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Bridges, boat ownership and a battleship

Now that I have been writing this column for more than a year, I have to check the same issue of Soundings from 2015 to make sure I don’t do what my grandchildren point out from time to time: tell the same story again.

You’ll see more than northbound snowbirds when the weather warms at Mile Zero.

At least one of last year’s topics, crab abundance, again is good news. Crab stocks are up significantly, according to the winter dredge sample. The soft-crab season is just beginning as I write, and my friends are checking in with their sources to plan seasonal feasts. I hope you didn’t miss your share.

Norfolk Harborfest, our big party here at Mile Zero, will be in full swing about the time this issue prints, with tall ships, music, local brews and full marinas. If you are a transiting snowbird, make the northbound trip a little later and take it in.

Bridges Of Norfolk County

Over the last several years, some of the low, opening bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway between Norfolk and Albemarle Sound have been replaced with high fixed bridges. In the case of the Gilmerton Bridge, there is now a draw span with 35 feet of clearance in the down position. This has greatly speeded transits, particularly during rush hour.

I recently helped friends ferry a little Scandinavian double-ended motor cruiser from the Atlantic Yacht Basin in Great Bridge to Portsmouth. Our only pause was leaving the Yacht Basin and waiting a few minutes for the Great Bridge bascule bridge’s top-of-the-hour opening. The lock and bridge coordinate so one passes straight into the lock. Once through the lock, we had no stops until we reached our slip, which turned out to be a little muddy at low tide.

If you haven’t made the transit for some years, you are in for a pleasant surprise unless the railroad bridge is down for a coal train bound for the docks at Lamberts Point. (The bridge is normally open and drops for trains.) It can seem as if the front of a cargo train is in Portsmouth and the rear is somewhere in West Virginia if you get caught at the wrong time. There is now passenger rail service in and out of Norfolk, but those bridge drops aren’t nearly as long. Watching a train pass is one of the pleasures of urban yachting.

Seafood And Soyfood

Although I like to fish and am personally responsible for the demise of probably 1,000 lobsters, I am often stumped when it comes to buying fish for my wife. For reasons that perplex my friends who knew me from my omnivorous days, I am now completely plant-based in my diet, but I still prepare fish for my wife. She gets filet of sole, and I get filet of soy.

I tried to pick up a filet of something at my local supermarket with a few criteria — U.S.-, Canada- or Iceland-caught (in that order) — and found nothing except frozen croaker, which is not a good substitute for a cold-water, whitefish girl. Most products were Chinese, or shrimp from processing plants exposed as using essentially slave labor.

A little farther away I found a bigger store that offered ocean perch, aka Atlantic redfish, which satisfies my diner’s criteria. Of course, there are bigger seafood suppliers here with a lot of options, but ocean perch is often around $5 a pound and a just a couple of miles away. Seafood Watch has them in the “Good Alternatives” category. Now all I need is to find the soy alternative.

Pricey Or Priceless?

An aspiring boat owner recently asked me about the costs of boating above and beyond the cost of the boat. I decided to see what the all-knowing Internet had to say and found a wealth of articles that made me wonder how some of my clients ever make the decision to buy. The calculation that scares me the most is when someone adds maintenance, fuel, insurance, dockage, depreciation and interest, then divides it by the number of days most boats are used.

I once refit a Bristol 41.1 sailboat, which took several hundred hours of my own time, in addition to some from folks with real skills. I took the list to my yard, presented my budget and said that if it ran over I didn’t want the subsequent invoices to come to my house. A couple of days later I dropped by and asked how it looked. “Pete,” I was told, “you’ll be wanting to rent that post office box.”

So what’s the answer? Psychic dividends. Boating is both pricey and priceless. Most of the pictures of my family having fun together include a boat. A favorable solution to the expense-divided-by-days formula is simple: Use the boat on more days.

Nauticus Nights

Something popped up on my radar not long ago that sounds like an amazing way to stage a group function, such as a family reunion or corporate event. Rent a battleship! Though not a bareboat charter, or even something that leaves the dock, it’s a chance to spend the night on the Wisconsin in tents on deck or an interior berth. The interior capacity is 142 guests.

Nauticus is a fabulous marine museum in downtown Norfolk that incorporates the Wisconsin. The overnight events are held on any weekend that draws at least 30 guests. Your group doesn’t have to be that big, as they host multiple groups simultaneously. The overnight includes two days’ admission to the museum, a guided tour of the ship, a hot breakfast and something called “fun activities.” There are lots of good restaurants within walking distance of the ship, and the Elizabeth River Ferry runs every half-hour to the Portsmouth side. Contact overnight program manager Tammie Weitzman at or visit

As you read this, New England’s high season of summer is just beginning. Here at the bottom of the Bay, we are hoping that the high season doesn’t involve too many high temperatures. I hope we don’t pay for our pleasant winter with a withering stretch of humidity and triple digits, and boating on the Bay that makes you feel like a steamed blue crab. In any event, it is always better on a boat.

So if you don’t have a boat, get one. If you have one, use it and make those costs per day look like a bargain. Collect those psychic dividends. And as always, see you at the bottom of the Bay, the top of the Ditch.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue.