|June 23 - Cruising From the Tidewater Area of Virginia
by Joyce Holland
|They came from the North; as far as Maine, and from the South, all the way from Florida, and also the Midwest; Ohio and Illinois, and Helios (Greek god of the sun) shone upon us. We could not have asked for any more perfect weather for our first lighthouse adventures in 2007; temperatures in the low 80's, with relatively low humidity.
The weekend kicked off on Friday at Fort Story and the Cape Henry lighthouses. Forty two lighthouse lovers got the rare opportunity to climb the 227 steps of the New Cape Henry lighthouse (currently not open to the public); as well as the 188 steps of Old Cape Henry, which is open to the public year round.
Saturday morning found Tom and Barbara Block arriving at the Virginia Beach Fishing Center at Rudee Inlet with big smiles on their faces. On Friday, they finally made it out to Solomon's Lump light and were our first new 40+3 members for this weekend. Everyone (72 participants) was prompt and arrived early; and Capt. Skip Feller was able to leave the dock on time. His father, Capt. Fred Feller, stopped by to say hello to Robert and myself before taking out another of the “Rudee” fleet for fishing. It seemed like a race between the two boats along the shoreline of the beach, in choppy waters. There was a Northeast wind blowing that day against the tide. We had a few people experience motion sickness, but we were informed by Capt. Skip that once we passed through the islands of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, we would have smoother sailing. And…..he was right.
But before turning north up the bay, we had a photo opportunity at Cape Henry. Photographing both lights from the water is a great experience; especially when they are lined up side-by-side. However, our rock'n and roll'n wasn't helping with the photography. After allowing ample time for everyone to try to get their pictures; we took off to travel 41 miles up the Bay, full speed ahead. Two hours later we arrived at Wolf Trap lighthouse; which was surrounded by fishing boats. Someone fishing there recognized the Rudee Whaler and radioed Capt. Skip to ask him what he was doing up in the Bay that far. “You're doing what?” he asked. “You came all the way up here to look at a lighthouse?” “Just to look at a lighthouse?” We then circled the light (and the fishing boats) several times for our pictures, and turned South to head to our next destination; New Point Comfort lighthouse.
Upon arriving at Mobjack Bay and New Point Comfort lighthouse, Capt. Skip eased the Rudee Whaler into six feet of water. I believe this is the closest we have gotten to that light on any of our cruises. Even I was excited to really see it this close. And, seeing it this close makes you realize how small the island is that it is standing on. We can only hope that Mathews County and The Friends of New Point Comfort Light save it in time before it becomes a lost and forgotten beacon.
Cruising to our next destination, we encountered dolphins; first you saw one, then another and another. Capt. Skip stepped out from the bridge and pointed and said; “Watch the wake, they love to jump it.” No sooner were those words out of his mouth when about five or six dolphins were up high out of the water jumping the boat's wake. Ooos and aahs were heard all over the boat as they continued their show and followed the boat for a few minutes before returning to their feeding.
Arriving at Thimble Shoals we found the owners and friends working on its restoration. It was good to see that someone was taking care of the light. We all envied them and wanted to go aboard and get inside. We identified ourselves; spotted a gas grill on the deck and asked if the hamburgers and hot dogs were ready. Again, we circled several times for our photos. But, this time, someone was taking pictures of us taking pictures of them. Old Point Comfort at Fort Monroe was our next stop with the opportunity to take pictures from the water.
Newport News Middle Ground Light was our last light for the day and the cruise on Saturday. And, again, we found people on the light working on its restoration. The outside top level was visibly repainted and looked great. They weren't the owners but identified themselves as friends of the owner. And, again, we took pictures of them as they took pictures of us taking pictures of them. From here we had to deadhead back to Rudee Inlet; which took about one and a half hours, arriving around 4:30 pm. Since we were not going out on the Rudee Whaler on Sunday, we had to pack everything up and remove it from the boat.
Sunday dawned to another beautiful day, with calmer seas. The winds had changed overnight from Northeast to Southeast. Again, everyone (55 participants this day) was prompt, and the Rudee Angler cruised out of Rudee Inlet on time. We again cruised along the shoreline of Virginia Beach to pass the Cape Henry lights. But, this time it was like floating in a bathtub. We lingered at the Cape until everyone got the pictures they wanted and then headed across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to Smith Island (approximately 17 miles) and the Cape Charles Lighthouse. Here, Capt. Skip eased in as close as he could without running us aground. This was my fourth trip to see Cape Charles and I think the closest I've been to the light. Others who have taken this trip before in other years also agreed we got closer this time; the island is constantly shifting and we had the tide in our favor.
Finally, we were on our way to the Chesapeake “Texas” Tower. It was going to take us 1-1/2 hours to reach it, so we broke out the lunches. When we arrived we found it surrounded by fishing boats. According to the Coast Guard, the tower will have another inspection by engineers next year (2008) to determine if it is still structurally sound. If so, it will remain standing for at least another five years. And, it was here that 14 new 40+3 members received their prestigious patches. After circling and lingering at the tower, we gave Capt. Skip the word that we were ready to head back to Rudee Inlet. We arrived earlier than planned; but that gave those returning home that day extra time for their trip. Some people went over to see the Portsmouth lightship; while others planned to visit the Old Coast Guard Station in Virginia Beach.
Some highlights of the trip: 75% of the East Coast was represented by participants throughout the weekend. Midwest was rep Ohio and Tennessee. “Elvis was in the house”; the annual Elvis festival was happening at the oceanfront in Virginia Beach. However, after cruising from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, most people were too tired to dance and party the night away with Elvis look-alikes. Glen Strunk was the winner of the Harbour Lights 4th Order Fresnel Lens piece on Saturday; and Jim Bayley was the proud winner of the Harbour Lights Cape Charles piece on Sunday. Passport stamps for Wolf Trap, New Point Comfort, Thimble Shoal, Old Point Comfort, Newport News Middle Ground, Cape Charles and the Chesapeake Tower were available to those who had the USLHS Passport Books.
A very special thanks goes out to my personal friend and great friend to our Chapter, John Starling, at the Old Cape Henry lighthouse for arranging with the Coast Guard to open the doors to the New Cape Henry lighthouse for climbing. John could not be with us that day as he was away on vacation with his family; and we surely missed him, but Kathy did a great job in his place. We also want to thank those who helped load, unload, load and unload the Loft for Karen McMichael; John Butler, Joe Crespo, Rich Jones, Al King III, Allan Loomis, John “Mac” MacFarland and Matt Nitschke. An additional thanks to Allan Loomis for assisting my husband, Robert, with the raffle tickets both Saturday and Sunday. My last, but not least, thanks goes out to my husband, Robert, for without his support and help I could not put these trips together successfully.
I believe a lot of new friends were made this weekend; and I look forward to seeing all of you in the future, if not attending one of our Chapter trips, then at a lighthouse somewhere.