"The edges where land and water meet charm us all, from watermen to watercolorists and beachcombers to duck hunters. They please the eye and feed the soul, and more than any other feature shape our consciousness of the Chesapeake Bay." -- Tom Horton in "Bay Country"
Fog warning: Pleasure crafts pass under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Annapolis during the 2002 Volvo Ocean Race. (Photo by Associated Press)
From Havre de Grace, Md., to Norfolk, Va., the Chesapeake Bay's cruising and weekending opportunities abound. The bay's 200 miles touch three states (Maryland, Virginia and Delaware) and its tributaries span 64,000 square miles along the Eastern Seaboard from New York (where you'll find the ancient headwaters of the Susquehanna River) south to the inland bays of the Carolinas.
Perhaps those who most deeply understand and appreciate the Chesapeake's wonders are pleasure boaters and the bed & breakfast set. Since the 1980s, the Chesapeake boating scene has blossomed, with world-class marinas opening along its shores, waterfront restaurants booming and many of its formerly dead-quiet areas bustling with tourists. Weekenders and vacationers for centuries have flocked to the bay's shores for relaxation and recreation.
However, boaters can still find some peace. Just point your bow to Maryland's and drop anchor at the head of the Corsica River, where you're more likely to be serenaded by trilling osprey than by blasting boom boxes. Or spend some time poking around the waters of Gratitude, just north of , where you'll find some tricky channels but all the tranquility you could want, amid little more than waving cattails, unspoiled shoreline and warm, jellyfish-free waters for swimming.
If you're looking to get off the beaten path, head south past and Crisfield (the self-proclaimed Blue Crab Capital of the World) to Virginia's Eastern Shore. There, nearly forgotten sanctuaries like Fishing Bay are ready for weekend anchoring, and the most metropolitan city you'll find along the shores is Onancock, Va., known mostly for Hopkins Bros. (a waterfront general store) and the town's annual celebration of Bay culture, complete with dancing under the stars.
You may also want to ponder Maryland's Western Shore. Baltimore and Washington put their metropolitan best up against the seductive sleepiness of bayside hamlets like Galesville, off the West River, and fishing-mad Chesapeake Beach, just south of the fossil-rich and crumbling Calvert Cliffs, where ancient sharks' teeth and ammonite calcifications regularly find the bottoms of beachcombers' collection bags. And we'd be remiss in not mentioning , the Sailing Capital of the World and home to some of the globe's finest professional yachtsmen.
Next in line to the south is Virginia's Western Shore starting with the Northern Neck, the promontory of fecund land, some 100 miles long, that lies between the Potomac River to the north and the Rappahannock River to the south. The Northern Neck is rightly known as a cruising paradise to boaters, since many of the area's rivers and creeks are easily navigable and relatively peaceful. This, the northern extreme of Tidewater, Va., is where you'll find quiet little anchorages like Horn Harbor off the Great Wicomico. And the biggest city is the tiny menhaden fishery capital of Reedville.
Moving southward, one comes to the Middle Peninsula (so called because it lies between the Northern Neck and the Lower Peninsula). The Middle Peninsula also offers its own nuances. The star of this show is undoubtedly Deltaville. Once considered a major player in the Chesapeake's boat-building industry, this tiny bayside town has become a relatively upscale port of call for summertime visitors. The permanent population is approximately 800, but that number swells to 5,000 during the warmer months.
Continuing south past the Lower Peninsula and bustling Hampton Roads, you eventually clock eastward through Norfolk (where you'll find Waterside, a shopping and entertainment complex) until you come to Virginia Beach.
This seaside resort town's miles of pristine beaches rival the best on Cape Cod. Here you'll find one of the nation's first lifesaving stations (the precursor to the modern Coast Guard), an annual Elvis Presley festival and the world's first ice cream cone maker at Doumar's drive-in (on the corner of Monticello Avenue and 20th Street). Abe Doumar invented the cone machine for the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. When Doumar moved to Virginia Beach shortly after the expo, he brought his invention with him. Doumar's nephew Albert still uses it today.
Chesapeake country offers bountiful riches for the weekend traveler. Point the bow of your boat (or your land yacht) to any point on the compass and you'll eventually find what you're looking for in a weekend getaway, whether it's big city lights or quiet country nights.