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To Fairlee Creek in search of wind

Cruising north to the upper Eastern Shore of Maryland above the Bay Bridge offers many options if the weather turns unfavorable. To a small-boat sailor like me, this could mean too much wind from a northerly direction, too little wind directly from behind or no wind from anywhere. That means motoring, which I try to avoid.

In mid-August, expecting the worst because it was August and time for the Chesapeake doldrums, I set out from Annapolis for Fairlee Creek, a few miles south of the Sassafrass River. At the outset a 12-knot wind from the southeast was ideal for the 25-mile cruise to Mears Great Oak Landing Marina Resort.

In one hour I was beyond the Bay Bridge on a pleasant broad reach, but a dying wind dead from the south arrived off Rock Hall and soon I was going wing-and-wing dead downwind with the whisker pole out and vanged down.

This is where options come in: just above the Bay Bridge at Love Point is the first option, off to starboard: the Chester River and Queenstown, Reed, Grays Inn, and Langford creeks and the Corsica River. Far up the Chester is Chestertown. I have cruised to all these destinations, and had committed to Fairlee.

Just north of the mouth of the Chester is Rock Hall, directly on the Bay with its sister backyard village of Gratitude, on Swan Creek — nice enough destinations in their own right. But by this time, off Swan Point, I was 15 miles into the 25-mile cruise and had dropped the main, furled the jib, and was under power for rest of the noisy grind north. Five miles beyond Swan Point was another option, Tolchester Beach, but there’s not much there and one visit several years ago was enough for me.

Off Swan Point, one encounters the “Tolchester [shipping] Channel,” profusely marked all the way north to the entrance to the C&D (Chesapeake & Delaware) Canal, which exits in Delaware Bay, and thence to the Atlantic Ocean at Cape May, N.J.

A prudent mariner will stay out of shipping channels, which at times comes uncomfortably close to the Eastern Shore. It can be disconcerting to find an 800-foot-long cargo ship on what looks like a suicidal heading to land. It is advisable to stay outside of the green and red buoys, and leave those lanes to the big boys.

The entrance to Fairlee Creek, an R2 around Shell Point, is just under 4 miles from Tolchester. This trip is made simpler because of an abundance of navigational aids and landmarks (towers and silos). It is almost impossible to miss Fairlee, but it can happen. If you continue northeast, you’ll wind up at Worton Creek, which has an almost identical entry. (More about that later.)

The attractions of Fairlee Creek not only offer a very large protected creek navigable for 3 miles, but the 342-slip Mears Great Oak Landing Lodge and Marina. Here is lodging, several restaurants and bars, a swimming pool, golf, tennis, volley ball, transient docking and fuel.

There seemed to be more powerboats than sailboats, and many of the larger motoryachts were older, classic designs, quite a few of them wood. Some of these cabin cruisers are so elaborately plugged in to shore power one wonders if they ever actually leave the docks.

This creek could almost qualify as a hurricane hole. It has a very narrow (and occasionally tricky) entrance. Once past R2, if you’re following a chart, simply rely on what you see. Keep the reds to starboard and greens to port because some of these marks (except for R2) may or may not be on your chart.

On a weekend you may notice what looks like a convention of fast muscle boats lined up along the sandy beach at Jellyfish Joel’s Beach Bar. These waters, incidentally, usually have no stinging jellyfish because Bay water up north is fresher.

As you enter, a long, pointy beach spit is to starboard and the beach bar, with palm trees, is to port. Pay attention to the tide that funnels in and out here and maintain steerageway. Generally, entering vessels stay to starboard, leaving departing vessels to port.

Most anchored and rafted boats seem to crowd together in the creek inside the spit, probably attracted by the undeveloped beach on their side of the entrance channel and within swimming distance to the beach bar.

I tied up briefly at the fuel dock where transient slips are assigned ($1.25 on weekdays, $2.50 on weekends) and met my photographer, Bob Grieser. We hit the beach bar, a comparative rarity on Chesapeake Bay because it’s actually on a beach, and had an excellent dinner at Great Oaks (two hours free dockage).

At dusk I motored off down the creek, away from the crowd, and anchored alone off a wooded shore in the calm lee of a windy southerly that picked up after dark. There I could crank up the CD and listen to saxophonist Lester Young leap in without disturbing anyone’s peace.

The next morning I left in a cloudy drizzle only to be met at the entrance by what looked like a confluence of many arriving and departing muscle boats, seemingly milling about while waiting for the rain to start or stop. The rumbling noise was deafening, especially when they cranked up as they screamed off in a high pitch for the open waters of the northern Bay.

Hugging the shoreline off to starboard and rounding Handys Point to the entrance of Worton Creek after a three-mile sprint, I encountered almost a duplicate spit of a sandbar at the channel entrance. But inside, Worton Creek is much smaller, confined, and with far less anchoring room.

On the other hand, Worton has mostly sailboats, many of them at moorings. The spit’s beach here is posted with “No Trespassing” signs, unlike the undeveloped beach at Fairlee. There are three marinas: Green Point, The Wharf at Handys Point, and John Patnovick’s full-service Worton Creek Marina at Buck Neck Landing, where the Harbour House Restaurant on the hill is open for dinner seasonally.

I had my boat hauled out at Patnovick’s marina for a power wash and to touch up bottom paint, especially at the waterline and below. I slept on the boat at the Travelift, and departed at 9:30 the next morning.

Wind conditions for the return south were reversed, with light air from the northeast making it a motor trip all the way back to Annapolis. My rule of going with the wind was not followed on this cruise because there was no wind.