Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Best Two Boat Tours On - Or Around - Chincoteague Island

Chincoteague is an island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia, just south of the Maryland state line.  Until the year my mother was born, one could only reach it by a boat or ship of some type; then the causeway across multiple channels of water was built.  Chincoteague is protected from the violence of pounding surf by Assateague Island to the east; Assateague stretches for 33 miles from Ocean City, Maryland to a little past the southern tip of Chincoteague in Virginia.  All of Assateague Island is designated a National Seashore, but the southern end in Virginia is also a National Wildlife Refuge.  Confusingly, the NWR on Assateague Island in Virginia was named the Chincoteague NWR.  No person lives on Assateague at the current time.  Chincoteague, however, is (and has been) populated and now relies mainly on tourism for it's economy.  My mother's family has lived on Chincoteague since the 1650s, so I know what I'm talking about...
   If you plan on going to Chincoteague during a warm time of the year, two boat trips are a must.  Both of these trips are captained by fascinating men and they know the history and lore of the islands - their families have lived it.  I say there are two excursions to make, but if you can only take one, you need to decide if your overwhelming desire is to see the wild ponies on Assateague, or to have a hands-on experience investigating the life and times and ecology of the marine life system of the tidal marshes.  Both boating trips offer the historical perspectives of the island; you can sit back and look, and take photos on either excursion.  If you want to hop in the water and find out what's in a seine net, or have your kids help retrieve a crab pot, or look at oysters growing, or go shelling, look at dolphins and birds, then you definitely want to see Captain Barry.  If you want to see ponies on Assateague, dolphins and birds, then you want to see Captain Dan.  I'll write about Captain Barry first, because he comes first alphabetically, whether by first or last name...
  Captain Barry's Backbay Cruises are the hands-on type of cruise during his daylight hours of tours - there is also a Sunset Cruise for adults that does not involve the seine nets, crab pots, etc - unless you want it to.  His ecological tours leave the dock at 8 am, 10:30 am, 1 pm and 3:30 pm. When I went out with him, we explored several small islands, or tumps, in the Chincoteague Channel and the Chincoteague Bay.  We went shelling; we saw dolphins  and birds (I stopped counting after 25 different types); one of the kids on the cruise gaffed a crab pot buoy and then pulled the crab pot up.  Barry opened the pot and we all handled crabs (if we wanted to) and he showed us the safe way to pick them up, how to tell the difference between the boys and the girls, and we got to see eggs on a few of the ladies.  He showed us seed oysters and then pulled up some adult ones, and we could have them raw on the half-shell there on the deck.  We learned to identify different types of jellyfish, and to be able to identify the different type of small fish and crabs at the edges of the water.  The four children who were on the cruise with me were totally engrossed and talked about it for days.  I had one of the best times of my life...  The Sunset Cruises come with a bottle of champagne, and/or one can bring their own choice of beverage.  Sunset Cruises are usually adults only.  Captain Barry's boat can only take out 6 passengers at a time, so be sure to reserve a seat!   The boat leaves from 6262 Marlin Street on the Chincoteague Channel.  The number to call is (757) 336-6508.
  Captain Dan's Around the Island Tours is the other boat trip I would urge you to take.  Captain Dan is there, running the boat 99% of the time; when he can't make it for a serious reason - or when it's the really packed tourist weeks, his father, Captain Ray, will take the boat's wheel.  They have a couple of 6 passenger boats, and Dan just got his Coast Guard Safety Certification for an 18-passenger craft.  Dan's tour takes you,  literally, around the island of Chincoteague, and quite a ways up the western side of Assateague.  On this trip, besides learning the histories and tales of Chincoteague and Assateague, one can see many types of birds (including bald eagles), dolphins, but, most importantly, the ponies running free on Assateague.  (During Pony Penning week, July 21 through 27 this year, there will be no ponies roaming free on the Virginia end of Assateague - so, unless Dewey or some of the Maryland ponies make it past the state-line fence, you won't see ponies from the boat.)  Ponies are the big drawing card, other than the wide variety of birds to be seen on Assateague.  Captain Dan keeps pony identity books available on his tours, so you can see who you're looking at and taking photos of.  Dan knows most of the herds and the majority of ponies by sight.  This year, he and his clients have seen so many new foals (pony babies) that he's laughingly calling his tours "The Foal Patrol."  Both Dan, and his father Ray, have a lot to share and are always willing to answer questions.  Dan's boat leaves from the floating dock at the Robert Reed City Park just behind the Public Library on Main Street.  For reservations, call  (757) 894-0103.
   Severe weather may cancel scheduled outings.  Please be sure to check on Mother Nature's feelings. Both boats provide a "necessary room" as needed.  All are certified by the US Coast Guard, as are the Captains.
Go out on a boat and have a great time!

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