ARC Caribbean 1500 participants get a taste of Portsmouth, Virginia

Since the World Cruising Club took over management of the Caribbean 1500, one of the main goals was to get more involved in the local communities that the rally calls home, both here in the USA and in the Caribbean. 2013 marks the first time the event is being held in Portsmouth, Virginia on the USA end, and thus far it’s been both challenging and very rewarding working with the City and the people and businesses that call it home.

I first discovered Portsmouth in 2005 when I sailed aboard the schooner Woodwind in the annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. After racing 130 miles down the Bay against 50 other tall ships (in one of the coolest events around, by the way), we called into the City basin in Portsmouth up by the Renaissance Hotel for the final weekend of parties and activities. I immediately fell in love with the quaint historic seaport town and it’s eclectic shops, restaurants and amenities. I became a regular (at least that weekend) at the Bier Garden bar, and got my coffee in town at the aptly named Coffee Shop. Long story short, when it came time to look at moving the 1500, Portsmouth was the obvious first choice.

Though the rally fleet has only been here four nights, we’ve already gotten a great taste of what the town has to offer. After the opening weekend of Happy Hour’s at Skipjack Nautical, we kicked off the rally in earnest on Monday night at the Commodore Theatre on High Street. The place is one of the only like it in the entire country – a classic single-screen theatre, originally built in wartime 1945 and restored over the course of nearly three years in the early 1990s to it’s original glory. Fred, the owner, and a real character (he had himself and his wife painted into one of the floor-to-ceiling murals inside the theatre, next to Abe Lincoln), takes great pride in his dream, and was thrilled to share it.

“Thanks everyone for coming tonight,” he announced in front of some 50 crewmembers who’d turned up for dinner and a screening of Captain Phillips. “Movies are magical, and I hope you’ll see the magic I’ve tried to recreate in the Commodore here tonight.”

Participants were seated at round tables of 2-6, each with an old-timey telephone in the middle from which you could order food, drinks and popcorn, “the real deal,” Fred added, “popped in old-fashioned coconut oil and drizzled with REAL butter.” At that, he got a warm applause.

The movie was intense, but it was universally enjoyed by the participants, many of whom left with tears in their eyes at the dramatic ending.

Last evening was spent in a slightly more relaxed atmosphere at the Bier Garden restaurant in town, just across the street from the Commodore (one of the best parts of Portsmouth is that everything is within a few blocks of Ocean Marine. The city is very walkable). Laurie and her staff served up a buffet of bratwurst and knockwurst and German potato salad, while the wait staff kept the hefeweizen and lager flowing from the bar. Oom-pah music played over the loudspeaker.

“This is great!” exclaimed Paul and Monica from Moonshadow, who’d retired to the bar once the buffet ran out to sample some of the Bier Garden’s literally hundreds of beer offerings (hence the name, right?). 

The program continues tonight again at Skipjack’s for a third night of cocktails and snacks in the nautical gallery, and a chance for crews to relax after a long day of boat work. The time pressure is starting to mount as skippers finish up last minute projects and groceries are shopped for and stowed. Tonight’s happy hour will be a needed respite.