by Lisa Batchelor Frailey

Securely berthed on a tee-head in Solomons, Maryland, you savor a mug of fresh-brewed coffee in the cockpit of your well-appointed bareboat charter yacht. You relax in the sunny warmth while you plan your day’s sail on the Chesapeake Bay. Suddenly, a blast of music breaks your reverie, and you watch in awe as a hundred race boats parade past you –  battle flags flying – headed for the Patuxent River. It’s Screwpile in Solomons!

The Screwpile Lighthouse Challenge is a regional sailboat regatta, drawing over 120 boats (and their crews and enthusiastic supporters) each year from across the country. The event features three days of round-the-buoys racing and three nights of rip-roaring parties. A point-to-point race from Annapolis to Solomons on Friday night, July 19th, brings many of the fleet contenders to town. After a Saturday of rest, relaxation and rum, this year’s Screwpile begins on Sunday, July 21 and ends on Tuesday, July 23. One-design and PHRF classes compete three races per day across courses set at the mouth of the Patuxent. Each morning features a 9 am Harbor-Start parade, and camaraderie prevails at the post-race parties hosted at the waterfront Solomons Holiday Inn.

Screwpile has been a Solomons institution since 1993, when the Southern Maryland Sailing Association (SMSA) took over the efforts of the (departed) Yachting Magazine Race Week.  The regatta is named for the screwpile-style lighthouse that once guarded the mouth of the Patuxent at Drum Point, and now stands proudly at the Calvert Marine Museum.

Whether you’re racing Screwpile, cruising the Bay or exploring by car, Solomons is a fabulous place to visit. This historic maritime community was recently named one of America’s “15 Happiest Seaside Towns” by Coastal Living Magazine, and deservedly so. Located just 50 miles south of Annapolis, Solomons is an easy reach for cruisers and bareboat charterers.

Several full-service marinas cater to visiting boaters, offering secure berths, hot showers, restaurants, swimming pools, bicycles and marine services. You’ll also find a sailing school and bareboat charter base (Sail Solomons), as well as fishing tours. Rent a kayak or SUP to explore the harbor from a new perspective. For those who prefer seclusion, snug anchorages are available in Solomons harbor and surrounding creeks. Solomons offers a number of hotels and gracious B&Bs for those not staying onboard.

Most marinas are an easy walk or bike ride from town, which boasts a wealth of activities for visitors. At the Calvert Marine Museum, visitors can explore how the prehistoric past, natural environment and maritime heritage blend to tell a unique story of the Chesapeake. Climb through the Drum Point “Screwpile” lighthouse, watch the sea otters at play, and enjoy a river cruise on a historic oyster “buy-boat”. CMM’s waterside concerts include classic favorites like Bad Company and ZZ Top.

Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center is an oasis for the art lovers. Weave your way along the wooded walking path and feast your eyes on sculpture, including many on loan from the Smithsonian Institution and National Gallery of Art. The ship-inspired Arts Building includes rotating exhibition space, so each visit is a new adventure.

Solomons is home to the University of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, where visitors can learn about the natural environment of the Chesapeake Bay.  CBL’s location at the mouth of the harbor makes it a perfect spot to watch the Screwpile Harbor-Start parade and returning racers.

Savor a meal at one of the many Solomons waterfront restaurants, featuring fresh local seafood. Stroll along the Riverwalk and enjoy the fabulous view of the Patuxent River. Shoppers will appreciate the galleries, antiques, gift shops and boutiques in the heart of town. A spa treatment is just the thing after a hard day of sailing (or shopping).

Solomons’ summer-time events include a July 4th fireworks extravaganza and boat parade, the Offshore Grand Prix powerboat races, Arts Fest, and Watermen’s Festival.  You may have come for Screwpile, but Solomons offers so much more. Discover the magic of Solomons, and you’ll return again and again.

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