The romance of the Chesapeake is a powerful streak that runs through Richard’s and my personal history. When this NY-suburban girl was taken home to meet her DC-suburban boyfriend’s family — it wasn’t to Washington — it was to "The Beach" — aka Scientists’ Cliffs in Calvert County, MD. It was the Smith’s annual Labor Day Crab Feast and it was a water shed week-end on many levels.
It turned out that this do-not-miss event was something of an annual pilgrimage for multiple generations of Washington friends. As they took turns tutoring the neophyte in the fine art of crab-picking, I met a panorama of friends and family. More important, I met the sweet, funny 10-year-old boy in this now worldly, impeccably educated man. The moment the engine stopped, his shoes came off. Tales and reminisces circled the late-night bonfires on the beach — biking to Leonard’s Creek, learning to water ski behind a 10 hp motor, lazy days drifting in the boat — mothers and sons dangling chicken necks over the side awaiting the telltale nibble of a blue crab, searching the beach and the cliffs for coveted sharks’ teeth.
I was smitten — with this many-faceted boy-man, with his family and friends, and also with his "Bay." It must have gone well on his side, too — we were engaged a month later. In our early years, the "Beach" and the Bay became a second home. Our children became champion crab-pickers, carried their personal bottle of Adolph’s for nettle stings and eschewed shoes as soon as they could smell the Bay in the air.
In later years, as we moved up to "big boats" from one-designs, the Chesapeake became a prized destination. We headed down through the C & D, stopped at Schaefer’s, watched Chesapeake City literally re-invent itself, and learned that you could really swim in the less salty, nettle-free water of the Upper Bay. We also discovered the rivers of the Eastern Shore and Virginia. Our bible was William Shellenberger’s "Cruising the Chesapeake," and we explored many of the anchorages and harbors in the book. One memorable night, we were all alone, snugged into a peaceful little 3-star cove far up the Wye East River’s Skipton Creek — across from a small fleet of miniature black sheep munching a Wye Heights lawn. Darkness fell as we set the anchor; it was an absolutely perfect setting. But, at 0500, we were startled awake by dozens of little runabouts laying out strings of personal crab pots and trot lines. We put the coffee on, dug out our own pots, and joined the party.
We also had a little fun while researching Chesapeake marinas. One of our fondest memories was picking up a beer-box of perfectly steamed large crabs from Buck’s, just up the road from Hartge’s in Galesville.The day was glorious, a big race had just ended, and we were bucking the traffic as we threaded our way across the Bay to St. Michael’s — all the while picking those perfect crustaceans. We left the boat in Baltimore’s Anchorage Marina several times, and, with all the back and forths, we really had a chance to get to know Charm City and all her waterfront neighborhoods. And, like most boaters, we really fell in love with her neighbor to the south, Annapolis. We also learned that everyone you ever met while cruising anywhere will inevitably be at the the October Annapolis Boat Shows.
We "discovered" placid Swan Creek at Rock Hall — we’d get on our bikes and head over to Waterman’s deck for steamed crabs. Next stop was always St. Michaels — Higgins was also a good "leave the boat" place. Followed by charming Oxford — crab cakes at the Robert Morris Inn a must. When we recently returned to Smith and Tangier Islands, outposts of fiercely independent watermen communities, we were struck by how much had managed to stay the same — despite the incursion of commercialism on the mainland and the natives’ unique take on managing the tourism market.
The Chesapeake helped us hone the basics of what we call "achievable cruising" — cruise a week or two, leave the boat, go home for a month or so, come back and keep going. A few seasons later, we took those useful skills and headed farther afield — Bermuda (from Hampton, VA with Steve Black’s Cruising Rally) and ports further north and south.
On those many trips back and forth to Hampton, we had a chance to explore the Virginia shore — by land and water. We were fascinated by the mother menhaden ships and baby purse boats up Cockrell Creek, loved Reedville, tucked into sweet Onancock, and found out that the Bay can get really, really nasty in a blow. We also learned to really appreciate why the FFVs (First Families of Virginia) — and lots of regular folk — summer on "The Rivah." We toured the Rappahannock — became enamored with little, but growing, Urbanna and had a taste of true elegance docking at The Tides — right next to the 125 foot "Miss Ann."
We return often to the Bay — lately the focus has been research, research, research — and every few years we make the JCD August reunion (that’s the Junior Cliff Dwellers at Scientists’ Cliffs). We sit around those same bonfires that marked the beginning of our new life, share our stories, marvel at how sleepy little Solomon’s morphed into one of the boating capitals of the Bay, pick crabs (of course there’s a Crab Feast), and, as if we hadn’t had enough, usually head to Stoney’s on Broome Island for a golf-ball size crab cake sandwich.
Researching this book was a true gift — with every harbor was another piece of nostalgia, a funny story or a sense of home-coming. Real estate prices have sky rocketed, development is rampant — but somehow the Bay always feels the same. In a remarkable number of areas it has clung to its roots and so many people — on its shores and on its waters — are fighting to slow the change. As frequent visitors, we are always grateful for their successes.
Beth Adams Smith
Rye, New York