Late summer in Chesapeake Bay country sees a crescendo of tidewater’s seasonal bounty. In Maryland’s Somerset County, summer’s finale brings appropriately maritime celebrations to the bayside villages and fishing towns.
Somerset County’s miles of tidal bays, rivers and wetlands make this county a haven for nature and an ideal venue for celebrating the Chesapeake. Crisfield, Deal Island, Chance and many of the other Lower Eastern Shore communities retain their charm as historic ports and maritime villages. No big cities diminish the ambiance of the fishing villages, the notable sites or the huge expanses of salt marsh. Six wildlife management areas offer thousands of acres for canoeing, kayaking, hiking, hunting, fishing, crabbing and observing wildlife.
While Somerset’s wildlands offer year-round attractions, the Labor Day weekend is for racing, with a Chesapeake flair! The competitions begin with the National Hard Crab Derby & Fair in Crisfield’s Somers Cove Marina, and culminate with the Labor Day Skipjack Races & Land Festival at Deal Island.
This year marks the 72nd running (Perhaps “scuttling” or “slithering” might be a more appropriate term?) of the National Hard Crab Derby, a highlight of the annual fair held in Crisfield’s town marina and sponsored by the Crisfield Area Chamber of Commerce. From Monday, Aug. 26 through Sunday, Sept. 1, fairgoers can enjoy the unique crab-themed festival featuring carnival rides, arts and crafts, vendors, live entertainment, the Miss Crustacean Pageant, a parade, boat docking contest, and crab-centered events including crab cooking and picking contests. The festival ends Sunday night with a gospel concert and fireworks. There is a $3 admission fee on Saturday, but many events are free.
The National Hard Crab Derby Races on Saturday are near legendary. One of the most celebrated crustacean speed competitions in America, its history goes back more than 60 years to the days when local crabbers and watermen brought live, angry crabs to race in the street in front of the Crisfield post office.
This year’s Derby will see nearly 400 blue crabs from all over the Chesapeake Bay region go for the glory on a slick, wet, flat track, pitched at an angle. Hundreds of spectators watch and cheer for their favorites as 50 crabs at a time sprint down the track. The first crabs off the track win the heat and continue to compete in the derby’s finale: The 71st Annual Governor’s Cup Race.
Deal Island and Chance celebrate Labor Day from Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, with a race of a different kind. The 60th Labor Day Skipjack Races and Land Festival honor a Chesapeake tradition: one of this nation’s last working sailboat fleets. Powered by large spreads of sails, the shallow draft skipjacks pulled dredge baskets across the bay’s oyster bars, raking in millions of bushels annually.
“There used to be thousands of working oyster boats,” said festival coordinator Debbie Woollen, “But few are left. They are still oystering the bay’s waters, and we are erecting a museum to keep the heritage alive.”
Sponsored by the Deal Island-Chance Lions Club, the three-day event includes vendors, crafts, a car show, parade, dance, live music, arts and crafts, steamed crabs and other festival food. Kids will enjoy the magic acts and a parent-kids relay. Many events are free.
Saturday night showcases Gospel music, and Sunday features dances at a beach party bash with a tribute band. Monday morning brings a half-dozen skipjacks — the last of their kind — to the starting line off of Deal Island Harbor. First, another mariners’ tradition: the blessing of the fleet. Then, the race itself begins at 9:30 a.m. They race until they have a winner, or until noon if the winds do not cooperate.
Along with the scheduled events, local Deal Islanders establish an impromptu flea market along Deal Island Road, Route 363, near the Deal Island Bridge. Local churches also sponsor events throughout the area. Labor Day may mark summer’s end, but in Somerset County and the Lower Eastern Shore, the celebration is festive and traditional.
For more information:
Somerset County Visitor Center, visitsomerset.com
National Hard Crab Derby & Fair, nationalhardcrabderby.com
Labor Day Skipjack Races and Land Festival, dealislandchancelionsclub.org/skipjack-festival