Cruising With The Chilbergs: Jewels Of The Chesapeake, Tangier Island (BLOG)

I must confess that I was excited as the Chesapeake is one of the great cruising grounds in all the United States of America in my humble opinion.
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“Appreciation makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful.”

—Percy Bysshe Shelley

As you can imagine, I miss the Dismal Swamp Canal like a migraine or a root canal. As we departed Portsmouth, Virginia, we were greeted again by dolphin as we entered the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. I must confess that I was excited as the Chesapeake is one of the great cruising grounds in all the United States of America in my humble opinion.

A throwback to my first cruise on the Chesapeake a a boy.

A throwback to my first cruise on the Chesapeake a a boy.

I first experienced the Chesapeake 60 years ago when my parents, sister, Barbara, and I chartered a small Chris Craft cruiser. We then returned five years later on our own boat. The memories of the crabs, anchorages, and fun has remained. I then was able to cruise here on my Albin 27 with my own kids and again on a Grand Banks 42 as we headed south to the Bahamas in the 1980s. To return again to the Chesapeake Bay is such a treat.

As you know my cruising opinions are both right and equally humble! I would like to share with you the Three Crown Jewels of the Chesapeake Bay. No one should miss these three destinations on any Chesapeake Bay cruise, in my, again, so humble opinion!

First, as we headed north we crossed east to Tangier and Smith Islands. This is like going back in time 150 years when watermen spent the year gathering crabs, oysters, and hunting water fowl. One must read Beautiful Swimmers, the Pulitzer Prize winning book on the crabs of the Chesapeake Bay. This book is an interesting and easy read to understand the unique features of the Bay and those creatures that live within it. It so helps to bring the Chesapeake Bay alive and an appreciation of the largest estuary on the continent.

We anchored on the south end of Tangier behind a sand spit; I didn’t know that the Chesapeake had anything but mud! As we walked the sand pit so that Baci could chase a tennis ball, I marveled at the memories of my childhood here on the Bay.

The sand pit we discovered made for the ideal doggie playground.

The sand pit we discovered made for the ideal doggie playground.

We took the dinghy into town and were touched by the simple hardworking lifestyle of Tangier that has changed little for these 4th and 5th generation watermen. It was so tranquil and calm at this anchorage where we were the only boat anchored here among countless crab pots. Our only visitors were the watermen checking their crab traps and a few crabs swimming by Mud Puddle Rose.

The famous Tangier Island Crab Shacks.

The famous Tangier Island Crab Shacks.

As we took the dinghy around the town, we saw the crab shacks for cleaning crabs and hundreds of crab traps stacked on the docks.

We arrived prior to the daily tourist ferry, so the town was ours. We happened upon the Chesapeake House for lunch. This home from two centuries ago served a fabulous family style lunch with everything from sliced ham to all the crab cakes you can eat. The crab cakes were delicious and huge!

We browsed the shops to walk off lunch and returned to the anchorage to enjoy a peaceful and calm evening.

Did I mention that the Chesapeake Bay is famous for fast and furious thunder squalls? The skies were clear and we felt confident that we were in a calm protected area with very light winds expected.

Lee in front of the Chesapeake House.

Lee in front of the Chesapeake House.

All this changed at about 8 PM as the sky turned black and a massive thunder squall swept down upon us with driving rain and 65 mph winds. I had slightly less scope out on the anchor chain due to all the crab pots and I could tell we were dragging anchor! While Lee calmed the thunder- terrified dogs in the saloon, I released the bridle from the bow anchor and raced to the flybridge to raise the anchor. The constant lightening allowed me to raise the anchor, avoid the crab pots and depart the anchorage. The rains blew sideways just like the intro to Gilligan’s Island with the Skipper and Gilligan at the wheel.

The radar showed about 5 miles of squall line surrounding us, so I could not pick up any buoys with radar, but fortunately the GPS Chart Map was accurate and we got away safely.

The wind stirred the Bay to steep 5-foot seas and the saloon door blew open and Baci ran up to the flybridge in a driving rain to be with me. Yikes! I slowed Mud Puddle Rose and grabbed Baci by the harness and carried her down to the saloon. The crock pot was shattered on the salon floor as I pushed Baci in and Lee locked the door.

Tangier Island Anchorage off the bow.

Tangier Island Anchorage off the bow.

I returned to the flybridge realizing that as the wind was out of the West, our safest anchorage would be across the Chesapeake to Ingram Bay. Three squalls passed over us with thunder and lightning filling the sky. Fortunately this weather is not a problem for a Grand Banks 49, but the same cannot be said for crew, dogs and crock pots!

Eventually we pulled into Ingram Bay and around to Fleeton Cove. Ah bliss, no waves and a quiet anchorage and peaceful sleep. The lesson is that while Tangier is a jewel, Chesapeake Thunder Squalls are not!

I hope that this whets your appetite to visit this Crown Jewel of the Chesapeake Bay. I would, however, avoid the thunder squalls if at all possible!

Read more of Joe's blog, here.

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