Post #53 – SKIING AT THE TIKI BAR – Day 380, May 16, 2015; On board: Hank Koningisor (my Dad); Tom McNichol; Jim K
Before we left Norfolk, a “caravan” of PDQ’s docked at the South Harbor in Portsmouth (just across the river from Norfolk). PDQ is the manufacturer of the Joint Adventure – they built 114 of them from 2001 to 2007, when the company succumbed to economic pressures as the economy began to collapse. Therefore, only 114 exist – six of them came into the harbor:
Unfortunately, Jack Kelly left the Joint Adventure on Saturday to re-enter real life. Fortunately, Hank (my Dad, who is now in his 91st year) and Tom McNichol flew to Norfolk to join me. On Sunday, we ran 40 miles to Yorktown, about 15 miles off-route, up the York River. Norfolk Harbor empties into Chesapeake Bay at its mouth, so we encountered several large ships entering and leaving Norfolk:
In August of 1781, British General Clinton (no relation to Hillary….) became convinced that General Washington was going to attack Clinton’s position in New York rather than pursue General Cornwallis in Virginia. As a result, Clinton sent word to Cornwallis to adopt a defensive position and be ready to send reinforcements to New York if needed. Cornwallis chose Yorktown to build fortifications and dig in. In fact, Washington’s plan had been to attack New York until he got word that a fleet of allied French battleships were on route to the Chesapeake. Implementing an elaborate decoy which included an encampment of empty tents to fool Clinton, Washington departed under the cover of darkness with his troops on a forced march to Yorktown. Before he arrived, the French fleet engaged the British fleet at the mouth of the Chesapeake in a sea battle that was essentially a draw. However, because of damage to his ships and not knowing that Washington was on his way to Yorktown, the British admiral withdrew his ships to New York for repairs. This left the French fleet, allied with the Americans, in control of the mouth of the Chesapeake. Cornwallis’s escape route was effectively blocked. Upon his arrival, Washington joined with union forces already in Williamsburg – Washington now had Cornwallis significantly outnumbered. Although Cornwallis had more artillery pieces, Washington had much larger and more powerful cannons. In the siege that followed, Cornwallis quickly realized that his army of over 8,000 men had no chance and would be overrun. His last, desperate way out was to try to withdraw across the York River in a fleet of small boats that he had maintained at the ready for just such a purpose – he could then try to fight his way through a much smaller union army on the other side, hoping to be able to fight another day under more favorable circumstances. As he attempted to withdraw in darkness, however, a violent thunderstorm hit, destroying or severely damaging nearly all of the boats. Cornwallis knew it was over. The next morning, he surrendered his entire army, including all of the weapons and ammunition that had survived the siege. The Revolutionary War was effectively over – only minor skirmishes occurred thereafter until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 granting independence to the American colonies.
Eighty percent of Yorktown was destroyed in the battle, including its port facilities, and the town never recovered its former prominence. In 1814, a fire destroyed the waterfront facilities that had been rebuilt, and the town became a small, sleepy farming village thereafter.
The Visitor Center/battlefield at Yorktown is a fascinating place to visit – there are far too many anecdotes and interesting stories for me to relate here. The small village of Yorktown on a bluff above the river is also interesting, with many historic buildings dating to the early and mid 1800’s. Below the village, there is a tasteful waterfront along the York River which includes a beautiful beach, several restaurants, and many historic markers. Here are some pictures from our visit:
Due to high winds and some rain as Tropical Storm Ana passed over us, we were “weathered in” for another day in Yorktown, which fit our schedule as we had planned to stay for two days in Yorktown. We rented a car and drove to Williamsburg and Jamestown, both within about 25 miles of Yorktown. Here are a few pictures:
From Williamsburg, we drove to Jamestown where we spent the afternoon exploring the site of the original Jamestown settlement:
On Tuesday, we ran 50 miles north on Chesapeake Bay to a small, isolated island called Tangier Island – one of the most unique places we’ve visited the entire trip. First settled in 1686, most of the 700 current residents are descendants of the early settlers – there are only 53 different surnames among the 700 residents. Because of its isolation over the centuries, the residents speak a fabled, lingering style of speech thought to be directly descended from early Elizabethan-era settlers – at times, it is difficult to understand the dialect it is so pronounced. The islanders are also quite religious. Until recently, the entire economy of the island revolved around crabbing, which still clearly dominates the island. The men who live from the sea are known here as “watermen”. In the last few decades, a limited amount of tourism now supplements the economy of the island, though crabbing still dominates island life. Tangier has its own K-12 school, one policeman, a post office, and a volunteer fire department, so it is quite self sufficient. The people are fiercely independent and proud of their heritage, and most wouldn’t live anywhere else. The island has a spectacular beach at the south end, which was chosen by the British as their base of operations in the War of 1812 – it was from here that they launced the attack on Washington DC and burned the White House, and from which they launched their attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore – the result of which was the writing of the National Anthem by Francis Scott Key.
Entering the harbor is a unique experience – both sides of the channel are lined with crab shanties standing on pilings in the water. Each has its own dock and a series of crab tanks within the shanty where the waterman sorts the crabs, isolating them as they molt which changes them from hard shell to softshell crabs.
However, there are two evolutions which threaten the very existence of the unique, centuries-old way of life. The first is erosion and rising sea levels fueled by climate change. Nearly all of the island lies just 4 feet or less above sea level, so just a modest rise in sea level threatens to drown the island. The second is a drain of young people needed to continue the traditions and the community. As young people born and raised on the island are increasingly exposed to other ways of life through TV, the internet, social media, etc., more and more opt to leave the island and not return. During our visit, we met two producers working for National Geographic who were spending 4 or 5 days on Tangier and Smith Islands, producing a TV documentary about the island communities and the threats to their culture and existence.
Today, the islanders welcome visitors and are willing to share their way of life in small doses. Small ferry boats bring a limited number of day-visitors from the Virginia and Maryland sides of the Bay. There are three restaurants, a few small gift shops in people’s homes, and a few Bed & Breakfasts for people to stay for a night or two.
Here are some pictures from our stay:
Just 12 miles north of Tangier is its sister island, called Smith Island. Tangier is located in Virginia, while Smith is mostly in Maryland. Smith is slightly larger in area but has a population of only 250, compared to 700 on Tangier. Like Tangier, the lifeblood of Smith Island is crabbing. The sparser population makes life a bit more difficult on Smith, since there is much less tourism and therefore fewer service jobs. There are two restaurants (one is actually more of a store/diner), a small museum, a post office, and a church. The island culture is far more vulnerable than Tangier, since there are fewer young people to carry forward and erosion is taking a large toll. However, the landscape is spectacular, the people are great, and the traditions run deep.
When we ate lunch at Rukes Seafood Deck (the combination store/diner and the only place open for lunch this time of year), Tom asked the storekeeper (Steve), what he would order if he were eating lunch. The manager answered “Wait a minute”, and walked to the door, looked outside, and came back to the table. When Tom asked him why he had to look outside to decide what he would order, Steve said “I would have ordered cheese steak, but I had to see if the boat came in today because the cheese steak is on the boat”. A unique place indeed! Here are some pictures:
Our next stop was Solomon Island – a bit of a misnomer, since the former island has been connected to the mainland in Maryland since the 1800’s. Solomon Island is a boating center, with half a dozen marinas containing literally hundreds of slips. There is no beach, but there is a boardwalk with half a dozen good restaurants and perhaps half a dozen shops and boutiques. Pawtuxet Naval Air Station is nearby, so watching fighter jets and other assorted military aircraft circling on training missions is a major attraction. There is also a museum which focuses on local history and natural resources, which features a relocated lighthouse:
So one of the main attractions in Solomon Island is the night life. There is a Tiki Bar that is active during the day, but becomes a “happening” at night – at least on a weekend night when we were there. The small street adjacent to the Tiki Bar gets closed off and is turned into a beach party. There is sand along both sides of the street, and there are several more tiki bars and watering holes that open up along the street as well. Seating areas, tables & chairs, cornhole games, etc. are set up in the sand on both sides of the street, and you are free to wander from place to place with your drinks. There is a giant totem pole structure four feet in diameter, apparently hollow, with a flame on top – every once in a while a ball of gas is released and a big fireball shoots into the sky.
So I was sitting at the Tiki Bar enjoying the show when the bartender took out an old wooden ski from under the bar – this is skiing at the Tiki Bar:
Hmmm…I think I have an old wooden ski in the basement…
On Friday, we ran 50 miles north to the great city of Annapolis, where we remain docked in the inner harbor. More to come!