For two years the Chesapeake had beckoned, until we former Californians finally had to measure its waters against sailing on the beautiful but temperamental San Francisco Bay.
First we talked to folks who sail the Chesapeake, then we explored the Eastern Shore by car, hoping that once we put ourselve in her hold, the Chesapeake would give us a special rendezvous a La Michener. Finally we chartered a 27-foot Watkins sloop, the Rachel Beth, from Nautilus Yachts out of Galesville, for three days and two nights.
Motoring out of the West River in a misty overcast brought revelations -- in San Francisco you don't have to contend with crabpots.On the other hand, you would never be warm in a rain -- a soft, gentle rain that comes and goes, obscuring visibility so that you have to use a compass. How cozy to go below and read in comfort while the captain is at the tiller in his wet gear.
Along comes a breeze and up go the sails. What a joy to cut the motor and move silently through the water by wind power. We sailed into the Eastern Bay and up the Miles River, navigating successfully into the harbor at St. Michaels, a lovely town by land or sea.
It was magical to arrive by boat, pick a spot in the little bay, throw out the anchor and barbecue steaks in the cockpit. The shore shounds of crickets, church bells, barking dogs and customers laughing in the Crab Claw restaurant reached out to us.
In the morning a mist caused some misgivings as we motored into the Miles and chose Leed's Creek to explore, but the sun broke through as we passed old mansions, fishermen here and there, marshy beaches and luxuriant woods.
We cooked our breakfast anchored in a quiet cove, then went over the side for a floating view of cornfields and cow pastures -- a very un-Sun Franciscan experience. Rarely would anyone dive into that bay's bone-chilling brine.
A slight breeze greeted us as we emerged from the creek, affording a slow, sunny sail and sunbathing on deck. We heard a strange sound, growing louder -- a gabbling, honking symphony -- as a skein of geese flew directly over our mast.
Hankering for some crabs and oyesters, we turned on a light wind and cruised back to St. Michaels. We gassed up, anchored and blew our horn for dinghy service. The Crab Claw restaurant provides a small boat to pick up hungry sailors and take them to town.
A peaceful, unspoiled atmosphere prevails in a neighborhood of restored homes and flower gardens along quaint, narrow streets near the harbor.
For shopping or browsing, reasonably priced antiques are available in the Hodge Podge, the Town Hall Mall has works by local craftspeople and Woodworks, Etc. carries unique hand-hewn copper and brass weathervanes. Several talented local water colorists display their paintings at the Calico Gallery. All are on the main street within three blocks of the harbor.
Our crew filled up on seafood at the Crab Claw.
Soft crabs were a delicious novelty to this West Coast group. Two cost $7.50 -- including salad, vegetable and rolls. Two crab cakes, Chesapeake clams and fish-of-the-day are also $7.50 per meal. Maine lobbster is $10.50 and cocktails are $1.50 each. The atmosphere is livey, with mallet-wielding diners attacking their crabs and the hectic boat traffic heard from the harbor. You can eat in a covered outdoor section virtually on the wharf, or indoors upstairs.
As we finished feasting, a huge gaff-rigged schooner from Annapolis sailed into view with about 50 hungry charterers on board. That was our cue to jump in the dinghy and get back to the Rachel Beth.
We motored north from St. Michaels, and chose a tiny wooded cove in Tilghman Creek to spend another balmy night.
The next morning found us moving slowly through a fog, heading up the creek past lovely coves with other sailors anchored and intriguing old mansions along the way.
At the creek's end a motley collection of fishing vessels was tied to a very weather-beaten wharf, where a country road began. We chatted with the local fishermen and followed the road through cornfields to a general store for provisions.
Coming out of the creek, we were heeled first from port then from starboard by a fine breeze that made cooking breakfast a challenge. We set the compass headings for Galesville on the other side of the bay and slipped through the waves, among a lot of boaters enjoying the wind on this Sunday afternoon.
Back on the Western Shore, anchored close enough to watch cows graze in the increasing rain, we snuggled below with a hearty soup, a California wine and reminiscenses of these last three days. We had explored an area of such unspoiled beauty, yet we knew we'd touched only a small portion of the bays, rivers, coves and harbors in the great bay.
Later, muscles loosened in a hot bath, we floated from bath to bed to dreams -- far past our chartered time limit, still held in the Chesapeake's spell.