by Jody Argo Schroath
As the 19th century petered out and the new century weighed anchor and got under way, Robert and George Barrie Jr.--two brothers from a Philadelphia publishing house founded by their father--comfortably situated in the world--made a series of summer cruises to the Chesapeake Bay, where they fell head over heels in love. They chronicled these trips in a series of popular articles that were published first in a half-dozen boating magazines and later, in 1909, collected in a book calledCruises Mainly in the Bay of the Chesapeake. That book was, to all intents and purposes, the first Chesapeake Bay cruising guide. One hundred years later, it remains one of the best.
What follows are some excerpts drawn from that book. Yes, we know that a few pages of quotes, no matter how carefully extracted, could not do justice to 11 cruises and nearly 300 pages of text. So consider this an hors d'oeuvre--a sushi bar, if you will--but one we hope will whet your appetite for the whole story. In Part One, we'll start off with some longish quotes from their first two cruises to the Bay. When we return in December with Part Two, we'll continue with as many longish excerpts as we can squeeze in before throwing up our hands and resorting to shorter themes and quotes to try to indicate the scope of their experience. All in all, we think you'll get the idea.
At the time these stories were written--each brother wrote about half of them--the Barrie brothers were covering virgin territory for cruisers. The Bay boasted few native cruisers, and, until the Barries spread the word, virtually no visiting cruisers either. Beginning in 1897, the two enthusiastic yachtsmen brought a succession of their own vessels--from Robert's 57-foot ketchLiristo George's shallow-draft Bay-built cruising skipjack
Omoo--down from their home base at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Philadelphia, through the old Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and into the Bay.
What they saw would astonish us. Instead of a Bay largely empty of watercraft--except on summer weekends when pleasure craft congregate off boating centers such as Annapolis, Rock Hall, Solomons Island and Deltaville--they found a virtual aqueous interstate highway, bristling with boats and bustling with industry. Lumber-loaded schooners and rams, sleek pungys, handsome bugeyes, and oyster canoes by the hundreds were everywhere to be seen. The Bay was a vast network of commerce-carrying waterways, not the summer playground of weekend boaters that we know and enjoy today.
So the Barrie brothers, in their enthusiasm for the charms of the Chesapeake, were inadvertent agents of change. To them the Bay offered everything a cruising sailor could want. In describing the Bay at the opening of his story of their first Chesapeake cruise, Robert Barrie wrote:
"Most sailing people do not realize what magnificent cruising waters we have in that noble bay, the Chesapeake, which might reasonably be called a sea. . . . The scenery is varied, and always picturesque; whether the pleasant sheltered bays of the Eastern Shore, the bold bluffs of the Patuxent, or that of the tropic-like pine-fringed Piankatank. Fish, oysters, and game are all plentiful and cheap. The supply of crabs, indeed, seems to be inexhaustible. Ice is cheap, but not always to be had, and cruisers' necessities--milk, fresh butter, eggs, and chickens--are found at every farm. Strange to relate, fresh vegetables are the hardest things to get, and when found require more persuasion to induce owners to part with them than any other of the desirable things in which the country abounds."
On that first cruise, the Barries, sailing aboardMona, a 42-foot cutter with one paid hand, were determined to get all the way down the Bay. But first, they had to get there, negotiating the old canal with its locks, tugs and mules:
"One July evening in 1897 we left the anchorage of the Corinthian Yacht Club, Tinicum Island, Delaware River, about five o'clock, light head air, but with tide got down to Claymont; tide ran awhile longer, but we stopped there on account of a good anchorage. Went very well with the small mainsail, small jib, and balloon staysail.
About three o'clock we got a breeze, and worked down. Got off jib and shot into canal dock under balloon staysail and main, lowering latter as we neared. Locked in at once, paid tolls four and towage three dollars, got provisions, mailed letters, and got off about four o'clock, but lost time almost at once by going aground in passing a steamer.
Arrived at western lock, Chesapeake City, about eight o'clock, and were lowered about fourteen feet into the Chesapeake, here really Back Creek, where we tied up to a siding for the night. Took on two hundred pounds of ice, some milk, and other trifles. In the evening no mosquitoes, wonderful to relate.
Next morning, by appointment with the tug, we were up at five o'clock, but as some expected schooners were late we did not get away for a couple of hours. The tug, for a dollar and a half, took us down to the Elk River; there we made sail, setting balloon staysail and jib topsail, and ran down the Elk, SW 1/4 W, to the mouth of the river, passed Turkey Point at ten o'clock, and shortly after had a squall out of the East which caused us to stow the jib topsail. The wind continued easterly, and, notwithstanding there was very little of it, we made fair time, passing Betterton on the south side of the Sassafras River, at a little after eleven o'clock. About noon we were off Still Pond; then, as thunderstorms were about and wind seemed to be dying out, we decided to anchor for the day in the cove at the mouth of Worton's Creek, where we let go in fourteen feet."
Once on the Bay, the Barries immediately set about the ritual of persuading local farmers to part with their food and chickens:
"We then rigged up the spritsail on the dinghy and beat up to a lonely-looking pier, where we found an old man who knew absolutely nothing. However, at a farmhouse, after a long argument, we induced the people to part with four young chickens, for which they asked only a dollar, and then some peas, beets, and squash. Sailed back toMonathrough brisk puffs, and were soon shelling peas, our legs hanging over the counter. The [hired] man scalded and picked the chickens. At sundown we had a bully dinner of the above-mentioned purchases: two chickens, fried Maryland style in cracker dust, were delicious. After that we went ashore and bought a few crabs from a lone boy. Then sailed awhile in the gloaming, and at nine o'clock went to bed and slept like tops.
Sunday, wind southeasterly and occasional light rain; sailed out at seven, after breakfast, and were able to stand down the Bay. About this time it began to blow and we were soon boiling along. As we got to Swan Point the squall got harder and the rain heavier; here the wire of the port backstay runner parted at the bend, having been set up too tightly the night before and now made tighter with the rain. We had a regular soak of it down to Sandy Point, then the nearby Eastern Shore smoothed the water some. Ran in to Annapolis and anchored at noon among the schooners off the Academy, in about three fathoms."
This was the first of many visits the Barries would make to Annapolis over the next five years. Here, they listened to gossip at McCuskers antiques shop, toured the town's historic homes, bought supplies and marveled at the number and variety of boats on the rails at Heller's boatyard in Eastport. During many of their summer cruises they returned to Annapolis time and again for repairs and to resupply. But on this first cruise, they were aiming to see the whole Bay and so soon were underway again. For sailors, their description will sound oddly familiar:
"On Monday we had a light southeasterly wind, which made the beat out of [Annapolis] harbor take nearly two hours. When abreast of Tolly Point buoy we got a fresh breeze with rain from the northeast; running down S 1/2 E or so, we made good time, the wind freshening all the while; when abreast of the mouth of Eastern Bay it came very hard and a good sea on; rapidly getting worse, passing Poplar Island we had all we could stagger under with the small mainsail and small jib.
Knowing we would have to beat up when through the Sharp's Island Channel, we shook her up and put in two reefs; the sea washing us meanwhile. When squared away we rushed for the lighthouse off Sharp's Island, then bore up when we thought we were far enough down to clear the bar running down from Tilghman's Island, at the north mouth of the Choptank. It blew a gale and we thought the mast would carry away. In our carefulness we kept much farther down than necessary, and passed far south of the black buoy.
It was blowing so hard we felt we must find some place to anchor, and as it looked so wicked to westward we knew we must do so soon. Running to the east, in Tripp's Bay, we found it too exposed and went about to try to fetch Black Walnut Cove. Soon a tropical downpour shut out everything: fortunately it beat down the sea, and going about we fetched behind Cook's Point, where we let go in about three fathoms. It was roaring down the Choptank from the northeast, but we lay pretty comfortably behind the point. We stripped and had some hot soup; this was about two o'clock. In an hour the worst was over, having blown a gale for just two hours: we made sail, and although we had plenty of rain, we worked up to the sleepy little village of Oxford and anchored opposite the School House green at about five o'clock. The evening was quiet; and as there were occasional showers we set the awning.
On Wednesday it was bright and clear in the morning; we soon dried everything; put the dinghy on the beach to dry, and then gave the deck a coat of varnish. After lunch, about two o'clock, Mr. W. O'Sullivan Dimphel came along in his launch: we exchanged enthusiastic welcomes, and had a few drinks; he insisted on taking us over to his place on the north shore of the Tred Avon River, at the mouth of Plaindealing Creek. Mrs. Dimphel kindly gave us tea, and D. insisted that we sail over next morning and fill our tanks, the water at Oxford being rank poison, as George had learned."
Dimphel's was the only yacht the brothers met on the Bay that trip, and they would bump into him again and again on future cruises. (Dimphel was a founder of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Club.) On Friday, the Barries worked their way out of the Choptank and back onto the Bay, where they pointedMonasouth once more:
"The western shore is very fine; bold, with cliffs about a hundred feet high, in between which are green valleys, or gullies, running down to the bay. As the breeze freshened we soon ran due south, close-hauled, down to Cove Point Light. Here it blew very fresh, and the bobble, as the local men call it, was bad, the tide running out the Patuxent making a short confused sea, and we got pretty well washed.Monapitched very badly, and the jerks were hard on the forestay."
"We got a hard dusting heading up to Drum Point Light, where we anchored with some schooners in the cove. The boat that followed us, a heavy working schooner, had only a reefed mainsail and jib; showing how hard it was blowing. We went ashore, and the surf on the beach was so bad that we had to take off our shoes and roll up trousers to make a landing. Hauled the boat up under the cliff; it was too steep to climb, but we found a sort of ladder made of two logs and cross planks. At the top was a great deserted house; found a store, but it was locked up. As we were coming back met a man on a horse, who turned out to be the postmaster of Drum Point Landing; he kindly took our letters and told us where we could get milk: we found it in an old ramshackle house. The pull back to the boat was very tough.
The steamer came down the river using her searchlight, and, as one passenger was going to Baltimore, she was signaled and made her landing, and so we knew our letters had gone. At half after four we were up and getting under way, and at five, as we ran out of the cove, the sun rose in a magnificent immense red ball. We passed Cedar Point Light, and the breeze freshened so that at eight o'clock we had made the fifteen miles to Point No Point buoy in three hours. We had light airs after that and did not round Stingray Point and anchor in the bay-like mouth of the Piankatank until four o'clock in the afternoon. Then we put sail on the dinghy and sailed in to a wharf on the north shore, which we learned was called Jackson's Landing, and where we were able to send telegrams via telephone to West Point, forty miles away on the York River. Back for dinner, and in the evening had a strong west wind, which came warm but dry and pine-laden. At sunset the scene was lovely: the bay seemed like a tropical one, with white sand beaches surrounded with tall pines, each with a clump of branches at the top, sixty feet up; exactly like the palms in the East Indies. A glowing red sun and a pale pink and green sky completed the really tropical scene. That night we lounged on deck until after dark, and felt quite as though we had gone foreign: say to the South Sea Islands.
Next morning we found a fresh northwest wind, and were under way at five o'clock, eating breakfast as we rounded Cherry Point. Then we put the dinghy on deck and made very fair time down past the Wolf Trap, and kept going until abreast of New Point Comfort, where the breeze began to die out. Below York Spit it died away altogether, and by eleven o'clock we were in the doldrums. We were delighted with the clearness of the water; could see everything below distinctly. This calm kept up for a couple of hours and then we got a light easterly wind, which worked us down to the Thimble; there the flood tide caught us and rushed us into Old Point. The entrance to the anchorage is very narrow and good steerage way is necessary; a steamer coming out from the wharf bothered us, but we worked inside the bar, near the Hotel Chamberlain, and anchored among the pilot boats in three fathoms.
We arrived at four o'clock in the afternoon, and after furling the sails and setting awning, had early dinner; dressed and went ashore, walked through the hotels, all about the fort and over to Hampton, where we saw the old church, built in 1726. Back and read Sunday papers.
On Monday we went over to Norfolk by boat to Willoughby's Spit, and then by trolley through the pines. Saw some immense strawberry beds.
In Norfolk, wandered about, saw fine old residences, then over to Gosport, where we inspected the Navy yard and went aboard the new gunboatNashvilleand over the
Amphitrite, and through the boat shops. Back to Norfolk and had lunch, bought a ham; then back on board
Mona. In the evening it rained, but we were very comfortable under the awning; crabbed and caught a dozen."
The following day, they set off to retrace their route, crawling into Oxford on Wednesday on a dying breeze. Here they deserted the ship, catching a train at one and arriving in Philadelphia at five. The hired crewman in turn hired a hand to help him and returned the boat to the Corinthian a few days later.
The following year, the Barries returned to the Bay, again aboardMona. Robert again tells the story:
"Our second dash to the Chesapeake did not cover quite so much of the Bay as that described in the preceding chapter, but we saw more of it in out-of-the-way places, and what we saw increased our liking for it as a cruising ground. We came back more enthusiastic about it than ever, vowing that we would go again in the fall and there and then become peaceful outlaws, cheerful hermits, Omoos, Typees, or some such people; at any rate forswear work and shore clothes, and live in old ones, and abhor money for the balance of our lives."
After spending a night anchored at the mouth of Deep Creek in the Magothy River ("commonly pronounced 'Maggoty' River," Robert explains), they sailed out early in the company of a large fleet of bugeyes that had come in for the night. In the Bay, they found a fleet of schooners running wing-and-wing. They followed suit and were soon headed up Eastern Bay and their first visit to St. Michaels, Md.:
"St. Michael's is a clean, out-of-the-world place; the white oyster shell streets fringed with grass giving a look like Holland. The harbor is very cozy, and little oystermen's houses huddle close about it. There is, of course, a ship railway. It is owned by a courteous gentleman of the old school.
St. Michael's has quite an atmosphere of the sea about it; many of its sons have had places of rank in the navy; many of the old men have been captains in the merchant service, and we were anchored opposite a house in which a navy purser had lived for forty years. The fact that the house has never been painted is a sad commentary on the ingratitude of republics."
After a visit to the Wye River, they headed back across the Bay, this time skirting Annapolis and heading up the Severn River. It was on the Severn that the brothers got themselves into more difficulty than they were to find on any of their other trips:
"[On Round Bay] we met a sand schooner, whose skipper, in reply to our hail, asking when it was ebb, said it was ebbing then. We concluded, therefore, although the wind was dead ahead, and very strong, to try to beat back, and followed the schooner down.
It was exciting work; as the banks of the Severn are quite high, the puffs from the strong southeast wind out of the gullies were vicious, and the boards [tacks] were of course very short; sometimes we simply held the head sheets around the cleats. After six miles of this sort of thing we shot the draw of the railway bridge, having to luff as we did so. It then seemed that we made very poor headway for a fair tide.
The next draw [probably the old Academy (and at that time U.S. 50/301) bridge] works so hard that the men do not open it all the way if they can entice the unwary seaman into trying to dodge through. With the strong wind and little headway, our friend the sand schooner was seduced into trying before the draw was properly open, and luffing hard up he shot into the draw, but did not quite clear, and tore away his port quarter davit and part of his rail as he fouled the lee pier, but he got away. We were following him so closely that we were inside the piers leading into the draw before we saw that he was going to foul, and in the effort to killMona's headway, to avoid running into him if he should be held, we drifted against the lee one. If we had not been told the tide was ebbing we would have pushed back
Monaand made another trial, but, under the impression that we had a fair tide, although a strong headwind, all hands pushed forward and out of the draw. Just as we cleared the end I noticed that the tide was still running in strong; it caught us, and threw
Monaacross the end of the piling, where we began to batter away at a heartbreaking rate. We soon lost part of the cap of the rail and the spreader, and if we had not had out two large cork gangway fenders we would have lost a lot more.
The sea was so bad we could not stand on deck as she thumped, and as some of the bridge timbers were rather rotten, there was soon a litter of kindling wood all over the deck. With sails let go by the run, and halyards in every sort of tangle, we looked a complete wreck, and if we had not soon got out the sixty-five pound kedge and the forty fathom of cable, I have no doubt we would soon have been pretty well broken up. Although there an hour,Monanever started a seam, but we lost most of our white paint. With the kedge we hauled off as far as we thought safe, and then dropped the large anchor and chain; as ill luck would have it this had fouled, although we were as careful as possible, and when the kedge came in we again drifted back against the bridge. At a second trial, with the help of the bridge tender and two other men, we got the kedge out and it held, and we were soon riding clear."
But they were still in danger as the southeast wind continued to increase and the danger of dragging anchor grew with it. Two of the bridge hands came aboard, however, and they were able to beat down through the darkness and anchor in Annapolis harbor:
"All next day it blew a gale. Heller, of Eastport, made us a new spreader and repaired about ten feet of rail very successfully. We took advantage of the delay to have a new baby-jib topsail made, and photographed, provisioned, and antiquarianized to our hearts' content. After sundown we noticed the Eastport lifeboat putting out, and soon discovered that a bay boat of about forty feet, capsized, was washing in from the Roads. The lifeboat picked up the men, and setting her stumpy little sails, made a line fast to the wreck and towed it into the harbor. That night the harbor was crowded with bugeyes. We had all been putting out chain in the extra hard gusts of the afternoon, and it looked so wicked, and there were such a lot of boats to windward of us, and such a hard seawall at the Academy grounds behind us, that we were delighted when, about midnight, a heavy cold squall came out of the northwest and made us the weather boat and under a good lee."
When the storm finally blew itself out, the Barries pointedMonaacross the Bay for a visit to Kent Island and the Sassafras before heading north for the canal and the return trip:
"Next morning we had a little excitement catching the tow; the tug had picked up seven schooners and started for Back Creek, she owing no intention of coming near us, so we hurriedly set staysail and mizzen, awning still up, and with the strong breeze managed to get alongside the last schooner and get a line on board. In the canal we made quite a procession, the tug taking us all right through, and we found it more comfortable than mule power. At the Delaware end we had headway enough to shoot up to the head of the line, and managed to lock out with the leaders, two fine schooners, one of which we dropped and the other got away from us off Chester. Arrived at the club house at eight in the evening: pretty good time for a little boat."
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