Boat shows and print magazines are my nirvana

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Here at the bottom of the Bay, April can be downright pleasant, with an average high of 68 degrees and only around 3.5 inches of rain. Nice cruising, with cool nights. One reason I moved here was to have a longer boating season. The hot midsummer months of July and August are nicely bracketed by New England-style summer weather in June and September. Not bad. Years ago my daughter and I moved my Wilbur 38 back north in April, with a couple of lovely days on the Bay. I waited another month, however, to take it from Annapolis to Maine.

Peter Bass

As I write this, we are in a teaser season: mid-50s one day and a little too close to winter temperatures the next. Some of my Maine family visited and marveled at the balmy (to them) weather, then got stuck halfway home due to blizzard conditions at the Portland airport.

Boat shows and print media

I love boat shows. To me they are a boat nut’s dream factory. I showed a magnificent center console boat built in Maine at our local indoor event in Virginia Beach in February. The first boat show I worked was 40 years ago in Annapolis, staffing a Hinckley 49 as an earnest 25-year-old. Many brokers I know have never practiced the trade without the multiple listing services of today’s Internet. We carried paper brochures in large quantities to fill those tote bags. Now a few clicks on a smartphone sends a listing on its way.

The magazine you’re reading was the multiple listing service of the trade prior to the Internet — the only way to be exposed to hundreds of listings in the Northeast and beyond. I found the Wilbur 38 that was my home between marriages in a Soundings classified ad. At Hinckley in the 1970s, our energies went into a full-page display ad in Yachting magazine; I even made it into one of the ads at the helm of a Hinckley 49 with my old pal Sam Johnson. No one could tell it was the two of us, but I still sent five copies to my mother.

My coffee table is weighed down with boating print media. Sometimes I feel a little foolish with all that paper, but it is part of boating for me, and if you are reading this, probably for you, as well.

John Smith meets Reddy Kilowatt

From Inside Business, an online news service I use, we learned that the Virginia electric utility Dominion Power wants to build a new transmission line across the James River, which is sacred ground to Americans of European descent. Although Dominion has received approval to proceed, the process is hung up in lawsuits between preservation groups, which want the high-voltage line buried on the bottom, and Dominion, which says it is unfeasible to do this with a 500-kilovolt line.

The reason many of us go out in boats is to see or imagine what an area was like before civilization. It is what drives us to sparsely populated shores, or offshore for that matter — so we can fancy ourselves explorers of a new world. The James is quite wide and presents much the same view today as it did to John Smith, at least from afar, before you get close enough to see the plastic cups and grocery bags on the bank. Once you leave the James River Bridge at Newport News in your wake, it is many miles of twists and turns to the next bridge.

So when I set out on my Heart of Darkness adventure to Richmond, I hope to be able to imagine it as it appeared to the Native American chief Powhatan. And so it will, if the specter of the rolling blackouts that Dominion says will come to pass without the new line prove true. The golfers of Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg will be manning signal fires on shore.

Family-friendly fishing machines

One of the lessons that the boat show in Viginia Beach drove home for me is that there is a creeping gentility occurring in the center console world. The boats I represent come in two flavors: the all-out fishing Tournament Edition and the more wife-and-kids-friendly Family Edition. The Tournament Edition does away with the forward seating and table to open up the bow area for fishing, and it has a “coffin box” forward of the console to slide a couple of big tuna in on ice. It also has options for a second live well and other fishing-specific options, such as a dedicated testosterone tank.

The bulk carrier Marietta provoked a gasp from the writer as it slid along a few dozen feet off the seawall next to his office.

We showed a boat that offered a bridge between the two worlds, a Family Edition with outriggers — sort of the crossover SUV of the center console world. Whatever the flavor, women were quick to point out that our boat had the best in-console head at the show and that further examination of the rest of the boat by husbands could proceed. But there were some women who resented being pandered to with such frivolities and were more interested in the coffin box than a social area forward. A salesman has to be on his toes at all times and learn to read the intricacies of a couple, as one would read the water surface or bird activity. Personally, I do better with water and birds.

Today at Mile Zero

The past few days have been a spring tease, getting into the 60s during the last two. The marina liveaboards were popping out of their hatches in shirtsleeves and shorts at midday, like the gopher in the film Caddyshack.

Before we moved here full time, I asked a local friend to describe the winter: “It gets cold, seldom snows, and at least once a month it’s nice enough to wash the car.” It was nice enough today to wash the car, but I was smart enough not to waste any time doing that.

The procession at Mile Zero today, until around midafternoon in the relative heat of the day, has been a mix of tugboats and bulk carriers. Jogging along next to a Polsteam bulk carrier was a 35-foot boat heading north, for all the world looking like a migrating bird whose internal clock and compass said it was time to head to the breeding grounds. The passengers may well have had that on their minds, but I don’t think they were going much beyond Hampton.

It’s never dull here at Mile Zero. See you at the bottom of the Bay, the top of the Ditch.

April 2015 issue