Portsmouth is situated on the western shore of the Elizabeth River directly across from the bustling city of Norfolk, and is home to Mile Marker Zero of the Intracoastal Waterway — red buoy 36, about 10 miles from the entrance to Hampton Roads.
Portsmouth is situated on the western shore of the Elizabeth River directly across from the bustling city of Norfolk, and is home to Mile Marker Zero of the Intracoastal Waterway — red buoy 36, about 10 miles from the entrance to Hampton Roads. The
approaches, heading north or south on the ICW, are straightforward. Billed as the deepest natural harbor in the world, the waters are free of obstructions and dangers, though commercial traffic can be heavy at times.
In addition to full-service marinas with deep-water floating slips and all amenities, there are 10 hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast inns in Portsmouth, from barebones to upscale for either a timeout from the boat or to put up crewmembers. The Norfolk International Airport serves the area, allowing for crew changes.
Most visiting cruisers tie up at a marina, but anchoring is allowed at Mile Zero adjacent to Tidewater Yacht Marina. For $12 per day, crews can use the dinghy dock and shower facilities there. The dinghy dock is near the ship’s store and The Deck restaurant. Keep in mind that boats on the hook are subjected to near-constant wakes from passing recreational and commercial traffic, poor holding in soft silt, and full exposure to winds blowing up- or downriver. Nevertheless, the anchorage at Mile Zero often is crowded, especially at the height of the snowbird migrations in May and October.
The city of Portsmouth permits free two-hour tie-ups at the two ferry landings. Heading northbound up the river toward Hampton Roads, the High Street ferry landing is just past Ocean Marine Yacht Center in a small basin. Beyond it is the Portsmouth Renaissance Hotel and Conference Center and the next basin, North Landing. Both offer easy access to the Olde Towne historic district.
NOAA chart 12206 covers Portsmouth and Norfolk on the Elizabeth River.
Where to stay
Two of the four marinas in Portsmouth are close to the Olde Towne historic district: Tidewater Yacht Agency and Ocean Marine Yacht Center. The other two — Portsmouth Boating Center and Scotts Creek Marina — are a mile or more from the historic district on Scotts Creek about 800 yards north of Mile Zero.
• Tidewater Yacht Agency — (757) 393-2525, VHF channel 16/68, www.tyamarina.com — is just off Mile Zero, and as such it’s something of a destination among ICW cruisers. Amenities at this 350-slip facility include Wi-Fi, cable TV, showers, laundry, ship’s store (where block ice is available), on-site restaurant and floating swimming pool. Fuel is available at most slips, eliminating a separate trip to the fuel dock in most cases. Overnight dockage is $1.75 per foot; electricity is extra. The facility can accommodate yachts to 180 feet.
• Ocean Marine Yacht Center — (757) 399-2920, VHF channel 16, www.oceanmarinellc.com — has slips for boats from 35 to 65 feet, and the 1,000 feet of linear docks can handle yachts to 400 feet. The marina offers cable TV, Wi-Fi, on-site courtesy car, fuel, pumpout, ice, showers, laundry and a ship’s store. Overnight dockage is $1.50 per foot; electricity is extra. Repairs and haulouts are available.
• Portsmouth Boating Center — (757) 397-2092, VHF channel 16, www.portsmouthboating.com — has overnight dockage at $1.35 per foot ($1 per foot for BoatU.S. members) and offers fuel, ice, showers, laundry, cable TV and Internet access, both at the dock and in the ship’s store.
• Scotts Creek Marina — (757) 399-2628, VHF channel 16 — has slips at $1 per foot (85 cents per foot for BoatU.S. members). There is a swimming pool on-site.
• The city of Portsmouth, (757) 393-8000, www.portsmouthva.gov .
• Portsmouth Visitor Center, (757) 393-5111, www.portsmouthva.gov .
• The State of Virginia, www.virginia.gov .
From music festivals to sailboat races, Portsmouth hosts numerous events year-round for the entire family. Check www.portsmouthva.gov for more information. The following are a few of the events slated for this year.
• First Saturday of each month: Olde Towne Flea Market, Middle Street Parking Garage, (757) 339-1876. www.otba.biz
• First Sunday of each month: Free admission to the Courthouse Galleries — (757) 393-8543, www.courthousegalleries.com — and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum — (757) 393-8591, www.portsnavalmuseums.com.
• Sept. 1-4: Rendezvous, Mile Marker Zero, a bash for boaters at Tidewater Yacht Agency, (757) 393-2525, www.tyamarina.com .
• Oct. 14: Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, finishes in Portsmouth with after-race party including an awards ceremony and an oyster roast on the waterfront, (757) 480-4401, www.schoonerrace.org .
• Dec. 9: Olde Towne Holiday Music Festival on High Street, with local and regional groups and choirs, (757) 393-5111.