by Lorraine Eaton
On an October morning in East Ocean View, an era was ending.
For days, vessels disappeared from Cutty Sark Marina’s boatyard as workers snugged trawlers, sailboats and sportfishers into the dual slings of a travel lift that gently raised the boats from their metal tripod stands. Then, to a rhythmic beep, beep, beep, the transport rolled its cargo slowly across the yard, lowering them into Little Creek Harbor, never again to rest on this lowbrow patch of Norfolk dirt.
After 78 years, Cutty Sark, this seafaring city’s scrappiest and oldest boatyard, was calling it quits.
Cutty was a holdout, the last vestige of this section of East Ocean View, once a precinct of dive bars, cheap housing and dilapidated docks. Today, million-dollar homes line the streets along with a wine shop, stockbrokers office and new waterfront promenade.
Construction of a four-story, luxury senior housing complex had been encroaching on Cutty Sark all summer. Its ramshackle sister restaurant had closed already, seen off one September night by a crowd so rowdy it could be heard three blocks away. That closure came with fanfare and press, but news of the boatyard’s demise traveled like most news on the waterfront – passed word-of-mouth between boat owners and skilled shipwrights who arrived at Cutty each day in pickups overflowing with tools to sand a boat’s bottom, repair a rudder or sort out an electrical issue.
Developers’ plans include keeping the marina and building a new restaurant. They’ve also promised to preserve the dockside tiki bar. But the busy little boatyard will vanish, leaving a void for owners who like to – or have to – work on their own rigs.
“I have loved that place,” says Josh Johnson, who specializes in marine design, construction and repair and has worked on boats at Cutty since 1980. “You had wealthy people working on their own boats and local fishermen sharing brushes and advice on how to make paint stick and keep barnacles off. An incredible mix of people.”
While other boatyards offer a full range of services, from electrical to engine to carpentry work to a ship chandler, Cutty would only lift, wash and block a vessel on metal stands. Boat owners took over from there, saving money by doing as much work as they could and dealing directly with contractors, who, unlike at other yards, didn’t have to relinquish a cut of their pay to the office.
“It’s one of the only true DIYs around,” says Matt Gugliotti, general manager of the boatyard and adjacent marina docks. He’d just briefed the construction project manager about his plan to remove the remaining dozen boats from the property, including a handsome sailing sloop, the burnt carcass of a pleasure cruiser awaiting an insurance adjuster, a small fishing boat named Nautidream and a hulking wooden workboat called Char-Ann that looked like a lost cause.
First to be “splashed” into Little Creek waters were vessels along Pretty Lake Avenue where crews would soon begin laying wiring for the new apartments next door. Those owners had just a few days to get their work done, the incessant beep, beep, beeping of the heavy construction equipment next door ticking off the moments until their turn in the slings.
By late November, only the hardpacked lot remained, studded with broken clamps, nuts, bolts, a beer can, a soggy square of sandpaper and, oddly, a single white plastic chair as if someone had come to witness the end.
That, and the fat red-and-white “Cutty Sark Marina” buoy that marked the boatyard’s entrance. The icon will eventually be moved to the waterfront, near the marina’s new swimming pool, a chipped and faded reminder of what once was.