Friday, January 30, 2009

A Harbor of Hospitality

It's amazing how quickly you can get into the rhythm of life on the boat, and the best way to appreciate it is to step outside of that world.

John here...

I recently stepped outside of our boating world when I had to return to New Hampshire for 10 days of that "working-for-a-living gig," as Tammy so aptly put it. It was jarring in ways that are hard to articulate, because all of a sudden, not only was I wearing socks, but I was also sitting in meetings, stewing in traffic, picking up dry cleaning and engaging in the very kinds of behavior that we are trying to leave behind.

So, with my business obligations satisfied, it was with no small measure of joy that I boarded a plane at Logan Airport and flew south to Richmond, VA, where Colleen was waiting to pick me up. As you've read elsewhere on the blog, Gypsies was at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, and the unseasonable weather gave me three days to regain my sea legs while tied up to the dock. Good thing, too, because the winds were so strong that even while tied up, we were bouncing about as if we were at sea.

And would you believe me if I told you that, upon my return, it was colder in Virginia than it was in New Hampshire?

All the better, then, that we ultimately headed south, even if it was to (temporarily) colder temperatures. If you don't believe me, check out the shots of Doug and Colleen pulling the anchor at sun-up,
or Tammy and me bundled up like "Nanook of the North" while running topside.
That frigid trend finally broke on Friday when we finished off a six-hour run down the Blackwater Creek, across the Albemarle Sound and up into Elizabeth City, NC.

The sign that greeted us at the town's celebrated "Mariner's Wharf" is one I've never seen in New England. It introduced the town as a "Harbor of Hospitality," and, as if to prove it, the line below read: "Complimentary Dockage, First 48 Hours." When you consider that some New England marinas charge as much as three or four bucks a foot, it was a divine sight for tight-fisted cruisers.

Alas, coming in at the end of the season, we missed out on a local tradition called the "Rose Buddies." Back in 1983, two men from Elizabeth City decided to have an impromptu wine and cheese party for visiting boaters, who help bring prosperity to the town. One of the men, Joe Kramer, raised roses as a hobby, so he stopped by his house and clipped 17 buds for the visiting boaters, while his other buddy, Fred Fearing, rounded up wine, cheese, chips, dip, cups and free local newspapers.

Meeting at the dock, Fred and Joe hosted the first party for those 17 boats and crew. Since that time, the tradition has grown here in town. When Joe passed away, his rose bushes were transplanted to Mariner's Wharf, where we were docked, and there's also a granite marker to commemorate this hospitable genius.

Everybody's favorite weatherman, "The Today Show's" Willard Scott, donated a golf cart to the help the Rose Buddies work their magic, and even though we didn't get flowers, we did get warm greetings and free advice from the locals. And free dockage! And in case you're wondering why they still refer to the Civil War as "the War of Northern Aggression" down here, consider this monument to Confederate soldiers.

We took full advantage of the small town's flat terrain with long walks and, for Colleen and me, an even longer bike ride on our nifty "Port Runners," which is why my butt still hurts. The bikes enabled us to lay in last-minute supplies when Doug's sister Dale came to visit us on Sunday, along with her son Larkin - he's the chopper pilot who photographed Gypsies from his Blackhawk helicopter - and Larkin's adorable, soon-to-be-three-year-old daughter Laura. Their visit was a reason for another grill-fest, and while Laura was willing to put up with most of us, she would have been perfectly happy to watch Tammy re-tie the boat's fenders, an act which she then spent the rest of the day trying to emulate.

After they departed, we hit a local tavern called "Thumpers" - $1.75 for Yeungling pints! - in hopes of watching the Patriots beat the Colts, but we all know how that turned out.

With iffy weather in the forecast, we decided to hang tight on Monday - that being today - only to see our free marina fill up with boats throughout the day. That's indicative of the rough weather that's bearing down on us, so Gypsies may be here long enough to see if Elizabeth City remains a "Harbor of Hospitality!"

Tomorrow's the big day. We've all voted. Hope you do, too!

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