For many of you Lyman lovers you have heard of the Koroknay’s. Well, meet Ryan, Tom Koroknays son, who owns the famous Lyman name, all the historical archives from the company’s 100 year history, and all the original tooling that is still operational and used in his Lyman repair/restoration business of over 30 years. Ryan grew up in the shop and have been around Lyman boats his entire life…..so you can imagine my passion for these boats is deep. Todays story may be a little late, but the good thing, history on James River takes forever to change. So take it away Ryan!
Thanks Woody, so there we were October 4, 2013 departing Portsmouth, VA in the old Lyman steaming down the Elizabeth River, rounding Craney Island, and heading North, upbound in the James River where 151 years early on March 8-9, 1862 the Battle of Hampton Roads took place. Bernard Lyman was 12 years old, and the Lyman family had only immigrated to the United States one-year prior. In that battle, the ironclads USS MONITOR and CSS VIRGINIA (USS MERRIMACK) would meet for the first time, exchange shots for approximately four hours, and forever change naval warfare. The Union had established a blockade at the mouth of the James River in the vicinity of Fort Monroe to keep the Confederates from controlling the James River up to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. The CSS VIRGINIA would challenge this Union blockade. She was built at the Norfolk Navy Yard from the remains of the burned and sunk hull of the steamer USS MERRIMACK. After final construction and launch, she arrived in the James River on March 8, 1862 to begin the battle. The CSS VIRGINIA rammed and sank the USS CUMBERLAND and attacked the USS CONGRESS. Her dominance would be short lived. The next day, March 9, 1862, the USS MONITOR arrived on scene and fired the first shot in the battle of the ironclads.
Today, the USS MONITOR lies at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Hatteras, NC and is the site of a National Marine Sanctuary. She was being towed south for future operations when she foundered on December 31, 1862. NOAA and the U.S. Navy have raised numerous artifacts from the wreck site including the revolutionary revolving gun turret and propeller as well as her cannons, anchor, and steam engine in order to preserve this truly innovative vessel for future generations. All artifacts are on display at the Mariners Museum in Newport News, VA. The Mariners Museum also possesses the remaining Chris Craft archives. When Norfolk, VA fell to the Union, the CSS VIRGINIA was ordered to be blown up off Craney Island on May 11, 1862 to avoid her falling into the hands of the Union.
The battle site where these two ironclads squared off is quite different today as well. The I-664 Monitor Merrimac Bridge Tunnel connects Norfolk/Portsmouth/Chesapeake to Hampton/Newport News. Naval Station Norfolk, the largest navy base in the world, stretches for miles along the Elizabeth River and is home to aircraft carriers, guided missile cruisers, frigates, and submarines. Several commercial cargo facilities also line the rivers making the Port of Hampton Roads the third largest commercial shipping port on the East coast. The Craney Island Eastward Expansion is part of the overall Panama Canal expansion strategy and will be the site of Craney Island Marine Terminal. Newport News Shipbuilding lines the North shore of the James River and is the site where all U.S. Navy aircraft carries are currently built. The USS GERALD R. FORD, the Navy’s newest, most advanced aircraft carrier, was recently built and launched there. Fort Monroe is now open to the public and is part of the National Park Service. Trained as an engineer at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Robert E. Lee was stationed at Fort Monroe as a Combat Engineer from 1831-1834 and oversaw the final construction of the fort. During the Civil War, Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America, was imprisoned there by the Union. The fort offers great views of the Chesapeake Bay and entrance to Hampton Roads and is one our favorite places to anchor the Lyman for a day at the beach.
The James River is rich is maritime history and crucial in the establishment of this great nation. After all, Captain John Smith settled Jamestown on the river in 1607, making it the first permanent English speaking settlement in the New World. Our goal was to take my 1962 16’ Lyman from Portsmouth, VA all the way up the James River to Richmond and back. The trip clocked in at 166 nautical miles and took 14 hours.
We departed Portsmouth, VA at 0750 and returned around 2200. Once in the James River, we passed the anchored U.S. Navy Reserve Fleet and U.S. Army Fort Eustis, home of the Army Transportation Corps. Along the way we also passed Williamsburg, VA, which saw several key battles during both the Revolutionary War and Civil War. General George Washington assembled the Continental Army in Williamsburg in preparation for the siege of nearby Yorktown, VA. Further up the James River lies the Jamestown settlement where one will find a nice museum full of artifacts from archeological digging and restored/recreated historical structures. About four hours into the trip, we made our first stop in Hopewell, VA at Jordan Point Marina. Hopewell is close to Petersburg and Appomattox, VA where General Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee faced off in the Siege of Petersburg to end the Civil War and General Lee ultimately surrendered at Appomattox Court House. After filling up with gas and eating lunch, we continued up towards Richmond. The river narrows significantly and the shores are dotted with expansive plantations.
We finally passed the Port of Richmond and arrived at the I-95 bridge in downtown Richmond a few miles later. I didn’t think a Lyman would fare well in the rocks and rapids on the other side of the bridge, so we turned out and started the trip home. We stopped once more for gas, a swim call at the mouth of the Chickahominy River, and dinner at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg. In all, it was an amazing trip full of history and a great way to spend a Friday on the Lyman! I recently purchased a 26’ Lyman and plan to explore much more of the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers, and the ICW.