“Gunkholing,” one of the most expressive words in the English language, simply means cruising to a small sheltered cove that’s just perfect for anchoring your boat.
Our region is rich in those snug, beach or tree fringed anchorages where long-legged water birds stalk a seafood dinner and the barely rippling surface always invites a cool dip on a hot summer day. It doesn’t matter whether you stay for the afternoon, overnight or a week, it’s the most relaxing time you’ll ever have on the water. The nearby Chesapeake Bay has hundreds of well chartered coves as well as some that are known only to a few hearty sailors who have stumbled upon them. Here’s where to find some of the best, and what to know before you go. – Jay Lloyd
Related: Guide to Sailing Charters
On passages to the popular waterfront town St. Michaels, boaters pass the barely noticeable mouth of Tilghman Creek. As you round the northern tip of Tilghman Island, the buoys that mark the channel are difficult to see, but once found, they open the gate to still waters and an idyllic setting. Few other boats will be found here, just off the wooded fringe of a pristine cove. On weekdays, you may be aboard the only boat in the anchorage. It’s a perfect spot for fishing, crabbing and swimming. For sailors concerned about depth, Tilghman Creek carries about 10 feet.
CORNFIELD CREEK AND MAGOTHY RIVER
The Magothy River, located on the western shore of the Chesapeake between Baltimore and Annapolis, is a welcome stopover for cruisers on one of the most heavily traveled patches of the bay. There are two notable anchorages. The first is dead ahead as you enter the river, the spot behind Dobbins Island. On weekends, it gets busy. Hang a right and thread the Magothy Narrows to Cornfield Creek. Then drop the hook right off the manicured lawns of an immaculate horse farm with its oversize flag flying from a prominent pole. Boaters here are looking for quiet, and they find it — along with a photogenic view.
Swan Creek is within ten minutes of my own home port of Haven Harbour. It’s not unusual for summer boaters to leave the marina in favor of a little gunkholing in the creek. It always seems to carry a cooling breeze and is so sheltered that it’s considered a rare safe haven during a sudden (or predicted!) storm. A rustic duck blind guards the entrance. Swan Creek offers the best of both worlds. You can enjoy a snug anchorage that has a variety of wading and water birds including swans, but boaters with dinghies can make a quick run into town for supplies, a drink or a restaurant stop.
RHODE RIVERSouth of Annapolis, the West and Rhode Rivers share an entrance to the bay, but they are as different as night and day. The nightlife and bar scene crowd heads for the docks at Galesville on the West River, while boaters who relish the solitude of a calm anchorage steer a course for the Rhode. Cameras work overtime as cruisers pass the prominent duck blind and turn into the wind to drop anchor in a sheltered cove ringed by woods and beach. There’s good crabbing, fishing and swimming here, but keep an eye out for nettles.
Another stop on the way down Eastern Bay to St. Michaels, Shaw Bay is a broad cove that provides a quickly reached shelter on the Wye River when the bay and Miles River get stormy. There’s plenty of anchorage room, and depending on the day and time of year, Shaw Bay can provide spectacular sunset. But if you want just a tad more privacy, Lloyd Creek, about a mile further up the Wye, fits the bill.
An invaluable book for boaters and landlubbers alike is The Guide to Cruising Chesapeake Bay. It’s been updated and published annually for over 40 years by Chesapeake Bay Magazine and details sailing instructions, the towns, the anchorages and virtually everything you might want to know about navigating this major waterway. It even lists restaurants and marinas. The 2013 edition is listed at $39.95 and can be found at boating supply stores and online.
When planning to anchor out rather than overnighting in a marina, you’ll have to be self-sufficient. Things to make sure you have are bug repellent, sun block, enough ice, stove and/or barbecue grill, first aid supplies and of course, toilet paper. And don’t forget to store the t-paper in two separate places! On one recent cruise, we had all of it stored in one place, and a loose water hose drowned the lot.
Also, keep an eye out for nettles wherever you anchor. Some spots in hot weather seem to attract them more than others. If you do spot ‘em, either use a “nettle pool” (which some boaters carry to isolated a patch of water), or ditch the dip until they’re gone.
Enjoy the tranquility.