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Winter predictions and other windy observations

When I first moved to Portsmouth, Virginia, I expected a relatively balmy winter, compared to northern New England. This expectation has largely been realized, although last winter tested my hypothesis. We had three shovelable snowfalls, one of nearly a foot. I felt quite smart with two snow shovels tucked in my shed — I loaned them out widely. I hope I won’t need them this winter.

Peter Bass

Most boats here usually winter in their slips and are not winterized. Owners often use a purpose-built engine compartment heater and leave the reverse cycle A/C on heat, which is probably a more expensive solution than winterizing. My informal, anecdotal survey indicates that more boat owners are opting to fully winterize their systems this season. There was more damage than usual last year because of a couple of prolonged cold snaps. In my system of counter-intuitive reasoning, the more boats that are winterized, the less likely it is that it will be necessary, so I’m all for these preventive measures.

By the end of February, we will know how we fared in the Bay. At the risk of appearing more foolish than usual, I predict a mild winter in the east because of an El Niño in the Pacific and a higher percentage of boats being winterized in Portsmouth.

Winter land cruising

Winter is a great time to do some land-yachting. In the Chesapeake it is unlikely that snow will impede driving and exploring some of the coastal hamlets that ring the Bay. And with the leaves off the trees, there is so much more to see. I have had a couple of boat showings this fall in Mathews County, around Mobjack Bay on the Middle Peninsula, and have twice come close to taking a couple of hours and visiting Gwynn’s Island. At some point this winter on a crisp Saturday, I intend to do just that.

Lion's Whelp, built in 1966 by Goudy & Stevens in East Boothbay, Maine, might be heading to winter storage and maintenance in Chesapeake, Virginia, where she has wintered in past yearsl

Gwynn’s Island is now something of a cottage colony — not close enough to anything to make it commutable to population centers — but it played a key role in the Revolutionary War. At the site of Morningstar Marina, on the mainland side of the Gwynn’s Island Bridge, there are remnants of earthworks known as Fort Cricket Hill from which patriots shelled the fleet of Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s last royal governor.

In a posting by Ben Swenson on, Lord Dunmore is reported to have scoffed at the patriots, comparing them to crickets coming over the hill. His fleet was routed and left soon thereafter. The battle is periodically re-enacted, but if you attend, don’t expect something that you might actually label a hill; the flybridge of a powerboat in the marina has a loftier point of view.

Mating in the mid-Atlantic

The online news source posts a lot of fun analyses of these American states. In one it analyzes the most common words in postings for each state. Around the Bay, Virginia comes in with a logical most-used term: “military.” There are a lot of single military personnel shuttling in and out, so it would follow that this term would often be included.

Maryland’s most-used term is harder to grasp: “gospel.” I know a lot of people in Maryland, and I have never heard that word used in any conversation.

Washington, D.C., comes in with the understandable “international.” In nearby states, Delaware is “amusement,” perhaps thanks to our often entertaining vice president, and New Jersey nails down “lounge.” Love it.

This choice is further supported by another Mashable map for the category of goods most ordered on eBay. In New Jersey it is “men’s fragrances.” It’s a fun site to noodle around in and concoct sweeping generalizations, particularly on those long winter days when you can’t go boating.

Going to sea in cars

I recently drove a friend to the Norfolk airport to fly to Bermuda to pick up a large Hinckley sailboat and deliver it to the Virgin Islands. We left Portsmouth about 4 a.m. and had to take an alternate route, as the downtown tunnel to Norfolk was closed for maintenance. We took the new Jordan Bridge, a fixed span over the Elizabeth River running in a generally east-west direction with a navigational clearance of 145 feet. It is so high that there are a variety of S-curves incorporated into it to reduce the steepness of the incline. On this morning there was a 30-knot wind from the north that made us thankful for the concrete barriers that partially deflect the wind, but the transit was alarming nonetheless.

When I got home I checked the restrictions on another great span, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. It was under a Level 2 restriction due to wind speeds of 47 mph, which basically limits permitted vehicles to passenger cars. I have driven it in winds of perhaps 30 mph, and it can be an interesting ride. For a sailor it is a reminder of how the sea controls our experiences around the Bay even while we drive. At the middle of the span you are about 8 miles from either shore; in big winds and seas the view can be quite distracting. If you miss being at sea, a quick trip on the CBBT is a good substitute.

Today at Mile Zero

Just when I thought the snowbird migration had ended except for a few stragglers, the first Friday in December brought a boat nut’s visual feast. First the 90-foot sailing yacht Bequia swung through the outer fuel dock of the marina where I sit. Built at Maine’s Brooklin Boatyard in 2009, she is simply stunning in all respects.

After she departed, a series of six motoryachts from 35 to 74 feet kept the dockhands busy right up until closing. The motoryachts stayed the night, but Bequia fueled up and headed for the mouth of the Bay and points south. Part of me itched to be aboard.

Saturday saw the Liberty ship John W. Brown leave the shipyard and head back to Baltimore. I must apologize for calling it the James W. Brown in my last column — I must have watched a PBS documentary on the history of rock ’n’ roll the evening before.

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

Peter Bass is a writer and yacht broker who serendipitously found himself at the nexus of the Chesapeake and the Intracoastal Waterway, a.k.a., the Ditch. Visit for more.

February 2015 issue