Thursday, March 23, 2023

Dockmaster is making Yorktown a premier stop for tall ships

Capt. James Scruggs, Dockmaster for York County’s Division of Parks (Photo courtesy/James Scruggs)
Capt. James Scruggs, Dockmaster for York County’s Division of Parks (Photo courtesy/James Scruggs)

The first time Capt. James Scruggs was ever on a boat was when he was just four months old.

He’s spent his whole life on the water. As Dockmaster for York County’s Division of Parks,
Recreation and Tourism, Scruggs now works to ensure locals and tourists alike are safe while also enjoying their time along the York River.

“What I learned early on from my father is respect for the water,” Scruggs said. “It’s not just about knowledge of your boat, but also the waterways in which you are traveling and where you are going.”

Scruggs, a native of Newport News, grew up on the water with his dad, boating throughout the Chesapeake Bay and on Lake Gaston. He started out his career as the maritime manager for Festevents in Norfolk.

Part of his job was negotiating with Naval attaches, or naval ambassadors, from around the world for tall ship fleets to dock in Norfolk for special occasions, including the
popular Harbor Fest each June. The American Sail Training Association (ASTA), or Tall Ships America, named Norfolk Best Port of The Year in the world in 2008 under Scruggs’ helm.

“I had the opportunity to meet with people who sailed all over the world in all types of water,” Scruggs said. “It was very interesting. It was a great experience.”

Scruggs became Dockmaster in York County in 2011. Since then, he’s helped revitalize the tall ship program in Yorktown, starting with OpSail Virginia 2012 when Yorktown hosted part of a fleet of tall ships, Navy ships and other military war ships commemorating the War of 1812.

More recently, Scruggs was instrumental in bringing in Hermione, a replica of the Marquis de Lafayette’s famous French ship, in 2015, and the El Galeon, a replica of a 17th century Spanish Galleon, in 2016.

“We want to draw more people into Yorktown so that we can show them all that we have to
offer,” Scruggs said. “We are focusing on our heritage on the water as well as our military
presence because they are big draws for locals as well as guests to Yorktown.”

As Dockmaster, Scruggs oversees all of Yorktown’s marinas and piers, assisting local and
transient boaters with provisions, repairs, or other needs.

“A lot of people come here as they travel up and down the East Coast,” Scruggs said. “For some, this might be their first time in Virginia. I try to help them with anything they need. I also help navigate so that they can get where they are going safely.”

Last year, Scruggs underwent intensive training to earn his Captain’s license. He also has an Assisted Towing license.

“I love everything about my job,” he said. “Every day is different. I love working with the people in the county and our citizens, and meeting people from all over the state and the world. I enjoy educating them about Yorktown. It’s interesting meeting people who are experiencing a place you’ve lived near your whole life for the first time and the excitement they feel for it.”

In addition to Dockmaster, Scruggs is president of the Historic Triangle Ducks Unlimited, which works on duck preservation in the Tidewater area, and president of Pinewood Hunt Club Inc.

“I love hiking and hunting and anything outdoors,” he said.

Scruggs hopes to continue attracting more tall ships and other types of boats to the Yorktown waterfront year-round.

“Tall ships are actually contacting us about coming here, and that’s nice,” he said. “I’d love to have different maritime events at different times of the year. I would love to make Yorktown a premier destination for these vessels.”

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