Set on the Severn River in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay, it is home to the U.S. Naval Academy, it’s the state capital of Maryland, as well as the Sailing Capital of America – it’s got more history wedged into a few compact blocks than most places multiple times its size will ever be able to claim (George Washington really did sleep here) – and it’s a boater’s paradise.
Annapolis is also home to charming, bricked streets lined with one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants. It has more 18th-century buildings than anywhere else in the U.S. The State House is the oldest in continuous legislative use in the country, the homes of three of Maryland’s four signers of the Declaration of Independence are open to the public. Because Annapolis’ historic sites are so close to one another it’s an easy destination to explore.
Boating here is a way of life, and it’s a singularly great place to visit with your vessel. There are many marina options (note: reserve ahead, especially on summer weekends), and you can even drop anchor at a mooring ball right in front of the Naval Academy, then catch a water taxi into town. No matter where you tie up you won’t be able to miss the action at Ego Alley, the locals’ name for City Dock, in the center of town, where showboating captains come to strut their stuff.
Two nautical cities one on the Chesapeake Bay and one on Narragansett Bay, both rich in history and seafaring heritage face off.
Annapolis, known as the sailing capital of the U.S., is home to the National Sailing Hall of Fame & Museum, the Annapolis Sailing School and the site of the United States Sailboat Show (October 5-9, 2017).
Newport holds a longstanding tradition of the sport sailors come from around the world to compete. Stop by the prestigious Newport International Boat Show (September 14-17, 2017). Don't miss a chance for a charter aboard the America's Cup l2 Meters.
Annapolis is not short on its crabfocused offerings. Check out Cantler's Riverside Inn or Mike's Crab House to get your fix of those acclaimed Chesapeake Bay steamed crabs or try the Boatyard Bar & Grill for local seafood and local stories.
Clams are a staple in Newport sample the classic steamed clams (steamers) and mouthwatering clam chowder. Try Midtown Oyster Bar, Benjamin's Restaurant and Raw Bar, and the Black Pearl, known for its clam chowder.
Overflowing with an abundance of boutique shops, local eateries and great waterfront views of Spa Creek, Ego Alley is the city's most popular place to enjoy everything Annapolis has to offer.
Historic walkways, shopping, art galleries and waterfront dining all combine to make up one of Newport's premier year-round destinations. Bowen's Wharf offers free tie-up for dinghies under 12 feet.
Annapolis has an abundance of 18th-century buildings, including the homes of all four Maryland signers of the Declaration of Independence. The United States Naval Academy and the Maryland State House are also popular stops for history buffs.
Visitors frequent the famous Cliff Walk, which combines the natural beauty of the shoreline with the mansions of Newport's gilded age. Also in Newport is Fort Adams, the largest, most sophisticated and complex fortress in America.
While we wait for the waitress to bring us a dozen steamed crabs, we raise our glasses in a victory toast. Our celebration goes unnoticed, because it's a sunny day and we're sitting at a Chesapeake Bay crab deck that's bustling with people who are busy with their own hot crabs and cold beer. An armada of boats is pulling into the marina below, and children are fishing from the dock.
Amid the happy chaos, we smile and shout, We did it! For seven months,my husband Bill and I traveled to more than 160 crab houses and tiki bars on the Chesapeake Bay, and this crab deck is the last stop on our epic journey.
We have been gluttonous along the way, consuming about 11 gallons of crab soup, 300 oysters, 85 crab cakes, 40 pounds of mussels, 25 rockfish, 200 steamed shrimp and Lord knows how many beer, wine and rum drinks. But it has been worth every calorie.
Tasting the local wares was required research for our book, Crab Decks & Tiki Bars of the Chesapeake Bay. Officially, the book is a travel guide to the waterfront eateries that serve some of the tastiest seafood on the planet, but in our hearts it is a family album, packed with memories of the places where we had our first romantic dates, taught our boys about jellyfish and blue herons, and caught rockfish in the shadows of the Bay Bridge.
Our celebration continues when the plastic tray holding a pile of plump red crabs lands on our table. I watch with admiration as Bill eases the tender meat from the shells. His hands move as swiftly as a Phillips processing plant worker's, because he's a true Maryland native who's picked crabs since he was just a pup.
He generously hands me a few meaty backfin clumps, knowing that picking crabs doesn't come easy for me. My youth was spent in western Pennsylvania, stalking brook trout in cool Allegheny mountain streams. But ever since my first bite of Maryland rockfish, I've embarked on a quest to taste all the Bay's seafood delicacies and unlock the secrets of cooking them.
We order another round and lift our glasses this time to all the crabs that sacrificed their lives for our research. Ironically, our travels have paralleled the same migratory path that crabs swim each year in the Bay. Bill nibbles on a hush puppy while we reminisce about where it all began. Our starting point was southern Maryland, where Bill's father had a home near the Patuxent River. Cruising around the hidden necks of St. Mary's and Charles counties uncovered a cornucopia of rural treasures.
We discovered a gem tucked away at a marina up the Port Tobacco River, where the cream of crab soup set the bar high for all the others we tasted. A trinity of restaurants on Popes Creek showed us how the rolling farmlands could accommodate a lively tiki bar, a traditional crab house and an American-cuisine restaurant in one remote location. Between meals, we would sneak in history lessons by taking our boys to places along the Potomac River such as St. Clements Island, where the first Catholics landed in the New World, and the spot where John Wilkes Booth tried to escape into Virginia after shooting President Lincoln.Raucous laughter from the marina interrupts our trip down memory lane. A sunburned boater tells a tale about the super-sized rockfish that got away, while his buddies cackle in disbelief. After the mayhem dies down, Bill returns to our story. He reminds me how we had to adopt a new research strategy when we headed north toward Annapolis and Baltimore. Instead of scouring the countryside, where locating crab decks often felt like finding a needle in a haystack, we faced the daunting task of investigating scores of restaurants in congested urban areas. The best approach, we decided, was to begin on the outskirts and then head into town. Rivers such as the Middle, Back and Severn often felt like Main Street in suburban communities, with all roads leading to the water and crab decks acting as community centers, where neighbors convened to catch up on local news.
Tiki and crab décor often collided, creating watering holes for families during the day and singles after dark. Outside Annapolis we noticed that sailors dressed in uniform were as commonplace at crab decks as watermen in raincoats and boots. In Dundalk and Glen Burnie, smokestacks puffed fumes into sunsets over the water, and boaters wearing Ravens jerseys picked crabs alongside businessmen in suits.
I take a slow sip of my Chardonnay and remember the frigid trips to inner-city crab decks. Knowing that most of Baltimore's waterfront eateries are open year-round, we saved those visits for the offseason.
We braved freezing rain and snowstorms, but waitresses always warmed us up with steaming bowls of creamy oyster stew and spicy vegetable crab soup.We had already spent a lot of time in Baltimore, but researching the book gave us a new objective: to see if this town really is the epicenter of crab and tiki. And we weren't disappointed. We feasted on sautéed soft shells topped with beurre blanc at tables draped in white linens, and we sampled hard shells coated with Old Bay on tables covered with brown paper. We dined in a restaurant shaped like a ship and watched watermen haul fresh catch from rusty boats. And a tiki barge plopped in the middle of the Inner Harbor gave us an ideal view of the city skyline at night. Yes, the urban crab scene was better than we had expected.
Feeling frustrated that I can't get the last morsel of meat from a claw and secretly wishing I had ordered a crab cake instead, I take a break from picking and ask Bill to tell me his favorite part of our journey.
Without a doubt, he answers, it was the Northern Headwaters. His parents kept their boat at Kent Narrows, so he had never seen where the Susquehanna pours into the Bay, and he relished the discovery of unfamiliar territory.
On a warm spring morning, we left our home in Washington and arrived at Havre de Grace in time for a picture-perfect lunch at the water's edge. After several stops at marinas and crab decks in Cecil County, we were lucky to pass under the graceful arch of the Chesapeake City Bridge at sunset. We marveled at the spectacular view as a parade of boats cruised along the C&D Canal. Amid the town's Victorian homes, antique shops and galleries, we found a waterfront deck with a plastic shark bursting through the bar's thatched roof and tiki masks carved into palm trees.
Bill takes a swig of Budweiser and wipes flecks of crab shrapnel off his shirt. While signaling for our check, he turns the question back at me. What had been my favorite? Hmm I think for a minute and then answer that I had a soft spot for the Eastern Shore's subtle charm. While watching our boys swim at Betterton Beach, I had imagined 19th-century steamboats delivering visitors to amusement parks in the glory days. I loved the historic homes lined up along the water in Chestertown, but the islands and marshes around Crisfield had stolen my heart.
During one of our exhaustive research stages, I had eaten oysters while staring at Baltimore's city skyline on Thursday, and then by Saturday I was on the Eastern Shore driving along the narrow causeways of Hoopers Island, gazing at the rugged primal marshland. That's when I understood the many faces and moods of the Chesapeake Bay. Each neck and tributary has its own personality, and I had come to cherish them all.
We take one last look at the Bay as the sun drops low in the sky, feeling pleased with our accomplishment yet a little sad about the journey's end. Writing and publishing our book wouldn't be nearly as much fun as researching it had been, but we look forward to sharing our adventures with other Bay fans and introducing a new crowd to the Chesapeake. Then I start thinking: Perhaps we should do a book about oysters?
There's a bit of pirate in every boater a love of the water, a sense of adventure, and a wink of defiance about following rules. Maybe that's why we're drawn to stories about the swashbucklers who roamed the seas. Movies and folklore tend to focus on pirates of the Caribbean, so most people don't realize that the Chesapeake Bay hosted its share of scallywags and wenches. But why would they choose the waters of Maryland and Virginia when the Atlantic and Caribbean were teaming with treasure-laden ships and ports to plunder?
Several factors made the region a hot-spot for pirates. After months of raiding and pillaging, battle-weary buccaneers ran out of supplies and their ships took a beating. The Bay's isolated necks and coves provided ideal sanctuaries to make repairs and restock stashes of food, water and other necessities.
Plus, pirates also didn't meet much resistance when they cruised into the Bay. In the early 1600s, England and Spain were jockeying for control of the New World, but were often occupied with their own troubles in Europe. Settlers were more concerned about surviving famine, disease and Indian raids.
As the Maryland and Virginia colonies flourished, ships passing through the Bay to and from Europe became filled with treasures that made pirates rub their eye patches in glee. Capturing a merchant ship that carried a cargo of tobacco, food, wine, linens, or gold was cause for wild, and often drunken, celebration.Like a school of piranhas devouring a carcass, pirate crews would strip their prey of sails, rigging and tackle. Sometimes they'd set a crippled vessel ablaze, just to watch it burn. Passengers were forced to join pirate crews or tortured to cough up secrets about royal warships in the area.
If scallywags overtook a ship that was newer or faster than their own, they'd add it to their fleet. This was a huge source of frustration for the Governors of the Colonies, who would convince the king to send battleships to defend their subjects, only to be outgunned and overpowered by invading sea dogs.
Some colonists liked to trade with pirates, exchanging fresh water and provisions for more exotic stolen items such as spices, clothing, or rum. Other colonists became fed up with marauding scoundrels. Take the case of the dreadedMonsieur Peuman, a French privateer infamous for pillaging farms and towns along the Rappahannock River near Port Royal, Va., in the mid-1600s.At wit's end with Peuman's looting, villagers formed a search party to capture the pirate.
When Peuman entered the river, the townsfolk chased his ship upstream. He veered into a creek to evade them but got stuck in shallow water. The angry mob jumped on board, slew the Frenchman, and named the creek Peumansend to mark the place of his demise.
By the late 1600s, England's King James unleashed a brigade of Royal Navy ships to clear out the scoundrels who terrorized the Chesapeake, Caribbean, and Atlantic. In 1684, the King issued a pardon for pirates who turned themselves in to authorities and rejected the pirate way of life.
The previous year, a trio of seasoned privateers named Davis,Wafer, and Hinson had joined Captain John Cook in Accomac, Va., to sail the South Seas. They had attacked and taken towns and ships, crossed the steamy jungles of the Isthmus of Panama on foot, were befriended by savage jungle natives, and wrought unending chaos on the Spanish colonists of Tierre Firme, says Donald Shomette, in Pirates of the Chesapeake. They cruised around the globe, amassing a considerable pirate's bounty along the way.
Captain Cook passed away during the voyage, but the three buccaneers eventually returned to the Chesapeake Bay, hoping to settle down and retire as wealthy men. Near the mouth of the James River, they were apprehended by Captain Rowe of the Dumbarton and tossed in the Jamestown jail. The deal arranged for their freedom required them to hand over their stolen loot, which Virginia authorities used to establish the College of William and Mary.
The Golden Age of Pirates reached a peak from 1690 to 1730. Despite popular perception, Life aboard a sailing ship was anything but comfortable. Seamen lived in cramped and filthy quarters. Rats gnawed through anything, including a ship's hull. Food spoiled or became infested, and fresh water turned foul, says Cindy Vallar, in Pirates and Privateers,The History of Maritime Piracy.
Life expectancy for a Chesapeake privateer was short. Fierce storms sunk scores of ships, and diseases such as scurvy, dysentery, and smallpox ran rampant among the crew. But the opportunity to make a mint in pirate booty and live a life of adventure proved irresistible for many fortune-hunters on the Bay.
One of the most formidable pirates was Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach). According to legend, he captured 40 ships in his day, and his physical appearance sent fear running down his enemies' spines. Blackbeard towered at 6-foot 5-inches, with a jet-black beard that grew down his chest and was braided with brightly colored ribbons. A bandolier crossing his chest with six pistols was the finishing touch to his horrifying attire. He drank rum spiced with gunpowder.
The Eastern Shore was Blackbeard's favorite haunt for mending damaged ships. He roamed as far north as Pennsylvania, but loved to dodge British ships by hiding in Pagan Creek off the James River or in the remote corners of Lynnhaven Bay.
Blackbeard's pillaging days came to a screeching halt in 1719, when Lt. Robert Maynard fatally shot him in a bloody fight off North Carolina's Outer Banks. Maynard severed Blackbeard's head and mounted it on his ship's bow.
For years, the skull hung from a pole where the Hampton and James Rivers meet to warn other pirates of how Chesapeake authorities dealt with unwanted scoundrels.
Blackbeard's unlikely partner in crime was a wealthy landowner, named Stede Bonnet, nicknamed The Gentleman Pirate. Even though Bonnet had no experience in sailing, Blackbeard took him under wing, and the polar opposites shared many a conquest along the Atlantic Coast.
The notorious William Kidd allegedly worked his way through the Chesapeake Bay, too. Originally commissioned as a British privateer, some reports suggest that he got off track and turned to piracy... In 1700, he was arrested, shipped back to England, and sentenced to death. The rope broke during his execution, but a second attempt at hanging finished the job. For years, his body hung above the Thames River in a cage called a gibbet, to discourage others from choosing life as a buccaneer.
Kidd accumulated a hefty fortune during his time on the seas, and a portion of his booty was recently discovered on Long Island. But according to legend, not all of his treasure has been found, because he buried it in various spots on the Mid-Atlantic.
So, the next time you anchor your boat on a remote neck of the Bay, don't be afraid to dig in the sand and look for hidden treasure beneath your feet.
Susan ElnickiWade is author of Crab Decks & Tiki Bars of the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland and Virginia Editions.
Want to read more about sea rascals who plundered the Bay?
The definitive resource is Pirates on the Chesapeake by Donald G. Shomette (Tidewater Publishers, ISBN: 978-0-87033-607-2). But if you'd like travel the Chesapeake waters with other buccaneers, the following tours and festivals will help you unleash your inner-swashbuckler:
Capt. Jack's Pirate Ship Adventures (Virginia Beach), 757-305-9700
Duckaneer Pirate Ship Tours (Ocean City,Md.), 410-289-3500
Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake (Annapolis), 410-263-0002
Urban Pirates (Baltimore), 410-327-8378
Yorktown Pirate Boat Tour, 757-639-1233
Rock Hall Pirates &Wenches Weekend, (annually in August)
Fells Point Privateer Days, (annually in April)
Forget those soggy sandwiches in the cooler and leave your can opener in the drawer. The Chesapeake Bay offers a simpler and healthier way to feed your crew. Farmers' markets are sprouting up all around the region as part of the field-to-table craze. Fresh meats, artisan cheeses, homemade breads and vegetables just plucked from the soil provide a nourishing alternative to fast-food feeding frenzies.Plus, these outdoor marketplaces are pet friendly and much more entertaining for kids than a boring grocery or convenience store. Live music, chef demonstrations, home-spun crafts and recreational activities lend a festive feel to buying organic items for your galley. Here are 11 farmers' markets located near or on the Chesapeake Bay, where shopping is fun and growers are friendly.
Open May 1 to Nov. 20, Sunday 8 a.m. to noon. but closed during boat shows. Located on Compromise and Main streets at the City Dock in downtown Annapolis. This waterfront market supports farmers and producers from the Mid-Atlantic region.
Where to Dock: Annapolis City Dock
Open May 6 to the end of Oct., Friday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Located in the parking lot of the former Cambridge City Hall and Guernsey County Courthouse. Special events include children's activities, tastings, cooking demonstrations and nutritional clinics. (cambridgemainstreet.com)
Where to Dock: River Marsh Marina
Open early May to Oct., Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to noon. Located across from Ewing Pond Park and Grasonville Elementary School. Eastern Shore growers, producers and artisans present local seasonal products in a lively rural setting.
Where to Dock: Piney Narrows Yacht Haven
Open May 7 to Nov. 26, Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (closed May 21 and Oct. 15). Located between Boyle and Webster streets overlooking Inner Harbor. In addition to fresh food and artisan wares, this urban market offers live music and family activities. (thebmi.org)
Where to Dock: Baltimore Marine Center at Harborview
Open May 7 to Nov. 19, Saturday 9 a.m. to noon. Located in Hutchins Park at the base of Congress Avenue overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. Founded in 1995, the market hosts 25 local vendors from beekeepers to pie makers, BBQ chefs and organic farmers. (havredegracefarmersmarket.com)
Where to Dock: Tidewater Marina
Open May to Dec. on the first Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Located in Irvington Commons behind Chesapeake Bank. The bustling market has a festival vibe with live entertainment and 100-plus vendors presenting local seafood, fresh meat and produce, dairy and baked goods, crafts, artwork and more.
Where to Dock: Tides Inn
Open Jan. to May, Saturday 9 a.m. to noon, June to Sept., Saturday 8 a.m. to noon, and Oct. to Dec., Saturday 9 a.m. to noon. Located at the corner of 19th Street and Cypress Avenue in the parking lot of Croc's 19th Street Bistro. This market provides an assortment of local delicacies ranging from fresh produce and meats to flowers and Virginia wines. (oldbeachfarmersmarket.com)
Where to Dock: Cavalier Golf & Yacht Club
Open May 7 to Oct. 31, 9 a.m. to noon. Located across from the post office about a block off the water between the north and central branches of Onancock Creek. Established in 2012, this venue gives local watermen, farmers and artisans the chance to show off their fresh seasonal products. (onancockmarket.com)
Where to Dock: Onancock Marina
Open May to Oct., Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Nov. to Dec., 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Located in the courtyard garden of Portsmouth's historic courthouse, and a few blocks off the Elizabeth River. Chef and artist presentations, as well as kids' activities and a variety of vendors, make this market especially fun. (portsmouthfarmersmarket.com)
Where to Dock: Tidewater Yacht Marina
Open April 16 to Oct. 8, Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Located in the public parking lot behind Shore BBQ,between Talbot and Fremont streets. Established in 1998, this waterfront market showcases seasonal foods and offers cooking demonstrations by local chefs.
Open May 14 to Oct. 29 (except Oct. 1), Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Located between Buckner and Ballard streets on Riverwalk Landing on the York River. The 10th annual market hosts 35-plus farmers, vendors andartists throughout the season with a variety of homegrown favorites. (yorktownmarketdays.com)
Where to Dock: York River Yacht Haven