Can We Get Under That Bridge?

Aquia Creek on the Potomac River
Aquia Creek on the Potomac River

The Potomac River is only 2′-3′ deep in places so if the boat sinks, just stand up.

We use nautical charts to decide where we can and cannot sail on the river: the brown is land, the blue and white are water, and the tiny numbers in the water show how deep the water is. The Potomac has a pretty deep channel in white so most sailboats boats and yachts do okay. The blue is shallower water so watch out if you’re a sailboat with a 7′ draft.

A draft is how deep your boat goes into the water below the water line. Old salts might ask how much water your boat draws. (The first time I was asked that I tried to quickly calculate how much water Chiron sucked in while sailing.) Chiron’s draft is only 18″ so we can get almost anywhere on the river. Do we want to beach the boat in the mud of the Potomac River? Not really, but we can visit most coves and anchorages. Do we want to beach the boat in the sand of a Caribbean island? Yes, please.

Check out the chart above and you’ll see that the channel in white is pretty deep but Aquia Creek in blue gets a bit shallower around the edges, 2′ in some places. We like to stay in about 3′ to 6′ of water to be safe, and we don’t have to let out much anchor line. You need 7′ of anchor line for every 1′ of water so a 3′ anchorage isn’t too much line to let out. What goes down, Charles must pull up so he’s often covered in mud and seaweed as we sail out of anchorage.

Nautical charts tell you what to keep an eye out for. On the left side of Aquia Creek you’ll see note for a fixed bridge and power cables. Chiron’s mast is 45′ tall so we can’t sail under the bridge but most of the Potomac’s yachts and power boats have no problem with that.

Aquia Creek is a good half-day sail going with the tide but it could take most of the day if we set sail against the tide. The reverse is true for sailing home. Even with a long day of sailing I can prepare meals while we’re underway. I’ll show you our kitchen soon; it’s small but I can cook and prepare everything we need while we’re on the river thanks to the power of propane.

Labor Day is coming up and I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ll get to spend the night on the water in Gunston Cove, only a 2-3 hour sail from home but world’s away from the city and life on the hard.


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