Springtime Journey to a Southern Isle

May 08, 1994|By PETER A. JAY

HAVRE DE GRACE — Havre de Grace. -- "But don't you want someone to go with you?''

I like being at home, and have an endless list of things there that need doing. Those are the two main reasons why I seldom travel very far, or very often. But every so often an opportunity comes along that seems worth the disruption of spending a few days away, and then the above question gets asked. I still haven't figured out how to answer it properly.

The first part of the complete and accurate answer is that sure, I'd love to have someone go with me if it were the right person. But the right persons in my life are usually pretty busy getting on with their own concerns. So if I'm going to go, I'll have to go alone. The second part of the complete and accurate answer is that there's much that's appealing about traveling alone. But I'm beginning to learn that it's not always useful to bring that up.

The proposed trip in this instance was to Tangier Island, Virginia, where I had a meeting to attend. Normally I would have driven to Crisfield and taken the ferry, but because it was in April, and because April can be one of the best months to be on the Chesapeake, I decided to go by boat.

Even in the best weather, in my small and rather slow boat, Tangier is a nine- or ten-hour trip from Havre de Grace. Although I could have done it in a day, I decided to break the trip into pieces.

I would go to Annapolis and leave the boat, go home by road for the night, then drive back to Annapolis and go by boat to Crisfield. The next day I would go to Tangier, attend to the meeting, and spend the night. The day after that I would go back to Annapolis and drive home, returning to pick up the boat when convenient. I'd be away from home two nights.

So it was that the last Wednesday in April, a hot day that made summer seem very close, I left Havre de Grace for the three-hour trip to Annapolis. It was uneventful, but heartening because there were so few boats and so many birds. Off the Sassafras River there were loons in their summer plumage. I was surprised to see them still around; they're usually off for Canada or New England by now.

The next day was calm but hazy when I left Annapolis about noon, and both clearer and windier when I arrived in Crisfield harbor a little before six. Crabbing is just getting started in the lower Chesapeake, but Crisfield still had a quiet early-spring feeling about it. The opening of the sportfishing season for rockfish was still a couple of days off, and there were few recreational boats to be seen.

That evening I ate at a waterfront restaurant, called home, and unrolled my sleeping bag in the boat's cramped little cabin. The wind had started to blow fairly hard and I was glad to be in the harbor. I slept for almost 10 hours.

In the morning Crisfield might as well have been Maine. It was cold and so foggy I could barely see across the harbor. While I was having breakfast a waterman came in and told the waitress it was even thicker out in Tangier Sound. I waited a while to see if it would lift, but it didn't, so I cautiously headed out, picking my way from buoy to buoy.

By the time I crossed the Virginia line the fog was thinning, and when I docked at Tangier the day was hot and clear, with mosquitoes and no-see-ems on the prowl. Ashore, migrating warblers rested in a grove of pines. I was only 120 miles from home, but I felt as though I'd been on migration too.

That night, the business of the day over, several of us sat outside and watched a serious Chesapeake thunderstorm march across the water toward us from the Western Shore. Great orange flashes lighted up the sky before the wind and rain arrived. It was spectacular.

The next day, Saturday, it was again quiet and hazy. During the morning on the way to Annapolis I saw little marine traffic -- a few ships, a Naval Academy patrol boat and two or three large yachts. But the tranquility of early spring was almost over.

As I passed Thomas Point light and entered the Annapolis outer harbor, the haze suddenly cleared, as though someone had thrown a switch. Pleasure boats, power and sail, were everywhere, racing through each other's wakes. Another season had begun.

This past Thursday I went back to Annapolis to get the boat and return it to Havre de Grace. Traffic crawled slowly over the Bay Bridge as I passed underneath it, but on the water the weekend hysteria seemed to have faded away, for a while.

Going up the channel across the Susquehanna Flats, I passed the tug Nighthawk, pushing two barges of crushed stone from the big quarry just up the river from Havre de Grace. I've always liked seeing the tugs on the river; they're reminders of the days when the waterways were of more commercial importance than they are today.

The Nighthawk was upwind as we passed, and I got a blast of grit from the barges. But after covering 240 miles on a beautiful body of water, at perhaps the very best time of year, I didn't mind. And it was nice to be home.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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