As you cruise around the mid-Atlantic, drop anchor at Hampton, VA’s, bustling port. Located near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where the James, Elizabeth and Nansemond rivers converge, Hampton’s regional network of waterways has played a key role in its growth. This coastal community is home to one of the world’s greatest natural harbors, the beautiful Chesapeake Bay and beaches beside the breathtaking Atlantic Ocean.
Attractions for history buffs include The Emancipation Oak where Lincoln’s document to liberate slaves was first read in the South, Virginia Air & Space Science Center with exhibits on training astronauts at nearby NASA Langley Research Center, several historic lighthouses, and churches where parishioners have worshiped for centuries. The Hampton History Museum pulls it all together under one roof. The most beloved history buff attraction is Fort Monroe National Monument, the site of the first African landing in English North America in 1619 where slaves found sanctuary during the Civil War.
If being on the Bay stirs up fresh seafood cravings, Hampton will not disappoint. The town is packed with eateries that dish up crab cakes, rockfish and other local delicacies. After a hearty meal, stroll around the Phoebus neighborhood or the vibrant downtown and stretch your legs by visiting shops, galleries, breweries, pubs and antique stores.
Your trip isn’t complete without a Hampton Queen cruise to see the Atlantic Ocean or a sunset stroll at Buckroe Beach. Enjoy the local vibrant culture with festival themes ranging from pirates to jazz and bluegrass.
I always thought that someday I would retire, buy a boat and travel down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) with my wife. Even though I'm not retired yet, I bought a 3470 Glacier Bay Catamaran, Almost There, in September 2013, and the opportunity to take the trip became a reality. I traveled from Baltimore to Key Largo, Florida with my two retired friends, John and Denny, both of whom readily volunteered once they found out they wouldn't have to pay for fuel. Instead of writing my story about the food I ate and things that broke on the boat, I would find more interesting things along the way. 1,350 miles, 1,600 gallons of fuel and 80 engine hours later, this is the tale of our journey.
There were a few things to organize before we left, such as power cords and hoses, but that was simple compared to figuring out which switch did what. We cruised around 15-17 knots, which is a nautical term for slow, making our way to St. Michaels Marina located on the Miles River. They have a terrific Maritime Museum, where they restore and display a variety of boats used by watermen of the Chesapeake.
We re-entered the Chesapeake Bay from the Miles River to a glowing blue sky with John noting that we were, as lucky as a twodollar hound dog on Elvis Presley Day. We did see a slew of fishing boats in the shallows of the Chesapeake, an abandoned ghost ship fully out of the water and a lot of water
Most of the bridges that we would have to go through, including the Great Bridge Lock in Chesapeake, Va., are timed perfectly so that you can go through one and then just miss the next one. It would take all day to go 50-miles! The heat grew, and as we wilted, we decided to test the generator. Good thing we did. The generator was overheating and had no coolant in it. When it still wouldn't work after filling it, we had a good drill closing and reopening the boat to try and cool off. Just as we decided to speed up so we could get a breeze, we hit a no-wake zone and finally arrived at Coinjock.
This is one big state. When we awake tomorrow we will still be in North Carolina. Just before entering the Pamlico Sound, which runs just inside Cape Hatteras, we saw a huge school of bait being chased by a pod of Porpoise.
Upon arrival into Morehead City, we tried the generator again. It ran a bit rough but we thought that it would be OK until we noticed smoke. Now we have the interest of everyone in the marina. It seems that if there is a boat with something wrong, everyone shows up to help you. With some help we were able to rescue the generator so we started the next run outside from Beaufort Inlet to the Frying Pan Shoals, a long shifting area of shoals off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina.
Departing out of Cape Fear Inlet, we progressed southwest on the ICW, and we passed Charleston Harbor, where Fort Sumter was flying the flag at half-staff for 9/11. To make up for lost time, we traveled the 200 miles to Beaufort.
Departing Beaufort, we were on our way past Parris Island and into the Atlantic Ocean. The seas were flat as we hummed along for hours. We passed though a Right Whale Conservation zone, where you are not to approach any of the Right Whales within 500 yards. The reason they were named Right Whales was because they were the right ones to kill back in the days of the whaling industry. We soon arrived at St. Mary's Inlet, and docked in Fernandina Beach.
We departed from Fernandina Beach and decided to stay on the ICW. After hours of no-wake zones, we managed to get to the outside, where the running was faster. After 1,000 miles of traveling on the ocean, we pulled into the Ponce Inlet and docked at the Inlet Harbor Restaurant & Marina just north of New Smyrna Beach. A half-mile walk brought us across the island to the beach, where we went for our first swim.
Off we went, and every couple of hours we would check our distance and fuel levels. The flat seas allowed us to choose any inlet, so we refueled in Jupiter, Florida. 200 gallons of fuel and a half hour later, we were back in the ocean. Record time!
On arrival into Government Cut by the port of Miami, I felt as if I had lost steering. We anchored right inside the west side of Star Island when we noticed the completely broken steering arm. This coincided with a catastrophic failure (the manuals words not ours) of all throttle and controls. After an elaborate rigging of lines, we were able to hold the throttle and steering on both engines to run at cruising speed. We didn't slow down or move anything until we were 100 yards from my home canal in Key Largo.The only thing I learned from our 10-day voyage was that I was wrong. Not about how much fun the trip would be, the friends who joined me or the boat I bought. I was wrong thinking I wouldn't write like every seaman's eventful journey about the people I met, food we ate and how we managed the breakdowns in between. In the end, it's about similar experiences that help bind you to the marine community.
When the English Colonists who established Jamestown sailed through a watery passage into the New World in 1607, there were no charts, lighthouses, or daymarks. They often used familiar English sobriquets as names for the places and rivers that they "discovered" in Virginia -- Cape Charles, Cape Henry -- but Captain John Smith's map of Virginia, in use for seventy-five years, also recorded many of the native tags given by the indigenous people, including the Chesapeake Bay.
These days, the area at the confluence of the James River, Elizabeth River, and the Chesapeake Bay -- collectively known as Hampton Roads -- is still a great place to explore by water.
Norfolk and Portsmouth are on opposing banks of the eastern branch of the Elizabeth River, and the shipyards and marinas lining both sides make this a splendid starting point for a cruising adventure in the region. On the Norfolk bank are the Waterside Festival Marketplace, Waterside Marina (757-625-3625), and Town Point Park. The naval museum, Nauticus, which has the World War II-Era Battleship Wisconsin as its centerpiece, is adjacent to Town Point Park and is an easy five-minute walk from Waterside Marina. Also, a former 1873 church now turned into a tavern, the Freemason Abbey Restaurant, is only a four-block trek from Town Point Park.
The Elizabeth River Ferry provides a convenient, interesting, and inexpensive means of crossing the river from Norfolk to Portsmouth. A one-way ride costs $1.75 and runs every 30 minutes. Portsmouth boasts a plethora of boatyards and marinas. Tidewater Yacht Marina (757-393-2525), located at mile marker 0 on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), houses some of the best marine facilities in Hampton Roads along with Ocean Marine Yacht Center (757-321-7457). Both are set in the heart of Portsmouth's Olde Towne, a charming historic maritime district with the country's oldest operating U.S. Naval Hospital and loads of shopping and dining options. The Naval Shipyard Museum, Portsmouth Lightship Museum, and the Children's Museum of Virginia are also nearby, and the Olde Towne Courtesy Shuttle provides passenger service within the Olde Towne district.
Cruisers who like to explore should check out this Historic Hampton Roads boating itinerary.
Lynnhaven Inlet, on the Chesapeake Bay side of Virginia Beach, is approximately 22 nautical miles from Waterside and Olde Towne. The voyage requires sailing down the Elizabeth River, around Lambert's Point and into Hampton Roads. Along the way, cruisers will sail past the Norfolk Naval Base, over and under the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and under the Lesner Bridge into the Lynnhaven River.
Lynnhaven Bay was the site of a notorious 18th-century pirate battle, and Lynnhaven oysters gained renown worldwide for their succulence and distinctive flavor. Long Bay Pointe Marina (757-321-4550) is located on Wolfsnare Creek, a tributary of the Lynnhaven River. This first-rate boating resort is about five minutes from the Chesapeake Bay and ten minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. The 215-slip marina with floating docks can accommodate boats from 20 to 200 feet. Amenities include a tackle shop, fish-cleaning facilities, climate-controlled restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and easily accessible parking. Restaurants are located on the premises.
First Landing State Park, the site where English colonists first came ashore in 1607, is within walking distance. The park features 20 miles of hiking and bicycling trails and a mile and a half of beach.
Cape Henry and its two lighthouses are located ten miles east of Lynnhaven Inlet via Shore Drive (Route 60), on the Joint Expeditionary Base-Fort-Story. The Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, built in 1792, is open to visitors for a fee.
Passing through Lynnhaven Inlet into the Chesapeake Bay on a northerly heading will put sailors on course to Cape Charles. An easterly bearing will put the crew on a course to Cape Henry -- and the Atlantic Ocean.
Cape Charles, on Virginia's Eastern Shore, is 25 nautical miles from the mouth of Lynnhaven Inlet. The cruise to Cape Charles will involve passing through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel at some point. While small craft may pass under the bridge trestles, larger craft must pass over either the Thimble Shoals Channel Tunnel or the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel Channel. On the Eastern Shore side of the bridge tunnel, larger vessels can pass under the North Channel Bridge.
The town of Cape Charles was founded by Alexander Cassatt and William L. Scott in 1864. It was the southern terminus of the New York, Philadelphia, and Norfolk Railroad. The outgrowth of railroad tracks from Maryland to Cape Charles opened markets in the Northeast to Eastern Shore produce and seafood. By employing steamboats and railroad barges, the newly established port created a link to Norfolk. Cape Charles grew rapidly and quickly became the economic and domestic hub of Northampton County.
These days, Cape Charles is the gateway to the ecosystem of the Virginia Coast Reserve, a coastal barrier biosphere comprised of mainland watersheds, lagoons, and tidal marshes. Because of where it's situated, it also serves as a kind of convenience store for super yachts in need of fuel and provisions as they cruise the Atlantic coast.
Cape Charles Yacht Center (757-331-3100) is a full-scale service facility, with short-term and long-termboat slips and dry storage. All types of mechanical systems are designed, serviced, and installed on site. Guests also get complimentary shuttle service to all Cape Charles attractions. The 75-ton Marine Travel Lift (a 650-ton lift is currently under construction), gently and expeditiously removes and returns bigger craft to the water, and the deep-water floating docks can easily accommodate large yachts for transient or longer visits.
Hampton is in the heart of the Hampton Roads region, about 22 nautical miles from Cape Charles on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The entrance to the Hampton River is just beyond Old Point Comfort, where the channel passes between Fort Monroe National Monument and Fort Wool and over the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.
Bluewater Yachting Center (757-723-6774) is adjacent to Blackbeard's Point on the port side at the mouth of the Hampton River -- where Blackbeard's severed head was posted on a pole as a warning to other pirates in 1718. The full-service marina offers diesel and premium gasoline, a full parts department, and factory-trained technicians. It also has a swimming pool, a coin-operated laundry, bicycle rentals, and the ever-popular Surfrider Restaurant.
A complimentary water shuttle is available on demand to transport guests from the marina to the center of downtown, where the Hampton History Museum illuminates the city's past, from the native Kecoughtan Indians through the 20th century. The Hampton Carousel was built in 1920, and its 48 intricately carved horses and two elegant chariots were recently restored. The Virginia Air & Space Center serves as the official visitor site for Hampton's NASA Langley Research Center.
Hampton has had a reputation for hospitality since Captain John Smith and his men were welcomed and treated kindly by the Kecoughtan people during the winter of 1608-1609. The four-centuryold tradition continues to this day. The Hampton River Waterfront has five marinas all on its own, and is an ideal stopping point for boaters traveling the Chesapeake Bay or the Intracoastal Waterway. If you can, hit the town during the annual, nationally acclaimed Blackbeard Pirate Festival in June --it's a swashbuckling good time.