Read an Excerpt
Cruising the CHESAPEAKE
A GUNKHOLERS GUIDE
By WILLIAM SHELLENBERGER
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2013The McGraw-Hill, Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
REGION 1 Head of Bay to Pooles Island
The extreme northern part of the Chesapeake Bay is more closely akin to a large freshwater river than to a tidal estuary. The water in the upper Bay is only lightly brackish, and as you proceed up most of the tributaries it becomes fresh. Crabs and oysters are relatively rare, and sea nettles seldom, if ever, penetrate. The area is scenic and thinly settled, at least in comparison with areas near Baltimore, farther south.
Like the tines of a pitchfork, the head of the Bay is split into four forks by the Susquehanna, Northeast, Elk, and Sassafras Rivers. The Bohemia River and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal—or C&D Canal— form additional forks off the Elk River. All offer secure and interesting harbors to the visiting yachtsman, with all the facilities needed for resupply or repairs. Farther to the south, Pooles Island and Worton and Fairlee Creeks form a transition area where the water changes from the nearly fresh water of the head of the Bay to the more brackish waters of the main part of the northern Bay.
Most of the Western Shore, between the Susquehanna River and Pooles Island, is a restricted area belonging to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Landing there is strictly prohibited at all times; this includes swimming or touching the bottom, shore, or a pier. The entire restricted area is closed Monday through Friday from 7:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., except on national holidays. Additional closed times are announced over broadcast and VHF-FM radios. When actual firing is in progress on the range, patrol boats warn the unwary out of the area. When the area is open, boats may navigate through it, fishing or crabbing is allowed, and water-skiing is permitted up to within 200 meters (220 yards) of the shore. For specific information, call 410-278-2250, or listen to VHF-FM radio Channel 16 or CB Channel 12. A detailed map is also available from APG Public Affairs, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD 21005.
As a direct result of the above, the approximately 15 miles of Western Shore associated with the proving grounds is not discussed in detail here.
Charts: 12273, 12274
Many consider Turkey Point, at the mouth of the Elk River, to be the true "top of the Bay." Near here, the Elk, Sassafras, Susquehanna, and Northeast Rivers all join forces with the Bay. The Elk River itself offers little of direct interest to the cruiser except for a few potential day stops along Elk Neck State Park. In colonial times there was a major port at the headwaters that was burned out by the British forces during the War of 1812. Now it is silted in and pretty much forgotten, save for a mark on the charts showing Old Frenchtown Wharf. The Elk River connects the C&D Canal and the Bohemia River with the rest of the Bay. However, there are still quite a few harbors and points of interest worth mentioning here.
Cabin John Creek
2 1 No facilities
Charts: 12273, 12274 (39°27.83'N 075°57.57'W)
Approaches. Less than 2 miles up the Elk River from Turkey Point, Cabin John Creek lies on the east shore. Although a little shallow (5 feet mean low water [MLW]), this creek is a popular anchorage with shallow-draft vessels for swimming and a convenient "duck-in" shelter for some occasions. Unfortunately, you cannot proceed very far into the creek, and it is exposed to the northwest, the most common direction for a "blow." Not unexpectedly, there are no moorings or marine facilities. A good beach on the south side of the creek lends itself to swimming, wading, and beachcombing.
Anchorage. Except right in the mouth of the creek, there is little room to anchor because the water shoals rather quickly as you proceed into the creek. You can anchor in at least 5 feet of water within about ¼ mile from the entrance, but watch your depth carefully as the shoaling tends to increase each year.
Elk Neck State Park
2 1 No facilities
Charts: 12273, 12274
Approaches. To port as you proceed up the Elk River, most of the land is part of Elk Neck State Park. Comprising more than 1,700 acres, the park has a quite varied topography, ranging from sandy beaches to marshlands to woodlands that are more than 100 feet above sea level. It is a wildlife sanctuary. There is no "approach" as such. Just choose a likely looking spot as you proceed up the Elk River and pull over, making sure you are well away from the commercial channel, and monitor the depth as you approach shore. Holding is good in sand and mud, but the wind blowing up and down the river is essentially unrestricted.
Anchorages. Although anchoring off any of several beaches is possible, there is little or no protection from the elements or the wakes from boat and ship traffic. There are facilities for boat launching and rental in Rogues Harbor (39°28.11'N 075°59.00'W), about 1½ miles above Turkey Point and directly across the Elk River from a large housing development with look-alike white houses placed cheek by jowl. The launching facility is designed for small powerboats or day sailers. Other trailerables with a draft well under 3 feet also can make use of the facility. Trailers and cars can be parked at a separate area just up the hill.
You can anchor off this cove, but the shallow water and lack of protection from weather and ship wakes make it less than a desirable anchorage. For just putting a small boat in for the day or even windsurfing, it is a good spot.
Charts: 12273, 12274 (39°28.82'N 075°55.44'W)
Approaches. Slightly more than 3 miles up the Elk River from Turkey Point lies the mouth of the Bohemia River. It is nearly a mile wide with depths of 7 to 10 feet, so no buoyage is necessary, but give Town Point a wide berth if you are approaching from the north. The Bohemia frequently serves as a stopover point for boats planning to transit the C&D Canal, 4 miles to the north.
Anchorages. The first and probably best anchorage within the river is Veasey Cove, 1 mile to starboard from the river's entrance (39°28.35'N 075°54.99'W). Exposed to the northwest, it is otherwise well protected. In calm weather or with southerly winds, many local boaters prefer to anchor closer to the river mouth, by the bluffs that extend from Ford Landing to Veasey Cove, in order to make use of the gradually sloping beach and nice sandy bottom. The only problem may be an occasional wash from shipping traffic in the Elk River. If the weather is threatening, you would be better off moving farther upstream. Although a good number of boats will be found anchored in Veasey Cove on summer weekends, the number dwindles rapidly in the evening as the "locals" up anchor and go home.
Although there are several homes on the river, most are hidden by trees. This presents cruisers with an unspoiled, wooded shoreline, which greatly adds to this river's appeal.
The bridge over the river is fixed, in spite of what some charts may say, with a vertical clearance of less than 30 feet. This, of course, bars passage to many sailboats and even some powerboats. It is probably not worth the trouble to go above the bridge because the channel there is narrow, winding, sometimes shoaling, and virtually unmarked. This is really runabout country; in warm weather there are usually quite a few shallow-draft boats zipping around, with or without skiers in tow. Hard-core gunkholers may want to give it a try anyway.
If you wish to explore the river above the bridge and are in a boat requiring 30 feet or more vertical clearance, we recommend that you do so by dinghy. As long as you stay in the channel, you will find 7- to 10-foot depths for 1½ to 2 miles beyond the bridge in Little and Great Bohemia Creeks. Don't expect to find a spot to anchor where you won't be in danger of bumping a shoal should the wind change direction.
Marinas & Provisions. If you are looking for marine facilities or prefer to tie up at a marina overnight, there are plenty of facilities upstream. There are three marinas on the north shore, just inside Rich Point, all of which have dockside facilities for sewage pumpout. The Bohemia Bay Yacht Harbor (http://www.bbyh.com, 410-885-2706) is the only marina that offers diesel fuel. It also has a marine store and a laundromat. The others are Two Rivers Yacht Basin (410-885-2257) and Aqua-marina Bohemia Vista (http://ilovemymarina.com, 410-275-4007).
There are four more marinas on the south shore farther upstream, just before the bridge. Aquamarina Hacks Point (http://ilovemymarina.com, 410-275-2005) and Long Point Marina (410-275-8181) also have dockside sewage pumpout facilities.
Among these marinas, you can find just about any facilities you want or need. For groceries, you will have to go to Hacks Point General Store, near the bridge.
Upper Elk River
Charts: 12273, 12274
Anchorages. Above the Bohemia, there is little to recommend on the Elk River. Piney Creek Cove, on the west shore, opposite Old Town Point Wharf, is a possible anchorage for those with drafts less than 4 feet. Personally, I wouldn't recommend it because of its lack of protection from weather and ship wakes.
Marinas. This leaves Harbor North Marina (39°31.10'N 075°52.77'W) as the only place to stay overnight before entering the C&D Canal. It is about ½ mile up a dredged channel northeast of Courthouse Point. This marina, which claims to hold 10 slips available for transients, monitors VHF-FM Channels 16 and 9. In 2011 they opened a restaurant, but I know nothing about it. I suggest contacting them in advance by radio or by phone at 410-885-5656 if you intend to use their facilities. (NOTE: Their website has been cancelled.)
Above the entrance to the canal, the Elk River shoals and should be left to boats with less than a 3-foot draft. There are at least four fair-size marinas in the area between Henderson, Locust, and Plum Points, all of which cater to powerboats. If you have the draft to allow it, a short cruise up this region of the Elk promises to be a scenic trip to take at least once. Repeated trips are best left to the resident boats.
Chesapeake & Delaware Canal
Charts: 12274, 12277 (39°31.43'N 075°52.47'W)
History. Originally opened on 4 July 1829, the canal has been modified three times to improve and expand its capability. Originally a 22-foot-wide barge canal, the C&D was purchased by the U.S. government in 1919 and converted to a sea-level waterway with a width of 46 feet and a depth of 12 feet. In 1938 it was widened to more than 200 feet, and its depth was increased to more than 25 feet. Finally, it was widened to more than 400 feet with a depth in excess of 40 feet to accommodate modern ships. As a sea-level link between the northern Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay, the canal is heavily used by commercial shipping and is a vital part of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) (http://www.nap.usace.army.mil/sb/c&d.htm).
At least on the Maryland portion of charts, the C&D Canal seems to have two names—Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and Back Creek. The reason for this is simple: Back Creek was transformed into the C&D Canal.
Approaches. Although it appears tranquil on the surface, the canal demands constant attention. In addition to commercial traffic—freighters and tugs with barges (and their wakes)—cruisers need to watch the water for frequent debris, washed in from the Delaware. Most of all, pay attention to the current. Official publications list the peak current at around 2 to 2.6 knots. However, currents frequently are well in excess of 2 to 3 knots. According to some of the locals, it can reach close to 6 knots at times! It is extremely important to choose your transit times so that the current is either slack or aiding your progress. In addition, if you are attempting to dock or to pass structures, such as the bridge at Chesapeake City, beware of dangerous eddies. It is always safer to err on the side of caution.
The canal is under the supervision of the District Engineer, Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia, which enforces certain restrictions for canal transit. This control of the canal extends from Welch Point on the Maryland side to Reedy Point on the Delaware side. Between these points, water-skiing and transiting under sail are prohibited. All small pleasure craft in the canal must relinquish the right-of-way to deeper-draft vessels with limited maneuvering room (a prudent procedure in any case). Other than that, all vessels proceeding with the current have the right-of-way over vessels heading in the other direction. Smart cruisers stay out of the center of the canal, just in case. A large ship will not be able to stop for or maneuver around an incapacitated small craft in midchannel.
Located at Old Town Point Wharf, on Town Point Neck, just north of the Bohemia River, and at Reedy Point, Delaware, are red and green traffic-control lights. Red indicates that the canal is closed to traffic, green that it is open. TV cameras located at these two points monitor traffic through the canal. In case of emergency, the dispatcher at Chesapeake City also monitors Channel 16 on VHF-FM radio in addition to the normal working Channel, 13. Although no clearance is required for pleasure craft, it is a good idea to check in with the dispatcher on Channel 13 prior to transit, if only to obtain information on any expected shipping traffic in the canal.
The canal is well marked with buoys and lights throughout its length. Be advised that the colors of the buoyage system reverse at the Chesapeake City Bridge. As you enter from the Elk River on the Maryland side, the red lights and even-numbered markers are on the south side of the canal. Past the bridge, they reverse, so that between the bridge and Delaware Bay the red lights and even-numbered markers are on the north side. At night the canal is lighted with mercury vapor lights, positioned roughly 140 feet back from the edge of the channel and 250 feet apart on both banks.
Anchorages, Marinas, & Provisions. Summit North Marina (39°32.69'N 075°42.70'W, 302-836-1800), located about 7½ miles from the Delaware River entrance to the canal in an offshoot to the north, has some transient slips and a T dock that can accommodate larger craft. In addition to diesel and gas, they have a marine store, groceries, and virtually any facilities you might need. They claim a minimum depth of 8 feet of water up to the fuel dock, but I have not verified this. If you plan to stop there overnight, reservations are highly recommended.
Within the 16-mile length of the canal, there is really only one place where you can anchor, Chesapeake City (39°31.55'N 075°48.51'W). Anywhere else would be downright risky, not to mention foolhardy! Here you will find an anchorage, possibly a slip or two, some marine supplies, and restaurants. Chesapeake City is where ships transfer between Delaware and Chesapeake pilots. A small pilot boat pulls alongside the moving ship, and the pilots climb up or down a ladder along the ship's side. On the north side of the canal, directly across from the Chesapeake City anchorage, you used to be able to tie up at Schaefer's Marina for a meal or to spend the night. Unfortunately, Schaefer's has been closed since 2007. In early 2011, signs appeared stating that the Schaefer's Marina and Restaurant, with gas and diesel, were "coming soon." Not only are there no indications of what "soon" may mean, but as of mid-summer 2011, there were no signs of any construction or any other activity at that location. Hopefully, it will reopen eventually.
Many pleasure craft that spend the night in the canal prefer to anchor in the anchorage basin on the south side of the canal (South Chesapeake City). The basin has been dredged to a depth of 15 feet. You are supposed to get permission from the Army Corps of Engineers dispatcher to anchor overnight, but it is unlikely that anyone will bother you if you don't. There is a marina with haulout facilities as well as a restaurant in the basin. The preferred anchorage is in the eastern half of the basin. On the west side of the basin is the Chesapeake Inn Restaurant and Marina (http://www.martuscelliandsons.com/ci, 410-885-2040), which has 45 transient slips, a small marine store, a pumpout, and, of course, an excellent restaurant. They also have a water taxi (in season) that will pick you up from and return you to your anchored boat. Call the restaurant for water taxi service.
What to See & Do. On the grounds of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at South Chesapeake City is the C&D Canal Museum, housed in the gray stone pump house built before 1829 for one of the old canal locks. The museum is open Monday through Saturday and on major nonreligious holidays between 8:00 A.M. and 4:15 P.M. and on Easter and Sundays through Thanksgiving between 10:00 A.M. and 5:30 P.M. Most of the exhibits are in the old boiler room, where the steam power to operate the old pumping engine was once generated. The museum's slide show covers the more than 180-year history of the canal; in addition to dioramas, ship models, and assorted exhibits, there is a moving model that shows how the old locks worked. If you stop at Chesapeake City, make a point to visit the C&D Canal Museum and Bethel Bridge Lighthouse. Admission is free.
Excerpted from Cruising the CHESAPEAKE by WILLIAM SHELLENBERGER. Copyright © 2013 by The McGraw-Hill, Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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