Friday, June 19, 2009

A Bay Out of Time?

After a late departure from St. Michaels, we returned to Tilghman Creek to hang on the hook for the afternoon and night—even though Pete declared that it had bad karma. Sure enough another thunderstorm approached, but nothing as dramatic as the sky-darkening blow we endured here a few nights ago.

In the morning, a waterman dropped one of his crab traps just off MicMac’s beam, so we “enjoyed” his skiff’s wake every 20 minutes as he came back to check. No crabs that we could see. Indeed we've seen very few crabs pulled out by any waterman. What a tough way to wrest a living from these waters, but generations of watermen have been doing it on this bay, most for generations.

I’m reading Tom Horton’s book about Smith Island, An Island Out of Time, and it’s giving me great insight into a waterman’s life. I probably won’t recommend it for either of my book clubs, but I’m loving it. I think you’d need to be sitting on the bay to get the most out of it.

I see the title having three meanings. Isolated Smith Islanders live a life that is set back in Mayberry times. They used to spend long days drudgin’ for arsters, but most are now crabbers, pulling up war (wire) crab pots or running trot lines. Then there’s the diminishing year-round population on Smith Island—less than 200 right now—as the younger generation, especially the girls, look for a more modern life off the island. Finally, there’s the diminishing land itself as erosion takes away more each year, and the water rises. Hurricane Isabel did some major elevation changes just a few years ago.

Atlantis could be here.We’ve sailed past “sunken islands” almost every day on this Bay cruise—or note their presence on the charts and GPS where they’re kindly called obstructions. I’m sure they have a story to tell. I wonder who lived on them just a hundred years ago. One of our sailing heroes, Tom Neale, listed his favorite Chesapeake anchorages in Cruising World in 2001. Our dog-eared copy of his article has checks next to the ones where we’ve dropped the hook for the night. One of his favorites was Grog Island (sure sounds like a great story to me) in Dymer Creek, down near MicMac’s home on the Rappahannock. A few dead pines poke out of a watery grave there now, and his article was written only 8 years ago!

It was blowing 10-15 knots all day and made for a perfect sail. We sailed by James Island, or what remains of it on our way to the Little Choptank River. Three mini-islands (see photo) with loblolly pines barely stay above sea-level, and another is a remnant of its former self. Sure hope we can explore it tomorrow if the wind dies down.

We anchored up Hudson Creek, another favorite Neale anchorage, which appears to have an average elevation of 6 feet. Glad we got to see it before it too disappears. The entrance spit is one hurricane away from gone.

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