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Double dose of happiness: No ethanol and more Bertram


The Top of the Ditch has been pretty quiet for pleasure boat viewing, but the commercial side presses on regardless. In the words of Calvin Coolidge: The business of America is business. Big bulk carriers pass by, heading for the myriad facilities on the Southern Branch, and the Port Authority posted a record in container traffic earlier this year.

The Elizabeth River Ferry provides public transportation at Mile Zero.

With the exception of a one-week stretch that saw nighttime temperatures in the 20s, the weather has been milder than average in this El Niño year. As I write, it is sunny and in the 60s. The folks I met at the indoor boat show in Virginia Beach a few weeks back are making noises about test rides, and I will facilitate these.

I thought last year was supposed to enjoy an El Niño effect. I was encouraged to predict a mild winter in this column, a prediction that proved to be right up there with fringe elements expecting the Rapture. At least we have something in common.

To E or not to E

With election season in full swing, perhaps the presidential candidates can stake out more logical positions on the use of corn ethanol in fuel. As many readers know, ethanol has proved to be neither green nor economical, and the additive can damage marine engines, particularly those that are used only sporadically and whose fuel often sits for months at a time.

I am pleased that, at least in Virginia, there has been an outbreak of intelligence. The following bill is making its way though the process:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia: That the Department of Environmental Quality be directed to seek from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency an exemption from the federal reformulated gasoline program for the sale by a qualifying marina of conventional, ethanol-free gasoline. A qualifying marina shall be one that sells gasoline exclusively to the marine recreational or commercial trade. No ethanol-free gasoline sold by such marina shall be used in any road vehicle.

If you live in Virginia, call your representatives. I’ll keep you posted.

Think Bertram

When I was 12 or so and my folks were looking for a boat, I became particularly enraptured by the Ray Hunt/Dick Bertram story. (My grandfather had given us a subscription to Yachting magazine.) I used a winter boat show to collect every bit of literature on the Bertrams of the day, particularly the variations of the 31 Moppie. These I posted around our cottage with “Think Bertram” labels under each photo. We eventually bought a sailboat, which Bertram and Hunt would have understood, as well.

Flybridge 31 Moppies of that era are still sought after as restoration projects, even with their shortcomings relative to today’s sportfishing boats. There’s something about them that looks “just right.” It seemed to many of us in the trade that somewhere, sometime, someone would recapture that magic and translate it to this millennium. It may be happening.

I had lost track of the ownership transitions of Bertram, but I like the current steward of the brand, Italian industrialist Beniamino Gavio. The first new boat of the brand is a slightly longer (35 feet) and beamier 31. From published renderings and articles in the boating press, including several in this magazine, it looks spot-on. Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding in Thomaston, Maine, is building the prototypes, designed by Michael Peters, and we will see them this summer. Time to dig out those “Think Bertram” labels again. This may be the Rapture, indeed.

Mile Zero, the Boat Show

The company for whom I perform my day job, which a close friend somewhat derisively refers to as “flogging boats,” represents both new and brokerage models. Getting those boats in front of the marketplace through shows, and print and digital avenues has become a sophisticated process. Allocating a finite amount of marketing money among diverse channels is a constant discussion.

 Owners who entrust you with a boat to sell want physical evidence of what you are doing, such as a print ad. Describing your activities in cyberspace, which may often be the most productive, is less satisfying evidence to the seller than a photo in a magazine.

As someone who likes to talk, boat shows are most appealing to me because they involve direct contact. It is hard to know what the reaction was to a carefully crafted print ad or digital posting. There are numbers to look at for page views or opened email blasts, but there is always the chance that it is just some boat nut like me who looks at everything simply because it is what we do.

Back to boat shows: It looks as if there could be a mid-May new and brokerage show at Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth. By the time you read this there should be a website up, probably If it happens, be sure to come to the first one — you may look back on it like Woodstock.

Today at Mile Zero

One of the best boating deals at Mile Zero is the Elizabeth River Ferry, part of the Hampton Roads public transportation network. It has a couple of stops in Portsmouth and one in Norfolk. I tell my out-of-town friends that Portsmouth is the only place you can take a ferry to Nordstrom, although Seattle might dispute that.

For $1.75 one way, you can hop aboard a block from my office and walk to our sort-of-big mall. You can also walk to the battleship Wisconsin at the Nauticus naval museum, a great Saturday diversion for the throngs (well, maybe not throngs) of visitors we see before the boating season restarts. At any rate, if the boat is in mothballs and a nice day makes you itch to get out on the water, the ferry is a good way to scratch it. This service also makes a sailor’s pub crawl potentially an all-day, two-city affair.

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

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue.