It all begins with the blessing of the fleet at the lagoon of Sandy Point State Park at 9 o'clock Saturday morning, and it shouldn't be difficult to strike up a conversation with one of the skipjack captains there.
Tell him he's got a beautiful boat and he might invite you aboard. Tell him you like oysters and he might give you one dredged only hours before. Tell him you've always wanted to be on a skipjack when it's under sail, and he might just invite you along for the big race.
But even if you don't get off dry land, the three-element circus Saturday and Sunday, called Chesapeake Appreciation Days, gives you a lot for the $1.50 admission price (accompanied children under 12 get in free):
On the Bay itself, skipjacks, schooners, traditional and one-design sailboats will race, an airplane will rescue someone from the chilly water and a few very hardy types will show the latest fads in precision water skiing.
In the air, kites will soar and planes will tow sinuous banners, perform wrenching aerobatics, drop parachutists and keep a sharp lookout for enemy submarines.
On land, Indians will dance, horsemen will hound the beaches and judges will award a blue ribbon to the best oyster chef.
The days are dedicated primarily to the preservation of the oyster-dredging skipjacks, which at the turn of the century numbered about 1,500. By the mid-1960s, only 60 had successfully resisted age, rot and the more efficient powerboats. But because the sight of a sailing skipjack is something boat lovers prize, Appreciation Days were begun in 1965 to show the skipjack skippers how much they were revered and encourage them to keep their boats on the water.
"In the early days the skipjacks looked pretty ragtag," says Lester Trott, a director of the nonprofit Chesapeake Appreciation Inc. "Big patches on the sails, the hulls bleeding from rusty fittings and they needed painting. Once the event was established, however, the captains began taking serious pains to keep the boats up and they began taking the racing seriously, too."
Saturday's racing for the 20-odd skipjacks participating is scheduled to begin at 10:40, when the bigger boats - 46 feet and longer - will cross the starting line. The smaller boats set out 20 minutes later, and the Memorial Challenge race, the main event, is slated for 11:20. The challenge race pits the Martha Lewis, last year's winner, against the Wilma Lee, which won this year's Deal Island Labor Day Race. The race committee hopes to lay out courses only several hundred yards from Sandy Point Beach, so everything should be plainly visible to the expected 15,000 spectators.
Interspersed with this will be radio controlled model airplanes and a casting competition on the beach, a ballet flyby and aerobatics above it and a Navy anti submarine patrol plane above everything.
The most spectacular event of the afternoon air show is scheduled for 2:10, when the multicolored ram-air parachutes from Ft. Meade are to blossom high above the Bay and so far from the beach that landing on it seems impossible.
Back on the ground, there will be about a dozen exhibit tents where you can see sails being sewn, scrimshaw being etched and duck decoys being whittled. Trinkets, books and paintings will be on sale, as will crab cakes, oysters, chicken and beef for those who don't care to bring a picnic lunch.
Sunday's program starts at 10:20 a.m. with a Cal 25 race. An hour later three skipjacks from Tilghman Island will take on three boats from Deal Island in a relay race. Through the rest of the day airplanes will again fill the sky and parachutists will again fall through it.
It all ends at 5 with an awards ceremony for the winning skippers.
Sandy Point State Park is reached by leaving Route 50 about a mile west of Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The park will be open both days at 9 a.m. Parking is included in the admission price.