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Loop cruisers, lifelines and shedder crabs

The northbound migration is in full swing at Mile Zero as I write this, the light-colored boats sporting brown mustaches from the tannin-rich waters of the blackwater rivers and swamps to the south.

Not every vessel that stops in Portsmouth comes up the Ditch. This Nordhavn came in from the sea for service between the southern and northern seasons.

As you exit the lock in Great Bridge, Virginia, the small-town and rural nature of much of the Ditch north of Florida suddenly changes into the military and industrial complex that comprises the last few miles as you count down to Mile Zero. It can be a long few miles, too, especially if a coal train drops the Norfolk Southern bridge just south of Portsmouth. Usually about 10 a.m. there is a burst of boats passing out of the Ditch and into the Bay, boats that left Great Bridge at 8 a.m. and are itching to put up a sail or push the throttles forward.

Hangin’ with the Loopers

An increasingly popular cruise for retiring baby boomers is buying a powerboat of some sort and embarking on the Great Loop, a trip that circumnavigates the eastern half of the United States, with a number of miles in Canada, as well. In May there is an annual get-together in Norfolk that serves a number of purposes: education for folks starting the trip, information for those contemplating the journey and an opportunity for those who have completed it to share their experiences with others. It is sponsored by the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association ( I participated in this year’s event as a representative of one of the yacht builders I promote in my day job. I attended several of the workshops and, of course, the events that involved eating and drinking. If the Great Loop is for you, start here.

The Great Loop has spawned a number of other “Loop” cruises, such as the Northern Loop, which heads east to the St. Lawrence instead of west to the Mississippi drainage. It requires more boat and experience than the typical Looper motoryacht and is a spring-to-fall trip. The Great Loop generally starts and finishes in successive springs and can include winter stops in the Florida Keys or the Bahamas.

Close to us at the bottom of the Bay is the Albemarle Loop, which explores the many cruising areas of Albemarle Sound in northeast North Carolina. The organizers have put together a route and attractive stopover packages at a host of marinas. All of these loops have online presences and can be found with appropriate keywords.

Is there a doctor in the Loop?

As a boater whose wallet includes a Medicare card, I know that the AARP set has additional challenges when it comes to finding help for age-related medical problems while cruising. One of the best seminars at Looper U covered those kinds of preparations specifically.

I was fortunate to set up next to a sponsor that brought the emerging field of telemedicine to the Looper community in an affordable way. The commercial marine world and the military have long employed a telephone or sat phone-linked system to deliver medical data to physicians, and care and advice to remote patients. What Care Marine (care has done is put together a telemedicine program for cruisers.

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Medical data gets sent to the doctor via smartphone apps and auxiliary input devices. The doctor can then send you to your customized medical kit on board, which has medicines and equipment tailored to your personal health needs, to stabilize your situation and tell you what to do next. If I were starting a long cruise or the Loop, I would buy this service long before the fishfinder module for the integrated multifunction navigation system. It costs about the same as the fishfinder add-on, and it can save your life instead of showing you the number of Asian carp that have invaded the Illinois River — interesting, yes, but not quite as important.

Hey honey, the crabs are home

As we begin the soft-crab season on the Bay, there is encouraging news about our signature crustacean, the blue crab. Despite a high mortality rate due to the abnormally long, cold winter, the population of blue crabs jumped by more than a third, according to a report by William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which have jointly managed a winter dredge survey since 1990. Credit for the rebound goes to the catch reductions instituted in the last few seasons.

Scientists pointed out that the population is still significantly below fully healthy, but it is headed in the right direction. We found a few dozen peelers for our annual feed and turned to our local expert, Capt. Buz, to supervise the prep: Snip off the nasty bits, dredge in white flour and corn meal seasoned with salt and pepper, and fry in butter over medium heat until thoroughly cooked. The captain permits no spicy additives or condiments. “All the taste you need is in the crab,” he says.

Keep it clean

In the same vein as the rebound in crabs and the health of the Bay, don’t forget there is no excuse for not using your holding tank in the Chesapeake. In many parts of the Bay, the pumpout station will come to you for a modest fee. In the cities of Hampton Roads that are served by the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, teams of college kids swarm the marinas in HRSD trucks with portable pumpouts, offering free service at your slip. (I recommend tipping, however.) To find out where they are and when, call (757) 460-4253 or go to

As a yacht broker, I have had clients drop off their boats to be left for sale and say: “Oh, by the way, the holding tank is full. Sorry.” Thank you, HRSD. A full tank is not a feature we like to inadvertently demonstrate to a prospective buyer.

Today at Mile Zero

Judging from the music wafting across the river today, it seems the endless festivals at Town Point Park in Norfolk have started for the summer. The snowbirds are flitting by, and the season is underway. I hope to get back to Maine for a visit this summer and escape at least a week of the stickiest weather here. In the meantime, swing on in to Tidewater. It may be hot here in the summer, but it’s never dull. See you at the bottom of the Bay, the top of the Ditch.

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.