Trawlering The Chesapeake Bay

Warning; This is a long post.
Great Bridge, VA is always a good stop along the waterway before entering the Chesapeake Bay northbound or after the Chesapeake if southbound. The free tie up on the wall between the bridge and lock gives access to groceries, shopping of all sorts, restaurants, hardware stores, pharmacies and most anything you might need. For us, it was an opportunity to visit with friends that live nearby. But after a few days of visiting and then waiting for the rains to let up, we locked through the Great Bridge Lock once more and motored north through the Norfolk/Portsmouth waterway. Cruising past our Naval Fleet and the many different types of vessels encountered along this stretch is always an amazing experience. We see everything from riverboats and nuclear submarines, to aircraft carriers and working tug boats. All against Norfolk's and Portsmouth's towering backdrop. There is always a visible security presence all along the waterfront, and they are serious about their job. It's imperative that anyone give the Naval vessels a wide berth.


Our destination for the day would be Hampton, Virginia. We wanted to explore the anchorages in the harbor, spend some time in the marina to catch up on laundry and give the boat a good bath. Entering Hampton Harbor is pretty straightforward as long as you follow the marked channel. Once inside the harbor, there are two potential anchorages; one directly across from the Public Piers and the other past a fixed 29-foot bridge. We chose the anchorage past the bridge to give us somewhat of a break from the constant boat wakes and also because it was less crowded than the one across from the docks. We found the depths to be shallower on the west side (it quickly dropped to 4 feet at low tide) and deeper on the east side, with 7 to 8 feet at low tide. There were also a number of floats to contend with, a sure sign we were finally in the Chesapeake Bay. We found a spot and settled in just as the rain began once again. This is a very nice anchorage with good holding and only a few local boats that enjoy coming by and waking boats at anchor. Fortunately, they all go home at night.


After a quiet evening, we called the marina the next morning and inquired about the availability of a slip for the night. They told us the marina was booked for the next couple of days with a Power Squadron group that was due to arrive, but they would put us on a waiting list if someone canceled. About the time we were trying to decide if we wanted to stay another day at anchor, the marina called to say a slip was open. This just might not have been a sign of good luck as we later found out. Up came the anchor and we moved into a slip at the Hampton Public Piers. There is a small dock near the bridge at the marina that can be used to tie up the dinghy and go ashore from the anchorage. Three dock hands met us at the slip and helped us tie up in the current. We immediately began the process of doing laundry and cleaning the boat. Thankfully, the rains seemed to have finally subsided, and the day was sunny and very warm. This would be the beginning of a long heat wave that stretched on for almost two weeks.


The slips on both side of us were empty when we pulled into the marina. About midday, a 40+ foot sailboat pulled into the slip next to us and promptly ran into the boat. They seemed to care very little since they "had a fender out," which didn't do much at all. Susan finally told them they needed to fend their boat off ours, fender or no. Just because people can afford to own a boat, they still may have no clue as to how to operate one. They finally got their boat tied up in the slip and we could breath a little easier. The marina soon began to fill up, all with very noisy go-fast boats. This was not a good sign and they began to party almost as soon as they arrived, some apparently before they arrived. The marina neglected to tell us that this "Power Squadron" group would be partying on the dock all night with drinking, loud music and folks that can only talk at the top of their lungs. Had we known this, we would have passed on the slip.


Hampton is a very nice town and we were fortunate that on the day we arrived there was a street festival going on only a few blocks from the marina. A large stage had been set up and several bands were scheduled to perform. There were several street vendors selling food and drinks, many restaurants and shops along the street and a couple of kid's bouncy castles for the younger ones. We enjoyed listening to the music and, of course, visited the local ice cream shop. Hampton is one of those towns where you can just walk around and enjoy the sights. The Virginia Air and Space Center is right at the waterfront and open to the public. A visit to the restored 1920s carousel is like stepping back in time. You can visit the Hampton History Museum or visit Fort Monroe by ferry or bus. The grocery store isn't nearby, but a taxi or bus ride will get you there. Our visit was a short one, just the one day, but well worth the stop and maybe the next time we will stay longer. With all of the weather delays, we were anxious to move up the bay.


Beach House was underway at dawn the next day to take advantage of light morning winds crossing the Bay. Our next destination was Nandua Creek on the eastern shore of Virginia. The plan for our Bay transit this trip was to move up the eastern shore all the way until we were north of the Bay Bridge, and then cross over to the western shore. Nandua Creek is a little known creek, and we wanted to explore it and see if it would be a good anchorage between Hampton and Crisfield, MD for our Chesapeake anchorage book. By noon, we were at the outer marker. A closer look at the chart showed that there may be a shallow bar with 4 feet about halfway into the channel. We were about an hour before high tide, so we hoped we would have enough water to get in. Between green "5A" and red marker "6," the depth sounder alarm went off telling us we were in less than 5 feet of water. The actual depth showed 4.7 feet. Once past the markers, the depths rose to 7 feet or more. This might be a concern to us since at low tide the depths would be 3 feet or less. Once inside, the depths were 8 to 11 feet and the holding where we anchored was very good. The anchor dug in immediately and the anchorage was beautiful. But we would have to plan our departure for high tide the next day to avoid grounding in the channel. High tide the next day, of course, was before sunrise or late afternoon. Neither was a good choice, but one we had to deal with.


The plan was to be up before sunrise and to be prepared to leave the minute there was enough light. That would put us in the channel at about the same tide on which we arrived. It would be close, but if we got in, we should be able to get back out. The problem would be that we would be on a falling tide, so if there was a problem, we would be stuck. Not something we looked forward to. The next morning we were underway as planned. As we headed out the channel, it was apparent the wind had picked up quite a bit and swells were rolling in the channel. As we approached the shallow spot, we tried a slightly different side of the channel in the hopes that there might be a little more depth. Just as we reach the shallow spot, a swell rolled under us and we hit the bottom hard in the trough of the swell. The crest picked us up again and the boat bounced once more in the next trough. It only lasted less than a minute, but seemed like an eternity. We felt the boat moving into deeper water and breathed a sigh of relief. The depth sounder had read 3.8 in the troughs, something that wasn't a problem when we came in. Once clear of the channel and in deeper water, the bilge and rudder shaft had to be checked to be sure we didn't see any obvious damage. No water was coming in and the boat appeared to be steering normally. Beach House has a full keel running the length of the boat and it protects the hull and rudder. With such a problem channel approach, we decided that this creek would be best left out of our Chesapeake Bay Anchorage Book.


Crisfield was our next stop and we decided to take a slip at the marina rather than anchor in the harbor basin. Our pretty hard bounce that morning did give us a little cause for concern, so we wanted a diver to check the rudder area and be sure we didn't do any damage to the rudder or the shoe on which the rudder sits. Everything felt okay, but an inspection would give us piece of mind. With the number of jellyfish in the water, we didn't want to go in ourselves. Another issue in Crisfield is the problem of landing the dinghy. There are no public dinghy docks and the marina charges $10.00 per day to land the dinghy. This does include using the marina facilities, restrooms, showers and pool, however. It just made sense to tie up to the dock. Transient rates at the marina are $1.75 per foot plus electric. If you stay two nights, the third is free. There was a one-day festival going on in town, The J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake, so we stayed the entire three days. Crisfield is one of those small eastern shore working waterfront towns that is trying to become more. Beyond the few restaurants around the waterfront, and of course the festival, the town doesn't have a lot to offer. Many shops are boarded up and have been long closed. The marina is nice, but we felt a bit expensive for the location. The staff was very friendly and helpful and even didn't charge us for a rental bike to get out on the highway to the grocery store. 


After our three days, we were anxious to get underway. Three days in Crisfield is about our limit. Next stop would be a quiet anchorage in the Little Choptank River. Susan has a cousin that lives just off the river and one of her cousin's neighbors has a dock right where we wanted to anchor. We left Crisfield at 6:00 am and arrived at our anchoring spot at 3:00 pm. We anchored just out of the middle of the river near a spot called Solomons Cove. Susan's cousin drove over and picked us up at the neighbor's dock and brought us back to her house for a great dinner and conversation. We had a good visit and the night was quiet and calm. Winds were forecast to pick up from the south, but they never did. That's a good thing since this part of the river is wide open to the south.


The next morning early, we pulled up the anchor and headed for Cambridge, MD. The trip around from the Little Choptank to the Choptank and Cambridge took about 3 hours at our average cruising speed. The entrance to Cambridge is deep and well marked. Just inside the harbor and to starboard is a long town dock (a concrete seawall with numerous cleats) that is free to transients. As we approached the dock, we spotted folks we had met at the Dismal Swamp Welcome Station. It's funny how we keep meeting up with the same people at different places as we travel. The depths alongside the dock are not consistent, and the wall behind the County Building has depths of only about 4 feet at low tide. From the middle of the dock and toward Snapper's restaurant, the depths range from 7 to 9 feet. The dock is very nice at a park-like setting right in downtown Cambridge. There is no power or water at the dock, but trash cans are available. Good fenders are needed to protect the boat from wakes by passing waterman and pleasure craft. The tidal range is about 2 feet and will require a number of fenders to allow for the rise and fall of the boat at the concrete seawall. If the dock is full, there is an anchorage just off the dock with room for several boats. There was a sailboat at anchor when we arrived.


Downtown Cambridge is a quaint eastern shore town with a revitalized historic district. The storefronts are full with shops, galleries, restaurants and boutiques.The main area for supplies and provisions are just outside of town. There is a bus service that will take you to the shopping center where the grocery store, hardware store, marine supply, pharmacy and several other shops are located. You can do your shopping and ride the bus back to the downtown area near the town dock. Cambridge is another town to walk the streets and view the old historic homes. We did notice that some of the homes were in serious need of renovation and restoration. At the harbor entrance is a small park where a farmers market is held every Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning. There is also a reproduction of the Little Choptank Lighthouse that is open to the public. The original lighthouse is at the Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. Everything from fine dining to sandwiches are available within a short walk. Snapper's restaurant, at the seawall, specializes in Jamaican cuisine and seafood, and is quite good, if not a bit pricy. 


From Cambridge, we crossed the Choptank over to Oxford on the Tred Avon, with Susan's cousin Barbara on board for the trip. From the seawall in Cambridge to the anchorage in Oxford, it was a two-hour leisurely cruise for us. There is an anchorage off Oxford with a beach to land the dinghy. This is open to the river and subject to lots of wakes from passing pleasure boats, waterman and the Oxford Ferry, all running full blast. This is a very rolly anchorage so we passed on it and instead headed into the harbor and anchored just out of the channel past green marker "5" in Town Creek. Water depths in this small pocket range from 5 to 8 feet, depending on how far out of the channel you anchor. While anchoring, we saw something in the water that at first we thought was another float. Once the anchor was down, we looked closer and saw that it was a bird struggling in the water to stay afloat. When he saw the boat, he tried to swim to it and grab on to anything he could. Susan tried to scoop him up in a bucket, but he swam away and got under our swim platform. I was able to reach under and grab him just before he gave up and went under for the last time. We put him up on deck so his feathers could dry out and to see if he was going to recover. He did and we eventually took him back to shore.


We noticed the Schooner Restaurant across the harbor and called them to see if we needed reservations for lunch. They told us they weren't needed and we were welcome to tie the dinghy up at their docks when we came in. We had a nice lunch with Susan's cousin, who had made the trip over with us, and her son, who had driven over to pick her up. There is an ice cream shop in the same building, but on the other side from the restaurant. Lunch and dessert were enjoyed by all. It was time to do some exploration, and what better way to do it than by dinghy. A quick cruise around the harbor gave us the lay of the land and we found the public dinghy dock at the Hinkley facilities. The sign on the dock say Hinkley Ship Store/Dinghy Dock, but we checked in at the Hinkley office to be sure it was okay to tie up for awhile. They had no problem and welcomed cruisers as long as the dinghies were not tied up in such a manner as to interfere with boats in the slips. The rest of the exploration was done on foot.


Oxford is a very small, but very nice town. The Promenade is a walkway along the beach facing the Tred Avon River attached to the town park and is the terminal for the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, considered to be one of the oldest privately owned, continuous running ferries in the U.S. The Oxford Museum is directly across the street from the park. Many visitors to Oxford consider a meal at the Robert Morris Inn a must. There are several marinas in Oxford including full service at Hinkley or Oxford Boatyard. To see some beautifully restored wooden boats, visit the Cutts and Case Shipyard for a real treat. Take a walking tour along the many tree-lined streets and enjoy the quiet, laid-back atmosphere. But it is a small town, and other than relaxing and enjoying the sights, there is not much else to do. We stayed only one day and a half and decided that because the weather was good we would move on. Our next destination was St. Michaels, and we wanted to save some time and miles by transiting through Knapps Narrows, a narrow channel well known for shoaling in on a regular basis. If we wanted to go through the Narrows at high tide, we would need to be close, early in the morning.


Just after noon, we pulled the anchor and headed back out on the Tred Avon. The breeze had picked up, but it wasn't uncomfortable, so we continued on toward Tilghman Island and Knapps Narrows. Our plan was to anchor just north of the Narrows in a spot called Dun Cove. The cove would put us about 45 minutes away from Knapps Narrows the next morning at just before high tide. Dun Cove is a beautiful spot with plenty of room to anchor. The only thing ashore is private homes, but there is an old abandoned dock near the entrance where you can land a dinghy and go ashore for a walk or to walk the dog. Protection is good from all around by utilizing one of the side branches depending on wind direction. In our easterly winds, we pulled straight in to the cove and dropped the hook in about 8 feet of water. The anchor set immediately. We sat back and enjoyed the peace and solitude, at least until a local came by and waked us a couple of times coming back and forth from his dock.


At 6:00 am the next morning, we were underway towards Knapps Narrows. The channel is narrow and the currents can be strong, so attention to the current is important to not be swept out of the channel into very shallow water. Even this early, the waterman were out en masse. One impatient skipper followed us into the channel. There is a drawbridge across the Narrows that opens on demand. We called the bridgetender well in advance to let him know we were on our way. Our impatient waterman called him also. The bridgetender was excellent and had the bridge up just as we arrived. Our waterman came quickly around us before we transited the bridge just so he could turn out of the channel to a dock just in front of us. As we went through the channel on the west side of the bridge, we slowed down looking for the notorious bar the extends into the channel at the red marker coming out of the Narrows. It was about a half hour before high tide, but we never saw anything less then 8.5 feet. At low tide, this would translate to 6.5 feet, plenty of water for our draft. Once again, we were not sure what all the fuss was about other than some folks not paying attention.


The rest of the trip to St. Michaels was uneventful, and by 9:30 am that morning, we had the anchor down just off the Maritime Museum. There were three boats already anchored when we arrived. This is a small anchorage just out of the channel between the Maritime Museum and the Inn At Perry Cabin. You must stay out of the channel when anchoring and consider this when swinging to wind changes. We tried a couple of spots before we found a location we were comfortable with that didn't bother the other boats at anchor. Once we felt confident in our anchor set and location, it was again time for exploration. The dinghy was launched and the outboard attached. With our electric winch system for the dinghy and the outboard lift, the entire process is fast and easy. The dinghy dock is a short run around to the inside of the harbor and is a long, floating dock to the left of and behind the Crab Claw restaurant. This is along the Harbor Walk and about a block or two to the downtown area. The anchorage can be quite rolly with traffic on the river and boats entering the harbor at high speeds causing the wakes to roll in. Winds from the east can also build up a good fetch. There is an anchorage inside the harbor itself or out in the river, but the river anchorage is very exposed from all directions. We were very surprised that the Maritime Museum now encompasses most of the waterfront with the exception of a small amount near the downtown. It's unfortunate since you can't access any of this waterfront without paying admission to the museum. If you haven't visited the museum before, it is worth the price of admission. But if you just want to walk the waterfront, you're going to be very limited in what you'll be able to see. 


Downtown St. Michaels is bustling with tourists, and even on a weekday, we found ourselves competing with the crowds for a table at the restaurant or a place in line at the ice cream shop. One very nice feature in St. Michaels is the Acme grocery store located right in the heart of downtown and a few short blocks from the dinghy dock. We haven't found groceries this convenient in any of our previous stops anywhere on the waterway. St. Michaels has become a tourist town with all of the shops and restaurants that a tourist spots offers. It made us feel a little sad to see just how much it has transformed. But on the other hand, the economy seems to be in full swing and that should be good for the locals. This isn't the sleepy historic community we came to visit many years ago. The prices reflect this, too, in the restaurants, marinas and shops. The grocery store, however, was reasonably priced. A pharmacy and the post office are right in town, also just blocks from the dinghy dock. Other supplies will require transportation to reach them.


After a few days, we considered that Friday was upon us. There is no way we wanted to be here on a weekend. The crowds and boat wakes were enough on a weekday and we were sure the boats and crowds would descend like an army come Saturday and Sunday. Even by Friday afternoon, the boats were already coming and the wakes off the river were getting pretty constant. Just after lunch, we pulled anchor and left the harbor, heading to the Wye River with plans to spend several days visiting friends that live near the head of the Wye. Once out on Eastern Bay, the boat traffic blew us away, keeping in mind this was midday on Friday. Every boat on the river was running at full throttle and waking everything in sight as if their destination might disappear if they didn't get there immediately. We ran a short distance up the Bay and turned into the mouth of the Wye River.


Once away from the craziness and in the Wye, we could again relax and enjoy the scenery. The trip up the river is beautiful, and a bit surprising to us were the number of McMansions that have been built along the banks of the river since our last visit. From St. Michaels to our planned anchorage, we covered about 20 miles. The river twists and winds and is very deep until you approach the extreme upper end. Within a couple of miles of our friend's house, it decreases to 9 and 10 feet, and then within about an 1/8 of a mile from their dock, it drops off to 6 and 7 feet, where we anchored. Any farther in and the depths drop to 3 and 4 feet. An 1/8 of a mile from their dock is just fine with us. On our sailboat with a 6-foot draft, we had to anchor much farther away. This end of the river gives all around protection, and the holding for the anchor has always been excellent. It's a very peaceful setting and the only disturbances are from the large population of osprey that live in the area. They are constantly chattering all day long. We did have a few weekend warriors that would make the trip all the way up the river and turn around at full speed near where we anchored. There were also a few locals that felt they didn't need to slow down going past us, but they were few and far between. We arrived the day before our friends were due back from vacation so we just spent the rest of the day relaxing on the boat. We have excellent phone and wifi signals in the river. Our only plans are to enjoy good company for a few days with old friends that we haven't seen for a while. We are also waiting for the next shipment of our anchorage books that are being shipped to us here. Then we will move on to the next wonderful destination...Chestertown.


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