Issue: April 2001
Ducking in at Dobbins Island

Even with the beach-side revelers howling at the moon, Dobbins Island on the Magothy River’s Sillery Bay is an anchorage worth remembering.


     It had been a rough day aboard the fair yacht Luna. The daughter was teething. The son was whining. The father was ornery and the mother was feeling like a Stepford Wife. We needed a beautiful anchorage and we needed it now.

     With a 5- to 10-knot southwesterly blowing and the current running full-moon inbound, it seemed that all the elements were telling us to head north once we left the Severn River, and so we did. Actually we had a brief discussion that went something like this:

     “Where ya wanna go?”

     “I don’t know.” Pause. “Where you wanna go?”

     “Um.” Pause. “I don’t know.”

     It was indecision born of exhaustion-we had stayed in Annapolis harbor the night before, a Friday in September, and I’ve had a better night’s sleep in the middle of the ocean. Even at two in the morning, it sounded like George Thorogood and the Destroyers were boating in the harbor. At daybreak, the bells of St. Sleepless pealed. And pealed. And pealed. Something like 30 times, just to make sure everyone who actually did catch some shuteye was now fully awake. It was hot, everyone was beat, and so it seemed reasonable to let the proverbial wind and tide take us. “Let’s head up to the Magothy,” the father said, “and anchor behind Dobbins Island.”

     Aside from the teething and whining, we had a beautiful sail. With a newly cleaned bottom, Luna slid through the water quick as an eel even in the light air around the Bay Bridge, and in about five or six jibes, we were off the mouth of the Magothy River, some three hours after we had left Annapolis. By now, with evening coming on, the breeze was dropping out, and we ghosted slowly inside Baltimore Light, passing dozens of small boats bobbing at anchor or drifting for fish near the river’s mouth.

     I had remembered the skinny entrance to the Magothy as a sort of nautical funhouse, the clowns being huge powerboats passing close enough to exchange recipes while throwing bone-jarring wakes, the maze being hundreds of crab pots. But it wasn’t so this time, thanks largely to a six-knot speed limit at the well marked bottleneck just off the tip of Gibson Island. We sailed through the channel and immediately headed northwest toward Sillery Bay, the bushy bluffs of Dobbins Island clearly in sight. 

     This is a pretty place. Once through the narrow entrance, the Magothy broadens and deepens as if to say, come on in, there’s plenty of room. The majority of the boating traffic heads up the river proper, so Sillery Bay is relatively quiet. Gibson Island to the east is dotted with palatial homes but still has plenty of woods, open spaces and beaches, and Dobbins Island itself is a silhouette of trees atop caramel-colored bluffs.

     It’s easy to see why this deep and well protected anchorage is so popular, and it was standing room only-packed with power and sailboats-by the time we arrived. We gave wide berth to flashing green daymarker “1”, circled around behind it and the island, and dropped the hook in about 10 feet of water at the edge of the anchorage. The early autumn moon rose plump as a pumpkin over Gibson Island, the southwest breeze skimmed past the island’s edge to brush our cockpit, the kids slept, the husband mellowed, the wife returned to human form, and it was just plain gorgeous.

     That said, there is something you should know about Dobbins Island and its little beach that faces the anchorage: It is party central, at least on the weekends. And oh, they do howl at the moon, full and otherwise. Thanks to the wind direction and our spot at the outer edge of the anchorage, we didn’t hear much of this carousing. But the variety of go-fast boats and runabouts that ferried the partiers to and fro could give Gandhi a case of nerves. Especially when they roared by close enough that I thought they might be crashing into our cabin for a nightcap or three. Though our white hull shone in the moonlight and our anchor light dutifully glowed, a headline flashed before my eyes: “Speedboat T-Bones Anchored Sailboat.” Film at eleven. 

     Looking at the tents pitched on the beach and watching the leaping flames of a bonfire, I wondered whether this moonlit shindig was an anomaly. But locals say no, Dobbins Island-which once had houses but no year-round inhabitants-has always been a place of, shall we say, high spirits. George Barker, who descends from the Dobbins family and was a trustee of the island before it was sold in 1999, says the family used it for recreation. “There would be house parties on the island and people would go over in boats and they’d haul ice over and truck it up the hills,” he says. “There was no running water, no electricity. It was very primitive, but a lot of people have fond memories of it.”

     Seems that people are still making memories there. And that’s not a hard thing to do in such a lovely place.