Sailing on the Chesapeake Bay

Anthropologist uncovers secret to relaxation

Anchored out on Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, there is only the soothing sound of waves breaking softly against the sailboat’s hull and the cool caress of the breeze, says longtime sailor and anthropologist Dr. Michael L. Blakey. Sailing relaxes him from the rigors of teaching anthropology at universities around the world. Typically, Blakey puts in grueling hours as scientific director of the African Burial Ground Project and the W. Montague Cobb Biological Anthropology Laboratory at Howard University.

But for now the 47-year-old scientist is unwinding on board to the silky sounds of jazz, African and classical music. Occasionally a dolphin breaks the calm by swimming up for a closer look. “The entire boat becomes a speaker and the bay becomes the room, the theater, and the birds are marvelous!” he exclaims. Blakey has been recreational sailing since he was 13 and is the proud owner of a 19-foot “pocket cruiser” called the Sankofa. The name comes from an African maxim meaning “to look back to move forward.” Blakey’s sloop holds six people and sleeps four.

“Sailing is like meditation. It combines a certain spirituality with science and sports. You also get a real physical workout,” he explains. The process is pretty straightforward. First, “fit out” the boat, checking it thoroughly. Next, listen to the weather report. Then hoist the sails or motor out. And finally sit at the tiller to steer the boat to your destination. “There’s a lot of pulling and bending and exertion from time to time and then there’s the lifting when actually launching your boat,” he adds.

Blakey, who has visited islands impossible to reach by car, basks in the beauty of oil-painting-perfect coastlines and lush wildlife preserves. “The coasts are very beautiful,” he relates. “Some are very wild. There are nice islands in the lagoons, the creeks, and you get to one at the end of the day and drop anchor and there you have all of nature around you.” In some cases he is the lone sailor in that “small part of the world.” At other times another sailboat may share the serenity with him.

Getting started

  • Do your research. Familiarize yourself with the sport by logging on to www.boatus-store.com to check out a large selection of books, magazines, and videos.
  • Try boating with friends. Before you invest in the hobby, test the waters. Organizations such as the Black Boaters Summit (www.blackboaterssummit.com) and the Water Babies Sailing Club (www.wbsc.org) sponsor sailing trips featuring recreational boating activities as well as scuba diving and snorkeling. The Black Boaters Summit’s next excursion is scheduled for September 2000 in Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
  • Take classes. For more information, contact the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary (800-336-2628) for skills and safety courses on boating. Also ask for a free Boater’s Source Directory.
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