Urbanna was founded in 1680 by mandate of the Jamestown Assembly, for 10,000 pounds of tobacco, and was one of the first major tobacco ports. It retains the aura of Colonial times in much of its architecture, old trees, beautiful yards, narrow streets and even gas-style street lights in some areas. The visitor’s center is in a tobacco warehouse built in 1776 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here you’ll also find one of the 11 original Virginia courthouses still standing, built in 1748.
There are several maritime facilities on the shores of the beautiful, protected creek, including Dozier’s Port Urbanna (www.dozieryachtingcenters.com) with a clubhouse, full-service yard and covered and transient slips; Urbanna Yachting Center (www.urbannayachts.com); and the Urbanna Town Marina at Upton’s Point, (804) 758-5440, with 16 slips for boats to 80 feet. There is a new inn called Liberty at Compass Quay, with 15 rooms — all facing the water — and 372 feet of dock space (www.compassquay.com). While this isn’t a “marina” and there is no electricity or water at the dock, guests staying at the inn can tie up at the dock without charge as “complimentary parking.” This makes a great place to get off the boat for a few nights and enjoy the town.
Unlike Deltaville, Urbanna is not spread out. Within walking distance of the waterfront are several restaurants, shops, churches, a grocery store, drugstore (Marshall’s Drug Store with a 1950s-style soda fountain), liquor store and churches. As you’d expect, antique shops and theme boutiques also are around. The Urbanna Town Office can give additional information (www.urbanna.com).
Urbanna for many years has been the home of the famous Urbanna Oyster Festival, where some 75,000 visitors descend on the town of fewer than 600 permanent residents. It’s typically held the first weekend in November, and this year the festival will celebrate its 50th anniversary Nov. 7-8 (www.urbannaoysterfestival.com). People come from afar by car, parking in farm fields out of town and traveling the rest of the way by bus. At various times, roads in town are closed for the throngs of celebrants.
The harbor becomes jammed with boats, both local and those that have traveled from all over the Bay to join in the fun. As you might imagine, one of the many events is Virginia’s oyster shucking contest. And there are all sorts of food and revelry. An awesome firemen’s parade on Friday evening features 80 or more firetrucks blowing horns and sirens. The Oyster Festival Parade takes place on Saturday afternoon, with antique cars, bands, floats and, of course, the recently crowned Oyster Festival Queen and Little Miss Spat.
The Urbanna Creek anchorage has questionable holding and is limited in space at the best of times. But when hundreds of boats pile in to anchor — with huge raft-ups of sometimes a dozen or more boats, each one a party palace — and you throw an occasional fall nor’easter into the mix, this anchoring experience becomes memorable. Of course, the marinas are full, also with boats rafted out, despite the fact that prices climb skyward for the occasion. The bottom line is this is an experience you shouldn’t miss, but plan ahead. Don’t just show up and hope to find a place.
One or more Chesapeake Bay buyboats often dock or anchor out at the festival, sometimes with a skipjack or two. At other times, numerous buyboats visit the town in a group — decked out, proud and beautiful. Usually this visit occurs in August, but it’s relatively informal, as it should be, and you’ll have to contact the town marina to see if anything is planned.
As you travel from Irvington to Urbanna, west of the bridge, you’re in that part of the Rappahannock where the famous Turkey Shoot Regatta is held every fall, usually in early October. This year it’s Oct. 10-12 (www.hospiceturkeyshootregatta.com). All proceeds for this race, usually involving more than a hundred boats, go to local area Hospices, and all of the work done for the event is on a volunteer basis. The race is based from the Yankee Point Sailboat Marina on the nearby Corrotoman River. The Miss Ann from Tides Inn anchors near the finish line on the last day, and her passengers get an up-close view of the race and finish. This cruise is narrated by yours truly.
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Those of us who have grown up on the Bay understand what Capt. John Smith meant when he described this area as “a place where heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.” For laid-back, easy living and cruising; for history; for getting up close and personal with some of the Chesapeake’s classic, beautiful workboats; for getting work done on your boat; for good restaurants ranging from raw bars to fine dining; and for the beautiful waters and shores that the captain so loved — despite his venture with the ray — this is a great area to visit.