by Samuel W. “Woody” Norwood III
The day after Memorial Day in 2018 I departed Beaufort, South Carolina, in my car with my Marshall 18 Sanderling Geezer in tow and her tender, Whipper Snapper loaded upside down on the car’s roof.
Bound for the Chesapeake Bay for about 10 days of cruising, this was my fourth consecutive year of taking a couple of weeks in late May and early June to sail solo. The prior three years had taken me from Port Saint Lucy, FL, to Beaufort, SC (my home); from Beaufort to Oriental, NC; and from Oriental to Cambridge, MD.
The Sanderlings are convenient for doing this kind of cruising. They tow easily, are quick to rig and unrig, easy to launch and retrieve on ramps, and have ample room for solo sailors and while tight, sufficient space for couples.
In Beaufort I have neighbors who spend their summers in Cambridge overlooking the Choptank River. Allan and Carol Acree are also very generous with friends and their support this year and last made my voyages (I call my cruises “voyages”) possible and convenient. Last year they drove down to Oriental and drove my car and trailer back to Cambridge where I ended my voyage. This year they helped me rig, launch, retrieve and de-rig in Cambridge.
My planned itinerary was as follows:
- Cambridge to Tilghman Island 17 nm
- Tilghman to St. Michaels 21 nm
- Michael’s to Wye River (Skipton Creek) 11 nm
- Wye/Skipton to Rock Hall 25 nm
- Rock Hall to Annapolis (Mill Creek near Cantlers) 16 nm
- Annapolis to Herrington Harbor North 24 nm
- Herrington Harbor to Solomons Island 33 nm
- Solomons to Slaughter Creek (James Island, Little Choptank) 23 nm
- Slaughter Creek to Hudson Creek (a day of crabbing) 5 nm
- Hudson Creek to Oxford 20 nm
- Oxford to Cambridge 12 nm
Total: 207 nm
Of course, the actual voyage turned out to be a bit different. Weather matters. You do not want to be a slave to your plan. Having a plan, with options, allows you to adjust to circumstances.
Here is how it actually went.
On your first day it’s important to have an easy one. Inevitably your start is a bit delayed. You need to get comfortable settling into your voyage. It was a quick, 4-hour sail over to Tilghman Island, going through the little bascule bridge at Knapps Narrows that opens on request, and pulling into the last marina on the left, creatively named Tilghman Island Marina. There is not a good place to anchor. I had a delightful walk back to the bridge for a late afternoon beer and an early dinner.
It’s important to get everything organized in the boat, and that is what I did before it got dark. Yes, a place for everything and everything in its place: I had bought an Origo 1500 stove and was determined to have a nice breakfast the following morning, with coffee, fruit, a V-8, and a couple of hard boiled eggs. The Origo fit nicely on a fold-up teak 20 X 20 table for the cockpit: Then it was off to St. Michaels, arguably the most visited little town on the Eastern Shore. Its main attraction is the Maritime Museum, really a worthwhile visit. Anchoring in St. Michaels is easy and plentiful.
For the following day I had planned to sail up the Wye River to Skipton Creek. The area up there is remote and beautiful according to all I had read. But, bad weather was coming and would arrive by mid-afternoon and last for all the following day. So, I decided to skip the Wye for now and go straight to Rock Hall, going through Kent Narrows on the way. As I would be there for two nights and the weather was going to be nasty I decided to tie up at (another creative name) Rock Hall Landing, which is the closest marina to town and just 100 yards from Waterman’s crab House (in the background).
The weather was going to be gnarly, but it did not stop the Rock Hall Triathlon, which just happened to be going on there that weekend. My dock spot was perfect for watching the swimmers emerge from the water at Waterman’s Crab House and run enthusiastically toward their bikes while stripping off their wet-suits:
My friends/neighbors, the Acrees, drove over from Cambridge, and we all drove to Chestertown, another great little Eastern Shore town, for a walk-about. I had thought about sailing up the Chester River to visit this town, but the Acrees said they would take me there, saving a fairly long day of sailing. Yes, it was raining, as predicted, but upon arriving back at Rock Hall, we had a little wine and cheese in Geezer before going to dinner at Waterman’s.
With the weather clearing and the wind filling in from the north, I had a perfectly wonderful sail down to Annapolis from Rock Hall. I sailed up Mill Creek where friends Bob and Cindi Gibson had promised me dockage at their little marina. Bob was kind enough to also take me into town to get some supplies for Geezer and Whipper Snapper. That evening David Morrow and Kim joined us for fine dining at Cantler’s. Naturally, I ordered steamed crabs only to find out later that due to a cold spring and excess rain, the crab season was running about a month late and the crabs I ate probably had been trucked up from South Carolina!
The following day was EPIC. We sailors might get a couple of days like this in our lifetime if we are lucky. With the wind from the north at 15 to 20 kts all day, I put in a reef before exiting Mill Creek. I had figured, conservatively, on taking three days to go south nearly 50 nm to Solomons Island, with stops at Herrington Harbor (North) and Flag Harbor. Leaving Mill Creek a bit before 9 AM, I passed Herrington Harbor around 12:30 and flew past Flag Harbor at 3:45. I was boogying on a quartering run at 5+ kts pulling little Whipper Snapper behind me. Or so I thought. Sometime after passing Thomas Point lighthouse I happened to look back and realized Whipper Snapper was no longer tethered to Geezer. I jumped up and scanned the horizon behind me. I grabbed the binoculars and re-scanned. Nothing. I did a 180 and sailed back along the tracks I had laid on my chart-plotter. I also put out a call on the VHF asking if anyone had seen an orphaned dinghy south of Thomas Point lighthouse. I got a quick reply. “We saw her a minute ago and here are the Lat/Lon coordinates”, came over the VHF. While some folks eschew the modern electronics, I can say that I sailed directly to the coordinates given, and there was Whipper Snapper, bobbing idly in the waves like a wayward lifeboat on the seas. With the boathook, it was an easy grab, and in 15 minutes I was back to where I had turned and skipping, now un-reefed, toward Solomons.
Solomons is a great little town. It has an Oyster Museum very worthy of a visit, which I did last year. The marinas close down at 5 PM, and I, arriving at 6, motored to the back bay where there is peace and quiet for an anchorage. This is a wonderful spot.
The following morning I motored around to Zahnizer’s Boatyard. Although there are fine places to anchor at Solomons, I was ready for a shower and another square meal. Zahnizer’s is one of many marina choices in Solomons, but I like it especially because they have a great restaurant (The Dry Dock) right there as well as a well-stocked marine store, and they have shuttles into town for groceries, pharma, etc. I was late for the shuttles (10 AM, 1 and 3 PM) no problem. Bikes are there for loan. Off I went at 4 PM for more eggs and some bait for crabbing in the Little Choptank, next on my itinerary. I cooked the eggs on the Origo inside the cabin: The dinner at The Dry Dock was special, looking out over the water. They know how to make a proper Martini, and the food and service were superb.
The Little Choptank is a great place for crabbing, especially early in the season. I brought along on this voyage a crab net on a telescoping handle as well as 4 crab strings. My vision was attaching a chicken neck to each string, with its lead weight, and letting each out to the bottom while at anchor. I was certain that crabs would grab hold of the chicken neck and take out cross-country, making an obvious tug. I would pull in the string ever so slowly, raising the chicken and its attached crab to near the surface and then snag the crab with the net. I set aside a whole day to do this in Little Choptank, with hints of the ripest locations from some locals who generously shared some secrets (or not). (Editor’s note…Never trust the locals to tell you where the crabs are, they keep that information close!) I skipped past James Island and Taylor Island and Slaughter Creek to Hudson Creek, reputedly a scenic anchorage. I was not disappointed with the scenery, and I fixed some Miso soup and sardines with crackers and Beef Teriyaki jerky for dinner. Yum.
The weather again intervened. The flowing day I had planned to go crabbing in some special spots that I thought would be productive. But, the forecast was for thunderstorms and rain for the next two days. So, no crabbing on this trip. I had pretty well gorged myself on restaurant-bought crabs imported from South Carolina anyway! With the prospect of two days of rainy weather I decided to sail directly back to Cambridge, about 25 nm north and east from where I was.
My friends, the Acrees, met me with the car and trailer at the ramp in the late afternoon, and we were able to haul out and lower the mast before dinner time. We finished packing and loading Whipper Snapper on the car the following morning, and I drove home to Beaufort.
Geezer and Whipper Snapper are now cuddled up under and by their canopy at Beaufort Yacht and Sailing Club. They look forward, as do I, to their next voyage. I have stripped out the cruising stuff. Locally, I’ll be racing Geezer in the fleet. But in the Fall, and next Spring, look for us to be cruising, or “voyaging” as I like to say.