Norfolk and the Amistad
Trip Start Jul 21, 2001
45Trip End Apr 22, 2002
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There were a number of sites to see and tour in this area but we were now in a hurry to end our Chesapeake adventures. The weather forecast wasn't good but it would be worse for the next two days so at sunrise we hoisted anchor and once again motor/sailed into headwinds. As we headed down the Bay, the tide switched earlier and earlier so that today by 10 am we were down to a speed of 3.4 knots. What a drastic change from our great sail of a few short days ago. To shorten a story of a very long day, eleven and a half hours later we were entering Hampton Roads as the sun set. We have always made it a rule never to enter a strange harbour at night but there was no choice. Thankfully it was very simple and we anchored between the Hampton Roads Bridge/Tunnel and Old Point Comfort marina, operated by the U.S. Army.
The Chesapeake is a wonderful area and very worthy of years of summer exploring. With all its tributary waters, the guide book said it has more coast line (calculated at over 4,000 miles) than the entire US has ocean coast line. The Bay itself is more than 150 miles long and about 20 miles across at its widest and these waters contain many interesting areas but I must say that we went to sleep with a great sense of relief to know that for the next while we would be traveling in very sheltered waters; no crab pots, no nets, no tidal currents worth mentioning and short runs between anchorages. We felt that sailing from New York City to here was another major milestone in our trip south and we certainly were ready for a more relaxed pace.
Bill Caesar would have loved this morning's cruise. Entering the Norfolk/Portsmouth harbour we motored past the Norfolk Navy Base, home to the largest navy shipyard. In two and a half miles, we counted three aircraft carriers, three submarines and twenty two other ships.
Small navy craft patrolled off these ships ensuring that no passing boats like ours came within a designated area. We made sure to keep our VHF on just in case our taking of pictures was in some way a violation. Apparently not and we cruised past an assortment of naval vessels including aircraft carriers, submarines, destroyers, and a wide variety of auxiliary ships. Quite an awesome display!
We tied up on the west side of the river at the Tidewater Yacht Agency. This marina has won a number of awards for top service and I must say that we have never had better and friendlier service at any marina to date. We decided to have some down-time in this historic locale so stayed for two days relaxing and sightseeing.
After the long sails down the Chesapeake we decided to spend several days in Portsmouth/Norfolk. On the first day of our stay, Margaret rested and I took the Elizabeth River Ferry across from Portsmouth to Norfolk to sightsee. Cost - 75 cents. Best deal of our trip so far.
Most cities have malls on the outskirts but Norfolk has an outstanding mall three blocks from the waterfront. As I came out of the MacArthur Mall, I walked past the MacArthur Memorial Museum. It looked interesting so I went inside to investigate. The museum was created by General Douglas MacArthur and the town council of Norfolk before he died. He wanted a place to store his memorabilia and immense collection of books and historical artifacts which would tell the story of the millions of Americans who served the nation during the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Occupation of Japan and the Korean War.
I found it a unique museum because of the eclectic variety of materials presented. It contains so much of MacArthur's personal property. For example, in addition to the war memorabilia one might expect, it contains more than 480 Asian art objects collected by MacArthur and his wife during their time in Japan. In the rotunda of the building are the burial plots of General MacArthur and his wife. Like Napoleon's tomb in France, you have to look down into this center area. Napoleon's tomb was constructed like this so people into the future would always have to bow to his remains. The thought crossed my mind that since MacArthur personally planned this memorial, he may have had the same motives because he certainly did have a very strong feeling about his place in history.
One of the attractions in Norfolk is the Naval Museum and its top attraction was just added this summer. It is the battleship Wisconsin (BB-64), the largest and last of the famous Iowa-class ships, which was launched on December 7, 1943. She played a major role in World War II, earning five battle stars for service against the Japanese forces. She was the flagship for the U.S. 7th Fleet during the Korean War. She led the Navy's attack on Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. For those who are interested, the Wisconsin dimensions are: Length - 887 feet, Beam - 108 feet, Draft - 37 feet.
I have never been on a war ship before and it was an awesome experience but the best part was listening to the guides. The guides were all volunteers who had served on the ship during the different campaigns so it was fascinating listening to their personal stories. The ship remains in the Inactive Fleet but the guides on board told us that it is maintained in a state of readiness to go into action if called upon.
It was on July 21, that we left Spider Bay Marina in Little Current, Ontario. During these past three months we have: cruised through Lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario, the Welland Canal, the Oswego/Erie canal system, the Hudson River, the New Jersey coast line of the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake Bay for a total of: 1531 nautical miles or 1730 statute miles. We have passed through the waters of Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and now in Virginia we are now at Mile 0 of the Intracoastal Waterway. A sign at the entrance to the Dismal Swamp says that Miami is only 1085 statute miles away.
The Intracoastal Waterway is measured and/or reported in statute miles, much like a highway. Once in the waterway, everything is measured and reported on by mile markers. For example, the guide book says the first bridge which will open for us is found at mile 2.6. The first anchorage is at mile 8.5. We would find over the next week actual mile markers every mile in the Dismal Swamp Canal, every 5 miles marked in the Alligator River Canal, and nothing of course in the large bodies of water like the Albemarle Sound. But locations are still reported in the guide books with precision. For example, I am writing this update at River Forest Marina, in the town of Bellhaven. This marina is reported in the book as being at mile 1.3 from the ICW Green marker "11" at mile 135.0. Although all of this sounds totally precise, in actuality most of the time there is just big open water but it does give one an excellent idea of what to expect ahead and what our options are for different anchorages and marinas.
Margaret came ashore with me today and it will be no surprise to her friends that our first stop was the MacArthur Mall and shopping. Then we walked down to the waterfront to see a very special ship which had just arrived for a two week educational stay. It was the AMISTAD.
Many of you may have seen the movie and this was the actual ship built in Mystic Seaport for the movie and "now serves as a living monument to the millions of lives that were shattered or lost as a result of the slave trade".
For those who don't know the story I'll quote: "In 1839, 53 Africans were illegally kidnapped from West Africa and sold into the slave trade and brought to Cuba where they were fraudulently classified as native Cuban-born slaves. The men, women and children were transferred to another part of the island by way of the coastal cargo schooner La Amistad. Three days into the journey, one of the slaves, Senge Pieh, led a revolt and took over the ship. After 63 days at sea, the ship was seized by a U.S. Naval Cutter. The Africans were transported to and held in a jail in New Haven, Connecticut on charges of murder.
The case took on historic proportions when former President John Quincy Adams argued on behalf of the captives before the U.S. Supreme Court and won. The Amistad Incident brought races together in common cause and continues to embody the ideals of perseverance, justice, and equality."
Margaret and I had seen the movie but it was a moving experience to actually be on the ship itself and hear the story anew.