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August 20 - Middle Bay Trip
by Tony Pasek

On Saturday, August 20, 36 Chapter members and guests boarded the fishing boat Brooks Hooks from the docks at Harrison's Country Inn and Sport Fishing Center, on Tilghman Island for an up close and, as it turned out, speedy visit to five water-based lighthouses on the (upper) middle portion of the Chesapeake Bay. After loading the boat with box lunches, several coolers filled with soda and water, many door prizes, a couple of Harbour Lights and a sample of the Chapter's store, we were underway at 9 AM. The partly cloudy and hazy skies, temporarily cleared as seasoned Captain Billy Bradshaw, assisted by first mate "C.J." eased our charter from port and headed east entering the Choptank River, then south around Black Walnut Point and finally north into the Chesapeake Bay.

We barely had time to settle in our seats aboard the cozy vessel, when we came upon our first lighthouse – the leaning tower of the Chesapeake Bay – Sharps Island. As if on cue, the skies cleared and the rusting caisson contrasted sharply against the now blue skies. The 1882 beacon was struck by huge ice floes during the mid 1970s, a period that registered one of the region's coldest winters. Leaning 15 degrees off center, the still functioning lighthouse had seen better days and was in need of an extreme makeover. Large cracks on the cast-iron plates and foundation were easily visible on the lonely tower. Sections of railing were missing and an osprey or another bird had established a large nest on the roof. With a shallow draft, Captain Bradshaw maneuvered his vessel to within ten feet of the 54 foot tall sentinel. It appeared we were even closer than that and I admonished our cruisers: "please, no touching the lighthouse". Captain Billy set the "parking anchor" and provided a short history of the lighthouse and the island which measured 900 acres and had disappeared like a modern Atlantis by the rising waters of the Bay in the 1940s. We completed our photo shoot and continued north.

We switched gears on our next stop, taking a look at three small islands – Jefferson, Coaches and a “growing” patch of land – Poplar Island. Captain Bradshaw said that the island was nearly gone in the mid 90s, but man, namely the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – was rebuilding what nature had nearly taken away. The restoration project began in February, 1998 and involved using dredged material from approach channels to Baltimore Harbor to re-create a natural habitat. The island had grown from barely 3 acres to a sliver-shaped parcel of approximately 340 acres and earth moving equipment was readily visible. Volunteers from the Maryland Port Administration and the Baltimore Aquarium had been planting sea grasses to lure wildlife and, indeed, we observed several egrets along the shoreline. The $340 million project is slated for completion in 2016.

Captain Bradshaw then pulled anchor and powered the engine to "warp speed" and we continued north towards Annapolis, bypassing distant Bloody Point Bar lighthouse and saving it for our return trip. We pulled several door prize tickets and my wife Alma, assisted by fellow passenger Kara Wilborn began selling raffle chances for two Harbour Light models. All proceeds were going to the Chapter's preservation coffers, AKA, the H.E.L.P fund. Soon, the last active screwpile still in its original location appeared on the horizon. The skies became cloudy again as we approached Thomas Point Shoal lighthouse and Captain Bradshaw eased up on the throttle. We got a good look at the most photographed lighthouse on the Chesapeake and cruisers jockeyed for the perfect "Kodak" spot. Care and ownership of this icon was transferred to a consortium consisting of the city of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, the Annapolis Maritime Museum, the United States Lighthouse Society, and the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S.L.H.S. in May, 2004. Members of the Chapter's preservation crew have been visiting the lighthouse on numerous occasions this year and the 1875 beacon was looking like a true "gem" and pride of the Bay. We came within about 50 feet of the structure, not quite close enough to see all the recent repairs done to the structure, but the new landing platform was somewhat visible. All cruisers were pleased by the condition of the lighthouse and expressed interest in actually entering the National Historic Landmark next year when boat trips begin from the Annapolis Maritime Museum. We reloaded our cameras and awarded a few more door prizes. Our temporary Loft keepers, Glenn & Linda Hermann, managed the store on this trip and made a few sales, though our cruisers were content to enjoy the sea breeze and relax in the partially covered main deck.

We approached our next two lighthouses in rapid succession. Shortly after motoring under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was another caisson tower –Sandy Point Shoal Lighthouse. The red brick tower had survived many fierce winters and vandalism for over 120 years, but the forces of nature had taken its toll. Like Sharps Island lighthouse, deterioration was visible on the superstructure and the roof was in dire need of prompt repair. I was surprised by the green vegetation thriving on the beacon's circular walkway and discovered through Preservation Officer Anne Puppa, that the foliage was poison ivy! Recently, the tower was declared "excessed property" by the government and available for ownership to qualified groups under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. To date and to the best of my knowledge, the lighthouse is still "on the block" and remains under Coast Guard care & jurisdiction. After numerous photo opportunities, we continued to our turnaround point and northernmost lighthouse of the trip – Baltimore, at the mouth of the Magothy River.

Lighthouse number four appeared to be in good shape. Completed in 1904/1905, Baltimore Lighthouse was very similar to Sandy Point Shoal and Point No Point lighthouses and it was the last conventional light built on the Chesapeake Bay. It was the tallest (82 feet above sea level) caisson light in the world at the time of its construction. The light also had the unique feature of a nuclear-powered fuel source in 1964, but the experiment was discontinued a few years later over environmental concerns and cost. We finished our camerawork and began the journey south to Tilghman Island. My grumbling stomach advised me it was time for lunch. With the help of my wife, Alma, several passengers and first mate C.J., we passed out the box lunches, drinks and a few more door prizes. We also selected the two Harbour Lights winners and congratulated Ed & Leslie Tourigny, who won the Hooper Strait lighthouse model. My memory fails me in recalling the Thomas Point Shoal model winner, but I'm sure it rests on a prominent spot in their home. We wrapped up lunch and began the final leg of our adventure. Soon, we came upon our last lighthouse – Bloody Point Bar.

Lighthouse number five was similar to Sharps Island. Bloody Point Bar, built in 1882 was another caisson tower, with a two degree tilt and had seen some better days. Still an active lighthouse, the "coffee pot" had cracks in its cast-iron siding, missing railing and another batch of mysterious greenery on its narrow walkway. The tower had its share of misfortune when a fire erupted in the equipment room in 1960 and two young Coast Guardsmen escaped the resultant explosion with minimal injuries. The mishap completely consumed the wooden interior. Automation soon followed the accident, but Bloody Point Bar was still "percolating".

Captain Bradshaw put the engine into overdrive and we caught a favorable tide as we neared Tilghman Island. The Captain contacted the tower operator at the Knapps-Narrows drawbridge and we took a short cut to the docks at Harrison's by going through the now open span. Amazingly, our trip ended a few minutes after two o'clock- only five hours after we started and well ahead of an anticipated 4:30 p.m. return. As we said farewell to all our guests, I suggested they make a visit to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and the Hooper Strait lighthouse in St.Michaels'. Many cruisers did, and we saw several familiar faces exploring the museum grounds and a tall ship, the Kalmar Nyckel on display.

Epilogue: Hats off to the crew of the Brooks Hooks, Captain Bradshaw and C.J. for a great trip, getting us close, quickly and safely to five lighthouses. Special thanks to all the cruisers for enduring the heat & humidity (not to mention my rambling narration) and to Glenn & Linda Hermann for bringing and maintaining the Chapter's store and the many passengers who pitched in by helping to haul supplies, food & coolers. Finally, a salute & a hug go to my favorite traveling partner, Alma. My dear wife was unwavering in her support and assisted me when and wherever needed before, during and after the trip. Many thanks, dear.

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