May 16/17, Days 173/174 Gettin’ Crabby with It!

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.


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On the dock at Smith Island. We were the only pleasure boat there.


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.


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The islands are fairly low with lots of marsh. You can imagine how “buggy” this place must get. Fortunately it was windy when we were there.


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!   

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Of course we had to have some Smith Island cake as well. It’s from the island and  the official dessert of the State of Maryland. A proper Smith Island cake has ten layers of cake separated by chocolate icing. This one had only 8 layers, but we got the idea. 
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From Ewell we went to Tylerton. It’s still part of Smith Island, but Tylerton is not connected to the main island by land. Only 50 people in this town, but it seemed a bit more well cared for.


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Even so, Tylerton’s docks were pretty dilapidated. If you look closely you’ll see a pleasure boat tied up at the same dock. Not only is it another Looper, it’s a 25′ C-dory from Washington State! WHAT?! What’s the probability of two WA registered boats docking next to one another at some random island in Chesapeake Bay? 


We then headed the short distance to Virginia(!) and Tangier Island.


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Whoa baby, that was a tight turn (blue is BAD)!


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!


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Heading up the channel into Tangier. Little shacks on either side are “shedding huts” where watermen bring crabs in the process of shedding their hard shells and growing new ones. The sheds have big tanks with flowing water and watermen monitor the crabs a few times a day 24/7. The crabs are harvested at the point they shed their shell, but before the new one hardens. The latter happens quickly which is why they need to be monitored. The result is a soft shell crab!   



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When you’re at a place with lots of little shedding huts, what do you do? You eat the result! Whoa, these soft shell crabs were GREAT!


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.


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Religion is big on both islands.


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!


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Parks Marina as the sun went down. We’re getting used to these fixed pier docks, but they’re not our favorite.


Very cool vibe on the docks, but there was ZERO internet and ZERO cell coverage.


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I think we found one of the “white zones” on the Verizon map! Standing right next to the Verizon building and basically holding onto the microwave tower and ZERO signal. Are you kidding me!


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.


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N watched for these guys coming in to go chat. Looks calm, but it was blowing. Notice the crab shedding huts.



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Today’s catch! This is a bushel of male crabs that sell for $90. Same bushel of female crabs sells for $30(!)….please, no politically incorrect comments! 



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Famous Blue Crabs! In this case their shells have already been ripped off in advance of “picking” the meat for crab cakes.



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If there was any doubt crabs are important here… check out these cool chairs!


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.


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B wants to get the “do” right before a pic on the way out of Tangier, but geeez…. N has to watch the NARROW channel too!


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!


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It was a bit rougher crossing than we’d expected (I guess watermen in heavy 45′ boats don’t have the same perspective as those of us in 29′ Bayliners), but we made it back across to Deltaville, Virginia  (B and Z were down below) and are staged for our run to DC.


Next, we’re going up the Potomac and on to DC!

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