Issue: July 2003
Swan Creek Parade

You’ll find plenty of marinas in Swan Creek near Rock Hall, Md. Choosing the right one for you - now, there’s a challenge.


    This spring, Clint and I decided to take our little Chris Craft Cutlass, Cookie, for a scoot up the Bay to Rock Hall. We thought it would be a good warm-up run from our digs on the Miles River, and a great opportunity to knock around with some friends from Chestertown. Rather than go into Rock Hall harbor, though, we edged past Gratitude and followed the channel into Swan Creek. (If we’d been coming from the north, we’d have tried to sneak across the Swan Point Bar, a long shallow tongue that juts south from Swan Point. We carry about 4 feet and could have nosed our way across with the depthsounder on; deeper draft boats need to go around green “C3” before heading north again into Rock Hall proper or Swan Creek.)

    It’s been ages since we’ve seen Swan Creek by water, and our eyes bugged to see all the new docks and marinas lining the “town” shore. The opposite bank is still a low, natural shoreline, with a single house perched in the distance, up the creek a ways. Gratitude Marina - which has been here forever - sits at the entrance to the creek, surrounded by a breakwater made of pilings pounded into the creek bottom like a giant palisade fence. Transients have always been welcome at this small working yard with 80 slips, fuel and haul-out facilities, and the bulkhead creates a pretty comfortable basin. Next comes Gratitude Yachting Center, a sales and charter facility with no transient slips (the docks here are too exposed to the rock and roll of passing boat traffic).

    Still in the narrow creek entrance (there’s a long, skinny run before you break into the open water of the creek itself), Moonlight Bay Marina & Inn offers overnight accommodations to guests arriving by land or water. Owners Dotty and Bob Santangelo, who are boaters from Long Island, have worked hard to create a gracious landing for cruisers looking for something more comfortable than a pipe berth, or who have more crew than bunks. They offer 10 rooms ($125 to $165), a full hot breakfast and afternoon tea. While they welcome overnight transients, the slips are reserved primarily for inn guests and their friends. These docks are also fairly exposed, so riding out a squally night onboard could be rough.

    Once in more open water, finally, you’ll come to Swan Creek Marina with 100 or so slips on the curl of Deep Landing Cove. There are lots of people coming and going at this friendly, family-run marina. It controls the moorings that hug and even overlap the channel here (keep well to starboard). And don’t plan to pump out your holding tank unless it’s Sunday; it’s a pain in the neck to drag the portable pump-out down the dock on demand, but on Sundays the marina sets it up at the T-head, ready for all comers. The marina’s working yard, across the cove, has no slips, but we saw the giant paint tent erected by Rick’s Marine Service and plenty of boats up on the hard being readied for launching.

    Where the upstream end of the cove meets the creek, the Osprey Point Yacht Club wraps its 160 slips around the grounds of the elegant Osprey Point Inn, which offers guest rooms ($135 to $170 in season) and fine dining (dinner 5–9 p.m. Thurs.–Sun., plus holiday brunches; call for reservations: 410-639-2194). Here you’ll find a swimming pool and courtesy bikes. The location is well off the main road (Route 20, which dead ends at Gratitude Marina, the club’s “sister marina”), and the long driveway, with plenty of trees and verdant landscaping, creates a resort atmosphere. There are no service facilities, which adds to the sense of privacy - no machinery operating, no workaday bustle.

Beyond Osprey Point, another natural basin opens up to starboard, called the Haven. Older charts show this as being fairly shallow, but figure on an operating depth of 6 feet once you pass the red “10” and enter the “Haven Channel,” where red and green markers march into Haven Harbour Marina. With 215 slips, this is the largest Swan Creek facility and Clint’s choice for our overnight stay.

We slid up to the gas dock, located on shore between the “red” and “white” docks. Signs of spring were everywhere. The grounds were being prepared for landscaping - ”We haven’t got our flowers in yet!” marina manager Jonathan Jones said when we introduced ourselves. “You should come back in two weeks.” The lack of flowers didn’t bother us, we assured him. All around us boats were being readied for launching, including the Amaryken Dream, a spiffy Kinnamon 32 that belongs to Kenny Fletcher Jr., a fishing buddy of Haven Harbour systems designer Randy Neiman. Fletcher and Neiman were partaking of some after-work liquid refreshment when Clint and I began peppering them with questions about Swan Creek doings. “Plenty of water in here,” Neiman was saying. A glance at the docks confirmed that more than enough sailboats find their way down the Haven Channel. And everyone goes to Swan Point Inn to eat, they said. We tucked that information away for later, when we would be meeting our friends for dinner.

    An expansive place, Haven Harbour offers a full-service working yard that includes a new state-of-the-art paint building (that’s what drew Clint - to heck with the flowers). Anything (anything) you want done to your boat, the staff at Haven Harbour can see to it on site. Even I could appreciate that kind of one-stop maintenance. You can even do your holiday shopping at the Ditty Bag, with its wide selection of nautical gifts and a multitude of marine supplies. Two pools guarantee plenty of room to splash or relax, and the new Passages Bar & Grill will be open this summer on the top waterfront deck of the shower house (individual shower rooms, no less). When the season gets cranking, the grounds, covered all winter with boats on the hard, are cleared away so slipholders and their guests have room to sit back and enjoy. “It becomes the Haven Harbour Yacht and Country Club,” Jones said.

    Next door to Haven Harbour is the Rock Hall Waterman’s Museum, open seven days a week, which features a waterman’s shanty and a display of tools, artifacts and old photos. It operates on the honor system; ask for the key at the Ditty Bag. There is no admission, but donations are readily accepted. This is also where the Rock Hall trolley stops on its regular run through town.

    Clint and I met our pals at the Swan Point Inn, then walked off our dinner with a hike through the darkened streets. The next morning, we pulled away from the Haven and idled across to Spring Cove Marina, where Rock Hall fixture Madeline Reni runs a quiet little operation. These are permanent slips, though Reni welcomes transients when she can. Her facility offers a pool and off-the-beaten-track solitude - she’s a ways out of town (it’s a special trip for the trolley, but the driver is happy to oblige).

    Finally we turned Cookie toward the mouth of Swan Creek to head for home. The morning was slightly overcast with a bit of a breeze. Suddenly an osprey flew overhead, carrying half a fish in its talons - no kidding, half a fish; we could see the straight raw edge as if someone had hacked the head off with a knife. The bird flew to a nest atop one of the channel markers, where its mate sat patiently warming what must have been a clutch of eggs (it was much too early for chicks). The first bird dropped the fish into the nest, whereupon its mate grabbed it with its beak and began to fly away. In mid-flight, it transferred the fish to its talons and continued into a stand of trees on shore. We’d never seen the likes of it before. Either the first bird had somehow picked up a half-cleaned fish from a careless fisherman, or it had eaten only half of a pretty tasty breakfast. Regardless, the act of the one bird obviously sharing with the other put a whole new twist on the breakfast-in-bed concept.

    Clint and I gave each other a smile and throttled up. Time to go home.