16/10/2007/1:33 pm, St. Michaels, MD
I just sent a birthday card off to Jim's sister - an early Happy Birthday Mary Jean! The verse inside talked about treasuring moments, and our visit to this wonderful little town has been chock-a-block with MOMENTS.
We arrived on a hot and sunny afternoon, pulled into St Michaels Marina for diesel, water and a pump out. It's a small harbour but there is lots of room at the fuel dock and the folks are helpful. We then chugged over to the little harbour in front of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and the Inn at Perry Cabin, dropped our anchor in about 10 feet of water, and hopped in the dinghy for a quick trip to Big Al's - home of fabulous seafood. That was the first of the MOMENTS because not only did we purchase seafood, but we met Thursby Cooper. This wonderful man took us out back to show us a basketful of the famous Maryland Blue Crabs - and they are blue as you can see from the picture. He told us how they steam them on demand in fresh water every time, in big pots. (pour a few inches of water in the bottom; put in the rack; put the crabs on top with the seasoning spice; put the lid on - presto - steamed crabs.) He also gave us his recipe for oyster fritters, and his buddy John told us how to open and eat the crabs. Dinner on Sunday evening was a half dozen extra large crabs - oh so very good, and like lobster, best eaten outdoors with fingers.
On Monday, I tried making the fritters for brunch and they were delicious too. So of course we had to go back to Big Al's for another supply of food from the Bay. This time we got a tub of crabmeat - less work - a couple of ready-made crab cakes, some breaded oysters, and a soft shell crab to try. It was all so fresh and delicious, there were many mmmm's and ah's coming from Madcap's cockpit!
We met other friendly cruisers: Bill from Pennsylvania, Karen from Montreal, PQ, and Deb and Paul from Barrie, ON. We're all on the journey south and we look forward to meeting up with them again.
Jim and I toured the Museum with its wonderful displays of historic Chesapeake Bay boats. The skipjacks and log canoes, shallops and bugeyes, and the Baltimore Clipper are all represented and all so interesting to learn about. I climbed the screwpile lighthouse - so named because the piles holding it up are screwed down into the mud. It is representative of other such lighthouses and is very different from the ones we knew from home.
We had seen a sign that the Carpenter Street saloon had live music so we decided to stay up late and check it out. Unfortunately the sign was gone and there was no live music but we had a beer among the locals anyway.
Tuesday morning was a day for roaming. I got my fix of talking with people everyplace we went. We strolled first through the grounds and the lobby of the Inn at Perry Cabin - that has been the view from our cockpit for much of the past two days. It is a lovely white building that looks like three or four buildings all very tastefully melded together. It is owned by the Orient Express chain and looks extremely elegant and expensive. Madcap looked quite elegant herself sitting just off their front garden!
I spent the better part of a wonderful hour with Mary and her husband John in their fascinating two-in-one store on Talbot Street - Artistes Locales/Frivolous Fibers. I was drawn in by the yarns, but was also impressed by the quality of the artwork, and was totally captivated by these two wonderful people. I bought some sock yarn and needles because I have been missing having some kind of handwork to do while we travel. Mary was enthusiastic and knowledgeable and generous with websites and patterns. She laughed when she heard I am traveling on a sailboat and said many of her customers are boaters. They spread the word from one boat to another, and people keep coming in. So here I am - spreading the word some more - check out the website at www.frivolousfibers.com. I've promised to send her a picture when I get my socks done. Whether your interest is art or fibres - this is a Must See stop in St. Michaels. John's photos are brilliant (www.johnrobinsonphotos.com) and he also gave me some tips on buying a new zoom lens. Jim eventually came looking for me and we moved on to check out Phil Heim Designs where the friendly lady showed me how to fix the back of my earring so it wouldn't fall off, and sold us a fine blue crab - an art piece of course!
Next stop was Sugar Buns where we munched on wickedly good cinnamon buns and fresh coffee, bought roasted garlic bread, and learned from Susan that we should rent bikes next time and take the little ferry over to Oxford. We'll probably visit there by boat anyway, but the bike trip is a really good idea for our exploration on the return trip. We picked up thick, marbled steaks and Howard's Pepper Relish (suggested by Thursby as the best accompaniment to oyster fritters) at the deli, and finally stopped in at Acme grocery for the rest of our supplies. The bells of the Episcopal Church were ringing out familiar melodies as we walked on down the street and back to our boat, savouring the MOMENTS all the while.
St Michaels has been a perfect place to spend a few days, and now we are off to anchor in Leeds Creek - just across the Miles River - where we'll swim and BBQ and look at the stars - and do a little work too!
13/10/2007/10:22 am, Chestertown, MD
We continued further up the Chester River on Friday to Chestertown. The weather has changed dramatically - much cooler and very gusty Friday. The winds were blowing 10-15 knots with gusts up to 25. We had the main up and a reefed staysail and found that we alternated between roaring along as we heeled far over and standing straight up and practically still. Between gusts and twists in the channel, it was a complicated sail.
The books described Chestertown as such an attractive college town that we thought it would be a good spot to spend a couple of days and do some social things. It didn't quite work out that way. We stopped in to the visitor's centre where we heard that the best spot for take out seafood was Rock Hall (I wish we had persevered to reach the town centre on that hot day), live music would also be in Rock Hall and for any other events, St. Michael's was the place to go. So.... I did a much-needed laundry. Jim got a haircut. We wandered about the streets past centuries old buildings, checked out the very expensive menus at a number of restaurants, and came back to the boat to dine on BBQ'd pork chops and sautéed zucchini, onions and tomatoes (and olives for me.) After spending 3 hours to get up here, the plan was to head back down this long and winding river again on the ebb tide in the morning.
Because I took one last look at the guidebook and found that there is a Saturday morning Farmer's Market, we decided to take one more run into the town and we are happy we did. There was indeed a market at which we filled our bags with pesticide free lettuce and heirloom tomatoes, sweet white corn, multigrain bread, and multicoloured peppers straight from the garden. We chatted with the sellers, learning that one man has a son-in-law working for the Senators Hockey Team in Ottawa; another young man spent many summers at a little resort in Dryden, ON. The mood was happy. The sun shone and the feeling was good.
I picked up another book on the Chesapeake - Exploring the Watertrail of Captain John Smith - and a copy of Sibley's Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. We are currently reading Beautiful Swimmers - borrowed from Mary and Blair, and we may have to purchase our own copy of it - it's a classic. Jim went back to the boat to try his hand at connecting on the ham radio with my cousin Russ in Nova Scotia (no luck - they'll have to keep working on it) while I wandered about town some more. Upon hearing lots of horns tooting and young voices shouting, I dashed back to High Street to see several floats of high school students tossing candy and rousing up spirit for the Homecoming football game this afternoon.
I watched the skipjack, Ellsworth, load a group of folks and head out into the river. They are fascinating boats and I'll add more to this when I've done my research! We dropped into "Play it Again Sam" - a perfect little coffee shop- to mingle with the locals and absorb the convivial atmosphere while we checked email and made these two postings. This is what we were hoping to find, and what has given us a refreshed impression of Chestertown. We'll be off a little later today to head back down to the mouth of the Chester River for a trip onward down the Bay tomorrow.
12/10/2007/10:26 am, Cacaway Island, MD
We have had a delightful few days. It feels so very good to slooooow down - waaaay down. There has been a rhythm to our journey just as there is in any journey. Weather, events, and our level of energy or fatigue have guided us. Sometimes we feel the urge to press onward in our eastward/southward movement. Sometimes we stay in a particular place for an event; sometimes we stay to enjoy the company of friends and family. Sometimes we want to explore an area in a little more depth than "just passing through" allows us to do; sometimes "getting there" is the driving force.
We pushed down the New Jersey coast and up Delaware Bay because we wanted to attend the Annapolis Boat Show last weekend. Having done that, we are now in a position to slow down until the end of the month while we explore the Chesapeake Bay. Strathspey and Madcap are setting our own itineraries for this period so there is no need to consult on destinations or timing. Each crew gets to do exactly as it wants - when it wants. And so, Jim and I have been meandering!
We left Baltimore on Monday and made our way back down the Patapsco River to an anchorage in Swan's Creek near Rock Hall - on the eastern shore of the Bay. I started dinner as soon as we arrived, and a couple of hours later we feasted on roast turkey (yes - from my own little oven on board), apple-cranberry stuffing, peas, carrots and coleslaw with a chilled chardonnay. After allowing that to settle a bit, we dropped into the silky water for a swim, and followed up with carrot cake and a sip of Niagara Ice Wine. T'was a memorable Thanksgiving indeed.
Tuesday was hot again - in the high 20's (it may even have hit 30) and although we had planned to explore Rock Hall - the local town - it was all we could do to walk as far as the Waterman's Museum. That was closed up so we asked for the key at the neighbouring store and spent a pleasant time examining the memorabilia there. Then it was a hot and dusty walk back to the dinghy and a speedy run to Madcap where we jumped immediately into the water again.
This swimming has been an unexpected treat. We had never dreamed it would be warm enough, and the water temperatures have been the highest we've seen all trip - high 20's. We keep hearing about sea nettles, also known as stinging nettles. I thought they must be plants, but it turns out they are jellyfish (Jim knew that all along). When we eventually saw some in the Chester River, they were smallish white ones with trailing stingers. The books say the water is fresh enough as we travel up these rivers that they are not a problem, and we have found that to be true.
We saw the most elaborate and plentiful duckblinds - good sized ones with thatched sides and roofs - in Swan's Creek. We're happy that they don't appear to be in use right now since we have been able to spot several from almost every anchorage we've been in, and we don't relish being caught in any crossfire.
On Wednesday, we raised anchor and traveled on to the Chester River. We had read about an anchorage just off Cacaway Island and so we navigated our way up the river, into Langford Creek, through the marsh-lined channel to the anchorage. I have just finished reading James Michener's Chesapeake in which he talks a great deal about the marshes and it is interesting to be moving among them. Much of that novel is set in the Choptank River, which we will explore next week, but I think we are certainly getting a taste of it now. These rivers twist this way and that, and the shoreline is almost always lined with rushes.
Cacaway Island is small - no landing allowed - and is home to a variety of birds. We saw a magnificent bald eagle soar in for a landing. He perched high above us for quite some time and I was desperately wishing for a "zoomier" lens on my camera! What strong birds they are - huge claws, thick necks, and so distinctive with their white head and tail feathers. At the other end of the island, a couple of turkey vultures were putting on a show. One was perched atop a dead head and the other came soaring in to land higher up on the same branch. They appeared to be engaging in some kind of interaction - do adults feed each other like cardinals do? One flew off again while the other stayed with wings outstretched, tail up, head down and appeared to be eating. I wish I had been able to get a better look but it was just too far away. Today, a turkey vulture came in to a branch closer to us, and sat for the longest time with his back to us and his (her?) wings spread wide out. The wing span had to be close to a metre. I don't know if they need to spread their wings out to dry like cormorants do or not. I'd be very happy to hear from any birders out there about turkey vulture habits. A couple of elegant blue herons appeared as well - one standing so still along the shoreline while another landed high in a tree and pulled his long neck in as if to take a nap. This morning we saw a great mass of Canada Geese fly overhead.
What a treat it is to be up close and personal with nature in the Chesapeake. Later today we head for Chestertown to do some connecting with people.