My Little Boating Tourbook

Because of geography (a fancy way of saying "where we live"), we do most of our boating in the upper Chesapeake Bay and the lower Delaware River. I grew up along the bay in Northampton County on Virginia's Eastern Shore, so the Bay has defined my life. Where I grew up, there were two places: The Shore and "across the Bay." We knew which place was better . . . .

We have also boated in some other locations. Here are some things we have observed:

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Chincoteague Island, Va.

Upper Chesapeake

Sassafras The Sassafras River.

Still Pond Still Pond Creek.

Susquehanna Susquehanna River


Ocean City, Md.

The Delaware River

Philadelphia Philadelphia

Wilmington Wilmington

New Castle New Castle

Charts courtesy of Maptech.

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On the Chesapeake

General

The Susquehanna, Northeast, and Elk Rivers join to form the Chesapeake Bay. The Eastern Shore is lined with approachable beaches, coves, inlets, and creeks. These afford numerous locations for skiing, cruising, rafting, and swimming. The Western Shore has a number of rivers, but tends to be marshy, rather than beachy.

The Bay can get rough and bay squalls can come up quickly in the summer. Wise boaters heed the weather reports.

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The Sassafras River

Sassafrass ThumbnailFor my money, the prettiest river in the upper Bay, lined with beaches most of its length and containing numerous coves and two creeks of interest to boaters. Near the mouth, on the southern shore, the town of Betterton, Md., offers transient dockage at no charge. It's a short walk from the dock to the Betterton Beach, a small, protected, guarded beach, and theDublin Dock Restaurant ("5 p. m. to closing" weekdays, "noon to closing" weekends--apparently "closing" is flexible). Looking north from Betterton gives a gorgeous view of the mouth of the Sassafras, Grove Point, the mouth of the Elk, and Turkey point at the confluence of the Elk and Northeast Rivers.

A little up river from Betterton on the south shore is Lloyd Creek. Behind a narrow, almost invisible entrance, the creek opens into a large pool with a smooth bottom with a uniform depth of three to four feet at MLW. Lloyd's Creek ispopular with those who wish to anchor and swim or float or just laze away the day. It is not suitable for tubing or skiing because of the shallow depth.

Click the picture for pictures of the Sass.
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Farther up, near the headwaters of the Sass, lies Georgetown, Maryland. There are five large marinas there. We actually got a repair at the Georgetown Yacht Basis and cannot speak highly enough of how considerately they treated us.

There is also a restaurant, the Granary, which has dockage. On the more formal side, the Kitty Knight House offers elegant dining at commensurate prices.

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Still Pond Creek

Still Pond lives up to its name--many times we have entered it and seen a line where the chop from the bay gave way to the calmness of the creek. The stillness gives it the best waterskiing in the upper bay.

The entrance to Still Pond is a narrow channel that tends to silt to the north, so wise boaters staySkiing on Still Pond as close to the south as they can. The creek then opens into a wide, shallow basin. Still Pond Coast Guard Station is to your left as you enter.

Stay to the south and west side of the creek to be in the channel and you find yourself in the main part of the creek, which is roughly dumbbell-shaped--a large pool at each end connected by a narrower channel approximately half a mile long: ideal for skiing and tubing--a nice straight with plenty of room for turns at each end. At the upper end, be careful at low tide. Click the picture for Still Pond pictures.

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Susquehanna River

The Susquehanna contributes approximately one-third of the water that flows into the Bay. At just outside of the mouth of the river are Susquehanna Flats, large shallows that fill most of the area between the Susquehanna to the west and Elk Neck to the east. At low tide, these can be quite hazardous.

The channel from the bay into the river clings to the shoreline to the south of the river's mouth. The town of Havre de Grace is on the southwestern side of the river's entrance; Perryville is to the northeast. Twenty years ago, these were small watering towns, but in the past two decades they have been condo-fied. Marinas and docks line both sides of the river through Perryville and Havre de Grace, and the entrance to the river is one long "No Wake" Zone. It's also heavily patrolled by the Maryland Marine Police.

High bluffs line the river on either side and four bridges span its entrance: Amtrak, US 40, the CSX Railroad (used to be the B&O), and I-95. A couple of miles upriver on the east is Port Deposit, Maryland. Local boaters tell me that, once you get as far upriver as the condos in Port Deposit, you should exercise care, as the river becomes shallow and rocky. Farther upriver, the channel is barred by the Conowingo Dam, a hydroelectric dam which also carries US 1 across the river.

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On the Delaware

The Delaware originates in upstate New York and, for much of it's length, serves as the border between New Jersey on the east and Pennsylvania and Delaware on the west. At one time, it was so polluted that the fish population had almost disappeared south of Philadelphia. Today, it is in much better shape than it was 30 years ago, but care should be exercised in deciding whether to eat fish taken from its lower reaches.

We have done most of our Delaware boating in the area between Philadelphia and the mouth of the Delaware, where it empties into Delaware Bay. In Philadelphia, the river is about a mile wide; at its mouth, it's about two miles wide. It is also changeable--the wind can come up quickly and turn 6-inch ripples into three-foot chop.

A trip down the Delaware fascinates in its glimpse of the USA's industrial history--it's lined with refineries, factories, and defunct ship yards. Unlike the Chesapeake, the Delaware River contains few coves and beaches suitable for anchoring and playing in the water.

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In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

We have not explored north to Philadelphia as much as we want to, but here are some points of interest: Philadelphia has a marina at the foot of Market Street at Penn's Landing. Also at Penn's Landing are Admiral Dewey's flagship, the USS Olympia; a submarine, the SS (Submersible Ship) Becuna; and the tugboat Jupiter, all open for tours; as well as restaurants, museums, and the like. I recommend the Independence Seaport Museum (formerly the Philadelphia Maritime Museum) highly. Penn's Landing is about a 20 minute walk from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

Farther south is the industrial port of Philadelphia and Philadelphia International Airport. Near thePhiladephia Art Museum airport, where the Schuylkill flows into the Delaware, there is a small tidal flat that, when the tide is right, has a nice beach. It's not uncommon to see a couple of dozen boats anchored around it on a nice day, with boaters playing in the water and watching the planes fly into and out of the airport. A portion of the US Navy mothball fleet is stored at the site of the now-closed Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Going downriver from Philadelphia, there are several marinas near Essington, Pa., sheltered by Little Tinicum Island.

Click the picture of the Art Museum to see pictures of Philadelphia.

Note: The chart shows the area by the airport. Use the red arrows to manipulate it.

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In Wilmington, Delaware:

There are two ramps in on the Christina River:Kalmar Nyckel

 Up the Creek charges a nominal fee; the county ramp is free. If your goal is to go to the Delaware River, though, the county ramp adds 20 minutes of "No Wake" zone to the trip. On the other hand, the ramp at Up the Creek does not have much water; for a larger trailer boat, attention must be given to the tides; pulling out at low water can be challenging. Up the Creek also has a fuel dock.

The ramp in Newport has ample parking, docks on each side, and is plenty wide to allow departing and arriving boaters to deal with the strong current of the Christina.

Click the picture of the Kalmar Nyckel for pictures of the Christina River.

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At New Castle, Delaware

South of Wilmington, the Delaware widens as it passes under the Delaware Memorial Bridge (at two miles, it claims to be the longest twin span suspension bridge in the world). On the Jersey side are several small beaches, mostly encumbered by towns. At the very mouth of the river is Pea Patch Island, site of Fort Delaware. During the US Civil War, Fort Delaware served as a POW camp for confederate prisoners of war; now it's a state park, offering tours of the fort.

The park is accessible only by Delaware Park Service ferry; there is no public docking. However, you can dock at Delaware City (at the eastern mouth of the C&D Canal) and catch the ferry there. Delaware City also offers a boat ramp and a marina. The ramp is very steep and, the last time I was there, did not offer a serviceable dock.

Curving north from Pea Patch Island in the center of the river is the Pea Patch Dike. It's plainly marked and, at low water, visible for its entire length. At high water, only the markers are visible, but the dike can tear heck out of the bottom of a boat.

South of Pea Patch Island, the river opens into the Delaware Bay, and we haven't ventured that far.

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At Chincoteague, Va.

Chincoteague, Va., may well be best known for the Chincoteague ponies, which, ironically, live on Assateague Island, immediately east of Chincoteague Island. Chincoteague offers boating in Chincoteage Inlet, as well as access to the Intra-Coastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, Assateague Island is home to a National Seashore with a beautiful beach. If you wish to go swimming, there, remember that there are no concessions--only a single bathhouse.

Chincoteague has marinas, the town harbor, and several city boat ramps scattered about the island. A weekly permit for the ramps is available at a very reasonable price. Although Chincoteague is not a "resort town"--it does not have the amusements to be found in Ocean City, Md., or Wildwood, NJ--it does have good restaurants, access to a wonderful beach, and reasonably-priced cottage rentals.

The island is bordered to the northwest by Chincoteage Bay, to the west and south by Chincoteage Inlet, to the southeast by Tom's Cove, and to the east by Assateague Channel and Assateague Bay. A good chart is essential: Assateague Channel contains many submerged piles and shallows, while Tom's Cove at low tide can ground a small boat. Currents through Chincoteague Inlet into the Atlantic between Fishing Point and Gunboat Point are strong and variable.

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At Ocean City, Md.

Ocean City, Md., is located on Fenwick Island and is bounded to the east by the Atlantic Ocean and to the west by Isle of Wight and Assawoman Bays. It is a resort city, with a wide beach, a boardwalk, and hundreds of hotels, motels, rides, parks, and other amusements. Trailer parking within Ocean City is restricted to one city lot at 100th street. Weekly permits are available at a reasonable price.

There numerous marinas and docks on both the island and the mainland side of the bay. In addition, there are several boat ramps. The most popular public ramp is located in West Ocean City, on the mainland. By talking with residents, you can get good advice as to which ramp suits your needs. We found a county ramp, far off the beaten track, that was ideal for our purposes.

Isle of Wight Bay on any summer day is dotted with boats. Boaters should keep a sharp eye for boats towing para-sailers; such boats have restricted maneuverability. The current through Ocean City Inlet to the Atlantic is strong and variable. In addition, the inlet is crowded in the early morning and late afternoon, as fishing boats exit and enter the channel.

>The Saint Martin River offers an excellent location for waterskiing. It can be populated with jellyfish (what Eastern Shoremen call "stinging nettles"), so if your skier is concerned about being stung, exercise care and bring a wetsuit.

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Chincoteage and Ocean City Links:

(For Chesapeake Bay Links, see the main Links page.)

Assateague Island National Seashore

Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce

Town of Chincoteague website

Beachnet (includes Ocean City and Delaware Beaches)

Ocean City Chamber of Commerce

Ocean City Website Network

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Copyright 2001, 2010 Frank W. Bell, Jr.

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