The author offers a strong argument for Mill Creek above the Patuxent River bridge. Is she right? [11.13 issue]

by Jody Argo Schroath

When it comes to Mill Creeks, there is apparently no consensus about which of them makes the best anchorage. I discovered this peculiar phenomenon earlier this fall when I posted to CBM’s Facebook page that my husband Rick and I, along with ship’s dog Skipper, had dropped anchor for the night in Mill Creek off the Patuxent River—not the one in Solomons proper, but the one just upriver from the Thomas Johnson Memorial (Rte. 4) Bridge. Within minutes, one friend of the magazine had posted that he preferred his own Mill Creek—the one off Whitehall Bay. Then another posted that while mine was probably nice enough, it couldn’t possibly compare with his Mill Creek, the one just off the Great Wicomico River.

As it happens, I’ve anchored in both of those Mill creeks, and they have much to recommend them—the first for its prime location near Annapolis and its friendly neighborhood-park-like atmosphere, and the second for its large deep coves, isolation and near-perfect serenity.

Come to think of it, I’ve never met a navigable Mill Creek I didn’t like. There must be something in the name that goes with good anchorages. The Mill creeks on the Yeocomico and Magothy rivers certainly fit that mold, and even Mill Creek off Hampton Roads, which isn’t strictly speaking a creek at all, I think, is a great anchorage, tucked in between the Hampton Bridge Tunnel entrance and Fort Monroe. And the Mill Creek in Solomons is practically legendary as a fine and peaceful anchorage away from, yet close to, the hubbub of the town. Now all those and other Mill Creek advocates are right to extol the virtues of their own nominees, but I want to crow here about this one, the one on the Patuxent, because I’m putting it up against the lot.

We’d had a splendid sail down from Herring Bay, close hauled (or at least what we on our Endeavourcat call close hauled) into a southerly wind all the way. Just inside the Patuxent, we doused the sails and motored upriver, past the entrance to Solomons and under the Johnson Bridge. After rounding Point Patience, we came to the common entrance for Cuckhold and Mill creeks. The entrance channel, which begins at green “9”, zigs around a little bit, but is well marked, with depths generally 16 feet or more. We were in good time, so we first made a quick tour of Cuckhold, which sprouts off to the north and west. We even toyed with dropping anchor in Spring Cove, opposite Blackstone Marina, but were discouraged by the noise of a few jet skis and lawn mowers—we had the luxury of being choosy on this occasion. So we went up the creek a little bit farther before heading back toward Clark’s Landing Restaurant, which sits at the split of the two creeks. From there we could see a couple of masts rising over the low point of land formed by the entrance and the large deep cove beyond. That’s where we were headed too. Rounding the point, we found that two sailboats—a sloop and a ketch—as well as a motor cruiser had gotten there before us. Close to shore a couple in a small skiff were busying themselves with a string of crab pots. We didn’t particularly fancy an outside anchorage near the creek’s channel, so we ventured inside, where the chart showed plenty of water nearly to the wooded shore. We circled around like a broody hen settling into her nest, slowly checking the depths before letting go the anchor in what we decided was just the right spot. We let the wind push us back until we guessed we had let out enough scope (I still haven’t marked the anchor chain) and then set the anchor and cut the engines. Ahhh. I don’t think there is anything quite as satisfying as the silence that comes after the bustle of a day’s cruising, the tension of setting the anchor well and in a good place, and finally the shutting down of everything—engines, sails, instruments. It’s one of boating’s great moments.

Well, enough of that, we decided about 30 minutes and a couple of cold drinks later. Three more boats had come in and dropped anchor along the outer edge of the cove, and the couple in the skiff had finally finished fussing with the crab pots and gone off somewhere. We decided that some exploration was called for, not to mention a trip ashore for Skipper, who had pointedly taken up a position next to the dinghy davits. So we shooed Skipper out of the way and lowered the dinghy, opting for our old electric trolling motor to preserve the peace of the dying day. We scrambled aboard with varying degrees of grace based on how many feet we had and headed for the closest bit of shore, a tiny sand beach sandwiched between fallen trees and brush along the wooded shore.
Beaching the dinghy, we extricated ourselves with equal amounts of grace and set off to see what we could see. Not much, as it turned out. We could just hop up the rise from the beach, but at that point our way was blocked in both directions by brush and fallen limbs. Even Skipper seemed nonplussed by the lack of scope for entertainment and other business. But he coped, we scooped and we all tumbled back into the dinghy and puttered back to the boat, where we watched the sun retire and then almost immediately did the same.

The following morning, sipping coffee in the cockpit, we noticed a family in a small boat motor up to a wall of reeds along the cove’s northern shore. They drifted to a stop, tipped up their outboard, got out their oars and then just disappeared from sight. Rick reached for the binoculars and climbed up onto the highest level of the deck. “There’s a whole little bay behind the reeds,” he called back. “Quick, all hands and paws to the dinghy!” Soon, we were humming along toward the reeds. As we neared the shore, Skipper pointed out a lovely little beach just west of the cove entrance, so we detoured there first, but were soon back in the hunt. Yes, there was indeed a small canal through the reeds. Imitating the motorboat we had seen, we raised the shaft on the trolling motor until its little prop was just below the surface, and in we puttered like a bathtub wind-up toy. It was completely charming. Ahead of us, in water as still as sleep, sat the missing boat and its occupants, each brandishing a fishing rod, whose line gently rippled the surface. We sat for a while, listening to the frogs or crickets or whatever they were, until a great blue heron launched itself out of the shallows and soared overhead. I stifled the dog (he’s got a real thing about herons) and we beat a hasty retreat back through the reeds and into the cove. The motor vessel anchored near Zen had already pulled up and left, and now we could hear the clank of another anchor chain being recalled. A little reluctantly we returned to the boat and got ready to do the same.

The wind was picking up and we had a sail across the Bay to Crisfield ahead of us. Still, I’d put this Mill Creek up against rest for its easy access, good depth, friendly little beaches and, of course, the little secret behind the reeds.

I haven’t done the math, but by my rough estimate, the time it takes to get up the Patuxent to flashing green “9” at the entrance channel to Mill Creek is only a little longer than the time it takes to get into Solomons and then up its Mill Creek. Of course, the latter puts you within easy striking distance of all that Solomons has to offer, but the former makes a delightful stop along your way—or even a lazy weekend on the hook—that is hard to beat.
Mill Creek offers other anchorages too and better protection from bad weather farther upstream, but its first cove is big enough for a raft of boats, deep enough for a megayacht, and friendly enough to keep both four- and two-footed crew members happy.
There are no transient marinas in the immediate area, though Blackstone Marina (301-373-2015; www.blackstonemarina.com) on next-door Cuckhold Creek can do haulouts and repairs. Clark’s Landing Restaurant, by the way, will be moving to Solomons this winter and changing its name to Lighthouse Restaurant and Dock Bar.