It could simply be a trick of the imagination, but hard crabs seem to taste even better in Crisfield. Maybe it’s the town’s proximity to some of the Chesapeake Bay’s most pristine waters, or the long local tradition of harvesting the bay’s aquatic bounty. Regardless, few places celebrate crabs with the verve and creativity of Crisfield, Md., the “Crab Capital of the World.”
In late summer and early autumn, the crabs are usually plentiful and heavy, and if the town is the world’s crab capital, then September can be called “Month of the Crab.” This year’s prediction of an abundant harvest gives Somerset County ample reason to celebrate, and the festivities range from an all-you-can-eat crab feast to a fair and afternoon of races dedicated to the hard crab.
Inaugurate the month a week early on Aug. 27 with Crabplace.com’s “Crab and Cruise,” combining a Somerset-style crab feast with a cruise out into the Chesapeake. Regional and guest chefs will prepare the feast and participants can add a disc jockey and dancing for a full evening’s entertainment.
A tradition on the long Labor Day weekend, Crisfield’s 69th annual National Hard Crab Derby and Fair features contests, carnival rides, live entertainment, beauty pageants, a parade, fireworks, and crab races. The unique crab-themed festival begins Thursday evening, Sept. 1, with a carnival, runs through the weekend, and ends Sunday night, Sept. 4, with a gospel concert and fireworks.
Enjoy the Miss Crustacean Pageant, hard crab picking contests, and the National Hard Crab Derby, with nearly 400 of the bay’s feistiest crabs competing for the prized Governor’s Cup. Many events are free, although there is a $3 admission fee on Saturday and additional fees apply for the Saturday night concert and some of the other events.
Deal Island also celebrates its maritime traditions on Labor Day weekend with the 57th annual Skipjack Races and Festival, Sept. 3–5. Culminating in a race for skipjacks, the Chesapeake’s renowned working sailboats, the festivities include a parade, dance, car show, music, regional foods, the Blessing of the Fleet, and boat docking competitions.
350 years of history
Along with celebrating crabs, Somerset County also celebrates its 350th anniversary on Sept. 17. Festivities at the Somerset County Recreation and Parks facility in Westover will include music, food, family history and genealogy fun, and fireworks. The anniversary will provide an excellent opportunity to learn about the region’s history and maritime traditions.
Dock Day on the Bay, Sept. 24, celebrates all things Chesapeake, with displays of commercial and sport fishing boats, historic fishing vessels, fishing gear, and maritime-related arts and crafts. Located in the Somers Cove Marina, the festival will also include seafood cooking and fish cleaning demonstrations, children’s activities, safety-at-sea demonstrations, live fishing, local seafood restaurant sales, live music, and the Blessing of the Fleet ceremony.
The festivities also “go offshore” that weekend with the Taste of Smith Island Dinner, held on Maryland’s only island community. Boats depart Crisfield and ferry partygoers to Ewell, on Smith Island. The dinner features foods native to the island, including the famous Smith Island cake.
Municipal celebrations are not the only way that visitors can revel in Somerset’s maritime bounty. Take a close-up look at the world of a Chesapeake waterman through the Watermen’s Heritage Tours, sponsored by the Chesapeake Conservancy. Both land and water tours with knowledgeable local watermen as guides give participants an opportunity to learn about the bay’s unique culture, traditions, and human history.
But, some people learn best by doing, and for them, Somerset’s miles of tidal shoreline invite do-it-yourselfers to drop a line or go “chicken necking” to catch their own crab feast. A traditional method of catching blue crabs, using chicken necks tied to the end of a string and dangled into the blue crab’s domain, can catch dinner. The crustaceans latch onto the free meal and gently but steadily retrieving the line can fill a steamer pot.
The county’s tourism brochure lists crabbing locations and shops that can supply bait and tackle. Families can try crabbing together at one of Janes Island State Park’s crabbing derbies, held each weekend throughout the summer.
As a final crabby tribute, visitors to Somerset County can collect unique crab-themed souvenirs at local shops, including books, jewelry, dishes, apparel, and gifts. Check out visitsomerset.com for a listing of shops and events that make up the Month of the Crab.
For more information:
Somerset Co. Tourism: visitsomerset.com
National Hard Crab Derby: nationalhardcrabderby.com
Watermen’s Heritage Tours: watermenheritagetours.org
The Chesapeake Bay blue crab is the center of attention during Crab Month in Crisfield, Md.