Crisfield, MD & Tangier Island, VA

Wednesday morning the girls got a quick swim in before heading to Tangier Island.  It was a calm, hot and sunny day.  Perfect for a boat ride – although strange for Ben to be a passenger!

The ferry goes to Tangier Island, VA every day.  It’s 14 miles away from Crisfield, but just across the state line.  There are also daily ferries to Smith Island which is just north of Tangier.  Both are small islands with very small populations and not much else.  We had read a lot about Tangier and been told to go by a number of friends.  It was first settled in 1686.  There are about 600 people on the island now.  The residents of Tangier have their own unique dialect.  Ben and I were able to catch it while listening to locals talk to each other.  The girls were not.  Tourism is big business here from May to October.  We got off the ferry and were greeted like a cruise ship…local kids waiting to say hi, many others waiting with golf carts wanting to take us on tours, still others fanning pamphlets and flyers at us.

We only had 2 hours before the ferry went back to Crisfield but that was plenty.  It’s a very small island and we chose to just wander around ourselves.  We turned right first and walked down towards the marina.  Crabbing is big business here and we had passed all of the interesting looking crab shanties on our way in.  The watermen boat out to them and then there is a little house on a dock and a crab boat tied up there.  A fellow boater told us that many of them are set up as man caves with crabbing supplies in one section and possibly a recliner and TV in another.  The marina is very small but we ran into and walked with another boater for awhile who was staying for two nights.

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There are a few good restaurants on the island but it was 2 pm and we didn’t want to spend a lot of our time eating, so even though the food smelled amazing we skipped it.  We turned and walked the length of the main road the other direction.  Constant golf cart and scooter traffic zoomed past all the people walking and on bikes.  We stopped in a couple of little shops and read the plaques that gave the history of many of the houses.  Many houses have gravestones in their front yards.  We learned this was done for a couple of reasons.  One reason was to keep grave robbers away years ago.  Another was to keep your loved ones closer to visit and care for the grave.  And a third, and likely most practical reason was to keep them away from the water line where they could be washed away in high tide or a bad storm.  The houses are set back from the water line a bit and therefore on higher ground.  However the entire island is sinking into the Chesapeake.  The locals believe this is all due to erosion, not climate change but not everyone agrees.  Either way scientists think that within 50 years the residents will have to vacate the island.

We found kittens galore.  There are cats everywhere and at least a couple of them must have just had a lot of kittens.   We were on our way to look at the school which houses K through 12th grades and found one little guy all by himself.  Ben scooped him right up and the kids were elated to take turns holding him.  Maddy begged to take the kitten with us.  For so many reasons the answer was no, but it sure was tempting!

Before heading back to the ferry we stopped at a food stand for a crab flatbread and some ice cream.  All the crab in this area is so good!  We hopped back on the ferry and said goodbye to Tangier Island.  It was definitely unique but reminded me so much of the Bahamas.  We saw a lot of communities like this in the Bahamas.  Tangier reminded me specifically of town on Green Turtle Cay.  However in the Bahamas the boat with food and mail comes once a week.  Tangier has food and mail deliveries 6 days a week from the mainland.  Otherwise the communities were so similar.

The girls hopped right back in the pool when we got back and swam til around 7.  We were treated to another incredible sunset.  Crisfield, MD is the place to be for good sunsets!  They did not disappoint!

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Thursday we decided to stay put because of wind.  We walked around town for a bit and stopped in some of the little shops. We also walked down to the town pier and watched the mail/grocery boats be loaded.  It was fascinating to see what all goes over.  Boxes and boxes of fresh food for the grocery stores.  Amazon boxes galore.  A recliner and scooter on one boat.  A golf cart on another.  Some people seemed to be loading luggage.  Once these boats are loaded we were told you could hop on and ride them over to the islands as well.  And at 12:30 exactly all of the mail boats and ferries start their engines and pull out in a line.

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We headed back to the marina and were in for a real treat!!!!  Tom from the marina is an absolute gem of a person!  He’s one of the best we’ve met on this trip.  Our friends Sonny and Phyllis from Corkscrew had told us to make sure to go to Crisfield when we got to the Chesapeake. We’d never heard of it. Sonny said find Tom and have him teach you about crabbing.  He told us Tom would show the girls all about it.  Tom did not disappoint. When he had some downtime he came down the dock and showed us and the girls how to catch crabs right off our boat on a piece of twine!  Ben bought fishing gear.  We don’t fish.  We have no idea what we are doing and don’t want to deal with cleaning it if we did catch something.  But crabbing is easy!  First, all we had to do was tie a weight to the end of a piece of twine, and then a piece of chicken neck (gag) and then we just tied it to one of the lines off our boat and dropped it in the water.  The Maryland blue crab is absolutely everywhere.  Tom patiently showed the girls how to slowly pull the line up to see if something was there.  Then you just scoop a net underneath the little guys and pull them out and drop the line back down.  He taught us the difference between a male and a female….females go back in the water.  The males’ underside looks like the Washington Monument and since we’d just been to DC they both knew what to look for!

Next lesson was that in Maryland crabs need to measure at least 5 inches across to keep.  Ben handled all the crab.  We didn’t want the kids getting pinched and I was too scared to pick one up.  So he did the picking up and measuring.  He got pinched really badly at one point. The crab would not let go.  Our slip neighbors split time between Crisfield and Key Largo and do a lot of crabbing.  He yelled over and asked how to get it to let go.  Cindy showed him where to grab and then to shake the crab to sort of stun it and then it’ll let go.  He had some good puncture wounds and she quickly grabbed iodine for him to clean the punctures.  His finger hasn’t turned black or fallen off yet so we think he’s all good.  All joking aside that happened to one of her fingers and she had a large portion of it shaved down and off.  Yikes!  Tom kept all our crab for us in a refrigerator overnight and told us he’d cook it for us and show us how to clean it the next day.  Did I mention what a gem he is???  We ended up with 13 total!

Friday morning we trekked out to the grocery store.  The people on the docks and in the office were so friendly.  We had so many offers for rides to the store or anywhere else we wanted to go.  But the girls had their scooters and it was only about 1.2 miles away and was more of an outing for us.  We don’t mind the walk.  Probably one advantage to being younger and having kids with lots of energy.  Not that I’m discounting anyone older….my mom walks 3 miles most days and definitely could have walked to the store.  But many people look at us like we are crazy when we grab the wagon and walk to the store.  It doesn’t bother us!  We saw a whole other part of town going this direction.  We stocked up on groceries and then headed back, stopping by the Smith Island Baking Company on our way back.  When we checked into the marina they gave us four slices of Smith Island cake.  We had to get more!  The Smith Island cakes symbolize community and togetherness and have been a staple on Smith Island and around the Chesapeake for years.  A Smith Island cake has many layers with fudge frosting in between.  It reminds us a lot of a special dessert Ben’s mom makes.  Hers has thinner layers and more of them, but these were very similar.  The traditional cake is great.  But they make other flavors as well.  We stocked up and have now tried traditional, double chocolate, lemon and red velvet.  I think traditional and red velvet are my favorite.  But I love them all.  I could survive on dessert alone.

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We got back from the store and our boat neighbors told us Irma the activity director heard we had kids and had come looking for us.  What?  An activity director???  Friday was my mom’s birthday (Happy Birthday Mom!) and we were on the phone with her. The girls had finished talking and were back outside checking our crab lines again when Irma returned.  I was talking to my mom and before I knew it off they went.  Irma asked if they wanted to come do some arts and crafts and Molly basically leaped off the boat.  My kids are always super clingy and hesitant to go anywhere without us, but when Molly gets comfortable at a marina she becomes very independent and little sister doesn’t hesitate to follow.  I found myself with this strange thing called adult kid-free alone time!  What???  What’s that????  I grabbed my book and sat on the back deck and read.  Alone!!!!!  Ben was there but he likes the air conditioning so he was inside.  It was amazing!  Irma did 3 different craft projects with the girls and then she walked them back to the boat.  Somers Cove Marina is amazing.  Anyone doing this trip should stop there.

The day just kept getting better.  While I was sitting out back reading Tom and his friend Joe came past in a little boat.  It was Tom’s day off and he and Joe were going out to set a trot line for more crab.  He introduced us to Joe and said they’d be back in awhile to go back out and see if they had any crab.  The new and incredible experiences just kept on coming here in Crisfield.  Joe and Tom said we could hop on board and join them!  Yes please!  The kids jumped right in the boat and off we went.  We learned what a trot line is and how the bait is set. And then Ben, Molly and Madelyn all got to catch the crab off the trot line!  I could have as well but I was resident photographer and happy to watch.  We had so much fun.  I can’t describe the expressions and pure joy on the girls’ faces (and Ben’s!) as they were scooping up crab after crab out of the water.  No picture does it justice.  As with so many experiences we’ve had I just hope they remember as many of them as possible!

The fun continued when we got back to the marina.  Tom cooked all of the crab for us!  We can hopefully replicate all of this on our own now.  My mom and Jim come to visit this coming week and we told Jim we’d show him how.  Anyway we had a feast.

Tom spent much of his Friday evening and day off of work sitting with us.  He showed all of us how to crack and pick the crabs.  First taking off the apron and the shell and then scooping out the inside parts.  Cutting off the legs. How to crack the claws, etc.  He was so generous with his time and we truly appreciate it and wish we had a way to thank him.

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He left us to our mess and we continued working and eating until around dusk when I said we needed to clean up and head to the boat.  We put the rest in Ziploc bags and dumped them in our cooler til the morning.  Tom mentioned many times that you can eat crab all night and never get full.  I had fed Madelyn an entire other dinner of course but Molly kept saying no because she wanted crab.  Once done she said she realized why I kept pushing other food.  You do so much work and eat as you go but it’s small pieces and not super filling.  What a fantastic end to the day.

Saturday morning we got up and cracked and picked all the rest of the crab.  Madelyn even pitched in and got a little dirty!  The girls had a lot of fun doing it.  We saved all the meat to make crab cakes.  This will be my first attempt!  A looper friend gave me her favorite crab cake recipe.  Last night as we were about to head back to the boat we ran into Tom and he came out with a big tub completely full of crab meat.  He filled a whole container for us from crab he had at home to supplement what we had.  I wish I could taste his wife’s crab cakes.  I’m sure they are nothing short of amazing.  He said he goes crabbing all summer and she makes crab cakes to freeze and last for the rest of the year.  I’ll be sure to give an update on how the crab cakes turn out!

Yesterday we got another treat!  Friday night another looper reached out that they were on Tangier Island and because of our DC side trip had almost caught up to us.  This is a new looper family with 8 and 11 year old daughters from Charleston.  I was supposed to reach out in Charleston and completely forgot.  They are just spending 10 weeks on the boat this summer and then hope to do the full loop sometime soon.  I’m so glad they reached out!  They were heading to Solomons Saturday and we were on the fence about heading to St. Michaels, Solomons or staying in Crisfield.  We’d become attached to Crisfield, the wind was still fierce and gusty, Freedom Fest was last night, Molly wanted to do more crafts with Irma and both girls wanted to swim more.  And the Sunday forecast was much better so we stayed.  Somers Cove probably thought they were never getting rid of us.  We asked Endeavour if they wanted to come to Crisfield instead.  They did!  It was short but icky ride for them because of the ridiculous wind.  I know I’m from Chicago and it’s windy a lot but the wind this spring has been insane.  Anyway the Davis family pulled in right as all of the 12:30 boats were pulling out so that was some adventure for them.  They got tied up right behind us and we all introduced ourselves.  We did the immediate tours of each others’ boats and then headed to the pool.  My girls had so much fun having friends to play with again!!!  They swam and then magical Irma appeared at 3:30 for crafts and off they went again.  An hour or so later they reappeared decked out with all their new creations.  We swam until 5:30 or so and then got cleaned up and headed to Freedom Fest.  We spread out picnic blankets and ate and listened to live music for a couple of hours.  The girls all enjoyed the beauty of a small town and had free reign to run back and forth wherever they wanted.

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We headed back to the boat as more crazy dark storm clouds were moving in.  We wanted to watch fireworks from the boat anyway so this was good timing.  The clouds blowing through with the cool gusts of air were kind of amazing.

We watched fireworks from the boat and dock just as the first drops started to fall.  The fireworks finished up, and boom, rain.  We hopped on our boats, said a quick goodnight and closed up for the storm.

It has been such a wonderful week in Crisfield.  A definite highlight of the Chesapeake so far.  A big thank you again to Tom and Irma and everyone else at Somers Cove who were so good to us!

We pulled out this morning for St. Michaels.  We convinced the Davis family to come with us!  A longer day than they usually do so hope all is well on their boat.  And the girls are anxious to play when we arrive at our anchorage.  Ben’s cousin Isaac is joining us tonight for a couple of days and my mom and Jim arrive Thursday.  Time is flying.  No idea how it is July already.  Today would have been my dad’s 71st birthday.  Today I’m enjoying the peaceful day on the water and remembering him.  He would have LOVED this trip and soaked up every minute of it he could with us.  I know he’s with us in spirit and smiling at this amazing adventure we are so lucky to be on.

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