Saturday, May 16, 2015

Team Clicquot

Some days just scream out for cocktailing with strangers.

Ever since I got wind of the Urbanna Cup cocktail class races, it was my plan to attend. Had I ever heard of cocktail boats? Sure hadn't. Did that matter?

For whatever reason, discovering an all-day event focused on handmade skiffs crafted from 1930s plans intrigued me. And let's be real here, it doesn't take a whole lot - sunscreen, a straw hat - to get me to hit the road for the river. Any river, really.

Arriving in Urbanna after barely an hour's drive, I parked near a consignment shop and followed the clutches of people headed toward the marina. Golf carts whizzed by escorting the aged, the lazy and the out-of-shape to the scene of the action but I preferred a stroll, the better to appreciate the masses of sweet-smelling honeysuckle blooming all around me.

You better believe I inhaled.

A greeter automatically adorned me with a wristband, certain I'd be wanting beer (?) or wine because I was at a cocktail race. Or maybe it was my aura.

The first heat had just begun when I got there, so I found a spot along the dock with a clear view to witness my first cocktail boat race. Fuzzy Navel won. But before the day was out, there were plenty of other aptly-named boats such as Pickled Tink, Clicquot, Sazerac and Rum Runner.

As far as I could tell, after a "clean start" (something the announcer mentioned practically every race), the competitors shot up the creek, looped left around a buoy, back down and then right around another and back to the first for a final race to the finish.

Even a cocktail boat virgin could see that if you couldn't maneuver the turns quickly and smoothly, you didn't have a crustacean's chance in a crab pot of winning.

The crowd felt decidedly local. Using only t-shirts, an alien dropped into the middle of the dock could have used its deductive powers to ascertain its landing spot. Marinas, crab shacks, last year's Urbanna Cup and Northern Neck pride shirts dominated. My favorite was the most reassuring: What happens at the Rivah stays at the Rivah.

I might have made a few friends. The low-key guy to my right was a Richmonder with a river house and to my left was a Reedville transplant who was thrilled that I'd not only been to the Crazy Crab but that I didn't automatically equate Reedville with the fish factory.

Oh, please. I not only know about the fishermen's museum and the old sea captains' houses but where the guy lives who has a camera in his bathroom (forewarned is forearmed, especially as often as I use the loo). He was impressed I wasn't a Reedville idiot.

At one point, Mr. Right turned and asked me, "Would you race one of these boats?" Turns out women are good candidates because cocktail boats use small 6 and 8 hp engines and bigger people create more drag. I had noticed how some of the boaters leaned far forward when racing, much the way bicycle racers do.

I told him not to rule it out, but I'd have to get back to him about my racing future.

Periodically, the races would pause so that boats could enter the cove to get to the marina. When a grand boat came through, someone asked my new friend if it was a 44 footer, but he scoffed. "That's 50 feet, at least." Duh.

Because we were at the river, practically everyone except me knew everyone else (and probably their business, too). When a woman sashayed by with her two little dogs in a stroller, my friend nudged me, saying, "There's your Kodak moment."

I was surprised to see that both the food trucks were from Richmond - Carytown Burgers & Fries and Boardwalk - and opted for the latter's classic bologna burger with sauteed onions and mustard. Impossible to resist when fried bologna was part of the culinary thread of my childhood.

Meandering the dock and environs watching cocktail boats racing, weaving between people encamped in chairs, even eventually joining a group of children in bathing suits wading in the water, I wiled away the day amongst complete strangers, which is not to say I didn't enjoy some colorful conversations.

End of story. I have it on good authority that at least some of what happens at the rivah should stay at the rivah.

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