Now all that shrink-wrap is coming off, piling up in billows and challenging the marine trades industry with finding new ways of recycling.
Shrink-wrapping is one of some 27,500 marine jobs supported by boating. This time of year, all of them are in demand as boat yards buzz like beehives.
Any day the weather is tolerable, do-it-yourself owners like Capt. Paul O’Conner of the charter boat Bay Hog, who worked through March and early April on the hard at Gates Marina in Deale park by their boats and go to work, scrubbing, scraping, polishing, repairing. Visit a marina or yacht yard, and you’ll see plenty of D.C. and Virginia license plates as absentee owners drive down to the water to scratch their case of Bay fever with a few hours of work on boats small or large.
Boats are notoriously fussy, and anyone visited by a mechanic will have a long list of repairs to be made, along with dewinterizing.
Bottoms must be painted, but first comes the laborious job of scraping, power washing or sand- (and, nowadays, baking soda) blasting. It’s a tougher job still now that we’re thinking about how our messes spoil the environment, for it’s got to be done undercover at least in Green Marinas, which are encouraged and certified by the state.
Then comes the bottom paint, a toxic, anti-fouling coating that can cost more than $100 a gallon. With so much toxic work to do, careful workers dress up in suits and ventilating masks.
Finally, a boat needs washing and polishing.
Now the weeks of labor in the driveway or at the boatyard are paying off. The weather is finally warming.
Now only days maybe even hours stand between all those boats and the big splash.
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
The annual return to Chesapeake Bay of the fishing fleet accounts for much of pleasure boating’s $2.4 billion boost to Maryland’s economy.
The power fleet now returning to the water satisfies more kinds of fever than fish. Whether your fever burns for inflatables, personal watercraft, ski and wake-board inboards, cruisers, jet boats, pontoon boats, motor yachts or houseboats you can likely find its cure at the Bay Bridge Boat Show, from April 26 to 28.
Five hundred boats from 132 manufacturers surround Stevensville’s Bay Bridge Marina by land and water at this spring cousin to October’s famous U.S. Sail and Power Boat Shows. About half the boats are new, and about half brokerage boats on second or third sale. Buy any of them, and you can get your boat in the water by May.
Boats range from the 20-foot Jet Dock to the 70-foot Marquis 65. Among industry standards like Sea Ray and Silverton, Bayliner and Boston Whaler are custom crafts like boatwright Joe Reed’s Thomas Point 40, built at Mast and Mallet in Edgewater. Few are sailboats.
Among them may be your dreamboat, the Chesapeake Classic Hooper Island Draketail; a Nordic tug that looks like it cruised out of a kids’ book; a downeast Albin, Back Cove, Legacy or Sabre; a high-style European ApreMare; an elegantly pricey Hinckley; a rough and ready Boston Whaler.
Annapolis calls itself America’s Sailing Capital, so the big surprise in boat registrations as reported to the U.S. Coast Guard by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is the disparity between sail and powerboats at least statewide. Sailboats number only about 13,000 with powerboats more than 12 times more numerous not counting about 19,000 personal watercraft.
You wouldn’t think so looking at white sails specking the Bay on a breezy day or counting the masts that tower over marinas. At two of Chesapeake Country’s biggest marinas, Herrington Harbour North in Tracys Landing and South in Rose Haven, sailboats dominate, about 60 to 40 percent, according to marina manager Hamilton Chaney.
Visit the yards of those marinas now, as boats return to the water or cruise their docks in a month or so and you’ll see the diversity of the Bay’s fleet under sail. Here and nationally, Beneteau, Hunter and Catalina are the popular leaders, but every second or third boat offers an exceptional eyeful.
To see the variety of boats under sail all in one place, however, you’ll have to wait until the first week in October, when the U.S. Sailboat Show returns to Annapolis, from the 4th thru the 8th, for the 38th year, bringing 250 sail boats to town.
“Any boat currently marketed by a foreign or domestic manufacturer in representation in U.S. is in the Annapolis Boat Show. It has to be,” says show general manager Jim Barthold. “The Annapolis show is the mecca for sailboat enthusiasts. It’s the one show you have to go to if you’re serious about looking for new boats and before you make a buying decision. You haven’t finished the process until you see what else is there, and the only place is Annapolis.”
If you haven’t caught Bay fever yet, boat shows are the place it’s most contagious. If you’ve already caught the fever, a boat show’s where you’re likely to cure it.
Or you might find, as my captain and I have, that your fever takes a cure that’s not on even these well-stocked shelves.
It’s not that he and I are seeking two different boats. Our problem, as we search for our third powerboat, is that our combined tastes have diverged from production manufacturing.
Earlier boats were love at first sight. Back in 1985, when we bought our first, we’d just moved to the Bay. Like the guy who’s fallen off the turnip truck, Capt. Bill bought the first boat he saw.
Looking back, it wasn’t his fault; it was entrapment. First, he was a landlocked Midwesterner and a devout fisherman born under the water sign of Cancer. Second, the seller hailed from the town where we’d lived the last decade, Springfield, Illinois. Finally, on his first trip out, Bill caught a huge bluefish. The boat lived long enough to disprove its name, Reliable Source, and to persuade us that the seller had help from lesser fish gods in hooking Bill up with that fish.
Our second, a neat little Sea Ray, hooked us just about as easily and served us as well as any boat can for a decade. We’d been admiring its ilk for ages before we acted, which is easy. Not only are Sea Rays good looking, they’re everywhere 40 models in sizes from 18 to 68 feet.
This particular year and model, a 1989 Sundancer, is fishable, funable, livable and big for its small size. In 23 feet, it’s got V-berth and mid-berth, head and galley, two showers and nearly ample stowage. So when we contracted a new case of boat fever, we started looking at Sea Rays at boat shows and at Clark’s Sea Ray dealerships nearby, one in Shady Side and one in Stevensville.
What we found was that Sea Rays and all the boats of that class, Cris Craft, Bayliner, Magnum had changed starting in the 1990s.
Chaney of Herrington Harbour says boats are growing “longer, wider and more sophisticated, just like houses and cars. They’re more technologically advanced, and owners require more: power, phone, all the services right at the slip.”
They’re slicker, as well. Sleek on the outside as high-end athletic shoes; sleek on the inside as floating plastic palaces. At under 30 feet, there’s no place to put much of anything, and you sure wouldn’t bring fishing poles stained with blood and guts into a cabin upholstered in puffy white satin. Even Sea Ray’s Amberjack, its fishing boat, couldn’t bridge the gap back to where we wanted to be.
So we’ve been haunting boat shows. By car and boat, we sightsee through boatyards and docks. We read Soundings avidly. We scour the Internet. We regularly find the right boat Sabres, Back Coves, Legacys at the wrong price.
Will this Albin 28 cure the writer’s case of Bay fever?
“When we listed it last fall, it sat,” said boat broker Rob Begor. “Now it’s spring, and people are calling. You’re the second one this week.”
I was falling in love, so the news of a rival fanned my ardor for the boat we were touring. Unexpectedly, this Albin 28 Tournament Express was looking more and more like my dreamboat. From obstruction, the raised engine box amidships had become an attraction, both a seat and a support for a custom-crafted picnic table. Until the picnic called the table forth, it folded cleverly up against the starboard hull, under cover. On port, three fishing rods would rack, horizontally. Aft were so many built-in fish boxes that some could be converted to storage.
But this was no single-minded fishing boat. It was one of a rare breed, customized right where I was seeing it, at Oxford Yacht Yard. This downeast boat, made in Rhode Island, had a local history, a quality I crave as much as stowage. For, following the advice of Soundings’ How to Buy a New or Used Boat, I’ve converted my boating requirements into a mantra:
When I’m not at work in boating weather, I want to be on my boat. So it needs to be home and office as well as fishing boat, cruiser, picnic and pleasure boat. It needs to look like a boat, not a bordello, and it needs to wash down well and clean up easy. All that plus diesel, GPS, a chart table, screens and well-railed sides I can walk around to the bow.
Be still my beating heart.
Yes, Bay fever feels a lot like love.
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