by Jody Argo Schroath
illustration by Richard C. Goertemiller
 

Three-point-five-feet . . . three-point-two-five feet . . . yikes! Hey, I'm all about shortcuts, I thought, my eyes darting nervously between the depth gauge and the next marker, but not like this. I had already reduced the Albin 28's speed to dead slow and was zig-zagging across the channel looking for the deep water. Where the heck was it? Three feet! This was not working out as planned. I had heard that the entrance to the Daugherty Creek Canal, a mile-and-a-half-long cut between the Big and Little Annemessex rivers, could get a little dicey, but this was way too dicey. And now all the markers were in the wrong place. Something was clearly very wrong. I slipped the engine into neutral and pulled out the chart for another look. Hmm, you don't suppose . . . Yes, there was no other explanation. I was trying to work into the wrong creek. 

"You are an idiot!" I told myself sternly.

Skipper looked up long enough to see if "idiot!" was another word for "treat!" and then went back to sleep. Delicately, I turned the Albin around and followed the track on the GPS to get myself back to where I'd gone wrong: the fork in the road at flashing green "1". The problem was that green can "1" lay immediately beyond the flashing green, and so naturally I had followed the path to the green "3" just to the left. 

"Ah, that was my mistake," I said. That particular green, followed at once by red "4" and then a stream of easy-to-follow markers beyond, led into very shallow Jones Creek. The Daugherty Creek Canal markers, on the other hand, were off to the right of flashing green "1", and from there, few and far between.

Once I had made it safely back to green "1", I looked right, and this time I could see Daugherty's green "3" some way off and green "5" far beyond. I breathed a sigh of relief and set out for the right green "3". A few minutes later, somewhere between "3" and "5", the depth gauge once again dipped briefly to 3.5 feet, but this time I was sure it would only go up from here. I made the sharp right turn to follow the channel through the broad marsh and a minute or so later found myself in the canal itself. Here the bottom fell away and the depth gauge settled comfortably at 6 feet. Keeping to a no wake speed, I could finally relax and enjoy the ride. Yeah, shortcuts were great!

The Daugherty Creek Canal separates marshy Janes Island from the long peninsula that culminates in Crisfield and more marshes. At the north terminus of the canal is the Big Annemessex River and at the south the Little Annemessex River. In truth, the only way the Daugherty Canal could fairly be called a shortcut is if you wanted to go from the Big Annemessex River to Crisfield, which is a fairly unlikely situation considering how little that river is used by recreational boaters. And more's the pity.  The Big Annemessex is a lovely river and deep enough for nearly any boat in the center, but its water is thin indeed along its coves and creeks, precluding big boat marinas and protected anchorages. Nonetheless, like the rest of this portion of the Eastern Shore, it's a hauntingly beautiful place with seemingly endless fields of marsh grass. The same could be said for another overlooked river, the Manokin, which lies just to the north of the Big Annemessex off Tangier Sound.

Skipper the dog and I had spent the previous night on the Manokin at Goose Creek Marina, just inside the river's entrance, in the seductively charming village of Rumbley. That morning we had awoken to the sound of workboats leaving their berths farther up Goose Creek just as the sun tipped the marsh grass gold. An hour or so later, Skip and I too left Goose Creek and headed west to Tangier Sound. We could have simply followed the channel south and entered Crisfield by way of the Little Annemessex River south of Janes Island. But, no, I wanted to go by way of the Daugherty Canal "shortcut." And you know how well that worked out. I had heard what a lovely route the Daugherty Creek Canal was from perhaps a half-dozen people, including a gentleman who lives on the Pocomoke River but keeps his boat at Goose Creek Marina. Well, this was clearly the right time to see what they were all raving about. And, of course, once I'd found the right way in, it was just as they'd said.

The first part of the canal cuts through a small subcontinent of marsh, with Janes Island State Park encompassing portions of the mainland as well the island. Then as the marshland continues on the western side, a long stretch of pleasant homes and docks appears along the eastern shore, giving the canal the appearance of one of the Intracoastal Waterway's many cuts and canals. The park crops up again on both sides of the mid-section, with a small marina and campground on the east shore and a second canal bisecting the marsh to the west.

We had just passed the marina where we came to the section of the canal where the tide shifts. There was no mistaking it. Suddenly the water roiled and bubbled, tugging the Albin this way and that as the two tidal flows tussled. We were soon past it, though, and the water continued its placid flow. The channel markers shift here too. Navigating the canal from the Big Annemessex south, red markers were to starboard, but from here on they would be to port. At flashing red "18" we emerged from the canal and entered the channel through the Little Annemessex to Crisfield. This portion of the channel is shallow, so close attention to the markers is required.

As we emerged from the canal, I could already see Crisfield's new high-rise condominiums in the distance. Beyond the Edward McCready Hospital, the river broadened, and suddenly there were boats everywhere I looked. Skiffs zipped past us, blithely ignoring the channel; workboats chugged by, absorbed in their work; a small sailboat tacked across our bow. As we neared Crisfield's piers, the size and number of boats increased again. An island ferry lay at the dock, its diesels thrumming quietly, as it took on passengers. On the other side, a cruise ship gleamed in outsized splendor, an alien sight against the town's timber-warren of old fish docks.

Rounding the point, I turned passed through the breakwater into Somers Cove Marina and radioed for short-term slip space. I estimated that we would have just enough time for a short stroll and a quick lunch. It had been fun to come into a familiar port from a new direction and it provided a view of the town I hadn't had before. The next time, I decided, I'd allow time for a stop at the state park. And next time, doing the canal would be a snap!

After our walk and lunch, Skipper and I slipped out of Somers Cove and back into the Little Annemessex. Beyond Janes island Light, I turned the Albin northwest to cross the top of Smith island. We were on our way across the Bay for yet another new experience: to try out the recently dredged entrance to the Little Wicomico River. It was going to be a long and exciting day.