A last-minute detour to the Chester River puts our cruisers on the fast track to an ideal hot-weather anchorage, Comegys Bight.
by Jody Argo Schroath
illustration by Richard C. Goertemiller
LI was muscling the Albin 28 up the Bay out of Annapolis one morning last summer, bound for the Sassafras River and caught in the middle of a family argument between an ebbing tide and 15 knots of hot-tempered southerly. My daughter Kristen and I were not having a family argument--at least not yet. She and I had been bouncing silently along for about half an hour when I looked over and saw her hunkered down in the passenger chair, her bare feet braced against the bulkhead and her arms wrapped around her little furball of a dog, Echo, in a kind of maternal death-grip. At her feet, wedged between the base of the chair and the bulkhead, lay my dog Skipper, who at that moment raised his head and gave me a look that clearly asked the question, "Why can't you just take up knitting?" Then, after sighing the sigh of a dog who has bounced his way from the Elk River to Rudee Inlet, he went back to sleep.
What could I do? I surrendered as gracefully as I could. "Okay," I said, laughing, "I'm thinking we don't really have to get to the Sassafras today."
"Oh, it's okay," Kristen replied in the voice of one who is also considering the virtues of a quiet day spent knitting.
"Oh, no," I countered in the voice of one who is about to forego Paris for the suburbs of Topeka. "We'll find some place closer to duck into."
Only a few minutes earlier we had passed under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and we were now nearly parallel with Love Point at the tip of Kent Island. Well, here we were at the entrance to the Chester River. What could be a better? We could simply cruise upriver as far as we felt the urge and then come back and settle into any one of a dozen quiet spots for the evening.
"The Chester River it is," I said and swung the Albin east to intersect Love Point Light.
After the bucking bronco of oncoming chop, our ride became positively prim as we turned south to enter the Chester. True, we were now headed dead into the wind, but it felt good, and the chop was now hustling us along from behind. The boat fairly hummed down the channel between Kent Island and Eastern Neck Island. The tension onboard eased as well. I eased my hold on the wheel and backed down the throttle; Skipper rolled over onto his side; and Kristen toted Echo back to the big padded seat over the engine and sprawled out on her back to enjoy the sun. Ah, the Sassafras could wait.
A little while later we entered the Chester's big horseshoe turn, passing Kent Narrows and then Queenstown Creek to starboard and the marshland of Cedar and Hail points to port. And then we were headed north again. But this time, in more protected waters, the chop was minimal and the southerly was lost altogether in our forward progress. The regrettable feature of this was that the rising heat was now glaringly apparent. Early morning would soon stretch into late morning, and the summer sun--now with no mediating breeze--was becoming a force to be reckoned with.
We had just passed Piney Point on the tip of Tilghman Neck, when I turned to point out the felicitously named Fryingpan Cove to port and I noticed that Kristen had fallen sound asleep. Sigh. Isn't that the way? Here I had someone other than Skipper aboard to point things out to, and she was asleep. I looked hopefully over at Skipper, but he merely closed his eyes even tighter and snored a little for good measure. I got the point.
In silence, I piloted the Albin past the unremarked-on Fryingpan Cove, then into the Hydra-headed portion of the Chester, where rivers and creeks come and go willy-nilly. If you're not paying attention at this point, you can end up "heading" off in the wrong direction. Reed Creek is the first, breaking off to starboard, followed almost immediately by Grays Inn Creek to port. Both are lovely creeks, deep enough for a visit and with several good anchorages each--though the entrances require a careful eye on the charts and depthsounder. After Grays Inn Creek, the main channel of the Chester turns eastward, while the entrance to Langford Creek--as broad as the Chester--lies dead ahead. Langford, too, has good deep water, even after it forks east and west a mile and a half upstream, with fine protected anchorages galore. Cacaway Island, which lies at the metaphorical fork in the creek, is the hands-down favorite anchorage on Langford. It has deep water nearly to its shoreline and the possibility of a little dry land below the private island's high-water mark when the tide is out.
On the other hand, if you swing too far east as the Chester turns at this busy intersection, you can find yourself entering the Corsica River. That's no bad thing, of course, because the Corsica, too, is an admirable river, though its most intriguing sight lies right at the entrance facing the Chester: the Russian embassy's elegant summer dacha, the red-brick former mansion of John Jacob Raskob, builder of the Empire State Building. Naturally, after that--even if you have to imagine it more than see it behind the summer foliage--everything else pales in comparison.
Having nothing to distract me (sigh), I easily found the road most traveled and continued up the Chester channel, remembering almost in time to slow down for the large 6-knot speed-limit zone off Rolph's Wharf Marina, another seven miles upstream. The sudden decrease in speed was enough to wake up Kristen . . . just long enough to turn over onto her stomach. Harrumph! Well, I was enjoying the trip, anyway.
It was not until we reversed course just above Chestertown that Kristen finally woke up for good. She dived into the cabin and returned with a couple of bottles of cold water before climbing back into her seat, blinking in the bright sunshine.
"That's nice," she said, sipping water and indicating Chestertown's elegant colonial waterfront buildings.
Ah, an opening, I thought, and immediately launched into a description of the charms of that city, with its great restaurants, wonderful bookshop, lovely old 18th-century buildings, town square and Washington College. "And that's the Sultana, a replica of an 18th-century British schooner," I concluded as we glided slowly by her berth.
As we continued downriver, I happily pointed out nearly everything I had wanted to show her on the way up. But by the time we had reached Deep Point at flashing green "23", we were both rendered speechless by the heat. The sun, now slung low on the horizon, felt like a laser beam. The morning's southerly was a desultory memory.
"Look," Kristen said with sudden enthusiasm, pointing to a trio of powerboats anchored stern to the shore. In the water, a half-dozen adults and as many children, and a single black lab, were splashing in the water along a narrow sand beach, having a wonderful time.
"Conquest Beach!" I whooped. "No dogs allowed on the beach--it's private--but if we stay below the high tide line and out of the way, we'll be all right. And happily the tide is just now starting to flood back in."
We dropped the anchor farther off shore than the other boats, but out of the channel, then I quickly changed--Kristen was already properly attired--and we grabbed some dog bags and tumbled into the water. The dogs watched for a moment, then followed suit. I don't remember the water ever feeling any finer! We swam and paddled and splashed until we were all exhausted.
A little while later, we hauled ourselves and then the dogs back aboard. Motor restarted and anchor up, we simply crossed the river and motored into Comegys Bight, the large open bay directly across the river from our swimming hole. Comegys is about a mile wide in every direction, with reasonably deep water, especially on its western side. That makes it a lousy place for a hidey-hole, but since there were no storms in the forecast (it was that kind of summer, if you'll remember), it was perfect. We decided on a spot well out of the way but still far enough out to catch any breeze that might appear out of the south. We also put out plenty of rode. Really, forecasters have been wrong before.
The sun finally dropped out of sight, but the heat lingered on late into the evening. We ate a cold supper, then pulled our bedding up into the cockpit. Kristen, who is shorter than I, settled back down with Echo on the engine seat. I stretched out across the sole in the stern and promptly fell asleep. At about 2 o'clock I awoke long enough to feel a soft breeze that had sprung up in the south. Excellent!
Early the next morning, over coffee and kibbles, we watched a workboat commuting downriver and a few herring gulls fly overhead in search of an early worm--or whatever gulls eat for breakfast. The bight's few land-bound residents were still abed--or perhaps they were watching us, and the waterman and the gulls, as they sipped their coffee. Half-an-hour later, we pulled up stakes and shuttled off after the waterman. As we passed Langford and then Grays Inn creeks, Kristen curled up on the engine seat and went back to sleep.
Well, we didn't make it to the Sassafras, but we couldn't we have found a better place to cruise than up the Chester with a night on Comegys. I would have said so, too, but there was nobody awake to hear me.