We arrived here in Hampton, Virginia on Sunday October 6th, ending our long, hot day of traveling from Hills Bay, near Deltaville. Before turning into the Hampton River, we passed by historic Fort Monroe on Old Point Comfort. This was a site of “great comfort” to the colonists who arrived here.
Hampton Roads is the name for both the body of water and a metropolitan (Hampton-Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News ) region in this area of Virginia. Hampton Roads is known for its military presence, ice-free harbor, shipyards, and coal piers. The body of water known as Hampton Roads is one of the world’s largest natural harbors, where the mouths of the Elizabeth River and James River with several smaller rivers meet and empty into the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, leading into the Atlantic Ocean. The word Roads is used for the body of water because “roadstead” is an old English word for a protected harbor.
We treated ourselves to a dock at Downtown Hampton Public Piers. Downtown is the descriptive word – this is city life again. It is ok with us because we need a rest stop with water and fuel, electricity, and need to do laundry and provisioning again…. and the price was very reasonable…. and….. the weather forecast predicted winds and rain for a few days. We were directed into our slip and there beside us was sans clés, our sailing friends and dockmates from home. Sans clés means “without keys”. Isn’t that an unusual and appropriate boat name? It is always fun to see friends along the way and to have guests onboard for dinner!
Downtown Hampton Public Piers is a good place to stay for convenient access to Hampton. Very nice people in the office, and a laundry and showers. They have a little herb garden for boaters!! Now how nice is that?
This marina also has free bikes to use – why doesn’t every marina provide these for cruisers? We were a little concerned as we searched for a grocery store near enough to walk. It’s not like land life where you hop in your car (with AC) drive to your favorite store, no matter where it might be, and then load up and take it all home. We have to walk or take a taxi. I haven’t biked since before the cancer and the lymphedema, so I have been unsure how my leg would handle it. Here was an opportunity to try. The bikes were like the ones I remember from childhood – no gears and no hand brakes. No real hills here so that was not a problem except for remembering how to brake with your feet. 🙂 The human body really does have a physical memory – it did not take long for it all to fall in place. The biking was great. Yeah! We carried the bike baskets into the store so that we would not buy more than we could handle on the ride back — self-enforced portion control. We made a second trip the next day, in very different weather. I wish I had a photo just to contrast with this one – clothing change to long pants and sweatshirts. We also rode the bikes to Sunset Boatyard to visit our friends, Anthony and Annette, on Magnolia, the Morgan 44.
What a difference a day makes! Tuesday arrived coooool and cloudy, with wind. Remember how much we wanted a breeze last week??? These winds are too much and the seas are too rough for comfortable travel. We are not in a rush so we became tourists — bought a Sea to Stars pass that included the Air and Space Museum and a 3-hour tour on the Miss Hampton II. It was cloudy, but no rain yet, so we took the boat tour. The narrator was quite good and witty. He was a true fountain of information about regional history from colonial days through Civil War, modern engineering and naval ships; most of which I will never remember! Some tidbits are —
- Fort Wool is on a man-made island, constructed in the early 1800’s on a pile of rocks known as the Rip-Raps.
- The notorious Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard, the pirate) was a local gangster in the early 1700’s. Blackbeard was killed in battle in 1718. His head was placed at the mouth of the river, also known as Teach’s Point, on a stake as a warning to other pirates. Ugh. Hampton has a festival that celebrates the capture and demise of Blackbeard in May.
- The Hampton Roads Tunnel connects the land on either side of the harbor instead of a drawbridge or fixed bridge. Engineering a bridge to accommodate the height of the naval carriers and ships was not practical or safe. If a bridge was destroyed in wartime or due to natural disaster, the shipping channels would be blocked. Therefore, they built a tunnel 45 feet below the floor of the water.
- Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA – these are big vessels!! Notice the floating fencing on the water around the ships — that is not to keep the Navy ships in, but to keep others out. This is the oldest and largest industrial facility that belongs to the U.S. Navy for building, remodeling, repairing, and modernizing every type of ship that the U.S. Navy has in service — amphibious vessels, submarines, guided missile cruisers, supercarriers, nuclear ships and nuclear support ships. The Norfolk yard is one of the few facilities on the east coast capable of dry docking nuclear aircraft carriers.
We saw our first dolphins, finally!! Dolphins spend time here in Hampton Roads because sharks don’t frequent the area. The water is not as salty as the ocean. This makes it a safe playground for the dolphins, free of the predators.
Our tour had an extra bonus – a submarine entered the harbor and was met by the Navy police boat. It was like being home in Groton, dodging the subs there!
Into each life a little rain must fall…….. so they say. We knew during those weeks of sunshine that sooner or later, the rains would come. Wednesday brought heavy rain and strong winds and the forecast looked dim for several days. We settled into our little home, reading and researching charts for the next stages of this trip.
We needed to stretch and get off the boat, regardless of the rain. Donning our foul weather gear, we walked to the Virginia Air and Space Museum.
The museum is filled with aircraft suspended over our heads and hands-on exhibits. The IMAX Theater there was showing Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Al liked it more than I did. It reminded me of a space version of Open Water or Adrift, not something I really want to think about……
We were going to have dinner at a restaurant with Anthony and Annette from Magnolia. They braved the rain to walk to our boat, but not one of use really wanted to go back out again. We hunkered down and ate dinner on Kindred Spirit. And a fine time we had! All you need is good company for a great dinner party.
The rains and winds continued into Wednesday night, and then Thursday dawned with more of the same – heavy, heavy rain and some wind. What’s a boat person to do? Peach pancakes for breakfast, reading, watch tv news, napping, and then, yes, yes!! Let’s all go for ice cream! The six of us (the crews of Kindred Spirit, Magnolia and sans clés) all met at the Old Hampton Ice Cream Parlor for a sweet treat and conversation about sailing south. A very welcome release from boat captivity!
We hope to leave our dockside home in Hampton tomorrow. The weather sounds like it will be improving somewhat, at least enough to get going again. It will be a short trip across Hampton Roads to Portsmouth.