I’m going to try something new. I have a lot of photos, so thought I’d do more of a Photo Blog – pictures of where we’ve been with any stories that might go with them, but maybe not necessarily connected by a theme or anything. Just random stuff from the places we go and the things we do. I’ll still do some written blogs, but this will allow me to keep everyone updated with our travels and save the heavy writing for when I actually have material to write about. I myself get bored with just a daily or weekly recitation of the mundane bits of living, even if it is living on a boat and all that entails.
We are doing a cruise of the lower Chesapeake for a chunk of the summer, traveling from Portsmouth VA north as far as Annapolis, then across the Bay and south along the Eastern Shore. Having lived in Hampton Roads and DC on and off over about 15 years, we wanted to see places we may not have seen before. Going by boat means a lot more small towns and creeks that, while accessible by car, are a little more off the beaten path. Plus the water has played a pivotal role in both the economics and the lifestyle of the Chesapeake, not to mention the history of this country. Seeing it by boat will hopefully be viewing it through a different lens.
We started with a short trip across Hampton roads from Portsmouth to Hampton, VA, taking us past Dave’s longtime haunt the Norfolk Naval Base. Ironically, we were delayed as we made the crossing by a submarine that was pulling in personnel. Security is no joke, and they have small boats with big guns that will come chase you away if you get too close. They make a Securité broadcast on the VHF radio to ‘all boats in the vicinity,’ and then also individually hail each boat as they see them to make sure they got the word.
Hampton was a two week stay for us, while we finished up some minor projects and just relaxed. Bluewater Yacht Center was a huge improvement from where we were staying in Portsmouth – great staff, nice pool, great walks through the neighborhood. Lots of bunnies and squirrels for Roxy to chase. We even were able to spend some time with one of Dave’s former officers on the MSP and his family that lived in Hampton – nice to catch up.
Having left the car behind, we used the bikes or the dinghy to explore the area. We stumbled across a great donut place in downtown Hampton, had dinner along their COVID-inspired block transformed into all patio dining with several restaurants, took the dinghy up the Hampton River a couple miles, and biked to the grocery store a couple times a week. We spent a lot of time at the marina pool, cooling off on some sweltering days.
We took the boat out for a short day trip so Dave could calibrate the navigation electronics, with an interesting GPS track of us doing circles in the Bay. This took as past Ft. Monroe, which has an extensive history dating back to Capt. John Smith, and including the arrival of the first slave ship to English-North America, War of 1812, the Civil War, and as an active Army base until about 15 years ago.
We also weathered Tropical Storm Elsa here — our first significant storm. ( We had no damage at all.). It fortunately was fast moving, so had only a few hours of the worst of the winds (35+ mph sustained with gusts in the 50s where we were). We learned a lot about securing the boat during these conditions, and watched as neighboring bounced or were blown against the dock. We had some bouncing and rocking, but nothing too uncomfortable.
Once the weather cleared from Elsa, we set off for a couple days in Yorktown. Famous for the Revolutionary War battle and the British surrender, the town has parlayed its notoriety into a big tourist stop along the historic Colonial Parkway. We enjoyed walking up and down the hills and along the waterfront with all its history, the Saturday morning farmer’s market, a visit from my cousin and his wife from Richmond, and breakfast at an old historic home turned coffee house with a lovely shaded picnic area (Mobjack Coffee Roasters – highly recommend), and the views of the Coleman Bridge. We were docked right next to the tall ship Alliance, which left four times a day with sailing tours. What we did not like was all the jellyfish – they kept getting sucked up into the air conditioning water intake and clogging up the filters! They were all over the place there.
Our last morning, we were witness to not one but TWO Navy destroyers coming up the river through the Coleman Bridge. The first one passing by had all the sailors in their white uniforms ‘manning the rails’ – lined up along the deck at attention. We could only theorize that the CO ordered it to honor the prominent role Yorktown played in the founding of this country. Whatever the reason, it was a sight to see and was cheered by the people on the beach and on the bridge.
Deltaville was really just an intermediate stop in route. At the mouth of the Rappahannock River in Virginia, it is a boatyard/ boat maintenance mecca. There wasn’t much to the town, but we were able to make a grocery run with the marina’s courtesy car, to include a stop at a great farm stand for fresh fruit and veggies and fresh seafood! We met a lovely couple there and chatted with them for an hour as we watched the sunset from the front porch of the Regatta Point Marina office. They also had a great pool that we took advantage of.
Solomons Island, MD
Next up was Solomons Island, where we spent several days. The marina had free use of their bikes, and we took advantage of them almost every day so we didn’t have to hassle with dragging our own bikes out of the locker and setting them up. These were beach cruisers, and the pedal brakes took some getting used to! I tend to pedal backwards as I coast, which does not work with pedal brakes!!! But they were fun, and allowed us to visit the Maritime Museum as well as Annmarie Gardens, where they had a display of over 50 Fairy Gardens in their walk-through sculpture park! They also had these cool tree people carvings that caught you by surprise, blending in so well with the landscape. We also did a long dinghy ride up through the creeks, sat on the bow of the boat in the evenings and listened to the live music from the tiki bar on shore, and was treated to a gorgeous rainbow and sunset following a brief thunderstorm one evening (and my great shot of a heron perched on a pylon nearby was photobombed by lightning). And we once again did a regular pool visit to cool off from the sweltering Chesapeake summer heat and humidity. (Notice a recurring theme here?)
Annmarie Garden: Tree people & Fairy Gardens
We initially had not planned on stopping in Annapolis. Nothing against the town, but we’ve spent a lot of time there over the years and it just didn’t seem like it would be anything new. But we realized it gave us an opportunity to see some people so we adjusted our plans. My sister Iva and husband Mike came down from Delaware and after a tour of the boat (it doesn’t take very long), Dave gave them a tour of USNA and we walked through the (very busy) downtown area. A bonus was that while walking down Captains Row, we recognized the name of one of Dave’s commanding officers when he was at Bangor. We took a chance on knocking at the door and had a quick front porch hello with his wife. The following day we were able to have lunch with our former neighbor and good friend Kelly, so three treats in one stop! That has been one of the nicest things for me about this lifestyle – getting to see old friends and family in our stops along the way.
Thomas Point Shoal Light is one of several of the screw-pile lighthouses that dotted the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay. It is the only one that is still in the original location. Drum Point light that we had seen at the Maritime Museum in Solomons had been moved to the museum, as have a few others in various other places.. There are also some replicas as tourist attractions. Many of this style of lighthouses were located a couple miles offshore, and one can only imagine living in the middle of the Bay so isolated and at the mercy of the weather, but many Lighthouse Keeper families did just that. Couldn’t have been an easy life. All have been replaced with automated navigational aids.
As we left the next morning to go across the Bay to the Eastern Shore, we cruised past the Naval Academy just for grins. We cruised up the Severn River and turned around at the bridge just off Hospital Point, and suddenly there was a whole fleet of plebes in sailboats criss-crossing the river! They had all launched just after we passed from the Academy sailing center, and now we had to somehow maneuver through/around a dozen or so new plebes learning to sail! And of course, they’re under sail and so have right of way. Topping it off, a YP boat had also just left the dock from there. There were boats all over the place that we had to avoid. Somehow we managed to get through, and after a loop through downtown Annapolis Harbor Dave pointed the bow toward St. Michaels, MD.
Next photo blog coming soon will cover the second half of our trip down the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.