A short trip through a skinny channel leads to one of the best beaches on the Bay: Sandy Point State Park!
by Jody Argo Schroath
illustration by Richard C. Goertemiller
I guess I've passed the entrance to Sandy Point State Park dozens of times. . . . No, what am I saying? Make that hundreds of times. After all, it is right there at the western end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a narrow runway paralleling the last few hundred yards of the bridge's north span. Yup, been past it hundreds of times . . . but never into it, because it always seemed so narrow and so close to those impervious bridge pilings. But now, I'm so over all that.
My breakthrough came at the tail end of a thoroughly enjoyable day that Skipper the dog and I had spent ghosting up Mill Creek off Whitehall Bay in a 19-foot center-console. Whitehall Bay is, in fact, just on the south side of the Bay Bridge at the opening to Annapolis harbor. Mill Creek is both lovely and conveniently deep--except for the entrance, which involves a few fancy Dancing with the Stars moves involving red and green markers, and a wicked shoal off green can "11" as the creek takes a sharp left turn. Other than that, Mill Creek is a walk in the park. For some reason, it's a particularly interesting creek. Yes, there are plenty of pleasant but typical waterfront homes, but there are a few surprises as well. There are the remains of an old airstrip, for example, and an old workboat pilothouse used as a dockside shelter and a liveaboard osprey family. But even without those charms Mill Creek would be irresistible because it contains the Bay-famous Cantler's Riverside Inn. As we dawdled by Cantler's on our way back out the creek, Skipper and I looked up enviously at the outside tables crammed with happy crab-eaters. Mmm, crabs, we both thought! Instead, I pulled out a peanut butter Zone bar on the verge of liquification, two bottles of lukewarm water and three organic dog bones. No matter. It was a beautiful day. We were on the water. And we had nothin' to do but cruise. We slipped quietly downstream past Cantler's.
A few minutes later, decanting into Whitehall Bay, I considered our options. I immediately discarded the first: returning to the slip. Beyond Whitehall, out on the Bay, I could see half-a-dozen cargo ships parked like giant sculptures in an outdoor museum while a small crowd of sailboats, fishing boats and pleasure boats played around them. Beyond, the Bay Bridge hung like a colossal Alexander Calder mobile. A light breeze from the southwest riffled the water. No, we are definitely not going back to the slip, I said. Without any particular goal in mind, I aimed for flashing red "2W" which splits the shoals off Hackett Point to port and Greenbury Point to starboard and then turned north toward the bridge, skirting the broad shoals off Goose Pond and Moss Pond on the left. That of course put us right in the middle of a sea of crab pots. But we were in no hurry, so I cut lazily back and forth through the pots until they ended just before the bridge. At that point I cut east a little bit to cross under the twin spans closer to the center. Watching carefully for cross traffic. At this proximity, the bridge ceased to be a Calder mobile and became more like a major railway station, with small fishing boats moving around the bridge pilings while other fishing boats, as well as sailboats, go-fast boats and the occasional cargo ship ran along or near the channel. And that doesn't even count the Jetskis.
We slipped beneath the bridge and out on the other side. As we emerged, I noticed a procession of boats running parallel to the bridge toward the narrow channel of water between a long stone jetty and the base of the bridge--the aforementioned entrance to Sandy Point State Park. "Now's the time!" I called to Skipper, and turned the wheel hard to port to join the queue.
Pah, this is nothing, I thought, as we slipped easily into the slot, then split the green and red daymarks "1" and "2" as the passage made an oblique right turn. We passed between a second pair of markers ("3" and "4", logically) and then the channel opened up into a small boat basin. Straight ahead, half-a-dozen boat ramps were busy, while another 16 waited for customers--this was, after all, a weekday. To the left of the ramps stood the marina office and store, and to the right were six finger piers for temporary tie-ups. All of them were empty. That makes it easy, I told Skipper, and we sidled up to one and made the boat fast. Skipper traded in his lifejacket for a leash, and we stepped ashore. Since dogs are permitted only in the marina area, we confined our exploration accordingly, examining the docks behind the marina store and the bright yellow rental skiffs. Then we found a shady bench and watched the activity at the ramps before returning to the boat and the trip back to our slip on Back Creek in Eastport.
I had done my scouting and learned to my delight that this Sandy Point Park thing is a cinch. Now all I had to do was convince my friends to make a return trip with me that very weekend. "We can motor right in and spend the day on the beach!" I told them. "We can take a picnic! We can walk the nature trails!" (I was very enthusiastic.) My proposal was met with--shall I say--a certain guarded acquiescence. (Had I been too enthusiastic?) In any case, my plan carried the day. (Happily, my friends are consistently polite and so usually go along with whatever for projects I have dreamed up that depend on them dropping whatever they're doing.)
And so, on the following Sunday we crossed under the bridge, entered the channel and arrived to find a much busier boat basin. All of the ramps were occupied and nearly all of the temporary slips already filled. We quickly remedied that situation by taking the last slip, then unloaded our gear and made a beeline for the beach. Whew, what a lot of people! The stretch of broad yellow sand with its panoramic view of the Bay Bridge was already pushing its occupancy limit--assuming it had one--but the beach at the northern end, which offers a fine view of the Sandy Point Shoal Light (37-foot Empire-style brick tower built in 1883) and the entrance to the Magothy River, still had a plenty of room. We made ourselves at home, then made a dash for the water. After that, we sipped our cold sodas, then cooled off in the water again, ate a few sandwiches, cooled off in the water, and repeated the process. When it got too hot, we sat on a bench under the trees near the bath house and watched the boats out on the Bay. Sandy Point State Park has 786 acres, but we were more than happy with our little patch of sand and water.
"Another great cruise, right?" I asked late that afternoon as we carried our gear back to the boat for the trip home. They didn't answer right away, but they knew I was right. Sometimes, as polite as they are, they just hate to admit it.