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When the radio towers on Greenbury Point dropped astern there came a moment of decision. I let the wind suggest, gradually turning the bow to leeward until finally Finisterre slanted diagonally across the bay, almost toward the northern tip of Kent Island.
"Heading for the Chester River?" inquired Bill, still sprawled on deck.
"Guess so," I answered. "If we come off for Gibson Island the wind will be dead aft. We'll have to set a spinnaker or start the engine to stem the tide."
Perish either thought. Discussion complete. Master and mate in accord. Bubbles slid along the hull and traced our wake, water furrowed by generations of ghostly ships. Where Finisterre now moved, Indians once had passed in crude, hollowed logs. Captain John Smith sailed by in 1608 to "perform his Discovery." Haifa century later Edward Lloyd of Wye House appeared in the first yacht, "a pleasure boat of 60 tons burthen," complete to "Ensign and pennant with 15 stripes, arms painted thereon, the field azure, the Lion gold...and six brass guns fixed on swivels to act in such a manner as to give the greatest report." And here also had passed each development of the age of commercial sail: the Chesapeake log canoe, the pungey, the ram, the bugeye, even the Baltimore tea clipper.
As we drifted, I reflected on another of the charms of cruising: that every area takes its character from the life along its shores, both present and past. The Caribbean, the South Pacific, the Aegean, the Baltic, the Mediterranean—each is different because of its own combination of geography and history.
The Chesapeake, too, is unique, as I was rediscovering. Here is a land of graciousness, of easy living, a legacy of cotton and tobacco and a plantation life when visits were measured in weeks and it was necessary to pass legislation requiring that slaves not be fed terrapin too often. Here a small cruising yacht drifts across stretches of water bordered by trees or open fields, with perhaps an occasional glimpse of a lovely old house on a point. Here are anchorages disturbed only by the singing of birds and spreading rings following the splash of jumping fish. In the quaint, small villages people are hospitable and friendly. In many ways, on the shores of the bay today exists one of the nearest approaches to life on the other side of the Atlantic—a reasonable facsimile of rural England modified by terrain and time.
As I mused, the breeze freshened and Finisterre leaned to it and spurted ahead. Gone was introspective ease, to be replaced by the exhilaration of motion. Cruising is like that: a matter of mood stemming from weather and circumstance. Now we wanted to feel the boat go. The main was slacked a hair, the jib trimmed a few clicks and Finisterre boiled along with the wind on the quarter, all hands awake to the perfection of the moment.
Love Point lifted rapidly. Swinging around the squat lighthouse marking the end of the shoals beyond Kent Island, we came hard on the wind. A beat could have been avoided by reaching a few miles to the fishing village of Rock Hall, or Swan Creek beyond. But now we felt a little windward work might not be amiss. "It will make us feel we've earned a drink," opined Bill bravely, not forgetting the distance was short, the water smooth and that sail could be easily reduced.
Rail down, Finisterre drove across the river. Contrary to a misconception about Chesapeake cruising, the boat was in no danger of running aground—if her crew did not go completely to sleep. True, there are many areas of the bay where the water is spread thin, but in general the major tributaries of the Upper Bay—local name for the part north of the Potomac River—offer ample depths. Following normal pilotage procedures, a boat with six or seven feet of draft has no real problem. Navigational aids are plentiful, fog infrequent, tidal range and current velocity slight, and the bottom is not rock but mud—lovely soft mud, so grounding is an inconvenience, not a catastrophe, just as a centerboard is a convenience, not a necessity.
Thus on Finisterre we had no navigational cares; and ahead the Eastern Shore stretched away as a flat peninsula 136 miles long, dangling between the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. It is shaped like a bunch of grapes, the northern stem part of Delaware, the center comprising nine counties of Maryland, the tapering tip in Virginia. It has borne its name for three centuries, ever since the first settlers on the western side of the bay began referring to the land opposite as the Eastern Shore.