Eastern Chesapeake – More Watermen than Cell Signal Bars: May 21 2020
As we learned, the Chesapeake is America’s largest estuary with more coastline than the rest of the US combined which means there are loads of creeks and coves to explore. However, strong winds have meant that our route options and exploring must be specific and targeted. Our cruising guide divides the Chesapeake into five sections. That’s a lot of sections because Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina have merely one section per state. Although we love visiting Annapolis and Baltimore – it seems that they are better skipped at this COVID-19 time. Where to go instead? Well, we have not explored much of the less populated, working waterman lower and eastern portions of the Chesapeake…so there you have it. We’ll focus there. Anchored in Deltaville is a secure spot but should we stay another night or go? There is a gale warning in 48hrs with strong winds and waves cycling from now until then. Winds did not appear to mellow today out on the Bay so we stayed put (5/7). Chris’ new favorite tool is a temperature sensor from Walmart. He has taken several readings on the generator and will keep the info as a base case for any future changes.
Cruising seems to be improving as liquor stores in the Bahamas have been re-opened and Maryland just lifted its ban on recreational boating (both in place for over a month). Weather reports also seemed better which had us pulling up a very muddy anchor at 6.30am (5/8). We moved north up the Bay and across the Potomac into Jutland Creek to ride out the gale warning from tonight at 11pm until tomorrow at 6pm. This protected anchorage is one of our favorite places where winds might roar outside the creek; however, in the creek wind simply rustles the trees in a way that it feels like we are in the mountains. Hey – the bald eagle and osprey are still in residence 4 years after our last visit – awesome. Today, good news is all around as we just got word back from our Boston Marina that they are ready for us whenever we arrive. Great! Now if Mother Nature would just chill out for more than two days in a row…we could really make some plans. The howling gale winds all night pushed Barefeet around but the water stayed smooth in Jutland Creek.
Ha – the temperature sensor has another purpose. It tells us exactly how cold the mornings are inside the boat…41F. Sheesh! The Chesapeake average for May is 61-77F. Well, it’s snowing in Boston so clearly Mother Nature is feeling ignored with all eyes and focus on the virus. That said, we continue to eat well from our boat pantry – grilled steak and roasted potatoes with salad one night and homemade guacamole and hot bean dip with margaritas another night. As winds lightened we jumped into the dinghy for some exploring up the creek and on land into tiny, unincorporated Ridge (5/10). Eagles soared, oyster beds were marked and stands of trees stepped to the water’s edge. Ashore we tied up at Point Lookout Marina (http://www.pointlookoutmarina.com/). There were fields and farms and just a single yellow flashing light for road traffic. Don't miss the sign in front of the church...above the Chicken Dinner announcement. Gulp...the end of time or optimism?! Regardless, this is a tranquil place and the day ended in another gentle sunset.
Staying ahead of the weather we departed Jutland Creek and made a quick hop across the Bay to the eastern side (5/11). The mouth of the Potomac was bumpy as expected but then smoothed out once we were across and again heading north. Dark front clouds passed through on our passage but blue skies arrived as we anchored in the Honga River off of Crapo, MD. It is a lovely, remote place with more watermen and hunting blinds than cell signal bars. And an enormous bald eagle – wow! Continued cool temperatures and a whole afternoon ahead of me meant that I could try my hand at a Cajun comfort food classic for dinner…pork grillades (recipe below). It’s browned pork pieces simmered with onions, green pepper, tomato and creole spices. Usually, it’s served atop grits but I went for boat pantry instant mashed potatoes instead (goosed up with butter and cream cheese). Yum – perfect at the close of a cold day followed by stars that illuminated the sky and blew our socks off. It is magical to be the only ones anchored here.
No joke about the chilly temperatures. Friends in Chesapeake City, MD, planted tomatoes three times only to have each planting killed by frost…in May. Fourth time is the charm?! On went the fleeces and on we went to San Domingo Creek off of St. Michael’s with calm conditions as the wind shifted from northwest to south (5/13). The anchorage was positively bucolic and an understandably calm place for Michener to write the novel “Chesapeake.” The fictional Devon Island was set in nearby Choptank River and wove a story through the rich history of the area: “Colonial gentry, Quakers, watermen, geese and blue herons, skipjacks and marshes, slavery and wars for independence and soft-shell crabs and Native Americans.”
Our cozy anchorage was just a short ride to the “back door” of town and its dinghy dock (with trash cans – boat rubbish disposal is always appreciated). The town is 1.25 square miles with a population of 1,029 people. A vibrant fishing industry has watermen sharing docks and parking spaces with tourists like us. The town has a distinctly New England feel due to its beautifully maintained buildings and homes that escaped war damage during the war of 1812. The town was dubbed, “the town that fooled the British” after hanging lanterns outside of town which caused the British to overshoot their attack fire. We wandered the main drag of Talbot Street (shuttered by COVID) and the nature trail (5/14). Sunshine and colorful blooms were a welcome sight as we stretched our legs. Back aboard Barefeet where a couple of boat projects were accomplished (changed the engine fuel filter and a coolant leak was tracked down) before a simple dinner of french fries with Ranch dressing.
Continuing up the eastern shore was a longer 57 mile hop, today, due to exiting and entering our anchor spots through winding rivers and creeks…but the up side is that this added distance up river provides better protection than at the exposed mouth (5/15). We motored past Annapolis (dang it), under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (world’s largest over water bridge when built in 1952) and up the Chester River to anchor in the Corsica River. Here’s a fun fact: at Pioneer Point there’s a 45 acre dacha owned by the Russian government - purchased in 1972 and used for “intelligence related purposes” where cold war intrigue and espionage plots were hatched. Hhhmmm, well, we don’t know about that but supposedly the FBI watched the mansion with binoculars. Submarines were pure rumor because the river depth is only 10ft (tee, hee, hee). The anchorage was calm and quiet but wide like a lake which left us feeling exposed after our snug creek anchorages.
Barefeet is purring like a kitten with no more coolant leaks and the transmission oil level remaining steady. Worton Creek was our last stop as we bumped along the eastern shore of the Chesapeake (5/16). It was a picture perfect day with temperatures in the upper 70s, tranquil winds, a half dozen boats anchored along the sandy shore and a few more dotting the horizon out on the Bay. This is a glimpse of summer yet to come and it is lovely. Maybe enjoyed even more because we know that it won’t last...yet. Tropical storm Arthur will arrive soon in the Carolinas which has us headed to Chesapeake City to wait out his weather ripples (5/17). Luck was with us and we snagged a spot at the town’s free dock. Yippee! Oh, don't be fooled - the 14 mile long C&D Canal is a BUSY place as it links Baltimore on the Chesapeake with Philadelphia on the Delaware. This swaps 300 miles of open ocean for protected river and canal waters. Exhibit A – the Grand Neptune…super glad not to meet her in the canal.
We settled into charming Chesapeake City while winds bellowed wildly on the Delaware and the Chesapeake Bays. This 693 population town is photogenic and laid back even if restaurants and stores are closed. Our walks took us through historic downtown as well as along canal paths and nature trails. The boat pantry was topped up with a stop at employee owned Redner’s Market as well as Menonite owned Detwiler’s Farm Market. The farm market was bursting with fresh fruits, veggies and local meat and dairy products…and…exploded with vibrant blooms in the nursery. This is a tough stop to rush past so it was nice to stay for a few days.
But all good things must come to an end. Winds mellowed after a stunning sunset which we took as a good omen – red skies at night, sailor’s delight. The anchor was up at 6am for a long day of 60+ miles, possibly boisterous Delaware Bay conditions and tides both with and against us. Our bail out option is anchoring in the Cohansey River if needed (thanks for the tip Bill & Louise). The C&D Canal was calm and the Delaware River was calm in its narrow northern section. However, conditions became a bit bumpy where the Delaware widens out with steep, short waves (think rodeo bucking bronco). That said – it would only be for a couple of hours so we continued through to Cape May, NJ, by 3pm via the Cape May Canal. It was a 9hr leap but nice to get through it (5/21). We tied up at Utsch’s Marina where we will wait for good conditions to complete the Jersey Shore in the Atlantic Ocean (http://www.capemayharbor.com/). Hhhmmm…really not sure about timing because Storm Arthur has left a swirling wind mass just sitting offshore. Plus, the wind gods have the US and European forecasting weather models in disagreement and even opposition to each other. So it goes this season with our calm weather travel dashes squished between strong wind hurly burly. Despite the craziness “close to home” has a nice ring to it.
and Pork Grillades
Grits are traditional be we did not have any on the boat so we used mashed potatoes.
4lb pork butt; cut into 1”x2” pieces, ¾” thick
salt and pepper
2 cups flour
1tsp cajun or creole seasoning
¼ cup veggie oil or bacon fat
1 cup onion, diced
½ cup green pepper, diced
¼ cup celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups diced tomatoes
2 cups beef or pork stock
½ teaspoon cajun or creole seasoning
1 bay leaf
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Green onions, chopped for garnish
Grits, mashed potatoes or rice to serve with
· Season pork pieces with salt and pepper. Mix together flour and 1 tsp seasoning. Dredge pork in flour and shake off extra. Set aside on wire rack. Reserve flour.
· Heat oil or fat on high in heavy bottomed pan. Once heated add pork pieces but be careful not to crowd. Work in batches to brown on all sides. Once browned place on plate and set aside.
· Once pork is done add onions and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook onions until deep mahogany color. Add green pepper, celery and garlic. Continue cooking until veggies wilt (approx. 5 min).
· Add tablespoon of reserved flour and stir until no lumps remain.
· Add tomatoes and stock and stir to combine (be sure to scrape all crusty bits off the bottom of the pan). Raise heat back to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Add ½ teaspoon seasoning, bay leaf, Worcestershire and pork pieces. Stir to combine and bring back to simmer. Simmer 45 minutes to one hour until meat is tender.
· Check seasoning and serve over grits, mashed potatoes or rice.