The Log of Moira
These are mostly Susan’s remarks. Larry’s notes are indicated thus <Larry: blah blah blah.>.
The Chesapeake Bay is a very large, protected waterway. <Larry: The Chesapeake also defines a loose confederation of the states on its borders: “DelMarVa,” comprising Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, are the states (along with the District of Columbia) with the most interest in, and impact on, the Chesapeake.> Over 183 miles from North to South, the waterway has thousands of navigable miles there for the exploring. At the northern end of the Chesapeake, there is the C&D Canal that transports your boat to the Delaware River and on to Philadelphia.
3,000 miles of waterway in the Chesapeake have been designated as the Captain John Smith Water Trail, originally explored by Captain Smith in 1609 in a thirty foot open boat as an employee of the Virginia Company of London. Let me tell you, Captain John worked hard to explore the Chesapeake and should be known as a great explorer and seaman. We were able to explore only a small part of this amazing waterway, and we had every amenity unknown to Captain Smith!
To get a handle, so to speak, on the Chesapeake look at your right palm and see the Chesapeake Bay on your palm, and its tributary rivers as your spread fingers. Starting with your pinky, the major rivers feeding the Chesapeake are the James River, the York River, the Rappahannock, the Potomac and the Susquehanna. There is a lot of history packed into those rivers. The first permanent English settlement in the New World was on the shores of the James river at Jamestown. Liberty from England was finally won in 1781 on the York River, at the battle of Yorktown, the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. The victory at Yorktown ended with the surrender of Cornwallis and his army to General George Washington. It took until 1783 to sign the Treaty of Paris, the official end of hostilities, but with the defeat of Cornwallis’ army of 8,300 men, the British had lost the War and changed the course of world history.
<Larry: The remainder of our trip up the ICW from Hilton Head to the Chesapeake was mostly uninteresting. However, we were pressing our pace to arrive for the start of our July rental on the eastern shore (big mistake!), and had a memorably bad overnight passage up the Chesapeake, with “wind-against-tide” setting up short, steep waves that, while not high, were very uncomfortable and made progress painfully slow. Added to that was the constant barge traffic with navigation lights that, after years in Central America, took some getting used to. We should have waited another day.>
For our stay in the Chesapeake area during July and August, the two hottest months of the summer, we rented houses, one for July on the eastern shore, and one for August on the western shore, since we wanted to explore both areas. Two years ago we rented a house in North Beach, about 20 miles south of Annapolis, and enjoyed the casual, friendly and touristy, beach town right on the Chesapeake.
Maryland is a peculiar state, divided by the Chesapeake Bay into the much talked about rural “eastern shore” and the down-to-business work-a-day “western shore.” The Chesapeake is more than a geographical division; there is a decided cultural and political division between the two parts of the state. The western section is urbanized with two major cities: Annapolis and Baltimore. The eastern shore is predominately a rural, conservative farming community—some might say redneck—concentrating on growing corn, sorghum, and some tobacco, with an extraordinary shoreline, much of it developed with fine residential properties to be enjoyed by those property owners exclusively. This area of the country is not southern California with its Coastal Commission that assures access to the waterfront to all, even if your goal is simply to gawk at how the other half lives! I never thought I could possibly miss the Coastal Commission, but many times we explored byways on the eastern shore by car, only to come to dead ends with “Private Road, No Trespassing” signs as we got close to the water. Fortunately we could see as much as we wanted from Moira as we sailed through the Chesapeake.
Then of course there is the blue crab industry, fundamental to the economics of the eastern shore but also found through the Chesapeake including Virginia and on to the Carolinas. About 60,000,000 pounds of blue crab are harvested in the Chesapeake Bay each year. Retail, back fin crab meat ran about $12 a pound on the eastern shore; Lump crab meat ran about $19 a pound. Expect to pay $10 more per pound on the western shore for each type of crab meat. On the eastern shore it was easy to find crab for dinner. Usually we went to a nearby crab wholesaler and processor where the crab was brought in from the Bay to be prepared for sale either to retail customers or to restaurants.
Typically, the wholesalers brought in Mexican <Larry: and some oriental> women to pick the crab, a tedious procedure that residents of this area no longer want to perform. The women come in on visas especially for this work and tend to be well-treated if legal. This is not to suggest that all of these women (and some men for the heavier work) are in the country legally, but from what we saw there is a lot of regulation in this area and these folks work hard during the season, returning each year at the end of the crab season to Mexico.
The picked crab meat, nicely prepared in pound packages, was readily available on the eastern shore. It was somewhat less available on the western shore, meaning that I would often have to call several stores before finding what I wanted for that night’s crab dinner. The Rotary Club of Annapolis puts out a really good cook book, Crab Feast Mania, devoted to many Chesapeake seafood specialties, and focusing on crab. It has really good recipes and is well-organized, and even includes household tips that have been around for a hundred years and still work today. <Larry: The crab industry in the Chesapeake has had a remarkable recovery in recent years, though it is too soon to say whether the increased harvests are due to chance or to improved management policies. Alas, the oyster population remains defunct, to the detriment of the water quality in the Bay.>
We rented an “in-law” type of apartment above the garage of a lovely estate on Fishing Creek on the south side of Little Choptank River for July, just outside of Woolford, a village close to the Little Choptank River. We anchored Moira in Fishing Creek, and we could see her from the kitchen window and the balcony of the apartment. We could tie our dinghy (“Loose End”) to the dock of the estate, which made getting out to Moira easy. From the dock, we also caught our share of blue crabs for appetizers, with string and chicken necks as well as from the crab traps that were available on the dock. <Larry: “Chickennecking” to catch crabs is a popular pastime for young and old alike. Its success depends on the singular ability of the crab to focus on eating, to the exclusion of all else. One ties a chicken neck (available frozen in large bags at the supermarkets) to a weighted string, and lowers it to the bottom. After a short wait, perhaps 10-15 minutes, one s-l-o-w-l-y retrieves the string, and is likely to find a crab gripping the chicken neck in its claws. When the crab is just below the surface, one sneaks a net under it and hoists the assembly clear of the water, at which time the crab is likely to lose interest in the chicken neck, which can be returned to the water to invite another volunteer.>
The couple who owned the apartment was delightful, and made our stay very special. They organized a fishing trip for several couples, including us and several neighbors. After a successful day of fishing for rockfish and some blue, we all met for dinner at one of their houses and the fish was cooked to perfection by one of the fisherman!
One evening we drove up the peninsula to have dinner with our old friends and fellow Valiant-owners from Galivant, in their little waterfront cottage on Kent Island. We stayed overnight at a picturesque B&B on Love Point before returning to Woolford.
We had one major storm while staying at the Woolford apartment, with winds of 30 knots. We were enjoying a glass of wine with our hosts when the wind started. Their phone rang with a neighbor reporting that it appeared that “that nice boat of your guests” was moving across Fishing Creek. Well, they were correct. We got up and saw Moira dragging across the Creek, the first time we dragged in 12,000 miles of cruising! There was nothing we could do at that point, so we all had another glass of wine. Fortunately, after dragging about 300 yards, Moira’s anchor, a 60 pound CQR, reset, bringing her to an abrupt stop in 8 feet of water about 200 yards from shore. Oh well….. <Larry: What a landsman calls a “thunderstorm,” a sailor calls a “squall.” Locals tell us that this one was a record-breaker. I don’t think the anchor “reset,” but rather that we were lucky that the storm blew over before she dragged aground. Rather than “dragging,” it may be more informative to say that we “oozed” up the creek—the tensile strength of the mud on the bottom of the creek was not up to the forces being placed upon it by the anchor. When we went out to retrieve the truant the next day, we found the anchor very deeply buried, and it took a good while to prise it free of the bottom. We re-anchored using our Fortress anchor (a Danforth pattern) in the creek but never had another blow to test its relative effectiveness. The graph to the left shows sustained winds at 5pm to 35mph, and the dots in the graph show gusts to 50mph.
This was the first hurricane season where we had not put Moira into a marina for the duration. I had my cell phone set up to receive reports from the National Hurricane Center, and checked the status of things several times a day, but we never had even a near miss. Whew.>
Cambridge is the closest medium/large town to Woolford. I joined the county library in Cambridge, and frequently went to Kool Ice and Seafood, a very good fish store and crab-processing plant. There is an interesting maritime museum in Cambridge honoring wooden boats built on the Chesapeake, with many maritime artifacts. Cambridge had a large, perfectly adequate Food Lion grocery store, though of course not up to the standards of, say, a Whole Foods store. (After my years in Central America, I still enjoy going into Whole Foods just to look around at the incredible diversity of food stuffs. For a cook like myself, it is great fun to be able to come up with a recipe for dinner and know that if I shop at Whole Foods I will find every ingredient no matter how esoteric.) Cambridge is also the home to a Hyatt Regency Resort which apparently is one of the most successful along the eastern seaboard. We did not go in but it looked lovely and was reputed to have some very good restaurants, though I am sure none as good as “Susan’s” restaurant!
Maryland has a good system of visitors’ centers around the State, including ones in Cambridge and Annapolis. The centers gave a good overview of Maryland and local history and provided lots of information which was useful to us on both shores of the Chesapeake.
In our explorations of the eastern shore, we particularly enjoyed the towns of Oxford, St. Michaels, and Chestertown.
We visited Tilghman Island on Moira, anchoring off of Dogwood Harbor for two nights. <Larry: While anchored off Tilghman, we enjoyed some successful chickennecking. An osprey did a thorough job of scouting our bowsprit and solar panels as possible nesting places.>. While we did not go ashore, the anchorage was mostly quiet and uncrowded. We anchored in 12 feet about one quarter mile from shore.
While the Chesapeake has numerous area to explore, the overriding consideration is how shallow most of the Bay is. To that extent it reminded us of San Francisco Bay (though without the “slot” just inside of the San Francisco Bridge where the winds come roaring in from the Pacific). Winds do come to the Chesapeake, often in the 30 knot range, but not as the usual course of weather. It takes a good northerly to get much wind but then you really pay attention to the weather. If the wind blows against the current, given the shallow nature of the Bay, the waves can get choppy, uncomfortable and at times dangerous. But these times are unusual. With constant weather information available, much of which is reliable, it is difficult to get into trouble on this Bay but it should not be underestimated. <Larry: Another major “consideration” for the cruiser is that the water in the Chesapeake is very dirty, which causes watermaker filters to clog up at an unsustainable rate with some kind of crud that cannot be washed out of the pores of the filters. More about this below.>
One unusual side trip by car we enjoyed while exploring the eastern shore was to Assateague Island, south of Ocean City and easily reachable in our rental car from Cambridge on the Eastern shore. The island is mostly a National Park, now inhabited by small ponies famous to these islands. While the Park Service classifies them as “wild,” they did not seem to be bothered by the tourists or their cars. The Part Service definitely wants you to stay inside your car, but not all visitors complied. The horses apparently ended up on this island as a result of being left by passing ships which abandoned them. They survived mostly because of the presence of the rich spartina grasses available on the island.
At the end of July, we sailed Moira across the Bay to Horn Point Marina, in the “Eastport” neighborhood of Annapolis. For the month of August we had rented a house at East Street and Pinkney, about 5 blocks from the downtown waterfront of Annapolis. Having convinced ourselves that Annapolis was a small urban area, we did not rent a car for the month, thinking that we would rely on the transit system of Annapolis. The two-bedroom house was perfectly located for us and well sized. Apparently, the house had been through a major renovation recently, though the wood pine floors looked original, as did some of the doors. Though renovated, interestingly enough the house did not have storm doors or storm windows. This is an area that gets sweltering hot in the summer and it is known to have snow in the winter, though not for long. Looking around the historic district in which this house sat, I noticed the absence of good energy-efficient windows or doors. Such windows were apparent in new construction, but not in structures that had been renovated. I wondered if this absence was due to regulations of the historic district. The house’s owner blamed the lack of energy-efficient features on such regulations and told us of the legendary fights that occurred about renovation in the district. Later, we got the chance to talk with the chairman of the historical and planning commission of Annapolis. The chairman was the husband of the local greeter for the Seven Seas Cruising Association, a sailing association we belong to. His calm, gentle professionalism was certainly southern-bred and with a tinge of humor he said that it took a great deal of patience and time to get things done in Annapolis. We did learn that energy-efficient windows and doors were not a priority here (nor were they a priority in Charleston, the other historical capital of the South we visited).
Annapolis is a marvelous little town which we thoroughly enjoyed. As befits the self-proclaimed sailing capital of the East Coast, there are boats and marinas everywhere. Many interesting anchorages are close by and the sailing is good all year around, though many boats take cover by the first of October. One of the city’s landmarks is the Maryland State House, completed in 1799. Its tall, gold dome is visible from the Bay, identifying the area as the capital of Maryland. The State House is apparently the oldest capital building in continuous service in the country, Annapolis having served as the Nation’s Capital from 1783 to 1784. The other very visible landmark is the Naval Academy. The large gray-green rooftops and the dome of the Navy chapel are visible from the Bay as you enter the harbor. Both the State House and the Naval Academy have tours and visitors’ centers which are worth a visit. From our house we could walk to the waterfront in the morning for bagels and the New York Times. A good book store was downtown, as well as numerous restaurants and t-shirt shops. The main street of Annapolis seemed to be doing well with a good mix of retail stores, most of which seemed prosperous. The town looked spiffy, well cared for, and used heavily by hordes of tourists, especially on the weekends. It was fun to read the local newspaper, in which the development quarrels of the city were occasionally discussed.
The transit system of Annapolis needs work. We did get ourselves a senior ticket simply by showing up at the local transit office, so for 50 cents we could ride all over the city. We took the system frequently, though it did take time to get anywhere as the busses only show up about every hour (unless they are broken). Another option was a small trolley <Larry: sort of a large golf cart> called eCruisers, run by the downtown business association. Summoned by a phone call, they would pick you up in the historic area (including Eastport), and deliver you to a sponsoring restaurant in the historic area (or vice versa). We could call them from our marina after a day of working on the boat, for example, and have them deliver us to a restaurant very close to our rental house. Simple and free, and a very nice service really of assistance to the cruising community. Of course, taxis were available with a telephone call. About every 8 to 10 days we found errands to do beyond the limits of the bus system, and Enterprise Car Rental heeded our calls for a rental car. For cruisers on their boats in the harbor or at marinas, there is a very fine water taxi system which works well.
Annapolis is very attuned to the visitor, cruiser or not. There is an excellent visitor center from which numerous tours leave. It’s a good source of information for seeing the community. Many information brochures are available of which the best for the cruiser is the PortBook, published annually as a marine services directory. The PortBook was of great assistance to us in finding the right worker for numerous jobs needing attention on our boat. Provisioning was easily accomplished through Graul’s Grocery and Whole Foods. Safeway is also available. For eating out, our favorite restaurants were Carroll’s Creek Café and O’Leary’s, both located in Eastport.
<Larry: While in Annapolis, we tackled a number of boat projects. An inspection of the sails revealed that after 10 years our mainsail had “had it,” and Quantum Sails was able to quickly whip together a new one for us. One of our water tanks had ruptured, and its replacement remains a future project. We replaced our plastic-covered, rusting lifelines with new, uncoated stainless lifelines. I installed a new, flat-panel TV on a swing-out arm to replace our ancient CRT TV. And so on.>
By the beginning of September our rentals were over, and it was time to move back aboard Moira. We planned a leisurely exploration of the Chesapeake, poking our noses into the rivers both big and small, and seeking out anchorages before reaching Mile Zero on the ICW at Norfolk by mid- to late-October. We thought that date would be early enough to ease our way south, one step ahead of the frost that we knew was heading toward us. By September 5th we could feel the change of temperature and the air had a warning quality to it. It is almost as if there is a big undisclosed switch that is turned northward by the beginning of September. From hot, hot temperatures of 95 degrees with lots of humidity, the temperature changes to a mild 80 with sunny skies and much less humidity. This weather I could get used to. But we found that by mid-October the seriousness of the coming winter could be felt in the morning chill.
We sailed south to the Wye River on the eastern shore, seeking a secluded anchorage in Dividing Creek as the river forks to the east. Several other boats had the same idea but there was plenty of room and the depth was an adequate 11 feet. Depth in the Chesapeake must be taken into consideration. While there are miles of rivers to explore, not all of them have the depth needed for a sailboat with a draft of 6 feet. On must take the tides into the calculation of where to anchor, and sometimes the currents can be fierce in some of the narrow areas of the rivers. But the Wye was serene and comfortable and very quiet after the bustle of Annapolis. Large colonial houses guard the shore but the water front is mostly undeveloped, with the occasional crab fisherman tending his crab lines or checking pots. Blue herons and mallards are close by with an occasional cormorant coming by. There are no services close by and quiet prevails. This area is close enough to St. Michaels for a visit by dinghy, but we had seen that area by car and were content to sit quietly on the boat watching the scenery, birds and other cruisers.
After many pleasant days in the Wye River we wandered over to the Rhode River where we had an engagement with SSCA for a “gam.” SSCA is the Seven Seas Cruising Association, a group of cruisers who share information and provide mutual assistance. A “gam” is an old sailing term for a pod of whales meeting for whatever whales meet for. When whaling ships would chance to meet at sea, the wives of the captains might get together on one of the ships to break up the loneliness of long sea trips, and whalers used the same term to identify their get-together. Today, the SSCA uses the term for its large educational and social gatherings which occur at various places around the globe. <Larry: A while back, we attended another SSCA gam in Islesboro, Maine.> The gam we were headed for was at the Rhode River, which was attended by 71 boats, and by more cruisers who came by car. The gam included three days of meetings, seminars, and discussions with like-minded cruisers, most of whom were planning on heading south and then to the Bahamas or the Caribbean. <Larry: Typical seminars at a gam included “a first-timer’s guide to the Bahamas,” “on-board exercise,” “engine maintenance,” “electronics,” “sail repair,” etc.> It was an interesting group with lots of stories, most of which may be mostly true. Prior to the gam’s official start, we hosted a gathering of Valiant owners on Moira. We enjoyed drinks and appetizers, talking about Valiant, the experiences of sailing and maintaining a Valiant, and our shared goals for sailing south.
A footnote to our experience at the gam may suggest the differences between the First World and the Third World when it comes to boating. When we arrived in the Rhode River, we were having problems with our water maker. The water of the Chesapeake is not conducive to good water making. It is muddy and full of crud, not clean, full of “sea nettles” (jellyfish), and clogs up water maker filters. Larry needed to get more filters if our water maker was to continue working. We knew we could order some from a store in Annapolis, but delivery seemed to be an immense obstacle without a car or public transportation. I suggested to my darling that we ask FedEx to deliver them from Annapolis to Camp Letts, the facility on the Rhode River where the gam was held, run by the YMCA of Annapolis. When we called the YMCA camp about our predicament they were quite helpful, assuring us that FedEx not only knew their facility but often delivered things there and often to cruisers! So we got our water filters overnight through Fed Ex and the YMCA. And they kept our water maker working. The immediacy and familiarity with the phrase “of course we can send it overnight” keeps us amused and amazed after a long time in the Third World. <Larry: In the Third World, your package may indeed arrive overnight from the States to the host country’s international airport, but then languish in Customs for a week until arrangements can be made to pay whatever import duty may be demanded. If one is in a harbor on the coast, and the airport is many hours away by road, it can be difficult to get the money to the right place without physically going there. After payment somehow arrives, the shipment is given over by Customs to a local trucking company for delivery. Now the fun really starts for the anchored cruiser, because one must either know an accommodating business to supply an address at which to receive the package, or somehow arrange to meet the trucker at the side of the road as he blows through town. Don’t even think of trying this without a local cell phone number!>
After the gam we headed back to Annapolis and picked up a spot in the mooring field, which worked well for us. It was easy enough to secure a mooring during the week. The moorings were first-come, first-served for $25 dollars a night. If you choose not to use your dinghy, the water taxis can pick you up from your boat for $2 a ride, and the city marina office has showers and laundry. The moorings are a fascinating place to watch the action. The Annapolis Boat Shows were getting organized, and we got to watch the temporary docks being herded into position.
I went to Virginia to gather warm clothing from my stock at my sister’s house. For the first time since sailing south from San Francisco in 2004, we knew we would need our winter clothes. Cross-country skiing clothes mostly work just fine for fall sailing on the Chesapeake. While I was gone, Larry found out about northerlies, the winter storms that bring wind and wave action, mostly from the great plains of the USA. The wind is cold and the wave action in the harbor surprisingly strong given the short fetch. But come it did and Larry for two days decided to stay on the boat. <Larry: The technical cruising term is “hunkerfy.”> One day, even the water taxi gave up and stayed put. By the time I returned, things had calmed down and we proceeded to provision for more sailing south through the Chesapeake.
As a getaway spot from the Chesapeake, we headed just north of Annapolis to Whitehall Bay, where we entered Mill Creek. <Larry: There are multiple “Mill Creeks” in the Chesapeake. One must be careful to specify.> Good anchorages are available with good protection and beautiful scenery with some of the most attractive homes I had yet seen on the Chesapeake. To top off the fun there is a famous Chesapeake restaurant called Cantler’s, known for its seafood, and especially crab. The restaurant had been in business for 40 years, and was built before many of the very beautiful homes in the area. The mix of uses including several small marinas gives the creek a vitality that otherwise might be missing. And yes, we took the dinghy ashore to Cantler’s one night, and the food was very good!
From Whitehall Bay we sailed south to the Solomon’s Island area. We first tried to anchor in Back Creek but found the holding very soupy, so we gave up and took a mooring off of Zahnhizer’s Marina. <Larry: Another first! I don’t think we’d ever been defeated by the holding of an anchorage.> This worked well for us, allowing us to take our dinghy into Zahnhizer’s and leaving it there for the day as we explored the Solomon’s. We had seen the area by car before but it is always interesting to see the area from a cruiser’s perspective. We were fortunate to find a fellow Valiant couple, of Pattie Dee <Larry: cruisers know one another not by surname, but by boat name>, and we enjoyed a good dinner with them at Dry Docks restaurant, right at Zahnihizer’s marina.
From the Solomon’s we sailed to the Great Wicomico River where we anchored in (another) Mill Creek, a beautiful anchorage, very quiet, with few houses, and with two bald eagles to greet us. We also enjoyed a short stay in the Jackson Creek anchorage, an easy day’s sail from the Great Wicomico River and a good stop near Deltaville in Virginia. To reach Jackson Creek we traveled into the Piankatank River, which was deep and well-marked, but do follow the markers precisely!
Before heading to Norfolk we wanted to see some of the early history of the area through Jamestown and Yorktown. To do that we stayed in the York River at the York River Yacht Haven, with a pleasant, helpful staff. Alas, the on-site restaurant was not open in October; it appears to close after the summer season and there were no other restaurants or stores within walking distance. But the marina provided a free shuttle to the Yorktown Battlefield Park, from where it is easy to link up with another free shuttle to the other major attractions in the area. We needed to so some provisioning and we had heard that the public transportation in the area was very good. Jamestown and Yorktown Battlefield are federal parks, run in conjunction with the State of Virginia. What distinguishes the area is the free bus system which links Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. These shuttles are comfortable, clean busses, with frequent arrivals and departures from each attraction. We had spent some time in Williamsburg some years ago, and wanted to spend time in the Yorktown and Jamestown parks. And we are so glad we did. Not only was the area fascinating but the tours offered by the Park Service were in both cases excellent and informative. Both areas had visitors’ centers which were well done, thoughtfully displaying much information about our nation’s past. Do not miss these sites!
After absorbing all the history we could manage, we took off for Norfolk where the ICW begins with “Mile 1” just off of the Veterans Hospital. <Larry: Locations along the Intracoastal Waterway are described as being so-many statute miles from this point, so “Mile 683.” A statute mile is 13% smaller than a nautical mile.> Traveling north in the spring we had stopped at Hampton Roads, a small town across from Norfolk. The Blue Water Yachting Center marina there served us well, complete with a restaurant that specialized in the best fried food around (we don’t eat a lot of fried foot, making the visit to the restaurant a one-time event for us).
<Larry: As we entered Hampton Roads opposite the Norfolk Naval Station, a nuclear submarine was bound for sea, shepherded by half-a-dozen Coast Guard craft who were herding the small craft out of the way. It was an impressive sight. One wonders what the strategic role is for submarines in a world where the great threat seems to be a guy with an explosive vest.>
This time we decided to stay at the Waterside Marina in Norfolk, adjacent to the “Rouse Center,” a shopping center that has apparently failed and was partially unoccupied. The restaurants facing the outside of the mall and directly on the waterfront park seemed to be doing acceptably but the inside of the mall was empty. Interestingly enough there is a very fine, modern, Macarthur Center with Nordstrom and Dillard’s about two blocks away from the failed Waterfront Mall. The larger mall is well -maintained and looks prosperous. The marina was not full but was well-maintained and well-staffed. It appears to have been overshadowed by the Tidewater Yacht Agency adjacent to Portsmouth, which charged about $.50/foot more than Waterside. The Waterside Marina did not have fueling facilities, and is smaller (at 50 slips), but we liked it—especially the economics. Filling up on diesel can usually wait for a sailboat, but to a powerboat, fuel is vital to the next day’s trip. <Larry: However, note that a sailboat in the ICW becomes a powerboat!>. Norfolk was fun and easy to explore. With a free shuttle for transportation it was easy to see the sites and do our provisioning at a relatively new Farm Fresh Grocery, whose staff were used to working with cruisers: they offered me a 10% percent discount not only on the four cases of wine I bought but also all the other provisions. And, they called a taxi to get me and my groceries back to the marina!
The City of Norfolk, home to the Norfolk Naval Station, features the USS Wisconsin battleship as part of a large and very interesting naval/maritime museum alongside the ICW and adjacent to the Waterside Marina downtown. On good-weather days you can take a tour of the river in front of the Naval base via a small boat that leaves from the pier adjoining the museum. The tour of the Wisconsin was somewhat abbreviated. When I asked why, the guide said that there was uncovered asbestos inside the ship and that the EPA has decided that tourists should not be allowed inside the ship, only outside. We were told that the Navy was busily working to remove the asbestos from the ship so that tourists could be allowed inside. I thought, “Only in America” would such a situation arise. Imagine spending money to remove the asbestos from a “retired” ship when it causes no danger unless disturbed. We often hear from immigrants that America is a “land of rules”. It is instances like this one that make that point too well. While order requires rules, maybe we have gone too far.
We enjoyed wandering around Norfolk and Portsmouth. The prosperous downtown of Norfolk runs about 5 blocks deep and 10 blocks long, close to the waterfront. Beyond there it peters out quickly. The city of Norfolk is obviously paying attention to downtown Norfolk, but the pull of the surrounding suburbs is strong and detrimental to the downtown businesses. It appears to me that more residential units would help to the downtown’s success. On the other hand, the Macarthur Shopping Center appears to thrive in downtown Norfolk, suggesting that perhaps people will come to shop downtown from all over the city.
We spent a day in Portsmouth. It is easy to get there from Norfolk on a water taxi jointly run by both of the cities. <Larry: The water taxis do exhibit the strangest navigational lights at night—I was unable to decipher them, and I suspect that they were purely decorative.> The historic area of Portsmouth has a fair amount of retail and a number of good restaurants. There is a twenty-block area of historic houses, both restored and being restored, and a self-guided walking tour that will take you past a number of Civil War-era buildings important to the history of the area. The was a charm to the area and it felt pleasant. Portsmouth is working hard to see that the area is a success. Unfortunately in the retail area there seems to be a trend, apparently allowed by the city, for very dark glass on the storefronts. The result is to make the retail areas forbidding and unattractive. I hope the city takes action before this becomes the norm.
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