Jamestown 400 years of Boating
Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
Four centuries ago, about this time of year, three wooden ships were preparing to leave Blackwell, England and sail west. Packed with more than 100 crew members, the Susan Constant, Discovery and Godspeed had orders from the Virginia Company of London to find a way to China. In April 1607 they made landfall at what is now Cape Henry, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, but seeking a more secure area, the three ships continued their journey to the west. On May 14, they landed on a wooded island along a protected shoreline and called it "Jamestown."
Today, this small island on the James River and less than 40 miles from the Chesapeake Bay is the center of celebrations that have already included a goodwill tour of the East Coast by a replica of the Godspeed. Plans are being finalized for an American Anniversary Weekend to mark the 400th year since the ships' arrival, with celebrities, VIP's and dignitaries from England in attendance. Hollywood has already produced a movie marking the upcoming observance, starring Colin Farrell, about the early years at Jamestown ("The New World") and goes into detail about one of the Susan Constant's most famous (and controversial) passengers, Captain John Smith Smith was an accomplished seaman and this fact was the primary reason he was asked to make the voyage to the west for the Virginia Company of London.
But he was also opinionated and after one too many arguments with Captain Christopher Newport about the Susan Constant's organization and course, Smith was sent to the brig in the ship's hold. Upon arrival on Cape Henry, orders from the Virginia Company were opened and Captain John Smith was appointed one of the leaders in the new colony. His statue stands today on the original site of Jamestown, surveying the James River — no doubt the in the same way he looked at the water almost 400 years earlier. Stories abound about the heat the Jamestown colonists endured that first summer and the frigid temperatures they faced in the winter. Of the 104 settlers that arrived, only 38 were alive after the first year.
Captain Newport made four more trips to Jamestown between 1607- 1611, bringing supplies to the settlers. Despite disease, Indian attacks, and a drought that caused crops to fail, Jamestown grew, albeit slowly. First-time visitors to Jamestown need to be aware of the fact there are two Jamestowns: One is called The Jamestown Settlement, where the replicas of the three ships that landed on the island 400 years ago are located, along with a hi-tech theater and gallery. In addition, there are actors and actresses dressed in historically accurate clothing at work in fields, in a replica of James Fort, and in a Powhatan Indian village. And then, less than two miles away, there is the other Jamestown; the actual site where the 104 colonists set up their new lives in the new world. This is called Historic Jamestown where the actual fort is located and where the "Archaerium" can be viewed with pieces of the 1607 civilization that have been unearthed. Until 1996, most experts believed James Fort to have been swallowed by the rising waters of the James River (this is happening everywhere along the Chesapeake Bay). But then archaeologists started digging in an area of Historic Jamestown and located wood residue in the shape of a triangle that matched the description of the fort. Since that time, a well has been located and just a few months ago, a Scottish pistol was pulled from its 15-ft depth that dates to the time the first settlers came ashore.
Just five minutes from the Jamestown Settlement, is Chickahominy State Park with facilities for camping and a boat launch. The boat ramp can easily accommodate three boats at a time and there is more than adequate tow vehicle/ boat trailer parking in a nearby grassy field (about a three-minute walk to the boat ramp). The end of the ramp is marked so as to keep trailers from being backed too far into the water and going opff the end of the ramp.
The Chickahominy River empties into the James River just a few miles northwest of Jamestown. This is where Captain John Smith was captured by the Pawmunkey Indians as he explored the river hoping to find a passage to China. As the story goes, and as is echoed in the movie, Smith's life was spared by Pocahontas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan. Today, the Chickahominy River is an extremely popular destination for bass fishermen and a number of national tournaments have already been held here.
Next door to the Jamestown Settlement is the Jamestown Yacht Basin with an old but certainly usable boat ramp (one lane). The fee is $5 and a yearly pass is available for $70. The marina is being purchased through the Trust for Public Land with state and federal money to ensure continued public access to the James River. Once launched at the yacht basin, boaters travel a few miles along Powhatan Creek, then go under a causeway that connects the island where the original Jamestown is located and into the James River.
Four ferries operate between Jamestown Settlement (on the northern shore of the river) and the Virginia town of Scotland (on the southern shore). Each can carry as many as 80 cars (including boat trailers) and there is no cost. This was once a major route between Maine and Florida before nearby Interstate 95 was constructed. It's about 1.2 miles from pier to pier and takes 15 minutes to complete. As is always the case, recreational boaters need to give the ferries ample room as they follow a specific channel.
James River Views
At 343 miles long, the James River is the third longest river flowing into the Chesapeake Bay (the Susquehanna flowing from Pennsylvania into the northern bay is the longest at 410 miles while the Potomac is ranked second at 383 miles). For recreational boaters though, the river is inaccessible above the point where the I-95 bridge crosses in Richmond. The reason is geographic: Because of a seven-milelong granite shelf that drops 100 feet, Richmond is the only city in America with Class III rapids. It's a destination for many white-water rafting fanatics, but trailer boaters need to put in downriver where the James River becomes tidal.
There are a number of boat ramps near the I-95 bridge, the largest being Osborn Landing with six lanes. The Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League Tournaments are held here every July, This year, Jamestown native Kelly Pratt bested the competition with five bass weighing more than 13 pounds.
"I've been bass fishing all my life in trailer boats," Pratt said after netting more than $4,500 in prize money," and I've learned this: The James River is a simple river to figure out because bass relate to the trees or a log that's in the water. If it gets hot, they are going to move to the five-to- six foot depths. But if you're fishing rivers that flow into the James, like the Chickahominy, bass tend to relate to the drop-offs."
Pratt, who fishes out of a Triton TR20 (and pulls it on a Triton trailer) when he's not running his landscaping business in nearby Williamsburg, usually uses the boat ramp on the Chickahominy River (also called the "Route 5 Bridge ramp"). The Osborn Landing ramp is about a 45-minute run north of the Chickahominy and 99 miles north of the mouth of the James.
Fishing is a big deal here. Anglers put in on the James River not only for the smallmouth bass but for blue catfish as well. This past July, fisherman Archie Gold brought in a record-breaking 95.7-pound blue catfish on the James (it is listed as the largest blue catfish caught in Virginia and has been returned to the river). When he isn't going after bass, Kelly Pratt can be found during the winter months casting for a blue catfish. "There are a lot of them in the river and landing a 40-pound blue cat is nothing."
Ken Gill, a West Marine customer in the Hampton, Virginia store is a newcomer to boating, but has already made a number of trips on the James River in his 19 foot Bayliner (he was buying a chart for the river when interviewed). "I enjoy the history of this river," he says, "and just today I was out and saw what I first thought was a weird- looking channel marker. But it was moving. And then I realized it was the Godspeed returning to Jamestown under power (the ship had been in Newport, Rhode Island the weekend before).
When the three ships dropped their sails almost four centuries ago along the northern shore of the James River and decided this was where a new life could begin, Captain John Smith — by now removed from the ship's brig — recorded his thoughts in a diary. He described Jamestown as "a verie fit place for the erecting of a great cittie." It never became the latter but it certainly was the former. And for one brief moment in the history of this place called "the new world," Jamestown was everything. And today? Well, Captain Smith is still keeping an eye on the waters flowing past, and a few trailer boats too.
400th Year Jamestown Celebration www.jamestown2007.org
Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation www.historyisfun.org
Official Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center Visitor's Site www.historyisfun.org
West Marine, 2121 West Mercury Blvd, Hampton VA 757-825-4900
Paying to launch at the boat ramp? Don't forget Trailering Club Members can use Ramp Fee Rebates