By Ann Levelle
It had been a long summer of non-cruising for me and my husband John. Ordinarily by early September we’d have had at least five solid trips under our belts, with more planned for the fall. But that was in the b.p. era—before Penny. This season we learned very quickly how hard it is to sell the idea of a long, hot boat ride to a one-year-old who isn’t a big fan of a life jacket even under the best of circumstances. So we waited till September to attempt our first long trip, hoping that cooler weather and a few more months of growing on Penny’s part (not to mention ours) would make a big difference. And we were right . . . sort of.
After Labor Day passed, we picked out a day and set our sights on the Magothy River. John and I had only been to the Magothy once before, several years ago when we sought refuge there from a barrage of storms while en route to Baltimore. We ended up spending that afternoon behind Dobbins Island as the first storm passed us by, then finding a cozy hidey hole in Broad Creek for the night as more storms barreled through. I’ve wanted to revisit the river ever since, as I was impressed by the gorgeous anchorage we found and hoped that we could find more like it nearby. I was equally struck by the sheer volume of boat traffic on the river that stormy afternoon. Yes, it was the height of summer, but there were tons of boats out there. And to see so many on a river with so few facilities onshore and no waterfront towns to speak of, I couldn’t help but wonder what this legion of boaters knew that I didn’t.
Now we were finally on our way to find out, and since it’s just one river north of home, we’d be able to make it there with plenty of time to explore and be back by dinner time (or nap time, should a certain someone not be enjoying her boat ride).
It was chilly when we left Annapolis early that September Sunday morning. But by the time we reached Sandy Point Light and were nearing the Magothy, the morning breeze had faded and we were able to shed our jackets and enjoy the temperate, sun-warmed air. This was also about the time Penny decided she’d had enough of her life jacket, so John took her on a diversion belowdecks while I piloted the Albin 28 toward the river. As I neared the river’s entrance I found myself dodging what I estimated to be half a million crab pot markers, though at least they were laid out in impeccably neat and organized lines. I reached the six-knot limit mark just outside of the channel into the river. I was surprised to see it, until I realized how narrow the entrance is, and how little water there is outside those the marks.
I had in mind turning north into Sillery Bay, to see what was happening behind Dobbins Island, but John suggested we keep heading up the river so we could explore new (to us) environs before we had a mutiny on our hands. So I kept zooming up the river, passing Dobbins Island and watching boats zooming up and down beside us. It was only 10 a.m., but the traffic was picking up.
Speaking of picking up, it was apparently my turn pick up Penny, as she was climbing back into the cockpit and up my legs. So I handed over the wheel to John and wrestled Penny back into her life jacket while reminding John to mind the red “10” that marks a long shoal reaching south from Chest Neck Point. By the time Penny was secure again, John had slowed to a crawl, minding the six-knot limit at Henderson Point. I was surprised how the river had narrowed in the short time I was down below. I was also surprised at where the six-knot limit started, but we were clearly entering a heavily populated area and I could imagine the local homeowners not appreciating huge wakes washing away their backyards.
Clearly we’d crossed some sort of invisible boundary, going from country to city—or suburbia, at least. As we headed right past the fork in the river where Cattail Creek splits from the Magothy (at the amusingly named Focal Point) the creek’s shores gradually grew more crowded with homes. At first there had been just a few large homes, even an old farmhouse or two. But just after we passed the totem pole on the north shore that marks the Girl Scout’s Camp Whippoorwhil and then the entrance to Cockey Creek, it was house after house after house, dock after dock. We were flanked by homes in Severna Park on the left and Pasadena on the right, both heavily populated bedroom communities for Annapolis, Washington and Baltimore. The houses stood barely ten feet apart in many places. But each had its own personality . . . there were tiny cottages, newly built modern homes, manicured lawns, lawns strewn with water toys, tiki bars on back porches, big docks, little docks, boathouses, flagpoles—and of course, lots and lots of boats.
I somehow expected this area to be a small powerboat haven, but as we moved along, we saw quite an array of boats, even a 30-some foot catamaran on a lift. I was surprised when we passed Hamilton Harbour Marina, as I hadn’t expect any significant marina facilities this far upriver. It looked like a lovely place, with a welcoming gas dock and a large ramp leading up to boatel storage.
I found it all very fascinating and alluring, the eclectic properties and architecture in particular. And John was intrigued by the sheer variety of boats. Penny, of course, wasn’t the least bit interested in any of this, but thankfully she was still having a grand time in the quarter berth with her little family of stuffed animals. Nevertheless, it was getting on toward lunchtime, so we turned back downriver, aiming for some time ashore to stretch our little one’s legs and get a bite to eat.
Once out of the speed zone we brought Penny on deck, figuring she’d enjoy the go-fast time as much as we did, having putt-putted along for quite some time now. Then we zoomed across the river to the entrance of Mill and Dividing creeks. Here, the six-knot speed limit resumed, and we slowed to make our way into Ferry Point Marina and its new restaurant, the Point Crab House and Grill. We called them on the phone to find out where we should dock and were directed to follow the line of slips at Ferry Point to the end, then do a U-turn around the slips into the small basin reserved for diners.
There was plenty of room for us to pull in and dock, as it was still early for the lunch crowd. But even though it was not yet noon, the dining area was filling up quickly. Not bad business, I thought, for a restaurant that had opened only two weeks earlier. Then again, its predecessor—Magothy Seafood—had moved out in 2009, leaving the river’s devotees and denizens with only one eatery: Deep Creek Restaurant. So it’s no surprise that locals would welcome a second choice. And to boot, the Point has a nice open-air dining room, an interesting menu and Natty Boh on tap! The service was less than efficient, to put it kindly, but we wrote that off to the fact that the kitchen and wait staff were still working out the kinks. The food and the atmosphere were good enough to make us want to give it another try some day soon.
We considered a swing around Dividing Creek, which is next door to Ferry Point, but we were nearing toddler-meltdown time and had to get a move on. After we got the boat under way, Penny and I retreated to the quarter berth to read a few books. I concluded if I could get her to nap on board, we could continue our cruise at six knots and see a bit more of the river. Meanwhile John would high tail it toward home just in case plan A didn’t work. It didn’t. By the time we reached Dobbins Island, Penny was still wide awake, so we switched duties, hoping John could work some Daddy magic.
As I neared the mouth of the river, boats were zipping around in every direction, and plenty were aiming toward Dobbins Island, no doubt to get in one last shot at summertime fun on the beach. I slowed to the required six knots at the river’s mouth and gawked at the palatial homes lining the shores of Gibson Island. I wished we could’ve had more time to look around, but I was happy to have finally explored, and to have officially graduated into the category of “cruising family.”
Feeling satisfied, and seeing that the speed zone was about to end, I poked my head below to tell John we’d be speeding up, only to see him laying Penny down in the quarter berth, splayed out like a rag doll.
Ahh, well, let’s go home, I thought. She’ll appreciate the beach at Dobbins more next summer anyway.