Tuesday, February 5, 2008

York River Windsurfing and Kiting Launches

I live just outside the most identity-challenged metropolitan conglomerate in the universe. Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Suffolk, Virginia form a ridiculous mess called "The Seven Cities", also known as "The 757", aka "Tidewater", aka "Hampton Roads". Sigh... I'm just going to call it Tidewater, because that's what the Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater (WET) do.

WET's guru Glenn Woodell has made an amazing, online guide to Tidewater's windsurfing spots. It doesn't cover far enough North to include the York River, though, which is what I'm trying to remedy with this blog post. Below is a picture of the York River with the good launch sites highlighted. Below THAT is a description of each site and when it's good to sail there.


Sites 1-3: Yorktown Beach, Gloucester Point Beach, and VIMS Beach are all located around a narrow constriction of the river where the Coleman Bridge goes across. The tidal currents are amplified there, so it's safest to sail it when the wind and current are running in opposite directions. Tide tables for Gloucester Point are available here and realtime wind and tide charts are here. An incoming tide runs from East to West.

Site 1: Historic Yorktown, Virginia, where British General Cornwalis surrendered at the end of the American Revolution, now has a nice park, shopping area, and swimming beach. It's good for windsurfing when the wind is from the E or NE, and the tide is going out. To get direction to the launch, put "Water St and Read St Yorktown, VA 23690" into Google Maps. There's a parking lot next to the beach at the intersection of those streets. In summertime, you will have to duck a swim rope, or walk east towards the fishing pier to find an unroped spot to launch from.

Site 2: There's also a park on the opposite side of the River at Gloucester Point that you can launch from. It works best in E winds, but its ok in anything from NE through SW as long as the tide is right. There aren't any nice stores or historic things at the launch, but in the summer there is a snack bar open, and you can fish any time from the fishing pier without a license because Walmart buys the license for the whole pier. By the way- don't sail too close to the pier because you might get snagged in someone's fishing lines and have an awkward / expensive / painful confrontation. To find the spot, put "1208 Greate Rd, Gloucester Point, VA 23062" into Google maps. You will have to drive a little further down Greate Road to get to the beach.

Site 3: VIMS Beach is just underneath the bridge from Gloucester Point Beach, but you need to know somebody from VIMS to get in the gate. The launch there is really nice in a NW wind and incoming tide, but also works in anything from S to NW. I do lessons there because it's shallow and current-free for a long ways out, as long as you don't go South into the river channel.

Site 4: Carmine Island is a pseudo-public water access site a couple miles upriver of the bridge on the Gloucester side. It works great in W and NW winds, and ok in S and SW winds. Tide direction isn't much of a factor at Carmine because the river is wider and the current is slower there. The water is very shallow for about 100 meters out, so it's great for beginners. For directions, put "Carmines Island Rd, Hayes, VA 23072" into Google Maps, and go all the way to end of the gravel part of Carmine Island Road, where the cul-de-sac and parking is. Watch out for dog turds when you're rigging.

Site 5: If the wind is from the SW, S, or SE then it's probably best to launch from York River Seafood, another pseudo-public water access site. To get there, put "Cooks Landing and York River Seafood Ln, Hayes, VA 23072" into Google Maps. Following the signs for "Crowne Point Marina" will get you most of the way there. Then you go all the way to the end of Cooks Landing Road, park, and step over the "no trespassing" signs into the big grassy rigging area. If it's a good day there will probably be experienced kiters there. Be friendly and careful.

Site 6: To get the most juice possible out of a summertime thermal breeze, you have to go to the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay where the SE wind comes in unobstructed all the way from the ocean. Bay Tree Beach is closest main stem spot to Gloucester Point. BTB is also the windiest and best spot in a N or NE breeze. A major caveat, though, is that there is NO public access. You have to either trespass sneakily, or make fast friends with one of the waterfront homeowners. Another major caveat is that the mosquitoes are atrocious if the wind is lighter than 15 knots or you're standing in the lee of a large object. To get to directions you need to invoke the number of the beast; enter "666 Bay Tree Beach Rd, Seaford, VA 23696" into Google Maps. You may lose your soul, but it's worth it for this sweet launch.


Catapulting Aaron said...

Sweet map! How would you say the windsurfing there compares to the main tidewater area? Less/more wind? Better/worse launches?

I'm beginning to believe that Hampton Metro is the place to live on the east coast for windsurfing. There's a possibility of getting a "real" job and you're only 2 hours from Nags Head (where work is scarce, in my opinion).

I'm originally from Florida and the wind is way light down there, especially during the 6 month long summer. Maybe it's the "grass is greener" effect speaking...

James Douglass said...

Thanks Aaron. The York River has similar wind to the rest of Tidewater, but the general rule is that it's windier the closer you get to the mouth of the Bay. The Chesapeake Bay bridge-tunnel always has the strongest wind readings.

I may be moving to Florida next year so I might be able to test your grass is greener theory. :)

Of course the best thing about windsurfing in Tidewater is the good group of local windsurfers in the W.E.T. club, so I'll miss them if I go.

PeconicPuffin said...

Florida? No no no move someplace WINDY.

James Douglass said...


The latest postdoc possibility for me is the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, on a barrier island near Corpus Christi... Now THAT would be a heck of a spot for windsurfing! :)


Catapulting Aaron said...

Pufforama speaks the truth, the puffinatooooor... makin' copieeeeees....

Unknown said...

sweet map, but i'm a little confused on your wind directions. I'm a kiter and the wind directions your recommending for all the spots look like they are directly on-shore. Is there something different about windsurfing where on -shore is better?
for example. Site one, looks like cross shore wind directions are either SW or NE, which would be best depending on the tide, but your recommending E/NE which would be directly on shore. which is not good for kiteboarding.

just looking for some clarification. I'm heading out to williamsburg this weekend and friday looks like an 18kt day.

James Douglass said...

Hi Bob,

Sideshore is best for both windsurfing and kiteboarding, but in the York River the shore is squiggly with a lot of trees and bluffs, so you kind of need onshore wind to get steady wind at the beach. For example, site 1 gets sideshore when the wind is from the NW or from the SE, but the NW winds are swirled up by the bridge and bluffs, and the SE winds are messed up by the South shore of the river. So the only real good time to do site 1 is when the winds are onshore from the E or NE. Overall the York River is a tough place to kite, with sites 4 and 5 (and 6 if you dare trespass there) being the only relatively safe kite launches.


Unknown said...

Hello James,

I am new in Newport News and brought my kite gear from Holland here to do some surfing. Thanks for your map, it might just be what I need. I noticed that the James River current runs quite strong and there are a lot of terrible 'no wind days' here. In case the wind does pick up do you know of any kitesurfers in the Newport News area and where they usually launch? I would very much like to get in contact with some of the locals to meet up for surfing. Also because I am new to these spots and do not really prefer to self-launch.



Albert said...
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