An Island, Not an Island : Winter Harbor 2022

Using the kayaks as barges to haul heavy coolers up the canal.

From the docks, it doesn’t look like much has changed in a year. One or two boats absent from the little harbor here in Mathews, notably Wesley’s buy boat. Not that unusual. But, as we would soon learn, a lot has changed.

Some big storms came through in 2022. A “bomb cyclone” hit the Mid-Atlantic just days into the new year. That was followed by a series of nor’easters and winter storms all the way through April, several back to back. Then come fall, remnants of hurricanes lingered over the area for weeks. Several of these brought coastal flooding and strong winds that lasted days on end. We saw photos from friends of this whole harbor area under a couple of feet of water, more than once. The last time was only a month ago.

Aside from some missing boats, little sign of all that; but I heard from friends that much had indeed changed – the marshes were filling in, channels had shifted, etc.. The canal that leads up to the house on the island has silted in, no longer passible by boat for hauling supplies. That’s the same canal T and I sailed up a few years ago. Now everything would have to be carted up the long boardwalk in wheelbarrows and wagons. So, not knowing what else we would find, the Melonseeds stayed home this time, and we brought the skin-on-frame kayaks instead.

The ferry skiff arrived and we piled in gear and bodies, then daisy-chained the kayaks together for a tow behind, through the marsh to the island.

First obvious change was a changing of the guard. The island has passed from Wesley to the next generation, to his daughter. We caught up on news at the dock, while her husband helped us load, and then he fired up the skiff and we motored out into the marsh. On the ride, slow and winding to avoid new shoals, he filled me in on what had changed. Storms had eroded away a quarter mile from the north end of the island and deposited it at the south end, completely filling in the south channel. It was now connected there to the mainland – the island was now a peninsula, no longer an island.

View across the marsh

He told how they take the kids and live in the old hotel out on the island all winter. The kids go to school, and every day begins with ferrying them across the marsh to catch the bus, then back again in the afternoon. Every normal day, that is. But when the storms came, and kept coming, they turned a normally pleasant journey into an impossible task.

During one storm, wind driven tides raised the water so high that it was shoulder deep on the dock, and he’s a big man over six feet tall. No way to get to school those days.

When the wind swung around to the South, it blew all the water out of the marshes, leaving only mud flats and exposed oyster bars. No school those days, either.

Apparently the teachers did not believe the kids when they tried to explain the absence, that they could only get to school by boat. So one day, when there was again no water, the whole family walked to the south of the island, across the new sandbar to the mainland, through the woods, to their grandmother’s house, and caught a ride from there to school. Once there, the parents had to explain the situation. At the end of the day, they all walked back.

So that explains why the bigger boats are missing from the marina. The south inlet is closed. While the north inlet is now much wider, it’s also more shallow – only 10″ deep at mean tide, and only if you know the way. With no reliable route to get out into the Bay, the big boats had to move to deeper sheltered water to the south, at Horn Harbor.

At the bus stop dock at the end of the pier, we unloaded the gear and started the long portage. The skiff went back for rest of our crew.

Much exploring to do over the coming week.

One Reply to “An Island, Not an Island : Winter Harbor 2022”

  1. Interesting! I’ve thought it would be a fun detour to sail through the marsh on my way from Gwynn’s Island to Mathews, but never got around to it because the southern inlet looked pretty shallow on Google Earth. Looks like I’m too late!

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