Dear Cruisers Exchange:
My wife and I are considering a retirement move to Virginia from Western New York and I’ve seen some mention of the three Danger Zones on the Potomac River charts due to the Dahlgren Weapons Lab testing.
Our boating on the Niagara River and Lake Erie doesn’t have the restrictions I’ve seen on the Potomac and the Bay.
It looks like the Danger Zones occupy the better portion of the river from the Nice bridge south. Is it possible to boat on the Potomac at all? How often do the tests restrict weekday casual cruising?
It also appears that the various military bases toward Norfolk restrict traffic yards from their shore. While I understand this, how often does boating access in the Bay get curtailed due to some military activity?
Thanks in advance for your help. I look forward to your replies.
When we received this email the other day, we sat down at once to write the Scheuermanns, assuring them that here on the Chesapeake boating goes on just as it does elsewhere, despite the Bay’s considerable number of restricted zones. And that includes boating on the Potomac, we would say. In fact, we would encourage Bob and his wife to settle themselves and their boat in Virginia, where they could look forward to years of happy, uninterrupted boating.
But then we got to talking over how many times over our collective years of cruising we have been stopped by bright red security boats on the Potomac’s Virginia shore near Colonial Beach and forced to wait until there was a pause in the firing from Dahlgren’s Naval Surface Warfare Center before we were allowed to cross to Swan Point on the Maryland side. There we would have to hug the shore behind yellow buoys in order to continue our trip upriver to the Harry W. Nice Bridge. Or vice versa.
Well, after we’d worn out that subject, we got to talking about how many times we’d been sent miles out of our way in a slow boat under a sweltering summer sun (the description of which, of course, got both slower and hotter, respectively, every time we told it) to avoid the Targets (aerial and surface firing range and target area, U.S. Naval Air Station, Patuxent), which lie inconveniently along the rhumb line between Point No Point at the mouth of the Potomac and Cedar Point at the mouth of the Patuxent River. By the time we had wrung that subject out and hung it up to dry, we decided it was time to break for lunch. The email would have to wait a few more minutes.
As we settled down to a light lunch of crabcakes, pastrami and pickles, one of us, who will remain nameless, recalled the time the Navy thought she had strayed too close to one of its moored ships on the York River—even though the chart showed clearly that she was outside the security line. The Navy sent out a well-armed patrol boat to frighten the bejesus out of her and everyone else onboard. Well, that opened up a floodgate of machine-gun-bristling-patrol-boats-vs.-innocent-cruiser stories (we all had one) until the last of the coffee was consumed and we were back in our editorial helm station. Somewhere along the line it had dawned on us that while we could, in all honesty, assure the Scheuermanns that boating anywhere on the Chesapeake—whether on the Potomac, in Hampton Roads, or off the Targets—is sublime, the restricted areas do have an affect.
So here’s our question: Do the restricted areas affect the way you boat in your area of the Bay? Do you avoid visiting some areas because you’re not sure what the rules are (the Gunpowder and Bush rivers on the upper Bay would be good examples)? Have you got some good “war” stories you’re willing to share? We’d love to have you share your experiences, good and bad. Write us at editor@CrusiersExchange.com.
Meanwhile, if you’d like a refresher course on all of the Bay’s restricted areas, check out our comprehensive look at them all, “Don’t Go There,” from our July 2012 issue, which you can find in the Quick Links area on our webpage, ChesapeakeBoating.net.