Sunday, May 5, 2013

2013 Spring Cruise - Smith Island

Safely moored in front of the Inn
Our kids were away the first week in April so we took the opportunity to go sailing around Smith Island in the Chesapeake bay.  As the date approached and we realized the night time temperatures were going to be in the low 30's, we decided it would be too cold to camp on the boat, so I started looking around for hotels or B&Bs.  After a few web searches and reviews on Trip Advisor, I spoke with Linda and Rob at the Inn of Silent Music.  They weren't yet fully ready for the season, but they graciously agreed to open early for us.  We promised to be low maintenance guests.

We put in at the MD public boat ramp in Crisfield, MD.  The ramp is next to the coast guard station, but also in a not-great part of town, so we parked the car at Somers Cove Marina in Crisfield, MD.  The staff were friendly and helpful.

Inn of Silent Music
Creamcheese at low tide
The winds were variable, temperatures in the mid 50's.  A storm front was due over the area in the evening and we hoped to make it the 10 miles to Smith Island before the storms hit.  It was a nice sail, and we didn't quite make it to the Inn before the black clouds came over.  Luckily all we got hit with was a light shower and an exciting broad reach under a double reefed main sail.  As we tied up to the dock, we were greeted by our hosts Linda and Rob, who helped us unload our gear and get settled.  After a hot shower, we went downstairs for a glass of wine and a delicious dinner.  When I had made our travel arrangements, I signed up for one dinner without any particular expectations.  Julie and I were  unprepared for how fantastic it was.  Linda is a great cook.

Our stay at the Inn of Silent Music was quite different from the camping adventure that we had originally envisioned - a delightful surprise.  I highly recommend this inn to small boat cruisers.

On the second day the temperatures were in the high thirties and low fourties, so we explored the tiny town of Tylerton and lounged around.  We spoke with a few watermen working on their boats and met Beau, a golden retriever who likes to walk around with a ball in his mouth for playing fetch.  Beau was temporarily living with Danny while his owner was away.  Danny talked to us about crab pots, oyster rigs and his 30' deadrise skiff.  This boat has a tunnel drive that allows it to travel in as little as 16" of water.  Powered by a 150 hp John Deere gasoline engine, it can cruise at 17 mph.

Amanda Lynn, a Deadrise Skiff with a tunnel hull
We learned a few local terms too.  For instance, the garboard (a plank close to the keel of a plank and frame wooden hull) is also referred to as the garbageboard, probably because it requires the most maintenance.  The deck of a deadrise skiff is called the ceiling.  Danny has a flock of about 20 ducks that he has raised from hatchlings.  They are free to go whenever they want, and can fly as well as the other wild ducks that they hang around with, but they never leave.  They will fly across the harbor but as soon as they get to the edge, they will plop down into the water as if they had hit an invisible wall.

Town dock at Tylerton, MD on Smith Island

Danny's work shed, with oyster rake, crab pots and a few
of his ducks 
In the afternoon, I took the boat out to try out the reefs in 20-25 kt winds (see previous post).   After a leisurely sail around the town, I returned to the dock under sail, tied everything up, walked 30' to the inn and joined Julie, Rob and Linda for another evening of great food and good company.

On our third day, we decided to sail to some of the other parts of Smith Island.  After a yummy breakfast, we geared up (temperatures still in the 40's) and beat upwind through the narrow channel that leads from Tylerton to Ewell on the northern part of Smith Island.  Tylerton is a town of maybe 60 families.  Ewell seems to be about twice the size.  

We tied up near the town dock at the restaurant that was still closed for the off season.  The town had a different feel than Tylerton but was a nice place to walk on a sunny, chilly day.  From Ewell, we walked the one and a half mile road through the marsh to the town of Rhodes Point.  A trash fire from the town dump had jumped the road and was burning in the marshes.

Marshes, marsh fire
While walking around Rhodes point we talked to a woman whose family had stayed with their home during Hurricane Sandy.  The water had risen three feet above her front lawn, with waves crashing onto her front door.  She said she didn't plan to do that again. 

We stopped for a while to help a church group from Mechanicsville, VA that was cleaning up the washed up debris from Sandy.  They come every year to help and this year there was plenty to do, even though the hurricane had hit over six months previously.

Rhodes Point, MD

On our way back to the boat we passed a house with a chesapeake gunning skiff (sometimes called gunning punt) sitting in the middle of the front yard.   Notice the big yoke on the thwart - it is for mounting a big punt gun.  These guns were essentially seven foot long portable cannons that could be loaded with enough birdshot to kill hundreds of ducks or geese in one shot.
Gunning Skiff in Front Yard

The hull shape of this boat is very similar to the Louisiana pirogue of my youth with the exception that there is almost no rocker in the gunning skiff, whereas the pirogue that I had when I was 13 had about 4" rocker over a length of 12'.  Smith Island is a lot like where I grew up in the Cajun country of south Louisiana.  The geography is very similar and the types of fishing are virtually identical.   There is the same pragmatic, self reliance and independence.  

Tied up in front of the Inn

We had a lovely broad reach back to Tylerton and yet another evening of good food and conversation.  The next morning we got up early and after a "light" breakfast, we sailed back to Chrisfield and home.

A "light" breakfast

Back at Crisfield, MD

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