Area marinas feel bite of extended cold

At the edge of the docks along Neabsco Creek — an inlet of the Potomac River — sheets of ice have built around the hulls of moored boats. In some spots the layers are thick; in others it’s paper thin, or non-existent.

Close to shore, water runs slowly under a thin crystal stratum. In one spot, a fishing bobber sits motionless in about an inch of ice, its attached test line protruding slightly from the surface.

If one listens carefully, the ice can be heard crackling, shifting and adjusting to the moving river water beneath it.

This is the coldest winter Prince William County has experienced for some time, giving some local maritime businesses a few extra concerns.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this bad,” said Patti Meeks, office manager for the EZ Cruz Marina on the creek. “I’ve been here 15 years.”

The last time EZ Cruz’s owners saw a winter like this was between 1977 and 1978. They built a bonfire on the ice and kids were skating then, she said.

But don’t try that now. Although it is cold, the ice is very thin in some places, public safety officials said.

Marina workers have been driving a small metal boat through to break the ice into small chunks. The Coast Guard is doing the same on the Potomac River so that shipping barges can deliver their necessary goods.

“Most people don’t have a safe way of knowing whether it’s safe for them to go out on [the ice] or not,” Battalion Chief C. Hadden Culp, Department of Fire and Rescue spokesman said. “There’s many environmental factors that can change the thickness of the ice.”

Because most people don’t drive their boats during winter months, the weather has not been a blow to business, which is slow this time of year anyway, Meeks said. But it has caused some concerns for people who live on houseboats.

The tide is very low and boat motors are freezing into the riverbed. This could be a problem if the tide rises suddenly and the boats become frozen in.

EZ Cruz owners and mechanics are working with concerned houseboat owners — a big part of business — to solve that problem, Meeks said.

Not “winterizing” one’s boat is one of the only long lasting problems for the local maritime industry as a result of the cold weather, Meeks said. Winterizing is when fluids are replaced and have anti-freeze added to them so that they don’t freeze inside a boat’s motor.

“People who aren’t winterized are looking at new engines,” Meeks said.

But, most boat owners know to winterize, Keith Wilson, service manager for Potomac Marine, said.

Wilson can’t remember when the Coast Guard closed the river to recreational boaters, he said. It was a wise decision, however, because the ice can potentially rip a boat’s hull apart, he said. Most recreational boat hulls are made from fiberglass and are susceptible to damage from the solid ice.

Ice also is ripping fisherman’s nets; they subsequently can’t put them in the water.

Buoys and markers have also been shifted, Wilson said. They will have to be relocated to their proper places when the ice melts, he said.

The real sight to see, however, is on the Potomac’s banks at Leesylvania State Park, he said.

“The ice is stacked up six feet tall,” Wilson said. “It looks like icebergs.”

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