Yet Another Journal

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» Thursday, October 25, 2012
By the Bay and Other Voyages
Surprise! Fog!

Of course when you've designated one day for a boat ride, and it's foggy on that morning, you are naturally taken aback. Except when we checked the weather report, the fog appeared to only be over our area. Very odd, but good news. And of course we were paying particular attention to the weather this morning, because of the reports on Hurricane Sandy. It looks like we are lucky to be leaving when we are, as the forecast for early next week is primarily "wet."

We were awake fifteen minutes early so we would be certain to get to Hampton on time, and indeed we did, fifty minutes early. We should have parked in the free lot, but we didn't know when boarding time was, so we just parked in the hotel garage next door. Turns out we still had over a half hour until they would let us embark, so we made a "pit stop," then walked to the park between the cruise center and the Air and Space Museum, where there was a monument to the founding of Hampton and four panels chronicling the history of the city.

We almost had to immediately turn around to return to the dock to board the "Miss Hampton II" (I never did ask what happened to "Miss Hampton I," but it was in the souvenir book we bought after the cruise. They only used her a year and then she was sold to someone in Panama.). This was set up just like "Victory Rover" yesterday, with an enclosed compartment below and open decking on top with a partial cover, except that the pilot's cabin is up front on the top, and the tour guide, Dave, conducted the tour on the top deck.

This was a super cruise! The only overlap in material we had with "Victory Rover" yesterday was touring the piers at the Naval Base. This tour started with an overlook of the berthing area, which included the beautiful old buildings and clock tower of Hampton University and also the spot where the head of Blackbeard the Pirate was spitted after his capture on the Outer Banks. Dave also pointed out Strawberry Banks, where the Jamestown expedition first landed after their Atlantic crossing. They found strawberries there, which helped with the scurvy aboard, but found no fresh water. So they went on up the James River, ending up...well, you know. :-)

Next we passed the Hampton Roads Bridge/Tunnel and the Chamberlin, which was once a hotel on the grounds of Fort Monroe, but is now a retirement home. The original Chamberlin was the first hotel in the United States that had electric lighting throughout. Fort Monroe was closed last year, but originally was the place where the Army manuals were written. It's the only fort in the United States with a moat around it! At various times both Robert E. Lee and Edgar Allan Poe were stationed at Fort Monroe.

Also in the area is the Old Point Comfort lighthouse, which was dedicated by Thomas Jefferson in 1803. It looks so tiny from shore!

After entering Chesapeake Bay, the tour stops for a half hour at Fort Wool, originally named Fort Calhoun until the Civil War. (It's "Wool" after a general, not in reference to sheep.) As we approached it, cormorants dotting the piles around the dock area took wing, leaving only one of the long-necked birds to check us out It was begun in 1819 and Andrew Jackson once had a summer home there (this later used by John Tyler, after which it burned down). It was used during the Civil War, enlarged during the Spanish-American War, once again occupied during World War I. Its last hurrah was during the second World War, and the island is a strange conglomeration of 1898, 1917 and 1941 fortifications. Most of the crannies and storage rooms are chained up, and you can no longer climb the WWII-era tower, but there is one wall you can scale via wide granite steps, and it was there Dave told us some of the history of the fort after giving an introduction on the parade ground.

Then we wandered about the tiny island, checking out the 1898 old battlements, with uneven stone and stains, and the more regular concrete put up during WWII. We even saw the grave of Lady, a German Shepherd who was the camp mascot during the war. She died in 1945 and was buried with military honors.

Once back on "Miss Hampton II," we went on to the piers at the Norfolk Naval Base. We headed into the area from the opposite direction from yesterday, starting with the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, and went down the line. Dave had taken care to familiarize himself with the ships and named them all off as we went by. However, we saw something cool before we even reached the piers: as we turned away from Fort Wool, we saw a submarine (Los Angeles class, like in Hunt for Red October, heading for us). At first Dave thought it was heading for one of the piers, then he spied one of the tugboats zipping in the direction of the sub with some Naval midshipmen aboard, and military police boats shooing civilian craft out of the way of both the tug and the sub. It turns out the submarine was probably from Annapolis, and it would "trade" middies out in the harbor, the sailors aboard the tug going on the sub and the ones from the sub transferring to the tug!

We had an even better view of the ships than yesterday (this boat went in closer) and aircraft were doing maneuvers overhead, so we were kept busy taking pictures. I stood at the rail for most of this portion of the trip, enjoying the cool breeze and the briny scent. We didn't see any dolphins this time, but at one point "Victory Rover" came steaming toward us and the boats traded horn beeps. We passed her going back as well.

Dave said Jen's ship, Truxton, had probably been berthed at Piers 5, 6 or 7, so I waved at them. Too bad they couldn't make it back in time from Jacksonville. (I wonder if the tropical storm will just keep them in port down there.)

The last "sight" we didn't actually visit, but it was pointed out to us, and that was the encounter between the Monitor and the Virginia (or the Merrimac, as it's still referred to in some history books). The ships were actually evenly matched, and Virginia lost the battle because she did not have the specially-designed metal-piercing shells designed for her guns, since they only expected to encounter a regular wooden warship, not the Monitor.

And then it was just a nice cruise back, with Dave telling us funny stories about silly questions he'd been asked, like "Why is that fence around the ships?" and the dumbest one, "How is that so many significant battles have happened at National Parks?" (This is akin to the lady who called up the talk show saying they should move deer crossing signs from the freeway where they are getting hit to safer places so the deer won't think they can cross there.) We also saw the little tug heading back with her fresh "middies," and the submarine was nowhere to be seen.

We were as hungry as bears from all that sea air once we were back at the dock, so we followed several other passengers who had asked Dave what was a good place to eat. Just across from the Air and Space complex, there was a street lined with little eating places and boutiques, and one of the places he recommended, "Marker 20," after one of the buoys in the harbor, was located there. It's just a little sports bar/eating place, but we enjoyed it. We both had crab cakes, and I was really wary about this because every other time I've had a crab cake it's been highly peppered. Well, this one wasn't and was quite delicious. There were also nicely done French fries and cole slaw so good that I finished all of it.

Dave was having his lunch here and walked by our table asking if we were enjoying the food. We nodded and then I asked curiously, since he said the boat's last tour would be on Wednesday and then they close until April, what he did on the off season. Well, he's a student and he'll wait tables until it's time for the tours to start up again. He makes a good tourguide, that's for sure: he has the tour facts down pat, he enjoys talking to people, and his gags are amusing. We learned a lot and it was well presented.

After lunch we headed east on I-64 to something called the Military Aviation Museum James had read about before we left, and the gentleman we talked about at Air Power Park recommended it as well. This is a collection of World War I and II aircraft: the WWII units are all authentic craft from the war and the WWI aircraft are reproductions. But they all can fly (well, one can't anymore because it's Russian and they can't find parts; it would fly if it could); they aren't just exhibit shells in a building as in most aviation museums. Twice a year they have air shows and at one time or the other all the aircraft in the building have flown.

We had to wind our way quite a distance in the Virginia Beach countryside to get there, but it was quite neat. The Navy planes are in one hangar and the Army ones in another, and they are all in beautiful condition, even if some of them are less than beautiful: there are at least three Russian aircraft, vintage 1930s, that are pretty ugly, painted mud brown as they would have been at that time. They also had a vintage MG, an old Jaguar that had lines like something out of a 1940s cartoon, some small tanks, an authentic British telephone box, a Wright "Vin Fiz," a 1940s motorcycle with sidecar and trailer, a Nazi staff car, a tiny car that looked as if it would hold only one passenger (made by Messerschmidt; yes, the Messerschmidt—there was a Messerschmidt sewing machine upstairs as well), and an amphibious car.

We had come on a day when one of the hangars was being used for an event, so several of the Navy planes had been rolled out back. There was a big band gearing up to play and the scent of delicious food was everywhere. What a neat idea: much better than going somewhere for the rubber chicken!

We also wandered about upstairs, where there were cases of memorabilia, including service uniforms, reconnaissance cameras, and an Enigma machine. At the back there was a gallery of aviation art. Of particular interest were paintings by Henri Ferre, who fought in World War I. Some of these were of night raids, and had a distinctive impressionist look. Some of his charcoal sketches were also included.

We finally checked out the gift shop (it's a state law...LOL) and then headed back toward the hotel via a detour: we drove past NAS Oceana, where James was stationed for a year when he was in the Navy. You can't see a lot of the base from the road, but we did see the control tower and James was able to pick out the building he used to work in. After that we headed west as guided by the GPS.

Now, I appreciated the GPS's directions tonight. There was a six-mile backup at the Hampton Roads Bridge/Tunnel and we pretty much skirted most of it by avoiding I-64 westbound. But...why? We didn't ask the GPS to avoid the traffic, it just took us on a different route...in fact the same route it brought us through  yesterday, in both directions. Is this GPS getting kickback from Tidewater Road? Does it just like the street?  LOL!

You can see the piers at the Norfolk base from the bridge part of the bridge/tunnel, so we had a last, final surprise: we could see that another aircraft carrier had pulled into her berth since we had passed there on the tour, and another ship was on its way out, plus a cruise ship was heading for one of the docks at Hampton. But finally all was obscured by the lowering sun before we descended into the tunnel.

We had food back at the hotel, so we just ate in tonight, watched two older Big Bang Theory episodes and the newest episode (Raggedy Ann and Raggedy C-3PO indeed!), plus Ask This Old House and Mysteries at the Museum.

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