Blue Turtle Cruising

Tangier Island, vanishing marshland in the Chesapeake Bay

After celebrating Independence Day in Yorktown, we headed 52 miles north to Tangier Island. We anchored on the southeast side in Cod Harbor with only one other boat there. After a few hours, the other boat left and we were all alone. We spent 2 nights there with one calm night and another one a bit rolly.

The next day, we took the dinghy to shore to explore the island. It was a cloud covered day which was fortunate for us because of the heat but unfortunate for my grey photos and videos since there is a lot of color to this little island. We dinghyied into the main channel separating two neighborhoods of waterman’s shanties and docked at Parks Marina. Parks is the only marina there, if you can call it that, and appears to have been abandoned. When we approached no one came out or greeted us and we had no idea where we could park the dinghy or what it cost. Reviews on Active Captain told us that the marina’s owner, Milton Parks, had recently died in May 2022 at the age of 90. We’d read wonderful articles and stories about how nice Mr. Parks was and how he enjoyed talking to visiting boaters about the island and its history. Once we tied up the dinghy, we saw a sign that displayed the very affordable rates: $5 for a brief stay, $25 overnight up to 30 feet, $30 for vessels over 30 feet. We weren’t sure who would collect the money until we got to the end of the dock and saw a brick home with a wooden collection box for which to place our $5. Guess things are running on the honor system for now.

Once on shore, we took the only path that led anywhere and we we landed on the “main street.” The main road appears wide enough for one car and it seems the main modes of transportation on the island is golf carts, scooters and bikes. Walking through town, you can’t get lost since there’s only one direction to go and the island is only 1.2 square miles.

Only accessible by plane or boat, Tangier Island is a remote island 12 miles out in the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers permanently settled in the 1770’s , and by the 19th century “watermen” who lived on the island became more dependent on harvesting the area’s crabs and oysters. The locals speak a distinctive dialect of American English most likely migrated with its first settlers from Cornwall and then evolved inward. Most current residents can trace their ancestors back to the island’s founding families in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Walking along the street, we found many grave sites with the same family names dating back to the 1700 & 1800’s.

Out of 740 acres, only 80 is high enough to live on. Roughly 400 people live on the sliver of marsh land and tidal creeks. With the rising water levels of the Chesapeake and the high areas of the island being only 5 feet above sea level, it appears Tangier is sinking. Today the island is about one-third the size it once was and experts predict it won’t be habitable in 30 years. If you’ve ever wanted to visit Tangier Island, now is the time before it disappears.

Our stroll through the island probably took about an hour tops, including stops. Along the main road we saw churches, a few restaurants, a post office, a tiny museum, a couple of shops, and lots of graves. Signs throughout the town point out points of interest and bits of history. The day we visited, the road was buzzing with golf carts and groups of dressed up folks walking. We found out that they were attending a funeral on the island. A lot of the people came by ferry, hence the increase of foot traffic we came across. Many of the restaurants and shops were closed. The museum door sign said, “Closed until 1:30pm.”

Visiting Tangier Island was like stepping back in time. You visit it for the history and to see the waterman’s way of life. The island is quirky and lacking general curb appeal. We saw remnants of boats and boat parts strewn about, interesting yard art and a beautifully restored home right next to a building about to fall down. This stop for us was definitely unique and we’re glad we were able to see it this slice of history before its gone.

Yorktown, VA to Tangier Island, VA = 52 nm

TOTAL miles to date: = 1,381 nm
TOTAL bridge openings to date = 29

3 thoughts on “Tangier Island, vanishing marshland in the Chesapeake Bay”

  1. Chesapeake Requiem, by Earl Swift is a wonderful read and offers great insight into the islands history and culture, as well as the looming reality that it will soon all be gone


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