Jody's Log: Easton? No Sweat!

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Some things seem like good ideas at the time. Then you do them and see where you went wrong. Eating an entire apple pie in one sitting is one example. Cruising to Easton in a summer heat wave on a four-sided boat is another.

My daughter Kristen and I got ourselves into just that pretty pickle last summer because we were feeling cocky after our successful visit to Chesapeake Beach—a place that has a reputation for being too shallow for boats more than a two or three feet deep. (Moment of Zen is just under four.)

“Where to next?” Kristen asked, practically rubbing her hands together in anticipation of a gnarly entrance channel or awkward docking opportunity.

“I have just the place,” I said, resisting the temptation to rub my own hands together. “Let’s try out Easton, which is at the top of the Tred Avon River. It’s a charming town and has a marina with plenty of water.”

“What’s hard about that?” she asked, a little disappointed. “Sounds easy.”

“It’s apparently a bit of a walk into town. I’d like to know how much a “bit” is and whether it’s a practical thing to do.”

“Mmm, I guess that will do,” she admitted.

“Well, we could anchor out instead of going into the marina,” I suggested, trying to offer a little more of a challenge.

She gave me a withering look. A challenge is one thing, but physical discomfort is quite another “Mother, it’s 100 degrees in the shade of an oak tree. We need air conditioning!”

“Okay, okay, the marina it is. I’ll give them a call after we’re underway.”

Fifteen minutes later, we had backed off the face dock at Chesapeake Harbor and re-negotiated the entrance channel, finding the water a little thin an hour before low tide, but still five to six feet. 

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Once back on the Bay, we continued our course east, aiming for the mouth of the Choptank River. A trip through Knapps Narrows might have been marginally shorter, but since we’d be arriving close to low tide, I decided that there was no sense getting wild and crazy with challenges. I’d been pushed out of the channel and grounded there often enough already. We would go around by way of Sharps Island Light and Blackwalnut Point.

Meanwhile, I called the Easton Point Marina. Yes, they thought they had a slip that could accommodate Zen’s 15-foot beam. Good. We were off on our next adventure!

But our first adventure arrived in the form of a big beam sea that set us rocking between the ebbing current and the south wind. At first the sails helped calm things down, but by the time we reached the outflow at the mouth of the Choptank, we were pitching about like a bobble-head doll.

Once inside the Choptank, however, the chop flattened out, though we were still fighting the last of the ebb. But even that gave out as we neared Benoni Point at the mouth of the Tred Avon. By the time we passed Oxford, we were riding on silk.

Beyond Oxford, we slipped silently past the Tred Avon’s succession of lovely creeks— Plaindealing, Goldsborough, Trippe and Peachblossom. In the shade of the cockpit, we had enough wind to keep us comfortable, but outside the sun beat down, and the temperature rose inexorably toward 100. We yearned for the river to go on forever.

But the Tred Avon is a short river, and too soon we reached its end, or nearly so. Easton Point Marina sits at the junction of the river’s final divide, North Fork and Peppermill Pond. It’s not a big marina, but it’s the only marina. The rest of the North Fork waterfront on the Easton side is industrial, a destination for tugs and barges. We dawdled along behind one of these the final half-mile upriver.

Meanwhile we radioed for directions to a slip.

The word “slip” implies a certain ease of movement and therefore does not accurately apply to this situation. Fitting Zen’s 15-foot breadth into a 15-foot-1-inch slip (I may be exaggerating for dramatic effect) felt like the stepsister trying to force her foot into the glass slipper. It was an uncomfortable fit. But thanks to a lack of both wind and current and the help of the marina dockhand, we did it. There was not enough room to let the bow swing out in order to pull the stern close to the finger pier, so we simply pulled the dog/people ramp out of the stern storage locker, bridged the gap and soon were able to de-boat.

“Easton here we are!” I declared.

Oh, but if you have been reading this in anticipation of a leisurely description of that utterly charming Eastern Shore town, you are in for disappointment. Because, you see, before we de-boated again for our jaunt into town, we turned on the air conditioner. It hummed briefly, flashed a low-pressure signal and turned itself off. The cabin temperature immediately rose ten degrees and we began to perspire. The dogs, Bindi and Sammy, began to pant.

I pulled off the engine compartment cover and opened the air-conditioning raw water intake pot (closing the through-hull first, to be sure). The issue was one of water flow. I poked and prodded, then went outside and poked and prodded the exit, freeing up a certain amount of aquatic flora. Restarted the air conditioner. Same result.

I won’t bore you with the remaining details. But the upshot is that later that afternoon, the marina’s head mechanic and an able assistant came aboard to save Zen’s over-civilized personnel. They poked and prodded and shot water backwards through the exit hose and released several pounds of foul-smelling green stuff into the engine compartment and made the air conditioner happy again. Which was good because by that time the cabin temperature had reached at least 110 degrees (see above literary license note).

Finally, late in the long summer afternoon, we were ready to visit Easton. With the cabin cooling and the dogs attached to their leashes, we launched our little parade up Port Street and headed for town. We walked on the edge of the road. We walked along the rough grass strip beside the road. We waited for traffic to pass. We sweated like lawn sprinklers.

The distance from the marina to South Washington Street is only a mile, but it felt as if we were crossing the Kalahari. Yet we lived to tell the tale. Once we had reached town, we could take advantage of its trees and their welcome shade. We walked by the Talbot County Historical Society, through the downtown park, dawdled in front of Vintage Books, turned up East Dover to pass Hill’s Drugs and then down North Harrison past the Avalon Theater and the Bartlett Pear Inn.

But the long day was already drawing to a close, and neither Kristen nor I relished the thought of a trek back down narrow Port Street in the dark. So reluctantly we turned our backs on Easton and headed for home.

It wasn’t Easton Point Marina’s fault that when the docks were built any number of years ago, no one was thinking of cracker-box-shaped catamarans rather than normal piece-of-pie-shaped boats. But the result was that when we returned to the marina, we discovered the rising ride had wedged Zen’s starboard rub rail under the neighboring slip’s short finger pier.

Everyone had long since departed, so Kristen and I deposited Bindi and Sammy in the nice cool cabin, where they promptly went to sleep, and applied ourselves to the task of freeing the trapped bow. Which we did, after much effort and some colorful language. Then we too returned to the cabin, ate a quick cold meal and followed the dogs’ example. I don’t know about Kristen, but I know I fell asleep thinking very kind thoughts about East Point Marina’s head mechanic and less kind thoughts about the modern trend against sidewalks. Port Street with a sidewalk would make all the difference in the world. That, and a marina with a least one cracker-box-shaped slip.

We slipped out of Easton at first light, pausing to let a tug and barge break the first trail down the utterly still, utterly beautiful ribbon of water that lay ahead of us. Sipping coffee and watching dawn break over the Tred Avon River made everything all right.

Is Easton doable? Sure. All you need is pleasant weather and a pie-shaped boat. 

by Jody Argo Schroath

 

 

Cruiser’s Digest: Easton, Md.

I don’t want my little tale to discourage you from making your own trek up the Tred Avon to Easton. But I do have a few caveats: If you have a catamaran, plan to anchor out and dinghy in. Also, it’s a bit of a chore hiking into town—more from the traffic and lack of sidewalks than the distance. Bicycles would be good and mild weather and long hours of daylight even better.

Easton Point Marina (410-822-1201; eastonpointmarina.com) can accommodate modest-sized boats and has hook-ups for electric and water. It does not, however, have showers. But its owners are friendly and welcoming and, as I made clear in the story, willing to jump in to lend a hand.

Easton itself is of course a delight. Its restaurants, shops and delightful architecture are well-known across the Bay. The Art Academy Museum and the Avalon Theatre are two of my favorites. In addition, Easton annually produces a barrelful of festivals. My favorites are the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, which is held over Labor Day weekend, and the Waterfowl Festival in November. Oh, and of course the Plein Air Festival in July. Wait, I almost forgot the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival in June. You’ll find information about these and Easton’s other events at
www.discovereaston.com and www.tourtalbot.com