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Night and Bay

We headed east out of the York, searching for the distant channel marker to tell us when we were clear of the shallows and it was safe to turn north to more open waters. We tend to sail more in the bay proper. Those are my favorite times, when we turn the engine off and the only sounds are the creaking of the lines and the slap of the water against the hull.

We saw more pelicans on this day, diving and splashing, and dolphins for the first time. White gulls and silver fish jumped out of the water. We anchored out for that last night in a quiet cove off Dymer Creek, just above the Rappahannock.

Luff American style: Sailors come from all over the country to charter sailboats on the Chesapeake, where calm waters, autumn breezes and coastal towns make for good cruises. (Annapolis Sailing School)

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Paul finished reading "Misty" to the girls. The moon, high and round, reflected white dimples in the glass-black water. Paul and I tucked the girls into the aft cabin, then stretched out on our berths in the main salon. The boat swung gently on the anchor line; the moon shone through the glass hatch cover. A last night sleeping under the spell of the water.

The charter was due back the next day. But for now, it was all ours.

Escape Keys

The charter process begins with a little thinking about where you want to cruise and, therefore, where you should charter from. The Chesapeake Bay Cruising Guide is a good resource listing itineraries, anchorages, marinas and tours of coastal towns. It's available from Chesapeake Bay Magazine (877-804-8624, www.cbmmag.net) and boating stores.

To bareboat (renting a boat sans captain or crew), charter companies will want to review your "résumé" of sailing instruction, previous boats you've owned or chartered and other experience. In addition to bareboat charters, the companies listed below may provide captained or crewed charters. Captains run about $35 an hour or $200 a day. For additional information, contact the charter companies or the Chesapeake Area Professional Captains Association (410-267-7651, www.capca.net).

Charter fleets and prices may vary from those listed below; midweek rates are typically cheaper than weekends; additional fees may apply. You're not getting luxury accommodations for the money, you're getting the bay.

Annapolis Bay Charters, Annapolis. 800-991-1776, www.annapolisbaycharters.net. Charter fleet ranges from 28-foot crafts ($750 for two days) to 55-footers ($2,795 for two days).

BaySail, Havre de Grace, Md. 410-939-2869, www.baysail.net. Charter fleet ranges from 31 feet ($625 for two weekdays, $750 for two weekend days) to 41 feet ($940 for two weekdays, $1,125 for two weekend days).

Choptank Charters, Oxford, Md. 410-226-5000, www.tays.com. Charter fleet ranges from 30 feet ($675 for two days) to 42 feet ($1,575 for two days).

Gratitude Yachting Center, Rock Hall, Md. 800-730-5569, www.gratitudeyachting.com. Charter fleet ranges from 29 feet ($875 for two days) to 40 feet ($1,300 for two days).

Hartge Chesapeake Charters, Galesville, Md. 410-867-7240, www.hartge.com. Charter fleet ranges from 28 feet ($435 for two days) to 36 feet ($840 for two days).

Haven Charters, Rock Hall. 410-639-7140, www.havencharters.com. Charter fleet ranges from 31 feet ($660 for two days) to 42 feet ($1,150 for two days).

Deltaville Yacht Charters, Deltaville, Va. 804-776-7575, www.deltavilleyachts.com. Charter fleet ranges from 31 feet ($767 for two days) to 47 feet ($1,530 for two days).

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