Issue: October 2000
The Escape Artist

Just around the corner from the hubbub of Annapolis, Whitehall Bay offers well protected deep water, serene views and that rarest of all commodities, smart food.

 

    Every now and then, if you’re lucky, you do something that makes you feel supremely intelligent. So it was for us last Saturday night anchored in Whitehall Bay off the Severn River. We had left the dock on Weems Creek just up-river from Annapolis at about 3 p.m., rocketed back and forth across the Bay a few times in Luna, our Peterson 34, for the pure fun of it, and furled our wings by 6 p.m. in the comfortable quiet and generous water of Whitehall. About 12 other boats, power and sail, were hanging out too, but this place is as roomy as Montana-no one was crowded. By nightfall, a steady stream of running lights southwest of us headed in and out of Mill Creek, no doubt carrying the devout to worship the crab in all its forms at Cantler’s. Over the darkness of Greenbury Point, the loom of Annapolis glowed like a B-movie bug zapper. To the northeast, a river of red and white lights flowed over the Bay Bridge as thousands of people made like lemmings to and from the coast. It was all so very busy out there.

    But we were here, so close and yet so deliciously distant. The kids were tucked into their pilot berths. The nearly full moon climbed the sky behind Hackett Point, shimmering the water. A brisk northerly had swept away the week-long swelter along with the mosquitos. The wine was icebox cold, the company fine, the dinner delectable. Were we lucky, or just plain good?

 

    Whitehall Bay bulges like a beer gut after squeezing between the North Shoal of Hackett Point to the east and Whitehall Flats to the west. About a mile-and-a-half wide at its broadest, the Bay is well protected from all directions but the south and southeast-though the shoal at Hackett, which bends around like a fat fish hook, can break some of the waves coming from the southeast. It’s marked with a 12-foot flashing red “2W”, and you will want to honor this mark unless you’d like to spend the evening kedging your way into the bay, assuming the tide is on the rise. The open waters to the southeast offer a prime view of any ships moored in the anchorage off the Severn River. On a clear day, the Earth’s curve magically swallows the distant, huge hulls so all that’s left are the superstructures and decks, eerily floating in mid-air.

    Whitehall’s western side, Greenbury Point, is probably best known as the home of Annapolis’s most prominent unofficial aids to navigation, the radio towers of the Naval Radio Transmitting Facility. Last year, the Navy felled 16 of the 19 obsolete towers, but the three that remain still command the best view around, short of the Washington Monument 30-some miles to the west.

    The bay’s eastern waters are sheltered in the lee of Holly Beach Farm, which once comprised 1,000 acres and, while much smaller today, still offers a nearly unmolested shoreline to contemplate. We anchored in 10 feet of water just off a duck blind perched on an old pier that jutted from the trees of Holly Beach Farm. Thanks to wealthy landowners who spotted this bay’s prime real estate as early as the 1700s, much of Whitehall’s shoreline is open and green, dotted here and there with the majestic homesteads of said landed gentry.

    The most obvious and historic of these is Whitehall, situated on a green bluff at the northeastern head of the bay. On your chart it says “Front Gable Whitehall,” and that would be referring to the expansive, Corinthian portico and the enormous white pillars with which Governor Horatio Sharpe of Maryland chose to present himself to the world in the 1760s. Orlando Ridout IV, first director of the Maryland Historical Trust and a life-long resident of Whitehall Creek, says Sharpe worked out a land trade with the vestry of St. Margaret’s Church to obtain the property in 1765. Using bricks fired on site, he built a house in the style of an Italianate Palladian villa, with a great central hall flanked by a drawing room on either side and passages extending to the east and west wings. Sharpe enjoyed owning and breeding thoroughbreds, and the stable he built to house his horses still stands behind the house. Restored in the 1950s, Whitehall is still privately owned.

    Another impressive home is on Holly Beach Farm, which was formed around World War I by a Louisiana creosote magnate named Sylvester Labrot. Also interested in breeding thoroughbreds, Labrot bought several smaller farms until he had accumulated about 1,000 acres. Some of those acres are now Sandy Point State Park just north of Whitehall and the Bay Bridge, but all of Hackett Point remains intact and mainly untouched by development, and Labrot’s Georgian home still stands facing the bay.

    These palatial digs are great eye candy and fun for engaging in a little wild daydreaming about what you’d do if you won the lottery, but some of the most interesting homes along Whitehall Bay are the ones you can’t even see. Long before even the late Governor Sharpe struck a deal with the deacons, about 300 people came to Whitehall Bay and deemed it ideal to begin what now is one of Maryland’s lost cities, Providence.

    Established by Puritans in the winter of 1649, Providence was the first European settlement in what is now Anne Arundel County, says Al Luckenbach, the county’s archaeologist. “Most of what remains of Providence rings Whitehall Bay. To date we have discovered seven of those house sites,” Luckenbach says.

    Historians believe Providence was a series of farms covering the entire Greenbury Point peninsula and perhaps even extending over toward Annapolis and Eastport. The only public building was a meeting house, which Luckenbach says “seems to be in a bad spot-it’s on the Naval Academy golf course.” Most of the buildings were built with wooden structural supports that were driven directly into the ground, so there are no real foundations, only remains of fireplaces. Eventually, Providence began to vanish as its population shifted to the southern side of the Severn River, and Annapolis was established in 1694.

 

    All of this is fun to contemplate when anchored in Whitehall Bay, but the real beauty of the place is the protection, views and spaciousness it offers, all just about three nautical miles from the Annapolis harbor. When we anchored in Whitehall it was summertime, and the unexpected northerly breeze was as refreshing as a long, tall lemonade on a hot summer day. But if you’re headed that way during boat show season, you’ll want to know about the other beauty of Whitehall-its creeks. For a relatively small body of water, it possesses an embarrassing abundance of deep-water creeks and crannies, and if autumn’s northwesterlies are stirring up whitecaps in your tea and you’d rather find a little more protection, the creeks are the way to go.

    Mill Creek is the first on the left as you enter Whitehall Bay, and if you draw anything over four feet you’d be advised to hug the center of the water between Hackett Point and the peninsula of Greenbury Point, since Whitehall Flats on the left side are unmarked and shallow enough to run a 420 aground (just ask my husband). Mill Creek’s entrance is marked with a 14-foot flashing red “2M”, and from there the channel is well marked as it narrows and hooks its way around Possum Point. Behind Possum Point is a popular deep-water anchorage, and across the way is the entrance to Burley Creek, with 10- and 9-foot depths nearly all the way up.

    Mill Creek itself is deep (in the 10- and 12-foot range) for nearly one-and-a-half miles, though pointing as it does to the northwest, you may find the autumn breeze funneling down its length a little too bracing. Still, this is the way to the crab mecca of Cantler’s Riverside Inn, upstream on the left.

    Whitehall Creek, at the head of Whitehall Bay, branches off to the north. Leaving red “4” to starboard, you’ll look for green “5” as the main entrance to the creek. The channel is pretty narrow here, but inside “R6” it widens and deepens to depths of 12 feet. Whitehall Creek is home to two smaller creeks, Minnow and Ridout, both on the left side and both with a good seven to eight feet of water. And about a third of a mile up from Ridout Creek on Whitehall Creek’s east side you’ll find Whitehall Yacht Yard, a full-service boatyard with a 25-ton lift, and Vosbury Marine, a family-owned engine shop known far and wide for its professors of internal combustion.

    Whitehall’s third main tributary, Meredith Creek, looks tasty on the chart with 10-foot depths, but looks aren’t everything. A friend of mine who lives at Holly Beach Farm says the entrance to this creek, tight as a mermaid’s skirt on a good day, has shoals that writhe like a conga line with tides and storms. At last check, he wouldn’t even risk his Fortier 26’s stout running gear through the narrow channel, and that boat only draws two-and-a-half feet.

    Armed with that local knowledge in advance, we weren’t about to try Luna’s six-foot draft in there. But then again, why would we bother? There was absolutely no need. The crab faithful raced to Cantler’s, Annapolis glowed, the lemmings plodded to and from the coast over the bridge. And we watched the moon rise over the ancient darkness of Hackett Point, feeling lucky and good, all at the same time.