Friday, April 24, 2009
The Miss Ann
This sunrise from the creek in my back yard is not lost on me. Not at all.
Below is a story from Mathews Mountain Man, who now resides with his family in another part of the state but who has very strong ties to Mathews.
The man, the boat and the inn described below are all legends.
... Daddy Jim’s son. He lived on Gwynn’s Island and he was a hard man, too.
If you think Daddy Jim cursed too much, Ken always did him one better. The G.D.S.O.B. this and a devil-fetch-it to hell with that – they don’t capitalize “devil” on Gwynn’s Island.
Like his father before him, Ken was a waterman and deacon in the church. As a young man, when he wasn’t making love to one of his mechanical mistresses (i.e., hot rod cars), he spent most of his time making a living farming the shallow waters around Gwynn’s Island and sometimes deeper and less forgiving waters of the Bay. Like others of his generation he served in the War, then came home and went back to work.
In his middle age Ken drifted away from the fishing industry and took up other work on the water. I recall Mom driving down to the Intercoastal Waterway in Charleston S.C. to see Ken and Poppa as they piloted a forty-some-odd-foot Chris Craft from points far north of Charleston all the way to Miami. Jobs like that one came up now and then, but not frequent enough for one to earn a living.
In his later years Ken worked at the Tides Inn located on Carter’s Creek in Irvington – about 45 minutes from Gwynn’s Island. For years, he carried a carload of kinfolk with him to work each day; at one point that included his wife, his brother and two nephews - talk about nepotism.
At Tide’s Inn, Ken was the Captain of the Miss Ann, a 127 foot yacht that was built in 1926. She was the main attraction at the Inn; though a few might argue that Capt’n Ken was the main attraction, I think it was the pair.
Miss Ann had a personality of her own.
For instance, she had two steering systems, an electronic one for tight water, in and around the docks, and a wheel, or helm, for open water. The helm worked fine, of course, but the electronic system occasionally malfunctioned and despite Capt’n Ken’s wheelhouse acrobatics and cantankerous explosions it wasn’t unusual for the bow of the Miss Ann to end up in the trees.
To experience the pair though was – well, this is how his nephew once told it:
Guests at the Inn registered to take a three hour luncheon or dinner cruise. On Saturdays they might sign up for a “whiskey run” to Urbanna – Tide’s Inn was in a dry county, Urbanna was not.
Once the yacht left the dock, guests would meander around on the main deck marveling at the Miss Ann’s mahogany rails and sidewalls as well as her teak decking. In time, a few would climb the ladder to the upper deck to inspect the wheelhouse which was also garnished with meticulous woodwork. Inevitably, someone would ask permission to enter the wheelhouse and permission was always granted.
Once inside, the guest would discover the real secret of the Miss Ann – her salty captain. I don’t know that Capt’n Ken ever really tried to entertain, but he was always entertaining.
On one occasion he talked about piloting a transport boat full of seasick-prone Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel workers to shore the middle of a storm. To keep the boat from swamping and otherwise bouncing up-and-down in the rough waters he eased it up onto the crest of a wave and set the throttle so that the speed of the boat matched the speed of the wave. With the occasional nudge of the throttle the boat set atop the same wave all the way back to shore, much to the relief of the land-loving workers.
At other times Capt’n Ken might let one of his deckhands take the helm and steer the Miss Ann through the Rappahannock River Bridge. Under the captain’s watchful eye, the deckhand and any guest that happened to be in the wheelhouse at the time were told that a strong tide which ran at an angle to the bridge could push the Miss Ann into one of the support-pilings. The trick, novices soon discovered, was to align the long-axis of the Miss Ann’s hull close to one set of pilings and let the current push her toward the other as she passed through.
One thing we all understood was that Capt’n Ken was authentic. I recall several occasions when a guest who had visited the wheelhouse would step close to one of his friends and whisper, “You’ve got to meet the captain.” Guests might come to the Inn for a quiet respite and a relaxing cruise, but if they happened upon the Miss Ann’s wheelhouse, they came back for other reasons.
I’m saddened to say that a few years after his nephew shared his recollections of working on the Miss Ann, Capt’n Ken set sail for harbors unknown.
As part of his eulogy someone recited this poem. If you read between the lines might learn a little more about the Miss Ann and her Capt’n.
she tides by the inn on carter’s calm creek
with golden gunnels a good fathom deep
mahogany skin and decks of teak
she sails from irvington to the great chesapeake
summer’s sleepy sun sets her aglow
as sailing songs sing on the radio
she’s the one, she whispers it so
she’s Miss Ann, he boards her to go
sliding his fingers along her rails
he sees the sunset has lifted her veil
as dim lights lap at the water’s edge
he parts the river with her bow’s wedge
greedy gulls dip low to taste the tossed bread
dipping their beaks and tilting their heads
then dolphins, abreast her starboard
porpoising, porpoising in the harbor
he lives to lie down deep in her soul
and listen to her heavy hearts roll
her swede steel belly secures his berth
as she rocks him to sleep in the swells of the surf
oh how churns still waters to wine
and makes that salty river taste fine
but dusk is soon gone and the thought he dreads
is leaving Miss Ann before he has said
“Miss Ann, Miss Ann together we labored
and year after year to my heart you did favor
i’m forever your captain, your captain Miss Anne knowing all of your secrets and your legend so grand.”
Godspeed, Capt’n... Godspeed.
Postscript– In 2008, The Tide’s Inn sold the Miss Ann. Her new berth is in Colonial Beach, Va.
She’ll never be the same.