by Lee Tolliver
Hundreds of boats cut through the waters of Hampton Roads on any given day, especially when summer comes around. Cruisers, sailboats and fishing boats aplenty: They all make the thousands of square miles of local waters their playground.
And like anything else, boats break down. But rest easy, because when they do, Donald Duck is ready to help. (Yep, that’s his real name.)
He owns the local franchise for TowBoatU.S., a national company that has saved countless folks across the country stranded on the water. He got into the business in the early 1990s, helping out his father-in-law, Buster Layden, who had a boat for, Duck says, “fishing, towing and pleasure boating.”
Duck expanded once he took over and now has 15 boats serving Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Yorktown, Poquoson, Richmond, Hopewell and northeastern North Carolina. Over the years he and his captains have helped more people in distress than he can count. “There are days when we’re constantly out getting people out of trouble situations,” he says.
It might seem simple, pulling a boat in, but those who work on the water know better. Things can go “dangerously bad” if the setup isn’t right. Still, the business has given Duck plenty of memories. Strange things happen on the water. “Oh … you wouldn’t believe the stories,” he says, casting a devilish grin. “Lots of times it’s more than a simple breakdown.”
Like the boat he salvaged that was full of snakes. The 70-footer that a dad ran aground while trying to tow his kid’s Jet Ski. The drunks who not only got into a fight but also couldn’t skipper their craft. Regardless, they needed help and he was there to provide it.
“We work with the Coast Guard, all the fire and rescue and police. … It’s just a really good feeling when you first see someone and they look so relieved that you are there.”