July 31, 2018 NOTE:Thanks to the intense wind and rain forecast for the East Coast in the coming days, we listened to Chesapeake Bay area boaters and took a break in our journey until this front moves out and it is safe to continue our cruise. When we learned it could be seven to ten days before the storms moved on north, we made the decision to rent an enclosed slip at the Atlantic Yacht Basin, rent a car, and come home in time to see Bobby, Kristin, and the kids off on their Bahamas adventure. Hence, this post is being written from the Mount Pleasant writing room during the brief break in our journey.
Sunset at Lamb’s Marina, the last marina before starting north on the Dismal Swamp Canal.
Thanks to the weather, it took us three days longer than planned to reach the historic Dismal Swamp Canal. Truth be known, we made the final decision to take the canal while docked for three days at the Alligator River Marina, waiting for Hurricane/Tropical storm/Whatever Chris to move on offshore and north! We did so not realizing there was even more foul, windy weather to follow Chris!
Throughout our journey, we have been advised not to take the canal this time of year. “The flies, other bugs, and duck weed are horrible,” was what we most often heard. Finally, while at the Belhaven Marina, we were encouraged to take the canal route to the Chesapeake.
Rather than give you, the reader, a history lesson on the canal, I’m providing you links that can tell the story far better. Suffice it to say, we are glad we made the decision to take the canal route of the ICW, and would encourage anyone cruising north or south to take the canal route at least once during your lifetime.
NOTE: A word of caution. Before embarking on a cruise of the Dismal Swamp Canal, check with the Coast Guard and Lockmasters that oversee the canal. Like any body of water, there are times the water level may not be high enough for some larger boats to transit.
As you enter the lock at either end of the Dismal Swamp Canal, and begin your journey on the long, narrow “ditch,” it is amazing to realize it was dug during the administration of America’s first president, George Washington. That was a tremendous feat for its time.
Every cruise of the canal should include a stop at the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center. We tied up at the Center’s complimentary dock for one night, before completing our canal cruise. The Welcom Center’s website should be your first stop in planning a cruise of the canal, or researching its history.
Pictures May Be Worth A Thousand Words, but no matter the quality of the picture, it is hard to convey the serenity of cruising a maximum “NO WAKE” speed of six miles per hour through the canal. It made us enjoy cruising slowly and taking in the sights and sounds of the canal.
Following the beautiful 1996 Nimble Wander 32, “Maranatha” up the Pasquotank.
When we leave the South Mills Lock, we’ll be in the Dismal Swamp Canal. In the left of the picture you see the dreaded Duck Weed floating on the surface of the water. While we saw Duck Weed thru parts of the canal, when I checked the Slow Dance’s raw water strainers at the Welcome Center, very little of the Duck Weed was ingested into the raw water system.
Leading our “flotilla” up the canal at 6 mph.
There are those times the “Admiral” enjoys sitting out on the bow and enjoying the solitude and scenery.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ADMIRAL!!! Beaufort, NC celebrated your July 4th birthday with a parade!
During my years as head of the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, I would often look down the mountain toward Raleigh, and think, “If I was director of tourism for North Carolina, let me tell you what I would do…” In 1989, Governor Jim Martin gave me that opportunity. When appointed, I was the first destination marketing executive ever to hold the position. The first time that I met Governor Martin, he asked only one thing of me. “Dick, as long as you serve in my administration, there is only one thing I will ever ask of you – always do the right thing. If you do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself.” To me, the same holds true for owning or managing a marina, except if you do the “right” thing, the success of the marina will take care of itself.
After twenty-four days in marinas, I have had more than enough time and experiences to say, “If I owned a marina, I would…”
My travel industry career began in the hotel business. There was a time that hotel, restaurant, and attraction owners didn’t recognize the fact that they were also in the HOSPITALITY industry. Too often marina operators think they are only in the boating business, without realizing their profitable transient customers have expectations that local boaters may not have.
During our visits to marinas along the way, three things have made the strongest “first impressions.” As the old saying goes, first impressions are lasting impressions. Since I have no doubt we may again visit some of these same marinas, I am not attaching marina names to any negative observations. My intent is not to embarrass, but to provoke thought, and to give much deserved credit where it’s due.
If I owned a marina, my top three priorities would be;
“Love at first sight” — Outward appearance to approaching boats.
Condition and cleanliness of all facilities, but especially bathrooms, showers, and laundry
Attitude and training of staff
“Love at first sight”
At a marina, NOTHING is more unsightly than abandoned boats, or liveaboards that are not maintained. If I owned a marina, lease documents would clearly state that all boats must be clean and in good repair, at least above the waterline, AND any alterations to the boat’s original appearance must be approved by the marina. Household window air conditioners and cheap plastic tarps would not be allowed to be used on any boat. Torn, faded canvas and flags would not be allowed. The slip rental agreement would state that any boat not kept clean by the owner would be cleaned by the marina, at the boat owner’s expense.
At Belhaven Marina the bath/shower facilities had ambiance, not to mention complimentary towels, bathmats, soaps (multiple), a hair dryer, air conditioning, AND A SUGGESTIONS BOX!
Condition and Cleanliness of Marina Facilities
Designated marina staff should be responsible for the cleanliness of all marina facilities. Every marina owner, general manager or dock master should do daily inspections of bathroom and shower facilities. Are they as clean and in as good of repair as the bathrooms in your home? If not, why not? They are being used by your paying guests. I would also suggest that a female staff member — or the owner’s wife — also do a periodic walk-thru. Women inherently have a better sense of cleanliness and the condition of such things as shower curtains, shower heads, and other amenities. Absentee owners should at least do a quarterly, facilities inspection.
The reality is that some shower and bath facilities we used on our Chesapeake Bay trip were good, and some were bath/shower facilities were so poorly maintained and equipped that we chose to shower on the boat. The shower facilities of one were so far from the docks that we will never use the marina again.
Examples of Good Facilities
Baths and showers in reasonable proximity to docks.
Working locks on bathroom and/or shower stall doors.
Clean, painted showers and toilet facilities.
Fiberglass shower stalls in good condition — no cracked floors or walls.
Clean shower heads that provide a strong, even spray.
Some type of non-skid in showers.
Some type of mat outside shower, so that you’re not stepping out of the shower and onto a dirty or slick floor.
Adequate lighting in bathroom and shower.
Shower facilities should be air conditioned or at least well ventilated.
Shower curtains should go all the way to the floor, rather than being too short and allowing shower spray onto the outside floor.
If the shower stall does not have a light in the ceiling, DO NOT use a dark shower curtain that blocks light from outside the shower.
Shower faucets should in good repair. (In one handicap shower that I used, the hot water faucet was so loose and wobbly that I wondered if it could fail and allow a handicapped user to be seriously burned.)
Adequate hooks should exist for hanging clothes and towels.
All shower and bath facilities should be maintained and secured in a way that guests feel safe when using them!
Attitude and Training of Staff
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Sir Winston Churchill
At a well-known marina, Carolyn found the shower water to be cold. When I went to shower, I found the same cold shower in the men’s room. I dressed, walked back to the dock house and brought the fact that water in both the men’s and women’s showers were cold to the dockhand’s attention.
“That’s funny,” he said, “I was just up there and the water was piping hot.”
“You found hot water in both the men’s and women’s showers?” I asked.
“Yes sir,” was his reply.
“That’s strange,” I said, “The men’s shower was completely dry before I turned the water on.”
“We always dry the showers down after we check them.” He said with a smirk. “You must have turned the knob the wrong way.”
“Neither my wife nor I turned the knob the wrong way,” I replied, and walked off. That dockhand’s attitude was 180 degrees from the attitude we’ve experienced at the Atlantic Yacht Basin, where we’re now docked. Family owned and operated since 1936, the attitude we’ve experienced by every member of staff has been exemplary.
If the young man at the other, well-known marina had been my employee, he would have been fired on the spot. We did not visit the showers again, and will never visit that marina again. A marina designed in such a way that boaters must walk at least three hundred yards to the bath and shower facilities is a very poorly designed marina.
The best attitudes and service we have found on this trip were at the smallest marina we’ve visited, the largest marina we’ve visited, and the docks of a municipal marina in Virginia. At all three, we found attitudes and service beyond our expectations!
But that’s what attitudes and service are about. Years ago in Asheville, the late Dick Bromley, whose company was reopening a long closed, downtown hotel called me at home on a Super Bowl Sunday. I can’t recall our entire discussion, but I’ll never forget one thing he said when we were discussing attitudes and management. “The fish always stinks from the head, Dick. The fish always stinks from the head.”
“Slow Dance” was one of the smallest boats at Atlantic Yacht Basin, an outstanding Chesapeake, VA boat yard that has been operated by the same family since 1936. You would think the family wrote the book on customer service and hospitality. Though we were one of the smallest boats, we felt the entire ABY crew treated us with the same warm welcome and respect as captains of the yard’s largest yachts.
One thing is for sure, the best marinas we have visited on this trip were run and staffed by people with a smile, positive attitude, and commitment to service and hospitality. They had pride in their product and service. We could all learn from their example.
Fair winds and following seas
NOTE: Readers are encouraged to share their “best ideas and suggestions for marinas.”
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