Clearly, the tourism bureau of St. Michael’s in Maryland knows how to attract visitors. Coupling a visit here with a most unusual discussion and workshop on crabs aboard American Cruise Lines’ Independence are certainly highlights on a six day cruise on the Chesapeake Bay that was altered somewhat by the Covid situation, but nonetheless filled with wonderful people, making new friends, reviving old ones, great meals aboard a 100 passenger ship reduced to 56 because of Covid, and getting a chance to see how unique the Chesapeake Bay area is.
St. Michael’s, which is on Maryland’s Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake, is considered one of the top 10 Best Small Coastal Towns in America and it’s easy to see why, even during a brief stay on a cruise ship. It’s picturesque, filled with history and a harbor and homes that go back more than 500 years. It offers all kinds of festivals and activities throughout the year….upcoming next week is the antique and classic boat festival. There’s the Classic Motor Museum, a weekly Farmer’s Market, a Running Festival in August, a ghost walk, friendly people, and a charming downtown area. Of course there is kayaking, golfing, cycling, canoeing, boating of all kinds, restaurants and bistros, B&Bs and hotels.
But best of all, St. Michael’s is home to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
The Independence docks right in the Museum, an incredibly wonderful 18-acre museum with at least ten different exhibit buildings, all within walking distance of each other, and all offering something unique about the Bay area, the people and the lighthouse. There’s even a working boatyard in the museum, the largest in the nation, a building devoted to Native Americans, one to small boats from crab skiffs to log canoes, of course a lighthouse to climb, another building dedicated to history makers from the 18th century, one to duck decoys, and so much more. In one of the buildings devoted to crabbers, there’s even an exhibit and a place of honor for Capt. Ben Dye, who was born in Monmouth County in 1827, but moved with his family to Perryville in Maryland’s Cecil County when he was a boy and where he lived until his death in 1896. Capt. Dye was best known for his decoys, characteristic because they were all hand-chopped and featured ducks with perfectly flat tails and simple or no wing decorations.
My personal favorite is the exhibition building on the very edge of them all, this one devoted to the art of oystering. That exhibit is unique in that the designers of this non-profit educational museum brought a real oyster boat inside, then created life-like models of the boat’s captain and a few working oysterman intent at their craft. The recording doesn’t simply explain what each model is doing; rather it’s a recording of the watermen talking with each other, explaining to a young oysterman the whys and wherefores of every action he takes. It’s realistic and startling when you first walk in, see very lifelike models hard at work and think you’re interrupting an oystering lesson.
The Museum has been around since the mid-1960s, and does an outstanding job of meeting its mission to preserve and explore history, the environment and the culture of the Bay area. Certainly worth a weekend trip for the museum along.
The Independence certainly takes advantage of Maryland’s pride in its crabs, and native Lori Gross came aboard to lead an afternoon discussion in the ship’s lounge on crabs, crabbing, crab habits, how to catch them, cook then, and eat them. Just to be sure all the guests got it down perfectly, she also brought aboard dozens of freshly caught blue crabs, spread newspapers on the lounge tables in true Maryland style, and led the group in how to pick a crab, what to eat, what to discard, and how to protect your pile of crabmeat from a hungry friendly tablemate. Lori, who now spends most of her time in photography and teaching about the Antarctic, convinced Independence guests that picking through the tough shells of crabs is worth the work and the mess. The following day, when the ship was in Annapolis, I chatted with a wholesaler on the dock who went into great detail about the feud between Virginians and Marylanders about crab regulations, where each state’s territory ends in the bay and how Marylanders…he was a native…..are so much more protective of the shellfish than Virginian crabbers.
Another joy of cruising. You meet the finest people in the strangest places who want to share their own pride in their own hometown.
Next Annapolis and how American Cruise Lines fails.