Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Eastern Neck Water Trail, Rock Hall.




Monday, April 22, 2013

Blackwater and Fishing Bay Refuge

Though not accessible by cruising boat, it is a part of the Bay (at the head of Fishing Bay) and is a jewel no Chesapeake explorer should miss.


FISHING BAY WATER TRAIL, CAMBRIDGE Fishing Bay Wildlife management Area is adjacent to Blackwater. Owned by the State of Maryland, it’s actually larger than its Federally owned neighbor, at 28,500 acres. It’s the largest publicly owned tidal wetland in the state. With no visitor center, just several boat ramps, and largely unknown by the public, it offers a remote wilderness paddling experience. Expect to see whitetail and Sika deer, native muskrat and alien nutria, quail, Bald Eagles, and osprey. The water trail has two identified trails totally about 10 miles. Both are subject to strong winds and strong currents at times. Copies of the waterproof, tearproof map are free. You can find them at the Sailwinds Visitor Center in Cambridge, or at the WMA. The map doesn’t show any office. They might be at the boat ramps. You can also send a e-mail to: aking@dnr.state.md.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Put “map request” in the subject line. Include your name, mailing address, and number of maps you want. The URL for Fishing Bay WMA is: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/fishingbay.asp#ar


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cape Charles Impact Crater

The Cape Charles Impact Crater

A plaque on the board walk at Cape Charles commemorates the very reason for the Chesapeake Bay's existence, at least in the place and form we see. Thirty-five million years ago an enormous meteorite, 2 miles in diameter and moving 60,000 mph, plowed into an ancient seabed, creating a crater some 60 miles in diameter, and vaporizing or incinerating everything within hundreds of miles. There are no obvious surface signs of the crater, and examination of nautical charts reveals no abyss. A similarly sized meteorite struck Tom's Canyon on the continental shelf off New Jersey within the next million years, and a combination of ejected material and devastating tsunami erased all surface trace; actually three meteorites, including these two and Popigai in Siberia, fell in a straight line and may have been simultaneous, much like Shoemaker-Levy 9’s multiple impacts on Jupiter in 1994. Even now, millions of years later, the ground in the Hampton Roads/Norfolk area continues to subside as the rubble from the impact continues to consolidate, causing the most rapid sea level rise rates in North America. The buried Ice-Age channels of  the Susquehanna, Potomac, and Rappahannock originally crossed over the Delmarva on their way to the ocean, but were redirected to the south by this continuing subsidence as sea levels rose, forming a brackish water estuary unique in the world. Though the Chesapeake Bay in its current form is more recent, created only 10,000 to 18,000 years ago by rising sea level, the underlying geography is much older.
The discovery of the crater was somewhat fortuitous; it was the search for dramatically increased drinking water supplies needed to support the World War II build-up at the Norfolk and Newport News shipyards that began to reveal this secret. Sedimentary rock formations encountered while drilling test wells did not fit the established patterns of the Virginia coastal plain. Saltwater intrusion was found in places established coastal geology could not explain, including pockets higher in salinity than the surrounding ocean. It has been theorized that sea water was trapped soon after the time of impact and concentrated by an effect similar to reverse osmosis, with fresh water squeezed out through the rock, leaving behind a more concentrated brine. It was not until the early 1990s that technology and experience gained in researching other large impact craters allowed the identification of this area as an impact crater.
Although this was certainly a climate changing event, it has not been connected with any mass extinction. A larger meteorite, Chicxulub, created the devastating crater off the Yucatán Peninsula is generally credited with causing the extinction of over 60 percent of all life forms and initiating the transition from the Cretaceous to the Tertiary period, over 65 million years ago. Some five times smaller, perhaps the Chesapeake Bay meteor was simply not sufficiently massive to cause the widespread extinctions necessary to be obvious in the fragmented fossil record, or to change the course of evolution.  Perhaps life is more tenacious than we give credit.


A few links...



Saturday, April 20, 2013

James Island

August 2008: A trip report.

James Island was once a very sizable island, in fact a peninsula on the south shore of the Little Choptank River. However, with falling sea levels—yes I do mean falling sea levels, since it was a sandbar formed when sea levels were much higher—it has eroded into three islands that will probably disappear in my lifetime. You'll not find a description of James Island in any guidebook and little on the Internet. I spotted it on Google Earth as a lonesome spot with potential, researched on the Internet that the owner doesn't mind visitation by low impact users, and stopped by briefly on a trip a year earlier, while passing from Smith Island to St. Michael's. What we discovered was one of the nicest little desert islands on the Chesapeake Bay. The east side of the center island forms a beautiful sandy crescent, protected from all but east winds. From any other direction doesn't look like much.

 Thin Water. Though we spent the night, 3 to 4-foot depths extend for about 1/2-mile.

We arrived mid-afternoon, anchored near the shore and next to two small powerboats. We walked the length of the island to reacquaint ourselves with the beach. Jessica explored the tidal pools at the north end. She then began to lead me through the brush and in the middle of the island… and within 15 seconds came charging back at me, followed by a cloud of flies and mosquitoes. Her assault on the interior of the island had been repulsed.

The rest of the afternoon was spent… well, not really doing anything. That's an odd choice for an adult like me, who is inherently goal oriented. Not that I'm a super achiever in business. Not that I'm a workaholic. But my goal is to go sailing I want to go sailing well. If the goal is to go rock climbing, I want to climb well. Today my only planned activity was to relax, and I suppose I did that well. With a book in hand, bug spray applied to the back of my neck, my boat anchored 30 feet off the beach, and the calm sandy bottom on which to plop my butt (chest deep in the 80 degree waters of the Bay), I proceeded to think about very little for the next few hours. I fished a little, but only tiny croaker and spot were biting.
We settled down for the evening. A passing thunderstorm grazed us, providing some fresh air but no rain. We watched a Jackie Chan movie on a portable DVD player. We tried fishing again—I reasoned that if there were small croaker during the day there might be larger fish at night—and we cleaned up. One fat fish after another, all over a foot long. “Fishbites” was the trick, an amazing fake bait. I tossed the cleanings off the stern, attracting squadrons of smaller fish.


Visit while you can; these islands will be gone in a generation. There has also been discussion of converting James Island into a dredge spoil disposal site. The Army Corp of Engineers has the project on temporary hold.


Smith Island

Smith Island/Ewell. An alternative to Tangier Island (we like Tangier better), Smith Island offers a similar experience, but quieter and with more kayaking possibilities. The history and culture are similar, though the flavor is not quite so pronounced, or perhaps just not as deliberately marketed. There are fewer stores, restaurants, and tourist amenities in general, in spite of the active ferry service. The towns are smaller (Ewell, Tylerton, and Rhodes Point) and the ferry service more recent. There is really only one large restaurant, the Crab Claw, right behind the marina. 

(Edit: Rukes closed in 2015.)
Ruke’s General Store is a few hundred yards further into town; groceries are available and lunch is served, both are limited, yet it is a comfortable local place that visitors remember. Without any reservation, they serve the best crab cakes anywhere, 5-star restaurants included.

Ruke's, inside

Rukes, the view from the porch

            The Smith Island Visitor’s Center (open every day noon to 4:00 PM, April through October—matching the cruise boat schedule) deserves an hour during your first visit. A miniature version of the maritime museums in St. Michaels and Solomons Island, there is an informative slide show, varied exhibits and dioramas, primarily of an earlier time but some present day, and several small restored local craft. And it’s air conditioned.

             We have thoroughly enjoyed our visits, accepting that it is very quiet. Everything closes when the last ferry leaves, and the restaurants are not open for dinner. The ice-cream stand between the Visitor’s Center and the docks rents golf carts and bicycles, though there isn’t far to go and an hour or two is enough; a few antique stores and a few quiet lanes. At first visit we spent most of the afternoon exploring the nearby marsh with a two-person sea kayak borrowed from the Smith Island Marina.
               Like Tangier, the crabbing on the flats and marina pilings is fast and easy in late summer. Somehow they're sweater when you harvested them yourself.

Kayaking. Excellent, both the north (longer distances) and just south of Ewell. If you don't have a kayak, the marina generally has loaners (free), but bring your own. You could paddle for a week and not see it all. Figure on spending a night or two.

Rounding Swan Island to the east. Part of the Smith island complex, this island is next to the west entrance and rounding it makes a nice 2- to 3-hour expedition. You can paddle around the jetty, but crossing it is easy.

Northeast of Swan Island. The water is crystal clear, the result of filtration by extensive grass beds.

Smith Island/Rhodes Point and Tylerton. The other towns of Smith Island are not frequented by tourists and boast no tourist adaptations. That doesn’t mean you won’t be welcome; it means I haven’t been there and I’ve been told the towns are more original. I did approach Ewell by Tyler Creek 2006 and found the depth to be over 6 feet the whole way, except for a 4-foot bar just south of Tylerton. The channel east to Rhodes point is said to be more challenging, because it weaves, not because it is shallow.

Approach. From either the east or west the Thorofare Channel is straight forward. Yield 20 yards south of the markers just east of Ewell (G”15”) to avoid a sand bar that brings even locals to grief, should they be caught wool gathering.
Anchorage. Just west of Ewell and just after the main channel ziggs north there is an extension that continues. You will find 10 feet of water, good holding ground, and little traffic, although there is considerable current.

  • Smith Island Marina, Nice docks; if you draw more than 3 feet you may consider mooring toward the outward end where you should have at least 6 feet. Because the slips are 2-per-slot, they are very wide. 8 feet draft at low tide from the west, 6 feet from the east. A nice air conditioned dock house with toilet and large shower. Free use of a 2-person sea kayak. $1.00/foot overnight + $5 for electricity.

Fuel. Just east of Smith Island Marina. Limited hours.

Internet information sources:

Calvert Cliffs

The Calvert Cliffs Park beach is located at the shaded stream valley 150 yards north of the north end of the LNG platform. It is not marked in any obvious way, but it will be the only beach west of the LNG terminal with people. Signs a the north and south ends of the beach indicating the range of public access are visible with binoculars from several hundred yards (latitudes given in text). Note that post 9/11 the LNG terminal has a 400-yard security zone and they do enforce it.

Calvert Cliffs State Park. Described in the text, “Day 1—Deale to Solomons Island”, there is a nice beach and the most convenient fossil hunting on the Bay.  We found a number of dolphin vertebrate near here a few years ago. The beach is identifiable by the presence of bathers and fossil hunters—since all other nearby beaches are government or private property—a low treeless marsh in the background, and small white signs posted at each end of the beach (you may be able to spot these with binoculars) reminding visitors to stay on the main beach and not wander under the cliffs.
http://www.fossilguy.com/sites/calvert/. Good pictures of the approach and beach.
There is another fossil hunting cliff and beach just south of Chesapeake Beach. It is more exposed and requires anchorage 300-400 yards offshore. It is also unstable and I have witnessed minor avalanches.
Main beach 38º 24.27N. Nicer boat access-only beaches are at 38º 24.46N and 38º 24.56N.

From our first visit:

"The primary strength of a shoal draft sailboat is the ability to make stops in places and ways the guidebooks don't recommend. Between Solomons Island and Deale there is a row of cliffs packed with fossils from the Miocene period, Calvert Cliffs State Park being the best known area. Though I had visited the Calvert Cliffs with family when I was small, only sketchy memories remain: a box of fossil scallops and snails, and some photographs. There is a notch in the cliffs where a small creek comes down to the Bay (about 38º 24.3’ north, 76º 24.5’ west), and nestled there is a small beach. You are free to collect whatever you can find on the sand and in the shallows. Small shells, fragments, and sharks teeth reward a few minutes’ search. When I was small, it was a different time. We were allowed to walk the beach, to climb on the cliffs, and to dig at will. Digging is of course no longer allowed, for sound reasons of erosion control, resource preservation, and safety. About 10 years ago a mother and her daughter were killed while walking on the beach, when a large section of cliffs collapsed after a stretch of damp weather. The result was the unfortunate closure of the remaining beach areas in the park.
There are 2 nicer boat access-only beaches, also within the park: The larger is at 38º 24.46’ and has a small pond behind the beach, suitable for kayak exploration; the smaller is at 38º 24.56’; the fossil hunting is better and the only footprints will be yours.
 There is no distinct cove for harbor, only a slight indentation in a straight line of cliffs, just enough to reduce the fetch of the waves on this day. I nosed the boat into waist-deep water without difficulty, but found the holding ground horrendous. Very hard clay and oyster shell. My light weight anchor, a Fortress FX-11, only skipped over the bottom despite repeated efforts. My 13-pound Danforth imitation would bite, but not sufficiently to trust leaving the boat unattended in an exposed anchorage. I dove on the anchor and confirmed that it was only hooked on a lump, the marine clay being far too hard for a light anchor to penetrate. Still, I couldn't cheat Jessica of her visit and playtime. I would have to wait on the boat, within safe earshot. Jellyfish were predictably heavy for late August, and she has bad memories or prior encounters. Fortunately, Bay nettles can't sting through much, and even a pair of pantyhose will keep them safely at bay. Armored with tights, a turtleneck, and socks, she was prepared for her swim to the beach… and quite a sight for mid-August. Note: on later trips I learned that reasonable anchor holding is available if one wades around and seeks out the scattered patches of hard sand. The holding ground further out in 6 feet of water, where most sail boats will anchor, is good consistent firm sand, without the hard clay patches."

Kayak the cove and pond at the northern beach.


rev. 7-15-2016

In calm conditions, paddling around the island is quite practical. In westerly conditions, these breakers at the western channel entrance can make for fun play.

The island town of the Bay, if you listen to the guide books. There has been so much written no benefit would come from more description here, except to say that it is unique, that it deserves a visit, and that those not involved in the tour boat trade are, perhaps, a bit tired of being “cute.” 

 The Upards. This is NOT the the swimming beach!
            There is a very nice swimming beach—we think the nicest on the Bay—at the far end of island (Toms Hook), accessible by a ¾ mile walk from the dock. The flies can be a problem if you linger, so we generally keep our time flexible and scram when they show up. The Tangier Museum—also on the main street, as most businesses are—is a worthwhile stop if history is of interest. Spankey’s Ice Cream (also serves sandwiches, about 3/8 mile on the main street on the right, open 10-8:30 PM) and the Fisherman’s Corner Restaurant (open 11AM-8 PM, 200 yards on the main street) are our favorite stops. An excellent overnight stop.

Approach. From either the east or west the approach is straight forward for the shoal draft boat. Enter by one and exit by the other, for the full view.

Anchorage.  Possible east of the docks in the harbor, but I have never seen anyone do it. Too busy, really.

  • Parks Marina. Both slips and 3 bulkhead locations with daft over 6 feet. Showers, power, water. $25.00/night under 30 feet, $30.00/night over 30 feet, and $5.00 for power. 757-891-2581. Milton Parks.

Groceries and Ice.
  • At the grocery store, a few hundred yards from the dock on the main road (path?) to town. The hours are 8AM to 5PM, and closed on Sunday.
  • Cheaper ice (flake ice, $1 per bucket) at CJ Charnocks, next to the marina. Watermans’ hours, though extremely variable.

Fuel and Gas.
Just east of Parks Marina at Tangier Oil and Gas (the many above 20,000 gallon ground tanks make it obvious) . E10 and diesel. Open 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM.

Bike rentals are available (from the backyard of a house just past Crocket’s restaurant in mid-town).
Golf cart are available: 

  •  Roger’s Rentals. Ask at the ferry dock lunch stand (Seafood Grill). Cheaper but a bit dilapidated. 
  •  Four Brothers Crab House & Ice Cream Deck, Tele: 757-891-2999  Email: Tommy@FourBrothersCrabHouse.com). On the main street just south of the general store.

Kayaks: Everywhere is good. A small creek just west of the marina on the southern bank is short but nice. The harbor is nice. The north island has many nice guts and paddling around the outside is fun and very scenic.

  • The Tangier Museum has a large collection of loaners for which they suggest a donation. A great way to expereince paddling. 

Wi-Fi. I wouldn’t normally mention this, but cell phones don’t generally work on Tangier Island.
  • The Heath Center has free wi-fi with a good signal outside 24/7.

While not a wetland or quite creek, exploring the harbor area close-up is a treat. A morning tour of the sprawling harbor full of waterman's shacks can be relaxing and educational.

Parkers Creek

Parkers Creek / Warrior’s Rest Sanctuary. One of the nicest wild beaches on the Bay, located at 38◦ 32’ North on the western shore. However, it is a restricted access site (endangered species preserve in the marsh areas) and visitors should stay on the beach and be very low impact. We found excellent fossil hunting on the beach below the cliff to the south. http://acltweb.org/NaturalResources/wr/ApplicationCriteria.pdf.  http://acltweb.org/NaturalResources/warriorsRest.cfm
American Chestnut Land Trust. 410-414-3400.

Unnamed Cove, Harris Creek

A small cove, not in the guides and thus uncrowded, and perfect for the cruiser drawing less than 5 feet (There is generally 8 feet). A well-hidden farmhouse on one side, at the head of the cove. A field to the south. Lots of quiet.

Just north of Briary Cove, south of Conoy Creek....

This is not the blind mentioned in the approach instructions; there is another further out, towards the north side of the inlet. A nice sand bottom makes for pleasant early October wading. But the weather was turning and the decoys were stacked in the trees in the background.

When entering use the blind as a channel marker; stay about 50 feet south and you will find about 7.5 feet of water at low tide. Much of the creek is about 8-9 feet inside.  The channel is fairly straight, extending well down the southern branch. Use caution; the channel is narrow right at the entrance near the blind for about 100 feet (perhaps 40 feet) with a 4-5' bar on both sides.

Taylor Island Wildlife Refuge

Perhaps the finest kayaking area on the central bay, the extensive meanders of Slaughter Creek
through the Broads, as the area is known, offers a fine day of exploration. While the ponds create a trackless wilderness to explore, getting truly lost is difficult, as trees in the distance provide reference points.

Access is possible from several roads, though we like to anchor just north of the bridge and wander from there, sometimes using our tender to tow the kayaks deeper into the wilderness, to extend our range. The main course of the creek is not too hard to follow, but the side branches are a maze.

Bald eagles are quite common, with numerous nests visible.