It can take a lifetime to explore the reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. Since most of us don't have this luxury, we have to make do with whatever we can accomplish on long weekends. Fortunately, picturesque towns dot the shoreline on both sides of the Bay in close proximity, making it easy to jump from one to another without spending a lot of time getting there.
A good place to start exploring the southwestern Bay is lovely little Deltaville, VA. Broad Creek, on the Rappahannock side of Deltaville, is lined with marinas, a great tropical-style restaurant and boat parts galore! A short bike ride into town will bring you to a small collection of restaurants and a coffee shop, several tidy specialty and gift stores, a small but well-stocked grocery store and a fresh seafood market. There are also abundant boat parts and supplies here, including a couple of sail lofts, a hardware store, a bait and tackle shop, and a HUGE West Marine store.
If you have time, visit the Deltaville Maritime Museum, which highlights the history of the area and its dependence on boat building. It is made up of a collection of exhibits and locally built boats and there are usually "project boats" in various stages of construction. A well-marked educational trail through the adjacent Holly Point Nature Park offers a nice diversion. Time permitting, another treat is to catch a baseball game from May through August at the Deltaville ballpark in town. The Deltaville Deltas baseball team is a semi-pro, wooden bat baseball team that can trace its roots back to before the ballpark was built in 1948.
North, South, East or West?
The problem with visiting Deltaville is that you may never want to leave, but there is much more to see on the southern Bay. From here, a run up the Rappahannock can take you to Irvington or Urbanna, both lovely waterfront towns with numerous amenities. Heading south out of Deltaville will take you to the large and protected Fishing Bay (on the Piankatank side), and then to Milford Haven, which separates quaint Gwynns Island from the mainland of Mathews. With two to three days, you could also cross the Bay to Cape Charles and Onancock, both wonderful walking towns.
Some of your decision, of course, will be based on weather. A summer southerly or a nasty northeast blow can come up quickly, and it can be incredibly uncomfortable with on-the-nose winds and conflicting waves. Many of the "Points" on the Bay have their own notoriety due to the current of the river meeting the bigger water and wind; Stingray Point, at the mouth of the Rappahannock, is a good example. On a good day, however, the 12-mile run from Broad Creek up to Fleets Bay should be a breeze (pun intended).
Welcome to the Northern Neck
Fleets Bay is the entrance to four creeks on what is referred to as the "Northern Neck": Indian, Dymer, Tabbs and Antipoison. All but Tabbs have good depth, and Indian is the most traveled. Follow the well-marked Indian Creek about 3 miles to Chesapeake Boat Basin at Kilmarnock Wharf. This puts you a little over a mile from the town of Kilmarnock.
If you want to explore further afield, head to the neighboring town of Irvington, home of the upscale Tides Inn Resort on Carters Creek. Irvington once thrived as a steamboat town and a visit would not be complete without a trip to the Steamboat Era Museum. The town has steadily grown and now features a variety of lodging, shops, restaurants and other attractions downtown. The trolley will also take you to Historic Christ Church, widely known as the best preserved of colonial Virginia's Anglican Parish Churches. For more than 300 years, a church has stood at the present site.
After reprovisioning and sight seeing, take the Trolley back to the boat and rest up. The next stop is about 13 miles away and a personal favorite: Reedville.
Speaking of Reedville...
Once, many years ago we happened to pull into Reedville late on the 3rd of July. We had been cruising on the Bay for over a week and were headed home, making our customary overnight stop in Reedville. We had lost track of time (as we so often do on the boat), and had no idea it was the eve of July 4th.
When we went ashore the next morning, however, it was obvious: Every house was clad in red, white and blue, as were the people and their pets. Everyone seemed to be having a marvelous time, and there was a lot of "porch visiting" going on in anticipation of the big parade. Reedville certainly knows how to celebrate the nation's birthday, but there is much, much more to Reedville than contagious patriotism.
Reedville is located off the Great Wicomico, which is a 10-mile run from Fleets Bay and a good place to be when the wind and waves kick up. To reach Reedville, turn north after buoy "6" in Ingram Bay and meander about three miles up Cockrell Creek. You can anchor up any of the creeks here but do be aware that if the wind is blowing just so, the smell from the Menhaden processing plant can be strong. While this has improved from previous years, it is still worth noting.
If you decide to take a slip, your choices are Buzzard's Point Marina, up the marked channel of Cockrell Creek past Reedville or Reedville Marina at the foot of the town road. Buzzard's Point provides free dockage while you take the 150-passenger excursion boat to Tangier Island. Reedville Marina is home of the Crazy Crab, a popular restaurant that offers waterfront fare and scenic views. Visiting boaters can also tie up dinghies at Reedville Market. Once on shore, have some lunch, then stroll through town, stopping for ice cream at Chitterchats. You will pass gorgeous Victorian houses and well-kept, neat lawns backing up to the water.
Eventually you will happen upon the Reedville Fishermen's Museum. The history of the town and fishery—inextricably linked—are described here. There are several locally built boats, as well as a working buy boat and a restored skipjack. The museum is open Thursday-Sunday from April through October. Pick up your free walking brochure at the museum and read about the places you pass on the way back to the boat.
Before you leave Reedville, stock up on fresh seafood and ice at the Cockrell's Creek Seafood & Deli, located across Cockrell creek from Reedville. It is open daily in season and temporary tie-ups are available. There are tables under the shade trees if you want to pick your crabs there.
If you are able to cover more area in less time (i.e., are not on a sailboat or slower trawler), you may want to meander five miles up the Great Wicomoco and visit Tiffany Yachts to see a family-run custom boat building yard in action. In February of 2010 Tiffany Yachts experienced a devastating fire that destroyed the main building and burned three boats. In 2011 they completed construction of an expanded, modern facility.
Anchorage or Dockage?
If you need to start heading back, but don't want to make a straight run to Deltaville (23 miles), you could stop in Dividing Creek. This well-marked creek is easy to enter and carries 12-foot depths to many anchorages. The sandy shoreline on the north side of the entrance to the creek is part of a 200-acre nature preserve. You can dinghy over to swim or picnic, but fires and fishing are prohibited. Another option for anchoring is Little Bay off Fleets Bay, on the back side of Windmill Point. This is particularly nice on summer nights when there's a steady southern breeze and no thunderstorms.
If you prefer to dock, round the tip of Windmill Point and follow the marked channel 0.5 mile to Windmill Point Marina. There is ample docking, a large pool and the very popular Tiki Bar & Grill. From here, it's an easy 3-mile putt or sail straight across the Rappahannock to Broad Creek.
You could spend days or even weeks exploring this area alone; in fact, if you want to stretch it out, arrive in Kilmarnock in time for their Music on the Half Shell concert series, and other exciting local events & farmers markets! Head to Deltaville in time for their 4th of July fun with a live baseball game from the Deltaville Deltas at the Historic Deltaville Ballpark and a spectacular fireworks display. Find more local events & activities at virginiasriverrealm.com.
Jani Parker is Managing Editor of Waterway Guide Media and enjoys cruising in the Chesapeake Bay and along the ICW with her husband, Max.