Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Small Boats on Big Boats: Providing a Micro View of the Natural World

Jun 09, 2016 10:00AM ● By Ann Powell

The second installment of our three-part series on cruising the Chesapeake Bay explores the whims of exploring local waters by small boat once you’ve anchored your larger vessel.

Story and Photos by Ann Powell

You’re anchored out somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay. The weather is gorgeous, the water is warm, and everyone’s in the mood to play on the Bay. It’s time to bring out the small boats!

How many small boats can you stow on a big boat? Boaters who cruise the Chesapeake Bay on overnight voyages often take along a small boat or two—maybe a stand-up paddle board, a wind surfer, a sailing dinghy, a kayak, or a large swim float.

Cruising the Bay

When you’re cruising the Chesapeake, your larger sailboat or powerboat becomes a floating RV, providing a place to lay your head at night as you move from creek to creek. You provision the boat with food, bedding, swim gear, and everything needed for a weekend or a week away on the water.

Once you’ve cruised to your first destination, you’ll need a way to secure your boat. You can anchor out in a quiet cove—or grab a fixed mooring—or find a slip at a marina pier. In the Bay’s most remote creeks, you’ll find other boaters overnight cruising on vessels of every size and style. Cruising lets you see the world from a new perspective—even the most familiar places look very different when you approach them by water.

It’s a warm and sunny summer weekend, and we’re headed out from Annapolis for a three-night family cruise aboard First Light, a Sabre 42 powerboat. We’re well-equipped for some fun on the water. We have the paddleboard and one kayak secured on the forward deck along the portside rail, another kayak lodged along the starboard rail, and the inflatable dinghy hauled up with davits on the stern swim platform. First Light is great for carrying all of us and our toys on our Bay cruises, but it does require some muscle and planning to get everything in place and secured for the ride down the Bay.

The Dinghy Carries the Crew

Once we arrive at our first destination, our well-loved dinghy can carry us from our anchored “mother ship” to beaches, shore parties, raft-ups, restaurants, and the small towns that dot the Chesapeake shoreline. Our dinghy is a ten-foot rigid inflatable with a fifteen-horsepower outboard engine and a pair of back-up oars, perfect for short excursions.

If they’re not too settled in with a book or a board game, the family is always happy to hop into the dinghy for an adventure. We might go for a pleasure tour of the creek, or we may head to shore to visit a restaurant or town. Either way, we all hop off the big boat into the dinghy, which is easy to scoot around in, to dock, and to tuck in somewhere for accessing the shore without getting wet. Most towns and restaurants on the Bay have a courtesy dinghy dock, where you can easily tie up while you dine and walk around.


A Summer Afternoon

There really is no better way to appreciate the Chesapeake’s beauty than to experience it up close and personal on a small vessel. On the first leg of our three-day cruise, we’re anchored out in a pristine Eastern Shore creek on the Choptank River, where we swim and paddle the warm afternoon away in our quiet cove.

Paddling along the shoreline, we make our way to a sliver of sandy beach along this lovely creek. We search for sea glass and shells and relax on the hot sand before paddling back to First Light for a cool swim off the stern and lunch onboard. Could there be a more perfect way to while away a hot summer day?

After lunch, we launch the dinghy for a peaceful tour of the creek’s coves and crannies. This is where the true ambiance of Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore is at its finest, with crystal clear blue skies overhead, see-through green waters below, and picturesque fields and farms all around. It’s so serene and beautiful—it feels as if we are the first to discover this part of the Chesapeake.

The great thing about paddleboards, kayaks, and dinghies is that their extremely shallow drafts allow you to paddle where larger vessels can’t go. Most of the Bay is pretty shallow, and small boats give us access to the Bay’s most beautiful private coves, skimming along “skinny” waters that deep-draft boats cannot navigate.

Paddling into the Marsh

The headwaters of most Bay tributaries wind away into beautiful marshes through narrow channels lined with tall grasses. On the second day of our cruise, we paddle into some murky, marshy waterways that narrow to almost nothing as we wind our way upstream. All around our kayaks, cattails, rose mallow, saltmarsh cordgrass, and shimmering blue flag provide the perfect habitat for the diverse wildlife living here.

As we move into the heart of the marsh, the vegetation on either side looms high over our low-riding kayaks. For a moment the marsh seems quiet as the outside sounds of wind, waves, and distant boat engines fade away behind us. There is a lonely, musty tinge to the smell of the marsh mud under us. Small critters ripple silently on the water surface, and a frog caught off guard leaps suddenly from an algae covered log.

When we stop paddling and wait for the birds, fish, and turtles to emerge, we begin to hear and see the abundant life all around us. Now we notice the monarch butterflies and fiddler crabs and marsh periwinkle feeding in the waving grasses. Stop and drift, and soon the collective din of insects, peepers, and birds erupts from what you first took for silence.

Evening is falling as we leave the marsh to make to our way back to the mother ship. We pass near a beachy thicket of fallen driftwood and pause to watch a pair of eagles standing guard in the towering pines. Our kayaks move silently through the labyrinth of fallen wood, and it seems as if the eagles somehow accept us as part of their natural world, or at least they tolerate our presence. The sound of a boat motor would have changed everything.


Small Boats Take Us to New Places

The sunset glows red and orange on the still water as we arrive back at our anchorage, where a summer supper and cold drinks await on First Light. Anchored in deep water, First Light makes an ideal base camp for our adventures on small boats, expanding the fun at our cruising destinations and providing a micro view of the natural world around us. Wherever our cruises take us, the small boats go along—they’re the perfect way to play on the Bay.

Adapted from the writer’s post “Small Boats Aboard Big Boats” at, June 2015.

Read Part 1 Here: Cruise Away on the Chesapeake Bay

Read Part 3 Here: Four Days on the Bay