Clustered along the eastern edge of the Bay, Fairlee, Worton,
and Still Pond creeks make for one great weekend getaway. [April 2005]
By Gary A. Oster
Photographs by John Bildahl
It was a perfect Friday evening as my friends and I headed out of Whitehall Bay aboardClub Level
, my 48-foot Sea Ray, on our way to Fairlee Creek—a new destination for all of us. The water was flat and calm, and the sunset went from bright yellow to golden to orange and finally magenta as we cruised north up the Chesapeake. Ninety minutes later, we spied flashing red "2", marking the creek's entrance. I slowed the boat, made a hard turn to the east, and we all looked for our next set of marks.
But, wait a minute . . . this can't be right. Where's the creek? It looked like we were heading straight into the beach, and we weren't more than a hundred yards from a sandy landing. I slowed down, scratched my head and took another look at the chart. Yes, there was a creek in there. Finally, we saw a row of small floating green markers off to our left (not official Coast Guard marks, but very effective and greatly appreciated), which showed us a course parallel to the spit on our right. After spotting the red float that marked the very narrow entrance into Fairlee Creek, we made our way in, fighting a strong out-going tide (the floats were being tugged at about a 60-degree angle). We were amazed at this skinny pinch of water. There was a fisherman standing in water to his knees on our right side, only 30 feet from us, and sunset strollers to our left, less than a hundred feet away.
Once we got around the spit and into the creek, our stress evaporated. We continued a little farther into the creek, dropped the hook, poured a round of celebratory drinks and surveyed the evening activity on the beaches to starboard and port. We had joined several dozen other boats at anchor—one big, mellow party. Not a bad start for an impromptu weekend cruise.
Earlier that afternoon, my best friends and consummate boating buddies, Mike Pusateri and Kate Roberts, had e-mailed me to say they'd had a grueling week at work and needed rejuvenation. I'd felt a little ragged myself. So we had quickly decided on our favorite therapy—a weekend on the Bay. By the time we met on the dock at Mill Creek at 6 p.m., we had something resembling a plan. We would explore three creeks that none of us had visited yet. We'd start with the closest, Fairlee Creek, just north of Tolchester, then move up to Worton Creek, and finish at Still Pond Creek—the "three sisters," we dubbed them.
And now here we were, anchored on the southernmost sister, and the sun hadn't even set yet. I lowered the dinghy from the hydraulic swim platform, and in no time we were zipping over to Great Oak Landing Marina on the opposite side of the creek. We tied up, made our way to the restaurant and were seated on the deck in time to watch the final wisps of sunlight fade over the long, low spit to the west. While a pair of musicians serenaded the full house with classic Eagles and Bachman-Turner Overdrive tunes, we feasted on stuffed portobello mushrooms, Caribbean salad with mangoes, stuffed rockfish and prime rib.
After dinner, we made a point of thanking head chef Jacob Meadows for the fine meal. He grew up on Kent Island and learned to cook from his grandmother. After a career in the U.S. Marine Corps, he returned to the Bay to pick up where he and Grandma had left off. Today his kitchen at Great Oak blends family recipes with a little military discipline, but the former platoon sergeant insists that his restaurant crew should get most of the credit.
The next morning, while my own crew relaxed aboardClub Level
, I took the dinghy and explored the rest of Fairlee Creek, which is fringed with waterfront homes, estates and farmland. The water got pretty shallow once Great Oak was out of sight, but that also meant I enjoyed a touch of solitude before returning to the boat. By noon, the sandy beaches surrounding our boat were filling with sun-worshippers and sand-castle builders, and soothing Caribbean rhythms drifted across the water from Jellyfish Joel's beachfront grill. At the creek's entrance, a steady procession of muscle boats, express cruisers and sailboats were slipping through the creek's narrow entrance.
After a leisurely onboard lunch, we decided to explore the area around Great Oak Landing, so we dinghied over and tied up to the marina's dock. Following the road up the hill, we'd walked maybe a quarter-mile when we passed a foursome of golfers putting on a green, which we later learned was part of the marina-resort's nine-hole golf course. Continuing on, we followed a country lane that brought us to Great Oak Manor, a stately Georgian manse—built, legend holds, with bricks from sailing-ship ballast. Great Oak Manor is now a bed-and-breakfast with a drop-dead view of the Bay. When innkeepers Cassandra and John Fedas restored the massive house (12,000 square feet), they added modern conveniences, including air-conditioning, a swimming pool, high-speed internet access and, in the den, a TV and VCR with a well stocked movie library.
This house stands on property that was once part of the original 2,000-acre grant from Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore's son and the first proprietor of the Colony of Maryland, to Josiah Fendall and Marmaduke Tilden. The manor was named for a massive oak tree that once stood on the land. Dr. Stanley Quick, an authority in Kent County on colonial land-owners and manor homes, conducted extensive research to try to determine the location of the now-missing tree. After studying old surveyors' notes, maps and charts, he determined that it had been near a former oyster bank on the southwest corner of the estate—not far from the marina where we'd tied up.
As we stood on the bluff behind the manor house admiring the view over the Bay, I tried to envision what the Native Americans, the earliest European explorers and the first landowners saw centuries ago. It was easy to see what attracted them to this area, with its dramatically sculpted terrain of long, sandy spits and high bluffs.
With two of the three sisters yet to explore, we weighed anchor in the afternoon and headed north—around the original Great Oak peninsula toward Worton Creek. We rounded Handys Point and headed east-southeast toward red "2". Once past "2", I hugged the green markers as the creek rapidly narrowed. To the northeast we could see a sandy spit—so common around creek entrances—and, sure enough, it marked the entrance to Tims Creek, where a few small powerboats were anchored. At green "5" I began a slow sweeping turn to the south, which took us past another spit extending out on our starboard side. Beyond it, we saw the sea of sailboat masts at Green Point Landing, on the east bank of Worton Creek, and in a cove to our right was a great little anchorage, where at least a dozen boats were tied to mooring balls.
After that second spit, the creek is well protected from any weather that kicks up the Bay; even Green Point Landing, with its long breakwater, can handle a northwesterly blow pretty well. A little over a mile long and only a couple of hundred yards wide, this protected stretch of Worton Creek is remarkable in terms of how much commerce is assembled in such a small space. Beyond Green Point Landing is the Wharf at Handys Point, and farther south, just past Mill Creek, is Worton Creek Marina with its Harbor House Restaurant.
Harbor House was our dinner destination, so we continued to the south end of the creek, making certain to follow the private red markers, and tied up at Worton Creek Marina. It's an expansive facility, with a fuel dock, covered and open slips, and a busy yard with 70-ton and 25-ton boat lifts. We loved the country atmosphere of the marina store, with its exposed beams and its floor of 12-inch-wide Georgia pine planks. John Patnovic, who owns the marina with his wife Libby, is well known for the work he has done reviving classic Bertram powerboats to better-than-new condition. Recently, Patnovic has embraced another project—the restoration of a Vietnam-era Navy patrol boat. The 80-foot, 75-ton "Nasty Class" PTF with twin 3,100-hp engines was one of six built at the Trumpy yard in Annapolis.
We climbed the hill behind the marina to Harbor House Restaurant, which overlooks the creek. It was a great little spot to dine after our day's explorations. There's nothing like walking past a tank full of live lobsters to whet your appetite, but this is Chesapeake country, after all, so we chose the crab imperial (the menu boasted that it has "the largest lumps in the world") to accompany our filet mignon. The menu didn't lie; the meal was fantastic.
After dinner, we backtracked down the creek to find an anchorage. With our comparatively shallow draft (less than four feet), we were able to tuck in just inside Tims Creek, behind the spit that extends from its entrance. Paying close attention to the depthsounder, I hugged the east side of the creek until I was opposite the spit, and then I made a slow turn west (slow, as in very slow) to nudge ourselves into the little cove. It was truly an idyllic spot.
Unlike the first two sisters, our last stop, Still Pond Creek, has no marinas or restaurants. We were filled with curiosity, since we had all heard from boating friends that Still Pond, the stout bay at the mouth of the more protected Still Pond Creek, is a fabulous spot. The next morning, we headed northwest around Worton Point, then followed the land around toward Rocky Point, on the south side of Still Pond. If first impressions mean anything, we were in for a scenic treat. The "pond's" tall, sheer cliffs, especially on the northern shoreline, loomed 50 and 60 feet high over the water in some places. Many of these cliffs had beautiful sandy beaches at their feet—along with a slew of powerboats and sailboats looking for a peaceful spot to drop anchor and swim or dinghy ashore.
On the southern side, where Still Pond's 10-foot-deep water goes almost to the cliffs, a line of anchored boats followed the shoreline's contour. Here and there people fished, dinghied and strolled on the beach. Beware, however: If strong winds blow out of the west or northwest, you're a sitting duck here. If you have even the slightest inkling that such a blow might be coming, head immediately for flashing red "2" at the eastern end of Still Pond and follow the narrow channel around the spit into the more protected creek.
That's where we were bound this afternoon. As we approached the narrow cut into the upper creek, we found a well marked channel and about nine feet of water. We were careful not to stray out of the channel due to shallow areas on both sides. Keeping the green marks to our left, I noticed flashing red "6" directly in front of us, attached to a shoreline bulkhead. A defunct Coast Guard facility, which has been turned over to Kent County, is off to port on the inside of the spit.
After we'd made a hard turn to port and then another to starboard, we felt like we had entered the world's most private tidal garden. Continuing past the last two green marks, while keeping an eye on my depthsounder and chartplotter, I picked a spot near the center of the creek and dropped anchor. Once the engines were turned off, we could fully savor the serenity and peace of this quiet anchorage.
The steep terrain tumbling down to the water's edge is heavily forested, with only a few houses or other structures in sight. We saw all kinds of aquatic birds—ducks, geese, kingfishers, heron, osprey and even bald eagles, all of which seemed at home among the shoreline grasses. Later, exploring in the dinghy, we made our way east to the little bridge at the creek's headwaters. Looking over the roadway, we could see the remains of a Revolutionary era gristmill.
Late that afternoon we weighed anchor and headed for home. Mike, Kate and I all agreed that our extended weekend therapy session had been a success. Each of the three sisters—Fairlee, Worton and Still Pond creeks—seemed to have a different personality. Fairlee was the party girl, Worton was the hard-working, industrious girl and Still Pond was the quiet girl. And, as we'd worked our way north throughout the weekend, they had worked their charms on us.
Cruiser's Digest: Kent County, Md.
Kent County, one of the most rural counties in Maryland, has three wonderful boating creeks within 6 miles of each other that flow directly into the Chesapeake Bay. Taken as a group, Fairlee, Worton and Still Pond creeks provide outstanding anchorages, sandy beaches, clear water that is nearly always free of jellyfish, and several marinas, restaurants and repair facilities. About 27 nautical miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and a short hop east from the Bay's shipping channel, these creeks are favorites of weekend cruisers and snowbirds alike. Interestingly, when I studied my charts, I counted 65 creeks that open directly onto the Chesapeake Bay, and only 20 of them have a navigable depth of at least 6 feet (I found 7 on the Eastern Shore and 13 on the Western Shore). With the exception of Fleets Bay (on the Western Shore of Virginia), I couldn't find any other area on the Bay where three deep-water creeks are so closely and conveniently located (I am including Still Pond Creek, although its deep water—a good 10 feet throughout the deep "pond" at its mouth—drops to 4 feet as it moves inland).
All three of these creeks have sandy spits at or not far upstream from their entrances—Fairlee's extends from the south shore, Worton's from both the north and south shores, and Still Pond Creek's from the north shore (at the eastern end of Still Pond). These spits help shield the creeks from bad weather on the Bay, but they also provide some excitement for the captain navigating his or her craft. Pay especially close attention to the current and other boat traffic when negotiating the extremely narrow entrances to Fairlee Creek and Still Pond, and follow the navigational aids in all of the creeks closely.
Unless otherwise noted, the following marinas offer transient dockage, gas and diesel fuel, rest-rooms, showers, laundry and pump-out.
Great Oak Landing Marina (410-778-5007;mearsgreatoaklanding.com) on Fairlee Creek; pool, ship's store, full-service yard (50-ton boat lift); Great Oak Landing Restaurant (open year-round, lunch and dinner; see website for menus); Jellyfish Joel's beachfront grill.
Green Point Landing (410-778-1615) on Worton Creek; ship's store, full-service yard (15-ton boat lift).
Wharf at Handys Point (410-778-4363) on Worton Creek; no fuel, no laundry,
Worton Creek Marina (410-778-3282) on Worton Creek; pool, ship's store, full-service yard (70-ton boat lift); Harbor House Restaurant (410-778-0669; open April–November,
dinner only, closed Monday).