Issue: From the Chesapeake Bay Magazine Archives
Destination: Middle River, MD

Boating, Middle River

Bristling with boatyards and lined with homes, Middle River is in 
the middle of it all . . . yet, somehow, away from it all. [June 2007]

By Pat Valdata

"We're anchoring here?" I asked, as Bob turned the helm over to me. We couldn't have been more than fifty feet from the homes that line the east side of Hopkins Creek, at the headwaters of Middle River. It seemed to me that the shore, which have a few homes too, but also a stand of trees, would give us at least the illusion of privacy, even though Cutter Marina was just downstream. Bob pointed to the pilings sticking out of the water on the other side and then went forward to drop the anchor. Right.

I looked at the sky for the umpteenth time that day and wondered when the predicted front was going to arrive with its wind and rain. I'd been worrying about it since we had left our home marina on the North East River earlier in the afternoon. Bob, on the other hand, had remained unconcerned the whole way down. But now he dropped a stern anchor—just in case.

I had insisted that we do this—anchor out—on the first of you three-night visit to Middle River, because I didn't want to leave the food in our cooler any longer than it had to, but I have to admit that this consideration became less important after Bob opened the first of four bottles of wine we had brought for our three-night trip. Wineglasses in hand, we sat on the back deck ofLindy, our 42-foot former U.S. Navy launch. The sun set in the turquoise sky, turning the water pink, orange and silver. A sleek yacht hummed by on its way to the marina, but there were no other boats out on that weekday evening, and the homes closest to us seemed unoccupied. So it turned out that we had all the privacy we wanted. We savored the calm, cool, bug-free, late-September evening. All we could here was a Carolina wren, the light splash of a jumping fish, the murmur of traffic on Eastern Avenue . . . and the roar of two A-10 Warthogs as the made a knife-edge turn right over us to enter the pattern for Martin State Airport. Ah, heaven!

Heaven? Two jets screaming overhead may not be high on most boater' list of sunset attractions, but they were one of the big reasons we had been looking forward to this trip. And our Hopkins Creek anchorage was only a taste of what we had planned for our Middle River finale. I could hardly wait. I'm a sailplane pilot, and though I usually waft around the skies at a poky 45 knots, I'm not (too) ashamed to admit thatTop Gunis one of my favorite movies. Whenever Bob has to pick up engine parts at Johnson & Towers, I like to tag along, just to see what might be taking off at Martin State. But if screaming Warthogs are not your cup of tea, don't let that frighten you off the river, because the jet traffic at the airport is considerate of the surrounding neighborhood. There were no more visitations from Maverick or Ice Man that night. Nor did the predicted front roll through—at least, not until we were sound sleep.

The next morning the frontal leftovers were immediately evident asLindyswung back and forth in a 15-knot crosswind. Bob struggled with the stern anchor line, which had wrapped itself around the stern thruster, but he finally managed to extract it. An ugly fifteen minutes or so later, the bow anchor came back on deck, as well, and we headed more or less downstream. We picked up fuel around the corner of Hopkins Creek at River Watch Marina, where we had a slip reserved for that night. Then we set off on a tour of the rest of Middle River, which reaches into the Western Shore like a hand, with five major creeks and several smaller ones. We worked our way up on "finger" and then another. Sue Creek, the thumb, is broad and shallow, although it was recently dredged. Norman Creek and Hopkins Creek make up the next two navigable digits. Hopkins divides into two branches and it full of marinas and marine-related businesses. Martine State Airport sits to the north on the peninsula that juts out between Dark Head Creek on the west and Frog Mortar Creek on the east. Finally, Galloway Creek forms a wide, shallow bay. We decided to pass on shallow Galloway Creek—with the breeze and chop and with our lack of local knowledge, we didn't want to chance running aground. Wherever we did go, however, we sighed over the homes and new construction the occupy nearly every inch of Middle River's shoreline; we envied the scores of private piers; and we admired the wide variety of boats the call it home. We also saw evidence of Hurricane Isabel in the ruined piers and derelict boats along the shore.

Middle River seems a great place to be a boatowner. It's a very short trip to the Bay, and Fells Point, the inner Harbor and Annapolis are all within east reach. Marina, fuel docks, repair shops and supply stores are plentiful and just a few minutes away by boat. The entrance to the river is very easy to find. When you approach the river from the south, you pass Hart-Miller Island to port. If you stay well clear of the island, depth is not and issue, but crab pots are—there's a virtual archipelago of them covering the water just about as far as the eye can see. Approaching from the north, as we did, we were careful to stay clear of the Aberdeen Proving Ground/Edgewood restricted area—pretty easy to do on the day we came by, since patrol boats were stationed at the boundary of the restricted area because of testing. Once we were past the red sector, just south of Pooles Island, we turned to starboard to take a straight shot into Middle River. On out way past the island, we got a good look at the Pooles Island Light, on of three lighthouses built by John Donahoo in the early 1800s. (The Elk River's Turkey Point Light and the Susquehannah's Concord Point Light are the other two.) The 40-foot lighthouse seems small compared with the gigantic red-and-white power company smokestacks that tower over Seneca Creek. As we headed upstream, the Baltimore Yacht Club was visible to port on the low rise, just across Sue Creek.

We had targeted severel marinas when we researched the area, but zeroed in on River Watch Restaurant & Marina because it is one of the few marina in the Middle River that has dedicated transient slips that can accommodate a 40-footer. Most of the marina we contacted had no room for us at all; a few could put us in a slip vacated by one of their regular slipholders, but wouldn't guarantee the spot; others maxed out at 30 feet. I had thought the after Labor Day space wouldn't be a problem, but space is tight here year-round it seems. River Watch is known as much for it's large restaurant as for the marina itself. During the summer season, its parking lot is full, and the restaurant's large deck overflows with people enjoying live music and drinking cocktails and beer. On a summer weekend, River Watch too would have been completely booked, but this late in the season we were able to secure a convenient slip next to the gas dock.

After a day of touring the river, and now tucked in a River Watch, Bob took a well deserved nap, while I went exploring on foot. This section of Hopkins Creek is chock-full of marina businesses, with three other marinas in the immediate vicinity. A couple of blocks along, I passed a marine electronics facility and then, around the corner, a neighborhood deli. After a short stroll along the neighborhood's main drag and another right turn, I entered Deckelman's Boatyard—under close observation by two man-eating Pomeranians. Deckelman's is a Middle River institution, founded in the 1930s by John Deckelman, grandfather of its current owner, Jack Deckelman. The old marine railway, which could accommodate boats up to 90 feet, has been replaces by a hefty boat lift, but the yard still holds some classic wooden yachts. In addition to the boatyard, Deckelman's operates a marine towing and recovery business.

"It's right expensive to do boat removal," Deckelman said, when I mentioned how many derelicts we'd seen in the area. "It costs from $10,000 on up to haul a boat. You have to pump them out [to float them] or use the crane, dismantle them, separate the fuel tanks and get the fuel out. It's a lot of work to get one ready for the dumpsters." He pointed out several wrecks he'd hauled oout recently. One of them was badly burned, its starboard side nothing more than sagging shreds of blackened and melted fiberglass.

Deckelman's employs a yard crew of six, as well as several part-timers who help with the towing and recovery service using a fleet of eight towboats. One of these was in the boatyard getting a complete refit, including a new engine. Another project was an old wooden Colonial 45 motoryacht undergoing restoration. It looked beautiful to me, although Deckelman said it wasn't yet finished.

"We want our customers to come back, so we do it right," he told me. "How else could we be here for so long with no slips?" Some of his customers have been coming back for 30 years.

While Deckelman, affable and silver-haired, owns his business, it is now largely managed by his son Jeff. And his father. Frank, still drops in the yard most days—"to raise hell," Jack said, adding that it's not out of the question that his grandchildren will end up running the yard.

After I put my notebook away, Deckelman showed me a shortcut out of the boatyard, past the house he grew up in and past the large RV that is his current pride and joy. We stood at the end of his driveway chatting for another half-hour or so about family, work and the neighborhood. Each time a pickup truck or car drove by, the drive would wave. "That's the kind of neighborhood this is," said Deckelman, noting that most of the time the drivers stop to chat. "Sometimes is can take all morning for me to get the mail in." He shook my hand, saying he had to get back to work, and offered me a pear from a heavily laden tree in the front yard. I headed back to the boat, regretting that I didn't have a chance to say goodbye to the killer Pomeranians.

While I was gone, Bob had encountered friendly residents who were on their way to River Watch Restaurant for their traditional Wednesday night Delmonico steaks. Deckelman had told me what a happening place River Watch was on summer weekends, with people parking half a mile up the road, and Bob said that at least three people strolling the pier had advised him to order the Delmonico steak. We were not disappointed when we went in for dinner. The restaurant's main dining room is large, with a fireplace that would add plenty of atmosphere on a chilly day. The hostess was accommodating in getting us a table with a view of the deck and waterfront. Our waitress made sure we knew it was Delmonico steak night. Indeed, the smell of grilled steak pushed away all thoughts of crabcake (although we could see those at the next table, and they looked great). After a delicious dinner and a nightcap in the bar, we picked up fliers for local businesses, including the Middle River Water Taxi, which operates on Fridays and weekends from mid-May through the end of September. The marina was pin-drop quiet as we strolled back to the boat; I expect it is far from that on summer weekends, when a band plays on the restaurant deck.

We were up early the next morning and had the river gloriously to ourselves—we were the only pleasure boat out on this bright blue September day. In the midsummer heat, we knew, boats would have been anchored as thick as crab pots in Hawk Cove. The wind had calmed down a bit today, but the water was lively and sparkling as we headed out ot explore this part of the Western Shore. A few recreational crabbers were also enjoying the fine end-of-season weather. Overhead, a crowd of broad-winged hawks circled under a sky full of mare's tails. We spent much of the day touring Hart-Miller Island near the mouth of Middle River and then dawdled our way back upriver, where a slip, ideally situated for our third night's treat, awaited us at Long Beach Marina.

We were attracted to the Long Beach Marina because of its special location—and because Vern Davis, its manager, had been so friendly when we made a reservation by telephone. It also helped that Long Beach's price per foot ws considerably less than some other marinas in the area. And, finally, who could resist spending a night in a place named Frog Mortar Creek?

Davis, just as gregarious in person as he had been on the phone, showed us the marina's new bathhouse and other post-Isabel construction. (He has been manager for only a month when the hurricane hit.) A dock, where we had tied up, was only a year old. Once it was completed, Davis said, it had gone from empty to full in a matter of weeks. And no wonder. The marina offers easy access to the river, 327 slips, fuel, pump-out, repair services, a 35-ton lift, 8 feet of water and room for powerboats and sailboats up to 50 feet.

Long Beach is definitely a marina for airplane lovers. In fact, several folks told us the people come here just for the "view". You can see the runway from the bathhouse deck, and the State Police helicopters are hangared right across the creek. Then when the sun sets, the airport lights decorate the horizon like a Christmas display. But the jets stop flying around sunset, and the rest of the air traffic ends by about 10 p.m., so a peaceful night's sleep is assured.

After our tour of the marina, we walked to the nearest restaurant for lunch—an easy stroll of less than a mile through one of the pleasant neighborhoods of Bowley's Quarters. If we'd brought bicycles, we could have explores a much larger area, including local shopping malls and grocery stores, but the food at Bruno's was inexpensive and the pool tables were free. we also ordered two subs to take back to the boat for dinner. They turned out to be the largest sandwiches we'd ever seen and served us well for both dinner and lunch the next day.

Back at Long Beach Marina that night, we set out our sandwiches and opened a bottle of cabernet. Then we settled in for our evening's entertainment. Long Beach Marina is deally situated under the flight path to Martin Airport's runway 33. As the sun set, we watched a pair of A-10 Warthogs scream on their final approach right over our boat. They made a couple of passes and then separated, each jet tracing a wide circle in the early evening sky. The jets rejoined and lined up for their approach. I doubt the could have seen the two of us waving happily from our boat, but we felt as if they were putting on an air show just for us. We had the best seats in the house, and I know the blue skies and smooth water filled my dreams the whole night.

Writer, novelist, poet and sailplane pilot Pat Valdata, who in her spare time teaches writing at the University of Maryland, lives in Elkton, Md., with her husband Bob.

Cruiser's Digest: Middle River, MD

If you just want to get away from it all, Middle River might not be you first choice for Bay cruising. But if you want to find a place full of interesting coves and creeks for exploring and plenty of great facilities for relaxing, the Middle River is as good a place as any. It's convenient to all locations on the northern Bay, and it's an easy place to negotiate. From the south, pick up the green "1" off the northeast end of Hart-Miller Island and head to the river's mouth, keeping the green "5" and the Booby Point shoals to port. From the north, after you're clear of Pooles Island, turn due west to pick up the green "1". The red "6" marks the beginning of the channel upriver, though most boaters will find enough water in most of the river. (Check the charts first to be sure, of course.) Once you get settled, the Middle River Water Taxi can take you anywhere you'd like to go. It will take you to stops at over 20 marinas, yacht clubs and restaurants on Middle River and even offers special event cruises and charters. The taxi service runs Fridays from 6 to 11 p.m., Saturdays from 2 to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 9 p.m. from mid-May to the end of September. Just give them a call at 410-375-1131 and arrange a pickup or visitwww.middleriverwatertaxi.comfor more information.

Middle River has long been a popular summering loctaion for nearby Baltimore, so the shoreline is well lined with homes, large and small. For aviation buffs, however, Glenn L/ Martin State Airport offers some high-powered fun. Martin Aviation produced some pretty famous aircraft during its tenure, including theChina Clipper, PBM flying boats and the B-26 bomber. These days, only the Air National Guard—with it's A-10 Warthogs—shares the field with general aviation aircraft. In May, the airport hosts the aviation and aerospace component (including a seaplane "splash-in") of the annual Baltimore County Waterfront Festival. At any time of the year, you'll enjoy a visit to the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum, located in Hangar 5 (410-682-5122).

Marinas abound through Middle River. All the marinas listed here offer slips for overnight guests. Unless otherwise noted, they offer electric service, showers, marine supplies, boat repairs, haul-out services and pump-outs. Many are within walking distance to commercial areas, with additional shopping and restaurants of all varieties.

(1) Boating Center of Baltimore (410-687-2000; Sue Creek; launch ramp.
(2) Bowleys Marina (410-335-3553; mouth of Middle River; gas and diesel, laundry, pool, launch ramp.
(3) Chesapeake Yachting Center (410-335-4900; Frog Mortar Creek; gas and diesel, laundry, pool.
(4) Cutter Marine Yacht Basin (410-391-7245; head of Middle River; pool.
(5) Deckelman's Boatyard (410-391-6482) Hopkins Creek; no transient slips.
(6) Essex Marina & Boat Sales (410-686-3435; Hopkins Creek; internet access.
(7) Long Beach Marina (410-335-8602; Frog Mortar Creek; gas and diesel, pool, launch ramp.
(8) Maryland Marina (410-335-8722; Frog Mortar Creek; restaurant, laundry, launch ramp.
(9) Norman Creek Marina (410-686-9343) Norman Creek; gas and diesel; no boat repairs or haul-out.
(10) Parkside Marina (410-344-1187; Frog Mortar Creek; restaurant; no marine supplies, boat repairs or haul-out.
(11) Riley's Marina (410-686-0771) head of Middle River.
(12) River Watch Restaurant & Marina (410-687-1422; Hopkins Creek; gas and diesel, restaurant; no marine supplies, boat repairs or haul-out.
(13) Stansbury Yacht Basin (410-686-3909; Dark Head Creek; gas, launch ramp.
(14) Sunset Harbor Marina (410-687-7290; Norman Creek.
(15) Tradewinds Marina (410-335-7000; Frog Mortar Creek.

(16) Carson's Creekside Restaurant & Lounge, 1110 Beech Drive, (410-238-0080; Dark Head Creek.
(10) Parkside Restaurant, 3300 Edwards Lane, (410-344-1187; Frog Mortar Creek.
(12) River Watch Restaurant & Marina, 207 Nanticoke Road, (410-687-1422; Hopkins Creek.
(8) Wild Duck Café, located at Maryland Marina, 3501 Red Rose Farm Road, (410-335-2121) Frog Mortar Creek