Smith Island Maryland...And Why You Should Give A Rip - A Story

September 2021-It was our first 2-nighter out on the Carpe Diem. Sure, we'd spent single nights at sea, anchored or at Marinas, but this trip would test us and present lots of "Firsts."

Friday, 5pm, we launched from Solomon's Island, Maryland full of anticipation, tired from a busy week, (I had 3 writing projects) and zero time to shop for provisions. More on that later. 

Spanish Mackeral for supper!!

After motoring a few hours and pausing to fish, we anchored in a small cove. We gorged on our 1 Spanish Mackeral that "yours truly" caught, cleaned, and grilled.  A first! As an angler, I really am ignorance on fire. Think...4 year old jumping up and down on the bow of the boat, reeling, yelling, "get the net, get the net"...then expecting Jeff to remove the ghastly hook. My Moby Dick of a fish was 45 feet, err, make that 9 inches long and bled all over the deck; his mouth oozing tiny baitfish. Guess I caught my creature of the deep mid-meal. 

Summer's humidity gave way to a cool evening with crystal stars glinting on an inky palette. We found our way to the bow to relax on the expansive cushion, sipped red wine, and got excited like 2 school children pointing out satellites and the Milky Way. At sea, light pollution is a minimum. When was the last time you gazed at the innumerable stars in a really dark place? Tell me about it. I decided to make a bed on the bow where we could sleep outside.  A first for Jeff. I ask you, what 51 year old man has never slept outside? 🙄

Sleeping On The Bow

We had to rectify that. Using our handy Sleep Sack for one, (thank you Trinkie), we squeezed in like Sardines, ready for a peaceful slumber. Then it started!! Rolling waves from container ships crossing the Chesapeake Bay began throwing the boat side to side. Not the gentle sway you land lubbers envision, but rocking with enough force to roll us back and forth like human kabobs. Galley cabinets puked forth their contents, sending can goods rolling about the floor like toddlers throwing tantrums. An orchestra of clanking and crashing about reverberated throughout our trusty vessel. I felt a little queasy but was so comfortable under a pile of blankets in our star-lit nest that I chose to stay put. Jeff went inside. After a one-eye-open catnap, I arose around 5am; cold, covered in a layer of dew. I stumbled inside to catch some Z's; ya, right! With the ear-piercing crashing around and unable to sleep, we got up, sipped percolated coffee, noshed on freshly baked Croissants, Bacon, and Orange Watermelon. Just because you're permanently glamping on a boat doesn't mean you can't eat well...and we do eat well! Say, when was the last time you witnessed the suns first beam of light on the horizon? Would love to hear about it in the comments. 

With happy tummies and blood shot eyes, we puttered on. As a disclaimer, our "Big Heifer" as we call her, doesn't go fast. She prefers to cruise along like a fat Manatee on a lazy summer afternoon. We passed the abandoned "Point No Point" lighthouse, an eerie, decaying Naval water target, reaching Smith Island (S.I.) around 10am Saturday morning. 

Naval Target Ship - Blown To Bits!!

The access channel tested Jeff's navigation skills. It was 16' wide, our boat is 14'. At one point, the sonar jumped from 9.5' deep to 2.3' in a flash of a second. We require 4.5'. YIKES! Jeff did a full engine stop. All electronics were providing differing depths. The wind was pushing us sideways. Wide-eyed silence permeated the boat. Heart rates ascended to triple digits. We continued to inch our way toward the small dock. Our teamwork included "First Mate Sandi" bouncing around from bow to stern making sure no sand was being kicked up by the propellers, while Jeff microscopically maneuvered our big girl. Fwehh! We made it. I poured my Captain a Whiskey. Oh, and the Marina we (he) found online; well, it closed 6 years ago. So, the dock at the main village of Ewell, it was. Grateful we had full water tanks. The nightly docking fee drop box only took cash; we scrambled and gave what we had. 

A Weekend On Smith Island Video-Unedited!!

Saturday - Eager to explore the 3 villages of this sinking island of 300 people, we started with lunch at The Bayside Inn. Sadly, Harborside Restaurant was closed. We rented bikes ($5 each) for 1 hour which was a great way to workout those sea legs. An hour is plenty of time to explore decaying roads and spot unique wildlife; like the ferocious1-claw Crab in the video. Here, you discover abandoned homes and vehicles, new homes, stagnant water, and signs of fortunes lost to Mother Nature's rising waters. Swarms of Nazi-like Mosquito's kept us peddling...and on one occasion, running for our lives! A First! More on that below!

Maryland's official cake, Smith Island cake, was birthed here. We consumed 3 flavors during our visit. Honestly, we didn't care for it; too sweet. Yet, that didn't stop us from polishing off every crumb. Peanut Butter received my vote. But then, I like all things Peanut Butter...except that fake Jif stuff.😝  The Cultural Center is well worth a visit, showcasing the "Waterman" heritage of Crabs, Oysters, and Seafood. We met big-hearted locals and checked out an Oyster seeding production. A first for us!

The afternoon found us kayaking through choppy waters to Swan Island Wildlife Refuge where we strolled along the beach, searching for Shark teeth. When encroaching trees made the water too deep for this little 28" inseam to walk around, Mr. Biceps easily piggy-backed me. It's nice to have an extra pair of muscles around for such occasions. Across the channel, you'll see wild goats chewing their cuds on, well, Goat Island. For the record, I love goats. They're curious, mischievous, and intelligent. Sound familiar?!?🤣 

We met "Jack & Pickle", a soon-to-be-married couple who are doing their part to encourage tourism. Their petite shack sat over the water, filled with vintage video games. This is where you chat with strangers, listen to classic rock, and soak in the sunset to the sounds of Donkey Kong and Frogger. Jeff's a natural at video games, I'm ignorant of such things. Yet, with a little instruction, I played Pac Man.  A first for me!

With both restaurants closed, it was Sandi-to-the-dinner-rescue with pre-made Chicken Mung Bean Curry and Cheese Quesadillas. Deeelish!!  Boating Tip: Always have some meals frozen incase you land somewhere void of amenities, like Smith Island!

Sunday Morning - Resembling two Zombie's, we emerged from our cabin, having no sleep for a 2nd night. Like a heavy metal drummer, a strong wind sent our kayaks slapping against the stern of the boat...aka...right-behind-our-heads...all night. Note to self - If you want some ZZZ's, don't tie up the kayaks, store them out of the water. Breakfast brought relief. We feasted on fresh Chicken eggs from Jack & Pickle, Bazlama, and fruit. Extra coffee - a must.

The people are why you visit this island or any other isolated paradise. We fell in love with their mix of Cornwall/Southern drawl. There are 3 churches on the island with 1 Preacher. Busy dude! On your visit to S.I., you must visit the cemetery and attend Sunday church, as this is the "hub" of Ewell. Locals warmly welcomed me during testimony time and referred to each other as "Brother and Sister in God." Pre-recorded organ music for hymns was a remote click away, supported by a 10-person choir that sang from the depths of their watery souls. The men chatted in garbled, throaty accents. I found it fascinating that the hymnals showed a variety of languages including Navajo and Cherokee. The preacher was on vacation. Ha; running 3 churches, I wondered why he wasn't sitting in a corner babbling and drooling. An elderly man delivered the sermon, sharing Old Testament stories from his heart. 

Smith Isl

Faith is at the core of life here. Relying on the sea for your livelihood, you have to be tough as an old crab leg. Something we urbanites could learn from. Locals are generous, open, kind, and do what they can to make a dollar. On S.I., there are no grocery stores, no quaint cafe's, no atm's, and cash or paper check is accepted. No kidding. If the restaurants, with mysterious hours, are closed, you can contact select ladies who will cook meals for you. Bikes, golf carts, and boats are how you travel. Vehicles seem oddly out of place. 

Twice daily, a small ferry arrives, carrying tourist for a 2 hour visit. While the restaurant food uses heavy amounts of canned and frozen everything, order it and eat it anyway. With all supplies arriving via ferry, don't expect organic, substitutions, or fresh. We learned this when trying to substitute Sweet Potato fries for French fries. It took 3 people to decide, "no dice." 

When you visit S.I., bring apocalyptic-grade mosquito repellent. Think "African Jungle Malaria" spray. These little blood suckers were aggressive, assaulting all exposed skin. One flew up my skirt and launched 5 points of attack on my 'assets' before I felt the first itch. Jeff had a visible brigade of these sorry excuses for creation around his calves that sent us running in terror, much like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Another first for us!

Alas, it was time to cruise with the afternoon tide back to Solomon's Island. With winds punching us at 20 mph, we were hesitant to navigate the "channel-from-hell" out to the Chesapeake Bay. Jeff chatted with the ferry boat Captain, deciding to follow them out. Great idea. After all, they were bigger than us. We reviewed our launch plan and I said a prayer for safety as we pulled, make that blew off, the dock. Silence and concentration filled the air. This little first mate stood ready, watching for rogue crab pots and scratching welts from my earlier blood donation. Tension gave way to fresh cocktails and high fives upon reaching deep waters. Catching the tide shaved off valuable time for our return. Boating Tip: If you're going to travel on a boat, you must have faith in your Captain; your life may depend on it.

Rough seas greeted us crossing the Chesapeake Bay. Now, for all you West Coast readers, the Chesapeake is big, really big. It makes San Francisco Bay look like a puddle of water. Just sayin'. The rough seas were good training for our upcoming DelMarVa Loop trip. They also tested the effectiveness of my Ginger Chews, which worked like a charm. 🤢 

Lessons Learned on this trip- Double check that the marina actually exists...ahem Mr. Greene. We did just fine with generator power and no water hookups. Always have ready-made meals in the freezer. We can think and have fun without sleep and are flexible travelers. The refrigerator did just fine running off batteries. S.I. is a dry island so bring your own booze baby. When we travel by boat, we have to counter act our sea legs with a good walk. We can outrun demonic mosquitos, barely. It has been a learning curve for both of us to launch and dock, basically, a moving house in a variety of weather conditions. We feel like we've got a good system down, making for less tension, tears, anxiety, and more positive memories. 

So, why should you give a rip about visiting Smith Island? Well, it, like other unique places in the world, are vanishing! Just look at this scenario...which I hope shocks you; especially as many of us will still be alive, come 2050! Rising waters and dying industries are the guillotine to these small villages. Someday, S.I. will be a memory. So, I encourage you to seek out tiny colonies. Visit them, be courteous, buy a lot of crap for the grandkids. Don't stare at your phone. In fact, don't expect anything. Instead, go with a spirit of giving versus taking. Dive into the micro-culture, hear the local scuttlebutt. Go for the people, the history, learn something, and return home with a new appreciation. Someday you'll be able to tell tall tales around the hearth of a place that is now long gone, full of quirks, kind folks, and ferocious mosquitos. A first for you!

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