A Spring Sailing Charter on the Chesapeake
On a spring bareboat charter, old friends learn lessons of sailing, science, and camaraderie.
“These type of studies don’t work without the cooperation of the watermen,” Eric said, showing us tagging systems used to track an array of data about the animals. “We involve them in the research; they have great boats and gear. We get up at 4 a.m. and go out with them. We rely on them to recover crabs with external tags, and so far, 14,000 tagged crabs have been recaptured. The historic distrust between scientists and the watermen is what we’re trying to dispel. Fishermen are our friends, not our enemies. They need fish, too.”
Feeling much more informed about our surroundings, we spent the rest of the day savoring the Rhode River anchorage: the osprey that circled above, the brackish waters, the soothing languor inspired by the low-lying waterfront skyline. We swam off the stern of the boat, enjoying warm and cool pockets of water that, while certainly not gin clear, was refreshing and far less salty than in the tropics.
That comparison reminded me that we were on charter and that, as all charters do, this partial-week one, having started on a Wednesday and scheduled to end early on a Sunday morning, was going to be over soon and we’d better keep on exploring so I wouldn’t feel cheated on my maiden voyage through the Chesapeake. Where to go next?
We mulled it over, but not too hurriedly, pulling out the charts and guides. We were pleasantly distracted when a sailor from Freestyle, a nearby Hylas 49 in this increasingly populated anchorage, rowed over in his beautiful varnished Penobscot 14 dinghy to say hello.
Michael Hughes and his crew, including Babe, his 5-year-old Brittany spaniel, had just embarked on a nine-day cruise. Technically, it wasn’t a shakedown sail, but this was only the second time he’d had a chance to take the Hylas out, as he’d bought her the previous November, and the first matter of business then was to put her up for the winter in Annapolis.
“We’re headed to Solomons, the St. Marys River, the Rappahannock, maybe Mobjack Bay,” he said. “This is our first night.” After more chatting, and our plentiful and vocal admiration for the Arch Davis-designed dinghy that Michael plans to have rigged for sail, he bid us farewell and left us to it.
Freestyle’s itinerary was southward, Captain Mac pointed out to me, and we needed to head north, to make sure we’d be in our slip at Back Creek by 0900 on Sunday.
“What’s this place on the South River called London Town?” I asked. “Is it some ersatz condo community?”
Mac wasn’t sure, but he thought it carried some historic significance. Back to the guides we dove, soon learning that London Town was Maryland’s most important transatlantic tobacco port in the 1600s and a major ferry town connecting the western Chesapeake Bay trade network. For some years, it’s been the focus of archeological digs to reconstruct the once bustling historic village. The 23-acre park in London Town includes the William Brown House, a National Historic Landmark, ornamental and woodland gardens and trails, a visitors center, a museum, and a horticultural complex.
After listening to the local weather report and hearing that sunshine was predicted to give way to rain and clouds in the next 24 hours, we made our plans. We’d head to London Town on Saturday morning, then test those playful Fates with a reach north about 12 miles to arrive at Lake Ogleton by Saturday night. That would make the return to the marina base on Sunday much easier, as Lake Ogleton is barely two miles south of it.
To reach London Town by water, we motored deep into the South River, dropped the hook at Almshouse Creek, and tied the dinghy to the dock by the William Brown House.
Side stepping a wedding with a tangerine color scheme (London Town is open to the public for event rentals), we happened to visit on Dig Day—the Fates were at it again—with professional archaeologists teaching kids and adults how to sift through dirt to find historic items that tell the tale of the original town and its people.
Erin Cullen, who holds a master’s degree in forensic science, chatted with us about her work at the site. “It’s undisturbed,” she said of the village as she showed a youngster how to sift through the sieve for bits of pottery and oyster shells. “We’ve been able to use archeological digs and methods to recreate the town, which hit a population high of 300 people.”
After strolling through the reconstructed town, from its gardens to tobacco-drying structures to residences, we took to the garden trails. We’d stumbled upon an interesting and important landfall, and we were eager to spread the word that it should be on every charterer’s must-see list of destinations.
And we felt lucky that by 1500 on Saturday afternoon, there were still no storm sightings. It was a perfect weekend afternoon, the southeast breezes filled in, and everyone was out on the water. We tacked our way past the photogenic Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, which in 1975 was placed on the U.S. Park Service National Register of Historic Places.