Soundings - - Contents - By Peter Bass

’Tis the sea­son for south­bound snow­birds and Christ­mas boat pa­rades.

A s I write this on an au­tumn Satur­day morn­ing, look­ing out at the north­ern end of the In­tra­coastal Water­way, I see ex­am­ples of a cou­ple of the top­ics for this month. First is a splen­did large sloop, fly­ing the flag of some rem­nant of the Bri­tish em­pire, swing­ing into Tide­wa­ter Yacht Ma­rina. It is the sea­son of mi­gra­tion to­ward the is­lands, and many sailors’ dreams of spend­ing a win­ter cruis­ing in the sun are be­com­ing a re­al­ity. The sec­ond sight is some Har­bor 20s from the com­mu­nity sail­ing pro­gram at the Nau­ti­cus mar­itime mu­seum. Only a cou­ple of boats to­day, but I of­ten count five or more.

Those Har­bor 20s out­side my win­dow were the re­sult of a gift to the Nau­ti­cus Foun­da­tion to es­tab­lish a com­mu­nity sail­ing pro­gram in Nor­folk, Vir­ginia, pat­terned on sim­i­lar pro­grams in Bal­ti­more, New York and Bos­ton. The pro­gram goes far beyond sim­ply teach­ing youths and adults to sail, although there is plenty of that, in­clud­ing pro­grams that al­low stu­dents the op­por­tu­nity to sail the boats out­side the in­struc­tional pe­ri­ods after achiev­ing ba­sic pro­fi­ciency.

The cen­ter­piece of the ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram is called Sail Nau­ti­cus Academy ( SailNau­ti­, an after-school pro­gram that part­ners with the Nor­folk pub­lic school sys­tem to en­gage at- risk stu­dents at the six­th­grade level, us­ing sail­ing in­struc­tion to strengthen math and sci­ence skills, as well as pro­mote per­sonal de­vel­op­ment. Stu­dents make a oneyear com­mit­ment to the pro­gram and can ex­tend it for as long as two more years, with the goal of be­com­ing in­struc­tors and lead­ers. It’s too early to gauge the long-term ef­fects on th­ese stu­dents, but from my perch, I see more boats out more of­ten, and that is a good thing.

For cruis­ers lay­ing over at Mile Zero, a trip to the Nau­ti­cus mu­seum and the bat­tle­ship Wis­con­sin is an easy walk. From the Portsmouth, Vir­ginia, mari­nas and Craw­ford Bay an­chor­age, fer­ries run on the half hour from down­town Portsmouth. There are dinghy tie-ups in the cor­ners of the city boat basin at North Street, one of the ferry stops. You’ll also find a free pumpout there.

Oys­ter is your oys­ter

Many cruis­ers stop in the ma­jor yacht­ing cen­ters on the Bay, but only those who are fairly close to the rhumb line if they are tran­sit­ing south. A few weeks in the Chesapeake is time well spent. If you have the time and rent a car, there is another part of coastal Vir­ginia that sel­dom sees cruis­ers: the At­lantic side of the Del­marva Penin­sula. Driv­ing the East­ern Shore ex­poses you to all sorts of in­ter­est­ing-sound­ing places, such as Machipungo, Chin­coteague and Oys­ter. Many of us are fa­mil­iar with Chin­coteague from read­ing Misty of Chin­coteague to our chil­dren.

There is a pas­sage that winds through the At­lantic-side bar­rier is­lands of Vir­ginia from Cape Charles

to Ocean City, Maryland, or at least there was. Some ar­eas have shoaled so badly that the Coast Guard has re­moved the nav­i­ga­tional aids, so the pas­sage is dis­con­tin­u­ous. There are vil­lages along the route ac­ces­si­ble by car, and those with trail­er­a­ble boats can still ex­plore much of it. If you stop in Cape Charles — by boat or by car — it is a short drive to the vil­lage of Oys­ter. A lit­tle time spent on­line will get you started.

Il­lu­mi­nat­ing the water­front

Hav­ing come from a cold cli­mate where the boat­ing sea­son con­sists of the weeks be­tween Memo­rial Day and La­bor Day, the idea that you might fes­toon your boat with Christ­mas lights and pa­rade around the har­bor seems a bit odd. Not so around the Bay. A quick search for Christ­mas boat pa­rades in Vir­ginia and Maryland un­cov­ered a num­ber of choices for view­ing or par­tic­i­pa­tion, if you are so in­clined.

Bal­ti­more and Solomons host pa­rades in early De­cem­ber, and the East­port Yacht Club in An­napo­lis — a place that re­ally knows how to party — has a well-known event in mid-De­cem­ber. In Vir­ginia, there are boat pa­rades in York­town and Hamp­ton. The event that at­tracts a lot of folks around here is Hol­i­day Lights at the Beach, where for a fee you can drive your car on the Vir­ginia Beach board­walk amid some very elab­o­rate dis­plays. The event runs from Nov. 21 to Jan. 1. My wife and I have not done it, but I’m sure that were our grand­chil­dren to visit dur­ing the hol­i­days, we would work it in.

Snow­bird­watch­ing, noun

There is a steady stream of boats ex­it­ing and en­ter­ing the ICW in the spring and fall. I have been try­ing for the last sev­eral years to project mean­ing into the num­ber, type and time of pas­sage of the mi­gra­tions — my own eco­nomic in­di­ca­tor. As the econ­omy im­proves, there seem to be more boats tran­sit­ing south; maybe re­tir­ing boomers be­lieve their port­fo­lios are healthy enough that they can en­joy some worry-free months in the sun. Just when I think the data fits my fore­gone con­clu­sion, there are sev­eral days of quiet, and I lose faith in my model. At least I have a new hobby.

Mid- Oc­to­ber is prime for snow­bird­watch­ing ( my new word). Just as real bird­ers keep a life list of real birds, snow­bird­watch­ers have their list, as well: the common Is­land Packet, the red-bot­tomed Ber­muda 40, the ex­otic Alu­bat. Come set up your blind in the Portsmouth Re­nais­sance Ho­tel, get some 10-power binoc­u­lars and start your list. Snow­bird­watch­ing has one great ad­van­tage over common bird-watch­ing: room ser­vice.

To­day at Mile Zero

The fall mi­gra­tion is peak­ing, and to­day seemed to be “husky sail­boat day.” There were two heavy-dis­place­ment 40- to 50-foot­ers — a cut­ter and a ketch, both with flush decks for­ward and a house aft. They were fol­lowed later by two ex­am­ples of a cruis­ing yacht that was popular in the 1970s: the cen­ter cock­pit ketch. A gor­geous Oys­ter sloop swung in for fuel and headed down the Ditch.

The Craw­ford Bay an­chor­age hosts as many as a dozen boats on most evenings th­ese days. One thing I like about Tide­wa­ter Ma­rina, where I’m based, is that there is a pro­gram for the an­chor­ing set: For a mod­est fee, you can tie up your dinghy and have full ac­cess to the show­ers and laun­dry. There is also an elec­tric shut­tle to down­town restau­rants and mar­kets. There is no fee, but tips keep the ser­vice go­ing.

So swing on in. See you at the Bot­tom of the Bay, the Top of the Ditch.

Peter Bass is a writer and yacht bro­ker who serendip­i­tously found him­self at the nexus of the Chesapeake and the In­tra­coastal Water­way, a.k.a., the Ditch. Visit for more.

Some­times yacht­ing roy­alty passes by the writer’s perch: the mighty Aphrodite, which spends her sum­mers in New Eng­land.

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