This mid-At­lantic town is a great stop-off point for snow­birds mov­ing boats down the coast.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Jeanne Craig

If you’re head­ing south this win­ter, Hamp­ton, Vir­ginia, is a laid­back port that’s just right for a stopover.

At this time of year some boat own­ers in frost-friendly cli­mates are mak­ing plans to cast off lines and head south, where the boat will live for a long and warm win­ter. Part of the fun of the delivery trip is de­cid­ing where to stop along the way. For many, Hamp­ton Roads is con­ve­nient. One of the coun­try’s largest nat­u­ral har­bors and busiest wa­ter­ways, it in­cor­po­rates the mouths of the El­iz­a­beth and James rivers and emp­ties into the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay near the en­trance to the At­lantic Ocean. The area is home to great ports for an overnight—places like Nor­folk and New­port News—but what if you’re not up for the hus­tle of those rel­a­tively big lo­ca­tions? You could try Hamp­ton.

“It’s a metro area with a nice ru­ral feel,” says Jerry Ol­son, a town res­i­dent, ma­rine sur­veyor and former delivery cap­tain. “There’s plenty for vis­it­ing crews to do here, but the at­mos­phere is laid-back and folks are very hos­pitable.”

Ol­son is one of the peo­ple who help make Hamp­ton friendly. One Sun­day, he re­turned to the lo­cal yacht club af­ter a day on the wa­ter to find a guy from out of town on the dock. The vis­i­tor was dis­traught af­ter bring­ing his boat in for an un­sched­uled re­pair. By the time he had tied up, the club’s res­tau­rant had closed; his fam­ily was hun­gry and had no way to get around. “I gave him my car keys and di­rec­tions to a good res­tau­rant in town” says Ol­son. Since then, the men have stayed in touch. “Some of the best friend­ships I’ve made have been with cruis­ers pass­ing through the area.”

Es­tab­lished in 1610, Hamp­ton is one of Amer­ica’s old­est cities. Here, you travel the same wa­ters from which English colonists first saw their new world. In fact, those colonists stopped here be­fore mak­ing their way up the James River to set­tle Jamestown. To­day, you can ex­pect to see mil­i­tary ves­sels at the mouth of the Hamp­ton River as they travel to and from Naval Sta­tion Nor­folk; there are tugs and ships mov­ing in ev­ery di­rec­tion, too. But af­ter you en­ter the river, ev­ery­thing slows down.

Once the boat is tied up (there are sev­eral op­tions for dock­age), you can ex­plore down­town Hamp­ton on the river’s west­ern side. Good luck try­ing to cram ev­ery­thing into a day, as you can dine, shop, ad­mire world-class art and even study space ex­plo­ration—the Vir­ginia Air & Space Cen­ter can be seen from parts of the wa­ter­front. Nearby is the Hamp­ton Carou-

sel, built in 1920 and com­pletely re­stored. Across the river is the cam­pus of Hamp­ton Univer­sity, where an art gallery holds more than 10,000 pieces from around the world. The cam­pus is also home to the his­toric Emancipation Oak, the site of the first south­ern read­ing of Pres­i­dent Lin­coln’s Emancipation Procla­ma­tion.

One big draw in Hamp­ton is Fort Mon­roe; it’s tourist gold for any his­tory buff. Con- structed in 1819, it’s the largest stone fort ever built in the coun­try, with 10-foot-thick walls that have with­stood the test of time and hur­ri­canes. Dur­ing the Civil War it was a Union strong­hold in the Con­fed­er­ate south. Sol­diers watched from here as the iron­clads

Mon­i­tor and Mer­ri­mack bat­tled on Hamp­ton Roads and changed the course of naval his­tory. To­day, it’s a Na­tional Mon­u­ment with sandy beaches, a board­walk and restau­rants.

Hamp­ton hasn’t al­ways been on the radar of cruis­ing yachts­men. For decades, many crews would stop in places like Nor­folk or Portsmouth, where there were more slips for tran­sients. But about 12 years ago, Hamp­ton res­i­dent Chris Hall built Blue­wa­ter Yacht­ing Cen­ter, a fa­cil­ity with 200 slips, a sub­stan­tial yard for re­pairs and the abil­ity to ac­com­mo­date yachts up to 200 feet. It has helped draw more boats to this lo­ca­tion.

“Years ago, Hamp­ton was pre­dom­i­nantly for sail­boats and there weren’t many tran­sient slips,” says Hall. “Now we fuel more mo­to­ry­achts than any­one else in the mid-At­lantic. The lo­ca­tion makes it a great stop-off point for crews mov­ing boats up and down the coast. Hamp­ton is only one mile off the rhum­bline of the ICW. Crews like that, be­cause when they’re go­ing from point A to point B, they don’t want to get too far off the com­pass course. They want to be able to get out eas­ily the next morn­ing.” Hamp­ton is very con­ve­niently lo­cated, but lo­cals also like to tell peo­ple about the port’s aes­thetic ap­peal. “It’s a real pretty place,” says Hall. “I’ve been to many places by boat, and I still think Hamp­ton has one of the nicest har­bors I’ve ever seen.”

1. Strolling Queens Way in down­town Hamp­ton. 2. There are plenty of tran­sient slips at lo­cal mari­nas. 3. Visi­tors tour town on Seg­ways. 4. Buck­roe Beach on Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. 5. His­toric Fort Mon­roe was built in 1819.

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