Short but oh so Sweet

Save time and fuel with these quick cruises. And they’re all just around the corner.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Nearly all summer long, fuel prices climbed and climbed into the ionosphere. Would they never stop? It was enough to keep even the most dedicated cruiser at the dock. So, we asked ourselves, why not take some of the Bay’s most popular boating centers and find around-the-corner cruises—that is, short and economical ones—for each. But just before the story was done, fuel prices finally started coming down and down until they were nearly back to where they started.

Was our story still a good idea? Of course! First and foraemost, they are all good suggestions, if we do say so ourselves. Second, our directions take you off the well-sailed path, to anchoring spots you may not know about. Lastly, we boaters don’t always have a lot of time to spend in our favorite occupation, so why not have a series of short, fun cruises in our go-bag? Besides, fuel prices could go up again any time. Just saying . . .

BALTIMORE

Hart-Miller Island. Photo Stephen Badger

Partying at Hart-Miller Island

I’m going to start with Hart-Miller Island, Baltimore’s most wildly popular destination and weekend madhouse. Really, what’s not to love—throngs of boaters, plenty of secondhand music, a great place to splash around, a state park with miles of trails, a nice long beach and some surprisingly lovely scenery. But if you can get away during the week, you’ll find Hart-Miller a much quieter place, though the park is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On the other hand, if you come in January, you’ll have the place to yourself.

Hart-Miller lies on the Bay side of Baltimore, midway between Back and Middle rivers, separated from the mainland by Hawk Cove. That’s where you’ll want to drop anchor. You’ll have some protection from the Bay’s chop and access to the park docks. The north side of the island is closed to visitors, but the south side and its large pond are open most of the week in season. There is even a bit of overnight camping. All in all, it’s a great way to feel part of the Bay scene while doing as little—sipping a cold drink in the cockpit—or as much—beaching, bicycling and sipping a cold one in the cockpit—as you like.

Plane-spotting on Frog Mortar Creek

While we’re in the neighborhood of Middle River, I want to mention another right-around-the-corner destination that also happens to be one of our favorites, Frog Mortar Creek. Not only does this creek have what is possibly the best name on the Chesapeake, if not the world, but it also offers one of the few opportunities on the Bay for watching planes take off and/or land from the comfort of your boat. (Gravelly Point on the Potomac lets you do the same thing, but in an ear-splitting, big-passenger-jet kind of way. And you must do it while sitting awkwardly smack in the Potomac. This is much better.) We suggest you can pull off the main channel approximately opposite Maryland Marina and drop the hook in a suitable amount of water. Then you can alternate splashing around at the little beach on the western shore with watching small private and corporate aircraft go in and out of Martin State Airport in a relatively quiet and dignified fashion. And after 10 p.m., they don’t do it at all. (A sidenote to sailboats: If visibility is poor, you will need to notify the tower that you are there since your mast may pose a hazard to air navigation.)

As a bonus, and only if you are feeling adventurous, you can return to the main Middle River channel and go upriver about a mile and a half, drop anchor, then come ashore at Wilson Park near the boat ramp. Alternately, you can try your luck in the old Martin Lagoon a little farther on. Either way, hike across MD 587, go up the drive opposite and you’ll find the Glen L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum. Inside the museum, you find lots of fascinating information on Martin Aviation; outside, you will find a lineup of old aircraft, many of which were built and developed here.

A few more ideas

Also worth considering, of course, is downtown Baltimore, where you can find days of activities all rolled into one short trip. Tie up at one of the city’s many convenient marinas or try the wall in the Inner Harbor.

Finally, as long as the wind is not from the northeast, try dropping anchor outside the channel just inside the mouth of Rock Creek. Sit back and enjoy the view.

SOLOMONS ISLAND

The not-that-Mill Creek cruise

I’m particularly excited about this pocket cruise, because I’ve been beating the drum for this trip for years. And what better time to bring it up . . . again . . . than now, because it’s just so close to Solomons, a great mid-Bay point. And it’s fun and easy and economical. So where are we going? Mill Creek. No, not the Mill Creek right next door, which, yes indeed, has plenty of good anchorages. I mean the Mill Creek that is less than three miles upriver and shares its entrance with Cuckhold Creek.

It couldn’t be easier. Turn up the Patuxent, pass under the Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge, skirt Point Patience (checking your depth sounder to see just how remarkably deep it reads), and look for Patuxent markers green “9” and “11”. Pass between the two markers and then pick up Cuckold Creek entrance markers “2”, “3”, and “4”. Bear to port, leaving Clark’s Landing to starboard. You are now in Mill Creek. Look ahead and you’ll see your destination, where no doubt at least one boat—and possibly 16 boats if it’s a summer weekend—have already staked out their territory. Don’t worry, though, there’s plenty of room, and most people will go home when the sun sets. Drop the anchor and then have a look around.

Along the eastern shore, you’ll find Myrtle Point Waterfront Park, which has 7.3 miles of trails, plus two miles of shoreline. To the southeast, you’ll see some marshes and a series of very small marsh islands. This is a great place to explore in whatever floaty items you’ve brought, winding in and out of the reeds. Right in the deepest pocket of the shoreline, you’ll find a small beach and just beyond that the trail that winds around the periphery of the park. Swim, paddle, picnic, enjoy. Watch the birds. Once you’re back on the boat, relax and think about dinner. If you don’t want to cook, climb back in the dinghy/etc. and motor back to Clark’s Landing, where you’ll find Stoney’s Landing—part of the Stoney’s Crab House trio and famous for its very big, very round crabcakes.

Jefferson-Patterson Park, here we come!

Jefferson Patterson Park. Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

Here’s another great choice for a fuel- and time-friendly getaway. An additional three miles up the Patuxent, and on the opposite shore, you’ll find beautiful St. Leonard Creek. The entrance is easy; just pay attention to the well-marked shoal on the northern shore. And the creek is deep for nearly three miles. You’ll have your choice of pleasant anchorages up the creek, and you can give a nod to the former Vera’s White Sands Restaurant and Marina, once the most famous and certainly most eccentric spot on the Bay. Vera is gone, though some of her statues remain and it’s a very pleasant sports bar now. But if you really want to be kind to your pocketbook and the environment, I highly recommend you drop anchor just inside St. Leonard’s entrance, just behind Petersons Point to port. Climb into the dinghy and head for the nearby pier, also tucked behind the point. From here you can pick up the trail to Jefferson-Patterson Park & Museum, Maryland’s very special archaeology center that preserves and documents more than 9,000 years of human settlement via trails, exhibits and a fantastic Visitor’s Center.

DELTAVILLE

All Deltaville is divided into two parts (sorry, Caesar) and both are chock-a-block with boats. Broad Creek on its Rappahannock side offers at least half a dozen well-protected marinas, while Fishing Bay and Jackson Creek on the Piankatank side provide equally tempting dockage and a very popular anchorage. Since it’s a bit of a haul to get from one side to the other, I’ve divided this up into two sets of quick cruises. Let’s begin with the Rappahannock side.

Gwynn Island. Photo Virginia Water Trails

Treat yourself to an oyster cruise

I propose that you set off up the Rappahannock about seven miles to Locklies Creek, which lies on the south side of the river. Turn in and you’ll soon spot Merroir Tasting Room to starboard. Merroir is the original restaurant for Rappahannock Oyster Co., which now has restaurants from Washington D.C. to Norfolk. If you’ve chosen a nice, quiet day, drop the anchor just off Merroir and dinghy into their dock. Sit outside on this beautiful spot overlooking the river, and enjoy oysters grown only a few yards away. However, if the wind is kicking up, take a slip at Regent Point Marina just across the creek and dinghy over from there. Regent Point is a lovely place to while away a day or a weekend in any case.

Two ways to enjoy Windmill Point

Here’s another idea for Broad Creek boaters with a draft under five feet. Simply zip across the Rappahannock the three miles to Windmill Point Marina. After you negotiate the slightly tricky but well-marked entrance (a call to the marina for the latest best route would be a smart idea), you’ll slip inside the basin. Once settled, you’ll find a beautiful little beach with a million-dollar view. Then stroll up to the Tiki Bar and Grill next to the pool and enjoy the rest of the day.

For those with deeper draft or in search of a less developed getaway, I suggest going the few extra miles to the other side of Windmill Point. Here you’ll find Little Bay, which lies on the south end of larger Fleets Bay. Little Bay, like every great anchorage on the Chesapeake, tends to get a little busy on summer weekends, but, like the others, tends to empty out at sunset. In any case, there’s plenty of room to anchor. Take a dinghy trip ashore, and you’ll find some of the sweetest sand beaches around. After a nice swim, take the dinghy into the watery interior of Windmill Point and see if you can figure out how to get to the other side.

A few ways to do Gwynn’s Island and the Piankatank

On the Piankatank side of Deltaville. I suggest that you make the four-mile trip across the river to Milford Haven, behind Gwynn’s Island. (Before you go, be sure the Gwynn’s Island Bridge is operating.) Once through, you can anchor in the first bay and dinghy into the Seabreeze Restaurant. Or, if you’re looking for a quieter spot, you can try Edwards Creek on the north side. But my preference, especially If the weather is hot, is to go a little bit further so you can drop the anchor behind a long low spit of land known generally as Gwynn’s Island beach. Here you can catch the breeze off the Bay yet stay protected from the worst of the chop. I believe you’ll find few more beautiful anchorages on the Bay.

If you want to go a bit further, you could also take a short cruise up the Piankatank to supremely protected Healey or Wilton creeks. If you can get under the 43-foot bridge, go just a little farther to Berkley island.

NORFOLK / PORTSMOUTH

A futile suggestion for a Lynnhaven Cruise

Let me begin this final section by admitting defeat . . . kind of. Most of the boats in the Norfolk/Portsmouth area are probably in Little Creek and Rudys Inlet, rather than inside the Elizabeth River. The obvious quick trip for Little Creek and even Rudy Inlet boaters is a trip into Lynnhaven Bay and then by the Narrows to Linkhorn Bay, the backdoor to Virginia Beach. A stop at one of the marinas along Long Creek offers access to restaurants and shops.

The main problem with focusing on Lynnhaven, however, is the Lesner Bridge, which has a fixed clearance of only 35 feet, thereby excluding pretty much all sailboats bigger than a Hobie. About 95 percent of the boats on the Bay side are owned by fishermen, which means it’s a great place to be if that is your favorite way to spend a day.

Deep Creek Lock. Photo Pamela K Spaugy

A useful suggestion for a cruise to Deep Creek Lock

When I give talks about doing the Intracoastal Waterway and ask people what they are most nervous about doing it, they invariably reply, “Running aground!” and “Going through locks!” Hence this maybe surprising suggestion: Do the Deep Creek Lock at the start of the Dismal Swamp Canal and then spend the night on the Elizabeth Dock a few yards beyond. Why? On this trip you don’t have to worry about the first fear, and as for the second, it’ll be easy. The trickiest part may be not missing the turn-off, which is directly after you come through the I-64 High Rise Bridge, and which I almost always miss. Deep Creek Lock is about three miles after the turnoff.

The lock has four openings a day—8:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.—so you may want to time your trip so you arrive somewhere in the neighborhood of the next opening. If you don’t, it’s easy just to sit and wait, with no current and no chop. When you arrive, call the lock on VHF channel 13. The locktender will tell you to wait for the stoplight to turn green and will usually tell you which side to take. While you are waiting, put your fenders out and attach your long docklines to the fore and aft cleats. When you get the green light, pull slowly into the lock and then stop wherever the lock tender directs. The locktender will then hold a boathook over the bow. Take the center of the dockline and put it over the boathook, keeping the free, or bitter, end in your hand. He or she will take your line and put it over the bollard. Same operation for the stern. Then as the chamber fills and the boat rises, you keep the boat next to the bulkhead by taking in slack. Eventually, the locktender will say you’re all set and to motor slowly out of the lock. You flip your lines off the bollards and you’re off. That’s all there is to it.

Now instead of heading off down the canal, make a sharp turn to starboard just outside the lock and tie up at Elizabeth Dock. The dock was built a number of years ago by a boater in memory of his wife, for the use of Dismal Swamp boaters. There is no water or electricity, but there is a very nice park and playground and lots of room to exercise the dog. It’s also free. If you walk along the shore, you’ll find the remnants of an earlier lock near the end. Finally, give yourself a pat on the back for adding a new boating skill!