No Boats Left Behind

Boating Flourishes on the Bay  

If you asked me to recall a typical summer evening from my childhood, one phrase would immediately come to mind: creek crawl. 

Born and raised on Cypress Creek up the Magothy River, I had an evening ritual with my mom and dad. Before dinnertime, my dad would say, “Who wants to go for a boat ride?!” already knowing the answer. He’d coax the outboard motor on our 1969 Thunderbird Cheyenne runabout to start, and in the pre-sunset golden hour, we’d take off for a leisurely cruise to no specific destination. 

The low rumble of the outboard at six knots and the smell of gasoline soothed me. As a toddler, I was known to doze off in my life jacket on these creek crawls. When I got older, I relished the chance to take the wheel for my dad, proudly waving to other boaters we passed. 

At the mouth of the creek, we’d decide on the fly which part of the Magothy to head for: Cattail Creek, Ulmstead, Gibson Island? When we got where we were going, we’d simply putter up the creek until the depth finder’s alarm went off, and then turn around. We checked out the waterfront homes (the bigger the windows the better! How many chimneys?) and speculated about the stories behind certain unique boats tied up to piers. 

One thing that always puzzled me was how many boats stayed in their slips, and how many waterfront homes had nobody outside on beautiful summer evenings. Some boaters, like my dad, proudly counted the number of times they got out on the water in a season. But owners of other vessels seemed too busy to enjoy the slice of heaven that is being out on Chesapeake waters. My parents spoke of such vessels as one would a neglected neighborhood pet. “In all the years we’ve lived here, I’ve only seen that boat out of its slip twice,” my dad would say, as my mom sadly shook her head. 

We continued our creek crawls as I grew (eventually replacing the old Thunderbird), and now, puttering up creeks for a short cruise is just right for bringing my toddler and preschooler along. Yes, they’ve both fallen asleep to the rumble of the outboard, too. 

As our family tradition remains, one thing about it has changed for the better. In the 2020 boating season, people aren’t leaving their boats at the slip. They’re out enjoying the rivers and the Bay. They’re fishing and crabbing along the shore. They’re paddling up into the creeks. Maybe it took a stay-at-home order to clear our busy calendars. Maybe it took a work-from-home directive to free up our commute time. Maybe it was the temporary ban on recreational boating that made us realize how precious this pastime is. 

Whatever the particular reason, boating is flourishing on the Bay. You can see it in the volume of boats on the water, and you can hear about it from Bay-region dealers who are low on inventory—some who have sold out completely.  It’s a great time to boat—all you’ve got to do is leave the slip. 

And a happy Father’s Day to my dad, inventor of the creek crawl (at least in our family), and to all of the fathers of Chesapeake country.