07 October 2013 | Hampton, Va. to Manteo, N.C.
An almost new National Monument
We spent a bouncy Thursday night at anchor off Old Point Comfort. The Old Point Comfort Marina is still owned by the federal government but operated by a contractor who didn't charge us to use the restrooms and tie the dinghy up at the boat ramp. We had a couple of short walks along the Old Point Comfort waterfront, but we didn't have time to visit historic Fort Monroe. That's probably a good thing because it was likely shut down.
When we were in Hampton in 2011, we spent a fair amount of time touring the site, which had recently been decommissioned by the Army. Efforts were being made at the time to turn parts of it into a National Monument and turn the rest of it over to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
On Nov. 11, 2011, several months after we visited the site, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation making part of it a National Monument. A seven-sided stone fort, the largest stone fort ever built in the United States, is a historic centerpiece, but there are 170 historic buildings on the site, according to Wikipedia. I tried to get information about what parts of the site were designated a National Monument from the National Park Service Web site, but it's shut down along with much of the rest of the federal government because the people we elected to govern aren't doing a very good job of it.
The fort overlooks the navigational channel between the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads which occurs at the confluence of the James, Elizabeth and Nansemond rivers. (This is where we spotted the ailing loggerhead turtle later taken to the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team by the Coast Guard.) The earliest English settlers recognized its strategic importance and built a wooden stockade there in 1609. The stone fort is an important Civil War site because it stayed in Union hands throughout the war and served as a refuge for escaping slaves. It is also where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned after the war.
Fort Monroe Authority
Wikipedia history of Fort Monroe
National Park Service Web site
A mouse among elephants
Friday morning we hauled our anchor and motored down the James River through Norfolk. We were followed into the channel by Bremen Bridge, a loaded container ship flagged in Panama and headed for Norfolk. At about 5 knots, we were moving much slower than it was and someone on its bridge courteously radioed to make sure we knew it was behind us.
Just like the last time we went through Norfolk, I felt like a mouse in a world of elephants. The waterfront is dominated by huge Navy and commercial vessels.The city of almost 246,0000 is home to the largest Navy base in the world, Naval Station Norfolk, and one of NATO's two Strategic Command headquarters. The city is also home to the corporate headquarters of Norfolk Southern Railway, one of North America's major railroads and Maersk Line, which manages the largest fleet of U.S.-flagged commercial vessels. Massive cranes for loading and off-loading ships tower overhead along several sections of the waterfront.
We agreed that next time we're this far north, we'll anchor or stay in a marina in Norfolk and visit Nauticus, the National Maritime Center, and some of the city's other attractions.
On this trip, we slowed a bit so we could watch the tugs that took control of Bremen Bridge soon after the big ship called to make sure we knew it was on our stern muscle it to its dock.
Great Bridge to Coinjock
We made it through the lift bridge in the middle of town at 1 p.m. along with several other sailboats. We chose to follow the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal alternate route of the Intercoastal Waterway instead of going through the Dismal Swamp as we did in 2011. We went through another bridge and a lock before tying up to a free dock running along a bulkhead in Great Bridge for the night.
We didn't have time to explore Great Bridge, except for a walk of a few blocks to the grocery store, but it was the scene of an important Revolutionary War battle. A Patriot victory there on Dec. 9, 1775, forced Lord Dunmore, the British Royal Governor of Virginia, to evacuate and led to the Virginia Convention adopting a public proclamation expressing the spirit of independence, according to the Great Bridge Battlefield and Waterways History Foundation. Great Bridge also played a role in the Civil War. The Chesapeake-Albemarle Canal was completed in 1859 and the Confederacy benefited early in the war from control of the canal, but once Norfolk was captured in May 1862, the canal came under Union control. Confederate guerrillas continued to disrupt Union use of the canal and numerous skirmishes took place around Great Bridge.
Great Bridge Battlefield & Waterways History Foundation
Village of Great Bridge
On Saturday, we were up early to make the 8 a.m. opening of Great Bridge as were most of the other boats on the dock. We were in front of the line, but smallest and slowest, so the others soon passed us. By mid-afternoon we'd arrived at our day's destination, Coinjock Marina. There we met up with a couple of boats that had been on the dock at Great Bridge with us and enjoyed getting acquainted with the crews of Stella and Makani. Coinjock provided us with showers and an opportunity to do laundry. We ordered takeout from the marina restaurant and turned in early.
Sunday we followed the ICW from Coinjock down the North River and across Albemarle and Croatan sounds before turning into Shallowbag Bay and anchoring off the Manteo town dock. The day was clear and the route scenic with marsh grass, pines and cypress lining the banks.
The sound of bluegrass
We arrived in Manteo to the sound of bluegrass music and discovered that we'd made it just in time to hear the last three or four hours of the Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival. We could hear the music from Roanoke Island Festival Park on the boat, but as soon as we anchored, we took the dinghy in to check it out. We didn't have tickets, but we didn't have any trouble hearing and I managed to get into the venue long enough to take a couple of pictures. This is the second annual Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival and it makes a nice Coastal Carolina bookend for the Ocrafolk Music Festival held every year the first weekend in June.
It looks as though we may be here for several days because of high winds on Pamlico Sound. There's lots to explore, so that's OK by me.
Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival