Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival 2007

Skipjack, St. Michaels Maryland


Last weekend was the annual festival in St. Michaels, Md., held by the Maritime Museum. I’ve been once before – drove up and back for the day – but this time took gear to camp on the museum grounds for a few days, which is the best way to do it by far. This was the 25th Anniversary of the event, and close to 200 people showed up to celebrate with their handmade boats of virtually every size and  shape. A number of folks drove two days or more each way for three days of serious wooden boat porn.

Rules are scarce and cheating is encouraged.

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Portsmouth Island

Henry Piggot House


South of Ocracoke, across the inlet, is Portsmouth Island and a ghost town of the same name. Though as a community it began and survived alongside Ocracoke for hundreds of years, Portsmouth’s more limited access proved it’s undoing. It was abandoned almost 40 years ago, and came under care and control of the National Park Service. There was never any electrical power on Portsmouth, though a few small generators operated when needed. Mostly the residents continued to live well into the 20th century much as they had in the 18th. Many of the houses are preserved intact, as are a church, a general store, a school, a post office, and the decommissioned life saving station once manned by the Coast Guard. Almost all are open to the public and cared for by volunteers alongside the Park Service, who only seems to provide assistance when funding is available.

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Ocracoke Island

Ocracoke Inlet

The last ferry from Hatteras leaves at midnight. It’s then a forty minute ride through a deep and disturbing darkness to the northern tip of Ocracoke Island.

These are some of the most treacherous waters on the Atlantic Coast. In recent years, the Coast Guard has averaged 10 rescue missions a month in Oregon Inlet just north of here. Charts for the region don’t show channel markers; instead are displayed just warnings such as this:

“Hatteras Inlet is subject to continual change.
Entrance buoys are not charted because they are frequently shifted in position.”

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“Wow, so what else is going to happen?”


On the way back, when we got to the Spillway, there was a group of Boy Scouts setting up camp for the weekend. They had arrived back at the landing just as we were pushing off, and behind us had paddled the three miles to the Canal Tender’s camp with all their gear. At the camp, one of them found a rope swing and promptly broke his leg. The Scout leaders (a couple of dads worried about what their wives would say, no doubt) had called 911, and a rescue boat and helicopter were on the way. There was no room to land the helicopter, so they were going to have to take him back to the landing by boat. As we motored down the Feeder Ditch the rescue boat came roaring up the canal, and we got to the ramp just as the helicopter arrived, so we watched them load the hapless fellow into the back and take off for Norfolk.

We filmed the whole thing, of course.

Other things we saw and filmed:

  • The homemade ferry, for crossing the canal.
  • Two water moccasins, mating.
  • A beaver.
  • A bike race.



Islands in the Swamp

Cypress Bonsai Garden.


The cypress trees rising up from the lake have been separated from shore for a very long time, in some cases centuries. Even when they die, their stumps remain longer still, as cypress is a very rot resistant wood. The result is that each tree, and it’s remaining stump, isolated from the rest of the swamp for so long, becomes a complex ecological microcosm, with insects, plants, fungi, etc., all living interdependently. They’re beautiful, like little Zen bonsai gardens.



More Lake Drummond Weirdness

Cypress Sentinel, lightning blasted.


Here’s another thing:

In 1943, a WWII pilot out of Norfolk had engine trouble while flying out over the Atlantic. He managed to maneuver back over land before the plane went down, and ditched in the middle of Lake Drummond. The plane is apparently still there and, in drought years when the water recedes enough, the wreckage rises above the surface like a ghostly specter from the past. Knowing this is a little creepy when you’re far from shore in a small boat, and you can’t see more than a few inches below the black, oily surface.


Lake Drummond

Bald Cypress fringe the shores of Lake Drummond


36°36’8.45″N  76°28’11.15″W  ~  Lake Drummond.kmz

There are many odd things about the Dismal Swamp. One of them, perhaps the most odd, is this:

At the heart of the swamp is Lake Drummond, a two and a half mile wide egg shaped saucer of black water, fringed along an indefinite shoreline with bald cypress. Most swamps are, by definition, shallow depressions in the landscape where water collects and can’t escape, forming bogs. Not so here. The highest point in the Dismal Swamp is actually the center of the lake in the center of the swamp. Water does not flow downhill to the lake – it wells up from the sandy bottom of the lake itself, and seeps out into the surrounding landscape to form the swamp.