Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tangier Island, Virginia

Our visit to Tangier Island, Virginia was just what we needed!  It was relaxing, quiet, remote and historic little town that made for a great layover while the severe weather made it's way through the east coast this week.  We loved our time spent here and enjoyed the people we met and fun things we encountered.
Pictured here is Parks Marina, the only marina in Tangier. 
The owner, Milton Parks (80 yrs old) is an expert helmsman, retired watermen and dockmaster greeted us with a big smile and and helpful hand in the strong winds.  We enjoyed many interesting conversations with him through the week.  He's a wise man that is a bit hard of hearing, but made us laugh constantly! 
 The kids were enamored with 30...YES 30, cats that roamed the marina along with Duppy the dog. Miltons wife had the kids inside to see the 6 newborn kittens that just arrived!  Mr. Parks is planning to take several of them off the island very soon.  There were hundreds of cats on the small island roaming everywhere. Word has it that a vet with five helpers (cat gatherers) will be coming to the island next week to spade and neuter ALL of them over a course of a week. They'll clip an ear to mark which ones have been done.  
The narrow streets and quaint buildings date back hundreds of years and 4 family names are profound throughout the community: Parks, Pruitt, Dise and Crockett. Pictured here is the only grocery store on the island, Daly's.  It was fairly well stocked and closes at 5:00 pm each day. 
Tangier is about 4 ft above sea level, and about 9 acres of shoreline erode into the Chesapeake each year.  This new $1.3 million health center is right next to the cemetery in the heart of the town.  Right behind the cemetery is the playground and school that holds K-12 grades and accounts for about 68 students total.
With around 510 residents, the people remain very close to eachother.  Helping with daily activities to gathering each night in town socially. There are no bars, banks/ATM's or crime in this town.  This photo is of a local bed and breakfast (one of two on the island).  Of the 700+ visitors the ferry boat brings each day in the summer time, only about 50 choose to stay overnight). 
 It's a simple town. One of our top five favorite stops on our Great Loop voyage.  The local "Tangierman" were all such wonderful kind people. They all seem so happy here in their own little world that many never want to leave.  Tourism is their main source of income now and the town is well known for delicious seafood at places like the Chesapeake Bay Restaurant.  Often during the summer it's not uncommon to find over 100 privately owned planes come to eat there. On the honor system the planes/helicopters are asked for a $10 parking fee in a small box as they exit the airport and walk into town.  There was a history museum that wasn't open when we were there.   
 One policemen and his patrol car. There's also one marine patrol for the island.  There are maybe 10 cars on the island and the rest walk, bike, scooter or use a golf cart. 
The islanders bury the deceased in their yards, so most homes have family graves out front or in back.  Just to see the kids playing in their front lawn next to the burial plots was very interesting. There was a boy named Jaxon that was the same age and spelling as our Jaxon. He was Mr. Parks great grandson too.  Everyone seems to be related one way or another around here.
The kids met a sweet little local girl named Taylor, 11.  Ryann interrogated her for awhile and realized that she was just a normal kid that held a similar life to hers.  However, she spoke with a British-sounding accent with a relic dialect to it as everyone on the island did. 
Taylor liked treasure hunting just like the girls and they found a knife, fishing pole, engine (pictured on right), bottles, etc. within no time.
This boat has the transom cut off the back (but kept it near the dock for use when needed). The boat is used for many different types of fishing. For hundreds of years the only livelihood was being a watermen.  Today only 35 or so boats are left fishing the bay from Tangier. Many locals have resorted to working off the island on tug boats, tour boats, etc. from New York to Louisiana. Most are one month on and one month off.  
This is a fairly common site. Actually, they suffer from lot's of flooding from high tides and winds in the area.
As we rode the bikes around the island we located the trash removal site. They burn everything possible and what can't be burned is put into large dumpsters and a private contractor comes to pick them up. 
Many old burned boats were sadly left here to rot away.
Even a section with old wrecked abandoned golf carts.
Fun can be had anywhere! The dumpster I mentioned is behind them and not sure why the mattress was still out.  We found a great bike for Morgan that had a bent back rim and troubled gear system.  Engineer Peter ripped out the gears, aligned wheels and gave Morgan the bike fix she's been wanting.  It's a bit too tall for Ryann, but the girls have missed their bikes so much.  We love having the tandem bikes so we all stay together on busy streets. 
A scooter underwater!
Each day Mr. Parks tries to take one load of trash to the dump on his golf cart. Duppy went for a fun ride too. 
Tangier Island amounts to less than 700 acres, but only about 80 acres are high enough to live on. The beaches were beautiful and this peninsula went out for over a mile.  This view is of the protected water and on the other side.....see below 
...the waves were crashing from the high winds.  Our stay lasted longer than anticipated due to the high winds.  We check the weather often and only look at wind speed and direction.  During our stay we didn't have much in the way of cell or internet tower, so my sister, Michelle would text me the conditions each day as waited for it to dissipate.
Getting creative with surroundings. 
Near the tip of the Hook, rusty pipes sticking out of the water are all that's left of the Taka-Cola cherry soda plant. Its well water became contaminated, and the beverage gave dysentery to unlucky customers.  It was shut down in the late 1800's.  The beach pictured here has actually shifted to the other side of the old pipes over the past 8 months. 
We were ecstatic to find a Taka-Cola bottle washed up on the shore!  To find something from over a hundred years ago felt like finding a buried treasure.  The timing and chances of finding something like this way pure luck. 
The only other people on the beach were Loni and Carol Moore who were both born and raised on the island. They told us of the story of the Taka-Cola plant and they too were so excited about the bottle.  We continued to find many more after that and you wonder why it washed up while we were standing there.  Literally 10 minutes after we looked it would appear out of nowhere....great timing! 
But mmmooooooooommmmmmmm...this one was lonely and shaking and I really really want to help him.
A view from the dinghy as we traveled out of the harbor to explore the area at a different perspective.  You can see the many crab shacks, docks and Mail Harbor off to the left where tour boats and mail/grocery boat come each day.  There's a very pretty church at the center of town as well (see the steeple?).  The island is split in half with this channel. It was dredged out years ago and used to make a higher ground for the airport.  There are hundreds of crab shacks and half of them are one the other side and only accessible by boat.  

Our friend, Loni who had been a waterman his entire life (and recently taken a break) contracts his boat to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (that he works for) and is in charge of managing 26 boats in the area.  During our stay kids were brought in many days to the college which is located on an island just east of Tangier.    
We ventured north of the island on the favorable wind side to the "Uppards" where people lived many many years ago. There were remnants of houses from years ago, but were mostly washed away and taken over by marshy land.  The home in front of Ryann is actually up-side-down.  Loni and Carol often travels to the Uppards in exploration of the old town.  It's all slowly washing into the bay and she's trying to raise awareness of their growing problem.  She has personally found three skeletal human remains from the graves washing in and once brought two baskets full of dishes and pottery from the area.  You can go to the Readers Digest website and "cheer" for Tangier Island to help raise money for a new breakwall. There are also 6 facebook sites too. 
This photo is for our friend Paul Morrissey who sold John Deere tractors for many years. Happy Birthday Paul!! 
We had a tornado watch one evening and winds that exceeded 50 mph.  I use to love storms, but feel a bit more vulnerable on the boat. The house in this photo is the Parks and is the only brick home on the entire island.  We made it through the storm without a problem and left early the next morning to head north with winds of 10-15 mph. 
During the storms Craig went up to the helm for a birds eye view and was startled to see a cat finding safe harbor is his chair.  If you love cats, you'd love it here!  This particular cat just sat staring at the boat waiting for an invitation to board. They all became very close to the kids. 
The only playground was always filled with kids.
Jaxon made a friend named Chandler. He was such a sweet boy at 7 years old he was able to roam the entire island without parental guidance.  We saw kids even younger on their own with no parents to be found. Supposedly everyone watches out for each other and the locals are like a big family.  Chandler kept coming up to me saying how much fun Jaxon was and where does he live and when can we play again.  He left at one point to go to the store to buy a drink and wanted to buy Jaxon one too!
Anna Parks is Mr. Parks mother and the Parks family has lived on the island for centuries.  This is the boat that he used for crabbing for over 30 years.  He's brought in over a million crabs on this boat over the years.  He is said to be the best diesel mechanic on the island too.  Now each morning he moves it over to his many slips and uses it dredge the slips out.  Notice the ability to captain the boat from the mid stern area.
Sunset over the crab boats that stirred the harbors all day long.
This freighter and a large yacht both didn't want to alter their course and it seemed to be deceivingly close.
We traveled the entire day over to the western shore of the Chesapeake and once we arrived it was rather cool outside.  The kids played "Just Dance" on the Wii for some great exercise. They went through almost all of the songs and were sweating and laughing the whole time.  For those of you that aren't familiar with this video game you have to dance just like the person on the screen. Whomever is the most accurate gets more points and the one with the most points wins! 
 Happy Birthday to my sister Michelle...I miss you so much.


  1. That place looks totally cool. I wish Anna and I had stoped there. Sounds like you guys are having a blast. Miss you all, can't wait till you get to the Hudson.

  2. So, since Craig is such a fan of cats, he must have LOVED the idea of the kids adopting one...did you keep it? He'd love having a cat at the helm with him each day, wouldn't he!?! Haha! Love the teeter-totter and golf carts ~ and fun news to hear that Morgan got a new bike. Thanks for the good wishes on my bday and loved loved loved my birthday message from you all singing :-)

  3. Congratulations to the Parrent family, you have found Heaven on earth. I first found Tangier Island in 1974 after an abortive attempt from UK to sail around the world with my family in the 40ft Trimaran KALIMERA An inexperienced sailor, the advice given to me was,"HEAD SOUTH TILL THE BUTTER MELTS THEN TURN WEST".But nobody told me America was in the way.Anyway I found Tangier Island, Milton and the rest of his wonderful Island people.Milton was only 40 and was just as friendly as he is today. The cats were Betty his wife,s idea she loved them.
    The Parrent's account is so true, only in my day there were no golf carts only bicycles. A trip to the store meant leaving your bike outside that was immediately taken by someone else so then you would take your pick of the others. Nobody cared your bike would turn up eventually all you would have to do would be to steal it back.
    What a wonderful place Tangier is. When I left everyone stood on the dock waving "YOU'LL BE BACK TOM,ONE DAY YOU'LL BE BACK" 5 years later,after my divorce in England was finalized, I returned. Standing on the dock in Crisfield Maryland, wondering how I could get there without a boat, a Tangier fishing boat came alongside 2 fishermen jumped ashore and said in that old Elizabethan accent,"HELLO TOM ARE YOU COMING HOME?"
    That's Tangier Island folks Remember me to Milton when you visit and read my book "RUN TOWARD THE BLAZING SUN" It will give you an insight into what happened to me in England and Turkey and what finally brought me to America and Tangier Island.