Days on cruise: 55
This morning we pulled up the anchor and moved about a mile to Buzzard’s Point Marina, the jumping-off spot for a ferry ride to Tangier Island in the middle of Chesapeake Bay. Even in that short distance, there were lots of menhaden boats coming and going.
This sailboat was anchored next to us last night, it left early this morning, and we saw it coming back in again when we were on the ferry, perhaps because the wind and waves were so high, with swells too, that it would not be a fun day to be on a smaller boat on the Chesapeake.
At 9:30 we boarded the “Chesapeake Breeze”, a commercial ferry which carries up to 150 people, though there weren’t more than 75 today. It was a somewhat rough ride for 18 miles, and some people on the ferry got seasick, an affliction we fortunately avoided, having long since acquired our sea legs. An hour and 40 minutes later, we entered the harbor at Tangier Island.
This place is pretty unique and interesting. It’s 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, 18 miles from either the eastern or western shore of the Chesapeake, and has a population of year-round residents just under 500, down from 2,100 at its’ peak. The highest point on the island is only 4 feet above sea level, and the entire population is evacuated every time a hurricane threatens the area. Almost all of the residents work in the crabbing or oyster industry.
The crab industry here is primarily “soft-shelled crabs”, the kind that molt to allow for growth. The crabs are captured just before molting begins, then put in plastic basins that are fed with bay water and must be checked every two hours around the clock, demanding work. Tangier Island is considered the Soft Shell Crab capital of the nation.
Resident crabbers have “fish shacks” on the waterway with small docks attached where their boats are kept. There are a couple hundred of these just inside the harbor.
There are only a handful of motorized vehicles on the entire island, and most people get around by walking, bicycling or most commonly, riding golf carts. There are mobile homes, small cottages, modest homes in good repair, modest homes in bad repair, and well-kept Victorian style homes on the island.
Dozens of homes have signposts in front of them telling the history of the home. We found the one below particularly interesting and amusing.
Island residents speak an English restoration-era dialect of English that is similar to that spoken in England in the late 1600s, and linguists like to come here to study it. We’re told it’s sometimes difficult for people to understand, though the few residents we spoke with were not hard to understand.
There’s one school on the island, and the classroom for each grade has fewer than 10 students. Medical service is provided by three Physicians Assistants and Registered Nurses, with a doctor who arrives once each week by helicopter. Cable TV and Internet came to Tangier Island in 2010.
We took a 20-minute tour of the island with a local resident on her golf cart (cost $5.00 each), ate lunch at a local cafe (soft shell crab sandwich for Cathryn, crabcake sandwich for Bob) and walked the narrow streets until it was time to return to the ferry for our ride back to Buzzard’s Point Marina, where we’re allowed to stay on the dock for the night for free because we took the ferry ride.
This was a fascinating cultural/sociological journey and reminds us yet again that America is an amazingly diverse place, and we’re happy to be seeing so much of it on our Great Loop trip.