Gallery: Your guide to the C&D Canal [6 Images] Click any image to expand.
By John Chambless
Not too many people know more about the C&D Canal than Ralph Hazel, Jr.
For five generations, his family has worked on the water, and Ralph has shared his love of the canal's history with thousands of visitors who come aboard the Miss Clare. The boat, which docks in South Chesapeake City, is a familiar sight to visitors who stroll the scenic shoreline. It's not elegant, but the 42-foot workboat is a pleasant place to spend an hour or two on a sunny afternoon as Ralph points out historic sites along the 19 miles of canal and shares his own family's history.
The Miss Clare operates on weekends from May through October, and the sign-up for rides is as unpretentious as its captain – you call the phone number and leave a message, or maybe you can catch the boat when Ralph is there.
During the week, Ralph is a college professor, leaving his weekends free to captain the boat, which is named after his wife, Clare. At 73, he's certainly old enough to retire, but the lure of the water keeps calling him back.
His great-grandfather, Jacob Truss, operated a tugboat in the mid-1800s. His grandfather, Harper Hazel, was a logger on the C&D Canal, and his father worked a tugboat from Town Point dock. The Miss Clare was a fishing boat when Ralph took over in 1979, and he used to run fishing trips in the Lewes, Del., area. Now, the leisurely trips up and down the canal suit him fine.
There are one-hour and two-hour cruises that include the Turkey Point Lighthouse, Courthouse Point and other scenic and historic spots visible from the water. Riders are encouraged to bring binoculars to spot the wildlife along the river. Along the way, Ralph can recite the canal's history from memory.
Passengers learn about its 1800s beginnings, and may be surprised to learn that the C&D is the busiest canal in the United States. It's constantly busy with freighters, cargo ships, tall ships and recreational boaters from all over the world, but the beautiful shoreline and historic villages make it look like part of a tourist attraction and not a busy workplace.
Clare runs the bookings and handles the details. The busiest day of the year is usually Canal Day in late June, when thousands of visitors flock to the area and want to see the view from the canal. But it's the placid summer journeys that become highlights of a visit to Chesapeake City, when families can share an hour on the water, traveling past quaint little towns that look much the same as they did in the 1800s.
For more information, or to schedule a cruise, call 410-885-5088.