Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tangier Island

Had to run over to Tangier Island today for work, sometimes my job is pretty good to me.  It was a nice chance to revisit some places I have enjoyed in the past, plus do a little research for the ChesBay 150.
I've written blog posts about Tangier Island and the sound twice before, here and here.  But I had such a great time today I thought I would mention it again.
Tangier Island is one of two populated islands on Tangier Sound about halfway up Chesapeake Bay.  The other populated island is Smith Island just a few miles to the north of Tangier.  Both are known for clinging to their traditional way of life.  The islanders made news several years ago when they refused to let Paul Newman and Kevin Costner film Message in the Bottle on the island.  The production would have brought a lot of money and free publicity to the area, but the islanders did not like the drinking and swearing in the script.  So they told Hollywood to just go away.
Access to the islands is limited to boats or airplanes - no bridges to these places.  I took the ferry from Onancock, about hour and 15 minute boat ride.  
Just the ride down Onancock Creek made the trip worthwhile.  It is a winding four and one-half miles of tree lined creek, one of the more scenic rivers I've come across on the Eastern Shore.  I don't know why I have never taken Spartina up there for a day sail or an overnight trip.  There is a very nice, free ramp right at the town wharf and plenty of free parking.  I'll make sure Onancock Creek is high on my list for a three day weekend.  It makes for great kayaking I'm told.  The folks at Southeast Expeditions run trips, including a kayak winery tour in the area.  That sounds like fun.
As for sailing, I could see launching in Onancock in the afternoon and sailing down the creek to overnight in the protection of Parkers Marsh Wildlife Refuge, seen below.  There is a beautiful white sand beach and I could pick out a few well protected coves and creeks as we passed by on the ferry.  From there it is a quick trip around Ware Point out on to Tangier Sound.
Tangier is of course known for its crab houses, below,  built on stilts along the entrance channel.  The crab houses have the shedding tanks where waterman watch for the blue crabs to shed their hard shells.  Once they lose the hard shells the soft shell crabs are put on ice and shipped off to market.  (I like my soft shell crabs soaked in a little buttermilk for a while, rolled in corn meal and then fried lightly.  Served with lime and a good salsa, they make for an excellent meal.)
Today's trip reminded me that I really need to do more sailing on the Chesapeake Bay and, more specifically, Tangier Sound.  It is a beautiful, isolated area.  The water feels different from the Carolina Sounds, maybe because it is so deep.  A lot of the water is 20 to 50 feet deep, and in some areas it is over 100 feet deep (vs. the 20 foot or less water in Pamlico Sound).  So the waves, even when it is windy, tend to be farther apart.  And the clear, blue water is beautiful on a bright sunny day.  
Which do I like better, Tangier Sound or Pamlico Sound?  I really can't say - they are just different and I like them both.  But after four cruises in North Carolina, I'm ready to sail the Chesapeake Bay this fall.  


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