Sunday, July 6, 2014

Worth the day's wait

We are under way in the Chesapeake, en route to Deltaville, Virginia to have a few things corrected before continuing north.  After the first couple of hours wending our way up the Elizabeth River and around Thimble Shoal, where closer attention to the helm is required, we are now in open water for the next few hours, leaving me ample extra attention to write.

Yesterday morning I walked around downtown Portsmouth and took in the "Farmers' Market," involving only three actual farms and perhaps two dozen other booths peddling all manner of "stuff," although to be fair some of it was also edible such as baked goods.  A couple of blocks away was the antique flea market, with another dozen or so booths.  I finally ended up back at the High Street Landing, the more southerly ferry landing (where we also could have docked).  Here I found yet another half dozen booths, staffed by folks in colonial attire, celebrating Patriots Day.  Docked at the landing was the Amara Zee, a purpose-built theater ship with a crew of aerialists; the city was sponsoring three nights of performances, which we opted to skip.

I had to pick my way through the colonialists to access the Naval Shipyard Museum, free for the day and which was actually fairly interesting.  I then made my way to the Lightship Portsmouth, which I expected to just walk through but instead ended up with a very informative docent tour.  Louise elected to stay home and quilt. I very much enjoyed the morning, in absolutely perfect weather, and we could easily have spent the rest of the day there, but we wanted to get settled for the fireworks.  We shoved off right after lunch for the cruise of less than a mile to the Hospital Point anchorage.

I'm glad we left when we did, because the anchorage was already filling up, limiting our options, a situation made worse by a string of perhaps two dozen crab pots smack dab in the middle of a designated anchorage.  We ended up dropping the hook at the north end, just off hospital point and only a hundred yards or so from the channel buoy which happens to mark the very northern terminus of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, "Mile 0" (map).  Between the crab traps, the proximity of other boats, the shallows near the point, and the ship channel, it took us three tries to get the hook in a spot where we could swing freely in all directions.  Which, of course, did not stop another dozen boats from anchoring in that circle before the fireworks began.

The anchorage just after sunset.  I lost count of the number of boats.  Many, many more arrived after this photo was snapped.

These were mostly small boats, and we knew they would not spend the night, so we were not too worried.  For us, a big part of the entertainment is watching what we like to call "amateur hour," and we were not disappointed.  We saw one small boat nearly cream another while anchoring, a third boat hit the Navy dock while they tried to set their anchor, and a fourth boat have to be towed at the end of the night with a dead electrical system.  After sunset, we saw every possible combination of incorrect lights -- boats anchored with their nav lights on, boats navigating without nav lights, and boats with no lights at all.  Law enforcement had a good presence, though, with boats from Norfolk PD, Southport PD, Virginia Conservation, and the USCG all zipping around with their blue lights on, which kept the real stupidity to a minimum.

This last point is an important one, and I'm sorry that all the law enforcement cleared out before all the boats had left.  Shortly after the end of the fireworks, a harbor tug, probably annoyed by having to wait a half hour for the channel to reopen, ripped down the river at over ten knots (the speed limit in this no-wake section is six knots), and his wake wreaked havoc in the anchorage just as boats were trying to leave.  Many yelled at him on the radio; even though Vector was not affected nearly as much (due to our sheer mass), I added my voice to the chorus, because I could see both his name and his speed on my AIS display.  (It was the Kaye E. Moran, and Moran Towing will be getting a note from me -- I've never seen such unprofessional behavior from a licensed mariner.  No excuse, either -- he was light-boat.)

In any case, there were no real mishaps, but lots of small boats, many with unskilled operators who've been drinking all evening (or maybe all day) can be a recipe for disaster.  Witness the fact that four people died and several more were hospitalized last night in Miami coming back from, you guessed it, the holiday fireworks.  We narrowly escaped a similar incident over Memorial Day weekend, when a small boat ran full-speed into an anchored trawler in the middle of the night, killing one occupant of the small boat and critically injuring the other (the trawler occupants were awakened from a sound sleep but were unharmed).  You may recall we cut our weekend short and left a day early; it happened that very evening, and the trawler they hit was the one anchored closest to us, just a few hundred yards away.

Aside from our own pastime of watching other boats, we also enjoyed the scheduled entertainment.  Even from across the river, we clearly heard the two cover bands playing at Town Point Park; both bands played mostly "our" (read: 1970s and '80s dance) music, and one of them was actually quite good.  The music ran from about 6:30 until the fireworks display at 9:30, so we had background music for dinner and for boat-watching.  The only part of the shore-side festivities we missed was overpriced truck food and wrist-band booze and, of course, the crowds.

Our view of the festivities.  The band shell is the tent-like structure in the center; we had no trouble hearing the music.  To the right is the marina where we stayed last May.

At the appointed time a tug pushed the fireworks barge into the middle of the harbor, and we had the best seats in the house.  The fireworks themselves were quite spectacular, and let me say here that I'm pretty jaded -- we've seen a lot of fireworks.  But Norfolk pulled out all the stops, as is fitting for a city with such a large military presence, and I have to say this was one of the most impressive displays we've seen this side of Disney.

Ring-side seats.  The fireworks barge is bottom center -- you can see the tug's floodlights.

We turned on all the outside lights after the show ended -- it's amusing to watch the weekenders leave, so long as they don't hit us on the way out.  In fact, we left the side-deck lights on all night, just to be that much more visible with so much late-night traffic.  Only about a dozen cruising boats spent the night -- the anchorage was empty earlier in the week, and I suspect it will be again by this evening.

We should be tied up at Deltaville Boatyard by five or so this afternoon, just in time for a six o'clock dinner with friends in town.  We'll be there for most of a week, but our friends fly out on business tomorrow morning.  We've had a number of items shipped to Deltaville in anticipation of our arrival, and we're looking forward to seeing the whole crew tomorrow, and likely meeting some new folks as well.  I'll try to post at least one update from Deltaville before we continue north.

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