Capt. John Smith waded into the waters over the sandy shoal reaching far out into Chesapeake Bay. The water was so clear he could see the swarms of fish swimming around him. Not one to miss a good opportunity, he began spearing them with his broadsword. But a stingray can hide even in clear water. It buries itself just under the sand and waits.
When Smith stepped on the ray, its reaction came swiftly, instinctively. The tail lashed out and pierced the flesh. The captain’s pained cry brought his men, who helped him ashore. So severe was the agony from the sting that he instructed them to dig his grave there on the beach, overlooking the waters of the Chesapeake that he loved.
The pain eventually subsided, helped — the story goes — by a poultice brought to him by Indian friends who had raced off in canoes to the creek we now call Antipoison Creek, around what is now known as Windmill Point. Small wonder that the point on which John Smith prepared to remain for eternity in 1608 is now Stingray Point.
Smith moved on, but many later came to stay, forming the small village of Deltaville, Va., on the point’s peninsula. With fertile land and protected creeks and bays, it began as a home for seafarers and farmers. Even today, locals from surrounding rural counties consider Deltaville corn and Deltaville tomatoes a specialty. On the lower part of the peninsula, the watermen became the backbone of the community. Deltaville, for many years, was known as the “boatbuilding capital of the Chesapeake,” turning out skipjacks, deadrise workboats, steel-hulled offshore trawlers and yachts.
Today, boating and farming are still mainstays of the area, but the crops — at first carried away in sailing vessels and then steamers — are now taken by truck. And although local watermen still work the waters, most of the boating consists of pleasure boats.
Its popularity to boaters is obvious from the fact that while there are only around 800 permanent residents, there are around 3,000 boats that dock there. The number of marinas, yards and marine-related services often surprises city-folk boaters. When you pass by on the Bay, the shoreline gives little clue of what’s there. The marinas and yards are tucked away into the creeks and coves. Once ashore, you find that much of what you may want to access, other than what’s at the facility where you’ve docked, is “down the road.” And there are several roads.
Deltaville isn’t an “official” town. It’s not incorporated. There is no town government, and there are no town taxes, only those of Middlesex County, of which it is a part. Under a rural county zoning plan, it doesn’t have the density of business centers you find clustered around the water in other port areas. “Things are all spread out,” as one local puts it, “but we like it that way.”
Usually when stores and other facilities are spread out, transient boaters have a difficult time getting around unless they have bicycles. But in Deltaville this isn’t much of a problem. The marina often will help you get to a place (some will loan a car if it’s available), the restaurant or shop will pick you up, or you can just start walking and someone may stop, ask if you’re from a boat and if you need a ride. This is not just a boating community; it is “country.”
Understanding this will help you understand the uniqueness of the area as you pull into port or drop anchor. You haven’t arrived at a fancy high steppin’ condo-ized resort custom tailored to serve yachts. You’ve arrived at a community of boaters and boats that’s grown as such over several centuries.
This community has far more than you’d imagine. There are not one, but two West Marine stores a short distance apart. Auto parts stores are also boat equipment stores. Hurd’s Hardware is one of those priceless country hardware stores that has a little of everything, along with a staff that knows what it is. “A little of everything” includes a large selection of marine-related items. There’s also a rigging shop, canvas shop, sail loft, diving services, mechanic shops, engine shops and much more. The one thing you must understand when you come here, however, is that you’re likely to find yourself on Island Time. True, it’s a peninsula, not an island. But it’s Deltaville, and Deltaville is on Island Time. Sometimes I think they invented it.
But the local folks do get things done. Deltaville citizens accomplish on a volunteer basis the things they need as a community. The Deltaville Community Association (www.deltavilleva.com) is a group of citizens who, on a volunteer basis, provide many of the things that “government” does in incorporated towns and cities. These include a Heritage Day, coinciding with the Fourth of July and featuring parades, art, food, contests and other events, and good old-fashioned Saturday night baseball games at their baseball field. Over the years they’ve built a community swimming pool, a ball field and a tennis court, established a volunteer fire department, and taken care of many other things — without a big government, thank you.
The last weekend of each month during spring, summer and fall brings a huge farmer’s market to “downtown” Deltaville. You can buy not only fresh, locally grown produce, but also plants, crafts, art and other items.
The Deltaville Maritime Museum is dedicated to the village’s heritage, displaying ship models, photographs and exhibits, and sponsoring a week of small deadrise boatbuilding. The Holly Point Nature Park by the museum has a nature trail along the banks and in wooded areas, with a dock on Mill Creek for kayaking and small boats.
The Deltaville peninsula enjoys the Rappahannock River off its northern shore and the Piankatank off its southern shore. The two branches of Jackson Creek meander through it from the Piankatank, and Broad Creek flows in from the Rappahannock. The long, protective arm of Stove Point Neck cradles the harbor of Fishing Bay, a wide, popular anchorage (although the holding is poor) and home of the popular Fishing Bay Harbor Marina, with many amenities including an Olympic-size pool, ValvTect fuel and other facilities (www.fishingbay.com).
A selection of marinas
I’ve asked several knowledgeable citizens how many marinas are in the area. The answers have been varied, but in general “probably 30.” This is in part because a dock with six boats is considered a marina, but also because there are marinas in Jackson Creek, Broad Creek, Fishing Bay and Porpoise Cove. It’s impossible to include detailed information about every marina, yard and facility on the creeks and in the area, but I’ll give a few examples. However, don’t construe that to imply that any of the others are less worthy of your consideration for your particular needs. The Waterway Guide (Mid-Atlantic Edition) is one of several guidebooks that give more detailed information.
Of the two creeks, Jackson Creek is more rural. Coming in from the Piankatank can be scary to the uninitiated because it seems as if you’re going to run right up onto the beach before you take a hard turn to port. And there are very shallow shoals close on both sides of the channel. But tugs, large buyboats and deep-draft sailboats do this regularly. Study the charts carefully and scope it out with binoculars before you enter.
Several marinas, as well as Fishing Bay Yacht Club, are scattered among nice homes, green yards and beautiful trees. The first facility you’ll see, to starboard, as you enter, is Deltaville Marina (www.deltavillemarina.com) and Deltaville Boatyard (www.deltavilleboatyard.com). While two separate businesses, they are at the same location. The 5-plus-acre marina has 75 slips, a pool, Wi-Fi, docks for boats to 110 feet and many other amenities.
From the marina you can look out across a protective shoal to the Piankatank River and enjoy onshore sea breezes on hot summer afternoons. Its Web site is one of the most helpful marina sites I’ve seen, giving not only information about the facilities but also about local businesses, events and needs of transient boaters. It is family owned and operated, and its principal, Keith Ruse, has been in the marine repair business for 25 years. He’s very much hands-on, and the concept of “family owned and operated” takes on special meaning when you see his wife, Jacqui, and four children, ages 8 to 13, about the premises.
Keith is an ABYC-certified master technician and a graduate of The Landing School (Maine) yacht design program. The yard has four other ABYC master techs and 10 ABYC-certified techs. The 7-plus-acre yard is full service, with a focus on systems installation, maintenance, troubleshooting, upgrades and repowers. It is a Yanmar Gold level dealer, with five Yanmar-certified mechanics. It also has dealer status for Raymarine, SeaLand VacuFlush, Volvo and Northern Lights.
The new 35-ton Marine Travelift can haul boats to 60 feet, and the 15-ton-capacity Pettibone crane with a 60-foot boom can do many jobs other yards can’t, such as repower lifting and mast stepping. Both wet and onshore permanent berths are available, with 215 boats stored during the winter. Southern Bay Rigging (www.southernbayrigging.com) is on site, with an on-board swage machine capable of swaged fittings up to half-inch.
Broad Creek, generally considered the “business creek” of the community, has many more marinas and yards along its shores. The entrance channel, from the broad Rappahannock, is relatively straightforward but occasionally shoals. It’s important not to let wind or current drag you to the side. Shortly after you get in, you’ll find Dozier’s Regatta Point Yachting Center to port (www.dozieryachtingcenters.com). One of its many attractions to us is that from many of its transient slips you can look out over a point and into the beautiful Rappahannock. Amenities include transient slips for boats to 110 feet, floating docks, covered slips, pool and gazebo, cookout area, meeting facilities, private bathrooms, filtered water system (important for drinking water in this area) and complimentary Wi-Fi.
Farther up the creek to starboard, you’ll find Norton’s Yacht Sales, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year (www.nortonyachts.com). Its hands-on owners are third generation. This is far more than a sales center. It has transient and permanent dockage, including 60 covered slips, as well as fuel and many other services. It’s a full-service yard with 35-ton lift, and it’s a certified Yanmar dealer and Gold Star service center, offering Yanmar support classes. It’s also a Fischer Panda dealer.
The facility has gained quite a reputation selling both new and used boats. It reports that it was listed among the Top 4 in the nation in sales for the 2007 Hunter Marine model year and has been awarded No. 1 Worldwide Hunter Dealer in Customer Service for the 15th consecutive year. It also has a dealership in Oriental, N.C.
Norton’s not only sells boats; it also has a popular sailing school. Its sailing instructor was recognized as one of the “Top ASA Sailing Instructors” in the nation in 2006.
* * *
Deltaville isn’t the only special destination that’s nearby when you’re passing up or down the Bay and raise Stingray Point or Windmill Point to its north. Within close reach also are Urbanna Creek, with its historical village and marinas, and Carter Creek, with the village of Irvington, the famous Tides Inn resort and other marinas. These creeks are a short run up the Rappahannock.
Cruising up the Rappahannock, you’ll pass under the high-rise Norris Bridge about nine miles from the mouth. Just beyond that, to starboard, opens the broad mouth of Carter Creek. It was named for “King Carter” (1663-1732), so-called because he owned about 300,000 acres between Carter Creek and the Corrotoman River. King Charles had granted the land to his father. The footprint of his plantation house still exists on the peninsula between the river and the creek. The shores and tributaries of Carter Creek include part of Lancaster County, the village of Weems and the small town of Irvington, for which most visitors know the creek (www.townofirvington.com).
Although Irvington has a small permanent population of both longtime “been heres” and recently arrived “come heres,” it is often thought of as a resort town. This is because of the widely known Tides Inn, with its luxurious rooms, fine dining, excellent golf, tennis and many other pleasures (www.tidesinn.com). It also has a marina that welcomes transients. As you approach, you’ll admire the stately luxury yacht Miss Ann. Launched in 1926, she’s docked at the inn and takes out private parties and makes regular runs for those wishing to experience the “ultimate cruising life” of the wealthy of yesteryear.
There are other interesting places to visit in this area, such as Christ Church, circa 1735 (www.christchurch1735.org), the White Fences Vineyard (www.whitefencesvineyard.com), and the Steamboat Era Museum (www.steamboateramuseum.org).
Other maritime facilities in the creek include marinas with transient slips, a yacht club, a shipyard and haul-out facilities. As noted earlier, there are so many marinas in this area that we can’t mention them all. When you come, you should get a good guidebook and investigate. You’ll find many good choices and opportunities.
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.
* * *
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.