April found us getting back into tourist mode as we headed north from Florida, ending the month in Delaware, a distance of about 1200 miles. Along the way, we visited with some family and friends and saw lots of interesting stuff.
But before we left the Palm Bay area, we met Lucille’s Aunt Alma and husband Bud for brunch at Chowders, a seafood restaurant on US 1. Chowder’s has a great Sunday brunch buffet, priced at only $10.95, but with just about everything you can think of either cooked-to-order or served buffet-style for this breakfast and lunch meal. We sat on the back deck overlooking the Indian River. What more could we ask for – great company, a beautiful view and excellent food – life is good! We returned another evening for one of their seafood dinners – again, a good value for a good meal.
Another affordable place we found for lunch, just recently opened in Palm Bay at the old Ryan’s Steakhouse location, is Whistle Junction. This buffet-style restaurant has more choices than Golden Corral (which has a lot) but the tables aren’t as closely packed in so you don’t feel crowded. And the food was quite good. How many buffet lines do you know that regularly serve fried-green tomatoes?
But wait! There’s more, food reports, that is! We left Patrick Air Force Base’s military campground and drove to another one of our favorite military campgrounds, Mayport Naval Air Station, in Jacksonville, Florida. There was a volunteer appreciation dinner the night we pulled in and everyone was invited. Wotta deal! Free barbecue and all the fixins’. Life is really good – no cooking or cleanup on our first day there. We can get used to this!
As we had the last time we were at Mayport, we got a pull-through site, on the front row, with a great view of the Intracoastal Waterway and all the marine activity. One plus to being at Mayport this time was that the aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, was in port, and offered tours. Caroline Kennedy christened the JFK in 1967, with the carrier’s active naval service beginning September 1968. Big John, as it is nicknamed, completed several sorties to the Mediterranean in the Middle East in response to events there. The carrier supported both Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban and al-Qaida targets. JFK’s future is in limbo right now. She is the only non-nuclear aircraft carrier still on active duty but sometime this summer, the powers that be will decide if she will be decommissioned.
We were surprised to learn when we got there that we were going to get a personal tour from a seaman on duty that afternoon. It’s not because we were special but because they have no regularly scheduled tours and welcome guests once they have passed security. Because Larry has an ID card showing that he is retired military, we got on board with little hassle.
Our tour guide normally works on the flight deck and was very knowledgeable in that area. Obviously, for security reasons, we weren’t allowed to see all of the ship but when we got to an area with which our guide was unfamiliar, he turned us over to the seaman on duty at that location. We initially entered at the storage bay level, went up to the flight deck, and then further up about three more stories to the control tower where the captain sits. We also stopped at the flight deck room and learned about their non-high tech method of keeping track of the planes on the flight deck, nicknamed “Pinology”. It’s a very basic system using pushpins (like thumbtacks that you can find at any office supply store) and to-scale two-dimensional plastic models of the various aircraft on board. Personnel manning this room will place the aircraft models on a model of the JFK’s flight deck in their correct positions. Based on if they need fueling, service, whatever…the pushpins tell the story. A washer placed on the plane model denotes that particular plane needs to be washed – is that simple or what? A lot of the other bits and pieces used made sense too. In the past, the flight deck room personnel pitted their pushpin method against three people entering the same information into computers and the pushpin system won out – amazing! In the two plus years we’ve been traveling fulltime, there have been a couple of times that we had WOW moments and being able to see the JFK up close and personal certainly ranks up near the top.
Hanna Park, a Jacksonville beachfront park, borders up to the Mayport beach. We decided to check out their campground, of which we’ve heard nothing but praise. The park has hookups and all the sites are nestled in the trees, with lots of privacy, but most of the sites would have been impossible or difficult for us to fit. Besides which, the rates are $30+/night and we're paying $15/night now just a few miles from there – we’ll stick with Mayport when we are in the area.
Another local city park, Huguenot Memorial Park, is just a short ferry ride away and is also located on the waterfront. All sites there are dry camping and have a nice view of the St. John’s River. We may be a little too large to comfortably get around in Huguenot, but it looks like a great destination during cool weather for tents or smaller RVs. Huguenot is the only park in the area that allows beach access by vehicle. Larry went ‘four-wheeling’ with our monster truck just long enough to get to the beach and return before high tide blocked the access road.
Based on someone’s recommendation, we had lunch in the small town of Mayport at what appeared to be a dumpy building but had very good seafood at a good price. So if you’re in the area, don’t let the looks of Singleton’s Seafood Shack deter you from stopping.
After almost four months in Florida, it was time to leave the state heading north. Next destination was Jekyll Island, Georgia, to meet up with Yvette and Pat and friends Bill and Jann. Bill had told us about the Jekyll Island Campground where they spend several months each winter. We used to meet with Pat and Yvette camping on Easters past so what better place to resurrect that tradition.
Jekyll Island was originally a private vacation destination club with 100 members, consisting of the wealthiest of the wealthy – the Astors, Vanderbilts, Pulitzers, Morgans, etc. In 1942 the U.S. Government evacuated the entire island, most likely due to World War II. In 1947, the state of Georgia purchased the island and still owns it. Any residences and businesses on the island, including the campground, lease their land from the state.
Jekyll Island itself is only about 10 miles from north to south with bike trails all around and in between. Our first day there, we ventured out with our bikes about eight miles round trip, checking out the pier and a nature trail. While awaiting the gang to arrive on Friday, we pedaled off in another direction, this time down the beach side, heading to the historic district. We pedaled around the town, most of whose buildings are now tourist shops or private residences, before heading back. But first we stopped for lunch at Blackbeard’s and had a delicious crab cake dish that was large enough for us to have split. We had planned on eating a light lunch because we knew what a treat Pat had in store for us for dinner that evening. By the time we got back to the campground, Bill and Jann had arrived and Pat and Yvette pulled in shortly afterwards. Pat fixed his traditional Good Friday meal of seafood chowder that is out of this world. We weren’t too proud to take home leftovers.
The following day, we pedaled back to the historic district with Pat and Yvette, stopping enroute to see the Horton House ruins, a burying ground and ruins of an old brewery. Constructed around 1740, Horton House represents one of the most significant tabby ruins remaining on the Georgia coast. Consisting of a mixture of shells, lime, sand, and water, tabby has long been a popular building material along the Georgia and Florida coasts. Built by Major William Horton, one of James Oglethorpe's most trusted officers, the Horton House served both as a British Empire outpost and Horton's residence until his death in Savannah in 1748.
After touring the historic center a little while, we continued on to St. Andrew’s picnic area at the southern end of the island. We had a picnic lunch there before heading back. Our bike trip that day was about 18 miles so we felt it was only appropriate to stop for ice cream just a few miles before we all got back to the campground. That evening, Jann fixed salsa stew, another good meal. Lucille’s turn would be Easter with ham and all the fixins’ on the menu. It may sound like we spend a lot of our time dining out, but most of the time, we eat meals prepared in our own home on wheels.
On Easter morning, we attended Easter Sunrise Worship services at the Jekyll Island Convention Center. The center has floor to ceiling bay windows overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and provided an awesome view of the rising sun as the services progressed.
We enjoyed our stay at this campground so much that we’ve made reservations to return next March for a month. They offer special winter rates and really roll out the red carpet for their snowbird guests. For $400 a month, the winter rate, you get full hookups with 50-amp service, cable, free wifi and a newspaper delivered to your site every day. The manager asked what our home state is. They provide you with a lamppost that has your name on it and your home state. A newspaper box is located on this same pole – what service! They keep this post and place it on your site whenever you return. Bill also said that we’ll receive coffee mugs and discount coupons for local vendors. And we’re eligible to receive the winter rate no matter what time of the year we return in the future.
On our way to Charleston, we detoured overnight to Rincon to take Shelley to Yvette’s vet (and coincidentally the vet who’d rescued Shelley almost six years ago.) She developed a limp that wasn’t improving. After an exam, the vet thought that she might have a torn knee ligament and gave us some meds. If after a week we didn’t see any improvement, we needed to get her rechecked. Except for the reason for our detour, Yvette was delighted that we’d get to visit with them for another day.
We were back on track the next morning and got to Foster Creek RV Park, a new military campground affiliated with the Naval Weapons Station in North Charleston. The word’s not out yet so only about 12 of the 46 sites were occupied. This is definitely top on our list of favorite places to stay – both the campground and Charleston.
While in the Charleston area, we visited Patriots Point, a Naval and Maritime Museum. We saw the aircraft carrier, theYorktown; the destroyer Laffey; the submarine Clamagore and the Coast Guard cutter Ingham as well as the Cold War Memorial.
The Yorktown, the famous “Fighting Lady” of World War II, was commissioned April 1943 and fought in many historic battles during the war. She also patrolled the western Pacific during the Cold War and Vietnam. In December 1968, the Yorktown recovered the crew of Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft to circle the moon. There are five different tours on the aircraft carrier, four of which were open the day we were there. We went up stairs and down stairs and throughout most of the ship, all self-guided..
The destroyer Laffey was commissioned in February 1944 and participated in the D-Day landings of Allied troops at Normandy. She also served during the Korean War and then in the Atlantic until being decommissioned in 1975. The self-guided tour takes you to her bridge, battle stations and living quarters.
The submarine Clamagore was commissioned June 1945 and operated in the Atlantic and Mediterranean throughout her entire career, patrolling Cuban waters during the missile crisis in 1962. The tour route covers her control room, berthing and messing areas, and engine rooms. They caution you that her spaces are cramped and that wasn’t an exaggeration. Not a place to be if you’re claustrophobic.
Lastly, the Coast Guard Cutter the Ingham was commissioned in 1936 and was one of the most decorated vessels in U.S. service with 18 ribbons during a career of over 50 years. She took part in 31 World War II convoys, as well as Pacific patrols and Vietnam tours. In recent years, she tracked illegal boat immigrants and drug runners. Another self-guided tour took us in and amongst all the rooms. This was our first tour of a Coast Guard cutter – very interesting, as were the other three vessels we toured there.
Patriots Point is also where you can catch a tour to Fort Sumter, a national monument located on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston Harbor, accessible only by boat. Spirit Line Cruises is the National Park Service’s authorized concessionaire that provides ferryboat service to the island.
Fort Sumter is where the Civil War began. South Carolina had seceded from the Union, but Union forces still occupied Fort Sumter. The South demanded the Fort be vacated and the North refused. On April 12, 1861, from nearby Fort Johnson, confederate troops fired on the Fort. After two days of bombardment, Union troops surrendered Fort Sumter.
After we got back to land, the day was still young so we went into town to the historic district and took a carriage tour with Palmetto Carriage Tour, parking for free in their courtesy parking lot. We very much enjoyed our tour with our guide, Ed, who had a dry sense of humor. The tour takes about an hour and can follow any one of three different routes, depending on how many carriages are on a route. The city limits the numbers of carriages that can be on the road – traffic control. We had a short wait of three carriages in front before we headed out. We saw quite a bit of the architecture for the area and several old churches, which we visited on foot after the tour. Among the churches and cemeteries we saw were St. Phillips Episcopal Church, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, and the Circular Congregational Church.
We felt that after all this walking and sightseeing, an ice cream break would be welcome. On one of the downtown streets, we discovered MaggieMoo’s Ice Cream and Treatery, an ice cream parlor that serves ice cream with your choice of add-ins that they mix in on a marble slab. Wonderful and refreshing and almost tempting enough to go back for another scoop – but we resisted, at least that day.
One day we toured the Charleston Tea Plantation, on Wadmalaw Island, just south of Charleston. There is a self-guided tour with videos of how tea is harvested and processed. One of the machines was running so we could see it operating but tea doesn't start being harvested till about May sometime. They’ve got a custom-made tractor which appears to be a John Deere product that drives above the tea plants (all camellia sinensis) and cuts only the top couple of inches, all new shoots. We learned that the length of the hydration process differentiates the types of tea. Black tea dries for 50 minutes; oolong for 20 minutes; and green tea doesn’t dry at all.
There is a nice little gift shop, a picnic area outdoors and free iced tea. It's the only tea actually made in America. The people that started the Bigelow Company own it but only American Classic Tea is made there. While there, we met four really nice ladies (three from California, one from Massachusetts) enjoying a ladies only trip. We overheard the cashier at the tea place talking about a winery down the road so all our ears perked up.
After we left the tea plantation, we headed to the Irvin-House Vineyards, producing Live Oak Wine. The winery is Charleston’s only winery and vineyards and one of four in the state. We saw the same four ladies there, just starting their wine tasting, so we joined them. The winery is open to the public Thursdays through Saturdays 10 -5 pm. The wine tasting is $2.50 but you keep your wine glass and are not limited to how many samples of any or all of the five different varieties. We ended up buying four of the five varieties plus our newfound friends gave us their glasses - they didn't want to have them broken on their flights home.
We learned that Ann Irvin, one of the owners of the winery, opens up the winery for private tours Monday through Wednesday and will fix lunch or have it catered, for up to 50 people. She is a really neat lady, a former kindergarten teacher with seven children of her own and seven grandchildren. She showed us a picture album of the vineyard while they were preparing it for the vines. They started with what looked like a jungle and swamp and after a lot of hard work, turned it into the manicured vineyard seen today. Ann and her son put in all the posts for the vines, with Ann operating the automated posthole digger. There’s a flock of geese that wander throughout the rows keeping the weed population down. We wonder if the geese get a little tipsy if they eat any grapes that have fallen off the vines.
The last tourist attraction we visited in the Charleston area was the Hunley exhibit, the world’s first successful combat submarine. On February 17, 1864, the H.L. Hunley, a Confederate submarine, attacked and sank the USS Housatonic four miles off Sullivan’s Island in the Atlantic Ocean, becoming the first sub to sink a ship. After signaling its success to shore the sub vanished. After being lost at sea for over a century the sub was located in 1995 by author Clive Cussler and raised in August 2000. The Hunley exhibit is only open weekends and is located in a conservation tank at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center. Photography isn’t allowed at the exhibit because of potential damage to the sub as well as issues dealing with copyrights. Although many artifacts have been recovered, archeologists are still unearthing its secrets. What is amazing is that the sub was only 39’ long (about the same length as our rig), had a crew of eight that turned a crankshaft that was tied to a single propeller. An on board compass provided direction and a simple candle an indicator of air quality when submerged. When the candle’s flame went out, that signaled the crew that it was time to surface – the air supply was gone. Can you imagine the bravery of those undertaking to be part of the crew and what they’d think to see the subs of today?
A week had passed and Shelley was still limping, so we took her to a recommended vet in the North Charleston area. The vet there thought it was her hips but an X-ray would give us all a better idea. They had to sedate her because to get a good picture, the legs have to be straightened and unless the dog is sedated, he or she will keep the pulling their legs back up. Unfortunately, the X-rays show hip dysplasia on both hips, a common ailment for large dogs. She was prescribed more meds that may take up to a month to see results. She hadn’t quite come to yet; we had already checked out of the campground and were ready to hit the road. Two of the vet technicians loaded her up on a doggie-sized stretcher and brought her out to the truck, where she was gently rolled onto the back seat. She finally was back to normal several hours later, and several miles up the road, probably wondering how she got there and where had the day gone! Larry made her a ramp to help her in and out of the truck. We’re hoping between the ramp, the drugs, and staying put in one area when we reach our job in Connecticut will help her hips.
A late start to Virginia Beach wasn’t an issue since we had already planned on stopping overnight at a NC Flying J. We knew Flying J wouldn’t mind what time we pulled in. We found a somewhat quiet place to park there for the night and helped pay for our ‘free’ camping by filling up the truck’s fuel tanks the next morning.
In Virginia Beach, we stayed at yet another Navy military campground, this time at Little Creek Amphibious Base. Too bad the Navy doesn’t have a frequent camper program similar to the Air Force’s – Little Creek was our third Navy campground in a row.
We contacted friends Barry and Judy, whom we’d met at Desert Haven last year, and made arrangements to join them to watch the Norfolk Tides, a AAA-affiliate of the New York Mets baseball team. The Tides lost but we enjoyed visiting with Barry and Judy, catching up on our lives since we saw them last in Arizona. We are excited for them – they leave for Alaska mid-May and are armed with some of our guidebooks and lots of our advice, probably more than they wanted to hear!
The next day, with Barry as our chauffeur and both of them as our guides, we chose the Casemate Museum to visit, on nearby Fort Monroe, a museum that they hadn’t visited yet. Fort Monroe was named in honor of President James Monroe and is the largest stone fort built in the U.S. Construction began in 1819 and it has been continuously occupied since 1823 and is currently the headquarters for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. The museum is located within the walls of the fort and includes the cell of captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis and many other exhibits about Fort Monroe and the Coast Artillery Corps. We learned also that Edgar Allan Poe served as a soldier there before he started publishing his works. There’s a walking tour in and around the grounds that we did and were treated to a military band practicing both its music and marching on the grounds.
The next day, with Barry driving again, we went to visit Cape Henry, located on Fort Story. Cape Henry was the site of the landing of the first permanent English Settlement to the United States in the 1600s. One of our destinations that day was the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, overlooking the junction of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. The lighthouse was in operation from about 1792 till 1881 when it was deemed unsafe because of structural damages in the original masonry. A new lighthouse was built 350 feet southeast and is still in operation. The new lighthouse is not open to the public but visitors are welcome to the old one. We also saw the Cape Henry Memorial where the first Englishmen landed.
Are you beginning to think we did nothing but sightsee all month? Well, it seemed that way to us – we were ready for some downtime and relaxation. We said goodbye to Barry and Judy and wished them safe travels on their trip to Alaska. Our route took us via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, an engineering marvel. This is the largest bridge-tunnel complex in the world and after its opening in 1964, it was selected as one of the “Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World”. Measuring 17.6 miles from shore to shore, the Bridge-Tunnel consists of more than twelve miles of trestled roadway, two mile-long tunnels, two bridges, four man-made islands, almost two miles of causeway, and 5-1/2 miles of approach roads, totaling 23 miles. If the concrete supporting columns were placed end to end, they could reach from New York to Philadelphia. We called Barry and Judy when we started on the Bridge-Tunnel. Their condo overlooks the bridge and the Chesapeake Bay. Barry could barely make us out but he spotted us.
Next stop: Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Delaware. What a gem this park is – located within a few minutes’ walk to the Atlantic, surrounded by sand dunes and historic Fort Miles. The park is located where the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay meet. All sites are on asphalt and are parallel to a sandy picnic area, complete with your own table and fire ring. They only offer water hookups but because our stay would be short, that wasn’t a problem. We had wonderfully sunny days the entire time so the solar panels kept our batteries well charged. This state park offers miles of hiking and biking trails, swimming, fishing, bird watching, and nature programs – no need to leave the park for recreation. As a bonus, we were there during a re-enactment at historic Fort Miles, located within the state park boundaries, and got to tour areas normally not open to the public on a regular basis.
Fort Miles was a coastal artillery base built in the 1940s. The Delaware River played an important role in U.S. war efforts – industries lining the coast included shipbuilding, munitions, manufacturing and oil refining; the river also provided easy access to Wilmington and Philadelphia. Fort Miles was the country’s first significant attempt at homeland security, protecting the shoreline from German ships such as the Bismarck and it sister ship Tirpitz, as well as German submarines. Several tall Fire Control Towers seem to rise up from the sand. Tower 7 is open to the public – the view from the top is worth the steps up. From this tower, you can see four more towers within just a few miles.
Buildings still left at Fort Miles are some housing barracks, a recreation building and a supply and administration building, all being restored to their original appearance. The highlight of our tour was to see the interior of Battery 519, the south gun battery. We were amazed at how much of the building is concealed underground. Much to our surprise, barely 10% of the battery is above ground. This is similar to the concrete batteries seen elsewhere guarding a shoreline, such as those found at Fort Pickens National Park in Florida. Below ground and inside is like a small city, probably stretching about ¼ mile from end to end. There are several rooms – one of which appeared to be a kitchen, some necessary rooms (translate: latrines), shell rooms, and gunpowder rooms. Battery 519, in and out, is being restored to its 1943 condition and will be the centerpiece of Fort Miles with exhibits, displays and an interactive underwater listening station similar to those used during the Cold War.
We took a short walking tour of historic Lewes, a seafaring town with an excellent harbor. The town has quite a history, first discovered by Henry Hudson and ultimately selected by the Dutch as an ideal site to establish a whaling station. Unfortunately, the thirty-two settlers were massacred by a local tribe of Indians as a result of a dispute over a Dutch coat of arms. The land that is now the state of Delaware was later conveyed to William Penn and the town named Lewes in honor of a town in England. Captain Kidd and other pirates visited the town as late as 1698. During the War of 1812, a British frigate bombarded the town. One of the town buildings (now named the Cannonball House) still wears an embedded cannonball in its foundation. Lewes is also the southern terminus of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, on which we will embark when we leave the area. More on that adventure in May!
In addition to all the interesting places we’ve visited, we were able to add two more states to our map (Virginia and Delaware) – the blanks are being filled in!
Next up: A short stay in New Jersey, some time at Branch Brook Campground in Thomaston, Connecticut while we visit family, then onto our summer destination – Lone Oak Campsites in East Canaan, Connecticut.