Smith Point Marina is the hotspot for quick access to some of the Bay's best fishing grounds.
by Wendy Mitman Clarke
A vague breath of the coming winter cools the air as three men stand on the docks at Smith Point Marina, tossing a cast net over and over into the cool, clear water of Slough Creek off the Little Wicomico River. It comes up empty. Not a baitfish to be found, and all those rockfish off Smith Point, hankering for live spot. "It's a shame, boys, ashame!" one of them says to his mates in despair. Dan Hickey smiles as he walks past, not at their misfortune, but at their desire. A passion for fishing is what fills most of the slips at Hickey's marina, and the fever is peaking right now, in late fall. Early morning, the place thrums with fishermen launching their boats at the ramp, charter captains sipping steaming coffee and discussing the day's best bets, boatowners fueling up and checking their gear.
For Hickey and his wife Jeanne, who have traveled the world (Dan had 27 years as a Navy engineer; Jeanne was a teacher), these morning rituals are part of the joy of owning Smith Point Marina. This isn't a fancy, highfalutin marina, but in every detail it is clearly cared for, from the gleaming, brand-new service building to the little gardens of cosmos, oleander, lilies and prickly pear, to the bright, new bathhouse decorated in a beachy motif. (Naturally, the men's room features a list of the Ten Commandments of fishing, which include: "Thou shalt boast proudly of thy catch" and "Thou shalt not sleep past dawn.")
The Hickeys bought Smith Point Marina, about three-quarters of a mile off the Bay, six years ago. They weren't boaters, per se (they own a 17-foot Thistle), and they had toyed with the idea of owning a B&B. But eventually they settled on the marina, where Dan could use his management, acquisitions and customer service skills, and the off-season could afford them some travel time. They knew they wanted to stay in Virginia and were exploring the Northern Neck one day when they happened upon Smith Point Marina, and it happened to be for sale. "We drove in the driveway and I looked at Dan's face and said, Ã.â€š¬ËÅ“I guess this is it,' Ã.â€š¬ËÅ“Ã.â€š¬ËÅ“ Jeanne says.
The Hickeys seem to have passed with flying colors their crash course in marina operation. The two-acre marina's 98 slips (42 of them covered) are packed with boats, from snazzy, modern sportfishers to classic wooden Tiffanys and even a few sailboats. (Slough Creek's serpentine channel into the marina has about four-and-a-half feet at mean low water. "If a sailboat draws four-and-a-half feet or more we tell them not to bother," Hickey says.) The marina itself is over 50 years old, he says, and many of the slips are handed down generation to generation. Five of the transient slips can easily accommodate boats over 50 feet long. Along the marina's southern edge is a newly paved, spacious ramp and a 400-foot dock for fishermen to ready their boats after launch. "It seems like a lot," Hickey says, "but it fills up in the summer."
A concrete block, screened fish-cleaning house heads one dock, complete with a chum grinder used mostly during the annual Bluefish Derby in June. A walk out to the fuel dock takes you past the floating marina store; it's in a brightly decorated houseboat and supplied with everything you might need.
Ashore, the Hickeys recently built a 3,000-square-foot building for indoor service. The yard has a 12-ton boat lift and a small staff that does topsides refinishing, fiberglass work, bottom painting, electrical work and some mechanical repairs. The bathhouse uses passive solar for much of its heat. Inside, it's neat and brightly decorated, while outside ornamental grasses and flower gardens soften up the edges by the gravel drive. A laundry is on the side of the bathhouse, and the office is nearby in a tidy camper. Recycle bins and cans are strategically placed, and Smith Point recently earned its Virginia Clean Marina status.
With their home located on the property, the Hickeys are immersed in their marina and its customers. It shows in all the details.
Smith Point Marina
Fuel: gas and diesel
Power: 30, 50 amp
Depth: 41/2' MLW approach, 61/2' dockside
Dockage: $1.10/ft; 25 percent off for BoatU.S. members
Pump-out: $10; $5 for BoatU.S. members