October 20, 2007
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We have been in Crisfield, MD, for the past two days, and are planning to stay for a third day. This is the heart of Maryland’s Eastern Shore “Crab Country.” We also couldn’t pass Somers Cove Marina’s off-season rate of $1 per foot per day, which is very inexpensive by Northeast standards. In addition after two days, the third day is free!
We’ve had a chance to catch up on a few “projects”, get to know some fellow cruisers, and immerse ourselves in the seafood culture. But I’m skipping ahead …
St. Michaels: No Crab Left Behind (Wed, Oct 10)
With the passing of the cold front, we woke in Dividing Creek to a much cooler (and less humid) day. Our next leg would be relatively short, so we skipped the usual cereal and Sue prepared a great zucchini scrambled egg breakfast. On our way out the Wye River, we spyed John and Cindy on their Gozzard 37, headed our way. We shouted our thanks for the Dividing Creek recommendation and promised to see them in the Spring.
There wasn’t much wind, but we raised the sails, just to dump some of the water that gets trapped in them after a rain storm. We then headed toward St. Michaels, a very popular destination for both land and water visitors. We decided to anchor in Leed’s Creek, across the Miles River from St. Michaels (less crowded, better holding ground, and more sheltered). After a quick lunch, we went into town using our dinghy (about 1.5 miles) and tied up at the public landing, which is right next to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. We had been there once before, so we focused on their new exhibit (Recreation on the Bay) as well as our old favorite, the former Hooper Straight Light House, which was moved to the museum to preserve it. We highly recommend this museum as a good introduction to the Chesapeake Bay estuary and how special a resource it is.
From there it was on to the various shops, a mandatory stop for refreshment at the Carpenter St. Saloon, and on to the main attraction: more crabs. We panicked briefly when we discovered the St. Michael’s Crab and Steak House was closed (Tues. and Wed. closing seemed a bit odd), but not to worry: the Crab Claw restaurant was the solution. Some crab dip and a dozen large crabs later we were happy cruisers watching the sun set.
The trip back in the dark was uneventful. Brian used our portable GPS to retrace our track back to the anchorage. There were no lighted navigation aids on Leeds Cr., so it was a big help to us in avoiding the shallows near mouth of the creek. Another boat had anchored near us since we left.
Waiting out a Cold Front Passage (Thurs & Fri, Oct 11-12)
The forecasted cold front arrived promptly at 1:30 AM with some wind (20 knot gusts) and 20 minutes of driving rain. Our anchor held nicely and we woke to forecasts of continued gusty wind from the West. We (and other boats anchored near us) decided to stay for both Thursday and Friday. We won’t bore you with the details, but it is amazing how many things need to be organized, re-organized on a boat when you have the time. If I forget this, Sue (the information specialist/librarian) is there with a list of items that could be improved. These times, also give us a chance to catch up on our journal and prepare our next Buds-at-Sea posting. The continuing noise of the wind keeps you alert, rechecking your location (to be sure you’re not dragging) or adjusting the anchor rode (to avoid chafe on the lines). We even have time to listen to the local and national news (sometimes curious about what’s going on in the “real” world), and watch a few more X-Files episodes on the DVD. Of course, food is essential to crew morale (I re-learn that steaks take longer to grill in 20 knots of wind). The cell phone also helps when we discover something needs replacement (Dan – thanks for ordering some new laptop batteries) or we just want to touch base with family.
Oh Canada! (Sat, Oct 13)
With the winds dying down, our last night in Leeds Creek was very restful, and we awoke to the site of a waterman tending this “trot line”, which is a long line between floats with bait lines tied to it at intervals. Starting at one floate, the crabber places the line on a roller a few feet above his boats rail, and then very slowly motors along, raising the bait to near the surface, where he can use a simple pole net to catch any crab that is hanging on to the bait. Not used much commercially anymore, but it works well in this part of the Bay.
By the time we were ready to go (8:15 am), all the other sailboats had left as well. As we neared the Green, “1” day mark, we slowly and gracefully came to a halt, we had strayed ONLY 20 or 30 yards closer to the mark that we had on entering 3 days earlier –but that was all it took! We backed off, turned left, found the deep water and in less than 2 minutes we were back to normal speed. Our second “soft grounding” of the trip was no big deal, but it reminded us of how close the shoals can get to what you think is the “center” of the channel. In this case, the chart and GPS said we should have had 9 feet of water instead of the 5.5 feet it turned out to be. In both cases we had entered a channel with no problems, but grounded on the way out.
Once we were in the open Bay, we got some good winds and were finally sailing again at 5.5 – 6.5 knots toward the Little Choptank River. By 1:30 pm the winds were dying so we motored into Hudson Creek around 3:30, followed by 2 other sailboats flying Canadian flags. We quickly anchored in a group of boats numbering around 5, which grew to around 12 or so by cocktail time. At least 6 of them were flying Canadian flags, and were thus almost certainly going down the ICW to Florida and beyond. We had been seeing hundreds of migrating Canada geese on the Eastern Shore as we made our way down the Bay. It was now clear, that another significant Canadian flock was also passing through.
Crossing the Potomac (Sun, 14 Oct)
The next morning we got an early start (7:30 am) and our hopes rose as we got an early breeze in the open Bay. The sailing ended however within an hour, and we motored the rest of the way, with some help from the current, toward the Patuxent River, on the Western Shore. As we closed Drum Point at the entrance, the wind came on strong, and we had a great one hour sail, hitting 6 to 7 knots at one point as we tacked back and forth up the River.
The Patuxent River is known mostly for the local Naval Air Station on the south side and for Solomons Island across the river, a quaint little town with what sailors are looking for marinas, anchorages, museums, restaurants, provisions, shops and pretty scenery. Did I mention the Tiki Bar? We tied up at Zahnisers Yacht Center, and were given an outside dock to tie up to. Hooray! We would have to wait some more to practice boat handling in slips.
Sue’s older brother Dave and Lisa, his wife, live in Woodbridge VA, just south of Washington, DC along the Potomac. It seemed like a natural for them to come see us and Sogno, since we were within 50 miles or so. When we decided to look at a road map, we saw that for much of Northern VA, we might as well be in Baltimore! It turns out that the Potomac, which forms the VA-MD border, has only two crossings in Northern VA: one in DC (I-95) and one sort of near Fredericksburg. No other bridges or ferries. Dave and Lisa would not be deterred and they spent 90 minutes, braving DC traffic, to get to our end of Calvert County while we took a walk about town. Did I mention the Tiki Bar?
We had fun showing off Sogno for the first time to our landlubber relatives, catching up on family news and having a fun dinner at the “Captain’s Table.” (I confined my crab intake to a small cup of cream of crab soup.)
Change the Oil, Change the Plans (Mon, Oct 15)
The “plan” was to change the engine oil, tighten and lube the steering cables, post the blog, and take showers before shoving off at noon. The reality: it was 11:15 and we were still trying to post the blog. Time out for a crew meeting! We finally decided there was more to see and do, and no need to rush out. We signed up for another day, finished our to do list, and headed out to see the Calvert County Marine Museum.
What a great decision. We had a wonderful time in a fascinating display of all things marine. An estuarium, crabs of all kinds, fish, jelly fish, terrapins – much more than historical stuff. We especially enjoyed the lighthouse tour. The former Drum Pt light had been cut off at the base and taken to the museum intact. It was the best light house tour of the trip, and we got to clamber up ladders, through hatches, plus see the living quarters as they would have been furnished in the early 1900s. Other memorable stuff on engines, crab and oyster packing, fossils from the nearby cliffs, etc. If you get to the Solomons, MD area we highly recommend this stop!
From there we did the obligatory provisioning and shopping tour and returned back for a relaxing night aboard, complete with a mixed grill dinner.
St. Leonard, Crab Cakes and Thou (Tues, 16 Oct)
The day began with a flurry of blog postings, a bit of confusion in getting our holding tank pumped out, but with help from both Zahnisers and Spring Cove Marina, we were on our way out of Solomons by 11:30. Our destination was St. Leonard’s Creek, 10 miles or so up the Patuxent.
One point of interest about the Patuxent is that it is the deepest river emptying into the Bay. Practically right under the Thomas Johnson Bridge, the depth is 127 feet – the deepest spot in the entire estuary. From there it was a quiet and peaceful cruise (no wind) up the river to the very wide, and relatively deep St. Leonard’s Creek. We found a wonderful spot to anchor near a small bluff near Rollins Cove. After lunch, we took time to tour the creek for a few miles upstream, passing some very nice houses. Our one disappointment was that the widely known Vera’s White Sands Resort restaurant was not open. We walked the grounds that include palm trees, a beach, pool, large marina, etc. The “high season” was over now, but we could imagine this “exotic” complex would be really going strong on a weekend summer night.
Back to Sogno for the “best crab cakes” of the trip – created by Sue from authentic Maryland recipes and the better part of one pound of lump crab meat we had bought in Solomons the day before. Delicious! The evening concluded in the cockpit with some balmy breezes, starlit skies and sincere thanksgiving for being able to be on this journey. We saw only one other boat anchored in this entire beautiful creek!
Paulie, Eddie and Crabs to Go (Wed, 17 Oct)
We were hoping our next destination would be Smith Island, Maryland’s “last offshore inhabited island”. Located right in the middle of the Bay along the Maryland’s southern boundary with Virginia, we were concerned about the depth coming in. The chart said 5 feet, the cruising guides said 5.5 to 6, but we called the Smith Island Marina to find out what the locals said. We were assured that with our 5.5 foot draft we could make it, but it was best to be there at mid-tide, scheduled for around 2:30. And yes we could have a slip for $1/per foot!
With no time to waste, we had to motor all the way, occasionally getting some boost from our main sail, but mostly motoring right into the wind. We arrived right on time, held our breadth through some shallower spots, but really never saw anything shallower than 8 feet or so. Our next challenge was docking in a slip, but it turned to be no problem (no wind or current helped immensely). We came in like we knew what we were doing, and were cautioned to not come in all the way since the last ten feet or so were a bit shallow (or depth meter said we were virtually aground.) Our hostess, Paulie, gave us a run down on the island, and since most things were closing at 4:00 we took off to see the sights. We had the mandatory crab ceremony (I had a softshell crab sandwich, Sue chose crabcake) and we then walked around a very small town, with a large church, a grocery, post office and lots of crab shanties – all virtually one foot above sea level, or so it seemed. It was very quiet, but there was some action at the docks as the mail boat left for Crisfield, and the last of the day’s crabs were loaded up for market.
By the time we had completed the tour, we went over to the Hot Steamed Crabs sign to see what that was about. The very friendly proprietor Eddie (pronounced Edduh) told us the large crabs were $10 for 6 and $18 for a dozen, and when would we like them? We thought everything shut down by 4:30, but Eddie was happy to make them to order so we could pick them up at 6:00. What a deal (the going price for a dozen large in Annapolis was $64!)
We ate our fill of crabs at the marina patio, under the stars, fortified with some local Yuengling beer and some liberal use of “Off” to keep the local mosquitoes at bay. We couldn’t shake the crab habit, and we were loving it.
Three Groundings in less than 1 hour (Thurs, 18 Oct)
To catch the mid-tide, we had to be underway by 7:30 am. This time we were going out the eastern side of the island, which was supposed to be better dredged, but almost 4 miles long. Carefully noting how the 7:30 mail boat proceeded, I promptly ran Sogno aground within 15 minutes of starting. A bit of backing and turning and we were back in the channel. I now concentrated on being very careful to go straight for each day mark. This worked very well, and since I nearly went 20 minutes this time before running aground. Again we worked our way back to the channel, and by this time I was not surprised when again we ran aground in about 15 minutes. At least at this point we could see the end of the dredged channel. The nearby waterman, hardly seemed to notice what these sailors were up to, but we finally made it out to the “deep” water (6 feet) at 8:30 am. We had made it!
From there we headed for Crisfield, MD, the “crab capital” of the Eastern Shore. Our idea was to sail a bit, get a slip at the Marina, take a sight seeing trip to Virginia’s Tangier Island (a bigger version of nearby Smith Island), see the town, and then attend the Watermen’s Festival the following day. We arrived at the marina around 11:00 am after a 1 hour sail, and again made a nearly perfect landing in a nice large slip. [To be continued]
Coming attractions: We dash to make the trip to Tangier, we finally meet some crews of boats we have seen along the way, and we find out how long it takes to shuck 24 oysters when money is on the line.
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Warm weather has returned, we’re getting closer to the end of the Chesapeake portion of the trip. Time to start reading up on the ICW.
Brian and Sue Schanning
Buds at Sea