And the road goes on forever...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Waterman of the Chesapeake

About 66 miles by car from our current RV park, there is a water wonderland of Virginia known as the Middle Neck; a place smattered with proper British names like Northumberland County, Middlesex County, King and Queen County and village names like White Stone, West Point, Burgess and Kilmarnock (Irish in descent). The land gently undulates with soy and now-razed corn fields; the hardwood forests remain thick elsewhere and we cross many bridges; one very long and narrow across the mighty Rappahannock River. On this sparkling and vividly sunny fall-feeling day, we are headed to one little spot known as Reedville and more specifically Buzzard’s Point Marina. There’s a boat waiting for us.

It is from this tiny burg that the only passenger ferry in this part of Virginia leaves daily to Tangier Island. For $25 rt Marc and I will get to experience a day on the water and more specially a step back in time to the Waterman’s culture on the tiny speck of land five miles long, one mile wide (three fourths of which is salt-marsh) and four foot in elevation. By ten o’clock the Chesapeake Breeze is loaded and we’re moving slowly away from the backwater dock. Marc and I are sitting on the rooftop deck to allow for the best picture-taking.

The cruise begins spectacularly with its winding pathway through the fingers of a back bay and we sit enthralled to view the lovely homes, each with its own boat and dock attached as life here revolves around the water. The countryside is tree-lined and tranquil; the sun warms us as a brisk breeze pops up as we near the much more open Chesapeake Bay. We begin to see many sailboats. Middle Neck: you have already stolen my heart; I could easily live here!

About one third of the way into the cruise, we encounter much more motion on the deck top so everyone sits down. I sit towards the front and watch the horizon, knowing from our previous sailing days this is the best trick for preventing seasickness. Swells are running about three feet with barely a break over of white foam. Ships pass.

The approximately 16 mile trip across the open water lasts for about an hour and a half as Tangier slowly appears on the horizon. We power down and gently cruise in to a different world, looking as if it sprang out of the 1950’s. The channel is lined with crab shacks and the specific type of boat used by the waterman.

Once disembarked we will have about two and a half hours to tour what we can of the island—an island which uses bicycles and golf carts as the main means of transportation on the tiny streets. We start by having a crab cake sandwich lunch and then do the standard tourist thing of viewing, photographing, and trying to catch the vibe. The locals speak with a strange lilt and slight English accent.

The homes are simple and typically done salt box style with lots of yard ornaments. A strange anomaly due to the high water table is that people were typically buried in front yards so many homes sport graves. There are a few common small cemeteries but it’s also perfectly acceptable that old Aunt Meg be buried right next to the house! Now this works fine when the home remains in the same family but what happens when a stranger buys it next?

The time to enjoy island life is short but sweet; we re-board right after we are joined by another ferry arriving from Maryland and make our way back across the Chesapeake and an end to another fabulous day exploring Virginia. Virginia, you keep stealing my heart!