And afetr that, we picked up our good friend and very able cruiser, Peg Guilfoile. Here's her spin on what happened next! I carefull edited this by adding a couple carriage returns. I have lots of photos of these places, but for some reason this blog ill not accept them any more....
Rain in Baltimore. A stubborn insistence on public transportation means a grand total of $1.60 in train fare into town from the airport, and connecting with something mysteriously called the Charm City Circulator, and that is free. Sally finds me under an awning on AliceAnne Street and it turns out that Fells Point is just my favorite kind of urban neighborhood. A leftover from an earlier century, brick streets, winding and responsive to the flow and necessities of the harbor. Narrow. Row houses with flat fronts, larger structures that once were warehouses servicing the old pier, with a building that must have been enormous in its day, that had a ballroom on its top floor. Tremendous warehouse space in the middle, tattered enclosure to its lasting large bones, flanked by the remains of what must have been merchant offices or city customs, with tremendous iron columns flanking the doors. battered oversized lamps on top. Ethnic community traces everywhere, fish market with round-eyed fish peering up from their ice beds, and, tucked away on Shakespeare Street, a tiny enclosure remnant of a graveyard that apparently still holds a few Fells of Fells Point.
Drizzling turns to spitting turns to steady rain. A good town for umbrellas, many bright and patterned. We are docked on the free dock, on the old waterfront, right in the middle of the neighborhood, across the harbor from a huge tanker called The Last Tycoon. It must be a good town, too, for naming boats. The water taxi fleet, ordinary, open to the rain, seats all wet, are called Insatiable, Indomitable, Indefatigable, Endeavour, Alacrity, and Celerity. I love this.
Tucked up in my berth after a long talky dinner, rain on the hatches. I don't need to be out in the streets of Fells Point to know that they are wet and dark, gritty, haunted by a few hundred years of former occupants, bustling, crowding, hustling, building a city and a country along the way. This neighborhood was annexed by Baltimore in 1775. Its blocks of buildings, which, southern-style, enclose interior courtyards that can be glimpsed down narrow alleys behind iron grilles. Present-day doors are set into openings that once admitted horses and wagons laden with goods. The sidewalks are made even more narrow by cellar doors that extend toward the street, where goods entered the warehouses. 'Twas a metropolis in its day and an attentive ear could still hear drays and wagons clopping around on business business business, the American elbow-to-elbow business of building a city and a life. And it still is framed by the mighty harbor, indomitable, indefatigable, and a mighty city, insatiable, and full of alacrity.
Pouring rain on Friday morning, making an excellent time for lingering in berth. In the morning, we walked over to the Inner Harbor, built up and shiny and huge, with public institutions of various sorts and also a very cool-looking set of dragonboats for rent. But it was wet wet wet, so eventually we made our way to Whole Foods, indulging in a crab cake sandwich to share, and back to Adirondack to drop off provisions. I found a walking tour online... the Food Tour at Fells Point... which rendezvoused at the North Market, the 'oldest continuously operating public market in the US', there since the 1700s. Things I learned... these brick streets are not brick, but Belgian block, which came over as ballast in shipholds over the centuries; when the ships arrived and filled up with cargo for European ports, they no longer needed the ballast, which the enterprising colonists used to pave their streets. Our food guide James, authentically charming, ushered us through five stops of eating while expounding on the pleasures and interests of Fells Point. A Polish cafe called Ze Mean Bean, entirely empty, which offers a pierogi happy hour with unlimited pierogi for 25 cents. Sauerkraut was best. Sally and I split a krupnik... which was vodka spiced with cinnamon and honey, poured into a glass of Polish lemonade. Fantastic.
Next stop was Hungry Andy's, a dive-y spot where we sampled pit beef sandwiches, with red onion and horseradish. Then Tapas Aleda, where James once worked as a server, with excellent red sangria, special meatballs and spicy potatoes with cheese. We loved One-Eyed Mike's, a pub-ish grand spot with walls and walls of glass cases of individual members' bottles of Grand Marnier, glowing warmly in the light. We slipped through the bar to the back room. Every stool was occupied with early Friday drinkers. It was Maryland crab soup and chicken cakes, a version of crab cakes, and Sally and I shared a Perfect Storm... ginger beer and Grand Marnier and bitters and a little bit of lime. Delicious.
Here we settled for a good talk with pleasant James, a world traveler, a student, who would run a half-marathon as part of the Baltimore Marathon the next day. And we were off to Todd Connor's, an Irish bar named after the owners' two children (it was reported that she was pregnant and they might need to re-name the bar), where we had the foodie equivalent of PBandJ sandwiches and milk. A sauteed peanut butter sandwich with jam spread, and a White Russian. And here we lingered with James, discussing health care and politics and, eventually, going off to sit on the edge of our seats watching Tom Hanks and some Somali actors from Minneapolis in Captain Phillips. James has told us to watch for his friend Ginny the bartender at the Landmark movie theater and, sure enough, there's a classy bar in the corner of the lobby, and she has, as advertised, created a craft drink menu related to the movies then playing. For Captain Phillips, a "Troubled Waters".
Again, it's pouring outside and now we're getting really wet. My MOMA umbrella is getting a workout. But the streets outside classy Landmark, are full of the young beautiful and prosperous and it's a lovely scene to observe, laughing people, well-dressed and shiny, clustering under umbrellas and headed into bars with doormen, visible through wide windows dusted with rain, leaning in toward each other and laughing. Back in Fells Point, Sally and I stay out walking for a while, and each bar here has a... what?...bouncer sitting on a stool outside checking IDs and calling out to passersby to come in for $1 beers or touting the pleasures of their establishment. Passing one, we three wet ones are invited to come in. We, smiling, decline and move on. It seems like a beautiful night, however wet, especially when we find the back door of Bonaparte's Bakery, where good James has told us we can come in the middle of the night to buy chocolate almond croissants right out of the oven, as overnight bakers prepare for weekend custom and deliveries to half the good restaurants in Baltimore. And indeed there is a baker behind the window, cutting pastries on a floury table, and it smells wonderful even in the rain.
We ran across the Chesapeake yesterday under a gray sky, with brisk winds, bundled up on the flybridge, with me re acquainting myself with boat systems and navigation and content to dabble with the several versions of complex charts, the depth finders, the bearing readings, the weather predictions, the tides and currents, and all. And also content to sit up top, hood up, back turned to the wind and look out over the expanse of water and to sit on the stern step, starboard quarter, out of the wind, feet braced against the gunwale, mind wandering. We were headed for Rock Hall, a little hamlet where Jeff and Sally have friends and, to my astonishment, two of those friends are neighbors from Woodland Acres, who have moved out east and keep a sailboat on the bay, and the third a sailor gent whom they met in the Exumas and keep track of in their various travels. We went to a town festival, where the fire department was selling fried oyster baskets, craft booths lined Main Street, with live music at both ends of the three-block expanse. In the children's area, you could ride a pony, jump in a bouncy house, or milk a patient long-suffering goat. Just off the street was a tiny gathering of moved-in formed one-room tourist cottages, painted in bright colors, and occupied by artists and sellers. At the back of this Oyster Court, down a winding gravel path, the most permanent of these is a little personal museum for a long-gone amusement park, Tolchester Park, which apparently once was a feature of the Eastern Shore until its demise around 1962. The gentleman greeter turns out to be the collector, too, and the proprietor, who points out both a newspaper article about the charms of the tiny spot, and a photo of himself and brother, ages 5 and 6, perched on a studio pony of long ago for a softly blurred photograph. Many photos on the wall, including some charmers of the bingo tent in that long ago spot, with a woman caller whom this gentlemen knew. Also many revelers in swimming outfits, large hats and parasols and, later, staid dresses of the fifties. They picnic, sun, pose, smile from old battered black frames. We talk about carousels -- there are three separate ones pictured on the wall, glimpses of a grand PTC, a very early Armitage Herschell, and a smaller and uglier one -- and while we stand a look, Mr. Proprietor says, quietly, 'well, it was a nicer time'.
Later, dining at the Harbor Shack and a cozy night docked up on the free wall. And this morning, crossing again, this time through a narrow and fast-moving channel toward St. Michael. We'll be anchoring out there within the hour.... no public dock... and headed to a Maritime Museum through a new-to-me charming historic village, riding wet in the dinghy from Adirondack to the dinghy dock onto the streets of St. Michael.
Tuesday...or maybe Monday
where I am charmed by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, a really good one with a fine lighthouse exhibit where the id placques are embedded in the artifacts and you are encouraged to open and look inside and behind and below. I'm used to the lighthouse shapes of the Great Lakes and these Chesapeake versions are broader and less tall... I suppose the lower topography here of islands and trees doesn't require the height that dunes and rock cliffs would. They are perched on enormous iron legs which, I learn, are screwed into the sand and mud of the bottom. Charmed here, too, by a tremendous exhibit on Playing on the Chesapeake with wonderful photos and artifacts of people boating, swimming, skiing, oystering, beach picnicking, and all the things people love to do in sun, sand and water. There a wonderful 1946-vintage cruiser called Isabel, which the same family ran for fifty years around the Bay and finally donated it to the Museum, where it rocks against the pilings; they use it to take people for rides on days more clement than this one.
There's an exhibit of oystering on the Bay, with video and sound track while you clamber over a skipjack. And a statue of a Chesapeake Bay retriever, apparently all descended from a couple of shipwrecked Newfoundland puppies long ago. Oh, I love these local museums.
On Monday, at least I think it's Monday, we motor a few hours in welcome sunshine to Cambridge. It's a beautiful ride on the Bay; we cut through Knapp's Narrows to save time, at nearly slack tide, and are still pushed out like a cork from a bottle beyond the bridge, where the reds/greens reverse again and I'm thrown back on the chart to figure out, as best as I can, where we are red-right-returning to, and from. Emerging from the channel, we pass the Rebecca Ruark, the oldest operating skipjack on the Bay, built in 1866 for heaven's sake, carrying a load of middle-schoolers who labor, in teams of three, to raise her sails when she is ready go to sail from the pushboat, also called a yawl.
We tie up on the free wall here, and break out the foldable bikes so Sally and I can ride: to the visitor's center of course for maps and a little artifact-looking, then to some heritage gardens going fall-like and small, and out some commercial streets toward a Harriet Tubman Memorial Gardens, which we find, neglected and a little sad, pressed in a little triangle between busy streets near the big box stores. And we were biking down a rather narrow sidewalk, passing an open door and heard a loud cry of pain and anguish, and when I looked back, it was the open door of a tattoo shop called Lethal Injection and some poor man must have been being pierced at that exact moment. What part of the body would hurt that much?! I don't want to know.
A good day, and sun! We have no particular plan for tomorrow, and that is part of the fun.
It took until today for me to fall for Cambridge, which yesterday seemed somewhat nondescript. Jeff and I took a long bike ride out through town and outside to a palatial Hyatt Regency where we boldly rode the golf cart paths on the River Marsh course, breaching the no bicycling signs and nodding pleasantly at the golfers. A beautiful course. And on the way back we stopped at Central Market and spoke to a nattily dressed elderly gentleman with pomade and a curl in his hair, whose family had been running the store since 1937. Wooden floor, pork necks and they cut your steaks to order, a bag of Maryland beaten biscuits made for the store by the Camper Sisters. Judge Travis stands upright and welcoming and tells us the story of why the upper reaches of the shelves are full of old things... his predecessors, whenever something went out of style or reach and was no longer carried, would save one example and put it up on those high shelves, now a dusty jumble of boxes and cans and bottles, with an occasional crab trap thrown in. We're here for chicken necks, so we can do a crabbing experiment; hang 'em, ripe, from a string which you draw up from the water and net them before they realize they can't breathe air. We get the last package.
Bright yellow crocuses are in bloom here in Cambridge on October 16, and the air is soft and sunny. I am magnetically drawn to a shabby storefront with a few bright old quilts draped outside and a sign that says Visionary Art. Inside a man named Danny Doughty is starting on a large canvas near the open door, standing on a floor with a painted slogan about Peace and God's Love for everyone. The walls are covered with canvases and, to my surprise, there are several that I like. Large bright shapes and female African American figures, faceless, with billowing skirts and, in my favorite in front of a wide arc of bright cottages that remind me of a place I saw last year on Martha's Vineyard. I like Danny Doughty, who lives in the back, and has been painting here for decades, honoring he says, the African American women who saved his life.
A new sailboat has pulled up to the free wall, Sea Something out of Minneapolis, and as we pedal by, they leap out and call Jeff! He doesn't remember them, but they remember meeting him on Stockton Island a couple of years ago. They have sold everything and bought a boat and are headed south for the winter.
And now we're motoring out of the Choptank River toward an anchorage down around Hooper Island where we'll sit and read and sleep. And tomorrow, on.
I napped heavily today, snug in the berth on a gray morning, while Adirondack motored south toward Smith and Tangier Island. Waking groggy after a few hours and showing underway as we approached Smith Island, where the channel in is tight and turning and the chart shows shoals on either side close. The watermen crowd through at full speed while we employ all the info we have, chart and ipad chart and eyes and buoys and all, and into a narrow channel running through a tiny tiny town. Adirondack seems much much bigger here, and higher, as we nod to people on the docks and are largely ignored by the working boatmen bringing their end-of-day catch in for dinner or for business. On the far side, as red/greens reverse again, a crab boat, loaded with eight or ten men, low in the stern, some distance ahead of us, backs and turns and pauses. Through the binocs they appear to be having a meeting of some kind in the long working cockpit, all standing, all with backs to us and consequently facing toward a low island.
Through the channels to Tylerton, watching carefully, ebb tide and mid-tide. We find the town dock, or what we think is the town dock, amid a set of rusted and battered docks and pilings and water structures. A giant man from the Captain Jason II watches us come in... 'is this the town dock' we ask but there is no answer. We do a snappy job of turning and catching, under his indifferent eye, but after we're tied up, fenders on the horizontal, a fellow appears and tells us to move down halfway... the school boat will soon be arriving, and indeed, just after we walk the now giant-appearing Adirondack down 70 feet or so, a catamaran appears and two home-from-school teenagers step off and into golf carts, and away.
The moment when that cat pulls out, growling, and heads to the next island is remarkable. Now there are no people here at all and only the birds calling and a palpable silence falls over the battered little waterfront. There is a flagpole, but the Stars and Stripes have been so eaten by the sea wind that it resembles a battle flag and makes me think of the War of 1812, which was hotly contested in these very waters. There are no roads here, just lanes between houses with picket fences, and many of them garlanded with autumn decorations. Others appear utterly empty. The combo general store/post office/ cafe ("crab cakes") is closed and quiet. A few artificial pumpkins are on the side porch with a hand-printed sign that says Halloweeen decor, buy one get one free'. We walk to the Methodist church, a beautiful facade and walk through the cemetery, between the church and the waterfront, and as I step around the corner of the building between the covered graves, crows break from trees off to the left and from among the graves ahead, and swarm, cawing, into the sky.
There are Tylers here, and Marshalls, and Maggies, and children. Heads and feet are both marked, the land is low and wet and headstones go back several hundred years. All of it, the monuments, must have come by boat from the mainland at some time. The stained glass windows, the pews. There is a church hall below with a large flatscreen, where I imagine movies are sometimes shown and the village business is conducted. And there is not a soul around. No people, no voices, one call of a child a lane or two away, unanswered. We are drawn to even walk quietly and, since the lane is dirt and damp, there is no sound. We walk to the seafood coop. No one. I cannot imagine the ringing of a telephone. At one point, from inside a house, there is a small murmur which might be a television. Is it dinnertime? prayer time? Nap time? It is 4 pm on a Wednesday and there seems to be quite literally no one on the island. We see a battered pickup. And a fire and rescue vehicle parked askew near the seafood co op. The two teens, who took the silent golf carts from the school boat. are gone. No one walks or talks.The gulls are calling, but quietly. At 6, the sun goes behind a cloud bank and the day grays out. It feels like we are the only people on the earth.
We try a little crabbing off the dock, which is laughable. Something might be down there tugging on that ugly chicken neck, but whatever it is is smart enough to let go when it is raised towards its effective sky. We laugh, though, gazing fixedly toward the water, poised with rod in hand, hoping an 8 oz crustacean may be wandering by at exactly the right spot in this vast watery world. WHat are the odds, which I prefer to think, rather than imagining that the floor of the Bay is literally crawling with crabs everywhere. While we're sitting there, the Captain Jason II returns and offloads a group of island women returning from a shopping expedition in Crisfield, and thirty or forty shopping bags from the grocery store, from clothing stores, and from Macy's. Jeff helps them uinload their cargo onto the dock, and helps the larger ladies ashore, where they promptly load everything onto golf carts and zip away with their booty. Presently, the island seems to stir and we see a few people walking along, and a dog.
The boat we saw yesterday turns out to be from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and they settle a couple of docks away and Jeff and I go down to investigate and we are invited to join them for steamed crab. It's a group of young environmental professionals on the Bay for a couple of days; yesterday they set out crab pots, today they harvested a bushel, and we are all three happy to stand with them on the darkened dock breaking the crabs apart and digging the meat out with our hands, tossing the shells into the water.
One of the ladies who is stationed here tells us that the crab picking co-op women will be working tonight but, during an evening walk, the building is quiet and dark. Walking back, we swing by the church and lights are blazing from the basement windows. A murmur of voices can be heard, and the golf buggies are parked outside. Prayer meeting. We wait an hour and walk back out to the co-op, now lit up and occupied. The ladies are startled by our knock, but welcoming, sitting at a huge stainless steel table with a tipped-over bushel basket of crabs within reach under bright light, with a small tv tuned to Survivor. They use a small knife as their only tool as they work through the mass of crabs, stripping away the externals, knocking the shells apart, picking apart the meat and piling it into little one-pound tubs 'packed with pride by the women of Smith Island'.
They are friendly and willing to sell. They wonder how we found them from Minnesota. The harvest is down... why? 'Well, you'd have to ask God that'. These women are the mothers of the two teen girls we saw getting off the school boat earlier. Will their daughters stay on the island? No. One, a basketball player, stays with her grandmother from October to March. 'It's a hard living on the island. They all go live on the mainland,' they say.
And afterwards, we walk through the dark along the deteriorated wharf and shabby boats, and that is the circumference of Tylerton and the island, and back aboard Adirondack with one pound of the freshest crabmeat imaginable, and a recipe for crabcake. It has clouded over and the nearly-full moon is not visible above. A woman is casting for rockfish off the dock nearby and shows us a beauty, then tosses it back. 'Not legal until they're eighteen inches', she says, smiling, and casts again. Night time on the island and the school boat leaves at 6:20 tomorrow morning, with the island daughters aboard.
And it did leave at 6:20 in the morning, rumbling by Adirondack and rousing me from my berth to stand, sleepy, watching it pull away. Shortly after, the friendly hefty captain of Captain Jason II arrived in his rattly pickup with Romney bumper stickers instead of license plates, and boarded to prepare. I stood in our cabin in my pjs watching golf buggies arrive with islanders and bags and parcels, including one the crab-picking ladies from last night, with two kids in tow, who heft their backpacks and settle into the cabin for the ride. A few more people arrive and board until there are eight or so; Jeff goes out to chat, and they are off.
After breakfast, Jeff and I get in the dinghy and zoom over to Ewell, a couple of miles in open water on plane and explore for a bit. The visitor's center is closed, the store is closed. Walking a back lane, returning from a visit to another dock, we run across a building that smells good even from outside. It's the Smith Island Bakery, a small commercial outfit that produces the local delicacy of a ten-layer cake, for restaurants and special occasions. Like the crab co-op in Tylerton, women are working here, with babies and playpens in the corners, a hundred cake pans, buckets of chocolate frosting and baking baking baking. Wonderful smell, and friendly smile and I come away with a 6" version to carry, carefully, back in the dinghy through the grass flats and around the green buoys. Back in Tylerton, at the general store, we smile and chat with watermen having lunch and order crab cake sandwiches to be eaten on oilcloth on a sagging front porch. Delicious. An old beagle is tied to a golf buggy in front, and he retreats as far as he can when two peacocks strut up, the male casting a baleful eye on the little dog. The rockfish fishing lady from last night roars through in her golf buggy calling "look out, peacock!", and laughing as the snowy one clears out. The girls from the Foundation drive by with the leftovers from their last night's feast and go to every house distributing the extra pulled pork and macaroni and cheese and salad, and we get some, too. The sun is shining, roses are blooming in the sideyards, and women are out trimming their bushes and trees in preparation for the winter.
In the afternoon, we have a long rough haul across the Bay to the western shore, and the ones and two foot waves turn into threes with an occasional four. When it starts to rain, we retreat below and Jeff drives from the cabin, while Sally and I watch for other boats. We pass close to two enormous container ships and a barge with tow, and hear traffic from Navy ships in the area, but for most of the 5 hours, we have the Bay to ourselves. We glide eventually, and a little gratefully, to a quiet anchorage in Jackson Creek. I sit up top and read. We eat the pulled pork from the Foundation girls, and watch a nearly-full moon dash in and out of the clouds. Now, they are reading in their cabin, and I am typing in the salon. Tomorrow, an early departure to try to use part of the ebb tide going down-bay toward Hampton. It's forty nautical miles, so another five hours or so, and we hope for good weather. They need to be there tomorrow to attend a Snowbird rendezvous."
Well, that's enough content for at least ten of my blogs, so I'm just going to start another.