In Washington, DC, Sanctuary and crew stayed on the Washington Channel, immediately upstream of the confluence of the Anacostia River into the Potomac. The Washington Channel is a large, closed, rectangular embayment. Water access is from the south end, across the Potomac from Reagan International Airport.
The Washington Channel is located along a VIP helicopter route that serves the White House and the US Capitol. There are frequent low-flying helicopter transits that occur at all hours. If that sort of activity is bothersome or triggers unpleasant memories, the Washington Channel basin may not be appropriate for your comfort.
There are two commercial marinas on the Washington Channel, and a large Yacht Club. These facilities are all at the top of the Washington Channel embayment, basically adjacent to one another, on the Washington city shore. They are:
- the Washington Marina,
- the Capital Yacht Club, and
- Gangplank Marina.
To get to the Washington Marina, your boat will have to be able to clear a fixed bridge (Constitution Avenue). Check the charts for vertical clearance. Sanctuary could have done it. Many trawlers and cruisers will clear; sails will not. These three facilities are all located on Water St., which parallels Maine Ave. The layout of their individual docks make their entrance gates 1/2 mile or more apart. Nearby local restaurants are all closest to the Capital Yacht Club docks. If you stay at the Washington Marina or Gangplank Marina, it’s a bit of a hike to get off your dock, over to the restaurants, and back.
There is also a large anchorage at the NW end of the Washington Channel embayment, nearest the vicinity of the Jefferson Memorial and Reflecting Pool. Anchoring in Washington Channel is legal and free. There are no mooring balls and no water taxi/launch services. In late June and early July, there was plenty of room to anchor. If you anchor, you can use the dinghy dock and facilities of the Capital Yacht Club for a small fee per day; a good deal. The fee includes showers, laundry and trash disposal, as well as use of the bar and club house. The anchorage carries 10 – 20 ft throughout. Tides in the channel run 3 – 4 ft. Holding in the channel seemed good in a heavy mud bottom. We didn’t anchor, but in the two weeks we were there, none of the cruising boats anchored there had any problems, and we did experience passing thunderstorms every few days during that season. You will be accompanied by a dozen or more other cruisers anchored there. All anchored boats were occupied. It’s a well protected anchorage.
The Washington Channel is separated from the main body of the Potomac River by a large spit of public park land. On the July 4th holiday, the harbor police may come along and ask you deploy a stern anchor so the boat doesn’t swing with the tide. That way, they improve safety and get more boats in for the National fireworks show, itself. Anchored cruiser’s will not be at risk. We observed that the crowds arrived in the afternoon and evening, and mostly broke up after the fireworks were over. The music program for the fireworks on the mall is simulcast on FM Radio.
There is Safeway super market about 1/2 to 3/4 mile (3 or 4 city blocks) from CYC, on Maine Ave. I suggest visitors limit shopping to the mid-day hours on weekdays; certainly during daylight hours, and preferable in groups. The store abuts the Anacostia section of the city, in a transitional area located between yuppie, upper middle class neighborhoods and inner-city poor neighborhoods.
You will see homeless sleeping on the public riverwalk in the late evening/early morning hours. They are not a safety or security problem for passersby, and are shoo’d off by metro police by 10h00. Security is very tight at all of the marinas, and we never worried about it in the two weeks we spent aboard. The docks are fenced, and keys are required to both get on and get off the docks.
If you plan to stay at a Washington marina, make reservations, and make them well before you get to DC; it is not an easy venue for transient boaters, in the sense that there is a lot of local demand for slip space, and a very high percentage of long-term live-aboards in the local facilities. The marinas all put transients in slip space if/as season slip holders are away. We stayed at the Capital Yacht Club, which I recommend as the best choice of the three facilities. CYC is a private Club. If you happen to be a member of a Chesapeake Bay Yacht Club, they offer a small (maybe 10%) slip fee discount. As mentioned above, they have laundry machines, guest showers, dockside pumpout, a social room/dining room/club house and bar. They include and welcome transients in their social activities; while we were there, they had several pot luck dinners and breakfast on the week ends. We felt welcome and included.
From very near Capital Yacht Club, on Maine Ave., there is a closed-loop bus route called the Washington “Circulator.” Circulator buses are painted fire-engine red. The Circulator that serves Maine Ave. will take you to the Metro subway station at L’Enfant Plaza or to the National Mall near-by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on Independence Ave. There is a second “Circulator” route that serves the entire perimeter of the National Mall – the capitol to the Jefferson Memorial – and some limited close-in areas of the city. The Circulators cost $1.00/ride.
There is a good Chinese Restaurant located on the second floor of the CYC building, a good fresh fish place next door to the CYC property, and a high-end Phillips seafood restaurant next door on the promenade. It’s about 1/2 mile walk from CYC to the Holocaust Museum, and about a mile walk to the reflecting pool, Lincoln Monument, FDR Monument, Jefferson Monument, etc. It takes a little doing, but by metrorail and city bus, we were able to visit the National Cathedral. With a car, a visit to the US Marine Corps Museum at Quantico, VA, is extremely worthwhile.
I discourage staying at the St. James Marina on the Anacostia River. The facility is modern and secure, but the area in which it is located is not appropriate for coming and going as a visitor to DC.
The City of Alexandria operates a municipal marina, but it is several miles away from DC, across the Potomac, just north of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The Wilson bridge is now open to traffic, and it’s predecessor is gone. Some cruisers do stay there, and use the DC Metro system to get into the city. We preferred to be closer. If you consider using the City of Alexandria’s Municipal Marina facility, be especially aware and careful about their refund policy; it is extremely onerous. It is clearly described on their web site, but anyone who considers using this facility needs to be aware of it.
There is a new marina at National Harbor. It’s even harder to get into DC from there. It’s south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the east shore of the Potomac. For access to DC, take their water shuttle across to Alexandria, and then take the Metro into the city.
You can get further information from Skipper Bob and from the Waterway Guide, Chesapeake Bay edition (formerly Mid-Atlantic Edition). We used Skipper Bob, The Waterway Guide and Rick Rhodes guide on “Cruising the Potomac” for detailed cruising information. We think this side trip is a real pearl. It’s every bit as good as any other city stop on the east coast or the Great Loop cruise. The marinas are safe and secure. We enjoyed Savannah, Charleston, New York, Montreal, Ottawa, Chicago and St. Louis, and certainly Chattanooga. The Potomac River and Washington, DC, are equally well worth the effort.