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Winter blues — as in crabs, catfish and boat sales

The end of 2016 was nice at the bottom of the Bay, with a couple of cruising rallies to the islands getting off on time on a good weather window. It’s fun to walk the docks and see the variety of boats preparing for the 1,500-mile voyage. Every year a part of me wants to do it again, and I may yet.

IN THE SOUP: Every now and then a bit of Maine makes its way to Mile Zero.

In the fall and early winter, we note a few celestial events in our home. The first is the autumnal equinox, when it is OK to put the gin and vodka away and turn to the darker varieties. This, of course, has its vernal equivalent, which on the Eastern Seaboard will come on March 20 at 6:29 a.m. We also note the winter solstice with a sigh of relief that the daylight duration has stopped shrinking.

As I write this, we are in our “keep calm and carry on” mindset, with the prospect of a winter boat show or a trip to Florida. I have a brokerage listing lying in the Bahamas, so maybe I should go and check the lines and fender inflation. I wonder if there is a penalty for underinflation, given that I grew up in New England.

Catfish Blues

During the past several years I have been reading accounts of the blue catfish population in the Chesapeake, particularly the James River, whose broad mouth separates the south side and peninsula cities of Hampton Roads. Upriver from its tidal mouth, the James goes from brackish to fresh. The big blue cats have become the apex predator in this and many other estuaries in the Bay, vacuuming up shad and river herring, among other fare.

Introduced in the ’70s, they have exploded to alarming numbers in some Bay tributaries. Growing to more than 100 pounds and living for 20 years, they have major spawning capacity. An article from the Washington Post in 2013 described a program to use blue catfish as an inexpensive source of protein in a charity food program. I also discovered a couple of Virginia state agencies that seem to be on opposite sides of controlling the population in this way: One says eat ’em, and another says they are too dangerous to eat because of PCBs (not the best choice to feed the hungry).

There does seem to be a lot of recreational value to the fishery, which brings in anglers from all over to come and catch a whopper. A number of guide services are in the Richmond area if such an experience is on your bucket list. Too bad the menhaden folks couldn’t find a use for a few million pounds of blue cats.

Boat Sale Blues

I had an inquiry for the earliest availability of a large express motoryacht we represent. I immediately called the prospective client and sent data on the yacht in question, and followed up with additional possibilities over several days. Receiving no email responses for a week, I called to continue the conversation, only to hear that he had ordered another boat that was sharply different in design and purpose. I felt like a car salesman having a discussion about the merits of a large luxury sport sedan without knowing that the other possibility was a personal rocket. There may have been some unknown, younger “influencers” at work with the buyer.

I’m sure there are several lessons here, which my boss will sagely point out, hopefully using polite language. It is not uncommon to lose a sale for want of information or clear communication, and a lingering question always remains as to what went awry. Probably nothing, or perhaps, as another boss used to say, I might have been “listening with my mouth.”

Get Some Skin

Southeast Expeditions, which offers guided kayak outings in several locations on the Eastern Shore of Virginia (, plus equipment sales and service, sponsored a workshop in December. Unfortunately, I learned about it too late. The company brought in Seawolf Kayak, designers and builders of traditional skin-on-frame kayaks, to do a multiday workshop in Cape Charles, Virginia ( Participants selected a model to build during the workshop, sometimes with several under construction at the same time.

Having built kayaks in other materials, I found this fascinating and well within my skill set, using hand tools (with which I am somewhat competent). Although the “skin” is no longer actual skin but ballistic nylon sealed with a modern concoction, the construction method is centuries old and produces a light, strong craft in which you can imagine you are chasing sea mammals to get you through the winter, rather than pub-crawling along High Street. (For another take on the skin-on-frame technique, check out Platt Monfort’s Geodesic AiroLite Boats at

Wake Up Ye Crabs

The winter snooze for the Bay’s blue crabs is on, the only fishing being the annual winter dredge survey to estimate the population in various categories. Populations were strong, and the subsequent 2016 harvest reports were good. For 2017, a lot depends on this winter’s weather; crab mortality reflects the severity of the winter, rain and water salinity, among other factors. Want to be­come a crab pundit? Read Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William W. Warner.

As I write this, we are having wild temperature swings: 20 degrees last night, 60 today and 70 tomorrow. The snowbirds have steamed by, except for a few stragglers. I have run the Ditch at this time of year, in my old Wilbur 38, and the waterway is pleasantly peaceful, with little traffic or competition for dock space, though occasionally you have to watch out for an icy dock in the morning. The Wilbur had a bus heater that ran off the engine and made our transit quite pleasant.

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 March 2017 issue.


Tall ship masts at Norfolk Harborfest Photo

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

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.

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.