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Lump crab on the hook and helping hands

My frequent sailing activities on Chesapeake Bay sometimes fit into a category of bits and pieces of this and that taking place here and there, now and then.

Here are a few vignettes:

Jack Sherwood

A perfect anchorage

Why boaters overnight in an exposed anchorage just off the St. Michaels harbor in the Miles River is beyond me, except to access the water taxi and the Crab Claw Restaurant luring folks in with the fragrance of steaming hard crabs. My choice for a calm night on the hook is just across the harbor in Pink Castle Cove, my name for an idyllic spot tucked away inside lovely Leeds Creek. But pay attention to the tiny green and red floats marking shoaling water near the fixed green No. 1 marker at the mouth.

It can get awfully uncomfortable at the town anchorage when a night breeze rolls in, but here in Leeds it is always calm and peaceful. I anchored with just one other boat and settled down with a good cigar and a tin cup of ice-cold O.J. fortified with black rum. Trot-line crabbers (called “chicken neckers” because of the bait they use) roused me at 6 a.m. with a gentle rocking of my cradle that came with their awakening wake.

Hard aground

There is a saying that you haven’t cruised the Chesapeake if you haven’t run aground. I touch bottom at least once a year, though my full-keel Sailmaster 22C draws less than 3 feet with the centerboard raised. I often cut corners and, when the dropped board signals bottom, I just raise it and change direction.

Hunting Creek, inside Long Point off the Miles River near St. Michaels, is worth exploring. However, a few privately placed shoal marker floats, meaningfully colored green or red, are confusing in a crab-pot neighborhood marked by various colors of similar floats. I found the two greens and left them to port, but I missed a red, grounding in 2 feet of hard, sandy bottom precisely where the chart says “markers.”

Motorsailing slowly in a breeze with the jib rolled, the board suddenly bounced up under me, and I was stuck. I raised it, centered the tiller and secured it, put the outboard in full ahead, rolled out the jib, and trimmed sails in tightly to heel over to port. I moved my 160 pounds to the bow, jumped up and down, and then hung over the side from the leeward shrouds. Nothing. With no dinghy to carry out the anchor, I tried tossing it, but it would not set in such a short scope. I could have jumped in and carried it out to deeper water on a seat cushion, but there were too many sea nettles around to my liking. Pushing off with a long pole was useless.

Erewhon at rest for the evening in Pink Castle Cove, Leeds Creek, off the Miles River in St. Michaels, Md.

Not knowing tidal conditions, I was forced to ask for help, and a speedy, Whaler-type runabout filled with men, women and children came over. I tossed the bow line the short distance to where he read 7 feet on his depth finder. He and I both worried about the line getting caught in his prop, but he tied it to a stern cleat and headed in the direction I was pointing. I told him my boat was bumping and was about to come off. He turned on the power, and off I came.

I should have given him $20, but there was too much to do. I only had time to thank him profusely as he let my line go and sped off. I got close enough to tell his posse, “Now you’ll have something to talk about tonight. My compliments to your captain.”

Local lump crabmeat, $20 a pound

Yes, it’s true, a single Andrew Jackson for a single pound of lump. But the bargain is at Clayton’s, a crab-packing house in the Cambridge, Md., harbor for prime crabmeat so fresh it’s still warm from the steamer and picking room. I made a repeat visit in July to Snappers restaurant next door for the cooked version, a quarter-pound crabcake for $20, but I packed Clayton’s retail version on this visit for dinner al fresco that evening.

After a rail-down reach from the Cambridge end of the Choptank River to the other end at Tilghman Island’s Bay Hundred, I anchored in another favorite gunkhole, Dun Cove, off Harris Creek. Nature’s spectacle that evening lasted a spectacular 45 minutes and closed brilliantly in a blaze of glory, which earned my applause — at which time, I fired up my gimbaled cooker and gently removed a half-pound of lump meat into a splash of simmering butter for dinner with Saltine crackers on the side.

‘Shorty’ of Sarles Boatyard

Looking for a small person to wiggle into a very small space to handle a quick taping of a leaking self-bailing hose took me to Sarles, the oldest (1907) boatyard in Annapolis, Md. There, I met two large workers on lunch break and explained that I was looking for a short guy for a 10-minute boatwork job nearby. At that point, that very person walked in — a do-it-all guy at Sarles for 30 years.

“You are the man I’m looking for,” I said and asked his name. Of course, it was “Shorty.” I had to laugh about his nickname and asked how long he had had it. “Since I was a very small little boy,” laughed the trim 115-pounder who says he stands 5 feet, 2 inches.

I arranged to pick up Shorty — Lawrence Franklin — after work, and he brought a can of Natty Boh beer with him. He looked at the trouble spot in the aft end of the starboard quarter berth, crawled in with his beer in hand, and said, “Piece of cake.”

I passed him precut swaths of sticky, stretchy, self-amalgamating black tape, and the hose-taping job was done. I paid him a nominal fee, and he said, “Thanks, man, anytime.”

Shorty is one reason I love to visit boatyards with character, because they attract characters. Owning and operating a boat provides many such bonuses, not to mention coming upon an Eastern Shore cove for some quiet time on the hook, and being pulled off a sandbar by a family in a runabout. There’s nothing like an unexpected adventure on an idle Sunday outing.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue.