The Chesapeake Bay is not only the largest estuary in the contiguous United States, but without question the most diverse. It is less than 200 nautical miles from the southern entrance near Portsmouth, Va., to Baltimore, Md., and there is a lot to see and do along the way. The shoreline of its 4,479 square miles is peppered with cosmopolitan cities, historic seaports, famous battlegrounds, charming small towns, the nation's capital and the world's best crab cakes!
Situated midway between Florida and New England, the bay has long been an ideal layover for ICW travelers. Now, through extensive work by the Marine Trades Association of Maryland, the US Superyacht Association and neighboring states to change government policies, the Bay has become very inviting to large yachts. For instance, a Bay Pilot is no longer needed for a vessel under 200 feet and less than 12-foot draft in Maryland waters. Maryland has become more tax friendly by capping taxes at $15,000 on the sales of vessels for extended stays. Large yachts can enjoy excellent cruising grounds, protected water, superior service, provisioning and major tourist destinations within this concentrated area. Megayacht Captain Paulo Alves can attest to what the area has to offer. "The area's residents are so welcoming," he says. "They treat us like locals -- I will be back this summer."
We put together an itinerary that includes destinations and marinas that accommodate large yachts (more than 80 feet). We hope you will try cruising the Chesapeake Bay this spring and summer!
Cape Charles Yacht Center, the newest destination for full service on the East Coast, is perfectly located in a scenic, natural setting within walking distance to the quaint town of Cape Charles, Va. the harbor sits where the bay meets the Atlantic and offers 1,000 feet of face dockage and 18-foot channel depth. Guests have full access to nearby Bay Creek Resort, including its world-class golf. The site is the largest ecosystem on the Delmarva peninsula, making it a paradise for birders and fishermen. Plus, it's just 40 minutes from Virginia Beach and an international airport. The marina can provide visiting yachtsmen service from subcontractors and an on-site maintenance team.
A short run across the bay to Portsmouth, Va., is Tidewater Yacht Marina, located at mile marker 0, with slips for vessels up to 130 feet and 11 feet depth at the docks. Just a half-mile south along the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth is Ocean Yacht Marina offering 1,500 feet of alongside dockage (24-foot dock depth) and a state-of-the-art refit and repair yard. The marinas are located in the heart of Portsmouth's Olde Towne District, within walking distance of 18th- and 19th-century buildings, a riverfront park, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the Lightship Portsmouth Museum, the Children's Museum of Virginia and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Farther north is York River Yacht Haven, at the mouth of Sarah Creek, opposite Yorktown, accommodating visiting yachts up to 160 feet (9-foot dock depth). The marina's 14-acre rural site is in a natural "hurricane hole," protected from every quadrant. You will also be in the middle of what is known as "America's Historic Triangle" covering Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown.
Continue north along the western shore of the bay and wander up the Potomac to National Harbor, with more than 150 shops, restaurants and hotels (including the 2,000-room Gaylord Hotel) in a vibrant resort complex within sight of the nation's capital. Water taxi service is available to explore nearby Alexandria's Old Town and all of D.C.'s sights. National Harbor will be home to MGM Casino by the end of 2016. National Harbor Marina has floating docks for vessels up to 120 feet and its fixed pier can accommodate yachts up to 200 feet (9-foot dock depth).
Heading back up the bay into Maryland, picturesque Solomons Island is situated near the mouth of the deep- water Patuxent River. Once a waterman's village, Solomons has managed to incorporate 12 restaurants and numerous small shops into a two-mile stretch and still maintain its laid-back lifestyle. In the heart of this little community lies an easily accessible five-star marina and repair facility, Zahniser's Yacht Center accommodating yachts up to 150 feet (14-foot dock depth). Transients mingle with locals at the onsite Dry Dock Restaurant and the Pool Bar & Grill.
Next stop along the Western Shore is Herrington Harbour South in Friendship, Md., accommodating yachts up to 100 feet (7-foot dock depth). Herrington Harbour's resort-like feel will be a perfect stop for recharging your batteries, with an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis courts, sauna and fitness center.
Head 15 miles north to Maryland's capitol, Annapolis, and be right in the midst of everything while docked at one of the city's marinas that can accommodate yachts up to 230 feet (12-foot dock depth). This historic town is home to the United States Naval Academy, the beautiful Maryland State House and the National Sailing Hall of Fame. For fabulous local seafood, visit Boatyard Bar & Grill and McGarvey's Saloon & Oyster Bar.
The opposite shoreline is dotted with small Eastern Shore towns like Tilghman Island, home to generations of watermen; the New England-style village of Oxford; and the town of St. Michaels, where large yachts can find a home at St. Michaels Marina (accommodating yachts up to 220 feet (9-foot dock depth) . Learn about the history of the bay at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Historic St. Michaels offers many wonderful restaurant options, such as 208 Talbot, Bistro St. Michaels, and Ava's Pizzeria & Wine Bar. Don't miss the Chesapeake Bay tradition of picking crabs at one of St. Michaels crab houses, such as the Crab Claw or St. Michaels Steak and Crab House. The nearby Inn at Perry Cabin offers a breathtaking waterfront setting and loads of luxury amenities.
Next stop, Baltimore, often called a "collection of neighborhoods" due to the diversity of its communities. World-renowned hospitals, restaurants (ranked #2 on Zagat's "Best Food Cities" list for 2015), First-class museums, thriving arts districts, sports stadiums and casinos blend together to create Charm City. The harbor entrance is still guarded by Fort McHenry, birthplace of the national anthem. Harbor East Marina, can take yachts up to 200 feet (10-foot dock depth) while BMC at Inner Harbor can accommodate vessels up to 350 feet (22-foot dock depth). The marinas are both in a prime location and within walking distance of the Inner Harbor (aquarium, science center, Camden Yards baseball), Little Italy and Fells Point (a spirited historic waterfront community now filled with restaurants, bars, galleries).
While visiting Baltimore, you will find exceptional marine service at Tidewater Yacht Service accommodating yachts up to 200 feet (18-foot dock depth) in nearby Port Covington. ABYC certified technicians and big boat experience make this a reliable service facility. This deep-water marina and boatyard has a history of dealing with commercial vessels and they can supply a tanker-truck of fuel at a great cost.
This spring try cruising through the Chesapeake Bay to experience its exceptional diversity, historical sites, beautiful creeks, rivers, towns and world-class services for superyachts.