On the way to St. Michael’s, we stopped off in Annapolis to check on the Back Creek side of town. Annapolis bills itself as America’s Sailing Capital with a tradition of centuries behind it. Everywhere you turn, nautical terms and the boats they refer to are found all over town.
Across the bridge downtown lies Eastport, aka the Conch Republic of Eastport. Their motto is “We seceded where others failed.” You can see the flag flying off home porches. These people take their drinking seriously.
In the 1970s Eastport was in danger of becoming overrun with condos and high-rises that would inevitably drive out numerous sailing shops, lofts and boatyards along Back Creek. The city passed a zoning law protecting all these maritime enterprises. Nearly every commercial name you can think of in sailing has an office or shop here today. An historical marker notes that there are more marine businesses in Eastport than anywhere else between Newport and Ft. Lauderdale.
I found two young men tarping a large motor yacht with shrink wrap. Boats north of the 38th parallel need to shrink wrap the decks to prevent snow and ice from seeping into the joints over the winter and then freezing. Sure enough, snow was in the forecast. One fellow said the process can be done in three hours, but it costs $2,000 to $3,000 depending on the size of the boat. “A zipper door costs extra,” he said.
The condos still came, but not at the expense of the maritime industries. Old homes were torn down for tear-down reconstructions, and the north shore along the creek is abuzz with million-dollar high-rises that have spectacular views of Chesapeake Bay. My previous encounter on Back Creek was on the south shore four years ago where I learned to run a 36-foot Hunter backward and blindfolded in the busy waters of moorings. Duncan Hook certified a class of ASA 103 students to become instructors.
The Annapolis Maritime Museum lies nestled toward the point of Eastport. It’s a collection of watermen history and boats that rivals the great watermen’s museum up the road in St. Michael’s. A full-size deadrise is cut into three cross sections to show the innards of the boat. Kids get to pull on the tiller stick to see the rudder turn to port or starboard.
Another exhibit shows how piles of oysters grew so large in the waters of Chesapeake Bay that they used to ground the English ships in the 1600s. Today those oysters have all but disappeared due to over-harvesting. One beauty of oysters is that they can filter gallons of water to make it crystal clear. That’s what the Bay looked like in John Smith’s day, thanks to oysters and a lack of modern pollution.
Deadrises run on diesel engines now, but one photo in an exhibit called “Workboats of the Chesapake Bay” shows a restored skipjact under sail. It looks magnificent. An older photo shows a larger skipjack in action during the earlier heydays. Outside are several workboats tracing the years, and a chart that shows the evolution through giant skipjacks to today’s smaller motorized boats.
Behind a blue sailboat at the marina lay an empty freighter working its way up to the Port of Baltimore.
Back in town on 6th Street, the Annapolis Yacht Club is undergoing extensive renovations following a fire three years that started with a faulty set of Christmas tree lights. On the other side of the bridge the club is building a Family Sailing Center on property that must be worth $10 million. A smaller family center is going up on the corner where J boats lie in cradles.
Ironically, a nearby historical marker notes Lafayette’s Encampment from the spring of 1781, prior to the famous Battle of Yorktown. The Marquis would be astonished to see the encampment today.
Annapolis is dormant in the winter, with the massive Chesapeake Bay off in the distance as moorings lie vacant. All the action has moved inside to bars and restaurants until Spring.
Let’s Go Sail is Closed for the Season
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