Kenneth Grahame was on to something when he wrote these words in 1908: "There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." Grahame was retired then, from the Bank of England, and writing down the stories he told his son about the River Thames. Some of them wound up in "The Wind in the Willows," and though it's a child's book, it still reflects the fascination some of us have with the watery side of the world.
I do most of my messing about in boats from a rocking chair these days, just like the ones that adorn the porches and decks and docks of hundreds of little places along the Intracoastal Waterway and the little bayside and creekside towns that dot the East Coast's tangle of rivers and sounds and ports and backwaters.
They most recently included a week with two other couples on a Deltaville porch deck looking over Broad
Creek in Virginia's Middlesex County. Morning coffee on the porch turned into afternoon drinks and daylong reading, all the time keeping an eye on the high-dollar sportsfishermen and the bright white workboats that rumbled and grumbled their way down the creek and out onto the wide Rappahannock, just a few miles above its junction with the Chesapeake Bay. You can steam or sail anywhere in the aquatic world from Deltaville, of course, but we looked for the crabbers and the sloops and cutters and kayakers and boat-scopers who noodled and puttered back and forth every day on that quiet stretch of water.
Nearly six decades after Grahame wrote about boats, Otis Redding and Steve Cropper captured the serenity of watching the water in "Sitting on the dock of the bay:"
Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch 'em roll away again, yeah
I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watchin' the tide roll away,
I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Well, not wasted in my book, anyway. The six of us plowed through I don't know now many books — a dozen at least, while sitting on that porch, when we weren't off testing restaurants for crabcakes or oyster po'boy sandwiches or the next round of craft beers or small-batch bourbons. And somehow we found time to mess about a couple of days in a fine, handsome Cape Dory 33 sloop our friends keep at a nearby marina, just a five-minute walk from our upstairs perch.
The wind was up in the high teens on one sail, which involved more hanging on and bracing for gusts into the 20's while thrashing up towards the iconic 1957 Robert Norris bridge over to Kilmarnock. A sail later in the week was calmer, jetting out into the Chesapeake on one long starboard tack and returning to the Broad Creek daymarkers on one long port tack on a rising wind.
In our sailing and motoring days we have seen the Intracoastal up close from Vero Beach to Oriental, and shorter stretches of the more northerly sections. We have also spent a good deal of productive time sitting on docks in river towns like Beaufort and Beaufort — distinctly different places that provide spectacular views of the riverine and inlet worlds — and quiet places like Pecan Grove Marina just off Shop Gut near Oriental, where we recovered from a white squall on the lower Neuse, and the old River Forest Marina just off the waterway in Belhaven. So we're adding Deltaville to our list of grand places to sit and watch 'em roll in, and watch 'em roll away again. Wasting time, you know, is easy, but knowing where to do — that's the key.