Heading north on the Chesapeake Bay to Tangier Island
The trip to Tangier Island from Portsmouth is nearly 75 miles, which meant we would be leaving early (6:30am) to ensure we’d have time to explore the island in the afternoon. We arrived at Parks Marina, Tangier Island at 1:50 pm. Mr. Parks met us on the dock and happily helped us with our lines. He’s a lovely, friendly man, who is also a real character, well known by the Chesapeake boating community. Understanding him, and other islanders, is a challenge (will explain that later), but we figured it out and got tied up!
Tangier Island, listed on The National Register of Historic Places, is a very unique place. It sits about 12 miles west of Onancock, off the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Original settlers in the 1770’s relied on farming, but by the late 19th century, islanders became more dependent on the crabs and oysters in Chesapeake Bay. People here are “watermen”, having been born here to families who have lived and fished here for generations. It’s fascinating to see the watermen’s boat activity, departing from port before sunrise, and some not returning until after the sun sets in the evening. The harbor is dotted with small fishing shacks on stilts, many surrounded completely by water due to persistent erosion of the island (more on that later, too!). Crabs, soft shell crabs and oysters, rule the day here, earning the island the nickname of “Soft Shell Capital”.
A warm welcome from Tangiers Island
There are several ways to explore the island: walk, bike, rent a golf cart, or take a golf cart tour with one of the locals. We decided to take the guided tour to get a better flavor for this unique place. Once we got settled at the marina, Mr. Park’s made a phone call, and 10 minutes later we met Shirley, a local woman at the end of the street for our trip around the island. She took us on the main “loop” roads of the Island, and shared a lot of interesting history about the island. They have one K – 12 school, a health center, visited by a doctor a couple of times a week, 4 restaurants (only Lorraine’s is open year round), a couple of gift shops and a small history museum. The island is deeply religious and principled. There is no alcohol served on the island, and despite the economic opportunities presented, islanders have refused to work with the entertainment industry to film projects on Tangiers. The islanders feel that the content of the movies produced there would be contrary to their principles. There are 450 families that live here, and 350 of them consider themselves watermen. When we were finished, Shirley asked only $5.00 for the tour, but that seemed ridiculous given the fact that she dropped everything from her day to come take us around the island for 45 minutes. She also offered to drive us back to any spot on the island and drop us off if we wanted her to do so. We decided to go back to the boat so we would explore further on our bikes, and gave her $20.
As you wander the island, you’ll see the same names on businesses and headstones: Parks, Crockett, Pruitt, Thomas, Marshall and others, a testament to the many generations who have lived here on Tangier. You’ll find small cemeteries everywhere, mostly public for either generations of a single family or multiple families, but many homes on the island even have graves in their yards. We were admiring a beautiful old cemetery from the street, when a young man engaged us in conversation. He explained that the “larger”, free-standing cemeteries are open to the public. He encouraged us to explore and read some of the headstones, and shared some of his favorites with us. The graves within the yards of a home are not open to the public. He explained that sometimes, when a home is sold, the buyer just needs to accept the fact that some strangers are buried in their yard!
Tangier’s small size and somewhat isolated location makes for a very peaceful and simple life. Homes are small, all with fenced yards to mark their property, “roads” are narrow, and that’s fine, as the only vehicles you’ll encounter are golf carts, motor bikes, bicycles and walking. There are a handful of small pick-up trucks, and we also saw a couple of Smart Cars but largely, the roads are empty, other than the numerous cats that roam the streets and lounge in gardens.
Tangier roads and typical traffic jams!
The residents of Tangier famously speak with a distinct accent heard nowhere else in the world, said to originate with their eighteenth-century English ancestors. While it may sound like a British form of English, the dialect has become its own creation over time. A flat tire is a “punched tar”; an unattractive person “ain’t hard favored”. Combine that with a hint of a Southern accent, and it can really get challenging (note my reference to Mr. Parks at the marina)!
With the combination of erosion from the Bay, and rising waters due to climate change, Tangier’s land mass has been reduced by 67% since 1850. The erosion has been a problem for decades, but the loss of land has been accelerated by rising waters. As you explore the island, you’ll notice the abundance of marshy areas . While there is much discussion about what to do about the problem, no solutions have been settled on, as any project would be wildly expensive. Some feel the land value of Tangier can’t justify the expenditure.
When we completed our tour, we walked the few short blocks to Lorraines, and enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner, that of course included crab cakes and oysters!
Lorraine’s for fresh, delicious seafood in simple surroundings!
We had a lovely evening watching the sunset and the activity of the returning fisherman, many well past sunset.
Since we were up early, we decided to explore the island a bit further with a bike ride. While there isn’t much beyond the main loop road, it was nice to get a closer, more leisurely look at a couple of the neighborhoods that are further afield, and get a peek at their pristine beaches.
After breakfast and our bike ride, we were ready to go at 8:25. The day was spectacular…sunny, calm and warm.
So long, Tangier!
The Chesapeake Bay is enormous, and there are numerous military bases and practice ranges all up and down the waterway. Here’s an example of a sacrificial ship used for target practice…rather spooky looking, don’t you think?
Unfortunately all of that was going to change during the night/early morning, so we scrapped our plans to anchor out in the Little Choptank River, and push on to an anchorage further north off the Choptank River. We made the 74 mile trip in 6 ½ hours, setting our anchor in LaTrappe Creek at 3 pm. We ducked into the first cove on the west side of the creek, and had the place to ourselves. It was a beautiful, peaceful spot, with some lovely old homes on the water.
Beautiful LaTrappe Creek, off the Choptank River
After we threw our anchor, the clouds started to roll in, and the sky looked tie-dyed at sunset!
The weather forecasts proved to be accurate, as the winds were kicking up early, and the skies were threatening. Sure enough, as soon as we started to raise the anchor in the morning, it started to pour! So, we abandoned those efforts and waited an hour for the rain to subside. We ended up pulling our anchor at 9:20 am, grateful that our destination, Cambridge, MD, was only a short 5 mile ride up the river.
Here comes the rain!
We pulled into the Cambridge Municipal Marina, and went to the fuel dock for diesel and a pump out. The crew at Cambridge was fantastic. With continued rains, we were stuck at the fuel dock for a bit. When the skies finally cleared, we were ready to move to our slip for the next 2 nights. Rob turned the key for the port engine, and it snapped off with the key stuck in the ignition. The key had been compromised since we bought the boat, with a bend in the head of the key. So it was, well, it’s time! Thankfully, Mike from the marina was on board with us, and he knew what to do, and took Rob to an auto parts store to replace the ignition switch. They were back quickly, replaced the switch and we were settled in to our slip with enough time to wait out some rain, then get into this adorable town for a little exploration.
Waiting for the rain to clear at the Cambridge Municipal Marina fuel dock
There were some wicked storms, and we had a ton of food on board, so we stayed put and stayed as dry as possible! When the rain did let up a bit, we wandered around the adorable downtown of Cambridge. You’ll find a number of restaurants and shops to explore, beautiful historic homes, and a lovely park along the waterfront.
Beautiful Homes and church in Cambridge
Downtown Cambridge has beautifully restored storefronts filled with adorable shops and restaurants. Of course, we were drawn to the wine/cheese/chocolate store, Artisan!
Munching our way through downtown Cambridge
We headed back to the boat after snacking through town, as, yup, the rain came back…with a vengeance! There had been tornado warnings since we were in Portsmouth, and they were continuing as we headed up the bay.
While the rains stopped, the winds did not, and we stayed tucked into Cambridge to wait it out before we crossed the bay. It was a beautiful day to do more exploring in town and around the waterfront.
In our travels we’re always on the lookout for the best local foods, and when you’re in the Chesapeake, that means crabmeat! Rob noticed a small sign on the street for JM Clayton Seafood, Co., located down the block on the water. Rather than a store, you walk into the offices of Claytons, and there’s a sign with their crabmeat offerings behind the desk. You tell them what you want, they disappear into the back and come back with your order.
JM Clayton Seafood Company & crab cakes for dinner
On April 28th, we headed across the Bay to revisit a favorite spot…Annapolis. Once again, we headed out with some wind (20 – 25 mph gusts), a chance of showers and winds out of the south/southeast. While it was 57 degrees, the lack of sunshine made it feel cooler. Fortunately, it was only a 45 mile run across the bay.
It’s always a thrill to see the beautiful Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, as not only is it beautiful and unique, it means you’re getting close to Annapolis. Built in 1875, this is the last single screw-pile lighthouse on the bay, and is now a National Historic Landmark. The light is still in its original location, and tours are offered during the summer.
Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse
As we turned into the Severn River from the Bay, we were weaving through big groups of sailboats that were headed back to port from a regatta…it was pretty crazy!
We arrived at The Annapolis Yacht Basin at 1 pm, so we had plenty of time to wander the streets of downtown, and do a little shopping.
The next morning, we took a tour of the Government House, where the Governor and his family (and doggies!) live. The house is spectacular, with beautiful grounds and gardens surrounding it. Tours are offered on a limited basis, and we were happy to tag on to a middle school field trip. We, too, learned a lot from the teachers guiding us through the public rooms of the mansion.
The Government House sits at the top of the hill on State Circle in Annapolis, adjacent to the Maryland State House complex. Built in 1869, the mansion was originally built in a Victorian style.j In 1935, the house was dramatically converted to its present Georgian-era country house style. Government House has been the official residence of the Governor for 150 years, and is currently occupied by Governor Larry Hogan and his family. It is the Hogans who are responsible for the beautiful color palette that flows through the first floor public rooms.
The foyer, Government House
While the rooms are separate, the doorways are wide and give a flow to the first floor that allows you to see from room to room from most vantage points. The Hogans color choices give the home a bright, airy feeling…and looks a bit like a beautiful Easter egg!
We had a great lunch at Miss Shirley’s Café, and had a leisurely walk back to the boat.
Since this area is so appealing to us for a potential dirt home, we rented a car, and explored some towns all around the main hub of Annapolis. We loved both Eastport and West Annapolis! The area offers so much, with an endless array of parks and museums to visit, historical sites beyond your dreams, culture, arts, fabulous restaurants and beautiful landscapes. We were lucky enough to be there and enjoy springtime coming into full bloom, with azaleas, rhododendrons, wisteria and so much more in full bloom. Oh…and the water!! What’s not to love?
While we are well aware of the many restaurant options in Annapolis, there’s just something about the Boatyard Bar & Grill in East Port. Their seafood is fresh and delicious, and the crab cakes are outstanding…tue lump crabmeat! Also, if they have it, don’t miss a slice of Smith Island Cake! Smith Island is a 400 year old fishing village of only 250 residents located just north of Tangier Island. In the 1800’s, when Smith Island watermen went on the autumn oyster harvest, their wives would send Smith Island Cakes as a special treat to remind them of their families and the community they had left behind. The bakers took pride in making the layers of the cake as thin as possible, constructing one cake of up to 15 layers! In 2008, Maryland designated the Smith Island Cake the State Dessert. There are numerous restaurants throughout the Chesapeake that have the cakes brought in from the island to serve their patrons.
The Boatyard is a short walk across the bridge from The Annapolis Yacht Basin, where we were enjoying our third visit by boat. We love the convenience to town, and also the relaxed atmosphere of this lovely spot out of the hustle and bustle of town. There is never a shortage of boat traffic here, with sailing schools and races, a frequently opened bridge, and the never ending energy of this Navy town!
After three beautiful nights in Annapolis, we were off to Rockhall, MD, “the Pearl of the Eastern Shore”. We had been here with the boys back in 2005, and loved this small, old-fashioned fishing town, and were excited to go back! We grabbed a slip at Waterman’s restaurant, with $1/foot slips and electric, and a good seafood dinner right on the dock, you can’t go wrong!
We did take a bike ride to revisit town, and were disappointed to see that Durdings ice cream has closed, but has been replaced with a beautiful new restaurant, Pearl on Main. Looked and smelled good, but Waterman’s offered a quicker, easier option after a cool and cloudy day on the water. Rockhall, is a charming little town, with a little “downtown” near Waterman’s, and the area on The Haven, a small cove where you will find Osprey Point Inn & Marina and Spring Cove Marina, where we stayed with the boys.
We’ve seen a lot of murals in our travels, but we have never seen one in the beginning stages, until we stumbled on this sketch in Rockhall.
There was some fog as we left Rockhall on May 2nd, with only ¼ mile visibility, that pretty quickly shot down to 1/8 mile visibility.
A foggy farewell to Waterman’s and Rockhall
Fortunately it was calm, and sun eventually burned off the fog and we got into Chesapeake City by 1:30 pm.
Clearing skies as we approach and dock in Chesapeake City
After grabbing fuel at Schaffers, we went across the canal and tied up to the city docks, and took a relaxing stroll through town. There are some beautiful historic homes and lovely shops, so it’s definitely worth a visit.
Shopping in Chesapeake City
And, who could forget the psychedelic Chesapeake Inn Restaurant & Marina?
We departed for Cape May on the morning of May 3rd. While there was some patchy fog, it was nothing like our fog experience on the previous morning, so we were grateful. It was 54 degrees, expected to get up to 70 and beautifully calm on the bay. As we have said many times before, Cape May is our special place, and we we’re looking forward to a 4 night visit enjoying our favorite restaurants, shops and biking all over town. Even better was that we were ending this leg of the journey without any mishaps or choppy seas, as both the Chesapeake and the Delaware Bays can be challenging and frustrating, with weather literally popping up out of nowhere! Thankful for calm winds and smooth seas!
Ship John Shoal Light, Delaware Bay
Cape May, here we come!