Sunday, August 21, 2016

Back Door into St. Micheal's

St. Micheal's, MD is likely the top tourist attraction on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It hosts a maritime museum that is really worth visiting as well as numerous shops, restaurants and cottages catering to the tourist trade. White Pepper visited twice during her 2008 tour of the Chesapeake Bay. However, I was always frustrated by the shallow, crowded, and exposed anchorage available to the cruising yacht. This option was all that was there was for the cruiser entering via the Miles River, the front door. This year after reading and re reading an old cruising guide “Cruising the Chesapeake by William H. Shellenberg I was determined to try to visit St. Micheal's by the back door—San Domingo Creek.

After leaving the Chester River White Pepper sailed down the Chesapeake, past Annapolis, entered the Choptank River and then motored into Broad Creek. Broad Creek is indeed broad, maybe several miles wide but quickly narrows. Then there was a jog west into Edge Creek and finally a wide turn into San Domingo Creek. San Domingo is very shallow and the navigable water is quite narrow. White Pepper did not read the most current cruising guide—Active Captain—until after the fact and ran aground near green day marker #3. Using the dingy Habanero as a tug boat we got off before the tide went down too far. We finally were able to continue up the creek and drop anchor in 6 feet of water only a quarter of a mile south of St. Michael's town dock.

The next morning we took Habanero up to the town dock at the foot of W. Chew Street. After walking 3 blocks we came to Talbot St.-- the main drag. All of St. Michael's was open to us while White Pepper lay at a secure and uncrowded anchorage. On a literary note Michner was reported to have rented a cottage on one of the creeks behind St. Michael's while he wrote his classic Chesapeake. Jan and I had great fun trying to pick out which house he rented. Michner would attended numerous cocktail parties thrown in his honor and soak up hundreds of local hoary old legends that become the meat of his historical fiction.

We did not visit the museum having toured it twice previously. We did visit the Eastern Shore brewery which served up some great craft beer. There was a winery next door, but on that day it was just too hot to drink wine. Beer was much better. We tasted and bought some infused Balsamic vinegar and high end olive oil at Olivins where “tasting is believing”. We had lunch at Awful Arthur's and then the next day at Blackthorn's Irish Pub. We viewed the old waterfront and the old homes. We shopped at the local store. It featured a great butcher shop and really cheap rum. White Pepper was quite pleased with her two days at St. Micheal's.

Leaving San Domingo Creek presented a dilemma. High tides were in the afternoon, but a storm was coming in the evening. Eventually, White Pepper chose to transit San Domingo Creek at high tide passing the problematic green #3 with 9 feet of water. We settled in the slightly less protected Edge Creek in 12 feet of water. Earlier in the day the storm was forecast to be mild, but by 9 pm 70 knot winds were being reported on the Bay. By 10:30 pm we were experiencing probably 45 knot winds and 2 foot waves. Regrettably, I had the Bruce style anchor down instead of the trusty Rocna anchor. We started dragging. After dragging about 1000 feet into deeper water I went out to the cockpit and motored into the wind until the storm passed. The Bruce anchor quickly reset, and White Pepper spent the rest of the night quietly. At 4 am watermen began to swarm into Edge Creek. There were dozens of them motoring about crabbing. I spent the next 2 hours until dawn using the running lights, the fore-deck light and the strobe light to warn off boats that came too close. Please note that all of these moves are illegal, but justified under the Florida Prudential Rule. All in all it was a long night. However, after a brief nap White Pepper was off to Solomon's by 10 am.

 Remarkable driftwood sculpture at local art shop

 Replica of the shallot boat that John Smith used to explore the Chesapeake Bay in 1609.

 Another ancient church.  There was a church on this site since 1670.

A quiet evening on San Domingo Creek

Chestertown, Maryland

White Pepper started up the Chester River almost on a lark just wanting to see what was happening in the wide empty space opposite Baltimore on the Chesapeake Bay. Also we had had one enthusiastic endorsement from friend, Drena of Journey. We bypassed the very popular Rock Hall, MD which guards the northern mouth of the Chester River and Kent Narrows which watches over the southern part of the entrance. Cruising up the river White Pepper passed numerous obviously prosperous farms. There were many duck blinds. We saw few residences and almost no crab pots which is remarkable for the Chesapeake.

During the passage White Pepper did not see another cruising yacht and only a few local runabouts. The river must have been much busier 300 years ago when Chestertown was the port of entry for the upper Eastern Shore and much of Delaware. Chestertown was a bustling seaport by 1690 and well into the 18th century. When we arrived at Chestertown after about 30 nautical mile trip we chose to anchor in the river. There was only one other visiting yacht anchored nearby. The next morning Jan and I dingy-ed into the Chestertown Marina. It is frankly semi dilapidated. However, the dock master, JR, is so friendly and accommodating that the decay is easy to overlook. He informed us that the city has purchased the marina and is applying for grants to refurbish it.

The town itself was a delight and well worth the trip. Chestertown has managed to preserve all of the charms of the 18th century while added a few tasty treats for today. Whole blocks of houses date back to the 18th century. Regrettably the old wharves are long gone. It is a college town being home to Washington College, founded in 1790, and now a part of the Univ. of Maryland system.

While we were visiting we attended a great farmers market. There was local produce in abundance. We even saw wares from a local mushroom farm.

In town we explored a musty old book shop, the kind that has no longer exists in urban settings. These wonderful places have fallen by the wayside due to Amazon and Barnes and Noble. We ate lunch and bought bread daily at the Ever Grain Bread Company. However, the highlight of one lovely Saturday afternoon was an hour or so spent at the Chestertown Wine and Cheese shop sampling cheeses and drinking rose wine.

On Sunday morning White Pepper visited the ancient Episcopal Church, St Paul's. It has been a church since the 15th century. In 1790 the church held the first meeting of the newly reorganized American Episcopal Church. The current building was built in the 1860s. At the coffee hour afterwards we were thoroughly charmed by the gracious locals.

So it was with reluctance that White Pepper hauled up the anchor and headed down river that Sunday afternoon. We anchored back at the head of the Chester River off of Queenstown Creek. We were clobbered that evening by one of the infamous Chesapeake Bay thunder storms, but no damage came from the episode.

 Great Farmer's Market

 St. Pauls

 One of many charming old houses.

 The Customs House from Colonial Days

The Chester River.  Jan and I were taken by this family of geese.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pub Crawl at Fells Point, Baltimore, MD

Fells Point is a bohemian neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland near the Inner Harbor. Fells Point has existed for hundreds of years, mostly as a ship building area and center of shipping for Baltimore. It was also the home of Alexander Poe. He is revered in this city. The city of Baltimore has done a wonderful job of preserving the character of the neighborhood. At the turn of the 20th century there where nearly 100 taverns catering to the needs of the seaman of the era. The ships are gone, but, thankfully, many of the taverns remain. After a day spent touring Fort Henry White Pepper embarked on a pub crawl of Fells Point. 

The Horse You Came in On Saloon

We had a beer each at “The Admiral's Cup”. “Alexander's Pub”, “Dog Watch”, and the famous “The Horse You Rode In On”. These were only 4 pubs of dozens available. Each had good points, but “The Horse” as the locals call it deserves especial mention. It is one of the oldest taverns in the USA going back to the 1700s. It claims to have operated during prohibition. The poet, Poe, was said to have had his last drink at The Horse. He was found dying and incoherent on a Baltimore street the next morning. White Pepper was humbled to host a Nati Bo beer to Edgar Alexander Poe in the The Horse You Rode In On. (Nati Bo is the national beer of Baltimore. It is not available in most of the rest of the country. It tastes like the old Schlitz beer.)

After all that beer, food was needed. White Pepper headed half a block away down Thames Street to “Bertha's Muscles.” Bertha imports fresh muscles from Cape Cod this time of year and later buys local product. These were fresh, plump, and tasty sea food treats. Our previous exposure to muscles was Wal Mart frozen muscles. Indeed, I am sure most of our restaurant meals that featured muscles were also recycled from Wal Mart. These fresh muscles were so much better as to be almost a different species.

Did I mention Fort McHenry? White Pepper took the water taxi from Fells Point to Fort McHenry which is famous of its defense of Baltimore in the war of 1812. Frances Scott Key penned the “The Stars Spangled Banner” after that battle. Our visit was very impressive. At the visitors center there is a recorded presentation which tells the story of Key and the battle. At the end of the movie there is a stirring rendition of “The Stars Spangled Banner.” Then the screen parts to reveal the huge 15 starred flag waving over the fort. The moment was quite emotional and the most patriotic moment of my life. There probably was not a dry American eye in the room. Foreigner visitors were likely puzzled.

 Not a dry eye in the room

Very stirring view, note the 15 stars

The fort has quite a history beyond its immortal moment in 1814. It served as an important Civil War fort and then became an immense rehabilitation hospital after WWI. It is now a national park.

White Pepper had docked at Inner Harbor Marina—East. This place is the most logical dockage for the cruising sailor visiting Baltimore. It is expensive but is within walking distance of Fells Point, the exclusive Inner Harbor district, Little Italy, and restored docks of the inner harbor including the National Aquarium. The Camden Yards baseball park is within walking distance. One block from the water front in the Inner Harbor district is the remarkable Katyn memorial statue. The statue is an artistic and emotional appeal to Polish nationalism. It recalled ancient Polish themes from the Middle Ages as well as the tragic event in the Katyn forest in WW II. The Poles were a prominent immigrant group and left quite a mark on Baltimore. I was moved by the statue even though I do not have any Polish heritage that I know of.
Katyn Memorial

White Pepper spent all of one day at the National Aquarium. The ticket price is eye watering but worthwhile. There are many rare fish on display as well at fine displays of familiar fish. The multi level display called the Atlantic Reef is amazing. We went though twice. There is display of aquatic life from Australia and another one of the Amazon tidal basin. However, my favorite exhibit was of the tropical rain forest. The display was huge, very tall, hot and humid with tree top displays of amazing creatures including the golden maned tamuri. The golden maned tamuri is one of the rarest creatures on earth, and we were able to see two.
Our National Aquarium
Two of the last few Golden Maned Tamuri

We did walk into Little Italy to have a great rustic Italian dinner at a small restaurant, “Ammeci's”. It was one of dozens in the district with every taste accommodated from high Italian fine dining to the more common. Our other dinning experience was in the Inner Harbor district at Nando's Peri-Peri. The restaurant serves chicken Portuguese-African style in a cafeteria setting. It was easily the best chicken I have ever had.

Although White Pepper dined very well on the low side, extremely fine dinning is available in Baltimore. We did not see any of 'The Wired' or Black Lives Matter style of violence that Baltimore is notorious for. I am sure it is out there, but we did not venture more than 4 blocks away from the waterfront. Finally, with some regret but a a great deal of satisfaction White Pepper cleared away for the Chester River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Frog Mortar Creek, MD

White Pepper spent several days visiting friends, Pamela and Frank, at the Chesapeake Yachting Center. Frank owns the excellent Chesapeake Yachting Center which is a marina at the very head of the Frog Mortar Creek. Frog Mortar Creek is a tributary of the Middle River which is located in the northern reaches of the western shores of the Chesapeake Bay. It is just south of the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. This area is not for the transient and cruising sailor, but we were visiting old friends from the halcyon days at Port Lucaya, Bahamas.

No, I do not know where the name Frog Mortar Creek comes from. But if you are visiting this area do not be put off by the charts. There is 7 foot depth all the way to the very end of the creek even though NOAA charts show 3 feet.

I was stuck by how many boats line the shores of Middle River and its numerous tributaries of which Frog Mortar is only one. Most of the boats are power boats, large and small; however, there are a fair number of traditional sailing yachts. Most of the owners seem to hail from southern Pennsylvania and the rest from Baltimore.

We had a delightful time catching up and visiting. There is a Wal Mart just outside the yard. White Pepper has always said that 'to cruise the East Coast is to know Wal Mart'. White Pepper had the best crab cake ever so far at a local restaurant, “By the Dock” in Middle River, MD. Two days were spent soaking in the pool riding out a local heat wave. Eventually, White Pepper had to say good bye and head for Baltimore, the Inner Harbor.