becalmed in Daugherty Creek Canal
This is how the day begins: It is 11am on a grey and blustery Friday, and I’m am waterskiing down Daugherty Creek Canal behind a Marsh Cat. Actually, it begins with coffee and loading and launching, but whatever. I have this catboat Comfort by the tail and I’m waterskiing. In a Melonseed. That’s the important part.
All night and well past dawn, the wind blew at 25 knots out of the NNW. It’s blowing from the Bay, tearing across the marsh. The tents flap and billow, making sleep fitful.
By the time we’re launched in the morning it has backed down to a more reasonable 15 knots. There’s still too much wind and the waves too big in Tangier Sound for a pleasant trip outside, so we’re staying in the lee of the marshes, heading south past Crisfield for Cedar Island.
The six boats – two Marsh Cats, two Caledonia Yawls, a Curlew and a Melonseed – leave the docks reefed and ready for bear; but tall pines along the banks shelter this narrow canal, so thoroughly there’s not enough wind here to sail. In the wind shade of the trees we’re dozing in still air on dark water, while overhead the tops of the trees wave and thrash. I start to break out the oars when those with motors circle back to give those without a tow. Doug throws me a line, which I hold in one hand and the tiller in the other, and ski at 4 knots back and forth across his wake as we motor down the canal.
A half mile later the canal opens into West Creek, and enough wind dips over the trees that I’m sailing faster than Comfort is motoring. I let loose the line and wave thanks. There will be one exposed mile as we transit Crisfield Harbor, the Little Annemessex River, before reaching the shelter of another canal.
Crisfield looks grey and uninviting as we skirt the waterfront. The only movement is waving reeds and flags that stand out stiff in the breeze. The boats gather a little closer as we ready for the crossing, but we have a broad reach across and the water not too rough. I hang behind the fleet a bit, and Phil, reefed down in his Curlew, hangs back further.
The other side of Crisfield is inland marsh. Bald eagles perch in solitary bare trees, left standing in wide fields of marsh grass like dead sentinels. Off to starboard we can see whitecaps breaking in the mouth of the river.
We charge into the the dredged channel of Broad Creek at full gallop, riding the waves that pile up in the shallows, then it’s suddenly calm and quiet again inside the creek. The canal is maybe 75 yards wide, with mostly low marsh on both sides. The wind is steady, but the water is flat. We coast swiftly down the channel, passing a couple of power boats with fishing lines out.
Halfway through to to Pocomoke Sound is a shallow circular lagoon. The other boats round up and drop anchor for a lunch break. Harris, in his new Caledonia, strikes bottom with the centerboard every time he leaves the channel, so he stays clear. This is prime Melonseed territory – big wind, no waves, shallow water – so I spend the hour zipping back and forth across the pond, circling the other boats. It’s a blast. I roar right up to the banks of mud and marsh grass, spin about and roar off in the other direction. Three guys fishing from a boat in the middle smile and holler out, “Wow, she’s fast!” Big fun.
After lunch Kevin M. and Doug in the two Marsh Cats follow the canal south, while most of us start back north for Janes Island into the wind. It’s choppy leaving the canal, but not as bad as I feared with this low freeboard skiff. This section of the river is in the lee of the outer island, so the fetch from the Sound is interrupted. This is a good thing.
Near Crisfield some workboats return from tending nets and pots, and a private ferry from Smith Island, heading for the harbor.
Back in Daugherty Canal the wind dies again to a dead calm. Harris offers me a tow, but I want to try rowing – never know when you’ll have to, and this is a good place to see what that’s like. I leave the sail up, free the sheet and lash the tiller amidship. It’s actually not bad at all, and I make an easy 3 knots, moving quickly over the half mile of flat water. I do almost run into a deadrise crabber coming down the canal the other way. I nod, he glares. Passing breaks in the trees the wing jabs through in gusts, catches the sail alarmingly, but helps boost things along.
In no time I’ve shipped the oars and rounded up into a slip in the park marina as it starts to drizzle.