Friday, September 25, 2009


Annapolis during Navy's homecoming weekend! Our timing is impeccable. The town is filling up rapidly.

Annapolis has a small city marina and three mooring fields. A mooring field, for our non-boater friends, is a place where someone, in this case the city of Annapolis, has put permanently placed anchor substitutes in the water. Instead of dropping your anchor, you pick up a floating line, called a pennant, and attach it to the front of your boat. The pennant is attached to a line which goes down to the bottom of the harbor where it, in turn, is attached to something that usually looks like a big screw, screwed into the ground. Annapolis is notorious for bad holding (anchors don't really work well), so the moorings keep boats from dragging all over the place and banging into each other. They also provide the city with a revenue stream. In addition to providing the moorings, the city also provides a water taxi and a pump-out boat service, so it is a convenient place to be "on the hook", as opposed to being at a dock in the marina.

Every Fall, Annapolis hosts one of the largest in-water boat shows in the nation. They actually build temporary floating docks around the boats as they arrive for the show. First they do a weekend of sailboats, then they move all of the sailboats out, replace them with powerboats, and do a weekend of powerboats. Then they tear the whole thing down and go back to their usual operations. About half of the mooring field is taken over by the boat show and boats on those moorings have to leave for the duration of the show. Jim has always wanted to watch the "load in" when the show boats arrive and the docks are built, so we deliberately chose a mooring that we could stay on during the boat show.

But the boat show stuff won't start for another 10 days and I'm going away for five days with my mother in the middle of it, so if we stay for the first load in we'll be here until October 20. Neither of us is sure we need to be in Annapolis for a month. It is an interesting place, but not that interesting. So we are debating staying for the boat show, or moving on south and just driving back up to spend one day at the boat show. Such are the problems of retired folks.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

St Michaels, Maryland

We've had two great days in St. Michaels. St. Michaels is the most popular destination on the Eastern Shore. It has a well preserved historic district, lots of cutesy little boutiques, a wide range of restaurants, from very high end to reasonably priced, and a good maritime museum.

Last night we had dinner with our friend Scotti Oliver, at a local bistro. Good food, great company. The only off-putting moment was when she told us that both Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Chaney have move here since they found themselves out of work. Having one of those two walk into the restaurant would put me right off my meal. But the best part of the Rummy story was the name of his house - Mount Misery. Not named in his honor, the name pre-dates the owner, but how appropriate!

Today we wandered around the museum. They have done a nice job of preserving the history of the Chesapeake. They have examples of all of the unique Chesapeake boats used by the watermen. One exhibit is an actual lighthouse that was slated to be taken apart in the 1960s. Instead, it was moved to the museum. They also had exhibits on the Bay throughout history and on the transition from a working waterway to a recreational destination.

Tomorrow we head to Annapolis, weather permitting.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Eastern Shore of Maryland

We've been working our way up the Eastern Shore of Maryland the last several days. We left Tangier on a snarfy day with the wind and seas right on the nose of the boat. But we only had six miles to go before we got into the lea of the Eastern Shore, so it wasn't too bad.

Our first stop was Crisfield, the self-proclaimed "Crab Capital" of Maryland. Crisfield still has crab processing plants where the watermen bring their catches to be steamed. Then rooms full of women pick the crab meat out of the shell. Tedious, meticulous work for which they are paid by the pound; in other words, piece work. I'm told that a good picker can pick up to five pounds of crab meat in fifteen minutes. I can't even imagine how they do that.

One afternoon in Crisfield would have been enough, but the next day's forecast was blowy and overcast. The following day had south winds (we were going north) at 5 knots. A forecast like that was enough to make us wait another day in Crisfield. We were rewarded with a wonderful trip up the Chesapeake. We went all the way up to the Choptank River (about 60 miles) and tucked into a quiet little cove inside Tilghman Island. There was no moon and no ambient light, the stars were amazing!

The next day, we moved about fifteen miles to Oxford, MD. Oxford was at its peak before the Revolutionary War. But many of the houses still date from that era and what new construction there is has been kept architecturally consistent for the most part, so it is a pretty little town. A bit lacking in services, however. There was only one restaurant within walking distance of the marinas and one dismal market. They did have a nice bookstore, Mystery Loves Company. I contributed to the local economy, buying a mystery we have been looking for.

Today, Sunday, we traveled from Oxford to Dividing Creek, an anchorage off the Wye River, near St. Michaels, MD. It was a beautiful day with light southeast winds and blue skies. The whole weekend has been lovely and local boaters obviously realized there are a limited number of gorgeous days left in the sailing season. I can't remember ever seeing as many boats as we saw today. The Wye River is a very popular anchorage, so we timed our arrival to be after the weekenders would be headed home. But, of course, that means we met them leaving as we were arriving. There were so many sailboats headed out of the Wye River it looked like a busy highway. I felt like I was driving the wrong way on an interstate.

Even on a September Sunday night, there are three other boats in the anchorage with us, but it is long enough to accommodate that without crowding. We can't see any human habitation, just trees to the water line. We're looking forward to another spectacular night of stars and quiet.

Tomorrow we heading to a dock in St. Michaels that our Eastern Shore client, the folks at the Talbot County Free Library, arranged for us. Had we arrived last week, we would have been sharing the marina with Johnny Depp.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tangier Island

After a perfectly delightful trip down the Potomac from the St. Mary's River we arrived in Tangier Island about mid-day on Tuesday. Tangier is a small island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. It was first discovered by Europeans in 1608 when John Smith landed there. The British used it as a mustering point during the Revolutionary War. Permanent residents moved there for the first time in 1814 and it has been continuously inhabited since then.

The primary business of Tangier Islanders is fishing, crabbing to be precise. Although with the fishing restrictions in the Chesapeake these days, the islanders believe the current generation of watermen is the last generation there will be on the island. As recently as 1980 nearly half of of the high school graduating class stayed on the island to fish. Since 2000, none of the graduates have stayed. It is no longer possible to buy a commercial fishing license at a price that makes it economically feasible to operate a crab boat. Parents can hand down their licenses to their children, but one license isn't enough to support two or more families.

Another challenge in Tangier is that fact that the island is eroding. Nearly a third of the island has disappeared in the last 150 years. There used to be three separate communities, totaling more than 1,800 people on the island, but two of them have disappeared. Locals have moved their houses and graveyards to the one remaining town. Today only 600 people live on the island. The picture is of Main Street in downtown Tangier.

We were given a tour by the owner of the marina we stayed in. He has lived there his whole life, except for a stint in the Navy. Three of his four children have moved away and the fourth has a job on a tug boat, spending two weeks away from the island and two weeks at home every month. When Mr. Parks, the marina owner, graduated from high school (62 years ago) there were more than 1,200 people living on the island.

Growing up here really would be the classic small town experience, at least until you got to high school Kids are free to go everywhere. There are only three trucks and no cars on the island. Every family has at least one golf cart and one boat. (The picture is the parking lot at the crab processing plant.) The island is actually small enough to walk anywhere, although most of the kids seem to ride bikes to school. There are 77 students in grades K-12 (single building) with 15 teachers. Wouldn't most school districts love to have that student/teacher ratio?

There are three restaurants, two sandwich shops, and an ice cream shop on the island. All except the ice cream store close at 5:00 PM when the last tour boat leaves for the mainland. Tourism supplements the fishing income, but it isn't enough to replace it.

I never realized until this trip that the Chesapeake Bay sometimes freezes. In 1977, the island was frozen in for over two months. Food and medical supplies had to be airlifted the the residents to keep them going until the ice melted.

It was a fascinating place to visit. Jim was actually here thirty-nine years ago on a sailing trip. He noticed a lot of difference in just that time. The unique island accent has all but disappeared with the availability of television and daily contact with the mainland through the ferries. In the early 70s the older women still wore sunbonnets from the nineteenth century. That is all gone now. But they have built a nice local history museum where they are preserving what they can. I'm glad we had a chance to visit. I suspect by the time our grandchildren are old enough to go there, the lifestyle will be gone. You've got to love a place where two nine volt batteries bungee'd to the front of a golf cart function as headlights.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On the road again

We're finally back on the boat and underway again. Our visit to Cleveland was a week longer than we expected it to be because I had to have a little dental surgery while we were home.

When we finally got back to the boat we decided to do a little car cruising before we left the northern neck of Virginia. I had never been to Williamsburg and Jim's only trip there was nearly 30 years ago. So we visited Yorktown, Williamsburg, Jamestown and the Civil War sites of Petersburg and Cold Harbor.

On Saturday we went to an antique and wooden boat show in Reedville. While there we went to the Fisherman's Museum and learned quite a bit about the history of fishing in the Chesapeake. We also learned about a type of fishing neither of us had heard of before - pound net fishing. Fishermen set up a series of stakes in the water and attach nets to them. The nets are configured to create a set of two "rooms", the last of which has a funnel shaped entrance which makes it easy for fish to get it but not to get out. A third set of nets creates a directional flow of water leading into the net rooms. Apparently schools of fish change their direction to travel with a flow of water, so they turn and enter the rooms. Then the fishermen pull up the net of the third room and scoop the fish out of it and into their boats. All very complicated and quite difficult in bad weather.

This afternoon we left northern Virginia and crossed the Potomac to the southern shore of western Maryland. The Potomac was a lovely, well behaved river and the trip over was a pleasant two hour cruise. Quite a change from our last experience with the Potomac. Tomorrow we go down the Potomac to Tangier Island. We're hoping that timing our departure to coincide with the tide flowing out of the river, and the predicted west winds, will give us another day like today. Wish us luck!