Exploring the Chesapeake Bay’s Storied Past

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If you’re cruising or chartering with a diverse group, especially with kids, you know it’s not all about the sailing, and that you must mix up the activities for peace to reign aboard. Putting maritime museums on your itinerary is a great way to combine historical education with on-the-water fun. Sailing out of Annapolis is easy, either in your own boat or from one of the numerous charter companies there, and it gives you a history-packed departure point from which to explore a good chunk of Chesapeake Bay.
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

First stop—St. Michaels, about 26 nautical miles from Annapolis. Here, the spectacular 18-acre Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum stretches across multiple buildings with outdoor examples of typical Chesapeake boats, including the bugeye Edna Lockwood, the skipjack Rosie Parks and the buyboat Winnie Estelle.

The museum is made up of exhibits dedicated to the maritime heritage of the area, waterfowl hunting, boatbuilding and seafood processing. You can tour a lighthouse or learn about oyster tonging, a method of harvesting oysters that involved digging them off the bottom with long-handled tongs.

The Hooper Strait lighthouse is a typical Chesapeake screwpile lighthouse that was decommissioned after 75 years of service on Tangiers Sound and transferred in 1966 to its present location. These cottage-style buildings used to house lighthouse keepers and were anchored to the muddy bottom of the bay on pilings that were “screwed” in.

Anchor out and dinghy to the dock near the Crab Claw restaurant, a great place for some dinner.

Calvert Marine Museum

The next leg to Solomons Island is long, about 45 miles, so get an early start. Once anchored, dinghy to the Calvert museum with its mini estuary, extensive permanent exhibits and another screwpile lighthouse. The main facility houses nearly 30,000 square feet of exhibits on types of bay boats, fishing equipment and old-time outboard engines.

A 6,000-square-foot outbuilding houses a small craft collection that puts the various styles of bay boats in perspective and would qualify as a museum in its own right. Afterward, it’s time for some dinner and a glass of wine on the dock at Stoney’s Kingfishers Seafood House.

 Reedville Fisherman’s Museum

Pray for a north wind today as you head another 36 miles south to Reedville, which will take you across the Maryland-Virginia border. The Fisherman’s Museum in Reedville is a short walk from the Crazy Crab restaurant, where you can leave your dinghy and walk up Millionaire’s Row—a mile-long designated National Historic District with a collection of ornate Victorian homes.
The museum campus includes the main building and the 1875 William Walker House, which you can tour to see how a well-to-do family lived just over a century ago. Two vessels are moored at the docks: the skipjack Claud W. Somers and the deck boat Elva C, both of which are in the National Register of Historic Places.

The museum hosts a number of activities over the course of the year, including the annual blessing of the fleet in May, the Antique and Classic Boat Show in September, and an oyster roast in November. If you get off to an early start, you may be able to do the museum by closing time and be ready to head north the next day.
J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum.

Head back north and across the bay toward the eastern shore to visit Crisfield and its tiny two-room museum, which is surprisingly informative and engaging for its size. It was in this museum that I found simple, photocopied pamphlets full of information on the life of the local blue crab, data on the size of the Chesapeake, and all kinds of Maryland fun facts, including details on the state dance (square dance) and sport (jousting). Outdoor exhibits include crab cages and oyster tonging equipment. Even if you stop and study every exhibit, the museum will still take only an hour, which will leave plenty of time to find some Smith Island Ten-Layer cake at the Sweet Shop bakery up the street.

Back to Annapolis

From Crisfield to Annapolis is about 90 nautical miles, so it’s time to focus on reeling off the knots for the next few days, ducking into great anchorages on either side of the bay. Yes, this is an ambitious itinerary, but definitely put at least a couple of these stops on your list because they make the cruising grounds come to life.

To round out your cruise, you may even want to add two more Annapolis-based institutions to your itinerary: the Annapolis Maritime Museum, and a tour of the U.S. Naval Academy on the Annapolis waterfront, because sailing while learning is a combination that can’t be beat for kids and adult history geeks alike.

Cruise Notes

Charter Companies

Annapolis Bay Charters, annapolisbaycharters.net

Dream Yacht Charters, dreamyachtcharter.com

Horizon Yacht Charters, horizonyachtcharters.com

Cruise Annapolis, cruise-annapolis.com

What to Watch For

Crab pots, usually strung out in lines: once you see one crab pot, you can bet there are others, and you don’t want to wrap your prop in any of them!

Anchoring & Mooring

There is plenty of free anchoring available everywhere, but it is usually in muddy bottoms, so a washdown on the bow will be helpful.

Museums

Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, cbmm.org

Calvert Marine Museum, calvertmarinemuseum.com

J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum, crisfieldheritagefoundation.org

Reedville Fisherman’s Museum, rfmuseum.com

Annapolis Maritime Museum, amaritime.org

Naval Academy, usnabsd.com

October 2015

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