The Incidental Tourist
It occurred to me when I first read Bill Mitman’s feature article in this issue, “Tangier, Naturally,” that we maritime explorers of the Chesapeake generally don’t like to think of ourselves as tourists. Bill doesn’t exactly dwell on the subject, but it is the premise of his excellent story—going beyond the tourist routine, as he puts it, and exploring Tangier Island more intimately—using his sailboat’s “supporting fleet of small craft: two kayaks piled on either side of the cabin top and a trusty rubber raft.”

Hairsplitting vocabularist that I am (vocabularist is not a real word, by the way . . . and you see what I mean about hairsplitting), it got me thinking about the word “tourist” and its usually pejorative connotations. Clearly, sometimes, when we go ashore at places like Tangier or Annapolis or St. Michaels or Baltimore, we are tourists. We don’t think of ourselves as tourists, but that’s what we are, whether we go there by boat or car or bike or four-man bobsled. We’re there to visit the museums, eat at the best restaurants, buy the crab-shaped brass things and, before we head home, fill up with gas or Cheezits.

But it doesn’t feel that way, does it? We see ourselves as individuals, not as part of the horde. Maybe it’s just human nature—the human condition even. We’re in here, inside our own heads, or, if we’re lucky, inside our nuclear families or relationships, and everyone else is out there. They’re . . . well, they’re everyone else. It’s not in our nature (or is it in our culture?) to see ourselves as just another bobbing head in the crowd.

And for us boaters I think there’s another dimension, perhaps a more important one—the sense of being part of the picture, not merely an observer of it. We don’t just stand at the town dock admiring the scenery; we are the scenery sometimes.

I remember tying up a few years ago along the west bulkhead of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and going ashore for a bite to eat. Before I reached Pratt Street, I turned around to take in the scene—and, to my great delight, my little Ink Pot was part of it. No doubt, she was a more important part of the scene to me than to anyone else, but still, there she was, bouncing a little jig on her fenders, not fifty feet from the U.S.S. Constellation, and even closer to a visiting tall ship (from Sweden as I recall) docked farther down the bulkhead. I had no camera with me that day, but I like to think that someone must have snapped a picture while I was having lunch, and that Ink Pot is now part of Baltimore’s recorded history—if only in a shoebox in someone’s closet.

The other thing I remember from that day—my first trip to Baltimore by water—was how utterly new and different the place seemed from that perspective. All the way in that morning and all the way out again that afternoon, I stared at a familiar place through brand-new eyes. And I was a tourist all over again.

T. F. Sayles, Editor
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P.S.: And, speaking of the Aspen Institute Wye River Conference Center, mark November 11–13 on your 2005 calendar. That’s the date of the Chesapeake Bay Writers’ Retreat, of which CBM is a proud sponsor. Watch for ads in the magazine, and in the meantime go to for details.