Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Eastern Shore: St. Michael's and Oxford

To residents of the East Coast Maryland's Eastern Shore has an almost mystical quality--a Shangri-La. After visiting the two capitals of the eastern shore--Oxford and St. Michael's White Pepper can not understand what the buzz is about. Both are perfectly lovely--laid back and picturesque. Maybe that is the point! To the easterner perhaps a weekend in an old, sleepy town is just the answer for 60 hour work weeks including traffic. For those types I know hundreds of great old Texas villages that would work just fine.

On an historical note, these towns are ancient--among the oldest in American history. What is remarkable is that no one knows who started these towns. Apparently, living was so easy here that Europeans just showed up. The earliest written records are from functioning churches in the early 1600's. This is in contrast to the well known struggles of Jamestown, Charlestown, and the Puritans.

Oxford is on the Tred Avon River, a tributary of the Choptank River. It seems to have a bit more sailing because it has an active yacht club. There are fine boat yards there. Jan and I were amazed at the Cutts and Case yard. The most amazing restorations of old wooden yachts were ongoing. Much of the work was readily accessible to the public. Regrettably the camera was on the blink. Some of the old wood work was breathtaking. By coincidence the Annapolis to Oxford race was the weekend we were there. 150 large yachts showed up for what is apparently a very average race on Chesapeake Bay. We crashed the party on Saturday night. No one seemed to mind. The Naval Academy sailing club was there in force and it was wonderful to see so many young adults so excited about sailing. Sunday morning White Pepper pretended to take a start. Actually we powered away from the start just fine--5 knots straight upwind. After shadowing the fleet for 20 miles we tired of the slow running and ran into Annapolis harbor to pick up a mooring ball 50 yards in front of the Naval Academy.

A week later in the company of our daughter, Layla Rush, we set out for the crown jewel of the Eastern Shore--St. Michael's. This town is on the Miles River which is in turn a tributary of the Eastern Bay. We were off season and able to anchor inside the small harbor of St. Michael's. It is very picturesque and lovely. This town was the model for James's Michner's Potamuk in his novel Chesapeake. There is a marvelous maritime museum at St. Micheal's. Many say it is the best in the Chesapeake, but for my money the Solomons museum is an equal. One nice feature of our visit to the museum was an exhibit by the National Assoc. of Maritime Artists. I was not too impressed until I saw one of Kent Ulberg's statues on display. My impression of the rest of St. Michael's was downhill from the museum. The place is VERY expensive as befits the most exclusive of resorts. My most vivid recollection is of Foxy's. Foxy's is a mangy dockside marina bar that would not even attract notice in Port Aransas, Texas. But the premium Margarita's were $12. There was a featured drink called "cheap and dirty." It was "cheap vodka and olive juice" for $9 a glass! After one round and $35. (with tip) Jan, Layla, and I left hyperventilating.

The best part of the trip was a rousing, brisk sail back to Annapolis in cool ENE breeze and brilliant sunshine.

Navy 23, Rutgers 21

One of the highlights of our stay in Annapolis was watching the Navy Rutgers football game. Tickets were provided by co-padre Rick Rush. God provided an exquisite early fall afternoon. And the Navy football team provided an exciting last minute victory. Stadium parking was no problem. We just dingied across Annapolis Harbor and up the wonderfully named Ego Alley. At the head of Ego Alley is the dingy dock (free) in downtown Annapolis. From there it is a pleasant 1.5 statute mile walk to the stadium.

We had gone to the game for the event and the pageantry which was supplied in full. We did not expect a good game as Navy has a new coach and was only 1-2 against weak opponents. Rutgers has a nationally recognized program. Both teams ran very well, but Navy had few more passes and got some breaks. It was a very thrilling fourth quarter.

Jan and I were so happy to have Layla with us for the past week. Above is a picture of Richard and Layla Rush.

The Annapolis harbor was so full that we could not pick up a mooring ball when we arrived on Friday afternoon. White Pepper had to anchor in Back Creek which was an event in itself. Back Creek is about one nautical mile from Annapolis. It is lined with probably 2000 docks each filled with large and expensive yachts. The whole scene is an impressive display of fiberglass. I know that Kehma, Texas claims for have the most yachts in one spot. However, I have seen them and most are old weather beaten small boats, like the Catalina 27's etc. These are all gleaming and very sleek.

Monday, September 15, 2008

St. Mary's

Just off the beaten track of cruising up the Western Shore of the Chesapeake is the St. Mary's River. It is the first tributary past the northern part of the Potomac River. By the way, the mouth of the Potomac is so wide (10 n. mi.) that you can not see across it. After another 10 n. miles the St. Mary's opens up to the north. It is a gentle, deep and wide river. After another 10 n. miles in the middle of pastoral splendor and around Church Point (see picture of cross above) is St Mary's College and old St. Mary's historical district.

I was interested in St. Mary's College because it is routinely ranked #1 in college sailing. Old St. Mary's was the first capital of Maryland and was a ghost town by 1750. In fact it was completely obliterated by time and only archaeological records remain. It was founded on the principal of religious freedom. This was taken away when the capital of Maryland was moved to Annapolis. Only the first amendment returned that freedom to the people of Maryland.

Jan and I anchored off the college and watched the kids practice sailing. It was so energizing to see and feel those kids returning to school (This was the first week in September.)

We toured the country side of rural Maryland, toured the campus, and toured old historic St. Mary's. We were sad to be chased away by the imminent arrival of tropical storm Hanna.

Tropical Storm Hanna

Hanna was a non-event for the crew of White Pepper.

We did move from a wonderful anchorage in St. Mary's Creek to another wonderful anchorage well up in Mill Creek in Solomons. There we anchored in 9 feet of water, but the attraction was 100 foot cliffs on either side--a virtual hurricane hole.

I set two anchors on 100 feet of chain and 100 feet of rope rode each. They were hardly needed. When the tropical storm came through, the tree tops on the cliffs were swaying in 45 knot breezes, but we hardly got 10 knots at the water level. There were not even ripples to disturb us.

At the height of the storm we dingied ashore to met our new friend Joe Frost for lunch. Joe had so graciously offered the hospitality of his house and dock when we were at Mill Creek. We all went out to lunch and then a book signing by Joe's friend, Connie L. Reeves. As the eye of the storm passed overhead Jan and I went for a walk in AnneMarie Gardens. AnneMarie Gardens could be interpreted as an out post of the Hershorn Museum of Sculpture, one of the Smithsonian institutions. Mrs. Anne Marie Hershorn dedicated most of the pieces and it is a treasure. The people of Maryland have so much culture they do not appreciate it, but then they also do not appreciate a really good hurricane.

By the time Jan and I got back to the boat the southern part of the eye wall had come through and it must have been blowing all of 15 knots across the bow of White Pepper. The sky was calm and clear by sunset. Little did we know that a week later we would be watching in horror as a real cyclone, Ike, roared across familiar waters in Texas.