The Sinking Island of Tangier

May 10, 2023

Tangier is a remote island accessible by air or sea. The narrow streets are traveled mostly by bicycles and golf carts and are dotted with small homes and shops. Stepping foot onto the island is like stepping back in time.

John Smith was the first European to explore the island in 1608 and the people made their livelihood by crabbing and oystering.

Since the 1850, the island’s landmass has been reduced by 67% and is expected to be lost in the next 50 years, if not sooner. This is due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

We anchored near a long sandspit on the south end of the island. Surrounded by crab traps, we found a clear spot to settle in for the day. Michael and I kayaked to the beach and enjoyed a nice stroll in the sand.

Later, we took the dinghy into town. As we first approached, we passed hundreds of crab traps that dotted the water’s surface. Following a narrow channel, we arrived in town surrounded by small shacks and docks on the water and finally reaching land.

While strolling around, we did notice that many of the homes have gravestones in their front yard. This is due to:

  • Closer proximity of burying a loved one allowed the grave to be more easily cared for and visited.
  • Placing the grave close to the home reduced the risk of grave-robbery, which was a common problem in the 1800’s.
  • Animals were less likely to dig up graves when in such locations.
  • Higher ground near a home was less likely to result in a casket being floated to the surface by rising tides.

The locals also speak a distinctive dialect of Southern American English which many believe is what the original colonists may have sounded like.

We did find a Sea Hawks fan identified with a sticker on their golf cart.

While the water was calm during the day, we had a horrible experience at night. The wind blew over and the waves were rolling. As all three boats were rafted, we kept rocking and banging against each other. The option of untying and moving away wasn’t an option as we were surrounded by crab traps and didn’t want to risk getting a line caught around a propeller. Instead, no one slept while we kept adjusting fenders and lines. Any opportunity to drift off to sleep would be interrupted with the banging of lines against the hull, splashing of water between the boats, or fenders rubbing. The video below doesn’t due the experience justice.

5 am and sunrise couldn’t come soon enough. Once there was enough light to see, we all untied, pulled anchor, and left for our next stop.

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