The Bay’s Back-Up Plans

Seven reasons not to judge a Back Creek by its boring name.

Seven reasons not to judge a Back Creek  by its boring name.

What’s the most boring name for a piece of water? Mill Creek, you might say, or one of those directional rivers like North, South, East, or West. Well, yes, those are all very boring, but to my mind, the winner is Back Creek and its first cousin, Back River. Mill Creek I would put second, followed by the large family of compass-based rivers and creeks. All of these, however, as boring as they may be, fall into the category of purpose-based names, which is to say they were either the back entrance to somewhere, they had a mill, or they went off in some direction (although you do have the confusing case of South River being north of West River). And arguably they make more sense than their more whimsical companions, like Bread and Cheese (Back River) and Dead and Bones (Carter Creek), whose meanings are generally lost in the mists of time. But who cares? Not everything can be named Back Creek. Heaven knows, the Chesapeake has enough of them already.

1. Back Creek, Elk River

I’m not going to say much about this first one, because, whether you realize it or not, you are already familiar with it. This is the creek that became the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. After fooling around for a couple of centuries trying to locate the cut-through between the Delaware and Chesapeake bays, engineers finally decided to use one of the Elk River’s tributaries and extend it east to Delaware City, with locks at both ends. Now, nearly all of what was once Back Creek is canal—deep, wide, straight, and rip-rapped into submission. It also comes out at Reedy Point, De., with no locks at all. So the next time you go up to Chesapeake City or through the canal, give a thought to the Back Creek that is no more. And, no, I don’t know what this one was the back  entrance to.

2. Back Creek, Sassafras River

This Back Creek, located about six miles up the lovely Sassafras River, winds behind Knight Island (which is not an island) and soon splits into a handful of even smaller creeks like Foreman, McGill, and Dowdel.  It’s a nice place to anchor, although you’ll have to take my word for it that you will find a bit more water inside than the charts show—maybe five or six feet. The reason this Back Creek has made my short list is that, at the junction of Back and McGill creeks, you will find a day-use dock that will take you to Mount Harmon Plantation, a 1651 settlement at The World’s End. Delightful, yes? The home, the gardens, and the grounds were rescued some years ago by a  DuPont, who restored, collected, and refurnished the home. There are  trails through the grounds for meandering to your heart’s content.  If your boat has a shallow draft  or you are paddling, use the dock. Otherwise, anchor right in that pocket between the two creeks and dinghy in. There is an admission, but it’s well worth the cost. And as of press time, it’s open. Here’s the website: mountharmon.org.

3. Back Creek, Bodkin Creek

Bodkin Creek is a handy residential creek located at the mouth of the Patapsco River. It’s a good place to dive for cover in a pinch. You’ll find several good anchorages on the main branch by turning south after you enter, and you’ll find another good one if you stay straight after the entrance to take the Back Creek branch. This last one is a little deepwater indentation in the shoreline between Back Creek Point and Hickory Point. And that would be all I’d have to say about this Back Creek, (or I might not mention it at all), except I’d like to point you in the direction of Hancock’s Resolution, an old farm that dates to 1785. Hancock’s Resolution was farmed well into the 20th century by its owners, the Hancock family, who kept the farmhouse pretty much as it was, without electricity or running water. With development crowding in on all sides, Hancock’s Resolution, on Back Creek Point, is one of the very few such farms left intact. It is now a park owned by Anne Arundel County and operated by the Friends of Hancock’s Resolution. I’ve never tried to get there by boat, but in a pinch you could probably get there from Geislers Point Marina or anchor and dinghy to shore. I’ll try it the next time I’m there. Meanwhile, the website is historichancocksresolution.org.

4. Back Creek, Severn River

As I write this I am sitting on my boat, Moment of Zen, on this particular Back Creek, surrounded by an aluminum forest of masts that stretches as far as I can see up the creek and down. For this Back Creek is the back entrance into the city of Annapolis by way of the Eastport peninsula. If Spa Creek is the city’s main maritime street, then Back Creek is its parking lot. And what a parking lot! While the sight of so many sailboats, powerboats, and paddlecraft is a balm to the soul, it also means that most of the creek’s history as a working waterway has been lost, with the notable exception of McNasby  Oyster Company, now the Annapolis Maritime Museum. Find out more at amaritime.org.

5. Back Creek, Patuxent

Like Back Creek in Annapolis, Back Creek in Solomons is both a back entrance to town and a waterway used as a nautical parking lot. When you come into Solomons between Ship Point and Solomons Point, you come to the common entrance to Mill Creek (one of the Bay’s great anchorages), which promptly splits to the right, and Back Creek, which first circles Molly’s Leg island like the Arc de Triomphe and then heads up behind Solomons. On the Solomons side, you’ll find about a dozen popular marinas, including Spring Cove and Zahnisers, while on the opposite shore you’ll find the many docks of Calvert Marina. This is the former site of a World War II amphibious training base and a fascinating place to wander around. On the Solomons side, the past is splendidly remembered by the excellent Calvert Marine Museum (reservations are recommended at calvertmarine museum.org).

6. Back Creek, Manokin River

We go back to the Eastern Shore for Back Creek number six, this time to the Manokin River, off Tangier Sound. Now I’m willing to bet that you’ve never been to the Manokin River. It has only one navigable tributary, which is to say it has one that is slightly less shallow than the others, including Back Creek. If you have a draft of more than a couple of feet, you are not likely to get to this one. And if you do, you won’t find much entertainment. That brings me to my point: I want you to come to the Manokin River, pull back to neutral and then go up on deck. Now I want you to look around in every direction. Do you know what you are going to see? You are going to see exactly the same thing that you would have seen had you come there in the 16th century. And that alone is worth the trip. You will probably see even less than you would have seen in the 17th and 18th centuries, because the channel was then navigable to the river’s head in Princess Anne, so there would have been a fair number of ships coming and going. For an absolute treat, head into Goose Creek just inside the river’s mouth, if you can, and dock at Goose Creek Marina in Rumbley. You’ll thank me.

7. Back Creek, York River

Our final Back Creek stop is near the mouth of the York River, just north of the Poquoson River (a marvelous destination all on its own). This Back Creek is short but sweet . . . and, alas, there’s a shoal. I’ll describe it to you anyway. Fifty years or so ago, the most entertaining way to enter the creek would have been by the channel known as the Sandbox, which gives you an idea of why it’s no longer a dependable way to get in. The Sandbox cuts between Goodwin Neck and the Goodwin Islands and avoids going around the sizeable shoal off the islands. In 2020, you’ll want to take the long way in. As a consolation prize, if you are coming from the north, you can cut across the York Swash Channel between Mobjack Bay and the York River. If you are coming from the south, you won’t care either way. Once inside, you’ll come first to Seaford Scallop Company, a wholesale scallop supplier founded in the 1970s by the Wells family, who have been in the seafood business a lot longer than that. Its ocean-going boats will be lined up along the bulkhead. A bit farther up Back Creek, you’ll come to the docks of Mills Marina, a fascinating place, and then the Seaford Yacht Club, which claims to be the friendliest yacht club anywhere, and I’ve never seen any reason to disagree with that. If you like, there is a pretty good anchorage just at the mouth of Claxton Creek, opposite the Sandbox.

That’s my quick tour of my seven favorite Back Creeks. If I’ve left out your favorite Back Creek, let me know (jody@chesapeakebaymagazine.com). Before I stop, though, I do want to mention the Bay’s two Back Rivers, both of which deserve an article all their own. One is up near Baltimore, just north of the Patapsco River. Its entrance channel lies between Cuckold Point and Pleasure Island. This Back River is home to both the excellent Weavers Marine Service and, as I mentioned earlier, the excellently named Bread and Cheese Creek, as well as several parks. The second Back River is all the way back down the Bay, south of the Poquoson River and north of Old Point Comfort. It’s sort of vaguely the back entrance to Hampton, I guess. Inside you’ll find Langley Airfield, several fair-to-middling anchorages, and very nice marinas, including Marina Cove, Dandy Haven and Bell Isle, all on the south side.