It’s a Boater’s Paradise in Dorchester County
Story by Abby Stewart
It’s not every day you can dock your boat at a marina and within less than a mile onshore find yourself enchanted, immersed in a historical hub that lures you in with a story around every corner, while quaint businesses boom with time-honored Eastern Shore hospitality, creativity, and savory gifts from the Chesapeake Bay. It does happen every day, however, in Dorchester County, Maryland – an authentically unique boater’s paradise.
A Family Cruise to Cambridge
My family has always wanted to take a boat tour of the Chesapeake Bay and as we were planning our trip, our neighbors suggested Dorchester County, Maryland, as it’s their favorite boating destination. We were looking for a week-long getaway at a destination that not only has a marina with amenities to make for an easygoing, comfortable stay, but in an area that also has something unique to offer our family, and we couldn’t have chosen a more perfect destination than Cambridge in Dorchester County, Maryland.
We decided to head to the Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin, a 246-slip public marina in Cambridge, Maryland, where we would dock our cabin cruiser for the weekend, but we soon discovered Cambridge was a place that offers an extraordinary vacation experience, well beyond the exceptional customer service we experienced at the dock.
There are many other marinas to choose from in Dorchester County, including the River Marsh Marina at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, also in Cambridge, The Hyatt offers a different experience than the Yacht Basin, one for those looking for more of a resort getaway, whereas the Cambridge Yacht Basin acts as the water gateway to the charming city of Cambridge, beyond the marina.
Arriving at the Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin
The only marina in Dorchester County with direct access to Downtown Cambridge, the Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin is filled with boats of all kinds, from skiffs to super yachts. When we arrived, I was immediately excited. We were greeted by the friendliest staff who were awaiting our arrival. One thing I noticed was how professional they were and how patient they were with our particular boat procedures. You don’t always find that kind of hospitality. It was a great first impression that we were delighted to discover would extend through the entirety of our stay in Cambridge.
Upon our arrival, they shared with us their own marina publication that featured a map of downtown, and they highlighted their favorite restaurants, shops and attractions, and informed us of the best ways to get downtown. They were like our own personal waterside concierge service, I thought, as they handed us a welcome bag and informed us that they are available 24-7, should we need anything. This type of customer service sold my father within 10 minutes of stepping off of our boat.
Amenities and Customer Service, Galore!
All of the amenities we would need for the next week were at our fingertips: showers, restrooms, laundry facilities, and Wifi, to name a few, but we were impressed with the extra mile that the staff at the Yacht Basin went to set themselves apart and make our trip as comfortable and exciting as possible, particularly the General Manager and Dockmaster, Scott Fitzhugh.
“My experience is where it’s at,” Scott said. “I’ve been here for so long that I’ve made a lot of connections; I have a lot of great relationships with downtown merchants, so if somebody needs provisions before they leave, I will set them up.”
All shopping, dining and downtown retailers of Cambridge are within walking distance of the docks at the Yacht Basin, but the marina provides bicycles as a complimentary service, too, so the things to do in Cambridge are within reach as soon as you step off your boat.
Anything You Need, Delivered Right To Your Boat
Simmons Center Market in downtown Cambridge on Race Street is a one-stop-shop for groceries, fresh-cut meats and local produce, gifts, and supplies and they deliver it all right to your boat. So if you’re in a hurry as you’re packing up and need some last-minute supplies, or you’re too tired from your journey to venture into town for the day, the convenient service makes for a pleasant and comfortable stay at the Yacht Basin.
The Dockmaster, A True Waterman, At Your Service
The Yacht Basin Dockmaster, Scott Fitzhugh, was born and raised in Dorchester County and grew up on the water. He worked commercially in the seafood industry along with his family and ended up getting his 100-ton masters captain’s license more than a decade ago, so he not only runs the marina but he also delivers some of the bigger boats that visit the marina to and from Florida from the north every year.
“I’ve been on the water for a long time,” Scott said. “It’s something I’ve always enjoyed.” He started working for the city as a maintenance employee, and when the former Dockmaster went into the service, the city knew that Scott had a strong boating and waterman background, and they offered him the job. It was a no-brainer for Scott and he has loved his job ever since.
Scott is always thinking of how he can make a visitor’s stay more enjoyable, like working with the main street merchants of Cambridge to offer a free shuttle for boaters to carry them from the marina to downtown as an extra incentive and service. Boaters bring so much to the town of Cambridge, Scott says, that the merchants and locals are happy to show their appreciation for the visit, making for a very pleasant encounter with the people of Dorchester County.
“I’ve been here for 19 years, so customer service is what it’s all about for me,” Scott said. I went to www.snagaslip.com to check out his reviews and he is ranked among the highest I could find!
Big City Advantages, Small Town Perks
Scott realized last year, when business was continuing to boom during the Covid pandemic, that many people don’t want to go to the bigger, more highly-populated and congested areas for a boating vacation when they can visit the rural and suburban areas and still get the same perks as in a big city while spending half the amount.
“Once they get here and see what kind of a quaint town this is, that it’s nice and quiet but you can still get great food and great shopping, they realize, ‘well, we don’t have to go all the way to Baltimore, we’ll just go to Cambridge, where we can get the same thing at half the cost,’” Scott explains.
With so many all-inclusive amenities at the Cambridge Yacht Basin, the trip to Cambridge can be a very affordable experience, even with the whole family on board.
Black Water Bakery and Eats
One of the recommendations was to enjoy a brunch at the adorable Black Water Bakery and Eats on Race Street, only a 12-minute walk from our boat, down brick-paved streets, among historical homes and landmarks.
The smell of warm cinnamon greeted us as we walked into the award-winning eatery. Beautifully-crafted coffees went by in different colored mugs, as if chosen from the favorites in our cupboard at home, and a dessert counter stretched the length of the room, inviting us in for a peek. Farmhouse tables and cafe-style seating held happy patrons while low, pleasant music filled the air. We chose the table by the bright shop-front window and slipped in.
I started off with a honey lavender latte, sprinkled with fresh lavender blooms. It was hard to choose just one thing to eat from the locally-sourced lunch menu, but I finally went with the spicy chorizo tacos and arugula salad. The tacos came to the table overstuffed with fluffy scrambled eggs, avocado and cheese and were served with a spicy tomatillo sauce for an extra kick! I thought it might clash with my sweet latte, but the peppery arugula salad, in all of its simplicity, paired perfectly with the tacos, bringing a tangy, yet sweet, zip to the meal, tying it all together.
I noticed the co-owner, Jamie Summers, stopping by from table to table, talking with friendly regulars and greeting newcomers. When she stopped by our table, she shared stories about the bake shop, and her love of her community and desire to see it flourish was apparent.
“We need to share positivity,” said Jamie. “There is enough negativity in the world,” she said, recalling the days during the Covid shutdown, when the shop gave baked goods and food to the Salvation Army and the community.
A shining light of Cambridge, the Black Water Bakery and Eats is a familiar comfort that leaves a savory impression you’ll return for on your next voyage.
Long Wharf Park
Back at the marina we met boaters from not only Maryland and Virginia, but from all over the world. We even met a group of Loopers while we were walking around Long Wharf Park, the beautiful waterfront park that surrounds the marina, connecting the Choptank River Lighthouse to historic downtown Cambridge. I didn’t know what a looper was the first time I met one, but my mind was blown when I learned of the nine-month voyage these boaters take around what is known as the Great Loop of the United States. Beginning in the Chesapeake Bay, they traveled up through the Chesapeake Bay, northward into the Saint Lawrence Seaway, through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi River, out into the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida and back up.
“It’s pretty cool, when you talk to these people you build a relationship with them,” Scott said, “and they feel comfortable, and welcome and like they’re the number one priority while they’re here, and they’re right,” he said. “And that’s why they want to come back.”
Choptank River Lighthouse
I was astonished to hear their stories as we walked along with our dogs over to the Choptank River Lighthouse. A beautiful replica of the historic lighthouse that once guided vessels along the Choptank River, the lighthouse stood up out of the Choptank River, commanding attention above the park. The bright red roof glistened in the afternoon sunlight as we walked down the long dock to her base, seagulls flying by and the choppy river splashing below our feet.
Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester
The park is also the berthing location of the Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester, a traditional oyster harvesting vessel known as a te skipjack, Maryland’s state boat. The Nathan also commemorates the wooden boat building history and nautical heritage of Dorchester County. You can join a public cruise on this impressive boat and we plan to do that on our next visit to Cambridge.
Cambridge Farmers Market
At the edge of the park on the walk towards downtown, we found a pleasant waterfront farmers market on High Street, the Cambridge Farmers Market. Local fishermen selling their fresh catches of the day, farmers bringing in their best produce, locals selling candles and crafts and more can be found at this little market by the river from May to October.
Ava’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar
For dinner one night we chose from the long list of amazing restaurants in Cambridge, Ava’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar. My Shrimp Fra Diavolo came to the table and I dove into the steamy plate of fettuccine mixed with spicy red sauce and topped with plump, jumbo shrimp. This Fra Diavolo was different from any I had before as it had capers in it, a new favorite twist on one of my go-to dishes.
Again, a spin on the fresh mozzarella plate that arrived featured artichokes among the delicious cheese and cherry tomatoes, all covered in a balsamic glaze. We found ourselves racing to get the last piece of artisan bread to sop up the goodness. My mom enjoyed a perfectly-breaded chicken parmesan over a pile of saucy fettucini, all smothered in cheese…she was in heaven.
The atmosphere was perfect for a date night or to bring the entire family to consume one of their Detroit-style specialty pizzas, cooked up in a steel pan made of old cars manufactured in Detroit. The wooden floors echoed with laughter and happy voices enjoying meals all the way up to the exposed beams of the ceiling. Where an industrial studio vibe meets a little Italian pizza kitchen, the ambience is welcoming and friendly and the food packs a pleasing punch that will leave you satisfied and happy!
On a sunny afternoon, my brother and I excitedly discovered that Cambridge offered Bird Scooters downtown, a type of shared e-bike that allows you to cruise safely around the city on a battery-powered scooter, equipped with GPS. So we hopped on a couple and explored a little further into town than the family wanted to walk. We took a photo in front of the famous Harriet Tubman Mural off of Race Street, as Dorchester County is the birthplace of the world-renowned hero who escaped slavery and led many people to freedom. The mural, which is located on the wall of the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center, moved us to tears.
Afterwards, we wanted to sit down and soak up the experience, so we scooted down to RAR Brewing, a favorite local hangout started by a group of local men in what was formerly an old pool hall and bowling alley in a building from the 1930s. Like many other store owners in Downtown Cambridge, they strive to maintain the integrity of the old building’s history. That’s one thing I could say about Cambridge…many Small Town, USAs feature old storefronts, but are unfortunately vacant behind so many of them. Well, not Cambridge. It seems as though there is a bustling business booming behind almost every door, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.
We were impressed by the immense kindness and hospitality that was bestowed upon us at the marina, and the authentic, affordable, boater-friendly community that we discovered in the beautiful city of Cambridge. With so much left to explore in the city and in the surrounding area of Dorchester County, my family is already planning to return on our next Chesapeake Bay boating adventure.