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Fall on the Chesapeake is our ‘Maine summer’

As I write this, the top of the Ditch is pretty quiet, with only the occasional yacht transiting. As you read this, however, the snowbirds will be gathering.

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The southbound migration differs from the spring in that a large group of boats hangs out at Mile Zero until the end of hurricane season, at least as insurance companies define it. Many boats carry insurance policies that require them to stay north of some point until the hurricane threat has largely passed, usually Nov. 1, although the official end of the Atlantic hurricane season is Nov. 30. That point for one of my policies was Morehead City, North Carolina, so Portsmouth, Virginia, was a good place to pause. It’s an easy walk to lots of downtown restaurants and pubs.

Our marina is also working with our new huge supermarket on a grocery service, and there is a tip-supported shuttle to a smaller market nearby. So it’s a pretty good place to party for a week while waiting for the green light. My office is at Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth, so stop in for some local knowledge.

Masses of Basses

Summer is pretty slow in the brokerage business; it’s when people are using their boats and usually aren’t on the hunt for something new — until boat show season starts. This also makes it a good time for a broker’s holiday, in my case a trip “up ta Maine” to attend a dealer meeting in Augusta for the center consoles I represent, catch up with some old friends in Boothbay and Casco Bay, and attend a function I refer to as “Masses of Basses.” I wish that title also applied to the day I spent fishing for stripers on the Kennebec River, but this year it only applied to a family reunion and lobster feed in Boothbay.

It was a short trip to Maine, but I managed to pack in a lot of time on the water. There was the day on the Kennebec live-lining mackerel for stripers, where I managed to feed a striper but not catch it. Then there was a day cruising Casco Bay in a rented center console with my brother and daughter. How can you beat that for $330, including fuel? And lastly, multiple harbor tours in Boothbay with cousins from as far away as California and South Carolina.

Ducking in

There was a famous (at least locally) seafood restaurant in Virginia Beach called the Duck-In, right on the beach next to Lynnhaven Inlet. It was open for 53 years and closed in 2005. In its last year — several years before I moved to the area — I had lunch there with my college-age son, who was playing a series of lacrosse games in the East during spring break. The restaurant wasn’t far above sea level, and I thought the name was a triple entendre since the restaurant periodically got ducked into the Atlantic.

Speaking of ducking in, we had a small gathering of superyachts recently. They put in for a few days until Tropical Storm Erika decided whether she wanted to grow up and be a hurricane and where she might go. That storm fell apart after causing terrible harm to Dominica from flash flooding.

The crews of the yachts here had several days to enjoy some of the beer-centric spots on High Street. Portsmouth boasts a couple of restaurant/pubs with dozens of craft brews on tap and one, The Bier Garden, with seemingly hundreds of imports. It’s a great time to be a beer lover and sailor at Mile Zero. I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant here called Hey Sailor! I imagine a Durgin-Park — the legendary Boston eatery — ambience, complete with surly backtalk, although that might not fly with the Southern clientele.

One fuel

One of the hot topics in the boating trade is ethanol — in my humble opinion, a product of poor science, bad math, agribusiness and government conspiracies, and the unfortunate positioning of the Iowa caucuses. As a broker, selling a boat with diesel engines is often far simpler. There is nothing worse than going for a sea trial in a boat with old ethanol gasoline and losing a sale. And “old” with ethanol isn’t necessarily old. Keeps us on our toes.

That’s why I read with interest about the new diesel outboard that Mercury Racing is developing for the military in response to the Department of Defense’s “one fuel” directive, meaning diesel. The Mercury announcement was widely reported in the marine press, along with a note that the engine will not be available in a civilian version.

Undaunted I dove into the Internet to discover that there is a Swedish alternative, the OXE 200-hp diesel outboard, which complies with NATO’s single- fuel directive but also is being tested for non-military applications. It is based on a General Motors diesel, mounted horizontally, with the transmission at the powerhead and belts driving the propeller. The lower unit is sleeker than a bezel gear unit. Check it out at The technology is pretty cool.

A free pub crawl is offered to the skipper of the first boat to tie up at Tidewater with a civilian diesel outboard as primary power. By the time that happens, Hey Sailor! might be open for business.

Maine may have a short boating season, but here at Mile Zero, early fall marks the beginning of what I call “Maine summer” at the bottom of the Bay. For you snowbirds, I hope this issue of Soundings catches up with you on the Bay as you make your way south. Perhaps you’ve seen parts of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race? It ends in Portsmouth around Oct. 18 with a big party.

For you anglers, please join me in welcoming back the stripers I failed to catch on my visit to Maine. Fall fishing here is great fun, inshore and offshore, so while you’re waiting for your insurance to let you head farther south, try a charter out of Virginia Beach.

It’s never dull at Mile Zero, particularly in the fall, which to my Maine blood runs pleasantly into late November. See you at the bottom of the Bay, the top of the Ditch.

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.