Portsmouth, VA: Norfolk’s Second Cousin

The end of Cruise Phase I, the beginning of Cruise Phase II

Days 22 – 23, November 5-6

The clear skies from our run yesterday from Solomons Island, MD to Portsmouth, VA had blown offshore, and we woke to a rainy and blustery day in Portsmouth, across the river from Norfolk.  Thanks to the weather, with winds forecast yet again to hit 30 knots, it was likely we were going to be here for a couple of days.

We were at Tidewater Yacht Marina.  This would be the first place on our cruise where there was a real critical mass of boats headed into the ICW on the trip south. Some of them we had run into and/or communicated with in previous days and weeks as we all meandered our way down Long Island Sound, the Jersey Shore and the Chesapeake, fighting our own personal battles with the Weather Devil.  It was a fun, diverse conglomerate of folks and boats and we took good advantage of the opportunity to get to know each other and compare notes and plans.

Looking over at the Norfolk skyline from the Portsmouth waterfront.

We also had plenty of opportunity to explore.  Although Norfolk was a short ferry ride across the river (Fun Fact: the first ferry service in America was established between Portsmouth and Norfolk in 1636), we focused on Portsmouth because it was, well, right there.  We weren’t certain what to expect.  History runs deep in this area so we knew we would find hints of the past.  The present, we discovered, is uneven.

img_0674Portsmouth is trying, but it has a ways to go.   My own take is that the promotional literature oversells a bit.  There are some good bones in the wide tree-lined avenues, pleasant residential neighborhoods, historic structures, and a waterfront that is under repair and reconstruction.

There are also a lot of vacant storefronts scattered among shops that are trying but not quite making it.  The restaurants were, how shall I put it? — tired.  The architecture covers everything from the 18th century to the present but has a few too many government-type monostructures and high-rise apartment buildings that add little to the streetscape.  According to the Portsmouth Department of Economic Development, The Olde Towne Historic District features one of the largest collections of historically significant homes between Alexandria, Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina.

img_0642-1The first thing we did on the rainy Monday morning was go for a long walk with the pups, starting along the waterfront walk.  This is a decent feature which, when fully repaired and re-built, holds great promise.  For now, sections of it are nice, and others are in disrepair or under construction.  The “free” city docks are only partially open, and areas of them are actually under water at high tide, making it a wet trip ashore.

Decorations were up.  Pepper finds the Christmas Tree…irresistable.

There is a nice visitor information center alongside the city docks, and the staff tries very hard to make your visit enjoyable. There you will find information on self-guided history tours and the various museums in town, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, the Lightship Portsmouth Museum, the Children’s Museum of Virginia, and the Jewish Museum & Cultural Center which is “a rare surviving example of Eastern European Jewish Orthodoxy.”

We found a small coffee shop on High Street, where we sat outside under an awning with the dogs while the rain poured down around us.  A local policeman paused on his dash into the shop to ask us “Are you out here to enjoy our liquid sunshine?”!

Perhaps Portsmouth’s biggest challenges are its economy and its homeless population.  I decided to make the one-mile trek to the Food Lion supermarket and discovered what I might describe as the underbelly of Portsmouth’s culture.  The market was actually rather good.  The neighborhood, not so much.

We did find surprisingly good food and fun at the decidedly casual and laid-back Fish & Slips Marina Raw Bar and Grill, which is over the marina.  The peel-and-eat shrimp were fresh in-season Carolina shrimp, and very good, as were the “outrageous crab” dish.  The young chef came out to talk about the food, which is always a good sign.

Walking along the Portsmouth waterfront, with the city lights of Norfolk across the river, walking the dogs in the pre-dawn hours.  We left Portsmouth at 6:30 a.m.

We never made it over to Norfolk, which was a small disappointment but one that can be remedied  on the trip north in the spring.  Instead, we spent time with new friends talking about ICW adventures past and future.  Our list of acquaintances and traded boat cards grew yet again by a dozen or so.  In particular, we spent a fun evening aboard the Manatee 36 (Kadey Krogen) Sabrina with Kitty and Kenny, and with the crew of the Kadey Krogen 58 C’est La Vie, Niel and Margrette.

In the end, we did enjoy our visit to Portsmouth.  It marked the end of our journey to the official start of the IntraCoastal Waterway: “Mile 0”

The next day, we would begin our trip down the fabled “ditch”.








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