The weather finally broke on Tuesday so we hustled (left by 10:30AM) off the dock at Crisfield and headed for Smith and Tangier Islands. It was great to return to good weather with sunshine and calm seas. It’s amazing how quickly stuff can change on the water. We didn’t really have a specific plan other than wanting to explore each spot. Both are tiny islands about six miles off-the Eastern Shore in Chesapeake Bay with Smith Island being part of Maryland while Tangier is in Virginia. The economies of both islands are very reliant on the crab and oyster business and most residents work as “watermen” (what we would call fishermen in the PNW). From our previous post, you’ll know that Crisfield was a huge seafood processing community on the Eastern Shore…. well, much of that seafood then and today come from the watermen on these islands.
We arrived at Smith Island first. The island was first charted in 1608 and settled in 1686. It’s clearly seen better days.
There’s only 190 residents across three separate small towns all within about three miles of each other. Our first stop was Ewell. While B thought it might be a great place to stay and write the great American novel, N was less enthused. The island “wakes up” for the season on Memorial Day (primarily because the tour boats only start visiting then) so there was not much going on…. in fact, there was nothing going on except a bunch of clean-up.
The hurricanes hit these low-lying islands hard and there’s not a lot of money for recovery so these past few days we’ve been feeling compelled to spend some money in each of these struggling communities; both on the Shore and particularly the islands. Before leaving we found the only restaurant open and had lunch. What do you eat for lunch in a Maryland seafaring community? Maryland crab cakes!
We then headed the short distance to Virginia(!) and Tangier Island.
Seems like every community has their own claim to some kind of #1. In Tangier’s case, they were once the #1 seafood producing community in the world…. measured by lbs produced/capita. Tangier Island also has the distinction of being the place from where the British launched their attack on Fort McHenry in 1814 one result of which was the penning of the Star-Spangled Banner. Now THAT is a fun fact!
Tangier’s population was once over 1,200, but has now dropped to 500. Even so, it was significantly livelier than Smith Island in part because boats from the mainland visit throughout the year.
We stayed at Parks Marina; the only marina in town and owned and operated by 87 years old Mr. Parks. B was delighted with his flirting as we secured our lines. The mind reels at what might happen to N should he be caught one day in a similar repartee with a woman nearly 30 years his junior!
Very cool vibe on the docks, but there was ZERO internet and ZERO cell coverage.
In the words of Joni Mitchell “…. you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone….” Made us realize how much we depend on technology for info this on trip. Charts and stuff were fine, but we were blind on weather as we couldn’t get a clear radio signal either. The wind picked up again in the morning and we were hesitant to leave without wave and weather news so N paced the dock talking to watermen about the sea conditions as they returned from that morning’s crabbing. We really didn’t want to do a 20-mile crossing in four foot waves.
One might imagine Chesapeake Bay as a benign “bay” but it’s a massive body of water where you can’t see one side from the other with currents, shallows, shoals, and some very big waves when the winds are going.
We need to be vigilant in paying attention to our charts and depth sounder…. N has tried to cut the occasional corner miles off shore around some point just to see the depths spool down and force us back out to the middle!
Next, we’re going up the Potomac and on to DC!