stay closer to "uncomfortable" than "dangerous" no matter what happens. It also keeps me from getting my a** kicked.
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Old 09-25-2018, 10:44 AM   #12
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How bad does it have to be life threatening? I don't know but in anything stronger than 20 knots of wind opposing tide and it will be lumpier than I like it, the rest of the bay will be uncomfy and that section downright nasty.
Giving this comment some thought - I'd say that's a pretty logical rule of thumb for me - over 20 knots opposing the tide and it will be less enjoyable than I'd like!

Under these conditions, you will likely see a small craft warning posted anyway. I was out Saturday in this location with 15 to 20 knot winds in a lobster boat just making holes in the water. I washed the topside pretty well, but never felt at risk.
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Old 09-25-2018, 11:00 AM   #13
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Giving this comment some thought - I'd say that's a pretty logical rule of thumb for me - over 20 knots opposing the tide and it will be less enjoyable than I'd like!



Under these conditions, you will likely see a small craft warning posted anyway. I was out Saturday in this location with 15 to 20 knot winds in a lobster boat just making holes in the water. I washed the topside pretty well, but never felt at risk.

I am not familiar with the Potomac but I know out here, the direction of current makes a huge difference. It isnít just about the amount of wind, but the direction of current. I got beat up really bad last spring by making a bad decision. Iím even more careful now.

In slow boats, our boating in Puget Sound is dictated by the current. Most of the time, we try to work things out to have the current going with us. However, when the wind comes up I avoid conditions where wind and current oppose each other.

All this to say that just using wind speed as an indicator isnít as useful as looking at wind vs current. I imagine it would be the same in the river.
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Old 09-25-2018, 11:51 AM   #14
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Conditions can be rough anywhere. Wind over water or current.
The infamous Chesapeake Chop !!

The Potomac is a fairly large river, lot of flow. If just passing by stay on the eastern side of the Bay to get out of the current. At trawler speed why fight it ?? Even going up the Potomac maybe stay to the east then the northern side of the river.

Our own personal limits...If it's blowing more than 15 kt. steady or higher gusts we tool around in the river somewhere. If it's not fun why do it....
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Old 09-25-2018, 12:02 PM   #15
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The reason I and others may not want to favor the Eastern Shore is the choice of marina/anchorage options on the Western Shore and the added distance of going .East.
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Old 10-20-2018, 09:59 AM   #16
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What speed does the Potomacís current run?
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Old 10-20-2018, 10:03 AM   #17
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The Potomac is a lazy river. The current is seldom over one knot. But precipitation does increase the ebb current. NOTE. The time of slack current is 3 hours after the high and low tide.
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Old 10-20-2018, 10:12 AM   #18
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The Potomac is a lazy river. The current is seldom over one knot. But precipitation does increase the ebb current. NOTE. The time of slack current is 3 hours after the high and low tide.
Thanks!! What is the tide swing of the Chesapeake in that area?
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Old 10-27-2018, 11:48 AM   #19
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Thanks!! What is the tide swing of the Chesapeake in that area?
If my memory from living on the bay and sailing the area serves me correctly I think it is about 2'.
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Old 10-27-2018, 06:11 PM   #20
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I haven't found crossing the mouth of the Potomac to be any more difficult than any other very wide part of the bay. If the wind is blowing hard out of the west you can go across to the eastern shore and go north or south behind the Hooper/Smith/Tangier string of islands. When I brought my currant boat north from Yorktown VA to NJ there was small craft advisories. Since we only had a short time window (Labor Day weekend ) to get the boat home we had to go. It was uncomfortable but not what I would consider dangerous. A few weeks later we were across the bay in Crisfield MD and once again the bay was very snotty. We went north behind the islands in less than 1' seas.
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