The HamptonRiver, running off to starboard as you enter Hampton Roads from Chesapeake Bay, is home to several ideally suited marina gateways for visiting Virginia’s Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown (www.historictriangle.com )
Blackbeard lost his head in 1718. Virginia Gov. Alexander Spotswood had dispatched Lieutenant Robert Maynard with the HMS Pearl and HMS Lyme to end his reign of terror. Maynard was successful after a difficult battle and, it is told, he hung the head first from his bowsprit and then on a stake overlooking the harbor in Hampton, Va. It’s also told that the huge skull, having been picked clean by the birds and vermin, was later used as a drinking mug.
Tie up in Hampton and step ashore to explore Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown
A lot has changed since then. You won’t find the skull today, and there are better ways to drink grog, but you can visit that harbor and reminisce about those and many other good ol’ days. The HamptonRiver, running off to starboard as you enter Hampton Roads from Chesapeake Bay, is home to several ideally suited marina gateways for visiting Virginia’s Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown (www.historictriangle.com )
The first English settlement on this continent was at Jamestown in 1607, on the shores of the James River. From here, Capt. John Smith began many of his fabled explorations around the Bay. At Jamestown Settlement, a living museum, the village and log fort have been carefully reconstructed near the historical site. There’s also a replica village of the Powhatan Nation. The living museum and artifacts give you insight into those times that is difficult to obtain from books. You’ll particularly appreciate the authentically rebuilt Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery. Once you board these vessels and check out the quarters below, you’ll never complain about the comforts of your boat again.
A few minute’s drive from Jamestown brings you to Colonial Williamsburg, reflecting our society after it became considerably more developed, albeit still under British rule. Period buildings have been authentically rebuilt, and there are still original structures. Period costumes and customs are portrayed daily about the streets and in the establishments. It was here Patrick Henry proclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death,” and here that much of the original thinking and planning for the American Revolution began.
If you want a break from history, you might enjoy the nearby BuschGardens theme park. And yes, they have a major brewery in the neighborhood.
Not far from Jamestown and Williamsburg is the third point of the triangle. At Yorktown Battlefield, the world was “turned upside down” when Cornwallis surrendered to the former colonies. You’ll enjoy displays, museums, embankments and a fantastic view from the battlefield overlooking the York River where Lafayette’s fleet lay and where remnants of British ships rest deep underwater in the mud today. (For more about Jamestown Settlement and YorktownVictoryCenter, visit www.historyisfun.org .)
There are other attractions in the area of particular interest to those who love boating. You may experience the most intense immersion of your life, into everything having to do with boats, at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News (www.mariner.org ). The exhibits show in fascinating detail the development of seafaring and boats of all types and sizes. There are things you probably never dreamed of actually seeing — ancient canoes; the helm section of the U.S. submarine Narwhal; the recreated ready room of an aircraft carrier, with actual chairs from the USS Yorktown and a hatch door from the USS Abraham Lincoln; a huge steam engine model; and the turret of the Monitor.
Yachts and cruising aren’t overlooked. There is the 38-foot Herreshoff sloop Dilemma built in 1891. It won every race and inspired the design of the 1967 America’s Cup defender Intrepid. You’ll also find a Chris-Craft exhibit that includes the 1929 38-foot commuter Simokon, which carried 22 passengers. The library owns the Chris-Craft boatbuilding archives from 1932 to 1980, including the original specs for each hull. These are just a tiny fraction of the exhibits.
If all this isn’t enough, drive across and under the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and visit Nauticus, the NationalMaritimeCenter. It’s in downtown Norfolk, near Mile Zero of the Intracoastal Waterway. You’ll pass it on the water as you cruise that section of the ICW, but when you visit you can walk the decks of the USS Wisconsin, the largest battleship built by the U.S. Navy.
The Historic Triangle lies on the southernmost Virginia peninsula, referred to locally as “The Peninsula.” There are several marinas that are particularly convenient if you’re traveling north or south along the coast, and they make great stops that you can use as a base to visit this area.
You can conveniently access this peninsula from its southern side, bounded by the James River, or its northern side, bounded by the York River. Hampton is on the southern shore of the peninsula, its river exiting into the always-exciting Hampton Roads, where you’ll pass by ships from around the world and some of the greatest ships of the world’s greatest navy, including aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and missile-launching cruisers, to mention a few. (Be sure to maintain distances designated by the Department of Homeland Security from all military or official vessels.)
Running through the City of Hampton, the HamptonRiver features several docking options, including the BluewaterYachtingCenter
(www.bluewateryachtsales.com), the first marina to port as you come into the river. Bluewater has 208 slips accommodating boats to 200 feet, and the floating docks have ipe decking. Three competitively priced diesel fueling stations include a high-speed pump, and gas is also available. Power pedestals provide up to 100-amp, 240-volt, single-phase service, and include 50-amp outlets. Splitters are available for 30-amp, 110-volt vessels. (As always, it’s wise to carry your own splitter.)
Standing alone on its own merit, Bluewater is a great place to hang out, with its spacious, clean showers and laundry facilities; a very nice dockside pool; ship’s store; and popular Surf Rider restaurant. Many other features make it a great place to stay, including Hampton’s fair and very small boat property tax.
The NorfolkInternationalAirport and the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport are about 30 minutes away, to the east and west respectively. A Food Lion — a good place to provision — is a short drive from the marina, and West Marine is nearby. Recent events there have included various yacht club weekends, the Caribbean 1500, Ducks Unlimited Rockfishing Tournament, Bay Days, and the Hampton Cup Regatta in nearby Mill Creek.
Should you need work done, Bluewater Yacht Yards, a huge facility adjacent to the marina up Sunset Creek, has 37- and 100-ton lifts. It offers repairs, rebuilds and has built new one-off boats. It also has the large chandlery operation you might expect.
Bluewater Yacht Sales offers brokerage and new-boat sales including Viking, Viking Sport Cruisers and Regulator. It also has locations in Stevensville, Md., and Wanchese and Wrightsville Beach, N.C.
BluewaterYachtingCenter is one result of a lifetime dedicated to boating. Founder Chris Hall raced sail- and powerboats as a boy all around the Chesapeake. In 1968 he decided to follow professionally his love of boating. He’s invested much of his life into building the Bluewater businesses, while filling his leisure time with such maritime pursuits as powerboat racing, cruising, and the sale and development of new boats. When you visit The Mariners’ Museum you’ll see one of his
hydroplanes on display in the small craft building.
Hampton Yacht Club (www.hamptonyc.com ) is just up the HamptonRiver, to your port. It’s a member of the Yachting Clubs of America and usually offers transient dockage, when available, to members of associated clubs, as published in the directory of that organization. The club was founded in 1926 and has developed a long history of family-oriented sailing, racing and boating. Power and sail are equally welcome. The facilities, including the downstairs bar and restaurant and upstairs dining room, both overlooking the HamptonRiver, are open to those docking there.
The Hampton Public Piers in downtown Hampton, (757) 727-1276, reports it can handle boats to 110 feet, with 30-, 50- and 100-amp single-phase power. Amenities for those docking include a pool, fitness center, showers, free WiFi (available throughout most of downtown Hampton), bikes, book exchange, and office services. Other docking areas include the Customs House Marina, just up from the commercial docks, and Joy’s Marina, across the river at the base of the bridge for Settler’s Landing Road. (Visit www.downtownhampton.com and follow the link to marinas for information.) This bridge leads you toward FortMonroe, the famed Chamberlain Hotel on Old Point Comfort (where the Old Bay Line steamboats used to dock), and Phoebus.
The historical downtown section of Hampton is also an interesting place to visit. Bluewater operates a seasonal launch to take guests upriver to that area of the city. En route, you’ll get a scenic tour of the lower HamptonRiver. To starboard, you’ll notice the campus of HamptonUniversity along much of the shore. To port, you’ll first pass the docks of the Hampton Yacht Club. After this, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see commercial fishing boats offloading at the working docks at the “foot of King Street.” These include offshore dredging and fishing vessels, bay boats and a charter fleet. Next, the green-roofed, round “CarouselBuilding” houses the antique carousel from the BuckroeBeachAmusement Park. You can still ride it. In contrast, the much higher, rounded roofs of the VirginiaAir & SpaceCenter stand out nearby.
The water taxi disembarks close to Queens Way, considered by many to be the heart of downtown Hampton. Tree-shaded brick sidewalks, small offices, shops and restaurants make this an interesting place to spend the day. It and the surrounding area have a rich collection of restaurants and shops, but there’s much more to do than dining and shopping.
The VirginiaAir & SpaceCenter (www.vasc.org ) is less than a block from the waterfront. Its exhibits celebrate flight, from the Wright brothers to America’s space program, which began at the nearby NASALangleyResearchCenter. It also has an IMAX theatre. The HamptonUniversityMuseum (www.museum.hamptonu.edu), on the campus on the opposite shore, is the oldest African American museum in the United States.
You will have seen nearby FortMonroe as you rounded Old Point Comfort entering Hampton Roads. This National Historic Landmark, in use since 1823, is the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. It will soon close as a military base, but there are plans to turn it into a public park. You can visit many parts of it, including the CasemateMuseum (www.monroe.army.mil). A short taxi ride from the marina is a recently opened Bass Pro Shops and Outdoor World. If you’re like me, you could spend a few days here.
For information, visit the HamptonVisitorCenter and the HamptonHistoryMuseum (www.hampton.va.us ).
There are many events and festivals held around the waterfront. One of our favorites is Hampton Bay Days in September (www.baydays.com ). Other favorites include the Get Hooked on Hampton Fishing Tournament Series in June and November, the Blackbeard Festival
On the northern side of the peninsula are two other ideally situated marinas for visiting this area. Riverwalk Landing (www.riverwalklanding.com ) is on the York River, with floating docks. It’s right at the waterside village of Yorktown and nestles under the battlefield bluffs that overlook the river. With 2,400 linear feet and a T-dock, depths to 60 feet, transient slips only, and 30-, 50- and 100-amp single-phase service, it can handle many boats, including those to 300 feet. Small coastal cruise liners sometimes dock there. The Colvin schooner Reliance is presently berthed there in-season for charter cruises. This marina is considerably exposed from up, down and across the river, so check your weather and the lay of the land (and docks) should this be of concern for your boat.
There is free transportation via trolley throughout Yorktown, including to the battlefield, as well as a free shuttle bus, provided by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, from the Yorktown Visitor’s Center to Williamsburg and Jamestown. Dockage at Riverwalk Landing is also available on an hourly basis. This serves local boats and boats docked at the York River Yacht Haven on the opposite side of the river whose skippers may come over for the day.
York River Yacht Haven (www.yryh.net ) is just across the York River from Yorktown, in protected Sarah Creek. It has been well-known to waterway travelers for many years. Within its rural 14-acre site, it has fuel, a full-service yard with 35- and 60-ton marine Travelifts, and a full range of repairs and fabrications. It has 325 covered and open slips and can accommodate transient boats to 160 feet. There is 120/240-volt and 30/50-amp electrical service, heated and air-conditioned private stall showers, and separate heads. A large and well-stocked ship’s store is on the premises, with competitively priced equipment. And there is a junior Olympic-size swimming pool and cookout area.
A special feature is the Rivers End Restaurant and Crab Deck. When we visited this restaurant early this summer, we found the food and service to be excellent. I loved the she-crab soup. The server offers a jigger of sherry to add, if desired. I desired.
Rental cars for touring as well as airport limousines are available. There is also a courtesy car for local use, and the marina provides a free shuttle to Yorktown, where you can hook up with the free transportation mentioned above to visit the Battlefield and the Williamsburg/ Jamestown area. Also on premises is Commonwealth Yachts, specializing in Mainship trawlers and other new and used boats, both power and sail.
Obviously, this area warrants a lengthy stay. You’ll seldom find such a great place to become immersed in living history. And there’s so much more within short distance by car, including shopping, dining and many other historical sights.