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Cold with flurry of memories
Winter memories includes friend's "captivity" in Baltimore, driving cars like snowmobiles

Date published: 1/8/2013

By Rob Hedelt

BECAUSE I grew up in the Northern Neck, crossing paths with some unusual folks, it doesn't take much to spark memories of fascinating stories.

Winter and its sometimes icy weather has been the trigger lately.

Like the other day, when I drove past a pond with ice around its edges, I couldn't help but think of my old pal Earl Jenkins of Westmoreland County, known by all as Jenks.

Visiting him one wintry morning in the cluttered store at his Sandy Point Marina, I was treated to stories of his younger days as mate and then captain aboard the sort of twin-masted schooners that once hauled much of the region's freight.

The story that sticks with me was the time he and scores of other watermen had an unexpected layover in Baltimore harbor.

I forget exactly what he was hauling on that trip--wood for a charcoal plant might have been his load.

But whatever the cargo, it was enough to make him try to make the trip from the Northern Neck to Baltimore when a storm and falling temperatures made things a little iffy.

He and his crew made it there. After all, they had grown up on wooden boats--reading the seas and the wind in their sails was second nature.

But they had little control over what happened next. As they waited to unload, a winter storm hit, temperatures dropped and the entire harbor froze around them.

Not just a thin coating, but thick layers of ice that trapped the boats for more than a week.

They coped as Chesapeake Bay watermen have always done, rafting up to share food and ferrying crews to the shore as necessary.

Jenks said most slept on their boats, not about to trust the key to their livelihoods to chance, thieves or shifting ice.

I believe that in his story's telling, he threw in a few details that seemed to border on embellishment.

Such as how damp blankets froze solid on some nights, and what it took to thaw the water and foodstuffs aboard.

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