More than three decades ago, 22-year-old Annapolis native Andy Teeling climbed aboard his 16-foot dory and embarked on an ambitious journey to circumnavigate the 450-mile coastline of the Delmarva Peninsula in a rowboat.
After two months of rowing under the summer sun, and with his first semester of college beckoning him back to shore, Teeling's journey was stalled in Chincoteague, Va., 150 miles short of his goal.
This week Teeling, 35 years later at age 57, finished the adventure.
He landed at the headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in his hometown of Annapolis, where a local priest taught him how to row a boat when he was a boy, and where a local carpenter showed him how to build one a few years later.
Teeling said when the trip ended at Chincoteague, he knew he wanted to one day pick up where he left off.
"I have been looking at maps of Delmarva for 35 years and looking at how much more I still had to go to finish this trip, just waiting for that time to come around when I could do it," he said.
"To finally being able to make it, it's just been fabulous. It's been so much fun," Teeling said.
He set out in 1979 in a boat he had built two years earlier, departing as a young, single man interested in carpentry and ready for his first year of college. He finished the trek as a married father of two grown boys and the proud owner of a home, a cabinet-making business — and a slightly bigger boat. He built this one, too.
In May, Teeling decided to close his shop for two weeks and row his 20-foot boat from Chincoteague up to Assateague and along the inlets and tributaries around Ocean City, Fenwick Island, Bethany and Rehoboth beaches, and Lewes, Del. He crossed the peninsula via the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, and made it just south of the Sassafras River before it was time to head home.
He brought the boat ashore, reopened the shop, and waited for the summer heat to pass so he could complete the final leg of a 35-year journey. Last Monday, he once again picked up where he left off, and on Wednesday completed the two-day, 38-mile trip from Still Pond Creek to Annapolis.
Both as a young man and an experienced seaman, Teeling took a solitary approach to the sea and the bay: He navigated using a compass and a chart, he never listened to music as he rowed, and he turned on his transistor radio only twice a day — once in the morning and once in the evening to check for any bad weather approaching. He brought along dried fruit, peanut butter, tuna and other nonperishables, but preferred to catch fish or pick mussels and clams.
Most of the time, he camped somewhere along the shoreline, but he also allowed himself to take advantage of the hospitality of strangers who occasionally invited him into their homes to sleep in a soft bed, take a hot shower and enjoy a home-cooked meal. Such generosity was common, even when he was completing the trip as a grown man.
"It doesn't matter how old you are, if you're on some kind of adventure, people like to take you in. They like to hear the story and they get to live vicariously, I think, a little bit. Maybe they remember when they were younger having adventures, and so it gives them a chance to reconnect," said Teeling, who noted that he bought his current home on the Eastern Shore in Virginia specifically because people he met there were kind to him during his first expedition.
One thing changed between the two voyages that bookend most of his adult life. The beauty of the scenery and shoreline always left Teeling speechless, but when he made the trip this spring, he was thrilled to see how things had improved over the years. Some of the trash-strewn beaches he recalled as a young man were now clean, he said, and wildlife was abundant. Teeling said he hopes people can see how effective environmental measures have been over the years.
"Look at what a few thoughtful regulations have done — 35 years is a blink in the eye of history, and yet in that short time period, I've seen eagles every day when I used to see none, I've seen osprey by the hundreds when I used to see few, and I've seen large schools of rockfish swimming right by my boat when there used to be none at all," Teeling said.
As for his next rowing adventure, Teeling has some ideas, but he hasn't decided on one yet. For now, he's content in knowing that a 35-year-goal has been crossed off his list.
"When I got into my 20s, I thought that this would be kind of like my climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or running a marathon. And rowers, from sea stories that I have read since I was a little kid, have always been my heroes," Teeling said.
This second time, he said, "I went into it so I could get great exercise, meet a lot of great people, see a lot of beautiful scenery and ... prove to myself that it could be done."