This post will focus on the northern part of the Chesapeake Bay, and the area surrounding Annapolis: Maryland's capital.
Chesapeake boater William Simmons shares his four-hundred-mile journey as he circumnavigated the Chesapeake Bay with his wife, son, and friends. The two week cruise, filled with adventure and exploration, took them through various ports and towns, offering family time, dining experiences, encounters with local culture, and picturesque views. The experience brought a sense of fulfillment and unforgettable memories.
Not only does Williams story remind us all of the joys of boating, but is a great reference for anyone planning their 2024 Chesapeake cruise! Read on for marina and restaurant review, navigational tips, and hones reflections of this two week journey.
Navigate this Article:
Day 1-3: Solomons - Patuxent River
Day 4-5: StingRay Point - Rappahnnock River
Day 6-7: Yorktown - York River
Day 8-9: Hampton - James River
Day 10-11: Cape Charles Town Docks - Cape Charles Harbor
Day 12: Onancock Wharf - Onancock Creek
Day 13: Solomons - Patuxent River
Day 14: Return Home to Kent Narrows
A SUMMER TO REMEMBER
By William Simmons
In late March of this year, when a fellow boater, Dominic asked if I was interested in going on a fourteen day, four-hundred mile trip skirting the western and eastern shores of the southern Chesapeake in July with he and his wife Linda, I was hesitant to answer too quickly as I had never traveled that many miles on a single cruise nor spent that many consecutive days away from a slip in my sixty-four years of boating. Our boats were capable of an extended cruise; Dom owned a 2004, 36 Carver Sedan Sport and I have a 2000 Formula Express Cruiser, however, the magnitude of this trip would rival all of my previous cruises.
My wife and I discussed his proposition and asked for an itinerary. Dom, being very well organized, sent a copy of a map plotting the intended course, distance between ports, estimated travel time, fuel consumption & costs, and a list of the intended ports of call. My adrenaline level rose as I reviewed his proposal, studied a map of the Chesapeake, leafed through several Chesapeake Bay Magazines, Boat US publications, and studied my Guide to Cruising the Chesapeake from 2016 to visualize the magnitude of the cruise and research the intended ports. We found that we would be staying in towns we had never visited, sections of the Chesapeake we had never explored, and rivers we would most likely never see unless we chose to go along.
Our excitement grew quickly as my wife, Barb and I reviewed the proposed itinerary, and became convinced that it would be a tremendous opportunity for us to go along. Within a week, we let Dominic know that we were all in for the trip! My youngest son Reid, overheard our discussions and asked if he could go along. “Of course, we’d love to have you!” We answered. Reid is twenty-one while I am seventy-two and my wife fifty-eight. Reid has been on boats since his first birthday and can handle our Formula as well as any captain. I have been boating since my eighth birthday and have operated our Formula for the past seventeen years; Reid for at least eight years. My wife, however, has never felt comfortable at the helm so having Reid on board would be to our advantage.
I spent the next two months making two-night reservations at seven different marinas, purchasing auxiliary gear, and carefully inspecting all systems on my boat making sure all was in order. As we neared our departure date, Linda gave us several articles to read that she had clipped from Chesapeake Bay Magazines identifying the attributes of towns we would visit. With growing enthusiasm, I plotted some of our intended courses on my Navionics app., bolstering my certitude and visually grasping the magnitude of the trip we were about to take.
Now, what to pack for three adults, for fourteen days, at seven ports, and four hundred miles on the bay. Of course, men are not competent to gather the necessary rations, accessories, and toiletries for such a trip, so, I let my wife who is a great organizer (having taught elementary music in public schools for thirty-six years) take care of procuring the necessary supplies.
DAY 1, 2, & 3 Solomons - Patuxent River
We left SHM, Safe Harbor Marina, Kent Narrows, MD on July 20 at 9:00 AM heading toward our first stop in the Patuxent River. We slipped under the Rt. 113 draw bridge connecting Kent Island and the mainland, then idled past the conglomerate of restaurants along the east side of the Narrows. We continued south into Eastern Bay, past Crab Alley then turned to starboard toward the Chesapeake. After leaving Bloody Point light to starboard we turned to port, and chose to adhere to the plotted Navionics course cautiously navigating through multiple red and green markers between Poplar Island and the Eastern shoreline. After passing Knapps Narrows, we adjusted to a southwesterly course toward Solomons, taking a few minutes to photograph the peculiarly positioned Sharps Island lighthouse left leaning to one side by a huge ice flow nearly sixty years ago.
The chop was relatively calm for the forty-seven mile cruise allowing an average cruising speed of twenty-seven knots, placing us at the mouth of the Patuxent River and Cove Point lighthouse to starboard, at 11:30 AM, (With another short pause for more lighthouse pictures). A ten minute cruise up Broad Creek placed us at the pier heads of Zahnisers numerous floating docks.
Safe Harbor Zahnisers in Solomons, MD has been a favorite stop for us for years. The floating docks, cleanliness of the marina, onsite amenities, and friendliness of the staff all contribute to an enjoyable stay. A pool and poolside bar situated on a moderate rise above the river offer a great view of the creek and aided in reducing the sweltering effects of the 90* daytime temperatures we were experiencing. Dining experiences at the onsite Italian restaurant, La Vela, as well as several other restaurants around town exceed our expectations. In addition to the “traditional stop” at the TIKI BAR to hear a favorite band (Amish Outlaws), we extended our festivities one evening at a nearby waterfront bar just west of the marina sponsoring a karaoke night.
We spent half a day at the Calvert Marine Museum where stands the original Drum Point Lighthouse, several aquariums displaying native bay species, miscellaneous nautical displays, and live animal exhibits. Later in the day we took advantage of the free bikes offered by the marina to explore the quiet, fastidiously arranged neighborhoods of quaint homes, old and new. Within a ten minute walk from the marina, a boardwalk parallels the Pautuxant river on the southside of Solomons providing scenic views and a great place for a leisurely evening stroll past ice cream shops and nearby restaurants. The Patuxent Naval Air Force Base located across the river from Solomons added excitement to our days as several jets soared overhead throughout the day.
DAY 4 & 5 StingRay Point - Rappahnnock River
We departed Zahnisers on Sunday, July 23rd at 9:30 AM, stopping at a nearby marina in Back Creek for fuel. Weather forecast predicted low to moderate winds, cloudless skies, with waves one to two feet; air temperatures remaining in the 90’s. We favored the southern channel when leaving Back Creek heading east into the Patuxent, then south in the Chesapeake passing Hog Point, Cedar Point and the Naval Air Station to starboard. Our second scheduled destination was StingRay Point on Broad Creek near the mouth of the Rappahnnock River. After traveling a few miles south in the bay, Reid noted that the Navionics screen displayed a demarcation line noting the Maryland, Virginia state borders. We had reached new waters for the Simmons’ family! Other than slowing for a brief period to navigate through some minor turbulence while crossing the mouth of the Potomac and briefly steering off course for pictures of Point No Point lighthouse, we cruised the sixty miles in three and a-half hours, averaging a speed of twenty-four knots.
The approach to the mouth of the Rappahnnock was well marked, however, I was uncertain as to the location of the entrance to the south branch of Broad Creek where StingRay Point Marina was located. After hailing the marina we were instructed to turn to port when we had reached an advertising sign displaying the name of a specific marina near the entrance to Broad Creek. We were also instructed to pay close attention to the channel markers while making our way up the south branch to avoid running aground. We followed the creek for several hundred yards hugging numerous channel markers leaving several waterfront homes to port. Rounding the last green marker, just feet from the head of the marina’s pier, we turned to port, entered the fairway, spun the boat and edged against the dock. All went well for both of us as we maneuvered perfectly, readied our lines, hung fenders to port, and with the assistance of the marina manager were tied up with shore power cords plugged in within half an hour.
A quick glance at multiple intersecting docks, with hundreds of slips filled with hundreds of sailboats, unequivocally declared StingRay Point a sailboat marina. Although the marina lacked floating piers we were informed that the tide fluctuated less than two feet and we would not have to adjust our lines. Amenities included, a pool with a nearby screened-in activities area, relatively small bath houses, picnic tables, laundry facilities, and free bikes for slip holders. After discovering the transient slips were located at the far side of the harbor, nearly half a mile from the marina office, the free bicycles were greatly appreciated. A quick survey of the property during our ride to the office implied that the property may have been a campground at one time. The office was located in a relatively new, well maintained, full scale replica of a Screw-pile Lighthouse placed on a moderate rise overlooking the harbor. The manager’s office was inside on the first floor (twelve feet up) next to a well furnished, air conditioned lounge, where a spiral staircase led to a platform displaying a fresnel lens. We enjoyed great views of the surrounding area from a wide porch bordering the circumference of the lighthouse at office level.
As the day went on with the excessive heat still lingering, we headed to the pool. An interesting conversation with a fellow boater (sailboater of course) in the pool, helped us understand what we might, or might not find, in Deltaville. He told us that there are more sailboats in Deltaville than citizens. He explained that the “town” consisted of a gas station, an ice cream/bakery shop, a hardware store, a restaurant, and a few other businesses that I don’t recall. Also, we were told that many businesses were closed on Monday and Tuesday. After enjoying the pool, our curiosity got the best of us, so Barb, Reid and I decided to ride our bikes into “town” and see for ourselves what Deltaville was all about. We had ridden nearly a mile passing several marina properties to the right and dense woodlands to the left before coming upon a limited number of private residences along the main road. Once past the small residential strip we found a Citgo gas station, real estate offices, an ice cream shop, a hardware store, a church, and a few other businesses. We kept riding a bit farther to satisfy our curiosity, finding only more residential properties, but no businesses. We wondered where the “town” of Deltaville was until we started back to the marina and came upon a sign, “Welcome to Deltaville”! We rode right through the town without knowing it! On our way back we couldn’t pass by the ice cream shop without stopping; knowing that it was one of the few businesses that were open. We enjoyed two quart containers of homemade ice cream, while Reid got a cold brew. We also procured some delicious scones for the next day’s breakfast.
Thankfully cell service was available and, while still on our pilgrimage, Linda called and found that the Deltaville Maritime Museum was open and that she and Dom would like to meet us there. We met at the entrance to the museum property where a seven foot L O V E sculpture ( An icon representing the state slogan “Virginia is made for Lovers”) stood in the middle of a grassy field.
After a photo-op, we entered the modern, air-conditioned, museum where several interesting historic, maritime artifacts, old and new were on display. The museum grounds covered several acres where additional displays of antique boat building equipment and full scale replicas of historic craft were spread throughout the property. Two old restored bay-style boats were tied to a dock on a small creek bordering the museum property along with crab traps and other nautical paraphernalia. Following our exploration of the Deltaville Museum, we returned to the marina to grill hamburgers and hotdogs for dinner as the only restaurant in town was closed and there was no Uber service in Deltaville, if there was some place to go.
A hefty thunder storm passed over during the night leaving everything wet but unscathed. The next day we walked around the open fields and tree lined roads throughout several open acres of marina property enjoying the scenery and local wildlife. On our second bike ride, we headed south, away from town, to explore a more populated residential area. We rode out on a narrow peninsula, bordered by Broad Creek to the west and the bay to east, finding several elegantly designed homes obviously constructed to admire exceptional views of the Chesapeake, lying marginally close to the shoreline. Few residents were out and about. We enjoyed a second self prepared meal at picnic tables near the slips then retired for the evening.
DAY 6 & 7 - Yorktown - York River
We awoke at 8:00 AM, had breakfast, then prepared to get underway to our next destination on the York River. Stingray Point did not sell fuel and the manager informed us that two of the three marinas in the creek that sold gas were currently reconstructing their fuel facilities and I would have to go “up-creek” to buy fuel. We navigated out of the south branch of Broad Creek and turned to port continuing into the main branch of the creek. After passing several marinas without fuel, I began seeking help from anyone we passed in a boat or from people on nearby docks inquiring as to the whereabouts of the marina that sold gas. Everyone pointed “up creek”! So we continued up-creek until it nearly ended where stood the only marina selling gas on Broad Creek-Chesapeake Cove Marina. I docked, secured lines and waited. No one came to assist. After discovering a printed message taped to the fuel pump, I followed directions, made the required phone call, then waited. An attendant came to the dock, assisted with fueling, and we were on our way.
A southeast wind left favorable conditions in the bay allowing a cruising speed of twenty-five knots. Within an hour we briefly steered off course toward the unique Wolf Trap Lighthouse for pictures, with an additional diversion further south for another photo-op at New Point Comfort Light. Satisfied with our pics, we continued on a southerly course until reaching the mouth of the York River.
The York was wide and well marked from the mouth to our destination, Riverwalk Landing Dock and Marina, a few miles up river. The banks of the York River were lined with open fields and a number of surrounding towns, many deeply rooted in early American history, especially the Revolutionary War era. We passed a monument identifying the location of the Yorktown Fort where English General Cornwallis was defeated by American forces in 1781, effectively ending the Revolutionary War. On approach to the marina, we were awestruck by the massive, twin swing span, Coleman Memorial Bridge just north of the marina, towering sixty-feet overhead, spanning 450 feet across the York River, connecting Yorktown to Gloucester. Very interesting design; would have loved to have seen it open while we were there.
Riverwalk Landing’s main-dock was a fifteen by one hundred foot long, floating, concrete pier parallelling the York river with a sixty-foot floating concrete walkway affixed centrally at 90* leading to shore. We were assigned a slip located on the inside of the head pier, facing the T-junction of the main pier and walkway. Although the piers were skirted with thick rubber buffers, I was hesitant to pull alongside a concrete dock. Thankfully, all went well with the assistance of the marina dock attendants. After lines were secured, I noticed an extremely heavy tide flow inside the docks making me dubious about my strategy to exit in two days.
Riverwalk landing was like a metropolis compared to Deltaville. The riverwalk section was a series of shops, restaurants, bars, and ice cream parlors spanning for blocks along the riverfront with interconnected walkways. A walking trail wound along the south shoreline of the York river for miles. A white, sandy beach, Public Yorktown Beach, skirted the south side of the marina where several beach goers lounged in the 90* weather and swam in the river (leaving me wondering how the swimmers were not getting stung after seeing a large concentration of jellyfish while docking). Less than a block away was a motel similar to those seen in oceanside resorts filled to capacity. In keeping with the amicable nature of Yorktown we discovered that a Town Trolley offered free transportation with stops at selected locations throughout town as well as transportation to the nearby museums on the outskirts of town that we wished to visit.
Following lunch on the boat we rode the Trolly to the Yorktown Battlefield Museum. Lacking a car, we were unable to explore the battlefield portion of the museum, however there were several displays inside of the air conditioned building with orientation movies, artifacts, battlefield depictions, weapons, and visuals portraying lifestyles of the Revolutionary society. We returned to Riverwalk Landing’s business square to meander through several small novelty shops, art galleries and ice cream shops. On a small plot in the center of Riverwalk Landing was another Virginia L O V E sculpture. Pictures-pictures-pictures!
With growing appetites, we headed off to the Yorktown Pub a few blocks from the Landing for dinner. Appetizers, entrees, and beer were satisfying, moderately priced, all served in a true pub atmosphere. After dinner we returned to our boats for the evening.
As evening fell, cloud cover increased and a growing wind pushed up white-caps on the river. A short time later waves began to breach the concrete surface of the main dock head. With temperatures still in the eighties at nine o'clock, and a busy day exploring Yorktown, exhaustion ensued, and we headed off to bed, though remained vigilant to the churning weather conditions. At two AM we were awakened when the boat began rocking, rising and falling nearly two feet from the growing tempest, now brandishing violent lightning strikes and deafening thunder. Thankfully, the storm passed rather quickly and amazingly, we all fell back to sleep. At morning’s light we found that two large, ball-type fenders had been placed between the dock and our hulls sometime during the night. The dock manager told us that one of the dock hands realized the intensity of the storm and came out in the middle of the storm to place extra fenders alongside our boats to prevent them from being bashed against the cement dock. This is SERVICE! A sincere Thank You to this dock hand who remained anonymous.
Day seven began with slightly lower temperatures and humidity. We showered in the private marina showers nearly four blocks from the dock, then returned to the boat for a quick breakfast. We walked a short distance to main street to catch the trolley and ride to the American Revolution Museum of Yorktown outside of town.
The museum was expertly staged with numerous displays, including replicas, artifacts, uniforms, battle depictions, weapons and short films. We spent an hour or more exploring inside the museum before going outside to find a replica of a Revolutionary Army encampment with volunteer actors portraying Revolutionary soldiers and a live firing of a Revolutionary-style cannon. Behind the encampment was an actual working farm with buildings replicating Revolutionary era design and volunteer actors portraying the lifestyles of early American settlers.
Our visit lasted until mid-day when we boarded the trolley and rode back to town to explore the residential sections of Yorktown where several art galleries, book stores, and interesting gift shops were located in private homes. After browsing throughout the neighborhood, we walked to Larry’s Hard Lemonade Brewing Co. near the town dock for lunch. Although the restaurant had only four dining tables, a short bar with eight stools, and a limited food menu, Larry’s Lemonade and locally brewed beers helped contribute to a delectable lunch.
After lunch, Reid, Barb, and I took a walk along the river walk trail to enjoy the ambience emanating from a setting sun over the York River while Barb jumped down to the beach in search of beach-glass. We walked till evening fell then returned to Larry’s Lemonade for a cold drink and more appetizers; quickly moving on to The Yorktown Pub as Larry’s closed at eight and we were not ready to end our day. We chose seats at the Pub’s bar enjoying beer, appetizers, and two hours of great conversation with native Virginans. The evening ended with a short walk down a well lit sidewalk, crossed the floating concrete walkway to our slip and retired for the evening.
DAY 8 & 9 - Hampton - James River
We awoke around seven, ate breakfast on the boat enjoying a cup of freshly brewed coffee from our two-cup, drip coffee maker while watching several coast guard training vessels maneuvering near the docks. After the canvas was down and stored we were ready to shove off at 9:00 AM. Leaving the pier was challenging as a boat had come in overnight taking the slip directly behind us and a current from a flooding tide was nudging us forward toward the walkway less than fifteen feet from our bow. Thankfully, we were out and away after some arduous maneuvering and help from Linda pushing us off the dock. After leaving the harbor, we turned up-river passing beneath the Coleman Memorial twin span bridge on a reconnoiter mission of two Navy destroyers docked a half mile from our marina. Curiosity satisfied, we turned 180* to exit the York river and continue the twenty-seven mile southerly route in the Chesapeake toward our next port, SHM Bluewater Hampton Marina on the James River.
We were forced to reduce speed to twenty knots as a growing northwest wind had produced a moderate chop in the bay. Although vigilant in pragmatic helmsmanship, we were occasionally doused with a salty spray that cleared the bow.
Old Point Comfort Lighthouse came into view to starboard within two and a half hours, confirming our position near the mouth of the James River. While passing through the mouth of the James, we saw several large Naval ships moored on the opposite shoreline, to port, noting an area we may want to explore in the future. We passed over the Hampton Roads tunnel entering the mouth of the James shortly turning to starboard to enter the Hampton River, to north. Channels were well marked for the ten minute run up the Hampton River and into Sunset Creek to Bluewater Marina. We stopped at Bluewater’s fuel pier to top off the fuel tanks before proceeding to our slips. Three congenial dock attendants assisted in fueling and docking and we were secured our slip within 30 minutes.
Bluewater Marina was first class. A well designed blueprint of numerous well maintained floating docks were residence to several power boats and yachts; many high end models. The marina office, swimming pool, clean shower rooms and laundry room were positioned on a rise, overlooking the marina, just a few steps from the end of the docks. The poolside bar and an adjoining restaurant, The Surf Rider, added to the character of the marina.
After washing a thick layer of salt off our boats, with temperatures still in the nineties, Reid and I decided to head for the pool, while Dom headed for the shower. Barb and Linda contacted an Uber service to take them to the grocery store to restock our food supply after starting a few loads of laundry at the marina facilities. The cool pool water and a tropical flavored rum bucket helped moderate the effects of the afternoon temperatures for Reid and I. The girls joined us in the pool after their expedition and after showers we all headed to the Surf Rider Restaurant for dinner. Service, staff, entrees, and drinks were excellent (great crab cakes), and reasonably priced for bay side dinning; all served in amicable surroundings. A great way to end the day. We returned to our boats and enjoyed a peaceful evening’s rest.
Morning temperatures started out in the eighties and were forecasted to climb throughout the day. We ate breakfast on the boat watching a negligible number of boats pass by including a tug pushing a seventy foot barge loaded with tons of crushed stone.
Linda had researched all of our intended ports and looked forward to visiting Fort Monroe while in Hampton; a landmark that we unfortunately failed to recognize off to starboard when entering Hampton Roads Harbor. We decided to visit the fort early in the day taking advantage of lower morning temperatures. A short Uber ride tracked through town, toward the harbor and through a narrow entrance in the massive walls of Fort Monroe.
Our tour began with an excellent orientation by a volunteer guide, followed by a self-guided tour through lengthy tunnels and cannon chambers lying beneath the massive walls surrounding the fort. We spent almost two hours viewing numerous displays of weapons, cannon emplacements, replicas of items related to the early years of the fort's history, photos, and artist’s depictions of historical events. The magnitude of fortification, and strategic location left the fort unchallenged in warfare throughout its history. It was home to a cannoneer’s training ground and a site for cannon design and development. The fort is still occupied by a limited number of military personnel today.
After completing our tour beneath the walls, we stepped outside and climbed a stairway to the top of the fortress’s wide, grass covered, embankments. The strategic location and unchallenged status of the fort was obvious after surveying the unrestricted view of the harbor and surrounding area from atop impenetrable walls. After an enjoyable day exploring we returned to the marina, headed to the swimming pool to cool off, followed with showers, anticipating a great dinner.
Dom’s internet search advocated Park Lane Tavern, located on the other side of the James River for dinner. Park Lane boasted a Pub-like atmosphere and having enjoyed the pub at Yorktown, we looked forward to a similar dining experience at Park Lane. Half an hour Uber ride took us through Hampton to the Tavern’s front door. The tavern was adorned in early English decor, with dark paneled walls, high ceilings, and high-top tables, surrounding a large bar centered in the expansive dining area. Our table was a high-top design with wooden stools, adding to the Tavern/Pub atmosphere. Our waitress was friendly, appetizers, entrees and unique drinks were very good. During the ride back to the marina, I surveyed the town of Hampton as we had only seen the residential suburb near the marina. Hampton was a typical bustling town with all the recognizable stores, signage, and bustling traffic found in most mid-sized cities making the peacefulness of the waterfront at the marina quite satisfying.
DAY 10 & 11 - Cape Charles Town Docks - Cape Charles Harbor
After a good night’s rest we awoke at 7:30 AM, ate breakfast, and prepared to get under way to Cape Charles on the eastern shore of Virginia. After aggressively maneuvering from our slips against a robust ebbing tide, we headed east on Spring Creek, into the Hampton River, turning to port at the mouth of the James assuming a northeast course across the bay. Dom and I became separated when he headed south to look at the Navy ships on the other side of the harbor we had seen when entering while I stayed on the northeast route to Cape Charles, unaware of his intentions. (We had courteously cruised near each other for most of the trip, but were now, half a mile apart). We discussed our divergency on the radio and mutually agreed to continue on our selected courses to Cape Charles attempting to keep eye contact while crossing the bay. As NOA weather predicted, we dealt with two to three foot waves for most of the crossing forcing a lower speed and longer running time than estimated.
Half an hour out of the James, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel connecting the western and eastern shores came into view several miles south to starboard. We crossed the forty-two mile width of the bay in two and a half hours without incident, tactfully battling two to three foot waves, continually buffeted with a salty spray. We waited for Dom in the small Cape Charles Harbor just outside Cape Charles Town Harbor docks to allow him to enter his assigned slip ahead of us. Unfortunately, a Coast Guard vessel waiting in the inlet stopped and boarded Dom’s boat. After jostling with a horrendous current in the inlet, Dom and the Coast Guard were forced to proceed into the marina with a Coast Guardsman remaining on board his boat. Maneuvering between the floating docks was challenging as the strong currents persisted inside the harbor. Thankfully, two dock hands assisted Dom and I in docking while the Coast Guardsmen continued their interrogation and inspection finding no infractions on Dom’s boat.
After readjusting our lines and fenders, we hooked up the water hoses to rinse off the thick layer of salt that had accumulated on our boats. Rinse completed, we checked in at the marina office near the entrance to the docks receiving the necessary codes for the bathhouses and a map of Cape Charles and advertising pamphlets. The onsite seafood restaurant, The Shanty, located beside the docks, was recommended by the marina staff as a good choice for dinner, but mentioned that we may need reservations. Assuming that there would be other restaurants in town we decided to take the ten minute walk across a nearby field to Mason Avenue, Cape Charles’ business district, to explore the town and find other options for dinner.
Weeks before the trip, Reid was invited to a friend’s house who lived a few blocks from the business district. We walked along Mason Avenue on our way to his friend’s address passing several refurbished buildings of diverse architecture and a variety of tenants including; Ice Cream Parlors, art shops, candy shops, novelty stores, restaurants, motels and a specialty popcorn shop. A ten minute walk led us into the residential section where several uniquely designed homes, old and new, bordered each side of the street. We enjoyed our visit with Reid’s friends and were given suggestions where to dine.
Following our visit, we called Linda and Dom, asking that they meet us at the Virginia
L O V E sculpture located near the entrance to a wide, white-sand beach bordering Cape Charles along the west shore, a few blocks from Mason Street. Following our photo-op, we returned to the boat to shower and then walked back into town to find the restaurant Reid’s friends suggested for dinner. Dom and Linda had enjoyed a late lunch at the onsite restaurant, so Barb, Reid and I walked back into town to A J’s Bar & Grill. The restaurant’s scheme, ambience, and obvious popularity emanated a pub atmosphere. We chose to sit at the bar rather than wait for a table. Although the menu was not extensive there were some unique entrees; pico & chips, chicken & waffles, and OLD BAY hot & honey wings. Our meals, drinks, bartender and wait staff made a great dining experience at AJ’s.
While walking through town on our first day, we noticed that golf carts were a popular mode of transportation, and legal to drive throughout town within the city limits. After some internet research, Barb secured a rental golf cart to be delivered to the marina parking lot the next morning.
After a good night's rest and an early breakfast we walked to the parking lot to find our rental golf cart. Although our cart was designed for four riders, the owner said that if we can fit five, so-be-it! We crammed on the cart and took off into town (a bit tipsy ride at times due to the overload). We meandered through different sections of town, stopping at several unique shops, totally enjoying the small-town atmosphere of Cape Charles. After completing a short tour of the business district, Barb Reid and I decided to go to the beach while Dom and Linda continued exploring on the golf cart.
The beach was similar to a beach at an ocean resort, minus the crashing waves. The sun was shining, the sand was soft, white, and hot, and the water warm; with the tide pushing the water out nearly one hundred yards. We stayed at the beach until mid-day, returned to the boat for showers and a change of clothes, then set out to find a place for lunch. With help from the internet, we found Cape Charles Brewing. A ten minute drive on the golf cart took us to the edge of town and our destination. Locally brewed beer, good appetizers in an open, welcoming atmosphere added to an already perfect day.
After lunch, we returned to the marina sharing a leisurely break, with Dom and Linda sitting on the floating docks enjoying the quiet setting of the harbor. Following our chat, we got back on the golf cart and drove through town, making several detours canvassing the residential section, while on our way to The Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery for 6:00 dinner reservations. On the other side of town (5 or 6 blocks east from the marina), we found a stark difference in home designs. A large gated community boasted extravagant, modern, three-story homes, similar to those built among the dunes in oceanside towns. Arranged in a decisive blueprint fashion the community was dubbed “The Jellybean Homes” as siding colors from house to house were a mix of captivating, jellybean pastel tones:(Quickly recognizing the reason for the acronym when viewing the homes from the bay when leaving Cape Charles the next day).
The Oyster Farm Restaurant served one of the best meals we had thus far on the cruise. Reid and I chose the Swordfish which was amazing as were all of the entrees. The atmosphere, the view over the bay, and the wait staff were top notch. Driving back to the marina, We entertained thoughts of revisiting this quaint town next year. Perhaps spending a week.
DAY 12 - Onancock Wharf - Onancock Creek
The next morning we awoke to a marginally cooler day as we ate breakfast and prepared to get under way to Onancock (pronounced “O-nan-cock”, so we found out after several corrections following mispronunciations in front of native Virgians), our next to last scheduled stop. We pulled from our slips during a flooding tide which helped make exiting much easier than entering. We passed through the mouth of Cape Charles Harbor into the bay finding several channel markers that diverted our intended northerly course slightly westward to avoid several sholes, before veering north toward Onancock.
Bay conditions were great: One to two foot swells, sunny skies, and clear visibility as we cruised the forty-two mile distance parallelling the eastern shoreline to Onancock Creek quite comfortably in two and a half hours. Channel markers at the entrance to Onancock creek stretched far out into the bay. Navigating the entrance and the two mile trek up creek to the marina was effortless as water depths remained adequate for my adventurous son to maintain twenty-two knots for much of the journey, zig-zagging through a dozen red and green markers with no six-knot speed limit restrictions!
With Onancock Marina in sight, we slowed to six knots allowing time to admire the resplendent architecture of several homes obviously owned by affluent individuals with a love for waterfront living and custom designs. The creek was calm with negligible current, allowing an easy approach to the fuel dock. Three cordial dock hands stood by and assisted with fueling. After topping-off, we proceeded to spacious slips flanked with newly installed floating docks, less than twenty feet from the fuel dock. Once secured in our slip, we went to the marina office to check in and seek information about the small town of Onancock. The information we had previously read about the marina stated that there were golf carts and bicycles available for rent if we would like to explore the town. I asked the attendant how far the town was from the marina and was instructed to turn around and look up the road about two blocks. There was the town! No bikes or golf carts needed! As for dining, the staff recommended the onsite restaurant, Mallards at the Wharf, less than two hundred feet from the marina office, but noted that there were other restaurants in town within a five block walk from the marina.
Our curiosity about Onancock lured us into taking an immediate walk into town. We walked a few blocks along a sidewalk bordering the main road toward the center of town passing large old stone homes with yards bursting with an abundance of flowers, bushes, and trees surrounded with hedgerows or iron fences. On the opposite of the street a wood planked bridge crossed over Onancock Creek leading into a neighborhood of large contemporary estates.
Four more blocks placed us in the small quaint business district of conjoined buildings with a multiformity of architecture, both old and refurbished. We found a coffee/art shop, a music store selling hand crafted instruments, book stores, art stores, and a few second-hand shops selling a variety of items. Further exploration revealed real estate offices, two or three churches, a post office, schools, two restaurants, and a Virginia L O V E icon-sculpture, which initiated a photo-op opportunity.
We had painted the town within two hours and returned to the mariina. On approach to the docks we noticed several people standing on the wharf staring out toward the bay. A water spout had dipped down from the clouds near the mouth of Onancock Creek. Though it was a few miles away, we watched as the narrow band of water churned above the Chesapeake then suddenly disappeared.
Back to the boat, up to the clean shower rooms, a change of clothes, and we were off to dinner at Mallards on the Wharf. The restaurant boasted a maritime ambiance as it was a refurbished fishing outbuilding where earlier generations of commercial fishermen dropped off their catch of the day. Cordial staff members, Crabby Spring rolls, Glazed Salmon, Crab Cakes and Seven Layer Smith Island Cake provided a great meal.
A light rain began to fall forcing a quick retreat to our boat to put up the cockpit canvas. Darkness fell adding to the serenity of Onancock Creek ushering in a quiet night’s sleep.
DAY 13 - Solomons - Patuxent River
The next day we awoke to moderating temperatures with NOA predicting ten to fifteen knot Northwest winds with gusts to twenty-five knots on the bay. Our position, miles from the bay gave no indication as to the conditions we would be facing in the bay. We ate breakfast, took down the canvas, wrapped up the lines and shoved off. A mild tidal current nudged the boat against the starboard piling as we left the slip. Turning to starboard we began our westerly course out of Onancock Creek to the bay. We increased our speed to twenty-five knots and snaked through the multiple channel markers quickly reaching the bay. After passing through the mouth of the Onancock, the predicted windy conditions were indisputable. We would be facing four to five foot waves and twenty-five mile an hour Northwest winds while crossing fifty-five miles of open bay to the Patuxent River. Shallow water to the east forced a north-west course into the middle of the bay, rather than running closer to shore, where we could have possibly experienced less turbulence. Dom decided to cross to the western shore, then turn north, hoping for calmer conditions with the western shore blocking the wind. We stayed on the plotted Navionics course plowing north up the middle of the Chesapeake. Within an hour we were across from the mouth of the Potomac where a flooding tide forced waves to five feet, occasionally dipping the bow pulpit below the surface even while holding our speed at seven knotts.
Reid positioned the boat at an angle to help maintain control through the onslaught of waves, and thwart the intensity of the plunge when plowing directly over the crests of the five-footers. Our course left east and west shorelines barely visible. We saw no other boats for more than half the trip until an unidentifiable vessel came into view about half a mile to starboard. We decided to pass at a safe distance, unable to recognize the type of vessel or its intended course. At one hundred feet off to starboard, we were finally able to identify this oddity as a broken, rusted old ship, or perhaps two ships, obviously aground as they were not moving, and twenty feet of hull remained above the surface. I found nothing on my chart except that we were in a restricted area. Reid studied the Navionics course plotter and found that it was marked as a “Target”! Realizing that we were cruising near a military weapons practice target, we quickly veered west leaving the target far behind.
After four and a half hours of challenging navigation we spied the Patuxent Air Force base to port knowing that the mouth of the Patuxent River was just ahead. Half an hour later we were tied up at Zahnisers Marina, Solomons, washing the boat and glad to be in calm waters. Following a quick lunch aboard our boats, and some “down time” to recoup after a challenging trip we walked to CD Cafe for an excellent dinner and great conversation critiquing our unforgettable trip. We both mentioned that we had such a great time that there were several days we had no idea of the date or day of the week; nor did we care! We ended the day with a restful evening at a quiet dock.
Day 14 - Kent Narrows
The next morning was bitter-sweet as we were about to begin the final leg of our trip. After inspecting the engines and bilge, we pulled out of our slip, headed to the near-by Spring Cove Marina fuel dock for a final top-off, then headed out Back Creek toward the bay for the final forty-six mile cruise to Kent Narrows. A warm, sunny day with south-easterly winds barely disturbed the surface as we cruised northward at twenty-seven knots to our home port on Kent Island. I chose a course that ran parallel to the western shoreline, within eyeshot of a liquid gas offloading station, a Nuclear Power Plant, several elegant private residences and communities, ports and marinas. After two and a half hours we were back in our slip at Safe Harbor Narrows Point.
After a thorough washing to remove layers of salt that had built up during our cruise, a through cleaning of the cabin, and off–loading the additional gear and supplies we had loaded for the trip, we covered the boat, adjusted dock lines, then met with Dominic and Linda to say our goodbyes; and of course one final picture in front of our dock sign.
This was surely a trip to remember!
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