Now Everyone Knows: Richmond is Outside’s Best River Town

     I’d like to think that this Avad Fan had something to do with Outside magazine’s current cover.

With the subtitle “How once polluted Richmond became the unlikeliest river-recreation mecca in the country”, Outside magazine was clearly surprised that Richmond was the winner of its Best River Town in America contest, but we’ve known the truth about Richmond on the James for quite a while now.  Though softer than many of the adventures that Outside magazine tends to feature, we love exploring this historical water both northwest and southeast of downtown Richmond’s whitewater and sharing it with family and friends and Avad Fan readers.

     Sadly power-boating season is quickly coming to a close, but keep your fingers crossed for some beautiful fall weather so that we can spend some final time on the water in the Best River Town in America.


Enjoy the James River Paradox from Berkeley Plantation to Rockett’s Landing

     While residents know that the historic Richmond Region (now becoming simply known as RVA) was born on the James River at its falls line, the river with its limited public access still remains hidden to many.  Unless you work in one of the high-rises downtown or have to cross one of its bridges on your way to work, you probably do not think much about this body of water that fueled the imagination of our nation’s earliest explorers.

Downtown Richmond as viewed from just south of Rock Island where the falls begin

Thanks to our beloved HATH-away, we have discovered that the best way to appreciate this under-exposed gem is on its waters.

     A great way to spend a day on the James south of the falls line begins at the well-designed Osborne Boat Landing in eastern Henrico County.

With three double concrete ramps and plenty of parking for trucks pulling boat trailers, this park only seems crowded when a bass masters tournament is taking place.  Once you have put in your boat, head southeast for a little exploration.

     Traveling by Varina on the James’s north bank and River’s Bend on its south, you will soon encounter the stunning, modern

Varina-Enon Bridge.

From there, you are heading straight into the history books.  After passing by Shirley Plantation, take a left at

Hopewell’s historic City Point Park,

continue under the Benjamin Harrison bridge, cruise by Jordan’s Point and just beyond you will behold the beautiful grounds of Berkeley Plantation,

Northern edge of the Berkeley Plantation

the home of the nation’s first Thanksgiving (notwithstanding the claims of our Puritan forefathers).  While the James is a wide body of water, be sure to stay within the channel markers or you might find your engine spewing mud – quite a sinking feeling, as we recently discovered.

     Unless you want to make a day of history heading toward Jamestown where you can catch a glimpse of  the Godspeed replica and the Busch Gardens roller coasters in Williamsburg, do a 180 and head back up toward Richmond’s downtown.  If you time it right, you will arrive at Rocketts Landing just below the rocky falls line in time for lunch.

View of Rocketts Landing from the James River

With 15 transient boat slips and now a floating gas pump, Rocketts Landing encourages local boaters to drop in to visit its restaurants.

     The Richmond outpost of Conch Republic welcomes hot and wind-blown boaters to its casual perch above the slips.  No need to worry about hair and make-up in this relaxed metal and concrete watering hole.  Its full menu features temptations for everyone in your party, including my new favorite,

fried alligator bites.

     After lunch, let your passengers enjoy some water sports as you pass by green bluffs and bits of industry.

There is plenty of room to share the water with the handful of other water sport enthusiasts spending time on this part of James.  It seems so incongruous to think of John Smith exploring these parts with Pocohantas while we are enjoying the thrills of a speed boat, but that paradox helps make RVA such a fabulous place.

     While Outside Magazine has yet to crown Richmond as the Best River Town (though our capital city won the Facebook voting by a landslide),  outdoorsy types in RVA know that America’s first river is a delightful verdant surprise for all who have the opportunity to explore her hidden charms.  If Richmond makes the cover of Outside Magazine’s September issue as the Best River Town, the secret will be out, and these waters may get a bit more crowded.  In the meantime, we will continue our modern-day exploration of the historic James River.

Dockscaping Below the James River Fall Line: More Proof that Richmond is The Best River Town

     One of the goals when we bought our little boat, finally named “HATH-Away”, was to explore the many waterways within close proximity to our West End home.  Because our private put-in is around the corner on the Upper James River, most of our boating activities occur there.  This stretch of the James River is usually calm, and we now use the lovely docks featured here last year as landmarks when we are speeding by dragging friends and family on tubes, kneeboards and wake boards.

     We have ventured beyond the Upper James on a few occasions, but I have failed to photograph other views to share in what I like to call my on-going Dockscaping series.  The voyeur in me loves to see how people have landscaped their lands running to the water.  It reminds me of when my mother and I used to admire homes along the golf courses that we would play.  Inevitably we would be more delighted with those views than our scores.

     When we decided to put HATH-Away in downriver last week, I was determined to bring along my camera and see if the James River just south of downtown Richmond was worth recording.  It turns out that most of this stretch of the river through to Hopewell is as verdant and lovely as you can imagine.  While there are spots of industry and commerce that could use some prettying up, what a pleasant surprise to find a peaceful stretch of the River filled with blue heron within a stone’s throw of bustling Interstate 95.

     Our adventure began at Osborne Landing, an eastern Henrico County park that should delight the local taxpayers with its three easily-accessible boat ramps, loads of parking for vehicles with trailers, restrooms and playground and picnic areas.  Cruising west and north to pick up friends at Rockett’s Landing (the topic of an upcoming post), we were able to spy some waterfront homes sitting on heavily-treed lots on the northern bluffs overlooking the James.  I did a double take on spotting this dock and its surrounds.

Do you see those steep stone steps on the right?  I am dying to know the story behind this impressive piece of property.

     Just west and north of this unique boathouse is one of the most famous local estates built in the late 20th Century, Chaffin’s Bluff.  Though known to many as the home of the late Jimmy Dean, country music singer and sausage king, it does not appear in any photos that I can find, but when you are cruising on the James River there is no way to miss it or who its owner iswas.

Don’t you think that if his widow, Donna, did not want us to know that this was his home, this symbol would not be embedded in the lawn?

     Chaffin’s Bluff sits on a beautiful stretch of river though some sort of sand industry lies just up and across the river.  This peaceful compound is also home to Jimmy’s piano-shaped granite mausoleum.  Instead of Chaffin’s Bluff, he should have named his home after his first hit song, Bummin’ Around.

     There is nothing like bumming around on the James River.  It is the center of outdoor life in Central Virginia, and outsiders are finally getting the word.

You never know whom you might run into on the James River.

In fact, Richmond is one of Outside Magazine’s 10 finalists for “Best River Town”.  Support Richmond’s bid for this national recognition of our outdoor treasures by voting here until July 10, 2012.

     Hope you get the chance to get outdoors and bum around this weekend.

All photos by Avad Fan.

Have Boat, Will Travel: Part 1

     Now that we have our new Chaparral, we are taking her on the road.  Despite the lack of trailering experience, we set off with her to the Rivah for some Fourth of July fun.  You have to really think about driving when you are pulling an extra almost two tons behind you.  Because I can’t even cut a straight line, there was no way we were going to attempt to pull a boat across the high and very narrow White Stone Bridge, which is intimidating even in the best of conditions, so we added an extra hour to our trip each way in order to cross the wider and lower Rappahannock Bridge in Tappahannock.  The scenic drive through small towns on the Northern Neck was our bonus for taking the long way, and with the additional road hours, we now consider ourselves seasoned boat haulers.

View from hammock to the Rappahannock

     The time and effort to get to the Rivah with the boat was definitely worth it.  Once we arrived at the Bs, we took full advantage of everything that the Rivah has to offer.  For Richmonders, part of that includes seeing hometown friends, old and new.  This July 4th weekend served up a series of family parties and get-togethers, starting with the house party at the Bs. 

Saturday afternoon social overlooking Little Bay

     Having our boat in tow allowed us to do some hosting of our own.  The Hub was able to entertain our host and fellow houseguest dad (both of whom have a lot boating expertise) and kids with tubing and skiing on Little Bay while gaining some valuable captaining experience.  He also got some big water exposure taking our new baby around Windmill Point and up the Rappahannock as we cruised with friends to Weems and Carter’s Creek, admiring the beautiful homes and dockscapes along the way.

Little Bay looking northeast to the Chesapeake Bay

     From the festive gatherings to the small-town Fourth of July parade in Irvington to the beautiful 4th of July Sizzling or Fizzling evening celebration, this holiday weekend was classic Norman Rockwell with some modern twists.  Taking the new boat out on the water added the perfect touch.  We didn’t even need real fireworks as Mother Nature delivered quite a timely light show of her own.

Lady Liberty on wheels at the Irvington Fourth of July Parade

     The lure of the Rivah is mighty strong.  With our new travelling companion, we were finally able to fully immerse ourselves in and appreciate the laid-back Rivah culture.  No wonder so many Richmonders are drawn to this lifestyle.  How fortunate our family was to be included in it for such a festive Fourth.

Happy Birthday, America float in the Irvington Parade

     A big thank you to all of our hosts!
All photos by Avad Fan.

Dockscaping on the Upper James River

     As my friend, R, commented the other night, if you live in a house on the Upper James River, then you wouldn’t need a second home on the Rivah or at the Beach or in the mountains.  It’s the perfect compromise.  I don’t think the homeowners of these James River docks have compromised anything.



 I am loving being a voyeur from my new ride.

All photos by Avad Fan.

Let the Boating Adventures Begin

     This weekend we took delivery of our new baby,

a 2011 Chaparral 206 ssi.

Just like brand new parents, we are completely out of our comfort zone but filled with excitement and anticipation of what she will bring to our lives.  After hours of oooohing, aaaahing and fussing with her over the weekend, we were exhausted but proud of ourselves for keeping her afloat and unharmed.

     Instead of a stork, she was delivered by Bruce Simmons of Nautical Marine.  Recommended by friends who had a similar arrival last summer, Bruce has assured us that we will be good owners.  Truly concerned that our relationship with our Chaparral gets off to a great start, he spent hours with us on Saturday explaining every point of the boat and its trailer.  Like our son with his learner’s permit, we received a lot of behind the wheel training before Bruce let us set out on our own.  Though his cell phone number is now programmed into my phone, I only had to call him once after his departure, and he checked in yesterday to be sure that we had survived with our new one.
     While we are fortunate to have a location right around the corner on the Upper James River to store and put in our little vessel, we are looking forward to exploring all of the beautiful waterways within a couple of hours drive of Richmond as we give our children the opportunity for some new fun.  Viewing the world from the water provides such a different perspective, and we are excited to experience new vistas that are really in our own backyard.  I hope to share some of our boating adventures and discoveries with you as our family takes the plunge into the nautical realm.
     Stay tuned.
All photos by Avad Fan.