A great breeze carried them to Brooks Creek on the Little Choptank River, then made it the perfect spot for a glass of wine and a mosquito-free night on the hook.
by Jane Meneely
illustration by Dick Goertemiller
The Bay glittered madly, as if sprinkled with a billion diamonds. The wave tops shimmered. Even the spray spilled across the deck like so many sparkling gemstones. It was as if the sun were in overdrive. And did I mention the breeze? Magnificent! Bearing southeast from Herring Bay on that fine summer afternoon, we had a steady reach across the Bay. All its myriad possibilities lay before us.
My friend Karen studied the chart thoughtfully. What are our options? she asked. I held the tiller of my little sloop Petrel and looked ahead. With the wind like this, we could drive all the way to Cambridge, I told her. But Karen shook her head. She wanted to go someplace new. With her index finger on the chart she traced the shoreline below the mouth of the Choptank River and paused at Trippe Bay. Here? she suggested. Too shallow, I said, and a lee shore at that. Her finger moved farther south to Hills Point. What's the Little Choptank like? she asked. I'd been to the Little Choptank lots of times, exploring its creeks and harbors-even running hard aground once in Hudson Creek. The river is full of hospitable gunkholes, with a few dining spots to boot. We have our choice, I told her. We can anchor out or we can run up Slaughter Creek and have dinner ashore. She nixed the dinner ashore option. I want to be away from people, she said. I'm on vacation. (Karen works as a real estate agent in downtown Philadelphia. I could appreciate her wanting to enjoy the peace and quiet of a night on the hook.) We had plenty of food on board, and a box of Black Box red wine. What more could a pair of old high school chums want? This was our first cruise together as empty nesters, and we had a lot of catching up to do.
We angled Petrel farther south and worked our way to the mouth of the Little Choptank. The river is framed by Hills Point Neck on the north and Taylors Island to the south. The three hummocks of James Island to the southeast offer a buffer to the wide fetch of the Bay rolling up from the south. Although the actual distance between James Island and Hills Point is a good three miles or more of open water, much of it is shallow. So we steered Petrel well to the middle of the river's wide opening in order to find deep water-and safely round the flashing green "1" mark to enter the river proper. Even then we had to stay clear of Ragged Island, at the other end of Hills Point Neck. Once clear of that, we could see the markers leading into Slaughter Creek, which forms the narrows for Taylors Island on the south side of the river. If we had been going there, we would have dropped almost due south from flashing green "5". Instead, we slid on past and headed upriver.
The wooded shoreline had put a damper on our breeze and turned it fluky, so we cranked the engine and headed directly for the river marks. But something caught our eye in the water ahead and to the left, outside of the channel-a huge turtle's head, maybe? Chessie? A floating cushion? It appeared to be fixed. We drew nearer still and swung close to see just what it was. (Petrel has a centerboard, so we can stray from most marked channels with relative impunity.) Holy cow! It was a submerged piling, not marked on the chart. Either that, or it was a snagged deadhead, but snagged in an upright position. Boats navigating mark to mark would miss it, but at high tide that piling would be beneath the surface, just waiting to bedevil any boat that happened by. How did it get there? Karen asked. It was too far offshore to have been part of a dock. More than likely it was a support post for a duckblind in the shoal off Ragged Island. The ice had probably carried the rest of the blind away long ago, and may have even snapped the top off this remaining post, making it virtually invisible to passing boaters-except at low tide.
We continued on our way, staying in the channel and keeping a sharp lookout. Soon we spotted the entrance to Brooks Creek, the first creek on the north shore of the Little Choptank. It looks inviting, but its broad mouth is deceptive; its only navigable water is limited to a narrow channel that snakes into the three-mile creek. At first glance, it would seem too narrow a channel to anchor. But there is a bump, said Karen, pointing to a small bulge in the deep water outlined on the chart.
We had listened to the weather, so we knew we were in for a pleasant night; the NOAA voice had said the wind would veer to the south but stay gentle. The creek doesn't afford much protection from the south, but gentle weather sounded just fine. So we chugged past the first marker, then, just before reaching the second, eased off the main drag into the little hole of deep water Karen had found. Down went the hook, and we were caught fast on the sticky bottom.
Two houses sat on the shore on one side of us; a scraggly thicket of trees sat on the other. The creek's mouth was off our stern and its head beyond our bow. What's more, the delicious breeze that had carried us across the Bay now kept us tight on the anchor and kept 'the mosquitoes tight on the shore.
Karen tapped our little Black Box, I found some crackers and a hunk of cheese, and we watched the sky run through a veritable rainbow of hues as the sun slowly settled in the western sky. A dazzling end to a dazzling day. That night, as predicted, 'the wind clocked around to the south and found its way through the forward hatch. Had it been stormy, we might have wanted more shelter.
'As it was, we were high and dry and comfortable. We woke up refreshed and ready to sally forth to a new and exotic port. A breeze from the south? Perfect!