Skipjack on Chesapeake Bay, and other Maryland views…

October 16, 2009

On Tuesday the 13th, we drove with our Phillie friends Skip and Gretchen (after shoving a lot of stuff out of the Prius to accommodate them) out to Tilghman Island, MD, where we’d reserved a B&B called the “Wood Duck Inn,” to return today, the 16th. Tuesday was pretty good weather, but our lucky streak was dashed on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (today), with a lot of rain messing up the landscape (and robbing us of good photo lighting!). But hey, we were here, had planned a bunch of activities, and so they unfolded. From the gallery, which is extra large due to all its coverage, you’ll deduce that we stopped on the way at the Elk Neck State Park for a short hike and some good views. After sleeping and rising at the Wood Duck Inn, weather was greying up for our first morning there, and we decided it was time to embark on a Skipjack cruise:

The Skipjack "Rebecca Ruark," commissioned c. 1884

The Skipjack "Rebecca Ruark," commissioned c. 1884

Rebecca Ruark's Captain Wade Murphy

Rebecca Ruark's Captain Wade Murphy

A Skipjack is a single-masted shallow draughted boat, able to easily navigate over shallow oyster beds around Chesapeake Bay. Ours was captained by Captain Wade Murphy, a Waterman of 52 years of experience at harvesting oysters and (blue) crabs. I think he’s owned the Rebecca Ruark for about 35 years. You can see by the portrait that he’s a man who’s been aged by his years of exposure to the elements. This man is 2 years younger than I, yet of vastly greater experience with the weather! From Capt. Wade we learned a lot about oystering (and crabbing) and its history on the Chesapeake Bay. He’s spent most of his life out there, and has definite feelings and opinions about politics, global warming (he’s a strong believer), etc., insomuch as they affect the oysters, crabs, and other sea and bird life of the region. One interesting point he made (of many) was how the role of the Susquehanna River, originally flowing unimpeded into the head of the Bay, has changed over the years. It used to “flush the Bay,” in his words, keeping the level of brackish and salt water under control, allowing parts of the Bay to freeze over in winter. But with the advent of dams and flow control measures along the Susquehanna, the Bay has become more and more salty/brackish over the years, over a much larger percentage of its area.

Jane at the Helm!

Jane at the Helm!

Well, Capt. Wade would hardly think of letting us landlubbers get away without doing a little work; as you’ll see in the gallery, he recruited me to heist the mainsail, and look, here’s Jane at the helm! We sailed for a little over two hours, and Capt. Wade dropped a dredge over an oyster bed, from which two live oysters were netted. The dredge was filled with some other organisms he called “Sea Squirts,” which he said resided in a huge layer over the top of where oysters normally grow on the sea bed. He can judge oyster size by eyeball, but out of formality, he measured each of our two oysters with a 3″ measuring device, which happens to be the minimum size oyster which may be kept. In fact, oystermen on board oyster catching craft must measure each oyster caught to ensure size limits are met. The two we caught were eaten by two passengers who’d had lots of oyster-eating experience, being from Jersey! 😉

Thursday also opened with rain, but we decided to go ahead with our plans to take the auto ferry over to Oxford, visit Cambridge, and also buzz down to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, to see what we could see. Though it was quite rainy in Cambridge, seat of Dorchester County, the rain didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the excellent lunch we enjoyed at the Bistro Poplar restaurant there; we learned that their Chef, a Cambridge native, was formerly Chef at the Bouchon Restaurant in Yountville, CA, for those gastronomically inclined readers’ interest. Although we did encounter a lot of rain early, by the time we’d gotten to the Blackwater, the rain had eased up a lot, making it at least possible to view some wildlife out there on the refuge. Here’s the forest floor at Blackwater, cleared to make life easier for the particular squirrels who habituate this area:

The Forest Floor at Blackwater National Refuge

The Forest Floor at Blackwater National Refuge

Did we see Eagles? Yes we did, but hardly at an easy range to photograph, nor was the light much good for showing them off well. But hey, here’s a Bald Eagle with a flock of Canada Geese behind; isn’t that enough? 😉

A Bald Eagle, backed by Canada Geese at Blackwater

A Bald Eagle, backed by Canada Geese at Blackwater

As you can see from the gallery, we saw some other birds too, and finally returned to Tilghman hoping for a better next day, but ’twasn’t to be, ’twasn’t to be. Just a traveler’s note on the Wood Duck Inn at Tilghman: It’s an excellent place to stay. It has a view of Dogwood Harbor (where the Skipjacks are moored), and serves an excellent breakfast cuisine, something different every day. And, we made a few new friends during our breakfasts there to further enhance the experience.

We drove north today through rainy Centreville, (see photos in gallery of some houses there), and spent considerable time in Chestertown, where we visited the excellently-portrayed Geddes-Piper house, replete with excellent museum librarian Joan Anderson, who added a lively note to the atmosphere, exemplified by this homey-looking fireplace:

Fireplace of the Geddes-Piper house in Chestertown, MD

Fireplace of the Geddes-Piper house in Chestertown, MD

Please see our gallery, larger than usual to cover our four rainy days of travels! Next blog entry will emanate from Charlottesville, VA, in Blue Ridge Mountain country. See you later!

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2 Responses to “Skipjack on Chesapeake Bay, and other Maryland views…”

  1. Don McDonald said

    This episode has been jolly interesting to this ex-Marylander. You are seeing more of the Chesapeak Bay than I ever managed to do during our 10 years residence in Silver Spring.

  2. Gerry said

    What great pictures. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful way to see with your eyes, instead of mine. Bless you Gerry

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