Tangier Island, Virginia

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A delightful Chesapeake Bay getaway for relaxing at a Bed & Breakfast, beaches, bicycles, and ingesting mass quantities of fresh-baked crabcakes.

I think many of us in the Northeast are looking for relatively short trips that can be flown in three hours or less — and Tangier Island neatly fits that description.

US Sprint's TV commercials in spring of '95 gave tons of free publicity to Tangier Island, an isolated fishing community in the middle of Chesapeake Bay. The commercial was right on the money. The island natives still talk with the accent of their forebears from Cornwall.

Over the years, we flew past the island many times while transiting V1 between New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida but I must credit our visit to Alton K. Marsh, who penned a delightful article in the August 1994 issue of AOPA Pilot magazine. Mr. Marsh's piece covered most of the Maryland eastern shore.

Late last winter, tired of shooting approaches to Sullivan County, Orange County and other relatively nearby airports, my right-seater, Roger Soderman and I set out on a practice IFR flight headed for Tangier. Our arrival over the Cape Charles VOR was cannily timed for lunch. It was mid-week and there was only one other plane on the ramp.

Our walk from the airport into the village took all of four minutes. Well, maybe five minutes.

Since we had come here to eat, we picked one of two restaurants at the center of town for the obligatory crabcake sandwich. On the way out, I (fortuitously as it turned out) grabbed a couple of brochures describing two local Bed & Breakfast operations. Also purchased - a tee-shirt for my wife, Sally.

Since she now had the tee-shirt and had never been to Tangier, this was the perfect excuse (1) to make the trip and (2) to fly! We called ahead to both B&B's. Yikes! It was the middle of tourist season and the first one we phoned, Shirley's Bay View Inn (804 891-2396) was full. No problem, though, because The Sunset Inn (804 891-2535) had vacancies. Both B&B's charge $60 per couple in season (children under 12 free) and provide air conditioning and cable TV.

So, on a lovely day in early August we got a "cleared as filed" from the tower at our home base of Caldwell, New Jersey, and we were on our way. Tangier is less than two hours flying time from CDW. The IFR routing we got was CDW..DIXIE.V1.CCV..TGI.

If you go VFR, you'll need both the New York and Washington sectionals. Also keep in mind that TGI underlies R-4006 (3500 ft. to FL 250) and is only a mile or so east of R-6609 (which is surface to FL 200.) You can contact Patuxent Approach at 127.95 to find out if these are hot.

We landed at Tangier Island airport, paid the $4.00 landing fee, and phoned the B&B. The nice lady from the Sunset Inn came to retrieve us in a golf cart! The "streets" on Tangier Island are so narrow that the most common mode of transportation is bicycle, followed by moped, followed by golf cart.

The trip was remarkably brief and when we pulled up at the Sunset Inn...surprise! Our room was no more than 300 feet from the south end of the runway! The Sunset Inn gave us a map showing a stylized version of the island with colorful place names such as Tater Bay, Big Gut Canal and Job's Cove.

We walked into town to see the lady who rents bicycles. "Two-dollars per hour," she said, "or five dollars indefinitely." We paid for "indefinitely" and pedaled off to adventure.

The first item on the agenda was to visit the five gift shops. Only five? Hey, this is no sprawling metropolis. You can bike all over the island in an hour or so!

We pedaled north to the yacht basin, then south through a number of residential areas. At one cottage, we saw a yard filled with literally hundreds of mallard ducks. They were all free to fly away but chose not to...they knew a good deal when they found one. As we watched, the ducks went bonkers, quacking, running and fluttering toward a corner in the fence. We thought we had spooked them, but halfway down the block, a middle aged chap walked toward the cottage, chuckling. "Are they waiting for you," we asked. "Yep, I feed 'em," he said.

Tangier Island has five restaurants. For lunch that day, we chose the one in the "downtown" area that Roger and I didn't try on our previous visit. We ate...yep, crabcakes! After lunch, we donned bathing suits and pedaled down a road that got narrower and narrower until it turned into a sandy path that ended at the beach. There was not another soul in sight. We had the place to ourselves.

Tangier's economy is based on crabbing and oyster dredging. It is further enriched, every morning, by dozens of cash-bearing tourists who arrive via ferry from Reedyville, Virginia (19 miles to the west) and Crisfield, Maryland, on the DelMarVa peninsula (12 miles to the east). Most of the tourists return to the mainland when the ferry boats depart at 4:30PM. If you listen carefully, you can hear the sidewalks roll up. There is no movie house. There is no bar. If staying at one of the B&B's, you can watch TV or read magazines. You did come here to relax, didn't you?

For dinner, we pedaled to Hilda Crockett's Chesapeake House B&B (804 891-2331) and found, as Alton Marsh described it, a boarding-house-style dining room. The last seating was 5pm and we sat at long tables set with platters of ham, corn pudding, applesauce and hot rolls.

Alton Marsh was right, again. We got two crabcakes, max. The dinner crowd included some folks who were staying at various B&B's and two Maryland couples who had cruised to Tangier aboard a sailboat that was berthed at the marina.

When dinner was over, it was only 6:30, the sun was still high in the sky, but all the stores were closed... except for a couple of vendors who offered ice cream! A perfect dessert!

We retired to the B&B, cranked up the air conditioning, and watched the evening news. Just before dusk, we walked to the big house next door and climbed to the second floor deck to watch the sunset.

Next morning, we went next door to the big house for the Breakfast part of the B&B contract and, after scrambled eggs and toast, the lady with the golf cart gave us a ride back to the airport ramp. If we absolutely had to, we could have just walked across the back yard to the south end of the runway and hiked (probably illegally) to the north end. On departure, we headed east toward V1, while staying low enough to remain clear of the floor of R-4006.

All in all, a great trip. If you are interested in a visit to Tangier, be advised that some facilities are seasonal and limit their hours from mid-October to April. Call ahead, and happy flying!