OMOOS (Partly single-handed)
George Barrie, Jr.
Have you ever been to that choice little spot
That's known as Poplar Island Pot?
If you've ever lain there all safe and sound
Your anchor deep down in the oozy ground.
You surely will with me agree,
'Tis like an atoll of the southern sea.
Over the low-lying Bayside strand
Stand out the bold bluffs of the western land.
While schooners here and bugeyes there
Drift up the Bay with the southerly air.
Yonder lies Herring Bay so open and bleak,
To one who knows not its snug little creek.
Sharp's Island Light, a faint, faint speck,
Shows through the break in the southern neck.
While over the Narrows, all sparkling and blue,
Where once walked the cats of Carroll's nephew,
Lies Haddaway's Cove and the Eastern Shore
That land of promise in the days of yore.
Old Annapolis town and Bloody Point Light
By a grove of fine pines is kept from your sight,
But when the northwester sweeps over the Bay
They will afford you a calm, quiet day,
There you'll realize, while all safe and sound,
That life in the open is one happy round.
ARRIVED on board Omoo in Annapolis at one A.M. As I
paddled out saw the Merlin anchored off Heller's.
Up next morning shortly after five o'clock, somewhat sleepy,
but anxious to get provisions, ice, etc., for an early start. While at
breakfast Alexander, A.G.'s son and heir, came on board. He and his
father had left the club on Monday, and this was Thursday; had had more
or less trouble with the engine, which had lately been changed from
make-and-break to jump-spark, and that spark kept them on the jump all
Cloudy and moderate northeast wind.
It had been arranged that Alexander was to help me sail the
Omoo until Bob would join me, sometime during the week. So, shortly
after seven o'clock, Alexander came back on board and we ran into
Burtis's wharf to fill tanks, after doing this I went up town for the
provender. Moved out into the harbor again and let go the anchor near
After some talk it was decided that the Omoo would start for
South River and that the Merlin would follow later. By this time the
clouds had disappeared and all surrounding nature looked bright and
pleasant. Had a favoring breeze until we entered South River; then had
to make a couple of hitches to get past the black buoy off Selby's Bay.
As I am fond of pottering around on board I generally put the innocent
guest at the tiller, so Alexander, aged fifteen, took her to windward
first class; he had steered all the way, and while running had handled
her with the tackle on the tiller. By one o'clock we were having our
pre-luncheon swim in Harnet's Creek, a snug little anchorage about two
miles up. In the afternoon Alexander sailed about in the longboat,
while I tinkered and kept watch for the Merlin, which arrived at three
o'clock, after a rolling passage over Tolly and Thomas Points bars,
first running on one cylinder and then the other, but never two running
at the same time, so when A.G. came over for dinner that evening he at
once demanded back his heir to steer for him, while he ran from the
timer to the coil and then back again, or changed plugs or tested the
In the evening Alexander ground their phonograph, while I
lay in the cockpit wrapped up in a blanket, and his father fished by
moonlight at an old duck blind, where he caught, after a two hour
seance, two toadfish! A most perfect night, moon plumb full, gentle
breeze rustling the close-at-hand trees, with now and again an
occasional call from a whippoorwill. A pity to go to bed, but was
terribly sleepy from having missed so much last night.
Next morning dawned cloudy with good southeast breeze.
Breakfasted and then pumped out, as the vessel bad mysteriously taken
to leaking since I came on board. About eight o'clock I started off,
single-handed, for West River, under engine as far as the red buoy off
Mayo Point, where I made sail and beat to the black buoy below Selby's
Bay, whence I could just lay a course which enabled me to squeeze past
the red off Saunder's Point, then had eased sheets to the entrance of
Cox's Creek and engined into Tenthouse Creek, so-called from the fact
that Quakers from different parts of the surrounding shores used to
camp there while attending yearly meetings. Merlin came in at lunch
time, and shortly after rain began and kept up until late that night.
After dinner Alexander and I climbed up over muddy fields to visit
OMOO'S COCKPIT AND "SOUVENIR DE CAVE MOUQUIN."
OMOO: R.B., JR, AT THE TILLER.
Saturday morning was ideal.
Northwest breeze, bright sun, and cool, clear atmosphere.
Dried sails and awnings; moved lots of stone ballast in a fruitless
search for the leak; varnished the rail and looked over numerous other
small affairs. Lunched on the Merlin. They had also been busy painting
and cleaning. Alexander was soon off ashore for the hilltop, while A.G.
and I sailed our small boats around to Galesville, where I bought
cornmeal and he posted letters. The wind shifted and fell, so we had a
long paddle back. Wrote and read for some time, then into store clothes
for supper ashore with friends. More fine moonlight, and the party
tried to make me see the female face in the moon, but I am hanged if I
can see any, and anyone that can has a ripping imagination.
Another dream of a morning.
Northwest. Up at six o'clock and soon had breakfast on the table.
Arranged with Merlin that I would stop at Poplar Island if the wind
fell, or go to Oxford if it held. It did not fall. Alexander helped me
get up sail and dropped back in his small boat as I slipped out of the
creek. Off the black can, at the entrance to the river, came the first
good puff just as I squared away for Bloody Point, five miles distant
across the Bay. Had a tackle on the tiller and sat on a camp stool
during the run across, although the wind most of the time was on the
end of the boom. As I left the shore the bobble increased, and over in
the tide rip at the entrance to Eastern Bay the water was pretty well
Two miles past the light I had to get the boom over for the
run down Poplar Island Narrows, so started to come about, but, as the
board was up, had to make two attempts and lower it a little before I
got around. On the wind I felt the weight of the breeze, so lowered
mainsail and ran under jib while I tucked in two reefs. The old box
thrashed about in the cross sea, and I had to hang on with all claws.
Managed it before long, and was soon back on my camp stool enjoying the
scenery. Breeze now lightened, and when I got down to Low's Point she
nearly rolled out the mast; the boom banged while the jib slapped out
with jerks which shook the whole vessel. Slid over the bar close to the
point and got in smoother water; passing five or six bay schooners,
evidently north bound, taking shelter.
Shortly after, it breezed up, and I had a bustling run up to
Benoni Point, where I then came close-hauled for Oxford. Had to flatten
right down, and although there were two reefs in the main and a full
jib she held up splendidly, and I was able to anchor under the weather
shore opposite the town. Twenty-nine knots in a little less than five
and one-half hours.
Had hoped for a swim, but the water was white with sea
nettles. About four o'clock the breeze lightened somewhat, so I ran
over to the town under power and anchored above the steamboat wharf. No
signs of the Merlin; too heavy for her outside I supposed. Felt
somewhat lonely at dinner, but a fine sail in the little boat around to
the depot to send a telegram made me feel somewhat better.
Singlehandedness doesn't go well after cruising in company.
Still bothered with the leak, which, however, kept the bilge
sweet and clean. Every morning fresh, spring-like water ran out of the
scuppers, and in the evening a little exercise helped digestion. Hoped
to get hauled out here, and my hopes were made a certainty when I saw
the railway empty, but got a severe setback when the owner informed me
that it was "broke down" by a heavy pungy two days ago and would be
"broke" for a week. A wire from the Merlins said they had run short of
gasoline and had gone back to Annapolis, but would be along that day.
Varnished skylights and painted sides of the cabin house. Merlin
arrived at two-thirty; engine had an intermittent cough.
The next two days we lay at anchor, I sailed and pottered
around, while the Merlins tested the engine (it ran fine at anchor) and
fished. I never could understand that fishing of theirs, it would break
out every few hours, rain or shine, and they never caught anything;
others around them caught perch, but they only pulled up lines and
lowered them again. Bob, with his son, arrived at eight o'clock on the
second night, so we planned to sail next morning for Poplar Island.
Thursday, the 29th.
We left Oxford at eight o'clock, the Merlin about half an hour later. A
beautiful clear morning and a fine northwest breeze, which gave us a
good sail as far as Low's Point, where it grew light, so we started the
engine for the beat up to Poplar Island. A few long tacks took us up to
the black and white spar buoy which marks the end of the bar running
out from the south end of the island. Here we caught up with a skipjack
loaded with watermelons, so the Old Man went over to her in the small
boat, while I hovered around. In a few minutes he was back with two
melons, one of which was eaten that day and the other later on. As the
breeze fell flat we took in sail and set awning, so we were all ready
to drop below for lunch when we anchored in the Pot at one o'clock. A
very dirty sloop from somewhere near New York and the Merlin were the
only strange vessels there.
This island at one time belonged to Charles Carroll of
Carrollton, and his neighbors appeared to have been of the temperament
of Huckleberry Finn, Sr., as they "borrowed" a small schooner of his,
and in an endeavor to get it back he described it, in the Maryland
Gazette, as follows:
"The height of the mainsail is about twenty-seven
feet, and has been much mended; almost a whole breadth taken out of the
after part has been middle-stitched through every seam and has a patch
of canvas in the after clew; the foresail also has been much mended,
particularly herringboned, which is faced with a new piece of osnaburg
from the clew up to the gaff."
Apparently, the old gentleman was of a closefisted nature,
caring little for show and bound to get the last pennyworth out of
everything. Perhaps he had some Scotch blood in him. One of his
descendants, who afterward owned the island, displayed the true flyaway
Irish spirit. He had seen the value of furs rapidly increase, so he
bethought himself of a source of never-failing supply and stocked the
island with black cats.
What a rending there must have been of the soft stilly
night. But the bearers of valuable fur evidently did not care for the
pastoral beauties of the island, and one night, when the Narrows became
solid with ice, the whole drove emigrated and soon were no doubt
scattered over the adjacent countryside. Up to a few years ago there
were still visible the remains of an old monastery, the lower half of
the walls having been constructed of brick and are said to have been a
yard thick, while the interior was divided into small cells, each
separated by walls of such a solidity as would keep the inmates in
complete solitude. When the present owners purchased the atoll-like
formation from the descendants of the signer, they say that at least a
hundred persons, scattered in all parts of the world, signed the deed,
and some three or four years passed between the signing of the first
and the last.
We had not been anchored ten minutes before A.G. was aboard
with proposals that we cross the Bay that afternoon while it was
smooth, as his engine was running worse than ever. At one-forty-five we
were once more on the move, making our three and one-half knots under
power bound for West River. I forgot to say that the Merlins anchored
at the striped buoy in the Narrows, where several boats were fishing,
to try their luck, but they came off fishless as usual. "Dish-calm" all
afternoon. We cut across the bar at the head of the island, while the
Merlin needlessly went around the red buoy, so it took them some time
to catch up to us. The five little horses below kept trotting along
until five-forty, when we anchored in Tenthouse Creek. The Merlin did
not reach here much before, as they had been varying cylinders all the
way over. Early dinner and a visit ashore polished off the evening.
The next morning was cloudy with faint westerly airs, but,
as we expected to go only to Annapolis, we did not leave until nine
o'clock. Engined as far as Rhode River, where we hoisted sail but kept
the engine running until off Saunder's Point, where the breeze
freshened, and, as it shifted to southwest, we set spinnaker and
proceeded under sail alone. Had a nice little run, with R.B., Jr., as
timoneer, up across Thomas Point bar and through the slue on Tolly
Point bar, after which we set the spinnaker as balloon jib, but the
wind soon died out and we ended the run under engine. Went to the
shipyard to see about being hauled out to have the leak stopped, but
found there was no hope for a day or two -- always busy at that yard.
After lunch we went to town for provisions, and found it was somewhat
warm. Although we wasted no time, it was four o'clock before we set off
under engine across the harbor bound for Carr's Creek, a snug little
sliver of water running up the western side of Greenberry Point
peninsula. The young Merlin, the Old Man, and his son went for fishing
in the lagoon: an hour of it, nothing but eels; while A.G. and I
visited a small bateau repairer's shop a little distance up the creek.
Pleasant evening in the cockpit with phonograph before going to bed.
Shortly after daybreak we slipped out of the creek under
power, setting mainsail and jib as we swung into the Severn and eased
off the sheets to a light northwest breeze, which gradually freshened
as the sun came up. Quite a fleet of vessels went out the harbor that
morning, some bound south, but nearly all headed up the Sandy Point
shore for Baltimore. Breakfast was soon started, and both first and
second tables were finished before we reached the brick light off Sandy
Point. We saw a rather curious thing in the shape of a skipjack towing
out of an inlet just above Goose Pond, a scow on which was a small
building, evidently a schoolhouse or a church, and starting down the
Bay; at first sight, when it was hidden behind a low point, it appeared
to be traveling at a good rate over land.
From the Point all the bay boats stood over for the Eastern
Shore, so we followed, as the bayman nearly always knows the best way
to beat tide and wind. Two tacks the fleet made to this shore and then
hugged the western, making short tacks, but as we were bound for the
canal we made a third to the eastward, standing well into the Chester
River, then back again, reaching Seven Foot Knoll Light ahead of the
fleet, although we had been away in the rear when we took our last
departure from the western shore.
Shortly after we left the Chester River the breeze freshened
considerably. We were banging along at a great rate, and by the time we
got across it was so heavy we decided to reef; schooners and bugeyes
were taking in foresails, so we put one in the jib and two in the
mainsail, concluding to work up under North Point and anchor. Hardly
had we caught our breath than the wind began to lighten, and we just
bounced up and down, but on starting the engine we slipped along well,
pointing much higher, and when abreast of Front Light concluded to keep
on for Worton's Cove, as we could head well up the western shore, where
it was smooth and where there was not much tide. Lunch was now started
and the Son, as he had lost his breakfast off Seven Foot Knoll, ate two
enormous beef sandwiches, finishing off with a jelly one.
Passed the lower end of Poole's Island and anchored just
around the corner in the creek at two-forty-five. After sail furling
the Father and Son went off in the longboat for a sail, also tried
fishing (no luck) at a wharf on which there were fourteen hundred
baskets of tomatoes. A swim later on helped to increase our appetites
for dinner. Evidently too heavy for the Merlins, as they did not
appear, and we had a somewhat lonesome evening in the cockpit. Pumped
out as usual before turning in, but the banging of the day did not seem
to have increased the leak.
On Sunday morning the breeze was still from the northwest,
and although we were up at six o'clock, we did not leave the creek
until about eight, and proceeded under power to the red can off
Worton's Point, where we set sail. On the way out we passed very close
to the yawl Nautillus, of Camden; the crew said they had gone
down outside, and they were evidently blundering back inside without
charts, as they wanted to know where the Elk River was. The engine held
us up so that we were able to lay a course for Howell's Point, and the
yawl was soon left astern.
Wind lightened somewhat as we passed Howell's Point at
ten-thirty and we anchored in Rogues Harbor, under Turkey Point, for
lunch. This little cove affords, for drafts under four feet, very good
protection, as it is really much more sheltered than it appears to one
when looking at the chart, but if entering at night a sharp lookout
must be kept for the one or two fish pounds which are set there. We
went on and by three o'clock were anchored just above Court House
Point, and Bob and his son went out sailing in the longboat, while I
prepared a stew for dinner. Had a visit from an acquaintance, owner of
one of the little bungalows picturesquely situated at the mouth of Back
Creek, who was exceedingly enthusiastic over the Omoo. Very cool in the
cockpit after sundown; being more like the end instead of the beginning
As we wanted to make the club next day we were under power
at five o'clock, but had not gone far before rain began, and it lasted
until just before we tied up at Chesapeake City, where we had breakfast
before locking in at eight. After an uneventful trip we locked out at
twelve o'clock; set sail and struggled with an ebb tide, which did not
change until we were near Wilmington, but arrived at the club just in
time for dinner; luckily for us, as we had eaten the last of the fresh
provisions for lunch. Merlin appeared next day.
© 2000 Craig O'Donnell, editor & general factotum.
May not be reproduced without my permission. Go scan your own damn