by Alice Snively
A Labor Day Destination Worth the Work
Waterhole Cove on Harris Creek off the Choptank River
Latitude 38.46N; 76.19W
Many Bay cruisers are familiar with Dun Cove on Harris Creek off Choptank River. It’s a popular stopover for those coming or going through Knapp’s Narrows or around Tilghman Island to explore the Choptank region. But our destination this week is farther north.
Harris Creek is not as easy to negotiate as many other gunkhole destinations. But if all anchorages were simple to access, where would be the fun?
Sweet Breezes, Sandy Beaches
Waterhole Cove is just upstream from Dun Cove but doesn’t attract as many boats. If you’re craving a good breeze in the dog days of summer, Waterhole’s southeast orientation and wide mouth will be welcome. There are a few homes around, but they aren’t intrusive and don’t spoil the gunkhole feel of the place. For those who want to explore, there are some sandy beach areas that can be reached by dinghy.
There’s good holding for anchoring, but since it’s not a very well-protected location, I don’t recommend it in high winds or stormy conditions.
How to Harris Creek
The area is lovely, worth visiting and accessible if you pay attention to charts, markers and your all-important depth-finder. If you don’t have a depth-finder, then you’ll want to take extra care with charts and markers.
One attraction of the Choptank region is its mid-Bay location. There are two ways to reach Harris Creek from the Bay: through Knapp’s Narrows which cuts across Tilghman Island, or from the south around the bottom of the island through the mouth of the Choptank itself.
To reach the river from below Tilghman Island, locate the RW CA Whistle can marker on your chart, nearly in the center of the Bay southeast of Chesapeake Beach. A course of about 101 degrees from this marker will take you safely to the mouth of the Choptank. Follow this course about five miles to the Red 10 Bell, then turn to port on a course of 10 degrees. Keep to this heading for about 3.9 miles to the Red 2, which marks the mouth of Harris Creek. Stay well to port of this marker and continue north.
A Bit of a Challenge
The mile between the Red 2 north to the next two markers can be a challenge. The navigable part of the channel narrows dramatically. Set a course of about 12 degrees, look for a Red 4 day mark to starboard and a Green 5 to port just beyond. The trick is to travel directly to and then between the two. Keep to port of the Red and to starboard of the Green as per normal navigation, but don’t deviate too far in either direction or you may quickly find yourself aground in one or two feet of water.
Once past the Green, the channel widens. But as Columbo would say, “just one more thing.” About a half mile past the Green in the center of the channel is a small shoal. To avoid this hazard look for the Red 6 daymark, move to port watching your depth and slowly continue. Once you are abreast of the mouth of Dun Cove to port, you have passed the shoal and should be in 12 feet or more of water once again.
From here stay in the center of the channel and pass the Green 7 close to starboard. A little way up, the channel narrows again, so watch your depth and stay in the center as you approach the Red 10. Pass just to port of it and you’ll be at the mouth of Waterhole Cove to port. Anchor just about anywhere.
The Knapp’s Narrows channel demands full attention when passing through. While it is supposed to have six to seven feet of depth, there may be unpredictable shoaling on the Bay side.
Coming from the Bay, consult your chart and plot a course from south of Poplar Island to the flashing Green 1 at the mouth of the Narrows, keeping the marker close to port. Pass the Red 2 day mark, then move to the flashing Red 4, keeping it close to starboard. Cut to the middle of the channel and continue to the Green 5, keeping it to port to the bascule bridge, (vertical clearance 12 feet), which opens on demand 24 hours.
Note that at the bridge, the buoy system reverses, so when you pass the flashing Red 6, you will now keep it to port. Continue to the Green 5, keeping it to starboard, then to the flashing Green 3, also kept to starboard, to clear the Narrows. Head northeast toward the Red 2 as noted above and follow the directions from there to reach the cove.
Reward for Your Labor
Once you’ve made it to Waterhole Cove, you can also explore farther up the creek. It’s scenic, and other than a few workboats there’s little traffic. After you’ve mastered Harris Creek, a cruise to Oxford for dinner ashore is a delightful reward.