Baltimore is a beautiful city built around the water, so it seems like a natural place for cruisers to sample some urban excitement, including museums, the National Aquarium, great parks, a working waterfront, and excellent restaurants and bars. However, the two times we have stayed in the city, we have not seen another cruiser at anchor. There are some drawbacks to Baltimore that might discourage some folks, but these are easily superseded by its many charms.
The long approach to the city – about twelve miles from the Chesapeake Bay – might be one of the things that discourages people from venturing into Baltimore. But the trip is relatively easy and filled with interesting things to look at along the way. On the way up, you should stay alert for barges and ocean-going shipping, though by staying just outside the channel, you can get close to these behemoths without any concern. Along the way, a substantial industrial complex opens up on both sides of the river, providing great entertainment as cranes and trucks unload cargo, looking like Tonka trucks from out in the middle of the Patapsco. Passing by Fort Carroll – with its many cormorants, pelicans, and ruins – and then under the huge span of the Francis Scott Key Bridge is neat. Nearing the downtown, you then slide right by Fort McHenry, getting a similar view as Key did when he wrote the Star Spangled Banner. Be on guard passing the fort, though, as we have been fired upon – with blanks – by the National Park Service rangers conducting demonstrations of nineteenth-century cannon. The rest of the way into the Northwest Harbor is a feast of skyline, city life, moderate water traffic, and some working waterfront in the small naval yard, Domino Sugar factory, and large marine railway.
Once you are up in the Northwest Harbor, you have three choices of anchorages. The most famous is the one right smack in the middle of the Inner Harbor. Here you can anchor anywhere between a line extending from the bow of the USS Torsk out to the end of the dock that the USS Constellation is docked on. In the heart of the city with the tourist mecca of the Inner Harbor encircling you, dragon boats passing on all sides, and a submarine and tall ship sharing the anchorage, it is a surreal experience. Holding is good in 18-25 feet of water. There is comfortable space for 2-3 boats, but I imagine many more can fit. We weathered a nasty afternoon thunderstorm with 40+ knots of breeze on 4:1 scope with no problem. As with all the anchorages in Baltimore, you are almost sure to find plastic, old rope, and any number of other things on your anchor and chain as you bring it in. This anchorage gives you immediate access to all of the Inner Harbor and is a short dinghy ride from Fells Point.
Another option in the Northwest Harbor is between Fells Point and Canton, in a well-protected spot surrounded by marinas and condos. The anchorage here is at least twice the size of the Inner Harbor anchorage in 18-22 feet of water. There was one derelict live-aboard also anchored out when we were there, leaving room for several other boats. There is a public dock along the wall in the northwest corner of the cove, but as of August 2015, there were three derelict boats taking all the space. Moreover, there are reports of obstructions 3-5 feet below the water along portions of the wall. With only the one other boat anchored out and a frontal system coming through, we comfortably anchored on 7:1 scope. This anchorage provides more privacy than the Inner Harbor one, though you are still in the city. It also offers easy access to Fells Point and is a very quick dinghy trip over to a dinghy dock in front of a Safeway in Canton.
The final option for anchoring out in Baltimore is the Canton anchorage in the charted 12 feet of water off the dinghy dock and small park across from the Safeway. We have no personal experience with this anchorage, but it looks to be secure with room for at least 3 boats without a problem. The obvious benefit is access to the Safeway and other strip mall conveniences, and you are not at all far from Fells Point.
As alluded to, there are several places to tie up your dinghy, some more legal than others. The dinghy dock in front of the Safeway is a public dock that is part of a small park. This provides great access to the supermarket and other parts of Canton, but is a good walk from Fells Point. You can also tie up a dinghy at the free public dock off the Fells Point anchorage. Although both of these docks are in the heart of the city, nobody seemed to pay any attention to our dinghy. We do recommend locking your dinghy, if you have the means, if only for the peace of mind it provides during a long day away exploring the city. Also in Fells Point, to the west of the Recreation Pier at the end of Broadway, there is a floating dock for the Canton Canoe and Kayak club. We have occasionally tied up there without permission, but also without incident. It is a lot closer to the Inner Harbor anchorage than the public dock in Fells Point. Finally, all along the Inner Harbor are signs that say you can dock for up to five hours for a fee: twenty dollars for a dinghy. Last year, we called the number on the sign, spoke to someone who said they would be right over, and then waited for forty-five minutes to no avail. We ended up tying to the wall in front of the Torsk for several hours without any problem.
Tomorrow, we will have another post on what to do in Baltimore. In the coming weeks, we will also post videos of our time in the city this year. I will provide a link to those videos here once we get them up. Of course, you can also check out our YouTube channel yourself. You can also check out our two posts about our experiences in Baltimore last year: Domino Sugar, a Nasty Storm, and a Double Rainbow and Bibimbap in Baltimore.