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Word & Image: Alexander M. Boguslavsky, 49 

Uber driver, President and Chief Executive Officer of Seabus.

click to enlarge news30_word_image_boatman.jpg

Scott Elmquist

"I have more than 10,000 Uber rides. I’ve met so many people and on my dash, I have a picture of a boat. It’s a good conversation starter. Like with us.

"I was born in Kiev when it was part of the Soviet Union. I always wanted to be a seaman but I didn’t know until I was a teenager. In World War II my uncle, who lived on the Black Sea, used to help the Soviet Union by bringing convoys from United States to the port of Murmansk. He was a captain of Meteor, a vessel with underwater wings, a fast ferry. So, I thought, here is a good role model.

"When Chernobyl blew up in 1986, I was 18. Everyone tried to flee Kiev, because [the disaster] was roughly 70 miles north from a 3 million-population city. A lot of people went to fight the nuclear fire and did not know the consequences. We knew what was going on — my parents tried to move us out. So, my uncle took me to the Black Sea. He gave me apprentice job on his boat and a cargo ship. I went all over and found it was my passion. I saw good things and bad things, shipwrecks, collisions.

"Then I went into the Soviet Army for two years and signed up for job as ship mechanic on a cruise ship. After our second shift, when everyone was partying, I took my English books on deck and learned the language. My mom had a sister here in upstate New York, so, we came to the U.S. in 1992 on Labor Day. Flying in, the Statue of Liberty was so beautiful. My uncle told me there was nothing to do [with boats in the U.S.] so I must go into computers. I went into computers and did pretty, pretty, pretty good until recently.

"I met my wife in New York, her family from Russia landed in Richmond. We lived through Sept. 11 when I was working at tallest building in Bronx. I saw everything. [Pauses briefly]. We moved my family to Richmond in 2005 and my wife got nursing job at VCU — she loves it. I became a database programmer, but recently all the jobs went to India or other places. I started Uber driving to help provide. But something pushed me to look at my maritime career again after we went to Aruba for vacation. So many boats, it all just came back to me.

"I started comparing how ferries are used in different parts of world. With a river bus, there’s no traffic, only beautiful scenery. It was cool, fast, modern, approachable for every budget. So, I see James River here, no traffic. Why we are not using this? I would like to start ferry from Richmond to Virginia Beach. The [tourist] market is huge, ever-rising. And the car traffic is bad. Number one market is Washington, D.C., then Richmond comes in second.

"The idea is to make this Rocketts Landing a hub and dock my sea bus here. You hop on boat, start your vacation right away, enjoy drinks, and two hours later you’re in Virginia Beach. We would charge $60 each way. We would go every day — year-round business. Two boats, one in Virginia Beach, one in Richmond.

"After two and a half years of research, I understand why you don’t see this. This fast ship, passenger ships, is not in our, or the American DNA — I consider myself American. Russians came up with it. Soviet Union made it approachable for everyone. In U.S. there is no boats like this [hydrofoil] except in military. If you are bringing boat from overseas, it has to be less than 12 passengers, [according to the] 1920 law [Merchant Marine Act] or Jones Act. I decided to become a captain so I went to Tidewater Community College and am captain now, first level, OUPV [Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels] under six passengers. I can start small, then move to 12 or 50 passengers, which I think this city needs the most.

"We signed a memorandum of understanding with a major shipyard in New York. They want to build a vessel for us, 45- to 50-passenger boat. But I need to buy two, so I need to raise $3.2 million. If we want to buy them overseas, its roughly $350,000, but those are 12-passenger boats. The business is scalable.

"City of Richmond loved the idea but said all they could do was rebuild the dock. So now I’m trying to find investors that like good publicity. Also, right now I am talking to banks, but I cannot put my house as collateral. We need angel investors.

"Nobody else is using fast, fully hydrofoil ferries of new generation in United States, period. Richmond can be the first city. This is my dream."

To learn about Boguslavsky’s dream of starting a sea bus ferry to Virginia Beach, visit his Facebook page at facebook.com/seabus.

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