The cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, flank the southern branch of the Elizabeth River at the northern terminus of the Intracoastal Waterway, also known as ICW Mile Marker Zero. The spot is a natural stopover when transiting north or south, with marinas that cater to boats from modest to mega. There is a fine anchorage, Crawford Bay, and limited free docking at the two basins that Portsmouth owns.
Whether you come down the Chesapeake or in from the sea, your boat, the largest commercial vessels on the planet and the U.S. Navy all come together at the entrance to Hampton Roads between Old Point Comfort and Fort Wool. While there is plenty of room for all, stay to the channel’s edges and monitor VHF channel 13. If you approach from the sea, there are north and south auxiliary channels for smaller vessels in the Thimble Shoals Channel.
From Fort Wool it is 10½ miles to Buoy 36, which doubles as Mile Marker Zero of the ICW. To the west is the Portsmouth Naval Hospital; to the east you will see the stern of the battleship Wisconsin on the Norfolk side.
Anchorages, Marinas And Services
Just west of Buoy 36 is Crawford Bay, a popular anchorage for snowbirds, particularly in October as boats wait for the official end of hurricane season. This bay can also get crowded during Norfolk HarborFest in June and during the Fourth of July.
The first marina you’ll see is Tidewater Yacht Marina on the Portsmouth side; a little farther south and east on the Norfolk side is Waterside Marina, which is easily identified by a huge sign. About a half mile farther south on the Portsmouth side is Ocean Yacht Marina. These three marinas are convenient to their respective downtowns, each of which has dozens of restaurants and is connected via a ferry running every half hour, so the diversions of either city can be enjoyed on foot from either side.
Travelift services, fuel and repairs are available at both marinas on the Portsmouth side, but not at Waterside. Also handy to Mile Zero, and of particular interest to multihull folks, is the Portsmouth Boating Center, a fullservice boatyard with a Travelift that can handle boats up to 25 feet in beam. Portsmouth has additional services and slips at Scott’s Creek Marina and Virginia Boat and Yacht, the latter also the home of Western Branch Diesel, a diesel service center.
Fun, Food And Culture
On the Portsmouth side, the main dining and retail thoroughfare is High Street, a few blocks from Tidewater or Ocean Marine. The dining options on the High Street corridor are excellent and seemingly endless. There is also a new restaurant, Fish & Slips Marina Raw Bar and Grille, within Tidewater.
This area has the greatest concentration of period homes between Charleston, South Carolina, and Alexandria, Virginia. Pick up a map and guide at the visitors center on North Street near the ferry landing. The Olde Towne neighborhood is worth a walkabout. On the Norfolk side, you will experience more of a city feel just steps from Waterside, which is a recently built dining and entertainment complex. Several hotels are nearby, including a recently finished Hilton called The Main, which is a fun visit for the restaurants and bars. Granby Street runs perpendicular to the waterfront. Within a couple of blocks on either side are multiple options for dining, or take a cab to the restaurant district in Ghent on 21st Street.
The easiest provisioning is available on the Portsmouth side thanks to a free shuttle around Olde Towne. It serves both marinas and will run you to the Food Lion on London Street. The trip is bikeable, too. The shuttle operates on tips and is based out of Tidewater Marina. A cab on either side of the river can get you to a supermarket within a few miles. Tidewater Marina has limited groceries, beer and wine on site.
Portsmouth has a farmer’s market every Saturday morning, a couple of blocks in from the waterfront on High Street. Portsmouth is home to the Children’s Museum of Virginia on High Street if you are cruising with kids or grandchildren. Several other museums and the Lightship Portsmouth are blocks away. The big attractions on the Norfolk waterfront are the Nauticus museum and the battleship Wisconsin. A narrated boat trip to the Navy Piers leaves from Nauticus.
Mile Zero is a marvelous stopover. Plan to stay a bit.
- Portsmouth Visitors Info: portsvacation.com
- Portsmouth Business Association: oldetowneportsmouth.com
- Norfolk Visitors Guide: VisitNorfolk.com
- Nauticus & battleship Wisconsin: nauticus.org
- The Chrysler Museum: chrysler.org
- Children’s Museum of Virginia: childrensmuseumvirginia.com
- Tidewater Marina: tidewateryachtmarina.com
- Ocean Yacht Marina: oceanyachtmarina.com
- Waterside Marina: watersidemarina.com
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue.