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The wind stirred up the water around the Foxy Lady. She bobbed restlessly outside the Island House Restaurant in the white-capped waves that thrashed about her hull, anxious for the next sunrise. For the Foxy Lady, and other charter boats like her that dot the inlet around Wachapreague, Virginia, a sleepy town located off the beaten path on the lower Eastern Shore, another day means another party of fishermen eager to catch prized flounder, or an abundance of other trophy fish in season.
Wachapreague bills itself as the "Little City by the Sea" and, most importantly, "Flounder Capitol of the World." In businesses around town, photos of man-and-big-fish, adorn bulletin boards and walls, attesting to Wachapreague’s claim.
One cannot deny the air of fishiness about the town, not in smell, nothing in the air but the ocean breeze floating in from the inlet. Everywhere you go men, women, children and boats are in some stage of preparing to come and go; men sit around tables in bait shops, lean back in plastic chairs outside their motel rooms, and stop and chat on the streets, and like the road that always leads home, sitting and chatting in Wachapreague always leads to fish stories. Real ones.
Wachapreague, a town of a little over 200 permanent residents, is situated only 6 miles from the ocean and enjoys some of the last undeveloped and unspoiled wetlands and barrier islands in the mid-Atlantic States. It's a haven not only for fishermen, but for nature lovers. And of course, for those who just want to kick back and breathe in the fresh air.
Sipping on a beer at the Island House Restaurant, a marvel of a place considering the size of the town, I was diverted from the hypnotizing rocking of the Foxy Lady by the the arrival of the Scorpio, another charter boat. My dinner had also arrived.
All the walking about the town had made me hungry. I had ordered an interesting appetizer consisting of fresh local asparagus, roasted tomatoes, and blue cheese. Another appetizer followed. I can't pass up a dozen steamed clams, especially when they are local-caught, and though I passed on the rock fish that was in season, I went with local caught and picked crab; a crab cake sandwich to be exact.
I had over-spent my calories on the butter sauce on the clams, so I figured why not go for dessert? Chocolate bread pudding with a yummy warm sauce was suggested. Not wanting to feel too guilty about eating so much, I had the waitress pack it for me. I had walked to the restaurant from my room at the Wachapreague Inn, so I figured I could walk off a few calories before digging into dessert. Since it was hot, I did not wait long to dive in, so much to the point that I forgot to take a photo of it! It was a divine.
Though I make no claims as a food reviewer (something I feel best left to epicures who write reviews for big-name newspapers and magazines), I can say that I was quite pleased with my meal, as was I with the service.
My day at Wachapreague had been a relaxing one with no particular thing in mind that I had wanted to photograph. But my background in the newspaper business is always with me, and like a little voice it’s always telling me to, “look for the story.”
The surface of something only tells you what it wants you to know. Sure, it was easy to see that Wachapreague is a fishing town. I could have shot a few boats and signs and hauled myself back to Crisfield. Instead, I looked a little deeper. My findings were interesting.
Let me back up here and say the first thing I shot after the "Welcome" sign was a woman in the middle of the street talking to a crabber who was hauling his day’s bounty, a truck-bed full of crabs in baskets, to a cooler. Another truck had stopped to join in on the chat.
Being from a small town, I know it is considered rude to hurry people who are talking in the street (seriously), so I got out my telephoto lens, took a few shots, and when the truck pulled away, I asked the lady where I could find a good place to stay. She told me to follow her, and as luck would have it, she was the owner of the Wachapreague Inn, a tidy, neat little motel located directly across from the water. This week will mark her and her husband’s 4th year as owners.
I liked the quaintness of the motel, a throwback in time, or so it seemed to me, when a family could get in their big two-toned Buick (that’s what we had – blue and white) and hit the highway for Florida or New Mexico (that’s where we always went), stopping along the way and staying in family-run motels just like this one. No need for fancy-this or fancy-that, just clean rooms and "Glad-you-came" service.
After I secured my small travel bag in my room and dug out my camera gear, I hit the main things around town: boats, water, people; and then I photographed other subjects that happened into my sight like a barely-there barn, some crab pots, a cute mom and pop travel-trailer park, the town’s new gazebo, the Coast Guard Station, and my favorite, a sleeping carnival.
The carnival, situated directly across from the water, was packed up, turned off, and shut down. I knew there had to be life somewhere, so I proceeded to photograph bits and pieces that were peeking out at me. As I was shooting, I could almost smell the cotton candy and popcorn and hear the laughter of children as they spun around in glee on the rides.
I could hear the popping of balloons as they were pierced with needle-sharp darts and the snap of the rifles as they let loose their terror on cardboard ducks. I imagined the whole place lit up against a glorious summer night sky, a million starry diamonds competing with candy colored lights. Oh yes, there were many memories there. But would there be more? Could this be the Brigadoon of carnivals?
Though the mythical town of Brigadoon appears for one day every one-hundred years, I soon found out that the carnival appeared once a year – in “real” form, not for a day, weekend, or week, like so many other carnivals, but for four days a week for eight weeks. And who is responsible for the magic of the night for those eight-weeks? The Wachapreague Volunteer Fire Company.
The Wachapreague Fireman’s Carnival is the fire company’s annual fund-raiser; this year will mark their 60th year. For those travelers who will be in the area, dates are June 10 – July 14, 2012, 7:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.