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Taste of Suffolk sets sail

Heaving long oars in far-from-perfect synchronicity, rowers guided the 31-foot wooden shallop slowly down the Nansemond River.

“I wouldn’t want to do this for a living,” said Bob Marchant, wiping sweat from his brow after stepping off “The Explorer,” a replica of the vessel that Capt. John Smith used to explore the Nansemond River in 1608.

Marchant and his wife, Kathy, were among the dozens of Suffolk residents who dropped by Constant’s Wharf Marina on Saturday for Taste of Suffolk festivities. While the city’s downtown was the focal point for most of the day’s activities, the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society celebrated the city’s maritime history at city’s waterfront.

The Taste of Suffolk, which drew thousands to downtown Suffolk on Saturday, opened with the arrival of Capt. John Smith – portrayed by Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts director Michael Bollinger – at Constant’s Wharf aboard “The Explorer.” Throughout the day, visitors were welcomed aboard the boat – so long as they were willing to take a turn at the oars.

Rowing the shallop may have seemed like hard work on Saturday.

But, no doubt, it paled in comparison to the struggles that Smith and the other 14 men aboard the vessel must have endured 400 years ago while mapping the Chesapeake Bay, said Stephens Calhoun Smith IV, a volunteer with Deltaville Maritime Museum.

The organization built the shallop in 2007 and travels around the state, sharing it and Capt. Smith’s maritime legacy with the public. The visit to Suffolk was funded by the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society.

Capt. Smith and his fellow explorers spent 141 days traveling the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, including the Nansemond, in 1608, according to Smith. The group logged 1,700 miles on its journey, and produced navigational charts that are still accurate by today’s standards.

The explorers faced some severe challenges in their travels: a lack of potable water, getting fired upon and occasionally, questioning by one another, according to Smith. Even that did little to deter Capt. Smith’s decisions that shaped the early exploration of the country.

“He was his own man,” said Stephens Calhoun Smith IV. “John Smith was quite a fellow.”