We continue our excerpts from John Holum's travels along the John Smith Water Trail.
Thursday, just beyond the York, steaming southbound
Saw our first dolphins near Wolf Trap Light. First pelicans were Monday, just south of the Patuxent.
Yesterday we finished plumbing the depths of Deltaville and the surrounding waters, absorbing information of relevance to the Captain Smith expedition and lots more that had nothing to do with it but nevertheless is good to know – such as, the town motto in Deltaville is, “We’re all here because we’re not all there.”
First things first. After a comprehensive survey of Stingray Point from both land and water, extensive consultations with long time Deltaville residents who just might have been present at the time, and the application of unassailable logic, we can now definitively report that after he was stung by a stingray (hence the name) there on July 17, 1607, the island to which Captain Smith was taken was not Gwynns Island 2.5 nautical miles to the south, but a subsequently washed-away atoll roughly where the Stingray Point light now stands. He and his mates were wading in the shallows among plentiful fish, and as he tried to spear one with his sword the ray stuck a barb in his arm. He expected to die, but was brought to the “island” and recovered quickly – not surprising, because such stings, although painful, are rarely fatal. We are also confident that despite what some folks aver, healing mud from Antipoison Creek on the far shore of the Rappahannock was not involved, nor were the natives.
At the Deltaville Maritime Museum, devoted to the history of Deltaville boatbuilding – deadrises, log canoes, skipjacks, schooners, buyboats, etc., reflected in many fine old photos, drawings, models, and tool collections – we observed a shallop replica under construction in preparation for next year’s quadricentennial doings. Captain Smith invariably referred to his as a “barge,” but he was a military man and that is a military term for the use to which a vessel is put, without denoting the kind of vessel it is. This version will be a heavy old thing with thick oak ribs, cedar planking, and a chunky, shallow keel. No one knows what the original looked like – there’s a tiny representation of it in Captain Smith’s famous Virginia map, but it seems a bit impressionistic, and could very well be a sail-bearing Dutch wooden shoe added as a touch of whimsy. (Not likely – he doesn’t appear to have been much of a jokester.) There’s a controversy bubbling, however, because the replica’s lead builder insists on adding sideboards to make the boat safe and seaworthy, but neither Captain Smith’s drawing nor any other representation of such a vessel has them and the museum’s dynamic president, Raynell Smith, is having none of it. The age-old struggle between practicality and authenticity. Given who raised the money, we think we know how this is going to turn out.
Our host, Bob Walker, not only carted us to the museum, out to the Point, and all around the community, but then launched his 24’ Key West outboard for our meticulous nautical survey of the sting site (conducted mostly with the motor tilted up so we could keep moving across the flats where, in our view, the island used to be, but sighting neither stingrays nor fish, except for jellies), followed by a 30 mile per hour ride up the Piankatank, just beyond Hell Neck, almost exactly as far as Captain Smith traveled. Heavily wooded, to the point where if you squinted your eyes to block out the houses you could sort of see it the way Smith must have, except without the benefit of a Bimini top and fetching polarized aviator-style sunglasses.
After all that excitement, a group dinner at Cocomo’s, with its plastic flamingoes and Florida Keys tiki bar feel, was a welcome respite The conversation was enlivened by Raynell’s spouse, whose given name is Steve but who bears an uncanny resemblance to Captain Crunch and so is universally called that or simply “Crunch.” Turns out he and Raynell once had a restaurant in Marathon, lived and sailed for fifteen years aboard a schooner-rigged wooden skipjack built in the fifties, and then happened upon Deltaville where, in addition to the museum, she runs a knick-knack emporium named “NaughtyNell’s” and he does fine painting of nameboards and hailing ports on boats and pursues other artistic endeavors. They eventually sold their boat to a guy who said, “I’ll give you half what you’re asking and be your friend for life.” He did and is. More delightful, water-loving people with terrific stories. We’ll return to Deltaville – even though Bob, who put us up for free, says next time he’ll charge twice that.
To be continued...