Two days’ cruise from Colonial Beach—with a delightful night on the hook at Mill Creek near the Great Wicomico River on the western shore—landed us in Cape Charles, VA, a town with War of 1812 history near the southern tip of the Eastern Shore. The crossing was choppy and not very pleasant, requiring us to take a less direct course in search of protection from northeasterly winds, and we were grateful, at last, for the shelter of dockage. During our stay there, we watched the docking “show” of a number of motor and sail boats, all challenged by the high winds, one of which made unfortunate contact with others in the harbor and sustained some damage.
Cape Charles is a cute town, and it was a good place to sit out the big 5-day blow. We rode our bikes and enjoyed dinner at The Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery, where the black beans and rice accompanying the grouper were the star of the evening. Knowing we were staying a while, we took our time perusing the town, more than once having plans upended by unpredictable hours of business due to lack of help, end of the season, and broken water mains. The pancakes at Cape Charles Coffee House were deliciously memorable, and additionally so for being served with the longest fingernails we’ve seen in action. 😂 Brown Dog Ice Cream is open only on week ends these days, but it’s worth the wait. There was a jewelry store specializing in
“fish leather,” bracelets and earrings made from leathery hand-painted fish skin, and a photographer’s studio filled with crisp, artistic, local shots all taken from a small plane. If we were not at the end of our cruising, I might have provisioned for docktails at the gourmet market. On a particularly blustery and rainy day, we walked out to the end of the fishing pier and watched the action, seeing Ribbon Fish being hauled in, one after the other. These beautiful long flat silvery fish with wavy fins like curling ribbon have teeth, mind you! Wikipedia says that although Americans don’t know what to do with Ribbon Fish is an excellent eating fish which the Japanese prize; hence, our observation that the fishingpeople were Asian.
Once high winds abated, we cruised north to Onancock, a tiny town which undoubtedly ooozes charm during high season. However, it not being high season, welcome mats were all but rolled up. We enjoyed docktails and dinner with lovely folks from Victoria, BC, Judy and Greg Waller on Rumabout, who we had met in Cape Charles.
Cutting back west 16 miles is the soft shell crab capital of the world, Tangier Island, population 450 with a town the altitude of 3 feet and an area of one square mile. Two-thirds of its land mass has been lost since 1850 due to sea level rise and erosion and continuing at an accelerating rate. According to an article in New Yorker, this Island is one storm away from being wiped out; and yet, the mayor is no believer in climate change. One steps back 75 years in time on Tangier, and James Michener fans go back even further in their imaginations, recognizing Tangier as an important setting in his novel, Chesapeake. The channel through which boats approach Tangier Island is lined on both sides by fishing “bungalows” —shanties, really—the man caves of the watermen who make their living trapping blue crab, sorting them to market those with intact hard shells from ones that have molted their outgrown shells, and throwing back those that have begun to grow a new one. We walked the single road into town and found residents congregated and chatting from their golf carts, awaiting the tourists disembarking the final ferry of the season, to escort them around the loop for a small fee and a big tip. Two churches, a grocery which is restocked every Thursday, a post office bearing evidence of Amazon shipments, a K-12 school with 50 students and a football team(?!), a part-time medical clinic for which a doctor flies in once a month, a quaint museum, a T-shirt shop, and a few restaurants—Lorraine’s being the only one still open this late in the season. The main transport on the island is golf cart or scooter, but some residents keep a car on the mainland. There is no cellphone service. We had heard about the dialect spoken by the locals, a sort of “Elizabethan English meets Waterman,” and as we were preparing to push off in the morning, we could hear a unique cadence among watermen across the water as they prepared for the day. The museum listed a lot of fun local vernacular: “Nippity cut” means a close call and “old whackems” are long-time buddies. We couldn’t resist purchasing the 3-page list of unique phrases of the dialect for coffee table reading. We chatted with 90-year-old Milton Parks, owner of Parks Marina, who was born on the island and raised here. “There are only three names on the island—Crocker, Pruitt and Parks,” he told us. (A little simplified—the internet say there are 6 family names.) They have no police—everyone knows everyone, and if you misbehave, your mom’ll hear about it! Dinner at Lorraine’s, with its oil cloth table cloths and a white board listing the desserts so that you’d be sure to save room, was delicious. We splurged on crab dip and shared a crab cake dinner, at “market price,” currently $31/pound, according to our server. We had read at the museum that government regulation has shortened the crabbing season by 5 months due to over fishing. But watermen dispute this and attribute the poor return this season to pollutants in the water. We suspect the crab shortage in the crab capital of the world to be a more nuanced issue—perhaps both, and some others reasons, as well.
The dock master at Onancock told Steve, “If you don’t go to Tangier once, shame on you. If you go more than once, shame on you, too.” That’s just about right.
Monday was another beautiful day for cruising, but we departed D.C. with a little sadness. We agree that three weeks would have been perfect, allowing us to see more sights, while not hitting it quite so hard. We hope to come back when the capitol building is open to visitors again, to see the National Museum of the African American, which had no openings for the whole month of October, to get to Georgetown…
Our destination was Colonial Beach, midway down the Potomac, where the options were slim for side-by-side accommodations appropriate for a 35-foot RV and a 40-foot trawler—sort of a meeting of a fish and a squirrel—in order to meet up with Wishart and Mary Bell. As luck would have it, the accommodations were not ideal for either of us, and our expectation of being able to dinghy back and forth two minutes across the little bay was tricky, there being no good place to tie up on their side. That did not deter us—Wishart and his truck, Gustav, are just about unstoppable! 😉 They hosted for dinner, we made s’mores camper-style, and enjoyed a good visit around the fire.
Tuesday we drove across the Potomac to St. Mary’s City, a colonial town that was Maryland’s first European settlement and capital. It is now a state-run historic area, which includes reconstruction of the original colonial settlement and a living history and museum complex. Settled by the Roman Catholic Calvert family (of the Lord Baltimore ilk) for religious freedom, they lived amicably enough with a majority of Protestants in this small town. As we entered the historic area we met Thomas, a young man on staff in some capacity, who found in us an opportunity to enthusiastically regale us with facts and dates, theories and conjectures, causing us to feel like, as Wishart said, we were “drinking-water-from-a-fire-hose.” Apologies to Thomas: a scholar without an appropriately appreciate audience… (Steve adds that we were appreciative for a while.) Still an active archeological site and training ground for archeologists, the reconstructed living history area includes a church, a barn with a few original timbers, an inn, a tavern, a store, and a ship. Tobacco was not only the cash crop; it was also the currency: a night’s stay at the local inn would have cost 7 pounds of tobacco. Of course, only the brawn of enslaved workers made this labor-intense crop possible, although at this early point in American history, some of the enslaved were indentured workers, who eventually regained their freedom. We went aboard the re-created MarylandDove, a 76-foot cargo ship, crewed by 9 men with 40 tons of stores and supplies lade up below. The docent helped us visualize the hard-knock life of crew aboard a 17th-c. ship. Before leaving the area, we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant where we were the only gringos and the Margaritas were great. Back on Red Pearl we resurrected our memory of Pinochle, having enjoyed it together on our Glacier vacation—albeit with some rules askew!
Our final day with the Bells included nuts and bolts of life on the move—provisioning, food preparation, and a black water pump out. Having had lunch on the boat, we had dinner at their place again, campfire-grilled steak and boat-baked apple crisp, and a second evening of Pinochle. We look forward to trying to rendezvous again in the spring and are always grateful for time with dear friends—at home, but especially on these memory-making, away-from-home adventures.
Saturday morning, Scott, Holly and little Wes drove into D.C. for the week end. We’ve had friends aboard a few times, but this was the first family visit, and we were a bit nervous about keeping our 18-month-old grandson safe and happy. We ordered a big fajita box for lunch from the taco shop and enjoyed our picnic on the fly-bridge. Then we headed to the National Children’s Museum for a delightful afternoon, watching our grandson explore a new setting. He loved the pillow fight with his parents, and as he settled in, he found slides, and lots of places to try out his construction skills. Returning to the boat, Steve and I quickly grilled and prepared dinner, but Wes’s late nap in the stroller after his very busy afternoon, plus his novel environs, understandably, made bedtime a challenge. Sunday morning after baked oatmeal, we took a short cruise down the Potomac. Wes loved the big yellow “taxi boats” and the steady procession of planes taking off at Reagan National Airport, but remained wary of the noisy and slightly threatening helicopters. Riding at the bow with his parents and rearranging the ropes was fun!
We returned to the dock to find a small boat in our slip. After hanging out for 20 minutes and not knowing how much longer it would be before the owner returned, we decided to dock temporarily on the neighboring pier. I called to two guys out working and asked for their assistance with our lines. They readily came to help, but as we came nearer, I realized that one of them was Senator Joe Manchin. As I handed him our lines I said to him, “ I can’t believe I asked a US senator to catch our lines!” He kindly responded, “You’re fine.” After we were secure, Steve came down from the flybridge and joked, “You know, I usually give the guys who catch our lines 5 bucks!” The senator laughed as he turned to walk away and said, “No problem— just pay your taxes.” Later Steve saw him again around the yacht club, and the senator greeted him and slapped him on the shoulder. As a side note, I will add that we had come to understand that Mr. Manchin lives on MV Almost Heaven at Capital Yacht Club when he is in D.C. Thursday evening a group of protesters in kayaks and small boats chanted and heckled until he came out and talked to them. We had also seen him and exchanged greetings another time on the ramp to the club entrance. Whatever your politics, however big the infrastructure package should be, I would venture an opinion that Joe Manchin is a nice guy.
Back to Sunday—Mr. Manchin’s friend knew the owner of the boat in our slip and went to find him. It wasn’t long until the boat owner returned and was appropriately contrite, and we were able to return to our spot. After lunch and Wes’s nap, Scott and Holly headed back to Frederick, just an hour’s drive. Suddenly feeling exhausted, we caught dinner at the nearby pub before retiring unusually early. Red Pearl is extremely cozy for five people, but how we loved having family aboard!
Lincoln would recognize much about the capital to which he was returning a dozen years after his single term in Congress. Washington City, home to 61,000 inhabitants in February 1861, was a raw, unsanitary place. Southern sympathies predominated, and separate legal codes governed people of different races.
From the White House the new president could look across the malarial Potomac Flats to the marble stump of the Washington Monument, abaondoned in 1854 for lack of funds. Worse, he could smell the rotting City Canal, an open sewer running along the line of today’s Constitution Avenue, into which local residents tossed dead animals. ~ posted in Ford’s Theater Museum
Still throwing off the discouragement of the prior weeks, we reveled in the remaining 90-miles up the iconic Potomac to Washington D.C. We felt on top of the world, with sun on our faces, cool breezes, and the purr of the engines. The Potomac is wide and scenic, with open green spaces and woods on both sides, an occasional rocky cliff, a bit of fine real estate—and a power plant—but most of it seemingly protected and undeveloped. We had little traffic for most of the trip—also a surprise for a Saturday. We watched for Mt. Vernon, having toured it about 5 years ago, and enjoyed seeing it from the water, remembering that the substantial number of guests who stopped, both by carriage and by boat, in need of lodging strained the Washingtons’ finances. George culled his woods to cover costs, while Martha perfected her ham-smoking skill. And, of course, enslaved people did the manual labor. As we neared the city, floating logs became a hazard, and traffic ultimately did became zoo-y. Our first siting of the Washington Monument and then the Capitol Building stirred unanticipated emotion.
Capitol Yacht Club (est. 1892) was easy to find. At the assigned T-dock on the outside, we lacked the protection that a slip offers from turbulence but gained a great view of the activity on the water and of the park across the way. It was Saturday evening, and kayaks and paddle boards on the water and cyclists biking around the golf course and park, gave way after dark to boating partiers. The ear-splitting helicopter, patrolling the route between the Pentagon and other military landmarks south was something we would adjust to during the week. We walked the waterfront on the wharf, visiting the huge fish market, scoping out eateries, and watching kids toast marshmallows city-style by the S’more Truck.
Sunday: After a much-needed boat wash down, we hopped on our bikes and headed to the city’s top attraction, the National Air and Space Museum. Many venerable aircraft hang in the entry, among them Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis, and theprivately-funded Spaceship One. We enjoyed seeing several lunar modules and unmanned space probes, and marveled at the tiny Gemini capsule which transported two fully-suited astronauts.Some chunks of the Wright exhibit were removed during expansion and renovation, but we immersed ourselves in that turn-of-the-century snapshot in history, gaining even more admiration for these two brothers from a tight-knit, mid-western family, who displayed very different personalities and gifts. After a couple of disappointing runs, these men with no college degrees realized that the formulas for lift, which had been devised and utilized by scientists before them, were incorrect; and they set about devising their own tests, one being their famous wind tunnel, utilizing their their bicycle craft to correct calculations which are still used today. Seeing their glider, reading again about the progress of their 1904 and 1905 engine-powered flights at Kitty Hawk, and then their first practical flight back home in a cow field near Dayton, Ohio in which they circled the field for 39 minutes a total of 24 1/2 miles, was inspiring. Despite the lure of the jingles from rows and rows of food trucks on the mall at museum close, we persisted to our dinner at Rasika, where we savored amazing Indian fare and experienced the best service we can remember, well worth the wait!
Monday: The first order of the day was our Pfizer booster and annual flu shots, followed by lunch at the nearby taco stand on the wharf. We tooled around the Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden on our way to the National Postal Museum, where we viewed famous stamps and learned some of the history of mail delivery. It was easier, of course, to deliver mail in cities; but the postal service was hesitant to offer expensive Rural Free Delivery, even though the majority of Americans lived in rural areas. A pilot program proved how popular rural delivery in fact was, and folks happily walked to their post office or hitched up the wagon to go to town to collect their mail. What a great mail system we have, despite—you know—kinks in the system, puzzling current leadership, and all. Lack of planning for dinner will just about guarantee disappointment, and our late dinner at The Grill on the Wharf was windy, pricey and just ok.
Tuesday: The planners of our capital city have tucked small green spaces amidst the large ones, and there are hundreds of public spots for people to sit or stroll and enjoy nature. We lingered at the lovely gardens by the Smithsonian castle, the Enid Haupt Gardens, en route to the National Museum of American History. We were most interested in seeing patent models and were disappointed to discover that the entire wing which houses them is closed for renovation. But we discovered plenty of other interesting exhibits, like the one about voting rights and the evolution of thought and controversies over who should have the right to vote, which felt especially timely. We were struck again by how rancorous American discourse seems always to have been. We happened upon the quartet of fine stringed instruments—a Strad and three Nicolo Amatis—the iconic collection revered by string players world-wide. And we looked at the collection of First Ladies’ gowns and White House china. After leaving the museum, we cycled around the Mall and the Washington Monument, where now 700,000 small white flags across acres and acres flutter in the breeze, many with names and intimate sentiments written on them, marking the tragic number of lives lost in the pandemic. We walked through the solemn and understated Vietnam Memorial and cycled by the much larger and grander memorial to the Korean War. Back at the boat, I cooked and we ate dinner aboard.
Wednesday: We hit two museums, the National Museum of Natural History and the National Portrait Museum. We enjoyed dipping a little deeper into fossils, dinosaurs, and the five previous extinctions on earth. We were sobered by the assumption that we are in the middle of another and noted the irony that these exhibits were funded by David Koch (d. 2019), oil engineer and entrepreneur, and supporter of the far-right political movement. A quick sail through the beautifully-designed exhibit of taxidermied mammals was a nice exit, as we enjoyed watching children encountering the displays with wonder. The National Portrait Museum is a profound way to encounter American history. I appreciated the museum’s apology that, admittedly, most historic portraiture is of men, because of our patriarchal underpinnings. I lingered over the “cartes de viste,” a collection of civil war era miniature photos of influential women. Among them were Clara Louise Kellogg an American-trained soprano, who made her mark on the New York City stage singing the great European operas; and Venezuelan child prodigy Teresa Careño who debuted at the piano in New York at the age of 8, entertained President Lincoln at the White House playing his favorite song, “Listen to the Mockingbird,” and went on to a successful career as an adult artist. There are so many stories of unassuming greatness and leadership represented in that gallery, in addition to the prominent personalities and representations of famous moments. Amanda Gorman, the poet of Biden’s inauguration, received her due last January, but I had not heard of the inaugural painting—it is a lovely landscape. And then there is the hall of presidential portraits, of course. Among so many other interesting works, I was pleased to be able to see up close the exquisite and symbolic detail in the Hope collage, which served as Obama’s most recognized campaign poster in 2008. For dinner we returned to Rasika—we love repeats of a sure good thing and we were not disappointed!
Thursday: Having purchased tour tickets for Ford’s Theater, we were a little concerned it would be some over-sensationalized, two-bit circus act, but happily discovered this not to be the case. Still a working theater, the basement museum is open on a limited basis, a treasure trove of information on Lincoln, his election, the evolution of his thoughts on slavery, his life as president, his family, and of course, his assassination, all held in balance. I hadn’t known that Will was the second son of the Lincolns to have died, the most like his father…and the favorite. Youngest son Tad, had a cleft palate—and perhaps some learning deficiencies—and was curious and mischievous. We can attribute the silly practice of the presidential pardon of a turkey at Thanksgiving to Tad Lincoln and his father:
Late in 1863 a live turkey was sent to the White House for the Lincoln family to feast on during the holidays. Tad Lincoln, age 10, quickly befriended the bird. Tad taught the turkey to follow him as he walked around the White House grounds. The turkey was named Jack, and Tad fed him as a pet. When the time neared to prepare the turkey for the Christmas meal, Tad burst into one of his father’s Cabinet meetings. He was crying loudly. Tad told his dad that Jack was about to be killed, and that he had obtained a temporary delay from the “executioner” so he could put Jack’s case before the president. Tad said, “Jack must not be killed; it is wicked.” President Lincoln replied, “Jack was sent here to be killed and eaten…I can’t help it.” Tad, still sobbing, said, “He’s a good turkey, and I don’t want him killed.” Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States of America, paused in the midst of the Cabinet meeting. He took out a card, and on it he wrote an order of reprieve. Jack’s life was to be spared, and Tad raced out of the Cabinet meeting to show the presidential order to the “executioner.”
It was Frederick Douglas who convinced Lincoln to allow African Americans to serve Northern military interests, and Douglas turned out to be a brilliant recruiter. Lincoln was of a mind that the states must be united by the same laws regarding slavery, and as events unfolded, it became clear that sending all dark-skinned people “back” to Liberia, as was his previous thought, was not a solution. One gets a sense for the agony of this moment, how threatening a loss to those who enslaved, whose lifestyle and livelihood were built on this cheap labor force, despite the evil ethical dilemmas it posed. John Wilkes Booth was a handsome and gifted actor, often on stage at Ford’s Theater which the Lincolns frequented; and Booth, having heard enough of Lincoln’s liberal talk, decided to take matters into his own hands. There had been previous attempts on Lincoln’s life, and he received death threats and had prescient dreams, seemingly aware of his fate. The whole of it is still a stunning story. Steve and I were the last in our group to straggle out of the theater and found comfort food nearby at Hard Rock Cafe. In the afternoon we reported for our timed entry to the Library of Congress. What a magnificent, classical edifice—tribute to knowledge, wisdom, philosophy, and art! I felt envious of the folks studying as we gazed down into the circular reading room, the individually lighted carrels in that space surrounded by the stacks, the largest collection of books in the world. We scoped out Jefferson’s library of 6000 books, 2000 of which have survived two fires, the remainder replaced by collectors and donors. The afternoon was simply awe-filled. And THEN! After a quick dinner, we cycled to Kennedy Center for the opening concert—amidst a hall full of concert-goers at an in-person concert for the first time in nearly two years—of the National Symphony Orchestra featuring Brahms’ Violin Concerto played by Hilary Hahn and the 3rd Symphony of African American composer and Chicagoan, Florence Price. Even after performing the Brahms behemoth, Hahn played an encore, the Adagio from the Bach Partita in d minor. Ah, food for gods! We stopped by the Lincoln Memorial on our way home—I just hankered to see it lit up at night. What a perfect day!
Friday: We prepared for the first of our family to visit us aboard Red Pearl! After all of our schedule blow-ups and delays, it felt rather unbelievable that plans were finally working out! The guest cabin, having become our storage room, was cleared of the rows of organized storage baskets, and I reveled in even simple food preparation. With everything ready, we caught a bite of lunch at the local taco stand and biked to the National Museum of the American Indian. The architecture of this building is stunning, with undulating stone walls reminiscent of cliffs, canyons and natural rock formations. A water feature along the entire mall side suggests natural pools and streams, inviting guests to sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze as it cools over the water. The landscape along the south side of the museum utilizes large swaths of native plants and sculptures made from nature’s elements. Inside, the exhibits struggle to compete with the “wow” of the exterior. We settled into the wing which focused on the many ways in which the American Indian has influenced US commerce and its trademarks, displaying myriads of “Indian” signage over decades. We watched a video about the misleading memorialization of Thanksgiving and a suggestion for quasi-positive re-interpretation. We learned of a general shift of the image of the American Indian after the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Lakotas subsequently rising in stature as a “respectable foe,” and Custer satirically being portrayed as a weakling. Our hearts sank once more over the story of the Trail of Tears—another divisive issue in our history—the way governmental agencies drove the native people off their rich, beloved hunting grounds, away from the resources on which they depended, separating alliances, and striking down and leaving behind those who could not or would not travel. To clear our heads after departing the museum, we looped around the nearby National Botanical Garden. We never tire of seeing plants which we know and love in fresh combinations and of admiring specimens new to us. A dinner of our leftovers made room in the fridge for freshly prepared company food—and having cycled around the city center the entire week and never once seeing a grocery store, I felt lucky that we had provisioned well two weeks earlier!
What a full and delightful week this has been! Perfect weather and great bike-ability have allowed us to enjoy an amazing view of this beautiful city. The American Dream and environmental justice are still out of reach for many, but Washington DC has captured some mighty lofty, albeit imperfect, dreams thus far. Feeling grateful, feeling challenged.
Question: How many marine mechanics does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: At $102 per hour and 4.58 hours, who cares how many?!
That is one DEAR anchor light! The housing was corroded and the screws had to be drilled out. It is uncanny how complicated everything seems to be. (Full disclosure: several light bulbs were replaced, the others being routine.)
We have left Deltaville just today, 3 weeks later than we had hoped. We tried to make lemonade from lemons, meeting some of the friendliest people you would ever hope to meet at the Deltaville Marine Museum, where the art of wooden boat building is kept alive. We biked through the beautiful little wooded sculpture garden behind the museum. Drowning our frustration twice more over memorable dinners at The Office Bistro, we were grateful for use of the courtesy car. And we eked out enough of a wireless signal to stream “The Voice”in order to watch Girl Named Tom (the sibling band comprised of our Liechty nephews and niece) compete. We have only positive regard for the wonderful crew at Zimmerman Marine. Nothing they did was “simple.” They serviced the engines and replaced pumps and hoses and clamps and connectors. They fixed 4 or 5 leaks of a variety of fluids and of various levels of concern and repaired gel coat. And then, of course, they reinvented the mechanism which operates the davits, the arms that lift and lower our dinghy to and from the water—the “davit motors.” (As great as the guys were, as creative the fix, the dinghy rides lower and it’s not quite right yet.) The mechanics were professional in every way, never alluding to the fact that our complications were wreaking havoc on their schedules for other boats awaiting work.
Washington DC is our next port of call. Our passage out of the Rappahannock River, ducking out on the big water of the Chesapeake Bay, and tucking back in at the Potomac River was rough, with a headwind from the the north at 18 mph and an opposing current. We knew we would have 2-3 foot swells and white caps for a few hours—and were we not quite so stir crazy, we would have waited one more day. Even with delaying departure until noon, it was the sort of passage in which you dared not take a drink of anything unless you were willing to wear it the rest of the day. We crabbed one way and then the other to avoid meeting the waves head on, until the Potomac offered protection from that fierce north wind.
The daylight is markedly shorter with the arrival of autumn, pressing us to stop for the night earlier than we would otherwise have chosen, still 90 miles from D.C. We dropped anchor tonight at sunset in beautiful little Herring Creek. I stop to gaze up at the sparkling lens of our anchor light, admiring the bright, cheerful bulb, telling other boaters that we are here. I shake my head at the incredulity of what I thought before was a “simple” necessity.
A month ago now, we made a very rough passage from Yorktown to Deltaville, with waves slapping and bow pitching. Steve finessed the angle of bow to wave, while I wedged myself into my seat on three sides. A couple of times I asked, “Could that break something?” Destination: Zimmerman Marine, a well-respected boat yard in Deltaville, VA. On the never-ending list of repairs, we had prioritized the to-do list for August, while we returned to our non-boating life. We thought it prudent to escape the infamous August heat on the Chesapeake and had made plans to spend a week with our family, such gatherings having been suspended during the height of COVID-19.
And so, having spent a lovely week with our kids around the Finger Lakes of New York State, enjoying time in Goshen, and helping out for a week with our grandson in Maryland, we returned to Deltaville. Due to the constant of work delays, we actually drove home from Maryland for a few days before returning to Virginia, timing our arrival per the shipping of the davit motors from Tampa. But wouldn’t you know—as we neared Deltaville in our rental car, we learned that the motors had not been rebuilt with the care we had expected. They didn’t work! What meets the eye and what has been explained by the head mechanic at Zimmerman do not correlate at all with the work that the owner of the davit company and rebuilder claims he did on the crazy things. The ensuing conversation regarding the fix included terms that make my eyes glaze over, like “bearings,” “drive shaft,” and “uninsulated wiring,” while other terms like “jury rig” and “new motors” and “overnight shipping” I understand all too well.
Steve and I agreed to the new motors and then considered plans of action C, D, E and F. Plan C was crossed out due to high winds and chop on the Bay. We talked again about the pleasure-to-aggravation ratio, the community we are missing, how this dream has morphed to encompass a bigger chunk of life than we planned—and how more life than we could have known has been folded into this dream! It feels unwise to make any decision while in the middle of the “aggravation” side of the equation.
And so on a gorgeous fall Saturday morning, we are cruising to Urbanna, a little town up the Rappahannock River, which we had no intention of visiting two days ago. We had a lovely dinner in Irvington at Office Bistro last evening via the Deltaville courtesy car. We have seen the new davit motors and will return to Deltaville for their creative installation on Monday. Not aggravated today.
Our morning cruise took us past the Naval base again and then to Hampton, just across the mouth of the James River. We anchored, with plans to visit a history museum and the Virginia Air and Space Science Center—of “Hidden Figures” fame. The stop, however, didn’t go as planned, because I was still hung over from pain meds taken the evening before due to sharp pain in my new hip, and by the time I took a much-needed nap a deluge arrived, seemingly out of nowhere. Once weather sufficiently cleared and we dinghied across the inlet to town, it was nearly closing time. Our walk took us past the bronze plaque honoring hometown daughter Katherine Johnson, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor for her calculations of orbital mechanics at NASA which ensured many successful space flights. John Glenn specifically requested that she check the orbital equations that controlled the trajectory of the Friendship 7: “Get the girl. If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.” Dr. Johnson still resides in Hampton. We also admired the 1920-vintage Carousel, one of just 70 antique merry-go-rounds remaining. This gem has always been protected indoors and was recently restored masterfully. With no children clamoring to ride, I wondered what music it played as we walked away— but then guessed that the sound might be better in the memories of my own childhood. We enjoyed talking with the shop keeper of a zero-waste store, offering bars for shampoo, shaving, and laundry and bulk dispensers for filling one’s own bottles. The shop keeper pointed across the street to a large construction project—Hampton has plans for re-inventing itself, but they have a ways to go. None of the restaurants called out to us, so we ate a late dinner aboard.
After our Hampton fizzle, we got down to brass tacks in Yorktown, one of three towns known as the Historic Triangle, along with Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg. You may recall from American history that the Battle of Yorktown was the last battle of the Revolutionary War, after which Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington. Home of the splendid American Revolutionary Museum at Yorktown, we stayed until we could absorb no more from the array of films, live outdoor demonstrations, displays and exposés. That evening a crowd gathered on the green by the marina with babies and picnics in tow for a concert by Soul Sensation. We enjoyed the strains from the boat as we participated in a family Zoom call.
All public transit from Yorktown to the other sites having been discontinued for several years now—even pre-Covid—and discovering that there were no Uber cars available the next day, we finally located a Mercedes cab line to get to Jamestown Settlement…for a price! Jamestown Settlement, too, is an excellent exhibit in a beautiful venue. We learned that this colony was settled, not by the crown of England, but as a business enterprise of the Virginia Company. We knew a bit of the storied hardships there, but learned more about the bitter rivalry with the Powhatan Natives, and the helplessness of these adventurous souls in a novel setting which required the skills of hunting, trapping, fishing, and many other tasks for which the promise that the colony be fully provisioned from England left them unprepared.
Photos of signage snippets that hit us between the eyes:
Our visit to Williamsburg was less compelling, as the organization is still struggling back to its feet after the pandemic. We found small crowds, but also few docents, few tradespeople, and just one eatery—a bit underwhelming. Still, we are happy to have seen this renowned destination and to be reminded of the importance of Virginia’s legislative path in setting the course for our young nation. We saw a good theater production on stage at the brand new art museum and took a quick spin through the impressive galleries there. Finally as we visited the Courthouse at the end of our day, we were regaled by a fabulous, energetic docent who took us back to the historic beginnings of English-style courtrooms, in which the role of judges was to find justice and whose jury of “peers” included a few who truly knew and could vouch for the defendant. After the tour, Steve and I hung around for further conversation. I asked our docent when American courts stopped seeking justice, and winning became the goal. He referred back to the original judges whose unpaid responsibilities included serving time in court; “Thomas Jefferson would have sat at this table,” he had pointed. In answer to my question, he referred back to that and continued: once lawyers started receiving compensation for their service and defense in court, the game changed. Other take-aways from the three sites were that 1) from the very beginning, what is now the “United” States has always been divided by strong opinions and bitter dissension, between Native Americans and settlers, between patriots and loyalists, between slave holders and abolitionists…between students of science and conjurers of conspiracy; and 2) the founders of this nation were deeply conflicted about the ethics surrounding slavery and purposely left its cornerstone documents ambiguous, leaving these critical questions to be answered in another time.
Our day in Williamsburg ended with a spot-on dinner at Golden Ox, a farm to table restaurant. Its very casual vibe was ramped up by, not only excellent food preparations, but also the manager with a funny, waxed mustache who hovered and refolded our napkins to his specification every time one of us left the table—even when we folded it ourselves. 😂
We had left Red Pearl this Williamsburg morning rocking and rolling on big, wave-action from the northeast, the only direction in which this marina was unprotected. The rolling had only increased during the day and 1-2 foot rollers persisted through the night. We have never experienced such extreme and unrelenting rolling. Sunday morning I drank coffee (and spilled coffee) and blogged while Steve dinked with the lines and fenders and chatted with other boaters. The commercial tri-masted sailing vessel across the dock canceled its morning sail, and waves crashed over the dock at its stern. Our plan to return to the Yorktown museum for the afternoon was side-lined by a delightful invitation aboard a lovely, neighboring Grand Banks trawler. During the 3 1/2 hours in which we found invigorating connection, from boats to politics, while sipping wine, the wind finally shifted enough for the seas to lay down. Ah, we missed returning to the museum, but we learned much from Mary and Gene who own a boatyard in the American Virgin Islands, and we gained a friendship, as well.
THIS is the looping life: learn some, connect some, shrink our differences.
Leaving the Dismal Swamp was akin to exiting a movie theater on a hot summer afternoon: the contrasts were a bit of a jolt. Emerging from the quietude and closeness of the swamp at which uber-slow speeds of 4-5 mph might have a chance to minimize damage should (er, when) we hit something, we tried to give the engines their carbon-burning, high-rpm run. Reassured that we had no new vibrations after the 4 additional “clunks” the second day in the swamp, the props seem okay. But our ability to give those engines a good work out was limited, with congested areas, bridges, and river tows requiring the return to slow speeds and smaller wakes. Impressive container ships, with hundreds of semi trailers neatly stacked in rows and vertical columns were dwarfed by their surroundings. I counted twice: thirty crane arms on our port side were ready or working in, what we learned later, the Naval ship yard.
Norfolk, Virginia is where the Intracoastal Waterway begins—Mile marker 0. It continues south around Florida and north again on the Gulf side, across the panhandle and over to Brownsville, Texas, some 3000 miles. We celebrated the realization of our dream to reach the Chesapeake, the dream having stalled time and again for three years. And located exactly at Mile marker 0 was Waterside Marina, perfectly situated for our itinerary.
Norfolk being the largest naval base in the world, we hopped aboard a boat tour on the Elizabeth River. How does one describe the WOW of might, coupled with a sadness that the ingenuity of the human spirit expends so much of its creativity and monetary investment on machines and organizations of destruction? We sailed by at least 16 piers of destroyers of one description or another, with building costs ranging from $1 to $12.8b. As huge a force as was there in Norfolk, we tried to fathom that this still was just a sliver of the US show of force around the world.
In case you don’t know us well, a Hollenberg celebrates through his/her palate, and so we dressed for dinner in the city and walked up Granby Street to celebrate the attainment of our Chesapeake Bay goal. It began to rain as we readied to cross the street to our restaurant, when an (even) older man stopped us and boldly suggested we not go there. “Stay here,” he pointed. “The food is superb. Or go down to…” He turned and went into Leone’s, to which he had just pointed, and we stood wondering what bone he had to pick with the folks across the street or whether he was an investor in the restaurant where he entered. Finally ducking for cover from the rain, we took him at his word. We’ll never know whether we would have had a disappointing dinner across the street; but Leone’s was a treat, the flounder prepared with amore italiano, the chicken Marsala delicate and light, and the tiramisu everything a “pick me up” should have.
Intentionally contrasting ways in which the creative human spirit can be channeled, we visited the Chrysler Art Museum, where beauty—yes, often to excess, as well—takes center stage. Its 50 galleries create an attractive space for all ages and is home to the only glass studio of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region. Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.’s contribution of his 10,000-piece glass collection in 1971 has leant focus and stability to this lovely Norfolk gem. The glass galleries offer a unique prism through which to view history, from prehistoric cultures and on through the ages. Early blown glass, etching utilizing numerous techniques, cut and lead glass, the chemistry of colored glass, the advent of pressed glass, and so on. The contrasts of prestige and utility, the continual innovation of artists to stay ahead of mechanization, were fascinating! From glass, we visited the special exhibit of Alma W. Thomas (1891-1978), an African American artist, educator, and activist. Her life story inspired us—her unrelenting urge to create beauty, to encourage creativity in youth and to communicate. We fell in love with her acute sense of symmetry and color play, and we include photos of a few of our favorites—photo-taking and posting, encouraged by the museum.
I must also mention here our adventurous transport to the museum via Lime, the rental E-scooters that are all over Norfolk. With the high heat index, we thought a scooter might just be the ticket. Multiple lines of scooters, about 20 each, stood along Waterside Drive, and while scanning the QR code on the handlebars I accidentally knocked the scooter over. The domino effect proceeded to fell the entire line. Drivers passing on this major thoroughfare, must have had a chuckle at the gray-haired couple setting up the tangle of scooters. And then we had to figure out how to make the darn things go…! A few yards up the path both scooters stopped in their tracks. Was our quarter’s-worth already spent?! Ah!..my phone informed me that we had left the allowed scooter zone, and once we walked up to the next corner, we were off again. It was delightful to zip around on a scooter like kids. Our fun was diminished only slightly by the $18 sticker shock after parking them at the museum
There’s so much more to do in Norfolk, but we must continue north. We proceed, having come to the end of the magenta navigation line that we have followed all along the Intra Coastal Waterway. From here we create our own magenta line.
The “Great Dismal Swamp” a repulsed Colonel William Byrd called it, as his expedition party struggled through the dense undergrowth of forests of the seemingly-endless wetland in 1728. Conceived by Byrd as a connector between the Nansemond and Elizabeth Rivers to the Albemarle Sound in order to promote commerce, another 60 years passed before the canal became reality. Both George Washington and Patrick Henry were in favor of this investment in their young nation. The project ran slow and over-budget, as it was dug by hand utilizing enslaved workers hired from nearby landowners. Even though digging was initiated from both ends, complaints regarding the delays arose, and a road was constructed to connect the two ends as digging continued. Twelve years in the making, the resulting canal was only 6 feet deep, and use was limited to flat boats and log rafts manually poled or towed through. Deep disappointment in the design prevailed, and the canal eventually fell into disrepair. An unintentional consequence of the lengthy project was the extensive knowledge that workers gained of the swamp, and it became a haven for runaways. Landowners were loathe to chase a runaway into the swamp, and so colonies of “maroons” grew and developed their own commerce through barter and trade. While life in the swamp was not easy, at least it was autonomous. Today the Dismal Swamp Canal is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2004 it was added to the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. Its 111,000 protected acres are home to a rich diversity of wildlife, with its 350 black bears being the largest population on the Atlantic coast.
Our departure from the anchorage at Goat Island, was carefully timed. Threading through the narrow channel of the Dismal Swamp Canal, we were pleased to find more water depth than we expected— a generous 7 feet! Untamed, dense woods to the west, a 50-foot strip of trees and then a highway to our east, the two sides of the canal were incongruous. Towering pines presided, as cedars gave way to dense thickets of kudzu, slim sycamores and elegant mimosas with their frilly compound leaves and pink puffs abloom. Black, glassy water reflected the serenity in duplicate. Despite our careful tending to the skinny water, the props found connection with something significant. “KER-THONK!” We waited for the shimmy that results from unbalanced props, but as the ride seemed unaffected, we slowly relaxed. Locking was a small challenge in comparison, but with there being only 4 openings per day, and understanding that there is not much room to maneuver at the lock entrance, we watched the clock and our crawling 5mph speed carefully. Every locking system is different, but lock masters are often affable and helpful, and we appreciated his assistance with a boat hook, tying up with our own bow and stern lines. We were lifted 8 feet at South Mills Lock and lowered again at the other end at Deep Creek Lock the following day.
We have so looked forward to exploring this historic landmark that we dedicated two days in order to take in the Visitors Center at the Dismal Swamp State Park and enjoy a bike ride. We studied our materials regarding where to tie up and what to expect, and of course, since we are a couple of months behind other Loopers, we had the place to ourselves. It was Sunday, and the Welcome Center was not open until 1:00, so we unloaded our bikes and took off. We were puzzled by the barricade to the bike trail, but finally just rode around it and enjoyed the short ride, meeting a lot of other folks who had the same inclination. Still, we did not fully understand until we returned to the Welcome Center that the state park had closed for repairs in June. The Visitors Center, run by the state park, which we eagerly anticipated was therefore closed. (“Yur late!”) We deliberated over guacamole and chips, finally realizing that we were tied up right beside the “Welcome to North Carolina” rest stop on a 4-lane highway, and were once again in a fish bowl. The only boat. Waterway Guide reviews of this spot refer to a party atmosphere, with as many as 14 boats tied up, rafting onto each other and having a cook out and pot luck on the lawn. Somehow, our guacamole failed to capture the party spirit.
We researched a bit more and decided to move on to Arbuckle Landing, a more secluded dock. So secluded and so small was it, that we passed it at first. Spinning carefully back in our track, we easily caught the low pilings, challenged only by sticking out 10 feet on either end and by the protruding bolts which we strategically avoided as we placed our fenders. Anticipating a more extensive bike ride, we discovered that up the steps was still just a sun-drenched highway, albeit only 2 lanes at this point. We settled in for the night, and I was making soup in the Instant Pot, as three young men paid us a visit. What we were doing? Were we spending the night?… And suddenly our remoteness felt like vulnerability. Steve called the local police, and the operator helped us orient to landmarks which we could cite should we need to call for help. We awoke in the morning with relief that the guys were just curious and very direct.
We’ll appreciate being in high traffic areas next week as we visit Norfolk.
Beaufort was our last “must see” until the Dismal Swamp, but with 165 miles between the two, we chose three intermediary stops, towns which even North Carolinians may not have heard of, but which Loopers know well. We sadly parted ways with Beaufort’s Caribbean blue water and returned to the Coca Cola brown rivers as we headed north.
First was Belhaven, 60 miles from Beaufort. The dock master back at Lambs in Jacksonville, FL highly recommended this stop, telling us to tell Henry “hi” at River Forest Marina. Upon arrival, Henry took our lines.
“Ya loopin”? he asked.
“Yeah…” Steve replied.
Yes. We knew that.
“Why ya stayin’ two nahts? Ya lookin’ fur properdy? Tha’sa only reason anyone stays two nahts.”
😑 Sometimes you just need a day to catch up, but admittedly, the marina felt rather like a ghost town. We borrowed the marina golf cart and tooled along Water Street past a dozen immaculate turn-of-the-19th-century homes on the water front. We saw the AGLCA burgee on a trawler at the other marina—shoot! Just our luck to miss meeting another Looper. With staffing difficulties everywhere, the creative gourmet Spoon River, which we anticipated for a lovely dinner, was closed during our visit and is now only open Thursdays through the week end. But there was an outdoor pizza place, and it was good. The bugs must have posted an APB—they finally found us in Belhaven!
Next stop, Alligator River Marina, after a beautiful and uneventful 52 miles with light wind from the north on our nose. We traversed the Pungo River (“river of many fish,” the many fish pots requiring a sharp look-out and a quick hand on the wheel), and from there a 21-mile canal connecting it to the Alligator River, a short river only 47 miles long. The Alligator opens onto the Albermarle Sound. Only for lack of options did we stop at Alligator River Marina for the night. Oh, and good fuel price. In line for cheap fuel were fishing boats, with their requisite topsy-turvy stacks of baskets. As I watched the fuel pump,
I chatted with a young fisherman, and when I asked, he pulled a big basket off his boat to show off his gorgeous catch for the day. Such a beautiful dark sky blue are the legs of blue crabs, and so strong those claws! As we chatted, the young man seemed to be wondering why we would be staying there and tried to direct us to a more popular spot, but it was in the direction one takes when not going the swamp route. Other cruisers tied up on the wall for the night, joining a remoteness that eliminated any activity requiring a Verizon signal.
Elizabeth City, population 15,000, is the staging stop for entering the Dismal Swamp. One docks at the free docks right in town, convenient to the wonderful maritime museum and a few quaint shops and good eateries. With an increased proliferation of bugs on the short cruise to Elizabeth City, a good vacuuming was the first order of business after docking; there is no water for wash downs at free docks or at anchor. Once known for its friendliness when every sailor was greeted with a rose and an evening welcoming party, times have changed, town budgets and personal discretionary time being what they are. With our chores completed, we took a spin around town. First scoping out the beautiful maritime museum, we discovered that it would not be open at all over the week end, and we had 15 minutes to soak in what we could. (“Yur Late!”) A very kind manager approached us a few minutes past closing, engaging in conversation about the museum and the difficulty in hiring staff these days as she graciously escorted us to the door and invited us to come back another time. We found good food at Hoppin” Johnz in a vibrant atmosphere, with a gregarious server, and a fun, girly women’s room, decorated with a full-length mirror framed with pink boa and twinkle lights and fun signage. “Money can’t buy love, but it certainly can buy some cute shoes,” one read.
Our convenient spot on the wall in the center of town was a fishbowl, as folks with kids and dogs walked the water’s edge, attracted by the small, one-design sailboats zigzagging the waters, the farmers market, and our red-hulled boat. By Saturday at 1:00, we had had enough and moved another 8 miles up river. Anchoring for the night in a gorgeous remote bend by Goat Island, we are staged and eagerly anticipate the Dismal Swamp Canal.