Reedville is all too often bypassed as cruisers run up and down the Bay — maybe for several reasons. Cruisers who have visited Reedville in the past have at times been subject to the pervasive odor of cooking fish if the wind is in the southeasterly quadrant. This has given the town and the region around the mouth of the Potomac a reputation and caused many cruisers to give it a wide berth or pick a weather window and shoot past. But the times have changed. An exhaust scrubber was installed a few years ago, and the fishing season has been cut by 30 percent. These changes have pretty well eliminated this issue.
We enjoy visiting Reedville and do so several times each summer. The town has history, colonial homes, restaurants, crabs, and ice cream. The town was founded by Elijah Reed, a Maine fisherman. Passing through the Chesapeake in 1874, he saw the potential to harvest menhaden. He bought the land and brought with him the fish rendering business he had operated in Brooklin, ME. Within a decade the town became one of the most prosperous and wealthy towns in the entire country. There were dozens of fish rendering plants, the owners of which built their mansions along “Millionaires Row.” Several of these substantial Victorian homes remain. Today there remains but one processing plant, Omega Protein.
As you enter Cockrell Creek, there are two sights that catch your attention. First are the large blue Omega Protein Menhaden boats. To the left is the unmistakable 130-foot smoke stack. This is the last remaining stack from what once were dozens of stacks at nearly 20 processing plants in Reedville. This stack, built in about 1902, was seriously deteriorating and at risk of collapse. A regional effort to save it augmented by a significant donation from Omega protein has restored this stack, beautifully illuminated at night and a lovely reminder of the history.
The Reedville Fishermen’s Museum has several historic Bay craft for you to board. This is a small museum and will only take an hour to visit, but it tells the story of the town and the menhaden fishery which are inseparable. This little town is one of the largest seafood ports in the country and for many years has been second only to Dutch Harbor, AK, in total volume of seafood landed. There are several hundred jobs in Reedville that are based on the fishery, yet environmentalists and ecologists have demonstrated the significant impact this fishery has had on the environment and other fishery stocks on the Bay.
The museum carefully threads the way between the two camps of preserving the jobs and the traditions of the fishery and the environmental impact of taking 200 metric tons of menhaden from the Bay and coastal waters. The challenges facing the Reedvile fishermen are emblematic of the struggles of all the commercial fisheries on the Bay.
A Northern Neck tradition, Tommy’s Restaurant, is known for its steaks and seafood. Customers drive great distances to enjoy the cuisine with scenic views overlooking the town and Cockrell Creek. Cruisers anchored in the creek dinghy ashore to the dock at Tommy’s for access to the restaurant and town.
The Crazy Crab restaurant at Reedville Marina remains the destination for many cruisers and our destination of choice; if the weather is too cold or too hot, it is great to have heat or air conditioning and be only a few feet from the restaurant. The restaurant serves generous portions of seafood and steak. But let’s face it, when we are in Reedville we are going to eat seafood and Charlie and Olivia Williams, the owners, do a superb job with both crab cakes and crab soup.
There are a dozen or more fine anchorages in the creeks and prongs that make up Cockrell Creek. There are three that we use regularly. The first is the cove on the east side behind Bull Neck as you enter Reedville. Give the decaying brick remnants of an old fish plant a wide berth and head into the protected cove on the east side. If the wind is southeast, this cove is upwind of the processing plant. You will find this anchorage protected, yet very convenient to the Bay and a good place to wait out a change of tide or wind if the mouth of the Potomac is kicking up.
Just past the Reedville Marina near Red daybeacon number “2,” you can anchor in the mouth of the creek which leads to the museum docks. We often approach the museum from this side rather than walking up the road from the marina. They do not seem to mind us landing there, provided we go in and talk to them.
Our favorite anchorage in Reedville is in the eastern branch. As you head into the creek you will pass Cockrell’s Creek Seafood (we’ll come back to that later). Many boats anchor just off their docks, whereas we generally go a little further to the junction of three creeks, where we are a bit more out of the traffic and the boat is open to breezes from most all directions.
The real reason to anchor in the eastern branch is crab picking. Cockrell’s Creek steams up crabs to your order. We call in our order for crabs to be picked up at 5 p.m. just as the business closes for the day (call early in the day because they may run out). We take the dinghy ashore with our crab picking knives and a cooler of drinks. We collect our order of hot steamed crabs and then move to one of the outdoor tables where we can sit in the shade of a tree looking out on the lovely anchorage while we eat a mess of crabs. When all is done, we can roll up the debris and shells and deposit them into their trash can, wander down to the fish docks to wash our hands in the generous sink, and get cleaned up for the next course.
Once we are clean, we hop back in the dinghy and cross over to the dock at Tommy’s where we can head into town for an evening stroll past the mansions on Millionaires Row and stop for desert at Chitterchats Ice Cream and Gossip Parlor. They have a wide variety of homemade and locally sourced ice cream. What a great way to top off a day of cruising on the Chesapeake. Reedville is an interesting and scenic village, and for easy access to great steamed crabs and after dinner ice cream treat, don’t miss this anchorage.