Norfolk: The American Experience

Newport News Ships
Newport News Ships
Cargo Terminals
Cargo Terminals
M&M sailboats
M&M sailboats

Entering Norfolk was a true American Experience.  We had just had a full day of ten hours of light sailing, using the motor to assist the weak propulsion of our sails.  Lulled into peaceful harmony by a lovely mellow day on the water, the scene all day had been serene in the Chesapeake Bay.  Then, as if at the start of a show, the curtain lifted.

Something surfaced right beside the boat.  I mean right beside; not more than two feet away from the cockpit.  Standing at the wheel, with Bill below, I saw a huge fin break the surface with a splash.  A shark!  Bill come up!  There is something right beside the boat!  He dashed up, and we both watched the shark surface again.  Except it wasn’t a shark; it was a dolphin; a huge ten foot one.  We had seen many small porpoise in Maine, swimming about in large groups near our boat, but these were different: much bigger and so playful with us.  They continued to surface, sometimes three at a time, within touching distance.  They seemed to be saying “race ya”.  This continued for quite a while and we wished our children were aboard to watch.  They had witnessed this many times with us on sailing vacations in the Bahamas and Florida Keys.

As soon as the dolphins left, we watched another diving experience.  This time it was cars.  And trucks.  And motorcycles.  They all seemed to be diving right into the water just off our port side.  The chart gave the reason:  a tunnel.  It was rush hour and the highway traffic was rushing into the tunnel that descended right under us.  They popped up to starboard, and continued on their way.

Ahead was the next scene of the show:  huge ships at Newport News.  This looked like Bath Iron Works (where I had worked in Maine many years ago) on steroids.  I counted thirty ships before I lost interest and stopped counting.  This spoke loudly of Americans at War.  Cringing, I considered on how many dollars are spent here and how many lives are lost in the deployment of these ships.  Weirdly, the smell was what struck me as most offensive.  Paint?  I carried on to get better air to breathe.

Just beyond Newport News was umpteen more dry docks and marine terminals.  Huge ships tie up to unload their cargo, haul out for repairs, or load up for their next delivery mission.  This area was so noisy, with clanging cranes, rackety massive chutes receiving and delivering freight, and clamorous trucks banging their swinging contraptions to process the loads.  As we passed this area, my heart leaped at every Bang, thinking that we were in enemy territory.

Still within smelling distance of the warships, and earshot of the clanging cargo ports, the scene turned more urban.  Tall buildings with flashing lights exposed the more metropolitan area of Norfolk.  This was no more appealing to us than the industrial areas, as we are not city folk.  But the American Experience was unfolding.

Lucky for me, when we dropped anchor right beside the city lights, a fleet of little sailboats arrived.  Someone in an inflatable dropped mini red buoys in a circular pattern and I could see that they were setting a race course and Alembic was in it!  These boats were each manned by one or two people, mostly students from a local high school.  This little fleet looked like spilled M&Ms.  Each boat was a different color, and looked delicious.  One came so close, allowing me to have a conversation with the sailor.  He was in the lead, so he didn’t mind the diversion of a chat.  After rounding the buoys a few times, they carried on down a channel and disappeared.

Sitting back in my cockpit, I reflected on the last two hours of my day.  This excursion into Norfolk Virginia was the American Experience.  Wildlife showing us that playing is always an option, war preparation, massive deliveries of merchandise, urban development, and athletic activities for children.  Doesn’t that sum up our life?  I feel fortunate to be stepping away from all of this to explore new areas, far away from America.  I love my country, but I am happy to be stepping away.  Maybe I’ll come back with a fresh new outlook to share.

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