A slalom-course entrance to a creek not too far from home, a scenic cruise, a nice anchorage and a crabcake add up to a great inaugural powerboat cruise.
by Jody Argo Schroath
illustration by Richard C. Goertemiller
"Bodkin Creek? What a good idea," I said. "And since you two are the experts, why don't you come with me?" I was speaking to my friends Janet and Bob, the very people who had suggested that I head for Bodkin, at the mouth of the Patapsco River, on my upcoming maiden powerboat cruise. "Oh, we'd love to," Janet replied, pouring herself a little more chardonnay as we sat on their balcony overlooking Back Creek in Annapolis, "but Bob's arthritis has been giving him trouble and . . ." her voice trailed off, leaving implied but unspoken other reasons possibly too dire to mention. I turned the subject to Bodkin's best anchoring spots.
A few days later, I renewed the invitation with Bob, when we bumped into each other at the supermarket. "Love to," he said, "but we've been looking after Janet's aunt recently. She's just recovering from that flu everyone is getting." I sighed and said I understood that those things happen. "But," he continued, "I've remembered another really nice place to anchor off the Bodkin. We stopped there years ago with our cruising group."
I thanked him and turned to begin the trek across the parking lot with my grocery bags, but Bob came trotting after me. "Remember to be really careful going into the Bodkin! It's forever shoaling," he said, "so keep looking behind you to stay exactly in the channel." He continued in the same vein for a while, warming once again to his tale of how their cruising group had gotten blown into Bodkin late one Sunday on their way back to Annapolis from Havre de Grace, Md. "We flew through those markers like Bode Miller on a slalom course!" he said. "And right inside we found the sweetest little anchorage, with a nice sand bottom and plenty of room for us all." And so on. Bob had a lot of memories of Bodkin Creek. So many that I had to throw out the ice cream when I got home. Oh well, it was too fattening, anyway.
In truth, I was perfectly content to be making the trip on my own. The day of departure dawned crystal clear with that gentle but exhilarating bite that comes in late September--like a pup tugging at your sleeve, ready to play, as opposed to winter's Rottweiler. Arriving at Chesapeake Boating Club in Eastport, my dog Skipper and I scrambled into the cockpit of the Albin 28, and we eased out onto Back Creek and then into Annapolis harbor. The trees, just now pulling out their fall clothes, were tinged with bright new reds and oranges. Ahead, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was sharp against the clean-swept sky. Once clear of the harbor I eased the throttle up to 12 knots and headed for the center span. For a lifelong sailor, this was flying!
A few minutes later, the bridge was behind us and we were pulling even with Sandy Point Light. At this rate, we'd be on Bodkin Creek by breakfast. Skipper was fine with that. In fact, he was having the time of his life. Unlike our usual transportation, an uber-compact Albin 27 sloop, this Albin 28 had plenty of room for a dog to scamper around the cockpit. Best of all, the blessed thing just sat straight up the whole time, not heeling over first one way and then another so that a four-legged fellow was forever sliding off the seat and ending up in a tangle of legs and tail on the cockpit sole. Within minutes Skipper had established himself between the passenger seat and the cabin bulkhead, where he could doze off without consequence. Yes, Skipper, at least, was an unrepentant powerboat convert. For me, on the other hand, it was all about the guilt. As we continued to head north, in the general direction of the Craighill Channel front range light, I couldn't shake the feeling that this was just too easy. You pointed this thing in the direction you wanted to go, and it just went there. And did it in no time at all. It was all so wrong! As I followed the shoreline for the next four miles, until I spotted Bodkin Creek green can "1", which marks the outer limits of the Bodkin Point shoal, I tried to put a finger on my dissatisfaction. Where was the struggle against the elements, always too much or too little? Where was the fight? Wasn't it wrong to get where you're going without effort? It felt like getting one of those mail-order degrees. Where was the organic chemistry final?
Snap out of it, I ordered myself. Here comes the Bode Miller slalom Bob warned about. I stuffed the argument into my pocket for later consideration and concentrated on not running aground, working my way ever deeper into the narrowing chute between the shoals off Bodkin Creek's opposing shores. The critical portion, according to Bob, began after green "7", when the channel drew in sharply between red "10" and green "9". I watched the depth sounder as the numbers grew smaller. At 6 feet, though, they held . . . until I was skirting "9A". There the depth began decreasing: 5.8 feet . . . 5.5 . . . 5.2 . . . 4.8 . . . Ack! Why did the charts show seven feet? This wasn't going well. I looked behind me to check my range. The boat still had plenty of water beneath it. I eased the boat first a little to the right and then left, trying to find deeper water. Finally, just before I reached flashing green "11", the numbers began to climb again until they held steady at eight and nine feet. A couple of minutes later, we rounded Bodkin Point to port, passed Old Landen Point to star-board and entered Bodkin Creek in fine style.
Bodkin Creek itself actually ends almost as soon as it starts, but a couple of its branches go on a bit longer. As soon as we had entered the creek, we found ourselves with a choice. (I use the term "we" loosely, of course, since Skipper chooses whether to sleep or watch birds and I choose where we go and when we eat.) About a quarter of a mile in, Back Creek breaks off to the right, while Main Creek takes the center and Bodkin itself continues briefly to the left before subdividing into Wharf Creek and Locust Cove. Main Creek, aptly, is the longest, at about two miles. All of Bodkin's branches have marinas and all have good places to anchor--but only one, Main Creek, has a restaurant, the Cheshire Crab. A good place to end this cruise, I thought. I spun the wheel right to head up Back Creek. The shoreline here bristled with private piers, and, at its entrance, Geisler Point Marina. Just beyond, the homes along the northern shore become intermittent and the trees more abundant, while the southern shore--called Spit Neck (and sometimes Split Neck)--sprouts cottages and docks along its entire length. Another small marina, Shipley's Anchorage, lies on the north shore, just beyond the property belonging to historic Hancock's Resolution farm and park. The 18th-century farm's property borders the creek but has no water access. About half a mile beyond Shipley's, Back Creek peters out, so there I turned around and headed back downstream. As I re-entered Bodkin, I spotted Bob's storied cruising-club refuge, a good-size bay on the creek's eastern shore, sheltered from the north by Bodkin Neck. It would be a busy place on weekends, I thought, with boats coming and going from the creek and probably not ideal in a westerly blow, but a great place in a pinch and with enough room for a small flotilla.
This time I followed Bodkin Creek around Spit Point and headed for Old Bee Point and Orchard Point, where the creek narrows before splitting a final time. Bob hadn't mentioned it, but I knew from reading cruise guides going back to the 1950s that the area just above Old Bee Point was another favorite anchorage. I took the two branches in turn, opting first for Wharf Creek and Germershausen's Boat Yard and then Locust Cove, home to Pinehurst Landing.
That left only Main Creek to explore, which was just as well since by this time I'd whiled away most of the day. I wanted to eat early, too, so I could drop anchor before dark. Happily, Bodkin Creek was a handy size for a few hours' exploration. It had been a good choice for my first power cruise. I returned to Spit Point for a third time--it was beginning to feel like an old friend--being careful to stay outside red "12" which marks the edge of point's subaqueous spit. As I crossed the tiny bay called the Hammock, I spotted Bodkin's yin and yang marinas. The yin, sailboat-intensive Hammock Island Marina, lies on a tiny island that is separated from the mainland by a short pedestrian bridge; the yang, powerboat-intensive Ventnor Marine, lies directly upstream. I don't know if they exchange insults and barrages of dinner rolls on Saturday nights, but I'd like to think so.
About three-quarters of a mile later, on the north shore of the creek, I saw it: the perfect cove. I studied the chart. It didn't seem to have a name, but it did have plenty of water. I'd found my anchorage. Now for dinner! Half a mile farther upstream, I reached the intersection of Perry and Mathias coves, not only a good place to drop anchor, but home to Bodkin Yacht Club and Bodkin's largest marina, Pleasure Cove Marina, itself home to the Cheshire Crab. Less than ten minutes later, Skipper and I were walking down the dock to find a dog-walk area. Less than 20 minutes after that, I was seated in the Cheshire Crab, sipping iced tea and waiting for my crabcake platter to arrive. While I gazed out on the creek, I pulled out my wadded-up philosophical argument for another look. Somewhere between Back Creek and Locust Cove I had forgotten to feel guilty about how easy and comfortable this powerboating thing had turned out to be. The solution, I decided, was simple. Everyone should have two boats: a sailboat for the agony of working to windward and the ecstasy of a long broad reach across a sun-dappled bay, and a powerboat for getting where you're going with enough time to see it when you get there--like Bodkin Creek, for example. Perfect!