Saturday, August 29, 2009

Slow Down, Take it Easy...

Sometimes as cruisers even if you are Gypsies you have to slow down and take it easy - that's what we have been doing for the past several days. We spent a final day on Tangier Island and decided it was a perfect day to lounge around on the sandy beach that we had seen on the southern end of the island (we try to take advantage of all sandy beaches we find given how often we have had to make due with mud on the trip up the ICW). The September Song crew (human and canine) and the Gypsies set out by foot for the trek across the island - although it was a "healthy" walk, we got to enjoy the tranquility of the back side of Tangier Island with its green marsh grasses blowing in the wind, snow white egrets feeding in the flats, and the little houses with their white picket fences and cat guardians at the gate.
Egret Feeding in the Marsh
Water Tower on Tangier
White Picket Fences

The beach itself wasn't quite as pretty as it had seemed from afar as it was strewn with dried seaweed, washed up portions of crab traps and we even found a couple fish carcasses which Cassie was especially enthralled with to her owners' chagrin! On top of that there were horse flies the size of small bats that had a special affinity for our ankles and feet (of course where they are hardest to kill and where you don't really notice them until they have sunk their fangs deep into your skin and sucked out pints of your blood!!) These things were downright vicious - I think they were so excited to find fresh blood that hadn't been tainted by centuries of cross breeding!! I can't believe I actually said that instead of just thinking it - sometimes my fingers type too fast for my own good!!!

Oh well...after some serious play time on the beach with the September Song boat dogs (while trying to fool the flies by standing in the water - which unfortunately didn't work), the SS gang headed back to the boat - both the dogs and the human crew were looking a little peaked after such intense playing and losing so much blood - better to get the long walk over with! We decided to hang on the beach for a little while longer - Doug had lugged a full cooler all the way to the beach and was intent on emptying some of it before the walk back!!! Besides the killer bug eyed flies didn't seem to be as attracted to us as to the September Song crew - my theory is that's because of how pickled our blood is (we work hard at that on a daily basis!) But even we didn't last too long - sun pig was finally driven off the beach after several flies got together and threatened to carry me away!!

Doug and I walked back through town stopping at Spanky's for a couple appetizers to take back to the boat for lunch and then spent a quiet afternoon/evening on Gypsies. We contemplated a visit to Hoistin Bridge but didn't want to intrude on the local courting couples....after all what else do they have to do??? The next morning we left bright and early to head north in the Chesapeake Bay - as always when we pull away from the dock I was at the helm and Doug was undoing our lines. Well obviously Mr. Park's had never seen a girl at the wheel as he came flying (OK well as fast as his little 78 year old legs would carry him) down the dock yelling "Hold on, I'll help!!!!"" No thanks - we're just fine was Doug's response - after he told me to stop using the bow thruster to swing our anchor towards Mr. Park's head....deep breath, it's all just part of the charm of the place....
A Look Back at Tangier as Gypsies Departs

That day we had a great steam up the Chesapeake, past the Navy's bombing zone where an old rusted out hulk of a ship sits with holes either from small missile strikes or decomposition (we think the latter!) but at one point you can see all the way through the hull to the water on the other side. Luckily no bombing was happening on our way by!!!
Navy Bombing Target
We pulled into the Little Choptank River where we planned on anchoring for several days. It is a great little river except for the flies - if I thought the flies in Tangier were big, these puppies made them look like sand fleas. I am talking full blown mutant ninja flies here and of course they all started to dive bomb us as we came in to anchor. Poor Doug didn't know what to make of Gypsies going around in circles as I was swatting these mini teradactyls as opposed to tending to the throttles - all I could think of was in Top Gun when Mav buzzed the air control tower!!! These things had me in their sights and although they didn't seem to want my blood, they did seem to want to gouge out my eyeballs!!! After sending a number of them to a watery grave, I think they got the idea I was no pushover and left me alone long enough for us to drop the hook and get it set!!

We headed up the river a ways to see the sights but ended up back by the mouth of the river across from a nice little sandy beach - from the mouth of the river you can see one pretty spectacular estate about a mile up river - wonder who owns that thing??? Maybe the bat flies carried away the owner and are now living in the lap of luxury!!!
Estate on Hudson Creek
Anyways the weather has been pretty iffy - first a cold front swept through giving us some wind and a biblical thunder and lightning storm (which the cats really don't care for too much!) and now we are getting the outer effects of Danny.
Puss is Nervous About the Storm
It was overcast all day yesterday so we had a really lazy day hanging out on the boat getting caught up on internet, email, the blog and a bunch of other stuff we've been putting off. In the afternoon, SS dropped their dink and took the dogs over to the little sand beach and then came back to pick us up since we were too lazy to drop Hobos! We knew a storm was coming from the looks of the sky so told ourselves that's why we didn't drop it...yeah yeah that's it!!

Sure enough the skies opened up and the light show began just as we got back to the boats - coincidence? I think not!! We had another quiet evening of homemade pizza and a movie - too much fun!! Today it is overcast again and we still haven't put the dink in the water although we have made plans to go exploring this afternoon weather permitting. It's looking pretty borderline at the moment but we'll see. In the interim we are catching up on odd jobs and cooking up a storm for tonight's dinner with September Song on Gypsies...I won't even begin to tell you what all we're having because I don't want any drooling on your keyboard!!

Tomorrow we head further north up to Haven Harbor Marina in Rock Hall, MD which those of you who follow the blog will remember is where we bought Gypsies. We had them do some work for us back then and need them to fix some things, namely the watermaker that they installed which has never worked!! Would have been nice to have that in the Bahamas!!! but ces la vie...better late than never! We will probably be there for several days at least and will use their courtesy car to do some provisioning and exploring!! Wonder if they still remember us at Ace Hardware and West Marine??

Click here to see our anchorage in the Little Choptank River.

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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Urbanna Urbanna

We spent the other day dodging rain drops and exploring the great little town of Urbanna, VA - when I say little I really mean it - they have a 25 cent trolley which we rode around town to get the lay of the land, but you can easily walk the main downtown area since it's all of two well maybe one and a half streets!!! But it packs a lot into a little area!!
The Trolley In Urbanna
Our View of Urbanna from the Anchorage

We woke to torrential downpours that nearly capsized our dinghy with water but after there was no more rain left in the heavens, the sun started to break through which was our sign to get off our butts and get into town before round two descended on us courtesy of the passing Hurricane Bill. We bailed out the dink, met September Song at the dock and hopped on the town trolley for a ride. We passed through the "historic district" which when we first heard of it evoked memories of Savannah, Charleston and Richmond - not so much!! There are a few old homes and buildings around town including Rosegill which is an estate that was built by Ralph Wormeley in the early 1700's (Urbanna Creek was formerly known as Wormeley Creek in the late 1600's after Ralph), Lansdowne House which was formerly owned by Ralph Wormeley III, the Marble House and the old County Courthouse which is now the Middlesex County Women's Club - but "historic district" I think is a slight stretch.

That being said, Urbanna is a real throw back little town - we walked around and found an old general store complete with wooden bench chairs in the shoe department, old rolling ladders for reaching upper merchandise and sales people that seemed to fit right in if you get my drift! In the local marine, auto and farm store (no you can't make this up) one of the old guys wanted to know if we were off of them big trawlers in the harbor - guess our legend precedes us - or more likely there's just not that much to talk about in Mayberry, I mean Urbanna!! One of the highlight's though was Marshall's Drugstore and Five and Dime with a good old fashioned soda counter where we all indulged in some root beer floats!!! Last time I did that I think I was 12 but heh who said you can't go back - in Urbanna you sure can!!
Very Tasty Root Beer Floats
ps Since I had the camera I also got a picture of our dinner joint from the night before Olivia's - isn't she a thing of beauty!!!

The real surprise of the day was a little hidden store called Taste - whenever we see a sign for gourmet foods, Stephanie and I have to go in - it's like there is a gravitational pull or something. Glad we did!!! What an amazing gem of a store - as we entered one of the sales girls was heading out to the grocery store but told us to just yell for Kelly who could take care of us. That's OK we were good on our own as we entered a fantasy land filled with lots of gourmet delicacies to taste and try - wickles (wicked good spicy pickles which are just about the best thing ever), cream cheese with blackberry jalapeno compote, hand pressed olive oil and sicilian dipping bread, and cream cheese rolled in a citrus black pepper crust were just a few of the delicacies we indulged in. Doug and Stephanie also partook of the bloody mary mixes while Bob and I went back for seconds on our favorites - OK we are cruisers and were a little hungry. The girls who ran the store were awesome - they were having a ball and wanted us to try everything. We picked up a few goodies and put a small dent in the cruising kitty while we waited for the jumbalaya that was cooking out back to be done - yum - had to have some of that for the boat too! They invited us back that afternoon for the wine tasting - have you met us yet - OK!!!! Unfortunately it poured that whole afternoon and as much as we love wine (and I bet their's didn't even come out of a box), we weren't up for the trek by dinghy and then on foot into town for sips of wine we knew we couldn't afford to buy!! And besides we don't do glass on the boat so I guess we're stuck with bag in the box wine!!! Life could be worse!
The Entrance to Taste
Taste was a Gourmet Candyland

Yesterday after a few showers we set out for a new anchorage in the Corrotoman River which one of the locals had told us about - we were in search of a beach with real sand and not mud and when he told us there was one just like that up the Corrotoman, off we went!!! Not only the September Song boat dogs but sun pig was also desperately in need of a beach day! The trip over from Urbanna was pretty short but the scenery up the Corrotoman River was to die for - beautiful rolling hills, lots of lush forest and some really pretty homes along the banks of the river. We headed up the eastern branch of the river and came to one very kewl spot - a little harbor tucked in back of a sandy beach just big enough for our two boats (or so we thought!)
Corrotoman Anchorage
By 11:00 am Doug and I were on the beach with our chairs, cooler and beach paraphernalia and we were soon joined by the SS crew -
Tammy and Doug Get Setup on the Beach

I'm not sure I have ever seen such pure unadulterated bliss as Cassie and Godiva displayed having jumped off the tender into the water to find themselves on a great little beach with minnows for Cassie to chase and sand for Godiva to roll around in on her ball (except maybe my face when I got to wiggle my toes in actual sand!!!)
Cassie Can't Even Wait for the Dinghy to Beach Before Jumping into the Water
Godiva Shows How Excited She is to be on a Beach
We had a couple hours before we were descended upon by the Sunday afternoon dog and party gang - when I say boatloads of people started to unload from little go fasts, I do mean boatloads!! Did I mention this was a pretty small beach - really just a jut of sand that would become smaller as the afternoon wore on and the tide rolled in!!! Have you ever heard about the joke - how many elephants can you fit in a VW??? well that about summed the afternoon up but everyone got along and had a great time.
The Beach Gets Smaller and the Group Gets Bigger
Cassie and Godiva had new friends to play with as well, a black lab named Chatham who seriously went tubing around the harbor by himself when his female human companion fell off, a labradoodle named Lark and some other big dog (breed unknown at least to me) named Nautica all joined us for the afternoon!!! It was a little crowded but lots of fun and as we left to head back to the boats, we knew that tomorrow was Monday and we'd have the beach all to ourselves!!!
Three of the Four Crew Members of September Song Relax at the Beach

But the afternoon was far from over - lots of sun and fun left in the day. Back on Gypsies we dropped our hula lounger overboard (it is one of Doug's coolest gadgets - it's a floating circular contraption with four mesh seats so you can sit in the water and drink holders so you can indulge in adult libations while cooling off!) and we proceeded to turn on the tunes and hang out in the nice cool clean water of the harbor! It is obviously a sight as every boat that came by started howling and waving at us!! SS joined us for a relaxing aquatic afternoon/evening!! I know some people get used to swimming in muddy rivers but for me it's so nice to be back in a place where the water is clean enough to feel like you want to go swimming!!!

After a morning of baking (muffins and cookies) - can you believe it - me??? we headed out in the dinks to do some serious exploration of the Corrotoman River - the eastern branch where we are anchored was absolutely beautiful with lots of little creeks and tributaries to wander around in. The shoreline is dotted with neat homes full of porches and patios and boat docks with stairs climbing at every conceivable angle up to the houses on the hills.
Stairway to Heaven

Bald eagles circled overhead while blue herons dotted the shores and fish kept jumping right next to and in front of the dinghy - one nearly gave me a coronary it jumped so close to my head at a time when the river and surrounding woods was completely quiet!!! We kept waiting for one of them to jump right in our boat - now I wonder if you need a fishing license for that?? Gee occifer I swear they all just jumped right in my boat.....

A quiet afternoon back on our deserted beach with a great book, some cheese and crackers and a few coldies
Afternoon Snacks on the Beach
and we are about to get ready to head over to September Song for Mexican night. Can you say margaritas anyone (of course not for me but it sounds good!!)