18 June – History, power projection, old friends and peace in the Chesapeake


June 26th, 2018


North Atlantic 2017 – 2019, USA

Written by

Richard Farrington

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By Richard. Posted on June 26th, 2018 in North Atlantic 2017 – 2019, USA.

37:23.1N  076:20.5W

Our eldest daughter Anna arrived from New York on Friday evening for the weekend.  Appropriately enough, Lizzie joined Julie in Edinburgh at the same time – where the news is encouraging as far as her Mother Ann’s health is concerned. 

As there was no wind in the weather forecast, we decided to abandon the boat on Saturday and head off to Colonial Williamsburg instead.  To get there, we were extremely lucky to have the loan of Tom Guy’s Wrangler Jeep.  Tom and Katie were off to work on their boat for the weekend, so the car was ours until Anna returned to NYC on Sunday evening.  With a 300hp souped-up petrol engine and just enough bodywork attached to it to convey passengers, this is a genuine BEAST that POTUS would probably be happy to show off to other unusual heads of state.  We steered it carefully through Hampton and Newport News to Williamsburg, where we entered the 18th century for the rest of the day.


Main Street, Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is a ‘living-history museum’ attempting to depict aspects of American life from the mid-1700s to the late 1800s.  This was an important time for America as a whole, with the development of democracy and a Bill of Rights, not to mention independence from England.  In its heyday, the town was home to some of the most influential people in US history.  Whilst many of the buildings are original, there has been much restoration and it’s sometimes hard to see where old and new meet.  It’s also immaculate, with perfect paintwork, not a pebble out of place, working drains and no rubbish lying about.  That attracts some criticism from the disciples of authenticity, but I think they are missing the point. You get a feel for the pace of life and the employees working in the cobblers, the weavers, the gunsmiths, the bookbinders et al give you a fascinating insight into what life might have been like.  Of course, the buildings that remain are splendid examples of Colonial architecture and I’m sure there would have been plenty of shoddy outhouses, stalls and tents, but that’s pretty hard to recreate. 


I wish my garden looked like this… Mark?

What was really impressive was the people: the 21st century  ‘craftsman’ employees.    The cobbler reminded me of my friend Iqbal, the cobbler in Islamabad who made me the most comfortable pair of shoes I’ve ever owned for about £20.  Crouched in the corner of his shop, surrounded by bits of leather, wooden moulds, all kinds of fiendish tools, the Williamsburg cobbler was making shoes – as far as he could tell – in the manner they were made in 1760.  Even down to using a horse hair as a needle.  The work was not just for show either – his shoes are worn by all the employees on the Colonial Williamsburg site.  He was articulate, clearly a competent craftsman, but also well informed about the historical context at both the political and local level.  This was truly impressive.  We learned about trade wars with Europe, the effects of war on the supply of raw materials, the competition from overseas.  More people lived in London in 1760 than in the whole of the USA, so not surprisingly quite a lot of stuff was imported from England because the costs of manufacture there were so much less – even as the Industrial Revolution got underway.  The parallels with today (and news of trade wars with China dominate the press) were clear. 


Shoe-shoe and his missus hard at work

The weavers and the gunsmiths told similar stories and dealt with every question from a bemused crowd of visitors as if it was the best one of the day.  At the courthouse, the chap giving the presentation was a lawyer.  At the Capitol building, we got a really good explanation of the evolution of democracy and the American Bill of Rights.  The sun shone, the place looked lovely and we were entertained and educated in a gentle, unpressured manner.

We could have spent another day there, but we returned to Little Creek to meet with my old friend Nelson Castro and his wife Kara at Captain Groovy’s restaurant.  When I ran the Maritime Warfare Centre, Nelson ran the US Navy’s equivalent in Norfolk and we had always got along well.  He brought a team to dinner at our house in Gosport once and it went down in family history for two things – the young American Naval Officers were amazed that Anna and Lizzie were allowed alcohol (under supervision of course) at the dinner table, and they all stayed on after 9pm because we were having such a laugh.  Great days.  These days, Nelson is a civilian contractor doing similar stuff for the Navy without quite as much responsibility.  They were both on very good form and it was great to catch up!


The closest Anna got to driving The Beast…

Sunday was hot and sunny.  Anna and I took the boat out and though there wasn’t any wind at all, we pushed round into Norfolk Roads to look at the aircraft carriers and enjoyed a splendid FaceTime session with Julie and Lizzie who were in Edinburgh.  My Father’s Day treat was a ‘crab dinner’ at Bubba’s and then it was time for Anna to get the flight back to the Big Apple.  That evening, Tom and Katie Guy came to dinner onboard Escapade. It was the least I could do to say thank you for the loan of that extraordinary vehicle!


George Bush and Abraham Lincoln sharing some space.  Gerald Ford is just out of shot…

On Monday 18th, it was time to head north.  We need to try to keep to the planned schedule of meeting up as a family and ‘doing’ New York in the second half of July.  Julie might return to the boat in the next week, or further complications might arise with her Mum (who seems to be doing much better); it’s hard to tell – but the idea of New York and then pushing beyond Rhode Island and Nantucket into Maine during August and September is very attractive!  I also needed to get to Annapolis by Thursday to meet up with another dear friend, Jason Barrett.  But I’d decided to travel the last bit of that journey by car, rather than rush past the delights of Chesapeake Bay.

There was no wind, so the passage towards Mobjack Bay, north of the York River was quite dull.  I had toyed with the idea of visiting Yorktown but decided to go ‘rural’ in the first instance – probably overloaded on American history after Williamsburg!  In Charleston, I spent a very informative hour with fellow Ocean Cruising Club member Steve Seide aboard his Hallberg Rassy 46 ‘Sidereal Time’ and he had given me an invaluable list of suitable anchorages and safe havens between Charleston and New York.  The first one I was going to visit was the East River, on the north side of Mobjack Bay. 

The whole of Chesapeake Bay is fairly shallow by European standards, but since arriving in Key West we’ve got used to floating about in a bit of a pond.  The difference here is that the water is murkier, so it’s harder to see the really shallow bits and you have to keep a good eye on the chart and the echo sounder.  Fortunately the Navionics charts seem to be pretty accurate in these parts, so the trip was straightforward.  The wind put in a brief appearance with a couple of miles to run to the East River entrance, so I took advantage of it and really enjoyed ghosting upstream on the last of the flood tide as evening set in.  It’s like a big version of the Beaulieu River, very green with fine woodland lining the shores, protecting a mix of swanky mansions and quite ordinary-looking farmsteads.  There was a small harbour on the west side but too shallow for Escapade, so I dropped anchor a little further to the north in an absolutely idyllic spot.  No other boats, beautiful woodland and grass down to the shore, a couple of herons fishing and a big farm hidden in the trees.  Absolute peace. 


Moorings on the East River

Hot too.  For the first time on the deployment, I slept in the hammock on the foredeck all night.  It’s pretty comfortable once you get settled, but I wriggle a lot which isn’t that easy when you’re all wrapped up in a giant bag with a mozzie net over the top, so I didn’t get as much kip as I had hoped.  Still, the alternative was to sweat like a Para at a spelling test below decks  – and I did get the privilege of singing along to the dawn chorus and watching daybreak on Tuesday morning.  Perfect.  


Early morning on the East River, Mobjack Bay