With hot tubbing, timing is everything.
Before peeling back the insulating cover, you have to take into account the major variables: the outdoor temperature, the time of day, the population density. For example, if the sun is hot and high, you’ll feel like a fish in a fryer. If there are lots of people around, you become a fish in a very exposed bowl. Throw people into the tub, and you’re no longer a generic fish but a sardine. At the Ship Watch Inn, I didn’t want to be any kind of fish.
When I arrived at the darling bed-and-breakfast in Chesapeake City, Md., none of the crucial elements were aligned. Although it was late afternoon, the sun was still too bright and the air too warm. The soaker was empty, but a workman and the caretaker were roaming about. The large glass doors overlooking the bathing area were not, unfortunately, two-way mirrors.
I’m not traditionally a hot tub person; I prefer private tubbing in water that doesn’t parboil my skin. Yet the outdoor vessel charmed me into submission. Secreted away from the street, the hot tub flanked the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, whose waves quietly lapped a lullaby. To the west, the Chesapeake City Bridge drew a thick pencil line across the water. Boats and cars paraded by in their appropriate lanes.
Despite the perfect setting, the timing was still off.
When I checked in, the gregarious hostess gave me a thorough overview of the inn, including instructions on where not to park (across the way in another hotel’s lot, which is, of course, where I’d left my car) and when she’d serve breakfast to order (7 to 9 a.m.). She directed me to the raidable mini-fridge stocked with soda, water and small bottles of sparkling wine. On the counter, beside the tea and coffee fixings, chunky cookies perched under a glass dome and a chocolate Bundt cake awaited the first cut. More temptations — Swedish fish, pretzels, Lindt chocolates, taffy — appeared on a table near the staircase, running interference each time I went up and down the stairs or in and out the front door.
Built in the 1920s, the former private residence of Capt. Firman Layman flipped on its hostelry porch light in 1996. Each of the nine rooms is unique in name, decor and mood. I stayed in the Talbot Room, which evoked an English manor, with me as its lady. Rich wood furnishings, including a pedestal holding an earthy bouquet of flowers, complemented a painting of red-blazer-attired outdoorsmen astride horses. Run, fox, run. The antiques around the inn date from the 1800s, so I enacted a policy of “look, but don’t touch.” One exception: the 21st-century flat-screen TV hanging opposite the bed.
The second-floor rooms share a long porch sprinkled with tables and loungers. The view is the same as the hot tub’s, just higher. Alone in the hotel, I peered through the glass back doors of the other rooms, checking out the competition. I saw a queen-size bed crowned with flowing white fabric (the Cecil Room) and a room painted the calming blue of a summer sky (Queen Anne). My curiosity soon expanded to the occupants: Who stays here? Behold the guestbook — and the answer.
I read a lot of exclamation-pointed comments from honeymooners and anniversary celebrants (from one year to 30). There was also a pair of mischievous gremlins.
“We reserved a room with a shower on the second floor,” wrote a couple with the notable last name of du Pont. Room number three “was unlocked so we moved in.”
Those crazy kids.
Deep into snooping, I’d lost track of the hour. Worried that I’d missed the sweet spot, I went outside to gauge the conditions. Air, cool; sun, slipping; voyeurs, none. It was hot tub time.
I threw back the cover, activated the jets and slowly sank into the hot bubbles. A tugboat escorting a freighter glided by. I waved to a distant crew, who probably saw, at the most, a small flutter on the shore.
When the sky was more night than day, I swaddled myself in towels and lugged the top back on. (This was the one moment when I wished for another guest.) I raced through the house, trying to move faster than a falling droplet. Once dry, I crept downstairs like a mouse for a nightcap. I left no trace, minus an empty space in the lineup of beverages.
At breakfast the next morning, I noticed something amiss with the Bundt cake; a large slice was gone. Wasn’t me. It must have been the owner of the heavy footsteps I’d heard above my room the night before. (I learned that many businessfolk stay at the inn, which is close to the Gore-Tex company.)
With two hours before checkout, I still had time for a dip. But first, I had to consult the hot tub index.
Ship Watch Inn
401 First St.
Chesapeake City, Md.