Dock, dine, fish, paddle, repeat
CBM’s Cruising Editor Jody Argo Schroath, expert on all things waterfront, takes a fresh look at Kent Narrows for CBM Bay Weekly’s latest installment of Weekends on the Water.
Everybody knows that Kent Narrows is where the Chesapeake Bay goes to party. Its shoreline, less than a mile from top to bottom, is a virtual dock-and-dine Valhalla. From Red Eye’s Dock Bar on the Chester River side to The Jetty on the Eastern Bay side, Kent Narrows Strait echoes with the sounds of live music and clink of mango mojito glasses. Boats cruise the Narrows to see and be seen like some kind of 1960s drive-in diner.
Yet, as delightful as all that is, there’s more. Amidst the crab dip and fried pickles there is serious cuisine to be had. And there are crabs and oysters everywhere, fresh from local waters—for this is also the domain of the watermen who work out of the Narrows, harvesting the bounty as they have for generations. There are great places to put in a kayak or paddleboard to explore the local streams, or you can climb on a bicycle to follow the Cross Island Trail. So read on. Then pick out one of the Narrows’ marinas for a slip, circle a few restaurants and dock bars, and load up the gear and the kids for a weekend at Kent Island.
What You Can Expect
Kent Narrows Strait, as the Coast Guard calls it, is the swift-moving water cut that makes an island out of Kent Island by separating it from the rest of Queen Anne’s County. It includes the towns of Stevensville, Chester and Grasonville. More importantly, it connects the Chester River to the north with Eastern Bay to the south. When the English colonists first settled in the area, displacing the Matapeake Indians, the Narrows was quite shallow and bordered by marshland. It was known as the “Wading Place”—people, horses, and goods simply waded across.
In the early 1800s, a dirt causeway was built to keep people and goods dry. This ended any hope of boat navigation until 50 years later when it was removed. Now, the Wading Place is spanned by two bridges: the 75-foot-high U.S. 50/301 bridge and the 18-foot-high Kent Narrows Bascule Bridge. With navigation came seafood packing houses, which once lined the shores now occupied by dock bars and restaurants.
On the eastern side of the Narrows, you’ll find two marinas that accommodate transients as well as nine dock bars and restaurants, most with dockage of their own. The western side, on the other hand, is comparatively quiet, with one good-sized marina, a new boatel, and a watermen’s boat basin. At the top of the western side, you’ll find Ferry Point Nature Park, with trails and a welcome center. At the bottom of the eastern side, you’ll find historic Wells Cove, home of most of the Narrows’ head boats.
From the Western Shore, take U.S. 50/301 across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and across Kent Island to exits 41 or 42. Either one will do, but 41 will give you easier access to the west side of Kent Narrows and 42 the east. You can always just cross the Watermen’s Bridge on Rte. 18 if you end up on the wrong side. Use Piney Narrows Road off 18 to get to the Chesapeake Heritage & Visitor’s Center and Ferry Point Park as well as the Cross Island Trail.
Before you head to the Eastern Shore, pay attention to traffic on the Bay Bridge. Between late May and September traffic can back up anywhere from a mile to 10+ in either direction and no one wants to be sitting in traffic when you could be enjoying a drink at a tiki bar or floating in the water. The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) provides real-time alerts via live traffic cams, Twitter updates, the 1-877-BAYSPAN hotline and on their website (baybridge.maryland.gov). Go during off-peak hours before 8am (6am on Saturdays) and after 8pm (10pm on Sundays). Stay alert to lane closures and two-way operations, which can be affected by both traffic, accidents and weather conditions. And load up your EZ Pass!
If you are bringing your boat, you’ll find a convenient place to launch at Kent Narrows Boat Ramp just northwest of the bridges. You can launch your paddle craft at several nearby locations, which we’ll get to a little farther on. If you decide to paddle through the Narrows—which we don’t encourage—remember to allow for the current, about one-and-a-half knots at max flood and ebb, and stronger through the bridges—and the busy boat traffic.
Where To Stay
If you are visiting Kent Narrows by cruising boat and are looking for a marina, you have a very nice selection. Here’s the way they are divided, with pros and cons thrown in for good measure.
North of the bridges, you have two good choices, both with fuel docks. Piney Narrows Yacht Haven occupies a basin cut into the west side. The advantage to this one is that it’s pretty quiet, since all of the restaurants and dock bars are on the east side, and most of them south of the bridge. In addition, it is right next door to the visitor center and the entrance to Ferry Point Park, with its trails, woods, and marshes. To reach the restaurants and dock bars, you can either dinghy across or use the Cross Island Trail on foot or with a bicycle.
Safe Harbor Narrows Point (formerly Mears) lies on the east side. It has plenty of slips and plenty to keep you occupied. In addition to its own basin, it has the well-known Red Eyes Dock Bar, as well as Annie’s Paramount Steak & Seafood House. And it’s next door to the famous Harris Crab House. That’s enough to keep you busy for a good while. The drawback is that if you want to explore Ferry Point Park, you’ll have to walk, bicycle, or dinghy over—which is not a big drawback at all, really.
On the south side of the Narrows, you have even more choices. Watermen’s Boat Basin is on the west side of the Narrows, and they have a few slips available to non-watermen.
On the east side of the Narrows, Wells Cove Marina has some transient slips, and is convenient to the Jetty Dock Bar as well as Bridges Restaurant and Fisherman’s Inn and Crab Deck.
Just a few steps farther, you’ll find The Narrows Restaurant and Big Owl Tiki Bar. Wells Cove has a depth of about five feet inside and can accommodate boats up to about 46 feet. Wells Cove is also home to most of the Narrows head boats, so if that’s in your plans you’ll be in the right place.
Beyond Wells Cove and Oyster Cove developments, you’ll find our final marina, Lippincott Marine, one of the oldest marine facilities in the Narrows area. One of the major advantages of Lippincott, particularly for larger and deeper-draft boats, is that its entrance channel avoids the Narrows South Channel altogether. And it can take boats up to 72 feet.
If you’d like to tote your boat in and stay in the comfort of a hotel, Kent Narrows has three hotel choices. Northeast of the bridge, you’ll find Holiday Inn Express Annapolis East-Kent Island, which has an outdoor pool and deck overlooking the wetlands. Southeast of the bridge, you’ll find Best Western Kent Narrows Inn and the more upscale, waterfront Hilton Garden Inn Kent Island. Coming spring 2022 is a new Hyatt Place hotel, located on the waterfront next to the Fisherman’s restaurants and seafood sales buildings.
What to Do
Visit the dock bars and restaurants, of course
This is what Kent Narrows is famous for, so why ignore it? Red Eye’s, Big Owl, The Jetty—the names are practically legendary. Come by boat. Come by car. Enjoy the ambiance or vibe or whatever adjective suits your particular generation. Soak up the view. You’ll also find plenty of music to suit your taste.
We’ll get back to restaurants in a few minutes, but we’ll just say here that they are many, varied and delicious. Annie’s, Harris, The Narrows, Bridges, and Fisherman’s. Casual or elegant casual, trendy casual or historic casual—you’ll find that all of those options are here.
Go fishing or sightseeing by boat
Fish from your own boat, charter a captain, or show up at Wells Cove Marina to board a head boat. Arrive on your boat or launch from Kent Narrows Landing’s boat ramp. Charters and cruises are available from Fisherman’s Crab Deck. You can also arrange with Spittin’ Feathers Outfitters at Harris Crab House for a crabbing cruise. Whichever way you choose, you’re going to be only minutes away from world-class fishing grounds. Alternatively, get up early and watch the…
Read More:Weekends on the Water: Kent Narrows – Bay Weekly