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What’s In A Name? It Depends Upon What’s On The Menu

Tall ship masts at Norfolk Harborfest Photo

There was a forest of masts at Mile Marker Zero when tall ships tied up for Norfolk Harborfest.

Photo of Peter Bass

Peter Bass

Ah, summer. Back in my Maine days, we treasured the high season because we could, on most days, act as if it were warm and wear things such as shorts and T-shirts. Here at the bottom of the Bay, we have already had more days with temperatures in the 90s than we would during a whole summer in Maine.

This year’s Norfolk Harborfest was memorable from several standpoints: the biggest collection of tall ships since OpSail 2012, a reopened Waterside dining and entertainment complex on the Norfolk side and a fireworks display bigger than the customary bang-up affair. I wandered the piers by Waterside in a forest of square-rigged spars, an experience that took me back to the Age of Sail. I am lucky that the news headline the next day didn’t read, “Balding man with beer wanders off pier while looking upward with mouth open.”

Tugboat Choreography

An article in our local daily newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot, alerted us to the arrival in Hampton Roads of a Chinese heavy-lift ship carrying a 500-by-140-foot floating dry dock built in Turkey for Colonna’s Shipyard in Norfolk. After semisubmerging to float off the ship, the dock was towed and nudged across the Bay, essentially to my front window on the southern branch of the Elizabeth River. From there it was guided through the Berkley Bridge on the eastern branch of the river to Colonna’s. A quick look in my chart book showed a horizontal clearance of 150 feet at the Berkley Bridge, a space that, according to my advanced mathematical training, left 5 feet on each side.

A marvelous photo of the transit, taken from a helicopter, was on the Virginian-Pilot website. Accompanying articles show the heavy-lift ship with the dry dock aboard. The Soundings helicopter was in the shop, so my photographs aren’t nearly as revealing.

We see tugs daily, dealing with ships, barges, cruise liners, Navy vessels and the occasional square-rigger. No matter how many times you’ve docked your own boat or how many thousands of miles have passed under your keel, watching this dry dock transit and the daily operations of these tugs illustrates that most of us are mere amateurs in the grand dance of ships.

Seaside Restaurants

In the funniest book ever written, Sailing: A Sailor’s Dictionary by Henry Beard and Roy McKie, one entry defines acceptable names for dockside restaurants. I was reminded of this while looking out my window at the sign for the new restaurant in our marina: Fish & Slips. After many years of changing tenants, the marina operators landed a well-known local restaurateur to operate a seafood-focused restaurant to complement their highly rated Mannino’s Italian Bistro, which has several locations in Hampton Roads, including one within walking distance of the Tidewater Yacht and Ocean Yacht marinas in Portsmouth.

Nearby, we find restaurant names such as Surf Rider, Waterman Surfside Grille, Tautog’s and Mahi Mah’s, plus the usual chains and fried-everything emporiums. If I can find my copy of Beard and McKie, I will revisit their hilarious list; it is filed at home using the screwy decimal system. For a comprehensive guide to sailors’ watering holes, check out the Maryland and Virginia editions of Crab Decks & Tiki Bars of the Chesapeake Bay (

Best of What and Where

During spring, various magazines around the Bay publish “best of” lists, ostensibly a readers’ choice award for retail establishments and services. In a previous job, I watched my employer get out the word to vote for us. Self-promotion is a good thing in a comprehensive marketing effort, but I realized that the survey results do not spring organically from appreciative consumers.

My first disillusion came when the “best restaurant” named in the Portland, Maine, market was a middling spot that specialized in eggs. Portland is a foodie destination for many good reasons, but not for a menu based on eggs. The forced, in-restaurant marketing effort to generate votes was eventually unmasked.

Still, I would be pleased to receive an award for Best Balding Yacht Broker at Tidewater Marina. Please vote early and often; I can provide a list of deceased patrons to cover your tracks.

Photo of  a tight fit when tugs finessed a floating dry dock through the Berkley Bridge, bound for Colonna’s Shipyard.

It was a tight fit when tugs finessed a floating dry dock through the Berkley Bridge, bound for Colonna’s Shipyard.

Budget Blunders 

For the watershed states that are part of the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to clean up the Bay to its former health, President Trump’s proposed budget is a terrible blow. It would eliminate the federal contribution to the effort, currently $73 million. Reactions to the proposed cut and public outcry were widely reported; I read a good summary article in Chesapeake Bay magazine. The governors of Maryland and Virginia, in particular, have called on the administration to restore this funding and preserve the progress made.

Chesapeake Bay quoted Wayne Boynton, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, saying it’s “the first time since Capt. John Smith came up the Bay in 1608 that nutrient levels are finally on their way down.” All the noise about loosening environmental regulations and budget cuts for such programs as the Chesapeake Bay Program should be of great concern to those of us who treasure clean coastal environments, and their broader implications to human health and the safety of the food chain.

A nice Hinckley Bermuda 40 passed by yesterday, a couple of Sabre motor­yachts today. Makes me want to get “up ta Maine” myself.

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 September 2017 issue.


large ship passing behind smaller boats

Fourth-Quarter Report: Lots Of Action At Mile Zero

Although you may be reading this in mid-October, the magazine’s November cover date brings back my New England mind-set, with visions of boats hauled and buttoned up for winter. But here at the bottom of the Bay, the last quarter of the year is still boating season.


Tune In, Turn On

Your VHF radio is one of the most important pieces of safety gear on your boat. The problem is that most people rarely turn theirs on.