Every year for our anniversary, T and I try to go somewhere new. We don’t need to go far – west is the mountains, east is the Bay. We can arrive within a few miles of a place we’ve been before and have it feel completely different. This year – just upriver from Deltaville, and Gwynn’s Island, within sight of the creek that leads to Irvington, and beyond that Windmill Point, all places we’ve been before – Urbanna gets the nod.
A natural deep harbor protected by high bluffs has linked this small rural town to the water and the rest of the world since the early 1600’s. A tobacco port of trade between England and the colonies during the 1700’s, a cameo in the War of 1812, a crossroads for both armies during the Civil War, an active steamboat port, and a focal point of oyster production until the 1960’s; a lot of history has transpired in such a small town of fewer than 500 souls. Much like our own town of Scottsville, but on the water.
We book the last room in a small B&B in the old part of town, and head straight for the water.
Urbanna in general is on the upswing since last I was here. New marinas, more under construction, old ones refurbished. A yacht club or two. Like many river and coastal towns, they’ve discovered their waterfront again. The town purchased one of the old abandoned oyster canneries and turned it into a municipal dock, with restrooms, showers, slips and a launch ramp. Perched on a small spit of reclaimed land, the parking for trailers is limited, but the lot is empty enough to unhitch the trailer and use two adjoining spaces.
We raise sail and ghost slowly out the creek, passing a sand beach on the bar where families spend the day sunning and reading.
The Rappahannock is about 2.5 miles wide here. There’s a mild but steady southwest wind, so even starting late we feel comfortable crossing to explore the far side, blue in the distance. We ride the tide out, and will catch the turn on the way back.
Creeks and old farmhouses line the north shore. Halfway across I spot a piece of old brickwork, recognizing the distinctive colonial era style. We tack over to investigate. It is indeed a noble edifice, a former farmhouse or tavern, but all that remains is the endwall and a massive chimney. Someone clearly appreciates the history and the ruins. Even from a distance I can see the mortar joints have been repointed with care and structure stabilized. Riprap armors the shore to keep it from washing away. All of which would have been costly.
Near the mouth of a creek the water shoals to little more than a foot. White sand and eel grass stretch for several hundred yards along the shore just below the surface. We pass osprey nests high in the pines, one taken over by bald eagles.
The sun is getting low, and the tide is turning. Back along the south shore the wind fades, enough that a couple in a canoe has ventured out of Urbanna Creek. They pass us on the way to a secluded beach fronting the old Rosegill Plantation. Rosegill was one of the original KIng’s Grants, over 3000 acres patented in 1649, only a few decades after the first settlement at Jamestown. The town of Urbanna, and much that surrounds it, was once part and parcel of the original plantation, where the house still stands.
Inside the creek there’s barely a breath of breeze left, and that on the nose. A beautiful old motor yacht passes, with the lines of a classic workboat. The skipper hollers out admiration for our little skiff, and we return the compliment.
We are hungry and the sun has already dipped below the trees. It will be dark soon. I stand up and paddle us back to the ramp. We haul Aeon out and leave her parked on the street, not even bothering to wash up or change clothes before heading out for dinner.