Northshore Harbormasters Association News

Changing waters in Marblehead

Harbormaster retiring, Beverly assistant taking over


KEN YUSZKUS/Staff photo – Webb Russell, left, a fourth-generation Marblehead resident and current harbormaster,
is retiring and handing the reins to Mark Souza, right, formerly the deputy harbormaster in Beverly.

MARBLEHEAD — It’s a moment of transition in more ways than one.

Webb Russell, a fourth-generation Marblehead resident who has been harbormaster since 2011, will retire March 15, coincidentally his 52nd birthday.

When he does so, Russell will transfer his talents to dry ground as he launches a land management business. Meanwhile, newly appointed Harbormaster Mark Souza, 48, will take over the department after more than a decade of work at the Beverly harbormaster’s office on the opposite side of Salem.

But it’s also a transition for the department from a ’Header at heart to someone new to the area. For Souza, Marblehead is wildly different from the more urban environment of the Garden City.

“Beverly, being a city, would have more of a population, but they’re not as involved with the actual sea,” Souza said. “Everybody has their foot in the water here, no pun intended.”

Russell has spent the better part of his life by the water, beginning his career right out of high school working in an area boat yard.

“Over the course of 20 years or so, I had every title, every position in the boat yard,” Russell said. “I got to know the harbor like the back of my hand, got to know all the boats, knew 70 percent of the owners — because they were customers.”

Eventually, that led him to join the harbormaster’s office and take on a more administrative role in the town’s waterways.

20-year wait for mooring

But as Russell’s life changed and his career grew, so, too, did activity on the water in Marblehead.

In the past 20 years, commercial fishing has taken a back seat to recreational boating, Russell said. In that time, the waiting list for a mooring in Marblehead Harbor has increased five-fold, from a wait time of four or five years in the 1990s to about a 20-year wait today.

“There’s about 1,900 people waiting for a mooring in this harbor,” Russell said. “We’ve been signing people off the waiting list that have been on it for 20 years.”

That’s in part because mooring holders handle it like many ’Headers do their hometown pride: they persist through generations, with what Russell calls “legacy moorings.” Fresh spots on the water just don’t open up.

“We’ll have some people who come in the day after a baby’s born to put their kid on the list,” he said.

Souza: period of learning

Now, the department will run under a harbormaster who is new to managing an operation of this size, though an old hand at boating.

“I grew up as a lake child in New Hampshire, sailing on lakes, boating,” Souza said. “Ever since I could swim, I was sitting on a boat.”

When he turned 18, Souza was more likely to be found in salt water rather than fresh, getting his hands on an 18-foot skiff and using it to catch tuna — “not the brightest thing,” he admitted with a laugh.

“The boat is the size of the fish you’re catching,” Souza said. “You’re catching very large fish in not-so-hospitable waters in that size boat.”

By 2006, with a captain’s license in hand, Souza arrived in Beverly. His selection as harbormaster in Marblehead came after an application process last October yielded 13 candidates.

Souza is already working alongside Russell to help make the transition as easy as possible.

“It’s hard to come in, unless you have the knowledge and training behind you,” Souza said. “The logistics of the harbor, comparably the numbers — the number of recreational boats, moorings, events involved in the harbor — are larger here than in Beverly.”

But he is taking a listen-to-all approach to his first weeks in Marblehead, and he expects that to continue going forward.

“The word ‘transparency’ is thrown around a lot. You try to be available and as transparent as possible, loving to learn,” Souza said. “You do the best you can, and I can offer the public that. But I work for the public and need to listen with an open mind to things.

“But at the same time, I need to be responsible for the safety of the public and the best interests of the town. To adjust to the local aspect of the things, I’m open-minded. It’s all learning mode.”



Posted on February 20th, 2017 by Administrator in Beverly,Marblehead,North Shore