This fall, a group of 45 international cruisers teamed up with a group of Annapolis-based cruisers, both power and sail, to experience the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay for the first time.
If you live next to a Smithsonian Institution Museum—Air and Space, Natural History, or take your pick—you might take this world class collection of museums for granted. You might only visit when you have friends or family in town. When it comes to the Chesapeake Bay, we boaters may actually “visit” fairly often. However, taking the Bay for granted is a likely outcome just the same.
The Chesapeake may well be the finest cruising estuary in the world. It is a “witch’s brew” of relatively easy tides and currents, a temperate climate, and a soft bottom that will indeed put one under a spell. We then combine those ingredients with a seemingly endless shoreline with gunkholes, small towns, and a couple of big cities to visit to complete the captivation. Taken together they provide a plethora of experiences that fit the goldilocks definition: “just right.” However, it may take a visit by friends or family to remind us of the gift we have. And so, it was.
Spanning from late September into October and the front end of the Annapolis Powerboat Show, a group of 45 international cruisers joined up with a roughly equal number of Annapolis-based cruisers and “experienced” the Bay. The 10-day cruise began and ended in Annapolis and included stops in the Middle Bay on both the Eastern and Western Shores. The cruise is an annual function of the International Council of Yacht Clubs (ICOYC) was hosted this year on the Chesapeake by Annapolis Yacht Club.
The cruising fleet of 30 boats included a host group of local sailboats and powerboats as well as a handful of locally chartered cruising vessels. Our out-of-town cruisers came from yacht clubs in Louisiana, California, Washington, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, England, and Australia. Don’t get me started on the Aussies. Suffice it to say, they lived up to their reputation.
Talking with captains and crews not from the Bay was a sure remedy for taking the Bay for granted. Most of them come from places that require offshore passages to reach a cruise destination. For some, a cruise was leaving homeport and just “punching a hole in the ocean” before returning.
Cruisers from Long Beach can reach nearby ports up and down the California coast and visit Catalina Island, “but that is about it” said one cruiser from the Long Beach Yacht Club. Cruisers from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron report a similar nearby cruising experience, sans Catalina Island. Our friends from the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans generally stick to cruising Lake Pontchartrain.
It did not take much imagination to see the twinkle in their eyes when they made the short passages from town to town on the Eastern Shore. With stops in the historic towns of Cambridge, Oxford, and St. Michaels, our out-of-town guests got some of the best of the Bay.
Walking through Oxford on the way to the well-known Cutts & Case shipyard for a group tour, one of our Aussie visitors asked me about the tall tower overlooking Town Creek, the Oxford water tower. While water towers are a common sight for us Bay cruisers, they are not typically found in Australia. As I explained their construction and purpose, she was clearly impressed with the engineering behind them. It made me wonder how it all works in Australia.
One additional function of the Bay’s water towers also became clear on the cruise. It seems most of our fellow cruisers have shoreside geographic features, elevated ridges and mountains, to point the bow towards. Our particularly flat Eastern Shore offers little in the way of elevation. Those of us with gray hair (or hair that would be gray without intervention) will recall using water towers as navigational landmarks before GPS fed chartplotters.
The tidal range may be 10-15 feet cruising out of Seattle and into the Puget Sound. Similar large tides can be found sailing out of the Royal Yacht Clubs on the Solent in England. Talking with one of our cruisers from the Seattle Yacht Club, I was reminded that cruising in many places requires taking tide and accompanying current into account. On the Bay, maybe not so much. Blessed again.
Several of our cruisers shared that they picked up a copy of James Michener’s “Chesapeake” in preparation for their visit. While the drama in the lives of his fictional characters may have been engaging, most cruisers commented on the rich cultural history of the Bay as well as Michener’s natural history references. The Bay has indeed been witness to a good slice of American history. That history, again likely taken for granted, is but another dimension in the experience of our visitors.
One visitor from the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club waxed poetically about the US East Coast in general and the Bay specifically. A seasoned Pacific Northwest cruiser, she had never been to the East Coast. After a week of Bay travel, she labeled it a place she would like to live for a few years for an immersive experience.
The food on the cruise turned out to be a universal language. It was clear from the cruise that oysters and ice cream are a common language and important to all cruisers. I should hope so! At every stop our typical Chesapeake Bay favorites fared well among the out-of-towners from spit roasted “Chesapeake” Chicken at the Chesapeake Yacht Club to rockfish stuffed with crab meat at the Tred Avon Yacht Club.
The Chesapeake and its tributaries include almost 12,000 miles of shoreline. With modest tidal range and so much of it reasonably well protected, waterfront homes abound. This is something not so typical back home for so many of our guests. Our cruisers enjoyed an evening at one of those homes on the cruise. Anchored in Mill Creek off Whitehall Bay near Annapolis, they were ferried to one of four individual residences, enjoying a medley of very American BBQ choices provided by Mission BBQ. Barbeque, another common food language!
I probably don’t need to underscore the moral of this story. The thousand words above should have you thinking. The Chesapeake Bay is a wonderland. As demonstrated in conversation after conversation with our international visitors, it is a gem of a cruising ground.
So here is your assignment: Between now and New Years Day, take some time to plan how you will use your cruising boat, kayak, or even your car, to spend more time on the Bay in 2024.
Artist, comedian, and poet, Don Herold, nailed it in his poem: “If I Had My Life Over—I’d Pick More Daisies.” His wisdom in the final stanza is clear: “If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.”
If Don was a Bay cruiser, he would have added Bay cruising to his “most important” list. You should too!
By Mike Pitchford