Despite the whines of Skipper the ship’s dog, Jody Argo Schroath drops the hook in a lovely anchorage on the East River off Mobjack Bay.

by Jody Argo Schroath

In the daily cruising conundrum of whether to go in to a marina or find a nice anchorage for the night ahead, Skipper’s paw consistently goes up for a marina. I think it’s safe to say that Skipper has never met a marina he didn’t like. And why not? In a marina, dry land, with its reliable supply of bushes and trees, is never more than a few dock lengths away. But an anchorage? Woof, you never know what you’re going to get! Since I’m often ambivalent, I often let Skipper have his way. I like marinas too, and the Chesapeake is blessed with an abundance of good ones, but sometimes the call of a little cove, with no amenities but utter silence and a sky full of stars is irresistible. Which is why last year, on the fifth of June, as Skipper and I crossed Mobjack Bay on our way to the East River, I filibustered to prevent another marina party vote.

“I know we’re going right by Compass Marina,” I told him (Skipper loves Compass Marina), “but tonight we’re going to find a nice place upriver to drop anchor. Don’t look so worried, we’ll get you ashore.” (Our early days of boat-training have been forgotten, alas.)

We had left busy, noisy, exciting Norfolk that morning and now a soft breeze out of the southwest was pushing us gently across Mobjack Bay toward the mouth of the East River. Approaching green “1”, I eased Zen through a jibe once then twice to keep red “2” to starboard. While “1” has a little wiggle room, “2” marks the edge of the shoal that seems to be moving slowly west off Bay Shore Point. A third jibe and we were in position to drift north-northeast up channel, giving green “3” off Pond Point an extra wide berth for the same reason. The main channel of the East remains comfortably deep  (at least 10 feet) for about four miles. As we passed “5”, Skipper spotted Compass Marina’s little guesthouse overlooking the river. He ran up on deck wagging his tail, ready to debarque. As we passed upriver, he looked over his shoulder at me, as if to say: “Hey, Cap’n, you’ve overshot the entrance.” I shook my head; he shot me a look and then lay down under the cockpit table with a loud humph that bordered on the mutinous. 

The East is a lovely, prickly kind of river, with points jutting out from both sides like the branches of a Norway spruce. In fact, there is really no unbroken stretch of shoreline at all. For the first two and a half miles of the east side alone (the river runs north-south, but is east of North River, hence its name), there is Bay Shore Point, West Landing Creek, Diggs Wharf, Ware Point, Tabbs Creek, Weston Creek, Todds Point, Williams Wharf and Put In Creek. And that’s not accounting for four creeks that don’t even get a name on the charts. Most of the creeks are short and fairly shallow, but for cruisers headed upriver, the scene is one of constantly changing aspect. Along the shore, old homes alternate with patches of woods and wetlands, with farm fields just beyond.

As anyone who has been fortunate enough to spend time cruising Mobjack Bay and its tributaries knows, there are no actual towns to be found along its waterways. The town of Mathews comes the closest, perhaps, but it lies at the end of Put In Creek, in water too shoal to allow even a dinghy to pass, except perhaps at high high water. I must point out that this statement may be entirely erroneous. It is born out of the experience that Skipper and I had later that day after we had dropped anchor across the river and launched the dinghy. Before we could reach Mathews, we got stuck three times. But then I am famous in some circles for my ability to find the shallow water where none was thought to exist.

But back to our cruise upriver: As Skipper lay under the cockpit table muttering to himself about passing up Compass Marina, we ghosted up the East on the last of the afternoon breeze. Silently we glided by Chestnut Point and then past shallow Thomas, Raines and Miles creeks to port and Weston Creek and Todds Point to starboard. Off Williams Wharf, not far from the mouth of Put In Creek, the wind clocked out for the day and I dropped the sails. Just opposite Williams Wharf, which is now a park—Williams Wharf Landing, created by the Mathews County Land Conservancy—I spotted the entrance markers to the venerable Zimmerman Marine, noted for its boatbuilding and vessel repairs of every variety. Boats come from around the world to have work done at Zimmerman’s. There are no marina facilities, but boats can anchor out while waiting for work to be done. This seems an unlikely location, midway up an otherwise thoroughly uncommercial river, but here it has thrived. Recently, though, Zimmerman’s has added two other locations—in Deltaville, Va., and at Herrington Harbour North.

At Put In Creek, the East River turns west then north, before shallowing to three feet a mile upriver; soon after, it splits, and soon after that, it loses itself altogether in marshland. We went upriver only about half a mile beyond the last marker, red “18”, before turning around. Our four-foot draft might have taken us a little farther, but I was ready to find that nice cove for the night, and Skipper was more than ready for dinner and a trip ashore. Rounding green “15” across from the mouth of Put In Creek, I spotted just the place: a small cove where Hicks Wharf once hosted steamboats and where the wreck of the last of them, the Munnanatawket, still lies. The water here, outside the channel, is about 10 feet deep, and there’s more than enough room for a small flotilla to swing. Also I could see Williams Wharf Landing just south across the river. For years, boating clubs have enjoyed anchoring just inside Put In Creek—the charts show 7 to 9 feet for the first half-mile—but I’d heard from several people that they had found a lot of shoaling lately, so without local knowledge I was happy in our little cove across the river.

The anchor set without fuss, and Skipper was soon watching keenly from the stern as I lowered the dinghy into the water. I got out the little Minnkota electric motor with its wheelchair battery, for the trip to the Landing, since the facility was built for non-motorized craft—and electric motors often don’t count since they have no emissions. A few minutes later, we fetched up on shore. This is the launching spot for the local high school’s crew team, and their elegant shells lined the shore. We walked around the Landing and up the road a bit, then returned to the dinghy an hour later to make our previously mentioned and notably unsuccessful attempt on the town of Mathews. The long June day was drawing to a close as we returned to Zen. I put the battery on the trickle charger for the morning’s expedition, and made a fine cold meal out of the cheese, olives and crackers that form my cruising food pyramid-lette. After that, all was silent, and sleep was nearly instant.

In the morning, I was startled awake by a coxswain’s cadence, as a rowing shell slipped by only a few yards away. I clicked on the coffeepot and climbed up into the cockpit, where I found Skipper already studying the enemy fleet. I poured myself a cup of coffee and joined him. There are worse ways to start the day. An hour later, having made our obligatory trip ashore, I retrieved the anchor and we set off back down the East River. “Where shall we go today?” I asked Skipper. I could read his eyes: “Marina!” 

[6.13 issue]