You could easily spend a week on the lower Choptank River in a different spot each night and not come close to seeing everything. Last summer I did just that, on what was supposed to be a longer cruise down the Bay. With so much to explore, and being chock full of natural charm and snug anchorages, it was hard to justify being anywhere else. It’s a nice problem to have, but without the ability or the desire to travel faster than six knots, it becomes a necessity of circumstance.
For those who seek the quaint bustle of marinas, Tilghman or Oxford beckon, but I felt drawn by curiosity and circumstance to Cambridge, which I found once again to be a most fascinating and rewarding port.
There are marinas on Cambridge Creek near the center of town, but the Municipal Yacht Basin (or the Cambridge Yacht Club with reciprocal privileges) is a perfect place to spend a night or three and still be within walking distance of restaurants, museums and provisions. High Street ends just east of the marina at Long Wharf. A screwpile lighthouse sits at the end, a replica of the one that used to guard the entrance to the Tred Avon River a few miles downstream, and now a good place to watch the sunset and the traffic on the Route 50 bridge heading to the ocean. So, let’s take a leisurely walk uptown and soak in the ambiance of the place.
It’s hard to imagine a nicer place for a stroll than along High Street, and the first thing you notice is the fastidious but worn and colorful brick paving of a bygone era. Passing car tires emit the sound of a muted rumble strip, while stately homes with big trees line the street in silence. This is the edge of the historic district that stretches several blocks and part of downtown, encompassing some 750 properties. Governors, mayors, judges, and sea captains all lived here; so did Annie Oakley briefly 100 years ago. Cambridge is much older than that, and after 330 years remains the seat of government for Dorchester County. But the pace is slow, and Cambridge likes it that way. For sailors on a cruise, there is reason to linger here.
There are good choices for restaurants, but if restocking the larder is in order, Simmons Center Market at 600 Race Street is the place to go, and not soon forgotten. Opened in 1937 and still family owned, this little gem of a place seems to have everything you’ll need for your trip, plus the bonus of a veritable museum of decades-old grocery artifacts displayed along the walls above the shelves.
On the way back to the boat, unless you’re carrying perishables, why not check out the Harriet Tubman Museum at 424 Race, or Richardson’s Maritime Museum at 401 High Street. Ruark Boatworks, a partner museum and real working yard, is located across the drawbridge at 103 Hayward Street. All of these are open to the public only on certain days and are well worth a visit. You can also sail aboard a real skipjack, Cambridge’s own Ruark-built and captained Nathan of Dorchester, sailing every Saturday from the foot of Long Wharf.
[caption id="attachment_94829" align="alignleft" width="350"] Choptank Lighthouse. Photo by Clark Vandergrift, OTD[/caption]
A host of other maritime events take place throughout the season, from the Cambridge Classic Powerboat Regatta (May 28-29 instead of in late July as in years past), the not-to-be missed Seafood “Feastival” in August, the exciting Heritage Skipjack Race in September, and finally the Schooner Rendezvous in October. Downtown hops too, every second Saturday on Main Street and at the Taste of Cambridge in July.
Always the Choptank is irresistible, and through good planning, Cambridge provides many public access points along the waterfront. The Visitor Center in Sailwinds Park is of itself an architectural masterpiece, so much that the soaring 100-foot tall “sail” can be seen from the Talbot side of the river by those headed to Ocean City for the weekend. It has become a landmark for those traveling faster than six knots on their way to somewhere else, but for Cambridge, it’s a welcome destination that’s right where it wants you to be.
--by Steve Allen