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The Wm. B. Tennison glides through the harbor of the Calvert Marine Museum and out toward the Chesapeake Bay. A crisp breeze pushes clouds through the sky, and the mid-afternoon sun glints off the water; passengers on board the boat shade their eyes and wave to those on shore. Children clutch the metal railing and point toward the horizon, while their parents find secluded spots to settle on the deck and watch birds circle lazily overheard. It's a perfect day, and a perfect way to celebrate this corner of the Chesapeake.
This half-hour escape onto the water isn’t just relaxing – it’s educational. Everyone on board is there to celebrate the annual Solomons Maritime Festival. The Tennison is a historical bugeye buy-boat first constructed back in 1899, and it is just one of the fascinating interactive displays at the Calvert Marine Museum, which has organized this festival for the past 13 years.
This year, the festival will take place on May 5—and it's totally free. Attendees can listen to live music, learn how to pick crabs and shuck oysters, build toy boats, watch Chesapeake Bay retrievers dive into the water—and, yes, take a free half-hour cruise on the Tennison.
“It’s an opportunity for us to expose our visitors to southern Maryland traditions,” explains Sherry Reid, volunteer events coordinator at the Calvert Marine Museum.
Many visitors might think of museums as buildings with established exhibits about long-ago history. But festivals like these are living, interactive celebrations of Solomons Island’s rich traditions, shown in real time.
“We try to keep those alive,” Sherry Reid says.
This year, the festival will feature traditional southern Maryland music performed live all day. Watermen from the Calvert County Watermen’s Association will demonstrate how to make crab pots, how to clean crabs, and how to shuck oysters.
Speaking of food—there’s plenty of it. After you’ve learned how to make a crab cake and stuff a ham – “stuffed ham is a very southern Maryland tradition,” Reid says – head over to one of the vendors selling lunch and dinner.
Then wander by demonstrations on how to can fresh vegetables and fruit, how to weave and spin, how to make quilts, and how to keep bees. (“That’s new!” Reid says.)
Kids can build toy boats and watch model boats zoom around the basin, or simply watch Chesapeake Bay retrievers diving and splashing in the water—and try not to envy their refreshing swims.
If you’re inspired by the trip on the Tennison, hop into a paddleboat and be the captain of your own ship. Perhaps you can call to the waterfowl paddling nearby with your new duck-calling skills.
Boat fanciers will want to check out the antique boat and marine engine displays and browse the nautical yard sale, where enterprising festival-goers can buy and sell engine parts and other boating supplies.
“All of it is free,” Sherry Reid says. In addition to the museum’s support, local businesses help sponsor the event. If the weather holds up, they expect about 1,500 visitors to come and learn about this corner of the Bay—and to participate in a day of living history.
“This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been looking for,” one woman says to her husband as her kids race around the dock. “I want them to learn about Maryland culture and crabbing.”