Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sailors and Ships and Mermaids- Oh my!

Hampton Roads is a trilogy of shipyard and naval towns: Hampton, Norfolk up the Elizabeth River, and connected by a paddle wheel ferry across the river, Portsmouth. We spent seven days in Blue Water Marina at Norfolk waiting out weather and the finish of the Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (read Save the Bay.) Because many other cruisers made the same decision, we made lots of new contacts for this adventure. Indeed, the best part of our stay was these wonderful folks we met. There is knowledge, safety/support- and laughs- among numbers. I provisioned at a Harris Teeters with three other admirals, what a riot trying to get back in one cab with four boats worth of groceries.

Portsmouth is a quiet town with empty storefronts and many churches. More important, it is the beginning of the Inter-coastal Waterway, our 1,100 mile path to Florida and the namesake to the Mile Marker Zero Marine Store. We took the ferry over twice to patronize him, have lunch and we discovered a kitchen store and artisan bakery.

Norfolk was interesting, even in the rain. The city created a destination waterfront in the 80’s and they are about to replace everything with high end retail, restaurants and condos. Walking access to restaurants, a downtown Mall (can you say Nordstroms?) and city attractions are perfect for cruisers. When in town try Byrd and Baldwin Brothers Steakhouse and 456 Fish, great meals before the ICW. Like the Cows on Parade, in NYC and the Horses of Far Hills, NJ, Norfolk has a trail of Mermaids telling a folktale around town. One can also follow the Virginia Music Walk of Fame. Who knew Ella Fitzgerald, Bruce Hornsby, and Clarence Clemens were from Virginia?

One cannot ignore the presence of the Navy in these three towns. The naval shipyards create canyons of grey dockage and construction, well lit and manned by skilled labor around the clock. The site fills you with awe and pride.

Finally, the schooners came in Friday from noon to midnight, beaten up by 35 knot winds from the SE. Rough race, but then again, that’s why we holed up for a week. Rick tracked it in our PC and was very disappointed not to see sails up as the official finish of the race was back at Thimble Shoal light.

Tomorrow, the ICW.