Recollections - Part 1 If a Crab Could Fly - It Would Be the State Bird of Maryland
Blue Crab Chesapeake Charters - Recollections - Celebrating 20 Years!
In celebration of my retirement from teaching high school and in anticipation of our future Chesapeake and Caribbean sailing adventures, we look back through the years and recall some of our favorite times on and around the Chesapeake Bay. We will be featuring some of our stories and memoirs in a series of writings going back to our beginnings in 1994 in Annapolis. We recollect how we each ended up in Rock Hall, grew our business, got ourselves into Pirates and Wenches Weekend and planned the great escape from the daily grind. We invite you, our friends, our guests and anyone else who stumbles upon these pages to join us as we cruise back through the rivers of time.
PART 1 THE INSPIRATION
The blue crab symbolizes the state of Maryland. With its distinguishing profile and graceful symmetry, it is the definitive treasure of the Chesapeake Bay. The Maryland blue crab represents a unique lifestyle that cuts across all social and cultural boundaries. It is the pride of all that live there.
Growing up in Baltimore, I learned early that eating crabs is an unavoidable way of life. Most kids grow up eating hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries, but my family preferred a standard fare of steamed crabs and beer. I remember one night, when I was about four years old; my father insisted that I have a taste of back fin crabmeat. There was a crowd of friends and family sitting in my grandmother’s basement smashing crab claws with wooden hammers on her big white table. The table was covered with old Baltimore Sun papers and piled high with crab guts and shells. Everybody was having fun, talking, laughing and reaching into the pile of crabs that my father had just brought back from the Eastern Shore. I hesitated at first, staring at the giant portion, hoping to God I would not die if I ate it. Then I closed my eyes, opened my mouth and bit into the steaming cluster. I chewed very slowly at first; tasting and smelling the Old Bay spices that overtook my senses. I looked around the table as everyone stopped what they were doing; watching me. I waited for a while to see if I would die, and I didn’t. I loved it.
I have been eating crabs ever since, in Baltimore, Annapolis, Oxford, St. Michaels, Rock Hall, and in any other place where people and crabs come together. In fact, the old white table, now refinished to its original Walnut, proudly sits in our dining room in Rock Hall. Eating crabs with friends or strangers is a visceral experience, ostensibly uncivilized at first. Yet, it is a magnificent event that can reveal the very best qualities of one’s sociability.
Maryland is a state that can best be explored by water from the inside out. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest inland bay in the United States, and its hundreds of deep rivers and tributaries offer more miles of waterfront property than perhaps any other state. Traveling on the Chesapeake Bay, in any direction, one is constantly on a collision course with a crab house. These are the unique and interesting mainstays of nearly every city and town on the Chesapeake Bay, making wonderful destinations for any kind of boat. It is always a thrilling moment when a captain shows off his stuff, executing a perfect landing at a crowded crab house. Sailing and seafood blend happily together.
The inspiration for Blue Crab Chesapeake Charters first came in 1993. I was completing a summer cruise on the Chesapeake Bay with my three sons, Josh, Ben and Matt, aboard our Bristol 26, Andiamo. Sailing north from Mears Marina in the Back Creek, just east of Annapolis City Dock, we hugged close to Greenbury Point as we exited the Severn River, rounding into Whitehall Bay. The sky was clear and the shoreline was lit with beautiful afternoon summer sunshine. Enormous, elegant homes stood high on top of the green rolling hills, reflecting in the light. We followed the channel markers around a doglegged course coming quite close to the shore. Here, we crossed a threshold into a remote world completely unknown to the non-boater. We proceeded upstream into Mill Creek, fully absorbed in the splendor of such beauty and tranquility. Just ahead and to the left, the faint sound of country music and robust conversation drifted downward from a rustic building on the hillside. High above the docks and pilings, overlooking the creek, Jimmy Cantler’s famous crab house, Cantler’s Riverside Inn, emerged into view. Outside, spanned a canopied deck filled to capacity with people hammering on the paper covered picnic tables. The docks were nearly full as we approached, but a boat had just cast off and the dock master waved us in.
Strolling along the dock, we came to a large tank used for shedding soft shell crabs surrounded by many bushels of live crabs just delivered to the dock. We climbed a long, high stairway leading to the crab deck and restaurant above, waiting a while before being seated for dinner.
The menu featured every variety of crab and seafood imaginable –hard crabs, soft crabs, jumbo lump crab cakes, crab balls, crab imperial, crab dip, cream of crab soup, fresh fish stuffed with crab meat. It was crab heaven; so seemingly removed from society yet less than an hour by sailboat from Annapolis City Dock. The place was packed with many tourists and the line queuing outside the door was getting longer by the minute. My wheels began to spin as I started to imagine a sailboat, boarding passengers at City Dock, making regular passages to this classic Chesapeake crab house. I was certain that many such visitors to Americas vibrant “Sailing Capital” would gladly spend their money for a chance to sail across the threshold I had just discovered. I contemplated the idea in my private world of dreams and concluded, “It just might work!” (To be continued)...