Cruising The Chesapeake Bay
After attending the Annapolis Boat Shows, we join the many other “snowbirds” who are heading south for the winter. Since October is one of the best times to cruise the Chesapeake Bay, we take our time to revisit our favorite destinations.
Tilghman Island 38° 43.17’ N 076° 19.96’ W
Years ago, we would simply pass through the island’s cut at Knapps Narrows to continue to the Choptank River and Oxford, Maryland or our favorite gunkholes. But we’ve since discovered that Tilghman Island is a cruising destination in its own right. The western channel is constantly shoaling, so it’s important to follow the narrow alley marked by the newest buoys. We tie up along the 1000-foot face dock at friendly Knapps Narrows Marina & Inn, which offers clean restrooms, showers, fuel, a pool and a complimentary continental breakfast. For dinner, the nearby Bay 100 Restaurant is always a treat. In the morning we walk across the bascule bridge and head south to Crawford’s Nautical Books, where we browse the selection of new and used books about the Bay while chatting with local expert Gary Crawford. Next door is the small but entertaining Tilghman Watermen’s Museum, which has a selection of beautiful boat models built by local watermen. We’ll grab a hearty breakfast at “Two If By Sea” and then head back to the marina to continue our journey.
St. Michaels 38° 47.22’ N 076° 13.07’ W
This charming Eastern Shore town reflects its historical past as many of its beautifully restored homes were built in the 18th and 19th Centuries. As members of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, we would normally tie up along its docks, but since we are already south of Eastern Bay, the normal route to St. Michaels, we leave Tilghman Island and head up the Choptank River to Broad Creek and then San Domingo Creek, which leads to the “back door” of St. Michaels. After dropping our hook, we land our dinghy at the public watermen’s dock and have a pleasant mile-walk into town. Lunch at the Carpenter Street Saloon is a winner, and afterwards we head to the Museum to see what’s new. Joining the non-profit Museum will help continue its many fine programs that educate and celebrate the Chesapeake Bay’s culture, seafood and history. We can’t help but aroma Old Bay Seasoning and steamed crabs escaping from the nearby Crab Claw Restaurant, so we get an outside table and indulge in a couple dozen of these local delicacies.
Oxford 38° 41.68’ N 076° 10.00’ W
Continuing east on the Choptank and then up the Tred Avon River, we head into Oxford and get a slip at Mears Marina. Smaller and far less commercial than St. Michaels, Oxford exudes a very civilized, relaxed atmosphere centered on a number of fine boatyards and in particular, one legendary boat builder. Campbell’s now has three boatyard locations, and in addition to their superb service they also build a line of “Downeast” style boats ranging from 31 to 42 feet. Oxford Boatyard was founded in 1866 and is still a very busy place, providing top-notch service. It’s also the home to Oxford Boatyard Yacht Sales, the Bay’s Sabreline dealer. For lunch we revisit a very old favorite, Pope’s Tavern, where the food, service and company are still worthy of the walk from the marina. One of Oxford’s main attractions for boat lovers is the Cutts & Case Shipyard, which continues to build, maintain and restore some of the world’s finest wooden yachts. We had the honor of meeting Ed Cutts before his death in 2009, and we’re glad to see his legacy is being carried on. Again, we rely on our past experiences and choose Latitude 38° for dinner. Both our pan-seared scallops and grilled Ahi tuna entrees are superb. As we had back to our boat we see the last ferry leave on its short ride over to Bellevue, connecting Oxford to St. Michaels.
Solomon’s Island 38° 19.24’ N 076° 27.09’ W
Knowing that cooler weather is on its way, we head down the Bay trying to stay a few steps ahead of the approaching change in season. Across the Bay from the Choptank and about 20-miles south is the beautiful Patuxent River and Solomon’s Island. We get a slip at Zahniser’s, one of our favorite marinas and boatyards on the Bay. This is a real working yard, and it’s always interesting to see what projects are being worked on. The marina, part of the state’s Maryland Clean Marina program, offers a pristine setting, modern facilities, a marine supply and gift shop, complimentary bicycles, a pool and the Dry Dock restaurant – where we always try to catch the specials at Happy Hour. A bike ride into the village brings us to the Calvert Maritime Museum which features a number of live exhibits – the tank of skates and rays is among are favorites. A 6,000 square foot building houses a fine collection of small, locally built craft. Don’t miss the restored Drum Point Lighthouse, one of the remaining screwpile, cottage-styled lights that served the Bay at the beginning of the 20th Century. Our walk along the boardwalk is highlighted by a beautiful sunset across the river.
Smith Island 37° 59.77’ N 076° 01.57’ W
Remote and detached from the modern world, Smith Island provides a fascinating look back into Chesapeake Bay history. It’s a living, breathing museum occupied by just 300 or so hardy folks who make their living on the water and continue to speak a local dialect that somewhat resembles what is spoken in Cornwall, England. The island’s culture and, in fact, the island itself is in danger of disappearing due to erosion and rising water levels. Houses are being jacked up on cinder blocks and front yards are adorned by high capacity pumps in an effort to keep the Bay at bay. But the island’s uniqueness and authenticity attract more than 5,000 tourists each year, most of them arriving on passenger-only ferries from Crisfield, Maryland, 12-miles away. We thread our way through the narrow channel to the tiny town of Ewell, tie up at the town dock and take a walk through the residential neighborhood, noting the ubiquitous crab traps in every yard. Returning to our boat we stop at the Bayside Inn Restaurant for fried soft shell crabs and a slice of the world famous 10-layer Smith Island Cake. We have an odd feeling of sadness though, knowing that the island and lifestyle may be on its way to extinction.
Turning our boat due south, we are now headed to Norfolk, Virginia for the continuation of our virtual East Coast Cruise.