Voyaging on the Chesapeake...Summer destinations in the land of Pleasant Living
A
t the end of the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago, glaciers melted, ocean levels rose, and waters filled the canyon carved by the Susquehanna River, forming the Chesapeake Bay. This grand redesign of geography had wonderful consequences for those who are sailors at heart.

The Chesapeake Bay is 195 miles long and 30 miles across at its widest point. Its main basin covers 3,200 square miles and laps 8,000 miles of shoreline. Given its size and many rivers, creeks, coves, islands and peninsulas, the Chesapeake is a boating paradise begging to be explored.

If part-time mariners had up to a week to spend voyaging on the Chesapeake this summer, where might they decide to go? Which destinations should be considered when planning a cruise on the largest estuary in North America?

What follows is a brief log of possibilities for the northern, central and southern regions of Maryland. For navigation, recreational boaters should find the Maryland Cruising Guide sufficient. This booklet, available at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) gift shop and online at www.md.nautical.com/mdcg.htm, contains charts, a distance table, an index of places and emergency-assistance information.

Northern Waters and Destinations
Cruising on the Chesapeake north of the Patapsco River has one advantage all can appreciate: Boaters can take a swim without worrying much about sea nettles. Low salinity makes these creatures scarce, and they are virtually nonexistent in the nearly fresh waters above Pooles Island.

Hart-Miller Island
Hart-Miller Island lies south of Middle River and is accessible only by boat (anchor on the western side). This 244-acre island, managed by DNR as a state park, has picnic tables, rest rooms, a boardwalk and a sandy beach that has been popular with locals for decades. The entire island is also amazingly popular with birds -- locals and otherwise.

Of the 278 species sighted, more than 90 are waterbirds. The island functions much like an avian convention center and is truly jammed at the peaks of the migratory seasons, when 10,000 shorebirds and 50,000 waterfowl may be present.

The landmass of the island is being greatly expanded by dredged material deposited on the eastern side. The south end of the containment area is already filled and will be fully converted to a bird sanctuary this year. When this new area will be open to the public is uncertain, however birds will be welcome right away.

The Susquehanna
A cruise straight up the Bay with a turn north at Spesutie Island takes you to a photo of boats in Havre de Grace, MarylandHavre de Grace, located at the mouth of the Susquehanna River. The river provides 50 percent of the Bay's fresh water. Along this river lived the mighty Susquehannoks, an Iroquois tribe that canoed up and down the Chesapeake attacking the many native Algonquin peoples living along its shores and tributaries.

Havre de Grace has ample accommodations for overnight stays at the City Yacht Basin and private marinas. Restaurants, shops and museums are within easy walking distance, and a long waterfront promenade affords a fine view of the Bay. While you are there be sure to visit the Concord Point lighthouse. Built in 1827, it marks the northernmost point of the Chesapeake.

Elk and Bohemia Rivers
At the mouth of the Elk River atop a 100-foot bluff stands the Turkey Point lighthouse, the highest of the Bay's lighthouses. Its similarity to the one at Concord Point is no coincidence as both were designed and built by Havre de Grace's John Donahoo, the master lighthouse builder of the Chesapeake.

Rogues Harbor, DNR's marina at Elk Neck State Park, is two miles up the Elk. Essentials such as snacks, ice, bait, restrooms, gasoline and a pumpout facility are available. Boaters can also anchor at the park's beach just above the marina to swim.

A few miles farther but on the south side is the Bohemia River, a pretty place to take a dip and spend a lazy afternoon. Anchor out, enjoy the area's pastoral beauty, and spend the night on the sleepy Bohemia.

Worton and Fairlee Creeks
The cruise east across the Bay to Worton and Fairlee Creeks entails passing Pooles Island. On the south side, boats regularly congregate over the many oyster lumps to bottom fish for white perch and rockfish. Either creek provides a pleasant backdrop for a swim and an overnight stay, but many prefer Fairlee Creek for anchoring out.

Central Waters and Destinations
The large region from the Patapsco to the Choptank has a shoreline highly convoluted with rivers and inlets, and a glance at a map seems enough to stir the exploratory urge in summer boaters.

Rivers on the Western Shore
The Rhodes and West Rivers deserve consideration when making a cruising plan. Flowing side by side, both are pleasant waters for anchoring out, swimming and taking in a sunny afternoon.

If the popular Severn River strikes you as too crowded for summer cruising, the South River is an accommodating alternative. Squatting in its mouth is the Thomas Point lighthouse, the last active, cottage-style screwpile on the Chesapeake.

These distinctive lighthouses-wooden structures, usually hexagonal or octagonal, perched on a web of iron piles screwed into soft bottoms-were once common on the Bay. Be sure to take a close look at this very utilitarian invention that has undeniable visual and architectural appeal.

The South River, deep and long, has an abundance of inlets and several marinas. Dock at historic Londontown to tour the William Brown House and experience what life was like in the colonial era.

On the Eastern Shore:
Chester River

The Chester River is a long, winding, scenic river that merits an unhurried pace. A dozen miles past Love Point are two beautiful and fairly secluded waterways perfect for swimming and overnight stays after a long day on the water. The Corsica River is to starboard (right); Langford Creek is to port (left).

The next day, cruise up the Chester for a lunch stopover. At Chestertown, tie up at a marina or anchor out for an overnight. Eighteenth-century homes front the tree-lined streets, and walking through the town is like exploring a living museum. An eclectic mix of shops and restaurants await you on Cross and High Streets.

Eastern Bay and Wye Island NRMA
Eastern Bay, the expanse south of Kent Island, is one of Maryland's great summer fishing areas. A recurrently productive location lies off Tilghman Point, where anglers catch flounder, bluefish and sea trout.

For boaters who would rather catch glimpses of flying and four-legged wildlife, DNR's 2,800-acre Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area (NRMA) is a short cruise eastward. Located on the Wye River and the Wye East River, there are numerous tranquil places to anchor for the night.

The NRMA encourages boaters to come ashore to explore the island and its habitat which provides a home for the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel. Bald eagles, ducks, wading and woodland birds live here, and beginning in August, an assortment of migratory waterfowl arrives to spend the winter.

If civilization in the form of a charming town is what you desire, St. Michaels is just five miles up the Miles River. The town has long been a popular boating destination. Pick up a walking-tour brochure to help find your way around, and be sure to see the Hooper Straight lighthouse, an octagonal screwpile relocated to the grounds of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

Southern Waters and Destinations
Below the Choptank, where the Chesapeake becomes wider and a pinch saltier, boaters are naturally drawn to the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers, and Tangier Sound.

Solomons on the Patuxent
Solomons Island, near the mouth of the Patuxent on the western shore, is an excellent anchorage and a port where almost every boater stops at one time or another. Once reliant on fishing, oystering, boat building and then employment with the Navy, this pleasant and tranquil town now caters to recreational boaters.

Visit the Calvert Marine Museum to tour the Drum Point lighthouse, a screwpile moved from its original site two miles away, and to see its exhibits on Chesapeake workboats and the oyster-canning industry. Part of Solomons is built on piles of discarded oyster shells.

A cruise up the Patuxent retraces the route taken by the British in 1814 to attack and burn Washington, D.C. Island Creek and Battle Creek are two quiet, peaceful spots for anchoring overnight. The latter leads into Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, the country's northernmost stand of bald cypress.

History on the Lower Potomac
Boaters should plan a visit to St. Mary's City, the site of Maryland's humble and hardscrabble beginnings on the St. Mary's River. The settlement of 1634 became the state's first capital, later succeeded by Annapolis.

Exhibits at the living-history museum, called Historic St. Mary's City, tell the story of those early times. Fifteen miles upriver is St. Clement's Island, a state park and the actual site where the English settlers disembarked after their long and arduous trip across the Atlantic aboard the Ark and the Dove.

Tangier Sound and Janes Island
Crisfield is the main port in Tangier Sound. Once known as "The Seafood Capital of the World," part of the town is built on oyster shells. DNR's Somers Cove Marina makes an excellent home base when exploring the area. The marina offers everything boaters need, including transient slips, laundry rooms, picnic tables, grills, fish-cleaning stations and shuttles to Crisfield.

One attraction of Tangier Sound is the abundant wildlife flourishing on its surrounding islands and marshlands, most of which are pristine and protected. Janes Island State Park, just north of Crisfield, encompasses 2,900 acres of this kind of habitat. The park offers camping and rents canoes and kayaks for exploring its 30 miles of water trails, which wind through the saltmarsh island. The park's marina, right up the Little Annemessex River, has 25 boat slips available to campers.

a photo of a sunset on the Bay.Another attraction of Tangier Sound is its fishing. Along its islands during the first and last hours of the day, striped bass swarm into the shallows to feed near the marsh grass. Pull in, cast lures near the grass, and enjoy a tasty rockfish for dinner.

Off Island Point, a corner of Janes Island, and west of buoy 8 is a place called "The Puppy Hole." You'll recognize it for the number of boats anchored there. On the bottom, perhaps 70 feet down, are caught spot, croaker, sea trout, blues, flounder and even red drum, the ideal choice when making blackened fish.

Bon Voyage
Whatever destinations make up your cruising plan, getting to them is not to be taken for granted. The Chesapeake is like a big bathtub in comparison to the North Atlantic, but 1,800 vessels are known to have met their demise on its waters.

Long ago, Greek sailors prayed to Poseidon for a safe voyage. They believed he bestowed calm seas when in good spirits and caused earthquakes and shipwrecks when he was not. Taking precautions still makes sense, so when voyaging on the Chesapeake this summer, pay close attention to the weather, know your boat's limitations, have life jackets aboard, and follow all other practices of a prudent and modern mariner.

When all that stuff's out of the way, sit back, relax and most importantly - enjoy. Here's betting that won't be very difficult to do...

For more information on boating in the Chesapeake Bay, visit the DNR website at www.dnr.maryland.gov/boating


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