Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stepping Back in Time on Tangier Island

Our last evening in our perfect little anchorage on the Corrotoman River (make sure to pronounce it co-ro-TO-man and god knows not co-ROT-o-man because every local will aggressively correct you as both Stephanie and Doug found out!!) was spent over at September Song having unbelievable Mexican food courtesy of Bob. Who knew he was such a culinary maestro??? We had festive Mexican apps out on the bow while the boys had margaritas and Stephanie and I had our own concoctions - hers was more creative as she had just seen it on the food network the night before, but mine hit the spot too!!
Drinks and Apps on September Song's Bow
We watched a great sunset over our little harbor
Sunset Over Gypsies on the Corrotoman
before heading upstairs to partake of Bob's awesome enchiladas - I took one look at my plate though and knew I would be enjoying the meal again for lunch the next day at least - yippee!!
Enchiladas for Dinner
Back out on the bow for a dessert of white chocolate and cranberry oatmeal cookies which was the end to a perfect night - thanks guys!

The next morning after a beautiful sunrise over our anchorage
Sunrise Over September Song on the Corrotoman
We Pass Our Little Beach on the Way Out
we set out for new territory for us - Tangier Island, which is an island on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, but still part of Virginia. Doug's dad and his wife Kathy used to take the ferry over for day trips so we had heard a lot about it but had never actually gotten there ourselves so we were looking forward to the trip. The first part of the trip out the mouth of the Rappahannock River was pretty rough still with the remnants of Hurricane Bill (the waters take several days to calm down after a storm rips through) and Bootsie let us know she wasn't real happy but luckily it started to smooth out somewhat as we headed north into the Bay. The channel leading into Tangier is fairly narrow and very shallow in spots with lots of current - we found several of those shallow spots while hanging out in the channel waiting for September Song to dock - running aground is always an interesting experience - NOT!!!
The Channel into Tangier
The Channel in Tangier
Of course we couldn't raise the "marina" (and I use that term lightly as it is largely a big wooden dock with some pilings) we were headed into on the radio to see where our slips were (welcome to Tangier) so we had to wait for the dockmaster, a 78 year old man by the name of Mr. Parks who has lived on Tangier all his life (that about says all you need to know!!!), to yell to us where he wanted our boats. Not content to just tell you where to go (so to speak) we had to listen to Mr. Parks tell us exactly how to drive OUR boat (or at least how he thought we should drive OUR boat...which of course is the only right way...) - we finally got Gypsies tied up to the dock after running aground yet again (wish he had told us there was no water there instead of telling us how to drive!!!!) and were REALLY ready for a drink!!! But no we weren't done yet, Mr. Parks had to tell us how to set out our fenders - UGH - good thing he was 78 and he was standing on the dock and I on the flybridge because I was ready to seriously commit bodily harm! After 6,000 miles of traveling from Maine to Florida and the Bahamas and back, I think we know how to a) drive Gypsies and b) tie up our freaking fenders!!!! OK - deep breath - couple cold beers - and I was back to normal and trying to see our experience as just part of the charm of being off the beaten path in a remote island like Tangier with all that entails.

Mr. Parks offered to take us on a tour of the island in his golf cart which Doug wisely realized probably wouldn't be the smartest thing in the world if he was to keep me out of jail, so instead the September Song and Gypsies crew set off by foot to explore the island. But before I get there, once I had time to really look around the little harbor (instead of worrying about dodging boats or running aground or strangling Mr. Parks), the beauty of the place hit me. It is very much an old fishing village with worn crab and fishing boats named after mothers, wives and sweethearts along one side of the channel tied off to white, wooden pilings
Crab Boats Tied to White Pilings
Crab and Fishing Boats
while on the other side sit little crab shacks with stacks of traps out back where the watermen bring in and clean their catch.
Watermen's Crab Shacks
Even our marina has a throw-back charm with its whitewashed shack on stilts above the water with the fading letters Parks Marina in blue and the numerous cats and kittens roaming the docks. It very much reminds me of some of the picturesque lobstering towns in northern Maine that remain untouched by commercialism, tourism or even the rest of the world that we visited often on our summer trips in our prior life! From our boat we can also see across the marsh grass to creeks that run through the island forded by tiny little makeshift bridges and quaint little houses with colored shutters that you know FEMA has rebuilt several times (even at high tide you can see water everywhere so you can only imagine the devastation a hurricane or large storm could cause!!)

We set off into "town" and it was like stepping back in time - to a life simpler than that which most of us know. At the first bend we purchased a hand-written map of the island for $1 - it came complete with island factoids and local recipes!!
Map of Tangier Island
First discovered in 1608 by Captain John Smith and then later settled in 1686 by John Crockett and his sons (by the looks of the gravestones and the historic plaques as well as the names on the houses, it seems the Crocketts, Parks and Pruitts have been on this island ever since and only occasionally marry someone else...) In 1814 Tangier Island was the headquarters of a British Fleet that sailed up the Chesapeake to attack Fort McHenry outside of Baltimore during which battle the Star Spangled Banner was written. What you notice as you walk through town though are the quaint, well kept little houses decorated extensively with yard art,
Well Kept Houses with White Picket Fences
Yard Art
Not All Are Well Kept
the few seafood shack restaurants that close at 5:00 pm (no kidding!! and they serve no alcohol - it is a completely dry island - except for Gypsies and SS of course!!), the grave yards that share front lawns with golf carts (which are the only means of getting around other than bicycles, your feet, a car if you happen to be the island nurse since she's the only one that has one!!! or a few rusty old pick'em up trucks),
Graveyards Share Front Yards with Golf Carts
Golf Carts in the Front Lawns
trash containers shaped like lighthouses
The Local Trash Containers
and cats everywhere!!! You pass a few gift shops catering to the ferry boat daytrippers, the first mobile home on the island commemorated by a historic plaque and the faded blue shack called the Double Six after a dominos game where local watermen gather at 3:00 AM for coffee and smokes before hitting the Bay for a days work.
Double Six
We of course had to stop in Spanky's general store for an ice cream fix - talk about a throw-back!!
Spanky's Place

Lots of history on this island has been lost due to one storm or another as buildings are washed away or ruined and then torn down, but there are plenty of plaques throughout town which give you a sense of what has been lost - one even commemorates the spot where the town sheriff shot a Parks boy for not being in church on Sunday morning even though he claimed to be getting ice cream for his invalid mother (although he recovered from his wounds, several years later the sheriff was shot and the perpetrator never found...perhaps someone named Parks, or Crockett, or Pruitt???) Other plaques told us of wharves that had washed away (where in 1919 President Woodrow Wilson and his wife had visited), stores that had been moved three or four times to find dry land (usually run by a Park, Crockett, Pruitt or an occasional Dise) or homes of "famous" Tangier residents (again usually named Parks, Crockett or Pruitt - seeing a pattern here??? guess what, it still exists here).

As we walked towards the South side of the island which is the low lying area, you see how islanders protect themselves to a degree from the encroaching waters with houses raised on cement and stilts, wooden walkways over front yards and elevated wooden platforms for their golf carts.
Houses are Built a Little Higher on the South Side
As high tide approached, the marsh grass became covered and water seeped onto front lawns so you can only imagine what the island deals with in any kind of a storm or even a moon induced exceptionally high tide!! We walked across Hoistin' Bridge, built to a height of 20 feet to allow motorized boats to go through (now I ask you what kind of motorized boat would that allow????) - it is the highest point on the entire island!!!! Bob, Stephanie and Doug were kings and queen of the island - at least for the moment until a golf cart came by and kicked them off!!
The Highest Point on the Island!!!
Hoistin' Bridge is also the traditional place for couples to come and court - believe it or not there is even a "courting etiquette" with no more than three couples allowed on the bridge at any given time, one on each end and one in the middle with the boys sitting on the rail and the girls facing them making their heads at equal height for easier kissing (I swear you can't make this stuff up -there's a plaque telling us this - and given that there's no movie theater, night club or even restaurant open after 5:00 pm, what the heck else are courting cousins, I mean couples, supposed to do???)

As we followed the marsh around the island, we saw beautiful white egrets
White Egret
and multi-hued herons sitting amongst old, homemade wooden skiffs tied up to poles or just beached amongst the grass - some of them sported names like Spiderman or Summer Breeze but all had seen better days.
Homemade Wooden Skiffs
Not All Still Operational
Some With Chicken Coops Built into the Back of Them
With the sun reflecting off the marshy waters, they made quite the scenic sight! Superimposed on this peaceful scene however were several road signs that sent us into hysterics - the first was a 15 mph speed sign with a warning that speed is enforced by radar (yeah right!!!! - they barely have television here and we haven't been able to get either cell or internet connection!! - where are they going to get radar???)
Speed Checked by Radar???
and the second was a seat belt buckle up in Virginia sign - there are no cars????? Good for a few laughs!! The beach which we saw from the water on our way into the harbor is off to the south and we plan to hit it today - a sign on one of the houses told us the beach was one way and work the other!! Think we'll head to the beach!!
We're Going Left!

After our trip around the island, we headed back to Gypsies for an afternoon cocktail before heading to the Channel Marker restaurant for dinner - they had told Bob they would stay open until 5:30 pm for us but not a second later!!!
Drinks on Gypsies Before Dinner on a Dry Island
So maybe we weren't actually having dinner but a late afternoon snack! (We definitely decided not to eat at the Fishermans Corner Restaurant - I'm sorry but any restaurant with its sign in a graveyard is just not sending the right message!!)
The Fisherman's Corner Restaurant
We were the only patrons at that late hour but enjoyed soft shelled crab sandwiches and crab dip (when in Rome....) with our ice teas and waters - Doug had a couple of those teas and was a little tipsy leaving the restaurant a half hour later because that's all it took for our meal.
The Channel Marker Restaurant
Guess they really wanted us out of there!! Before we left the restaurant we had secured some soft shell crab to take back to the boats - Tangier is the soft shell crab capital of the world - or so the local brochures proclaim!! So we went back to Gypsies for a few real drinks and some cookies before calling it a night - what do these people do at night - it was still only 7:00 pm???? Doug and I spent a great evening watching the sun set over the harbor, reading good books and enjoying the peace - for we knew at 3:00 am we would be awakened by the watermen doing what they have been doing for centuries on Tangier Island, hitting the waterways for a hard days work! We on the other hand, would roll over (boat rooster allowing) and catch some more zzzz's before heading over to play on the beach today!!!
Sunset Over Tangier Island

We woke to a beautiful sunrise
Sunrise Over Tagier Island
and were up early to get some boat chores done before it was time to play - a typical morning for us with the boat kitties between us, Doug plotting out our navigation courses and me blogging (although we have zero internet connection so you won't be able to read about it until tomorrow (maybe...depending on where we are!))
Typical Morning on Gypsies in the Palace
Soon we will be off to the beach - the only question is do we ride bikes or walk so the SS boat dogs can join us for the day??? With decisions like these, life is good!!!

Click here to see our Tangier Island location.

1 comment:

  1. Great stories and wonderful photos! Keep on Keep'in on!