Smith Island, Chesapeake Bay, May, 2014.
It was one of those perfect, or close to perfect days for sailing, sunny and bright, with just a few fair weather clouds. Ten, to fifteen – knot easterly winds and the temperature of 74 degrees Fahrenheit, which translated to a tad over 23 degrees Celsius. About the only slightly less than perfect element was the humidity. Not as high, as it often got in the Chesapeake Bay area, but high enough to make shady places worth their weight in gold.
Craig Hobart’s late 1960s vintage, ‘Jacques’, a 30-foot, French – built Dufour Arpege sloop, with a graceful, dark blue hull and the 130 percent genoa unfurled, was sailing close hauled towards the south east. The cruise started in Herring Bay, on the western shore of the Bay, about 25 miles south of Annapolis, Maryland, the home of the United States Naval Academy. Cathy Stevens, his long – time girlfriend was just getting settled in the cockpit, after bringing out a couple of cushions from the cabin.
Craig was a former Navy SEAL officer, a writer, skier, photographer, diver and of course a sailor.
Because of his background, he was also a sometime intelligence operative, with close and highly placed contacts in Naval Intelligence.
An officer, who he has met almost by accident as a raw seaman, when he was just out of basic training at Great Lakes, was now deputy director of the Office of Naval Intelligence. He was also instrumental in sending him years ago to the Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. It wasn’t completely clear, who recommended him for SEAL training all those years ago, but his friend, now a vice admiral, always denied doing so.
Craig left the Navy as a lieutenant, after several years of training and two years of service in a SEAL team, and after taking part in several operations, which he still wasn’t at liberty to discuss with ‘regular’ people.
After getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and then a Master of Science diploma from MIT, he was again approached by his officer friend, who was a captain at the time. Shortly after Craig rejoined the Navy as a reservist and now, years after the fact, held the rank of full commander.
It was sort of a special arrangement. He wasn’t required to attend any of the usual courses, cruises, or exercises, but was exclusively attached to the Office of Naval Intelligence, directly under the command of his friend, Vice Admiral Matthews. His assignments were relatively infrequent and nearly always voluntary.
It was also arranged to make him a Special Agent of the Secret Service. This allowed him to carry weapons almost anywhere within the United States and generally speaking, eased a lot of security requirements.
He stood at six feet, one inch, which translated into just over 1.8 meters, had thick, brown hair, with a bit of grey in places, brown eyes and a slim, athletic frame. His looks and a good sense of humor seemed to be just the ticket for most women and he could not complain about lack of popularity among the opposite sex.
He wasn’t an amateur adventurer either, but rather a professional one. He could be living comfortably, without doing any work whatsoever, as his paternal grandfather has been good enough to provide him with ample means. He didn’t know exactly how much his trust fund was worth at the moment. Those details were taken care of by an able administrator. Suffice it to say that he could draw practically any amount he needed, or wanted, without anybody ever questioning his motives, or needs.
His house, fronting the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay could still be seen astern of the boat. It was sitting on five acres of very prime land since the end of the 19th century, since his great-great-grandfather had it built as a sort of a transitional home, between Boston winters and Florida summers.
Originally it had its own dock and even a breakwater, behind which a variety of yachts and boats were kept. The photos of the original house and its surroundings were prominently displayed in simple, but elegant frames throughout the house. The remains of the breakwater have been removed before Craig was born as a hazard to navigation and his boat was now kept in a nearby marina.
Because of the humidity, the Bimini top was deployed over the cockpit, shielding Craig, who held the varnished mahogany tiller in his hand and Cathy, sitting on the starboard side of the cockpit and playing with the recently acquired GPS plotter. The device was loaded with the latest navigation charts of the entire United States, the Caribbean and Canada. Charts for the rest of the world were on additional memory cards.
They were heading for Smith Island, which was way south of their position and even with the good wind, the best they could hope for was getting there before nightfall. There was no rush. Craig’s time was nearly always his own and Cathy, being a free-lance journalist, could pretty much set her own schedule as well.
The Chesapeake Bay – the largest estuary in the United States, once had quite a few islands, but with time and with rising sea levels, many of them have simply disappeared. The charts showed numerous sand bars, some of which were still above water just a few years ago. Many were inhabited for centuries and in a few cases, a dive would reveal the remains of houses and other structures on the bottom of the Bay.
Smith Island, which was located right across the border between Maryland and Virginia, still had over 200 residents, down from a high of about 800, living in three villages, one of which – Tylerton was separated by water from the other two. There were several restaurants and Bed & Breakfasts, as well as cottages for rent.
Craig booked a room for a week at Liz’s, a Bed & Breakfast run by a 12th generation Smith Islander.
Despite sailing at a nearly steady six knots, which was close to their hull speed, they didn’t arrive at Smith Island until after dark. Being familiar with the island and with the help of the GPS, they lowered the sails and put out the fenders, before approaching the visitor’s dock in Ewell harbor under power, and tying up for the night.
Wearing a red-lensed headlamp, to preserve his night vision, Craig shut down the Yanmar diesel, turned off the battery switch and hauled both of their duffle bags on deck.
Cathy, who was not a feminist, but rather a firm believer in carrying her own weight, picked up her duffle and heaved it onto the pier. Craig followed, and they both headed for Liz’s, hoping that it wouldn’t be too late for dinner.
They were not disappointed. The owner, Liz Davenport, was waiting for them. After several previous visits, she knew exactly what her guests expected. Minutes after arrival, they were handed Old Fashioned cocktails in the appropriate tumblers and gratefully sat down in the parlor. The armchairs were so much more comfortable than the seats in the cockpit.
Alcohol had to be brought over from the mainland, since it was not sold on Smith Island, but both Liz’s Bed & Breakfast and Craig’s boat were well stocked with all kinds of booze.
In the meantime, Liz busied herself, preparing a well done filet mignon for Craig and a lobster for Cathy.
After the dinner, they sat chatting with Liz for a while in the small dining room. Not much has changed on Smith Island, since their last visit in the fall of last year, except that people, living close to shore noticed that their houses were getting closer to the water every year and especially after every storm.
Both guest rooms shared a common bath. Since they were the only people staying tonight, they could call it their own.
After saying good night to Liz, Cathy and Craig lugged their duffle bags upstairs to the Golden Sunset room, which had a bigger bed than the Gateway, but not as nice a view of the harbor.
The only things they took out of the duffels were their toilet kits, and then took turns brushing their teeth, before turning out the lights.
The bed was already an old friend of Cathy and Craig. They did try the smaller one in the Gateway room once before, but despite better views of the Ewell Harbor, have always chosen the one in the Golden Sunset.
All they had on were shirts and shorts and of course deck shoes. Cathy stripped first. There was just enough moonlight coming in through the window to highlight her perky breasts and the slim, but strong arms. Craig removed his polo shirt, while Cathy undid his belt buckle, with a practiced motion. With the zipper already down, a flick of her fingers released the top button, dropping Craig’s loaded cargo shorts all the way down to his ankles.
They had few doubts that Liz knew exactly what they did in the bedroom, besides sleeping, but also wanted to preserve some decorum. Minutes later, Cathy grasped his head with both hands and gently pushed him off from between her legs, rolled over and got on her knees, sticking her butt up in the air, with her face on the pillow.
Doggy style it is, thought Craig, climbing on top of her.
After the extended foreplay, the main act did not take very long.
They lay side by side, with Craig’s arm under Cathy’s head.
“We should come here more often,” she whispered.
Craig only smiled. They have visited the B&B at least half a dozen times and it was true. It was somehow always better in here, particularly in the larger bed.
Craig woke up, with sunshine playing on his face. Cathy was still asleep on her side, facing away from the open window. He could hear the putt, putt, putt of a boat’s diesel engine.
Probably one of the deadrises, heading out for crabs, he thought, referring to the traditional fishing boat used in the Chesapeake Bay.
They had a number of options, one of which was hitching a ride with a waterman in a deadrise, riding bicycles, or hiking on the several trails maintained on Smith Island. They could also sail, or motor around in his boat, or take the Avon dinghy, propelled by a classic, ‘70s – vintage British Seagull outboard, with a brass fuel tank, holding half an imperial gallon. The latter option was usually more practical in the shallow waters, surrounding the island, than taking the ‘Jacques’, which drew a full four feet, nine inches. There was also a place that rented kayaks and even stand up paddleboards. Craig decided to make the decision during breakfast – for which Liz was justifiably famous – or even afterwards, when he took his coffee cup to the porch and lit a hand – rolled cigarette.
After a shower and in Craig’s case – also a shave, they both dressed in fresh clothes and headed downstairs.
The smell of coffee was wafting out of the kitchen.
“Good morning,” said Craig, as Liz poked her head into the living room.
“Good morning,” she said. “Do you want the usual for breakfast?”
The usual meant two eggs over easy for each, crisp bacon, with most of the fat cooked off, toast and honey, along with the inevitable coffee and orange juice.
“Yes, please,” said Cathy. “May I help you with anything?”
“Nah,” said Liz.” Just pour yourself some coffee. I’ll get the orange juice in a minute.”
Craig picked his favorite coffee cup out of the cupboard – the one with the Hooper Strait Light, one of the four surviving Chesapeake Bay screw-pile lighthouses and waited for Cathy to get her coffee. A little pitcher of regular milk and sugar were already on the dining room table, along with the silverware.
A few minutes later Liz placed two steaming plates in front of them. Before they were even able to butter their toast, she came back with her own cup of coffee and sat at their table.
“There is something new you might be interested in,” she said.
“Really? What’s that?” Asked Craig.
“You know the little grocery store by the harbor,” said Liz.” They have something interesting on display there. Nobody is quite sure what it is, but I heard one theory, that it is German.”
“German? Here?” Craig sounded surprised and intrigued.
“Yes, it looks like a part of a periscope, or something,” said Liz.
“We will definitely have a look, as soon as I have my ‘dessert’ on the porch,” said Craig.
The mysterious object was displayed on a little, round table, close to the counter and the cash register of the store.
It could have been the tip of a periscope, thought Craig, but although someone must have cleaned it to a degree, the job wasn’t finished by any means.
The store’s owner emerged from behind the counter. He was a middle-aged man, whose family lived on Smith Island for generations.
There were well acquainted, from previous visits and handshakes were exchanged all around.
“This was brought over by Joe Lowell, the oysterman, whom I think you met,” said the man.
“Yes, we know him,” said Craig.
“He snagged it in his oyster tongs at the entrance to the Great Pond,” said the store owner, referring to a bay, about two miles south of Ewell. “We did some research on the Web and kept it soaking in fresh water for weeks, then added some nitric acid and rinsed it well. After that we kept it in a 10 percent sodium hydroxide solution, rinsed and brushed it. I know that it needs more work to preserve it, but it should be OK for now.”
“Do you have a magnifying glass?” Asked Craig, looking closely at the object.
“You bet. I got several. We studied this thing every which way. There does seem to be some writing on it, but I can’t make it out,” said the owner, reaching behind the counter and coming up with two different magnifiers. “Try this one,” he said,” handing Craig a big, round one, with a black handle.
“How about a light?” Asked Craig.
The owner grabbed a portable lamp on a long cord and shined it on the object.
Craig tried to get a sharp view from several angles, squinting behind the glass. He did notice a fairly large glass lens of some sort and also embedded lettering, but it was hard to make it out. He thought that there was a ‘Zeis…’ in there, but wasn’t sure. If true, it could of course be the mark of the famous German optical conglomerate Carl Zeiss. The object would have to be cleaned some more and if it was indeed a piece of a U – boat periscope, there was quite a mystery to be solved.
They left a message for Joe Lowell, the waterman that they would like to talk to him, when he got back from fishing. In the meantime, Craig and Cathy decided to walk the five mile route around Ewell and Rhodes Point. Craig grabbed his 8×30 Steiner Marine binoculars from the cabin of his boat and a digital camera. There was a lot to see on the hike, including numerous osprey nests, which crowned navigation markers, shacks and even some boats, which were not in use. It was another beautiful day. Several boats, both sail and power could be seen out on the Bay. Contrails of airliners, most of which seemed to be coming from Europe were lining the nearly cloudless sky. An occasional plane out of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, across the Bay, could also be seen from time to time.
Cathy was snapping away with Craig’s D3 Nikon digital camera, with the 18-200 mm zoom lens, while Craig was occasionally scanning the sights with his binoculars. The hike took them a leisurely two hours. According to what they were told, Lowell should be back from crabbing pretty soon.
When they got back to the harbor, his deadrise was at the dock and he was already unloading baskets of crabs with his crewman.
Craig asked him to come to his boat, where he had a good supply of cold Stella Artois beer. Lowell said that he would be done in about 15 minutes, after hosing his boat clean.
Craig and Cathy headed for ‘Jacques’, docked just a few paces away. Craig undid the combination padlock, took out the hatch boards and went down the companionway steps. Gave the bilge pump handle a few ‘just in case’ strokes, eliciting only a small trickle of water into the cockpit drainage holes, took out two cans of Stella and brought them to the cockpit, handing one to Cathy.
Lowell showed up a few minutes later. By this time, Craig was already smoking one of his hand rolled cigarettes. He rolled one earlier for Lowell, knowing that he liked them as well. He handed another can of Stella from the cabin icebox to Lowell.
“We were looking at that thing that you found near the Great Pond,” said Craig.
“Yeah, isn’t that something?” Said Lowell, puffing on his cigarette. “I had my tongs in an oyster bed, when I felt something solid. Didn’t have to go for it, but was curious. Had to squeeze the tongs real hard, but they kept slipping. Finally, I got my crewman George to help me. We clamped down real hard, tied the handles tight with line and used my derrick to lift the tongs.”
Lowell was obviously using the old – fashioned type of oyster tongs, meant for shallow water.
“So you just grabbed it and pulled it on board,” said Craig.
“Exactly,” said Lowell. “We had no idea what it was. It was so heavily encrusted with barnacles and seaweed that it was almost shapeless. We almost threw it back overboard, but I was still curious what it could be, since I haven’t heard of any wrecks in that area. Later, we did some checking on the Internet about cleaning and preserving things like that and I think we did a pretty good job with Vince at the store.”
“Yeah, you did,” said Craig. “It could use some more cleaning, but I think that there is Z E I S written on it. That could be Zeiss, the German optical maker.”
“So it could be a German periscope, as some said?”
“It could,” said Craig. “I also think that some parts of those were made out of bronze, which means that it wouldn’t be too badly eaten away by the sea. How deep is it in that area?”
“Pretty shallow, no more than 20, or 25 feet,” said Lowell.
“Did anybody dive around there?” Asked Craig.
“Not that I know of,” said Lowell.
“If this thing is a part of a periscope, it is probably only the top part, with the lens and a prism inside. If you have time, I would like you to show me exactly were the place is. I got some diving gear on board,” said Craig.
“Not a problem, tomorrow is Sunday, my day off. I’ll be happy to take you there. I also want to find out more about this thing,” said Lowell.