Annapolis – A Cruising Guide

First Published in Chesapeake Bay Magazine, 1989       

Cruising Guide to Annapolis

by Tom Dove

National Geographic magazine called it “Camelot on the Severn” while, in a spurt of hyperbole, a sign at the entrance to Annapolis proclaims it “Sailing capital of the world.” That may not be far from the truth and this town has plenty to offer powerboaters, too.

Annapolis (38 deg 59 min North, 76 deg 29 min West) has been the boater’s supply center on the Bay for decades and the 1960s saw a rapid growth of sailing here combined with the restoration of the historic downtown district. The result is a lively small city with everything a cruising crew could want: marinas, chandleries, restaurants, entertainment, fascinating architecture, colonial !history and protected anchorages.

For all but the most hardy, the boating season starts in Annapolis about mid-March and continues through mid-November. Spring and fall are wonderful for sailing with steady breezes and moderate temperatures.

Winter comes in December, January and February and midwinter temperatures may go below freezing for several weeks – occasionally down near zero. Some snowfall is common, too, making this a bit too far north to choose as an ice-free winter port. Determined racers sail whenever the water is not too hard.

July and August are hot here with temperatures in the 90s, high humidity and prevailing southerly winds from 5-12 knots. The summer days may be punctuated by strong, brief thunderstorms with winds up to 60 knots. I have even dodged a waterspout in Back Creek. 

Approach and anchorages

The entrance to the Severn River and Annapolis is about as easy as you could wish. The tall radio towers on Greenbury Point that mark the north shore of the river are visible for at least 20 miles by day or night.

Don’t cut inside buoy #77 off Tolly Point at the south – the shoal extends as far out as the chart shows. Pleasure craft have plenty of water depth outside the main channel into the river except at Horn Point, between the entrances to Back Creek and Spa Creek. The sign on the post there says “Danger – Shoal” and if you get close enough to read it you will probably run aground. These two creeks plus Chesapeake Harbour are the places you will probably go to anchor or take a slip. Carr’s Creek near the radio towers and College Creek beside the Naval Academy are closed to navigation.

If you have a fast dinghy and want more solitude than the center of the town offers, you may go through the bridges and up the Severn a couple of miles to anchor in one of the lovely protected creeks on the south shore. If your Bay cruise is marked by rough weather or if you have a little time to explore, the upper Severn with its high banks is beautiful, a bit like the Hudson in New York or the Sassafras on the northern Chesapeake. It has been designated a Scenic River by Congress.

Except during maximum crowd season (the boat shows in October and Commissioning Week in early June, for example), Spa Creek offers the best anchorages and marinas with easy access to downtown. You can pick up a municipal mooring in the harbor, take a slip at City Dock or one of the nearby marinas or proceed upstream through the Eastport drawbridge beside the Annapolis  Yacht Club.

The best option is to take a mooring or a slip for the duration of your stay. Anchoring space is at a premium and there is an amazing concentration of boats on these two creeks, making traffic heavy. Call the Annapolis Harbormaster on Channel 16 if you pick up one of the city’s 19 moorings in the marked area near City Dock. The size limit for moorings is 45 feet and everything is on a first come, first served basis.

There are several ways to get to town from your boat. There is a dinghy dock at the end of City Dock, right in the middle of everything, or a call on Channel 68 to the water taxi
will get you transportation to points on Spa Creek, Back Creek and Chesapeake Harbour.

Back Creek is in Eastport, farther from the center of the city, and you will have about a half-mile walk from marinas on its north side to reach the City Dock. If you stay in a marina on the south side of Back Creek, you will need a land or water taxi or a dinghy. You can dinghy across the creek to the public landing at the end of Sixth Street and walk to town from there.

Chesapeake Harbour is still farther out from town. A taxi or fast dinghy is the only transportation solution here.

Practical matters

Banks are located near City Dock that can handle any normal transaction, including foreign currency exchange. Washington, D.C., with any government office or foreign embassy you may need, is 35 miles to the west and you will need a car to get there. Drive to the New Carrollton Metro station on US 50 and take the Metrorail system into Washington instead of driving all the way.

Commuter buses run to Baltimore from the Naval Academy stadium on the edge of town.

Pharmacy, hardware and boat supply stores are downtown but you will have to go to Eastport for a supermarket. It is located in a shopping center on Bay Ridge Avenue close to the north shore of Back Creek. There are showers at the harbormaster’s building on City  Dock and at each of the marinas. The telephone area code is 301.

Interesting things

Anyone with the slightest interest in history will be stimulated by Annapolis. Start with information and brochures available at the Old Treasury Building, a tiny brick structure on the grounds of the State House. Use the literature to guide you on a walking tour around the historic district, but start with the State House.

The State House is the oldest state seat of government still in use in the country and the old Senate chamber is maintained just as it looked when Washington resigned his commission here. If it seems you have seen the place before, maybe with Alan Alda or some other star in it, that’s because Hollywood uses it for interior scenes that are supposed to be in the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Of course, the Naval Academy is worth at least half a day of exploration. Be sure to visit the chapel and the Robert Crown `Sailing Center.

Shoppers in the family will be entertained for hours with the assortment of small places within easy walking of the waterfront. Establishments here tend to be upscale, with nice boutiques and clothing stores abundant. If some in your crew crave a mall, they can take the bus to Annapolis Mall in Parole, about five miles from City Dock. It’s a big place, with most of the familiar store chains you have back home.

Annapolis was a center of culture in colonial times and that tradition has been revived with a high standard of performance quality. Well-known jazz musicians appear here often and many local establishments feature entertainment. The Colonial Players is an excellent local theater troupe that has been performing in town for many years and the Annapolis Symphony, Opera, Choral Society, Chamber Hall Singers, Arundel Vocal Arts Society
and several instrumental chamber groups attest to the interest in music in this little city.

If you are interested in the visual arts, the Maryland Federation of Art on State Circle and many galleries scattered about the historic district display work from realistic to abstract to fantasy. Many fine photographers work here, too.

For a “busman’s holiday” you might take a harbor tour on the Harbor Queen or a day trip to St. Michaels on the Annapolitan. The Wednesday evening harbour tour includes a narrated guide to the Annapolis Yacht Club races as they are in  progress.

Annapolis has about everything a boat fanatic could wish for. Lots of them even live here.

— The End —

NOTE: I have deleted reviews of the marinas and restaurants along the waterfront, as they have completely changed since I wrote this article.