Taking it slow and easy on the Corrotoman River.
by Jody Argo Schroath
illustration by Richard C. Goertemiller
I had a free a day before I was to meet friends in Urbanna, Va., last September, so I decided to spend the time getting reacquainted with another old Rappahannock River friend, the Corrotoman River. I even had a destination already picked out from an earlier visit. I sighed a little ruefully now when I thought of it. Senior Creek. Yes, it seemed somehow ironically appropriate. I’m not saying I’m ready for the old folks home. Good grief, no, not by a long shot! Yet in some stores, I do get the discount. Yes, that one. Anyway, the thing I had noticed about Senior Creek that so appealed to me was that its entrance is really easy to negotiate--unlike a lot of the other creeks in those parts. Before you write me off as an old sissy, I want to mention that earlier in the week I had negotiated first the Daughtery Canal, which has a devilish entrance off the Big Annemessex River, and then the dicey entrance to the Little Wicomico River. So can you blame me if I was now in the market for a nice broad entrance? Admittedly, this was shortly after the Little Wicomico’s channel had been dredged, so it wasn’t really that hard, but with the swift current and narrow passage between the rocks, it wasn’t that easy either. (Now, of course, that entrance has already shoaled again, according to reports, so I wouldn’t make that trip now on a bet.) Nevertheless, as the ship’s dog Skipper and I shot the Little Wicomico River channel early that morning and turned south toward the Rappahannock, I was already picturing that quiet cruise up the West Branch of the Corrotoman River to Senior Creek.
Once clear of the Little Wicomico channel, I opened up the Albin 28, and we set off down the long beautiful stretch of the Northern Neck that culminates in Windmill Point at the mouth of the Rappahannock. The sky was nearly clear, the humidity was low, and only a light southerly breeze ruffled the water against the ebbing tide. If ever there were a perfect day to be on the water, this was it! Eventually my mind turned again to the Rappahannock and its Corrotoman tributary, some of the loveliest boating on the Chesapeake. The Corrotoman does have only one marina, Yankee Point Sailboat Marina, but on the other hand, it offers a plentiful sufficiency of lovely anchorages, lovely shoreline and even a charming little car ferry with the felicitous name of Merry Point.
By this time, I had mused my way past Windmill Point and begun the 12-mile trek up the Rappahannock to the Corrotoman. Eight miles upstream, Skipper and I passed under the Robert O. Norris Bridge (110 feet of vertical clearance) and almost immediately came upon a line of fishing boats arrayed in semicircle across the entrance of Carter Creek, as if they were just daring a sailboat to poke its nose out. I’m sure they were just fishing.
Less than a mile later, we were at the entrance to the Corrotoman River. Did I mention that its entrance is broad (2 miles) and deep (14 to 24 feet)? Hey, I was taking no chances! About a mile and a half in, however, the channel does pinch in to accommodate the long shoal off Corrotoman Point to starboard, but opens up again soon after flashing red “2”. Then, after flashing green “3” off Ball Point, it opens up into a mile-wide bay. All the while, creeks shoot off left and right: Whitehouse, Town, Taylor and Myer. Of these, Myer has the easiest entrance and river’s sole marina. Beyond flashing green “7”, which marks Bar Point, the Corrotoman splits into the Eastern and Western branches. Both have charms and plenty of creeks of their own; both are navigable for a couple of miles (and then some on the Eastern Branch).
The last time I was on the Corrotoman, I had spent one day and part of the next on the Eastern Branch, anchoring for the night in a fine little bay just past Bells Creek. This time Skipper and I would take on the Western Branch, which boasts the Merry Point ferry and Senior Creek. Skirting the duck blind and flashing red “8”, we headed upstream. There was a lot to look at, so I eased the throttle to near idle, which prompted Skipper to trot up to the bow for a closer look. I called him back to put on his lifejacket and then let him have the run of the deck. After green daymark “9”, we came to a deep little bay to starboard, which would make a fine fair-weather summer anchorage, I thought. The shoreline was farmland, widely spaced homes and clusters of trees, probably planted as windbreaks.
As we left the little bay, we caught sight of the Merry Point ferry, loaded with its full complement of two cars, as it left Ottoman Wharf on the southern bank and made a beeline for the Merry Point landing directly north. The ferry of course always makes a beeline since it moves along a cable that rises between the two banks before settling back into the water after the ferry reaches the landing. I waited until the ferry had reached Merry Point before continuing upstream past John Creek. We might or might not have been able to zigzag through the sandbars at the creek’s entrance, but as I might have mentioned I was in no mood that day for tricky entrances. So we went on.
Upstream, beyond Merry Point, the branch narrows then broadens several times, winding gently into the Northern Neck interior. Soon the farmland gives way to woods, with a few homes among the trees. The depth stays above seven feet beyond Senior Creek and Davis Creek (tricky shallow entrance) until the Western Branch itself splits, with Little Branch striking off to the left and the main branch to the right. The main branch continues to carry five and six feet for a few hundred yards, before thinning out to only a foot or two.
Here I turned the Albin around for the trip back to Senior Creek. At the entrance, I gave the point a wide berth to avoid the shoal I could see on the chart, then I turned in, keeping to the center where I was sure the water would be deep. Inside, trees predominate, with homes peeking out through the foliage. Docks jut into the creek, until the water grows shallower. The creek splits just inside the entrance, with a short branch to the south that begins with five feet, but quickly drops to four and less (I didn’t push it). The main part of the creek holds its depth a little longer, but it too peters out quickly. It may be easy to get into, I thought, a little disappointed, but there’s not much to it when you do. Still, I thought, having all too quickly completed my exploration, it’s lovely and extremely peaceful--and you know, we seniors don’t like much noise. I found this mildly amusing since I live in Annapolis, one of the least peaceful boating locations on the Chesapeake. Well it was amusing to me--Skipper didn’t seem to get it. He did get that we were settling in for the night, and stood with his head over the bow, watching intently as the anchor dropped into the water in the tiny cove just inside the creek’s mouth. We’d catch a little bit of breeze here, all we’d be likely to need at this time of the year. Really, I couldn’t have wished for more, I thought as I pulled out some of this and that for dinner. After all, hadn’t I gotten just what I wanted: a completely drama-free day with a nice anchorage at the end.
Yes, but . . . well, soon enough it would be back to business as usual. After a quick trip to Urbanna, Skipper and I were headed to Gwynn’s Island, and I was thinking about giving the Hole in the Wall a try this year.