A CRUISE TO THE CHESAPEAKE
Man that is born of a woman
Has very little time to live
He comes up like a foretopmast staysail
And down like a small flying jib.
-- Old Sea Song.
MOST sailing people do not realize what magnificent cruising
waters we have in that noble bay, the Chesapeake, which might
reasonably be called a sea. In point of fact, it was called a Gulf, or
Sea, by one Daniel Gookin, a couple of hundred years ago. It is about
two hundred miles long, ten to twenty miles wide, and full of bay-like
tributaries, the exploration of which alone would make months of
The scenery is varied, and always picturesque; whether the
pleasant sheltered bays of the Eastern Shore, the bold bluffs of the
Patuxent, or that of the tropic-like pine-fringed Piankatank. Fish,
oysters, and game are all plentiful and cheap. The supply of crabs,
indeed, seems to be inexhaustible. Ice is cheap, but not always to be
had, and cruisers' necessities -- milk, fresh butter, eggs, and
chickens -- are found at every farm. Strange to relate, fresh
vegetables are the hardest things to get, and when found require more
persuasion to induce owners to part with them than any other of the
desirable things in which the country abounds. The best of cruisers are
doleful when only "canned" things are aboard.
As we had only one hand we had put on Mona a storm
trysail, kindly given me by the last owner of Ulidia, the Fife
boat sent over here on the deck of the Umbria. The old packet
is quite stylish in her way, but looked rather queer in her "ocean"
rig; so, at the club, at once received the sobriquet of Fram. The rig
was quite enough for us in one gust we had, and as all hands, including
my brother George, a boy of seventeen, only made three, we were quite
content. Mona had carried a big rig from Philadelphia to Newport,
outside Jersey and Long Island, so we were not ashamed to he
comfortable when we felt so inclined.
One July evening in 1897 we left the anchorage of the
Corinthian Yacht Club, Tinicum Island, Delaware River, about five
o'clock, light head air, but with tide got down to Claymont; tide ran
awhile longer, but we stopped there on account of a good anchorage.
Went very well with the small mainsail, small jib, and balloon staysail.
Next morning, up about four o'clock, we ran down with the
ebb against a light head wind -- fine sunrise over the Jersey marshes;
and a freer wind after Deep Water Point. Just within a mile of the
canal at Delaware City the tide turned, and the air died out entirely,
so we had to anchor about nine o'clock. Fixed up some odds and ends,
had a swim, and lunch at about eleven. Discovered a very marked
"sundog," at which we marveled, but did not realize its import. About
three o'clock we got a breeze, and worked down. Got off jib and shot
into canal dock under balloon staysail and main, lowering latter as we
neared. Locked in at once, paid tolls four and towage three dollars,
got provisions, mailed letters, and got off about four o'clock, but
lost time almost at once by going aground in passing a steamer. Aside
from the entrances, there is only one lock in the canal, that at St.
George's, which is a rise. Just beyond it the canal opens out into
quite a lake, where, we were told, there is good shooting in the fall.
SMITH POINT LIGHT, IN PROCESS OF CONSTRUCTION.
OLD POINT COMFORT.
MONA WITH TRYSAIL. OXFORD, 1897
DRUM POINT HARBOR, PATUXENT RIVER.
Arrived at western lock, Chesapeake City, about eight
o'clock, and were lowered about fourteen feet into the Chesapeake, here
really Back Creek, where we tied up to a siding for the night. Took on
two hundred pounds of ice, some milk, and other trifles. In the evening
no mosquitoes, wonderful to relate.
Next morning, by appointment with the tug, we were up at
five o'clock, but as some expected schooners were late we did not get
away for a couple of hours. The tug, for a dollar and a half, took us
down to the Elk River; there we made sail, setting balloon staysail and
jib topsail, and ran down the Elk, SW 1/4 W., to the mouth of the
river, passed Turkey Point at ten o'clock, and shortly after had a
squall out of the East which caused us to stow the jib topsail. The
wind continued easterly, and, notwithstanding there was very little of
it, we made fair time, passing Betterton on the south side of the
Sassafras River, at a little after eleven o'clock. About noon we were
off Still Pond; then, as thunderstorms were about and wind seemed to be
dying out, we decided to anchor for the day in the cove at the mouth of
Worton's Creek, where we let go in fourteen feet.
We then rigged up the spritsail on the dinghy and beat up to
a lonely-looking pier, where we found an old man who knew absolutely
nothing. However, at a farmhouse, after a long argument, we induced the
people to part with four young chickens, for which they asked only a
dollar, and then some peas, beets, and squash. Sailed back to Mona
through brisk puffs, and were soon shelling peas, our legs hanging over
the counter. The man scalded and picked the chickens. At sundown we had
a bully dinner of the above-mentioned purchases: two chickens, fried
Maryland style in cracker dust, were delicious. After that we went
ashore and bought a few crabs from a lone boy. Then sailed awhile in
the gloaming, and at nine o'clock went to bed and slept like tops.
Sunday, wind southeasterly and occasional light rain; sailed
out at seven, after breakfast, and were able to stand down the Bay;
passed Tolchester Beach at eight as two men-of-war were making colors.
One seemed to be a battleship, and the other looked like the dispatch
boat Dolphin. They appeared to have on board the Maryland Naval
Reserves, as they had an old hulk with them. About this time it began
to blow and we were soon boiling along. As we got to Swan Point the
squall got harder and the rain heavier; here the wire of the port
backstay runner parted at the bend, having been set up too tightly the
night before and now made tighter with the rain. We had a regular soak
of it down to Sandy Point, then the nearby Eastern Shore smoothed the
water some. Here we passed under the stern of the United States
schooner Matchless, anchored, apparently on some scientific
job. Ran in to Annapolis and anchored at noon among the schooners off
the Academy, in about three fathoms.
After a gorgeous Sunday dinner we went ashore in clean togs,
the weather having cleared, and found the town shut up as tight as a
drum; finally found the boy who runs the telegraph and sent off
messages; had some queer fun trying to buy tobacco for the man. The
Capitol was closed, so also the Naval Academy and Museum; but we walked
about the grounds, admired the fine old bronze cannon captured in
Mexico, and saw some queer ones taken from the Confederates. Walked on
the Santee wharf, where the chief object of interest seems to
be a little hotbed where mint, presumedly for the mint juleps for the
officers, was the only crop. Then around by the old octagon Fort
Severn, where a tablet gives date 1808. The fort has been turned into a
gymnasium. Glad to get home to the boat with three Sunday papers. Had a
queer supper of cornmeal mush with milk, then potatoes and onions,
cheese and coffee. Government was very slow with sunset.
On Monday we had a light southeasterly wind, which made the
beat out of the harbor take nearly two hours. When abreast of Tolly
Point buoy we got a fresh breeze with rain from the northeast; running
down S 1/2 E or so, we made good time, the wind freshening all the
while: when abreast of the mouth of Eastern Bay it came very hard and a
good sea on; rapidly getting worse, passing Poplar Island we had all we
could stagger under with the small mainsail and small jib.
Knowing we would have to beat up when through the Sharp's
Island Channel, we shook her up and put in two reefs; the sea washing
us meanwhile. When squared away we rushed for the lighthouse off
Sharp's Island, then bore up when we thought we were far enough down to
clear the bar running down from Tilghman's Island, at the north mouth
of the Choptank. It blew a gale and we thought the mast would carry
away. In our carefulness we kept much farther down than necessary, and
passed far south of the black buoy.
It was blowing so hard we felt we must find some place to
anchor, and as it looked so wicked to westward we knew we must do so
soon. Running to the east, in Tripp's Bay, we found it too exposed and
went about to try to fetch Black Walnut Cove. Soon a tropical downpour
shut out everything: fortunately it beat down the sea, and going about
we fetched behind Cook's Point, where we let go in about three fathoms.
It was roaring down the Choptank from the northeast, but we lay pretty
comfortably behind the point. We stripped and had some hot soup; this
was about two o'clock. In an hour the worst was over, having blown a
gale for just two hours: we made sail, and although we had plenty of
rain, we worked up to the sleepy little village of Oxford and anchored
opposite the School House green at about five o'clock. The evening was
quiet: and as there were occasional showers we set the awning.
Tuesday, it was blowing and raining from the southeast, and
we were unable, as we had expected, to do some refitting. Crabbed in
On Wednesday it was bright and clear in the morning: we soon
dried everything; put the dinghy on the beach to dry, and then gave the
deck a coat of varnish. After lunch, about two o'clock, Mr. W.
O'Sullivan Dimphel came along in his launch: we exchanged enthusiastic
welcomes, and had a few drinks; he insisted on taking us over to his
place on the north shore of the Tred Avon River, at the mouth of
Plaindealing Creek. Mrs. Dimphel kindly gave us tea, and D. insisted
that we sail over next morning and fill our tanks, the water at Oxford
being rank poison, as George had learned. Dimphel showed us plans and
models of his yawl Panola, which is the Indian name for cotton
seed, and in the early evening took us back in the launch.
Thursday was fine and warm; and while the man was varnishing
the boat we walked about the pretty little village. There was a fine
westerly breeze later, and we set our ensign on jackstaff, and sailed
over, close-hauled under the balloon staysail to Dimphel's cove; gave
him a gun, and anchored alongside his yawl, photographed, and meanwhile
man filled our tank with the cool, clear rainwater from the splendid
cement arrangement Dimphel has for storing the water from his
slate-roofed house. He says the fevers of the Eastern Shore are caused
by the shallow wells which fill with surface drainage.
MONA IN DELAWARE BAY, 1894.
IN THE DOLDRUMS.
OLD DAN LONEY TAKES HIS EASE AT THE TILLER.
MONA : SOUTHWARD HO !
MONA: OFF THE POTOMAC.
After a visit on board from Mrs. D., who berated us for not
dining with them, we set sail, and Dimphel came along in his boat,
beating us; but our anchor was hanging in the water, we were towing a
great big sharpie we had hired to take the place of our boat, and the
wind was very light for our small rig. After waving farewells, Dimphel
went home, and we went ashore for ice, and made ready to sail next
Friday was cool and clear, with fair breeze from the
southwest. After early breakfast we were away at six o'clock; a dead
beat all the way out. Air got very light at Cook's Point, and kept so
all the way down the channel behind Sharp's Island; standing in too far
towards the long pier where we grounded on a hard sandbar; lowered
everything at once and pushed off with the boat boom.
The breeze freshened then, and after a couple of tacks we
were able to clear the south end of Sharp's Island, and stand all the
way across the bay. The western shore is very fine; bold, with cliffs
about a hundred feet high, in between which are green valleys, or
gullies, running down to the bay. As the breeze freshened we soon ran
due south, close-hauled, down to Cove Point Light. Here it blew very
fresh, and the bobble, as the local men call it, was bad, the
tide running out the Patuxent making a short confused sea, and we got
pretty well washed. Mona pitched very badly, and the jerks were hard on
We got a hard dusting heading up to Drum Point Light, where
we anchored with some schooners in the cove. The boat that followed us,
a heavy working schooner, had only a reefed mainsail and jib; showing
how hard it was blowing. We went ashore, and the surf on the beach was
so bad that we had to take off our shoes and roll up trousers to make a
landing. Hauled the boat up under the cliff; it was too steep to climb,
but we found a sort of ladder made of two logs and cross planks. At the
top was a great deserted house; found a store, but it was locked up. As
we were coming back met a man on a horse, who turned out to be the
postmaster of Drum Point Landing; he kindly took our letters and told
us where we could get milk: we found it in an old ramshackle house. The
pull back to the boat was very tough. Having only had chocolate and
bread and jam during the day we were very hungry. After dinner we
rigged up preventer forestay of our tow line, and felt easier about the
The steamer came down the river using her searchlight, and,
as one passenger was going to Baltimore, she was signaled and made her
landing, and so we knew our letters had gone. The early part of the
night was all thunderstorms, not very bad with us, but they gave a
great display over Eastern Shore. About two o'clock in the morning I
noticed we had wind from the westward. At half after four we were up
and getting under way, and at five, as we ran out of the cove, the sun
rose in a magnificent immense red ball. We passed Cedar Point Light,
and the breeze freshened so that at eight o'clock we had made the
fifteen miles to Point No Point buoy in three hours. We had light airs
after that and did not round Stingray Point and anchor in the bay-like
mouth of the Piankatank until four o'clock in the afternoon. Then we
put sail on the dinghy and sailed in to a wharf on the north shore,
which we learned was called Jackson's Landing, and where we were able
to send telegrams via telephone to West Point, forty miles away on the
York River. Back for dinner, and in the evening had a strong west wind,
which came warm but dry and pine-laden. At sunset the scene was lovely:
the bay seemed like a tropical one, with white sand beaches surrounded
with tall pines, each with a clump of branches at the top, sixty feet
up; exactly like the palms in the East Indies. A glowing red sun and a
pale pink and green sky completed the really tropical scene. That night
we lounged on deck until after dark, and felt quite as though we had
gone foreign: say to the South Sea Islands.
Next morning we found a fresh northwest wind, and were under
way at five o'clock, eating breakfast as we rounded Cherry Point. Then
we put the dinghy on deck and made very fair time down past the Wolf
Trap, and kept going until abreast of New Point Comfort, where the
breeze began to die out. Below York Spit it died away altogether, and
by eleven o'clock we were in the doldrums. We were delighted with the
clearness of the water; could see everything below distinctly, not
merely the outline, but each seam in the copper: discovered a small
piece was loose near the rudder stock where it chafes. This calm kept
up for a couple of hours and then we got a light easterly wind, which
worked us down to the Thimble; there the flood tide caught us and
rushed us into Old Point. The entrance to the anchorage is very narrow
and good steerage way is necessary; a steamer coming out from the wharf
bothered us, but we worked inside the bar, near the Hotel Chamberlain,
and anchored among the pilot boats in three fathoms; the chart gives no
idea of the amount of space and the depth of water there is in there.
We arrived at four o'clock in the afternoon, and after
furling the sails and setting awning, had early dinner; dressed and
went ashore, walked through the hotels, all about the fort and over to
Hampton, where we saw the old church, built in 1726. Back and read
On Monday we went over to Norfolk by boat to Willoughby's
Spit, and then by trolley through the pines. Saw some immense
In Norfolk, wandered about, saw fine old residences, then
over to Gosport, where we inspected the Navy yard and went aboard the
new gunboat Nashville and over the Amphitrite, and
through the boat shops. Back to Norfolk and had lunch, bought a ham;
then back on board Mona. In the evening it rained, but we were very
comfortable under the awning: crabbed and caught a dozen.
Tuesday it rained during breakfast, but we set out at nine
o'clock with southwest wind; got into the doldrums, off Back River, as
on Sunday, and only reached York Spit at three o'clock in the
afternoon. There we got enough breeze to take us up to the Wolf Trap
Light, where, at eight o'clock, we had a squall and ran for awhile
under the foresail; as the wind died out again and the rain came down
we set half the mainsail; afterwards set jib; soon we had another
squall and had to again take in sail. It kept up alternate squall,
rain, and calm; finally, about ten o'clock, settled down a fair breeze
from the southeast, and began to look as though it was going to blow
from that direction. We headed up for Windmill Point Light with the
intention of going under the north shore of the Rappahannock, but as it
cleared a little and we could see the land in the flashes of lightning,
we decided to run for the Piankatank and managed to get in about
midnight without further bother; as soon as we anchored it of course
cleared off nicely.
Next morning the breeze was very brisk from the northwest.
While waiting to see if it would change we went ashore at Jackson's
Wharf and up to a farmhouse for a gallon of milk; seeing a fine laurel
rose tree I got a cutting and bought a stone jar to fill with earth to
try to keep it until we could get home; it looked pretty in the cabin
the balance of the cruise, but alas it died. I now have a living
cutting from the same tree as a souvenir. After taking milk on board we
sailed in dinghy up to the beach on north side of harbor, called Pine
Top. It is a beautiful hard white sand stretch, with pines, fresh water
ponds, herons and hawks hovering about, for all the world like a
tropical island. Soon a bad squall drove us back on board. About lunch
time we discovered the tank was empty; so sailed up near the wharf and
found a house where the owner let us pump his well dry: two dozen
buckets did it. While this was being done we bought a basket of melons
and one of corn, tomatoes, and other vegetables.
Then ashore again with the intention of walking to the
village, a mile and a half away; when half way there, along came the
man from whom we got the water and vegetables, who invited us to ride;
he was going over to North End, a landing on the Rappahannock, to try
to buy some fruit baskets. We went with him, had a pleasant ride for
about eight miles through interesting country. On our return secured a
piece of ice which had just come down on the steamer from Baltimore,
got some vinegar and molasses and sailed out to the boat in another
squall. After dinner, again went on shore for another gallon of milk,
and then to the beach, where we filled one of the sail bags with pine
needles, or as nearly so as we could before the mosquitoes drove us
away. Up to this time the only place the mosquitoes had annoyed us on
board was at Old Point Comfort.
Thursday the wind was still northwest, but not so stiff, so
we started out and made fair headway to Windmill Point, the north shore
of the Rappahannock; there the breeze died away and we had a calm for a
couple of hours, then light breezes; but a bad squall in the north made
us decide to put in to the Great Wicomico River and not attempt to
cross the ten-mile stretch at the mouth of the Potomac late in the
afternoon; the wind was so light that it was five o'clock before we
anchored among the bugeyes in Cockerell's Creek, behind Fleets Point
bar. We bought three watermelons for a quarter, had a bully dinner, and
after it had log writing on deck. It was cool and pleasant. Yesterday,
on shore, everybody complained and said it was very warm for that
region, but we found it very pleasant; in fact, it is much cooler here
than on the Delaware; the large body of salt water must make it so.
Even before the thunderstorms it does not seem to be so warm, and we
seldom noticed the heat. Sampled the melons and found them poor.
Friday the breeze was brisk from the northwest; after
breakfast, however, we sailed at seven o'clock, but as soon as we got a
couple of miles beyond the lighthouse we found such a head sea and
strong wind that we reluctantly put back, and were again at our
anchorage in an hour. After hauling up the dinghy to repair a leak in
it, put the sail on it and sailed about three miles up Cockerell's
Creek, where we got milk and vegetables, posted letters and found a
telephone in Reed's store, Reedville. Back on board, shelled lima
beans, and after lunch sailed down the north beach of the bay and had a
Next morning the wind was still northwest, but we made a
start and were soon across the mouth of the Potomac; there the wind
died away, and later we got a weak southerly air, which carried us up
to abreast the Patuxent at three o'clock. As the usual thunderstorms
were ahead we put in, and were anchored shortly after four; bought
fish, went ashore for tobacco and milk: on our return we went in to
swim and unfortunately were both badly stung by sea nettles. I had it
all over, and particularly bad on the neck; tried everything, and as
Dimphel had told us the sting lasted twenty-four hours, we were almost
crazed by the thought; however, after a couple of hours it abated, and
in four hours was gone enough to allow sleep.
Sunday morning, wind still north, but we put out
nevertheless; it was a lovely fresh morning, but with ebbing tide and
head wind we made little headway. On several tacks we stood close into
the Devil's Woodyard on the western shore. This picturesque place is
described by James Hungerford in The Old Plantation.
"There could scarcely be a more impenetrable
wilderness. Seldom, excepting the winter days when the branches are
bare of leaves, did the sunshine have an opportunity of looking into
its secret places. Briers and various undergrowth filled up the space
between the trees, and over and among these lay, at frequent intervals,
vast piles of decaying trunks. The ground, too, on which the forest
stood was almost a continuous swamp, either because of the numerous
springs, or because the rain water, being retained from oozing through
the soil on account of its clayey base, and receiving but little heat
from the sunshine to cause it to evaporate, remained where it fell, or
still more probably, on both accounts."
We made rather short tacks off this spot, wishing we had
time to anchor and make a landing.
What there was of the air was ahead, but we were just able
with jib topsail to screw up to Walnut Cove, where we anchored about
nine at night. Next morning, as the wind continued ahead, and as I had
to be home soon on account of business, we decided to run up the
Choptank to Cambridge and get a train there; but off Castle Haven, the
air beginning to get light, we crawled over to Oxford, where we
deserted the ship. Got a train at one o'clock and were in Philadelphia
at five. The man got a hand to help him and in a few days worked the
boat up to the club house.
© 2000 Craig O'Donnell, editor & general factotum.
May not be reproduced without my permission. Go scan your own damn