Sit­u­ated at Mile Zero on the In­tra­coastal Wa­ter­way, Nor­folk and Portsmouth, Vir­ginia, are nat­u­ral stopovers for cruis­ing boaters headed north or south.

Soundings - - Contents - By Peter Bass

The cities of Nor­folk and Portsmouth, Vir­ginia, flank the south­ern branch of the El­iz­a­beth River at the north­ern ter­mi­nus of the In­tra­coastal Wa­ter­way, also known as ICW Mile Marker Zero. The spot is a nat­u­ral stopover when tran­sit­ing north or south, with mari­nas that cater to boats from mod­est to mega. There is a fine an­chor­age, Craw­ford Bay, and lim­ited free dock­ing at the two basins that Portsmouth owns.


Whether you come down the Ch­e­sa­peake or in from the sea, your boat, the largest com­mer­cial ves­sels on the planet and the U.S. Navy all come to­gether at the en­trance to Hamp­ton Roads be­tween Old Point Com­fort and Fort Wool. While there is plenty of room for all, stay to the chan­nel’s edges and mon­i­tor VHF chan­nel 13. If you ap­proach from the sea, there are north and south aux­il­iary chan­nels for smaller ves­sels in the Thim­ble Shoals Chan­nel.

From Fort Wool it is 10½ miles to Buoy 36, which dou­bles as Mile Marker Zero of the ICW. To the west is the Portsmouth Naval Hos­pi­tal; to the east you will see the stern of the bat­tle­ship Wis­con­sin on the Nor­folk side.

An­chor­ages, Mari­nas And Ser­vices

Just west of Buoy 36 is Craw­ford Bay, a pop­u­lar an­chor­age for snow­birds, par­tic­u­larly in Oc­to­ber as boats wait for the of­fi­cial end of hur­ri­cane sea­son. This bay can also get crowded dur­ing Nor­folk Har­borFest in June and dur­ing the Fourth of July.

The first ma­rina you’ll see is Tide­wa­ter Yacht Ma­rina on the Portsmouth side; a lit­tle far­ther south and east on the Nor­folk side is Wa­ter­side Ma­rina, which is eas­ily iden­ti­fied by a huge sign. About a half mile far­ther south on the Portsmouth side is Ocean Yacht Ma­rina. Th­ese three mari­nas are con­ve­nient to their re­spec­tive down­towns, each of which has dozens of restau­rants and is con­nected via a ferry run­ning ev­ery half hour, so the diver­sions of ei­ther city can be en­joyed on foot from ei­ther side.

Trav­elift ser­vices, fuel and re­pairs are avail­able at both mari­nas on the Portsmouth side, but not at Wa­ter­side. Also handy to Mile Zero, and of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to mul­ti­hull folks, is the Portsmouth Boat­ing Cen­ter, a fullser­vice boat­yard with a Trav­elift that can han­dle boats up to 25 feet in beam. Portsmouth has ad­di­tional ser­vices and slips at Scott’s Creek Ma­rina and Vir­ginia Boat and Yacht, the lat­ter also the home of West­ern Branch Diesel, a diesel ser­vice cen­ter.

Fun, Food And Cul­ture

On the Portsmouth side, the main din­ing and re­tail thor­ough­fare is High Street, a few blocks from Tide­wa­ter or Ocean Marine. The din­ing op­tions on the High Street cor­ri­dor are ex­cel­lent and seem­ingly end­less. There is also a new restau­rant, Fish & Slips Ma­rina Raw Bar and Grille, within Tide­wa­ter.

This area has the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of pe­riod homes be­tween Charleston, South Carolina, and Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia. Pick up a map and guide at the vis­i­tors cen­ter on North Street near the ferry land­ing. The Olde Towne neigh­bor­hood is worth a walk­a­bout.

On the Nor­folk side, you will ex­pe­ri­ence

more of a city feel just steps from Wa­ter­side, which is a re­cently built din­ing and en­ter­tain­ment com­plex. Sev­eral ho­tels are nearby, in­clud­ing a re­cently fin­ished Hil­ton called The Main, which is a fun visit for the restau­rants and bars. Granby Street runs per­pen­dic­u­lar to the wa­ter­front. Within a cou­ple of blocks on ei­ther side are mul­ti­ple op­tions for din­ing, or take a cab to the restau­rant dis­trict in Ghent on 21st Street.

The eas­i­est pro­vi­sion­ing is avail­able on the Portsmouth side thanks to a free shut­tle around Olde Towne. It serves both mari­nas and will run you to the Food Lion on Lon­don Street. The trip is bike­able, too. The shut­tle op­er­ates on tips and is based out of Tide­wa­ter Ma­rina. A cab on ei­ther side of the river can get you to a su­per­mar­ket within a few miles. Tide­wa­ter Ma­rina has lim­ited gro­ceries, beer and wine on site. Portsmouth has a farmer’s mar­ket ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing, a cou­ple of blocks in from the wa­ter­front on High Street.

Portsmouth is home to the Chil­dren’s Mu­seum of Vir­ginia on High Street if you are cruis­ing with kids or grand­chil­dren. Sev­eral other mu­se­ums and the Light­ship Portsmouth are blocks away. The big at­trac­tions on the Nor­folk wa­ter­front are the Nau­ti­cus mu­seum and the bat­tle­ship Wis­con­sin. A nar­rated boat trip to the Navy Piers leaves from Nau­ti­cus.

Mile Zero is a marvelous stopover. Plan to stay a bit.

The area is a pop­u­lar stopover for snow­birds and other cruis­ers.

Cruis­ing with kids? Check out the Chil­dren’s Mu­seum in Portsmouth.

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