As we came closer to Chesapeake Bay we asked what areas we should visit. Tangier Island was suggested a number of times as a destination. Some of the reasons were its quaint, it’s like stepping back in time, the locals have a different accent. No matter what the reason we headed for Tangier island on the eastern side of the bay.
With ALL my experiences island residents, about 3 or 4, the real residents, not the ones that spend 2 or 3 months at a time. But the residents that live year round on the island. They are an independent lot. They have to be. Islanders depend on themselves and other islanders. Even with the advent and accessibility of mainland conviences there is a fellowship of the island. These are people who even thought separated by a few miles of water have kept their heritage and way of life separate from the mainlands. This is the Tangier Island we found.
Parks Marina is the only marina listed in the guide books. From my research I found that its good to call ahead to let them know your coming, however, don’t expect to talk to anyone. Don’t let that bother you they will find room. I did just that and left a message. We were meeting our friends on “Jet Stream” at the island. Jet Stream arrived at the island about an 1-1/2 before us and by listening to their conversation on the radio knew that they were at the dock and tied up. I called on the radio to give them our location and time of arrival. Mr. Parks must have heard the conversation and called me on the phone. “Just come in behind your friends and I will meet you on the dock.” That’s what we did.
What you first notice about Tangier when entering the the harbor are the Crab Shacks on both sides of the channel. Small garages on docks with extra traps and tools. At each dock were either the larger work boats or a skiff. We also noticed that the harbor was a working harbor and there is lots of traffic. From the skiffs to tour boats, different work boats, and pleasure craft. Mr. Parks came out on the dock shortly after we arrived to help with lines. Milton Parks was no “spring chicken”. Parks had recently turned 84. He still runs the marina and is the only employee. “I do it all”, he said without emphasis on it. “That’s how we work here. My wife used to help out, but she died a couple of years ago.” I followed him to what I thought was the office but ended up in his living room talking about anything and everything and nothing to do with sign in and pay. “I will catch up with you before you go”, he said. The phone rang and I made my exit.
These are the “Waterman”. These men may be more specialized then their ancestors, but they still make a living from the bay. I spoke with two men who had “taken the day off”. Instead of crabbing they were working the oyster bed. In previous generations the Waterman made a living from combining everything from hunting water fowl, crabbing, oysters, and fishing. Now I saw fishing charters, some commercial fishing, crabbing, and oysters. Seasonal and size restrictions to preserve the fishing have made locals look to other forms of income. Tourism has become active and there are restaurants, gift shops, rentals and Bed and Breakfasts to beacon the tourist dollar.
From our mooring we were able to observe the activities of the harbor. Typical work day for a waterman began about 4:00A.M. (yes I was up) I watched as they prepared for the day and left the docks before 5:00A.M. They headed out into wind and waves that we had decided not to attempt. Later that day we spoke with some people that had come on smaller boats and were stuck on the island because of the weather. I learned that the men were going to stay with the boats and the rest of the group had chartered a fishing boat to take them to the mainland. I bet that was a ride they wont forget.
Tangier was visited by John Smith in 1608, during his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay. It lies about 10 miles off the southeastern coast of the Chesapeake, about 40 miles north of Cape Charles MD. The island was used by the British during the War of 1812 as a base of operation while they harassed American shipping. During the Civil
War, although part of Virginia the population of Tangier did not believe in slavery and sided with the Union. The islander boast of visits from presidents and celebrities.
The names Parks, Thomas, Pruitt, and Charnock, are prominent on the island as we could see in the family plot cemeteries that are found in many of the back yards. The main street hasn’t changed a lot since just after World War II. Pictures from that era look about the same as they do now, except now one of the main means of transport are golf carts. The streets are narrow, only about as wide as two carts. Keep your hands in as you pass. Bicycles and scooters are also numerous along with the various 4-wheelers that are becoming more common. There are a few cars or trucks along with emergency vehicles.There is also an airport on the island and besides boat is then only other way to get to the island.
We shared the rent of a golf cart with our friends and explored the island, to the south end and a nice sandy beach along a trail that
brought to the airport and down the side of the runway. Through some of the side streets, just wide enough for one cart. Over bridges that cross the tidal estuaries to residential areas. The ground has to be 3 feet above sea level to accommodate a home. Land is a premium and wind and waves are eroding the island at over 5 acres a year. Hurricane Sandy flooded most of the south end of the island.
During our exploration we visited the museum, one of the 5 restaurants, passed the school. K thru 12, and visited a number of gift shops.
The islanders have a dialect of their own. It’s considered old English from the Cornwall area and has a unique sound. After a time chatting with some ladies in the grocery store they became a little more comfortable with us. We could tell because the accent became more prominent and at times we needed to have them repeat what they said so we could understand. Of course I also had to repeat at times because they couldn’t understand me either. Milton Parks told us that when he joined the Coast Guard in 1948 they had to teach him to speak again so that he could be understood on the radio.
After two days we left the island and traveled the short distance northeast up the Tangier Sound to Crisfield, Maryland. My first time in Maryland, and Cynthia’s first since 1968. We will see if it has changed at all.