Madison Bay and the Little Choptank

I was hoping to accomplish two things this trip: I wanted to do long row. And I wanted to sail out onto the open Chesapeake for the first time.

The forecast was for no wind before 11 a.m. I arrived at the landing in Madison two hours before. No wind, no problem. I wanted test my skiff, my DIY oars, and my own ability to get back home if the wind dies.

A little mishap at the ramp – the skiff would not slide off the trailer. I could see from the centerboard’s lanyard that it was in a downward position. I must have left the CB down when I landed after my last trip. Loading onto the trailer had worked fine; the CB rotated up when the boat slid forward. But when sliding back off the trailer, it dropped enough to make the boat stick.

It took me 20-30 minutes to row out to the buoy at the mouth of Madison Bay. About 3 kts in flat water. The skiff rowed easily and tracked well. But my oars need to be lighter and a bit shorter.

When I kayaked here in the 90s, I was fascinated to see crabs and grasses on the bottom that glided 3-4 feet beneath me. Now I could only barely see the bottom through green water. No crabs or grass. I wondered about the health of the Little Choptank River Sanctuary.

I paused for breakfast near the buoy. Back at Madison, the wind turbine started turning slowly at 1050. Then it stopped at 1110. But a light breeze touched the water where I was at the edge of the larger river. I could see the Western Shore 5-6 miles off. The forecast made me expect a long reach out past the mouth of the Little Choptank and back. But it turned out quite differently.

The forecast for noon still said 8 kt from the north. I raised sail but went nowhere. So I rowed downriver to the next buoy. When the wind finally came up, it was from the west. It stayed that way all day. So it was a long beat to windward if I would finally reach the Bay.

I tacked back and forth out past Ragged Island and reached the channel marker at the mouth of the Little Choptank about 2pm. Then swung over to the mouth of Woolford Creek to stop for a late lunch. I didn’t find the shelter I was looking for. Still, I hove and was able to keep the sail up. The skiff kept bow to wind and small rolling waves while I did crackers, cheese, and zinfandel.

It was a run back to Madison Bay. By this time, the wind had backed around to the south but was finicky both in direction and strength, as I was close to the south shore.

A dinghy cast off from a yacht anchored at the bay entrances. It crossed my path 100 yards ahead. The oarsman landed on the marsh beach and let his big dog out to run and fetch sticks.

I watched how this sailboat and one other in the bay rode at anchor. And I watched yard flags a mile off. And when I rounded the point to see Madison, I watch the direction and speed of the wind turbine. All to keep gauge of the wind. I was a bit concerned about getting back to the landing before dark.

Wind and sail crucial during last 90 minutes back to port. Watched two anchored yachts for wind direction at the mouth and farther into Madison Bay. Then watched the windmilll speed and direction. Both yacht and windmill swung 90 degrees and back.

How important this was for sail and oar. It was dark by the time a got to Cambridge 12 miles up the road.

Duration: 8 hours
Distance: 16 miles
More photos and videos are here.


I also write about traditional Eastern Shore sailing workboats here.

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