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HOLMBERG: Holiday lights at Richmond Yacht Basin symbolize bright new life

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HOLMBERG--The Richmond Yacht Basin in eastern Henrico County – hidden away behind a Civil War battlefield park – has long been one of my favorite off-beat places in this cool old town.

It’s nestled in a sweet elbow of the mighty James River a little more than 12 miles from downtown. It’s cradled by the bluffs where eagles soar above hungry fish.

As long as I’ve known it, it’s been kind of a renegade place, not really shipshape, with some cool, offbeat characters.

And a few not-so-cool.  It’s where the boat of disgraced city councilman Sa’ad El-Amin basically sank from his neglect. And  he was far from the only one.

“This used to be like the marina for boats to die,” said Jimmy Mickles, who owns a boat there that will be in Saturday’s Parade of Lights. (The weather, finally, will be perfect for this annual event. Don’t miss it. See below.)

But two years ago, a young man bought the family-owned property and rolled up his sleeves.

“It’s tough work, but it’s work I love,” says Max Walraven.  “I love being down here, and I love being on the water and the people. It’s like a big family.”

Mickles and many other boat-owners and live-aboards at the marina will tell you, “Max has completely turned this place around.”

He ran off the old Richmond Yacht Club because they lacked boat love. Derelict boat owners who have fallen far behind in slip fees and boat maintenance got the boot. There are sweet new bathrooms and showers and a rehabbed clubhouse. A fuel dock, a freshened railway and now, almost all the slips are occupied.

There’s even a gated entrance now. But there’s still plenty of character, and characters.

“Part of the reason to put the gates up was to kind of keep all the crazies in,” Max joked. “And to just keep the general public out. People pay money to be here and come here on the weekends and relax . . . keeping it private is important.”

Be sure to check out the video of the refreshed marina, the preparation of the boats there that will be part of the Parade of Lights.

Learn about the 22nd Annual James River Parade of Lights here: http://www.jrac-va.org/events/parade/

And find out more about the marina here: http://richmondyachtbasin.com/