Mile Marker Zer0 – Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia

Our short trip from Hampton to Portsmouth took 2 hours in cloudy, dreary weather. We passed by the Norfolk Navy Shipyard just like we did on the Miss Hampton tour boat. The Elizabeth River has had the most marine traffic of any place we have been yet. In addition to the gray presence of the US Navy, there is a considerable amount of industrial traffic. This busy place has the “little” pushing boats and tugging boats moving those big guys all over.

For the first time ever, we were hailed on the VHF by  a tug to let us know they would need a wide area to bring the Ocean Ruby out of her berth – “Could we please stay on the far side of the channel where we were?” You bet, NO problem! The AIS system provided the tug with our name and info so that we could be hailed on the VHF by name. This is so much safer and more efficient than hearing, “white sailboat with tall mast near ………” You never knew if they meant you or some other white sailboat with a tall mast.

The Ocean Ruby being getting a push and tug out of her berth

The Ocean Ruby being getting a push and tug out of her berth

Working boats up and down the  river

Working boats up and down the river – ferry boat, push boats, fast Navy boat, security boat

And then, there it was!! The moment we have all been waiting for!!  The beginning of the ICW – Mile Marker 0, officially the “R36” buoy in the channel. Ok, it is a bit of a let down. This doesn’t really seem like the beginning of the famous Intracoastal Waterway, but it is, and here we are! Officially the ICW runs form north of Boston all the way down the East Coast and along the shore of the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas. But this stretch from Norfolk (Mile 0) to Miami (Mile 1095.) is what most people refer to as the protected  “inside” Waterway, also known as “The Ditch.”

Mile Marker 0 = "R 36" The start of the ICW

Mile Marker 0 = “R 36”
The start of the ICW

We checked out two basins with free docks (North Landing and High Street Landing) on the Portsmouth side, but both docks were under water about 10 inches due to a very high tide. We decided to anchor off Hospital Point, known as the place “to stage” for beginning a trip down the ICW.  You do get a lot of wakes from passing marine traffic, but nothing we haven’t felt before. In the anchorage we spied two sunken boats, and not old wrecks, but quite recent ones. Of course there is a story to go with them, as told to us by a local in the marine store.  The most curious part is that both boats are owned by the same person….. let’s not go there.

Two sunken boats in the Hospital Point anchorage.  It's not high tide either.

Two sunken boats in the Hospital Point anchorage. It’s not high tide either.

A little fish who tried to stowaway on our transom. Caught a passing wake and surfed aboard?

A little fish who tried to stowaway on our transom. Caught a passing wake and surfed aboard?

Have a mentioned that the weather has been awful?

Looking above at our hatch cover. Yup, it's raining again........

Looking above at our hatch cover. Yup, it’s raining again……..

Saturday was a bit better than the previous three days, so we donned the foul weather jackets and took time to explore Portsmouth. We walked up High Street to the Saturday morning Farmers Market -not much going on, probably due to the lateness of the season and the dreary weather.  But the fresh produce was nice.

Fresh produce on display ~ our basket of goodies ~ Michele inspects the tomatoes

Fresh produce on display
~ Our basket of goodies
~ Michele searching for good tomatoes

We visited two different nautical stores. First, Mile Marker 0, the local marine store for boating supplies and equipment, and a friendly, chatty place. Bar stools line the counter so that people can just hang out. We saw two of the men later at SkipJack Nautical Wares and Marine Gallery, the other nautical store. Skipjack  is filled with old nautical antiques re-purposed into decorative items, or just for display as they are. The folks there are knowledgeable and fun to chat with, demonstrating a real love of all things nautical.  I couldn’t resist and bought two Japanese fishing floats to add to my collection at home. I did show restraint by choosing a tiny 3 inch globe and a rolling pin style so they can be stored on the boat!

Two different nautical stores ~ Mile Marker 0 for all your boating equipment and needs ~ Skipjack Nautical Wares for antiques and decor

Two different nautical stores
~ Mile Marker 0 for all your boating equipment and needs
~ Skipjack Nautical Wares for antiques and decor

Couldn't resist these small Japanese fishing floats!

Couldn’t resist these small Japanese fishing floats!

There is wonderful Fresnel light on display outside of Skipjacks. Standing 10 feet high and weighing 2,500 pounds, it was used in 1896 as part of the Hog Island Light on the Eastern Shore.  Due to overcast skies, the  photo doesn’t do it justice.

Fresnel lens from Hog Island Light,1896

Fresnel lens from Hog Island Light,1896

Dave and Sue of sans cles raved about a little place called the Green Bean Cafe at Bowmans Garden Center here in Portsmouth, so we thought we would search it out and give it a try. We are so glad we did!! The atmosphere is unusual; the decorations create a feast for the eyes. Better yet, since we were hungry, the food was a true feast. Deeeelicious! We had the Tokyo birds nest ahi tuna salad and a BLT that set a new standard for all BLTs. We even shared the Mississippi Mud Pie for dessert. Everything is made fresh right on the premises, “because there is no creativity in buying something already prepared.” A quote from Paul, the chef himself. If you are ever in Portsmouth, Virginia, by boat or by car, you really must stop here.

Green Bean Cafe at Bowmans Garden Center

Scenes from Green Bean Cafe at Bowmans Garden Center

BLT plate, Birds Nest salad, Mississippi Mud Pie, and pie all gone! Yum.

BLT plate, Birds Nest salad, Mississippi Mud Pie, and pie all gone! Yum.

On Sunday morning, we faced another gray day. Yes, another. But that didn’t stop us from donning the jackets again, hopping into the dinghy and crossing over to Norfolk. We had a new vessel in our neighborhood here – the Carnival ship, Glory, arrived. Now that is a whole different style of cruising! We prefer our little cruising boat to that behometh. It sure was entertaining to watch it turn around, in the harbor, right in front of us.

The Carnival cruise ship Glory at dock in Norfolk

The Carnival cruise ship Glory at dock in Norfolk

We wandered about Norfolk’s waterfront. Norfolk has a logo of a mermaid with painted mermaid statues around the city. I wish we had seen more of them on our walk. It reminded me of West Hartford’s cows and Atlanta’s manatees, and Rhode Island’s Mr. Potato Heads. But prettier. 🙂

Al strikes up a conversation with two mermaids

Al strikes up a conversation with two mermaids

~ Al and another lovely lady ~ He couldn't get near this one!

~ Al and another lovely lady
~ He couldn’t get near this one!

It may be overcast and gray and even raining, but we are finding things to do and see. And we also just hang out and read. Isn’t that what you folks on land do on a rainy day?

Rainy Days in Hampton Virginia

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.

~Fort Monroe, Civil War era ~ old Point Comfort lighthouse, 1803

~Fort Monroe, Civil War era
~ old Point Comfort lighthouse, 1803

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!

~ Kindred Spirit and Sans Cles at dock ~ Dinner guests! What fun!

~ Kindred Spirit and sans clés at dock
~ Dinner guests! What fun!

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?

~Colorful chairs outside the marina office ~ view of the dockmaster's building ~Boater's herb garden

~Colorful chairs outside the marina office
~ View of the dockmaster’s building
~Boater’s herb garden

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.

Biking for groceries

Biking for groceries

Early morning at a city dock - not our usual sunrise scenery!

Early morning at a city dock – not our usual sunrise scenery!

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.

    All shapes and sizes of Navy ships in Norfolk, Virginia

    All shapes and sizes of Navy ships in Norfolk, Virginia

Navy Hospital ship - Comfort

Navy Hospital ship – Comfort

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 first dolphin sighting- gray dolphins in gray water under gray skies........

Our first dolphin sighting- gray dolphins in gray water under gray skies……..

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!

Police boat escorting the submarine into the shipyard (gray sub in gray water under gray skies. Do you see a theme here?

Gray sub in gray water under gray skies. Do you see a theme here?

This view of the radar does not look promising.

This view of the radar does not look promising.

 

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.

Our view from the cockpit (at the dock)

Our view from the cockpit (at the dock)

~Al researching on the iPad  ~Michele reviewing books and charts

~Al researching on the iPad
~Michele reviewing books and charts

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.

We ar e ready to venture out.

We are ready to venture out.

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……

The Virginia Air and Space Museum in the background

The Virginia Air and Space Museum in the background

Surrounded by planes

Surrounded by planes

Having some fun -- ~ Al learning to guide planes for landing on a carrier ~The Pratt-Whitney F100 engine (that's for our CT buddies at PW) ~ leather jacket, a little bit of fashion, too.

Having some fun —
~ Al learning to guide planes for landing onto a carrier
~The Pratt-Whitney F100 engine (that’s for our CT buddies at PW)
~ Leather jacket, a little bit of fashion, too.

The Apollo 12

The Apollo 12

Magnolia

Anthony and Annette – ready for anything!!

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!

Anthony, Annette, Al, Michele, Sue and Dave

Anthony, Annette, Al, Michele, Sue and Dave

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.