Ah, the cottage life. Weekends orbiting through your summers just waiting to be explored, waiting for you to land and discover their mysteries. Their tidal pull as you return week after week comes to define the rhythm of your family. You lay in memories, preserving them with photographs, video and Facebook posts, against the long winter to come. Perhaps you even slow down, just a bit, how quickly your kids are growing up and out of your parental embrace. That is, if the weather will only cooperate.
“I’ve really taken to looking at the words ‘scattered,’ ‘isolated’ and ‘chance of…,’” Rob Drover tells me, watching his three sons bounce around the cockpit of their 370 Sundancer. Rob and his wife, Stephanie, keep their mobile waterfront cottage in Rock Hall, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from their home outside Philadelphia. With that commute, the weather report could easily knock you off stride if you let it, but Rob is more of a glass-half-full kind of guy. He hears modifiers like those above, and it makes him think of all the sunshine between the scattered and isolated bad stuff. “Those words, they really mean something,” he says hopefully as Stephanie helps cast off from their outside slip with its unobstructed view of Chesapeake Bay.
The boys mug and pull faces for the camera, six eyes going wide, six blond eyebrows bouncing up and down like bleached caterpillars at a rave. The oldest breaks off from clowning with his brothers and gives me a right proper greeting. The next in line gnashes his teeth when we’re introduced and says, “I wanna be known as Sharkboy!” A middle child chewing the scenery. And the youngest of the bunch climbs up into Rob’s lap at the helm. He can’t see over the dash but likes to lend a hand anyway. “He’s my autopilot here,” Rob says. “He keeps it slow and steady. He watches the numbers change on the VesselView screen and is perfectly happy.”
Rob grew up in Newfoundland (explaining the Sundancer’s clever name: U.S., eh?), which meant boats were everywhere. Boating was something he’d always dreamed of doing, and once he and Stephanie married and had things sorted, they went all-in with a Sea Ray 200 Bow Rider that caught their eye at the Philadelphia Boat Show. Before they had kids they’d spend whole weekends on it, even sleeping onboard. It provided a complete break from the hectic IT careers they juggled during the workweek.
Then one of those sleepover weekends got crushed by rain. “We spent the entire night in the bar watching storms moving in on the radar and looking out at the boat in the downpour,” Stephanie says, smiling about it now. “We slept on it anyway under leaky tarps with our heads under the steering console.”
The next season they stepped up into a cabin with a 260 Sundancer that they initially docked in Elkton, Maryland, at the northern headwaters of Chesapeake Bay. Weekending became hard-wired into the family DNA. They kept their elbows high and boxed out visitors who didn’t know better about the value of a summer cottage weekend.
Elkton was nice and close to home, but they soon found they were cruising down the Bay to the more picturesque Rock Hall every weekend, and realized those miles could be covered more efficiently in the car. Mostly the move was about maximizing the amount of time they got to enjoy the boat. “We often leave home late Friday night, with the kids already in their PJs,” Rob explains as we idle out of the marina and onto the Chesapeake.
Saturdays begin fresh and early, the boys rippling with youthful energy and the excitement of waking up onboard instead of in their beds at home. “A lot of the boat owners in our marina have older children, so we bring a lot of life to it with all these young boys,” Stephanie says. “North Point is a great marina and we love Joe and Lori Campbell, the owners. There is a pool, and we use the grill under the pavilion to make hot dogs for lunch. Their favorite thing is probably putting on the iPod, controlling the stereo. We try to put on music we like, but they quickly switch it over to their playlists. Their favorite singer right now is Adele, so it’s not too bad,” she adds with a laugh.
That bayfront slip played an important role when they considered buying the 370 Sundancer from Clark’s Landing. The boys were gobbling onboard territory and Rob was eager to go from a single engine to twins and to have a little more boat in the water for those long rollers that can push up Chesapeake Bay. “But we love our Bay frontage,” he says, “and Stephanie said, ‘If that boat doesn’t fit in our slip, we’re not getting it!’ With a 12-foot beam, it’s a tighter squeeze, but it works. My neighbor sometimes gives me grief about using the bow thruster when I’ve got twins, but why not?”
We steer north toward an area called Great Oaks, in the protected bay of Fairlee Creek. The youngest brother puts his bare feet up on the dash, never taking his eyes off the changing VesselView numbers. “I think this program will still work five years from now,” Rob says. “By the start of the teen years, they’ll really have it down. It might be more about iPods, iPads and other electronics, maybe bringing friends. But this is going to be our weekends for a good while still.”
“If you could graph the energy level with these guys, it goes in spikes. And of course there’s the three-times multiplication factor.”
Rob and Stephanie met at DuPont about a decade ago, and you can see their techie hearts embracing boating, from the systems and gadgets of their bigger, badder new ride, to virtually charting the good times with the boys. “If you could graph the energy level with these guys, it goes in spikes,” Rob says, his fingers tracing a roller coaster in the air. “And of course there’s the three-times multiplication factor.”
As if on cue, squeals erupt from the cabin below where the older two have gone to practice their wrestling moves, apparently. Sharkboy versus Adam Bomb. “Listen to those wild laughs,” Rob says, his own smile going wide at the sound. Stephanie’s smile is tempered with a mom’s practical recognition. “Yeah, probably crushing Goldfish crackers,” she says. “Lots of crumbs with these guys.”
Rob navigates the tight entrance into Fairlee Creek, and it opens into a beautiful protected cove. There’s the fine old Great Oaks Landing Restaurant and a scruffy fun party spot called Jellyfish Joel’s with a small beach, cabanas and inflatable islands on which to enjoy an impossibly colorful drink with friends.
Rob sets the anchor, and as quick as a wink the boys are in suits, bombing off the swim platform until their lips are blue and their gangly bodies are wracked with shivers. And then they go a few more times, but the curse of near-zero body fat eventually wins out and one by one they submit to the embrace of thick terry robes. They settle back into the cabin with popcorn and a movie, as Stephanie and Rob chart the spectrum of their Chesapeake weekends.
Anchoring to swim and ducking into a wide variety of restaurants are perennial favorites, of course. The week before, the Drovers had cruised across to Baltimore Harbor to watch the Orioles take on the Phillies, with beautiful Camden Yards a short stroll from the docks. In August, Rock Hall throws a pirate festival with a decorated dinghy race and pirate-themed silliness. And what would summer weekends be without trips to the ice cream shop? “We really love the feeling of community in Rock Hall,” Stephanie says. “It’s a charming Main Street, USA, kind of town.”
The kids laugh in unison at something onscreen, happy and relaxed, popcorn swimming with Goldfish around their feet. Their parents settle deeper into their seats and smile at the weekend they find themselves in. “You know, we didn’t have friends who drew us into boating,” Stephanie says with more than a little DIY pride. “We became those friends. We have people come down to visit. We have all the wearables and the Sea Ray license plate holder. We pitch Sea Ray and we pitch Rock Hall. We pitch weekends on the Bay.”