Our cruising editor’s 2019 picks for Best of the Bay
By Capt. Jody Argo Schroath
First place: Cape Charles, Virginia Eastern Shore
This is an easy one. A long, beautiful, white beach, conveniently located near an excellent ice cream shop (Brown Dog) in a charming, walkable town with a good marina, good shopping and good restaurants. Located at the tail-end of the Eastern Shore, you can practically hear the Atlantic splashing ashore a few miles to the east.
Runner-up: Colonial Beach, Potomac River
Here you’ll find a nice white-sand beach with an old-fashioned boardwalk and a cute boater-friendly town.
Second runner-up: Sandy Point Park, Chesapeake Bay
Yes, it has strange-colored sand, but it also has a killer view of the Bay Bridge and easy access by small boat.
Most Photogenic Turtles and Friendliest Horseshoe Crabs
First place: Discovery Center, Pocomoke City, Pocomoke River
The horseshoe crabs come scuttling up to greet visitors and the turtles capture your heart at the delightful Discovery Center in Pocomoke. Free dockage and power hookup at the long town dock. More on the river itself in a minute.
Best Place to Step Off Your Boat and Into History
First place: Fort Monroe, Hampton Roads
Visits to historical cities like Alexandria, Yorktown, and Hampton are all better by boat, but if you want to go full immersion, visit Fort Monroe and Mount Vernon. No traffic, no extraneous bustle of modern life, just two very different places steeped in American history. At Fort Monroe, you can dock at Old Point Comfort Marina or anchor in Mill Creek. I don’t have room here even to gloss over the very long and utterly fascinating history of Fort Monroe and Old Point Comfort. I will just say that access to it all is just outside your boat. It’s all walkable. A new visitor center is under construction, and you will want to try the new seafood restaurant above the marina office.
Runner-up: Mount Vernon, Potomac River
This stop needs no introduction. It sits majestically on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. The view looking up at it is beautiful; the view looking down from it onto the river is even more so. At Mount Vernon, you can day-dock at the pier or anchor nearby. From the dock area you can take a shuttle up to the entrance to pay the fee, or you can stroll up, admiring the woods and gardens as you go. Use a lot of fenders at the dock; the tour boats throw a good wake.
Best Place to Step Into Your Boat and Into History
First place: Mallows Bay, Potomac River
Here you are going to want either a kayak or canoe, because you are going to be paddling through a ghost fleet of ships. And these ghosts have a lot of sharp edges. For hundreds of years, this bay has been used as a dumping ground for discarded, used up, and unwanted federal vessels of all varieties. Among the most recent and most famous wrecks are one hundred wooden steamships ordered during World War I to carry supplies to Europe. Most, however, were not completed until after the war, when they were no longer needed. A long and complicated story of plunder and broken contracts ensued, concluding in a final “burial” in Mallows Bay. The site recently became a National Marine Sanctuary. You can put in at Mallows Bay Park on Wilson Landing Road in Nanjemoy, Md., or anchor your yacht just outside the bay and paddle in from there.
Most Boring but Understandable Name Change by a 19th century Methodist
First place: Dames Quarter, Md.
Original name: Damned Quarter
Runner-up: Deal Island, Md.
Original name: Devil’s Island
Best Crabcake Sandwich at the Place You’ve Never Heard Of
First place: Quade’s Store, Bushwood Wharf, Wicomico River, Potomac
Another sentimental favorite. Quades’s Store has been at Bushwood Wharf since the steamships delivered goods and people up and down the Bay. The family recipe has now been passed down to the latest Quade generation, so when you bite into one of their crabcake sandwiches you are tasting the history of the Chesapeake. It’s simplicity itself . . . with a kick.
Runner-up: Drum Point Market, Tylerton, Smith Island
If you have a draft of less than 4 feet, you can follow the west channel from the Bay to Tylerton Town Dock. Otherwise, stop in Ewell at Smith Island Marina and dinghy down to Tylerton. Whichever way you get there, get there for lunch and order the crabcakes at Drum Point Market. You’re welcome.
Best Place to Eat Like Your Ancestors
First place: Something Different Restaurant, Urbanna, Va., Rappahannock River
Here’s your chance to enjoy fine Neanderthal cuisine—and I mean fine—in a small colonial-Virginia-tobacco-town setting. Something Different serves smoked meats and barbecues to die for, as well as homemade ice cream and desserts, in-house roasted coffee and peanuts (not together, of course). Choose a marina on Urbanna Creek and you’ll be in the middle of Urbanna, which of course offers much more than meat. On the way back down the Rappahannock River, treat yourself to a stop at Rappahannock Oyster Co.’s Merroir at Locklies Creek. Your ancestors ate oysters too.
Most Excellent Anchorages on a Single Creek or River
First place: Wye River off Eastern Bay
This is another easy one. Where else can you find anchorages to equal Dividing Creek, Pickering Creek, Shaw Bay, Drum Bay, Quarter Cove, Granary Creek, Skipton Creek, Wye Heights, Grapevine Cove and many more, all in one small river? Anchor madness!
Runner-up: Smith Creek off the Potomac
Smith Creek is a sentimental favorite. It’s small, just under two miles from top to bottom, but conveniently located, just upriver from Point Lookout at the mouth of the Potomac. Best of all, it’s chockfull of sweet anchorages, most of them tucked inside any number of coves with no name. The first one to starboard after Jutland Creek is possibly the Bay’s best hurricane hole. There’s also a nice marina, a historic yacht club, and fuel.
Best Place to Test Your Close-Quarters Boating Skills
First place: Annapolis harbor for the Blue Angels
Runner-up: Annapolis harbor for the Fourth of July
Second runner-up: Washington DC for Fourth of July
I don’t think I have to explain any of this; you know what I’m saying here. And if you’ve done them and survived, congratulations!
Best “Are you sure we’re still on the Chesapeake?” River
First place: Pocomoke River
I highly recommend you make a trip up the beautiful Pocomoke. After a little tediously narrow and shallowish section at the entrance, the river becomes deep, winding and about as beautiful as it gets. Stop at Pocomoke City (see above) and then, if you can clear a 35-foot bridge, go on up to Snow Hill. Dock the boat and then go across the road to the canoe livery to take a jim-dandy kayak trip back into town.
Other first place: Chickahominy River off the James River
The James River is a terrific trip in itself, but if you can clear the 50-foot fixed bridge at its entrance, make a side-trip up the hauntingly beautiful Chickahominy River. It twists and turns its way north, side-stepping stands of knobby-kneed cypress trees. It’s unlike anywhere else on the Bay.
Other other first place: Susquehanna River
Cross under the umpteen bridges at the mouth of the Susquehanna River—a lovely sight in themselves—and you’ll find yourself in a different world, with high cliffs and thick forests. Navigate around Garrett Island and dock at Port Deposit’s free dock. The town, built at the foot of the cliffs, is worth the trip. Climb up the 75 locally quarried granite steps that once led to the old Tome School for Boys to get a fairly spectacular view of the river.
Best Place to See Classic Bay Workboats in Their Natural Habitat
First place: Poquoson River
The Poquoson is a great place to visit for its austere marshland and variety of wildlife. It is also the only place on the Bay where you can take an airboat ride. Beyond all that, it’s the place to come to see dozens and dozens of classic Bay-built workboats. This is the kind of place where people don’t tell you what kind of boat they have but rather who built it. Stop by York Haven Marina on Bennett Creek (home of the air-boat ride) and Smith’s Marine Railway on Chisman Creek. The Smith family has been operating the marine railway since 1842, making it the oldest on the East Coast.
Best Place to Take a Jug of Wine
First place: Bread and Cheese Creek, off Back River near Baltimore
Apologies to Omar Khayyam. It would be a good choice to tote your jug of wine in on a flat-bottom skiff because you’ll only have a foot or two of water to play with.
Best Place to Slip Through Time
First place: Little Wicomico River
Enter the breakwater at the Little Wicomico River and you’ll soon find yourself cruising the Chesapeake Bay of the 1950s: workboats offload at plants, crops ripen in a checkerboard of farm fields, quiet country roads dead-end at the water, white frame homes dot the banks and the Sunnybank-Ophelia cable-drawn ferry, which has been operating since 1906, connects Sunnybank with Ophelia. Choose any of a variety of anchorages or tie up at either Smith Point Marina (call for the best route in) or Cockrell’s Marine Railway. Both have fuel.
Best Place to Cruise If You Enjoy Anchoring to a Tree
First place: Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers
Begin by going all the way up the York River to West Point, which lies on the point where the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers meet to form the York. The last fuel stops on the York are York River Yacht Haven on Sarah Creek or Wormley Creek Marina on Wormley Creek, both about 22 miles downriver, so for goodness sake check your fuel gauge before you go. Bridges near the mouth of both rivers have a closed clearance of about 55 feet. The Pamunkey Bridge will open; the Mattaponi Bridge is fixed. Both rivers are swift, deep, wild and exceedingly twisty for about 25 miles. There are no marinas, no services, no little protected coves. Anchoring is best done by nudging up to the riverbank and then tying off to a stout tree (or two, if you don’t want to swing). Going up the Pamunkey, you’ll pass the Pamunkey Indian Reservation and up the Mattaponi, the Mattaponi Indian Reservation. That’s pretty much it. Just you and the rivers and a good sturdy rope or two. Heaven?
Cutest Name for an Anchorage
First place: Boby (read: Baby) Owl Cove, on Leadenham Creek, off Broad Creek, off Choptank River
Best Piratical Name
First place: Dead and Bones Cove, Carter Creek, off the Rappahannock RiverSatisfyingly, Dead and Bones Cove is located opposite Church Prong. Here you’ll also be delighted by a Chesapeake treasure, The Tides Inn.
Creek that Sounds Most Like A Disturbing New Construction Material
First place: Frog Mortar Creek
(Also a front-runner for Best Use of a Biblical Plague.)