The author discovers that what first impressed her about Carter Creek, Va.’s Yopps Cove isn’t what Impressed her the second time . . . or the third.
by Jody Argo Schroath
The first—but far from the last—time I entered the enchanted world of Yopps Cove was on a quiet fall day several years ago. Along with Skipper, the ship’s kibble-eater, I was beginning a comprehensive exploration of Carter Creek’s several branches, prongs and coves aboard Journey, one of the Albin 28s available to me as a member of the Chesapeake Boating Club. I’d been to the Rappahannock River’s Carter Creek several times before, of course. After all, it’s home to the Tides Inn, that nationally famous resort and maritime attraction for us would-be weekend idyll rich, as well as the adjacent town of Irvington, with its wineries, B&Bs and the historic Christ Church, built in the 18th century by one of the richly famous and famously rich Carter family of Virginia.
For a small creek in a thoroughly rural portion of Virginia, Carter Creek has a lot going on. Which is why, even having been there several times, I’d only really begun to catalog its many ins and outs.
On that particular fall day I had made a short hop up the Rappahannock from Windmill Point and was planning an overnight stop at Rappahannock Yachts, which lies on the east side of Carter Creek, just beyond Eastern Branch. Carter Creek’s entrance is well marked, beginning with paired markers “1” and “2” a quarter mile or so from the protective spits of land that mark the entrance. Once inside, I turned to starboard to begin my expedition on the Eastern Branch. I then took the first turn to starboard again, which turned out to be Yopps Cove.
I could have stopped right there. Perhaps it was the way the low autumn sunlight hit the trees. Perhaps it was the phosphorescent glow of red and orange along the edges of the dying summer leaves. Or more likely it was the reflection of all of that—the ochre light from the sun setting the trees aglow against the cobalt blue sky and finally the whole scene reflected like the work of a master forger on a canvas of utterly still water. Whatever it was, I peeled back the throttle on the Albin and drifted to a halt in the center of the cove. I waited a minute to see if we would drift on the tide—we didn’t—before cutting the engine and stepping up onto the foredeck to look around. I looked back toward the cove’s entrance. As the last ripples of my wake reached the shore, the perfect reflection around me returned, and it seemed to me that I had entered one of Priestley’s bell jars, a world sufficient unto itself. I sat for a few minutes on the Albin’s deck and listened to . . . well, nothing . . . the hum of insects in the bushes, the occasional squawk of a cantankerous crow, and, inevitably, the sound of a distant lawn mower. Finally, I rose and walked back to the cockpit to restart the engine and to tuck the memory of that idyllic scene carefully away in my mind. It’s too bad it never looked that way again. The fault was mine, I suppose, because I had filed the memory in the left-brain drawer labeled Excellent Storm Holes rather than the right-brain drawer marked Exquisite Anchorages, cf. Bell Jar.
Not that it wasn’t a great storm hole. Two years later, for example, on a trip just upriver to the Corrotoman River, again in Journey with Skipper riding shotgun, I had made a dive for Yopps Cove to avoid a squadron of mid-summer squalls that was marching down on us along the Rappahannock, turning the river into a foamy agitator washing machine (pardon the flurry of metaphors). Inside Yopps Cove, as I had anticipated, all was calm. There the water riffled rather than roiled, and the wind hummed rather than roared. The glowering sky and sheets of rain kept the cove’s fine aesthetic qualities under a wet blanket. Still, I had filed the place properly, and Skipper, the Albin and I rode out the squalls in comfort. An hour later the whole business had swept off toward the lower Potomac and we were on our way, bouncing through the residual chop the few miles up to the mouth of the Corrotoman.
Another time, last September to be exact, I had plucked Yopps Cove out of the cerebral filing cabinet when my husband Rick, Skipper and I, this time in our Endeavour sailing cat, Moment of Zen, decided we really needed a break after a long and trying day of beating up the Bay out of Yorktown. From our start in the bleak morning light, we had found ourselves either fighting the steep chop—created by the wind blowing against the current—or clawing our way north against the dual forces of wind and current. To add insult to injury, it was cold—the bone-marrow chilling variety of cold that comes as summer gives way to fall before you’re physically or mentally ready for it.
So as we crept across the mouth of the Rappahannock on our umpteenth starboard tack, I suggested Yopps Cove. Rick promptly agreed, so we eased the sails and headed into the Rappahannock. Immediately the day’s tension eased as Zen leapt happily forward on a close reach. Reaching the shelter of Windmill Point, we eased the sheets again and passed under the Coleman Bridge on a lovely beam reach. Once through, we turned once again toward the wind to pinch inside the Carter Creek’s entrance markers. Just beyond markers “7” and “8”, we started the engines and doused the sails before turning up the Eastern Branch and into the refuge of Yopps Cove. There, like Switzerland, peace prevailed. In about 8 feet of water we found a spot that got us out of the north wind but kept us far enough off the two private docks that jut into the creek to swing safely.
On earlier trips in the Albin, which has a draft of under 3 feet, I had gone in all the way to the back of the cove, but this time, with Zen’s 4-foot draft, we decided it was safer to stay closer to the mouth in deeper water. It worked nearly as well, though before darkness overtook us we could see a light wind-blown chop lapping the opposite shore, just below the entrance. I’d like to say that the following morning the wind had clocked and the sun came bursting out of the east, but it didn’t. As we retrieved our anchor in the chill gray dawn and motored out of Yopps Cove, we found the north wind just where we’d left it, and it stayed with us like a toothache all the rest of the day until I finally went rummaging in my file drawer again for another ace in the hole. But that’s another story.