Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fun with River Rat: Solomons Island & St. Michaels, MD

Monday, June 21 - Monday, June 28, 2010
What a great week we've had! Friends Carl & Debi from River Rat took a week off to go sailing, so we met up in Solomons and spent a few days together. We left Annapolis on Monday morning for the 25nm trip to our anchorage in the mouth of the Little Choptank River behind James Island. Some of you might be thinking, "what were you doing anchoring in the mouth of a river...with no land protection...where it could get really bouncy?" We were asking ourselves the same thing all night! All we can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. When we first arrived, the winds were forecasted to be below 5 knots and the river looked like a lake. We even thought about going for a swim until we saw our first Chesapeake Bay jellyfish surrounding the boat. We had a gorgeous, calm evening right up until we hit the sack...and then, the swells started coming in. There was still no wind, so all we can think of is that there was commercial traffic out in the bay that created wakes into our anchorage. A stretch, we know, but we had a miserable night's sleep! That'll teach us for trying to save time by skipping the protected anchorage 5 miles upriver... Bleary-eyed, we hauled up the anchor the next morning and made it the rest of the way to Solomons around lunch time. The Chesapeake was going through one of its hot spells that we'd heard so much about (mid-90s with a heat index of 105), so Debi spent the morning going to hotels and marinas trying to find someone who offered a "day pass" for the use of a swimming pool. Success! Within an hour of dropping the hook in Back Creek, we were all on our way to a marina in Solomons Harbor for some much-needed cooling off time in the pool. (Best $5 ever spent!) We managed to burn ourselves to a crisp, but it was soooo worth it. That evening, Carl & Debi invited us to dinner on their air-conditioned boat. We had a fantastic meal (pasta with clam sauce...yum!), but the evening ended abruptly as a massive thunderstorm rolled into the area. Rene stood in the cockpit trying not to touch any metal as lightning touched down all around us. Carl, likewise, was keeping watch in River Rat's cockpit with the engine running...just in case anyone got into an anchor-dragging situation thanks to the 35+ knot winds! (Author's note: I've seen some incredible lightning storms in Florida and Texas that light up the entire sky, but I've never seen so many ground bolts in a 15-minute period. And they tell us this is the norm in the Chesapeake...yikes!)

The next morning the four of us hopped on our bikes for a tour around town. Solomons is a quaint little town with old homes, lovely gardens, and beautiful views of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. That morning, however, there was also plenty of storm damage from the previous night: trees knocked over and up against houses, branches in yards and on sidewalks, etc. Fortunately the damage seemed to be limited to a relatively small area, while the rest of the island remained untouched. Back on our tour, we biked past Solomons Pier and Kim's Key Lime Pies and Coffee - a great spot that warranted a stop for iced coffee and a sampling of the pie (we MUST go back!). Besides Kim's (which is a good enough reason to visit Solomons on its own), there's a West Marine, a gourmet grocery store, and plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance of most dinghy docks. What a terrific place for spending a few days! After our bike tour, we debated spending the afternoon in the Maritime Museum vs. going back to the pool. None of us needed more sun, but we were so hot that we weren't sure simple air conditioning would be enough. The pool won, and we were soon back at our favorite marina. Later that afternoon, some cruising friends of Carl & Debi arrived in Solomons, and we enjoyed dinner together at the Solomon's Pier Restaurant. We decided to leave Solomons for a new destination the following day, but we'll definitely come back on our way to the Potomac.

Thursday morning we followed River Rat to San Domingo Creek on the Choptank River, otherwise known as the "back door" to St. Michaels. It's much closer than going up to the main entrance of St. Michaels off Eastern Bay, and there's a gorgeous anchorage with a dinghy dock three blocks from downtown. The light winds made for a slow sail, and we gunned the engine around 3pm when Carl's satellite weather warned us of a huge storm heading our way. After our Solomons experience, we weren't looking forward to another one! Somehow we got lucky - the worst of the storm cells passed to the north and south of us. We got some wind and a 15-minute downpour, but none of the 50-kt gusts and lightning that were forecasted.

Friday we biked around the city, ending up at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. We were talking to the owner of a beautifully-restored 1942 Chris Craft when a guy walked up to us and introduced himself as the captain of the skipjack Herman M. Krentz. His cruise was boarding in five minutes and he recommended we grab a cold drink to bring with us. But...ummm...we didn't pay for a cruise! Not to worry, he told us that this was included in the entrance fee for the day since the scheduled exhibit wasn't available. Looking quite confused, we wandered over to the boat and hopped on for what turned out to be a 2-hour cruise of the harbor. What a treat! We learned about the area and it's history of oyster fishing, and our captain was incredibly knowledgeable about geology and the various incarnations of the Chesapeake Bay. In all honesty, though, we had no idea we'd be gone for so long. By the time we got back to the marina, our tummies were growling! We tried for lunch at the nearby Crab Claw restaurant, only to discover they didn't accept credit cards. Huh??? Next up was Foxy's, an outdoor bar/restaurant at the St. Michaels Marina. The food was terrific, and we were soon back at the museum to see the remaining exhibits.

We had decided to host a farewell dinner on Pipe Muh Bligh that evening since Carl and Debi had to head back home the next morning. Arriving back at the boat, we had quite a show from our new neighbors: apparently there was a Hinkley happy hour event happening, and there were 7 Hinkleys rafted together in the anchorage. Blue hulls, beige hulls, red hulls, green hulls...all side by side swaying in unison. It was quite a sight, especially when they broke up the raft and one of the boats went aground on the 2' shoal behind us! Rene and Carl zoomed off in their dinghies to save the day, while Debi and Stacy stayed on board to finish making dinner (and to sample more of the wine!).

We had a fabulous time with Debi and Carl, and really hated to see them go. We stuck around St. Michaels for a few more days to watch the World Cup (GO HOLLAND!!), and became fixtures at the Carpenter Street Saloon during game time. Before you get the wrong idea, they do serve breakfast and coffee at the bar for those 10:30am games! Next up, we'll explore more of the Eastern Shore before heading up the Potomac for Washington, D.C. 'Til next time!

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