Wednesday, February 11, 2009

on the water

Out on my home sailing waters for the first time this year, but not on Spartina.  I was the guest of a waterman on his Chesapeake Bay deadrise.  Sunny and warm, it was a beautiful day.  The old workboat, built out of douglas fir in the early 1960's, showed her character with peeling paint and worn decks.  A jumble of wires, some leading nowhere, ran here and there.  Bits of line, spare anchors, worn out gloves were scattered about.  An open flame from a gas burner warmed the small cabin.  

The waterman cruised across the James River and talked about his decades on the river.  Crabbing, scallops, tugboats -- he has done it all.  In a couple of days he will be eighty years old.  He said he'll stay off the water tomorrow, gale-force winds are predicted.  But the following day, his birthday, he'll be out again.  "Work on your birthday and it means you'll work the whole year."  (I wish I could get a guarantee like that in this economy.)  He had a new side scan sonar on board, part of a state project.  The river's bottom appeared on the small screen plain as day.  Old crab pots, pipe lines, artificial reefs, even pieces of rope were easily seen.  But after a lifetime on the river the waterman said the screen didn't show him anything he didn't already know.  
As we headed back in to the harbor he talked on the radio with his friends out on the water.  The general opinion was that we are in for more cold weather, but the days are getting longer and the turn in the seasons is not too far off.

That's a satellite photo of my home waters.  Known as Hampton Roads, it is the confluence of the James River (coming in from the top left) and Elizabeth River (coming up from the bottom of the frame).  
I use a boat ramp down at the lower right near the bridge marked 460.  The city of Norfolk is on the right, across the river is Portsmouth.  Out on the river, just off of Portsmouth's Crawford Bay and the old Naval Hospital (built in 1823), is Mile Marker "0" of the intracoastal waterway.  Crawford Bay is an anchorage for cruisers from around the world.  Early on weekend mornings during sailing season that will be me in the gaff-rigged yawl slipping in and out between those well-travelled boats.  I'll be out there soon.  As the watermen said, the turn in seasons is not too far off.

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