Marina Dreams ~

NBT's Guide For Picking

a Home For Your Boat

by Sandra Martin

| No Discharge Zone: One More Step to Green Boating |

Call marinas a big contributor to Maryland's billion-dollar recreational boating industry, and you'd be telling the truth - but not the whole truth. Each of the boaters who berths in Anne Arundel or Calvert Counties' 190-plus marinas sees another truth. An idiosyncratic blend of memories and means, visions and ambition, their truth lives in the eye of the beholder.

One boater wants nothing more than a hole in the water in which to drop anchor. Another wants a country club with a Bay view. A third wants a hideaway far from the madding crowd. One wants to be close to the fish, while yet another wants to be close to home. The most ambitious wants to live aboard.

None need be disappointed (except the one wanting to live aboard in Calvert County, where it's forbidden). With thousands of slips - 12,006 in Anne Arundel and 2,736 in Calvert - tucked into hundreds of miles of tidal shoreline twisting and turning along Bay, river and creek, Chesapeake Country makes every boater's dream come true.

"When it comes to quality of recreational boating, Maryland is second to none. With its unusually long season, some of the most beautiful spots in the world, and state-wide quality of services, we're a destination for the whole East Coast," says Beth Kahr of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland.

Parrish Creek Marina & Boat Yard, at right.

"Hole" Lot of Basics

"Just give me a hole in the water and I'll be happy," one easy-to-please boater told us.

Simple as it sounds, his dream carries a high price tag. You can drop your anchor just about any place your anchor line will reach, but if you want to come ashore, you've got to have a place to leave your dinghy. For all but short visits, that means finding an agreeable landing.

Permanent mooring buoys typically come attached to pricey water-privileged properties. An exception is Annapolis City Dock, where you pay $15 per night.

At a marina, even a bottom-of-the-line "hole in the water" will be bordered on at least one side by docking with pilings for tying up. You'll also have a spot on land to leave your car. The wobblier the planks, the less you're likely to pay. Water and electric service raise the price.

There are still plenty of places offering just the basics. Some are rented out by waterfront property owners making a little money on the side. Others you'll find at no-nonsense marinas or, perhaps, at working marinas where watermen work. To hunt one down, start looking by water to see what's what; then come ashore to learn more.


Docking in Dreamland

The other end of the spectrum is littered with amenities: high-grade dockage on freshly dredged waterways; landscaped and discreetly lighted grounds; dinghy racks and storage lockers; swimming pools, tennis courts and picnic grounds; restaurants, bars and grills; yacht yards and clubs; shopping and water taxis; feasts and festivities.

For 1,200 or so boaters, the search for the right blend of amenities starts and stops at Herrington Harbour Marina Resort, whether in its traditional south location in Rose Haven or at Herrington Harbour North in Tracey's Landing. It's been two seasons since Marina Dock Age magazine named Herrington its marina of the year - and things are just getting better.

"We're constantly reinvesting in the marinas," says general manager Tom Wilhelm.

Both locations of Herrington Harbour offer breathtaking views. Herrington Harbour South looks its best by land: approaching from the north down Route 261, you get your first glimpse of the Bay over the masts of hundreds of slipped sailboats. Herrington Harbour North, on the other hand, shows its full face to the water: it's the vast array of docks - with big fancy boats - to your left as you enter the protected Deale harbor on Tracey's Creek.

Traditionally, South, where Herring Bay Yacht Club makes its home - has been the yacht club of the pair while North, with its full-service boatyard, has been the working partner of the pair. That's about to change with the planned addition of a swimming pool and club to the Tracey's Landing marina.

But Chesapeake Country is full of dreams, and you can find similar amenities at just about every harbor. Annapolis to the north and Solomons to the south are prime destinations for itinerants as well as for weekend boaters seeking fair haven.

Consider Port Annapolis Marina, for example. "We're an old-time marina. We're not a yacht club, but we're close," said general manager Dave Gohsman. "We provide a lot of amenities from swimming pool to horseshoe pits."

In addition, Port Annapolis' landscaping rivals that of many a park, with flowered and lighted paths leading into the marina grounds, through the dry-docked boats, to the pool and around the offices.

Within the grounds of Port Annapolis, boaters find a boat-and-breakfast at which to put up visiting friends or family; Chesapeake Sailing School; Destination Paradise, a chartering and catering business; yacht brokerages; and a wide array of service businesses to keep a boat ship-shape.

On the other side of Annapolis Neck, newly renovated Podickery Point is out to become the best club on the Bay, according to partner and general manager Tim Tessier. Remodeled last year from clubhouse to seawall, Podickery Point now offers, says Tessier, "top-of-the-line, very attractive amenities to complement a terrific location just feet from the Bay with a spectacular, clear view of the shipping channel and Baltimore Lighthouse."

To the south in Solomons, you'll find plenty more amenities to choose from, among them park-like Spring Cove, where you get a pool, manicured grounds and water, a lounge and library with books and video and "13 individual, tiled, spotless bathroom facilities." What's more, adds manager Trevor Richards, "we're a family-run marina, not corporate. I've been here 10 years; my children were born here. I like my customers and give them professional yet personal service."

Sometimes, a single amenity can make the difference. From Annandale, Va., Joe Slavin and his wife have slipped for about 20 years at Pirates Cove, where they find just about everything they want, including a wide slip. But they came for a single reason: she liked the restrooms.

And now Pirates Cove is outfitted with a new unisex shower facility, designed to speed up boaters' wait for a good shower. "You don't have to wait for the men's room or the ladies' room," says owner Bob Platt. "It's more 'who's up next?'"


Latitude and Longitude

Podickery Point, below.

The problem with location in Chesapeake Country is that every spot is as good as or better than the last one. For that reason, beauty alone is no standard. You'll have to put other eggs in your basket.

With 160 marinas in Anne Arundel County and 31 in Calvert County, you're likely to have a marina - if not your private dock - within a few miles and minutes. Hardly a cove in Anne Arundel's 433 miles of tidal shoreline lacks a marina. With its long, nearly unbroken Bayfront, Calvert has fewer choices. But Solomons is pleated with coves and marinas, and Calvert's 156-mile tidal shoreline turns up from the Bay to follow the Patuxent River for many more miles.Podickery Point

If you commute to Chesapeake Country for boating, you've still got it made. Routes 2 and 4 make smooth highway sailing from Washington, D.C., and its suburbs to Southern Anne Arundel and Calvert Counties. Baltimoreans who prefer a country life to the city's marinas or those of Northern Anne Arundel can cruise down Route 97. At the Bay end of each of those freeways is some boaters' pot of gold.

Which pot of gold is yours? Is the pure scope of this Bay that opens onto the wide world what thrills you? That's why Tim Tessier and his partners bought Podickery Point.

"We started out with a tremendous advantage because we're right on the Bay, less than 100 yards to open water. With no creeks or rivers to go down, no restricted access, we're 15 minutes to Annapolis, 25 to Baltimore and 10 to the Eastern Shore," said Tessier.

Turkey Point Marina, near the end of the Mayo Peninsula, can also boast quick access to the Bay. The small, low-hanging bridge that connects Turkey Point Marina with Glebe Bay and the Chesapeake limits this marina to "rocket boats," as one slip-holder put it. But many a fisherman might also relish the easy access to the Bay that Turkey Point provides.

Farther south at the beginning of Calvert County, the Bay is just as accessible from Rod 'n' Reel, where you dock at the landmark restaurant's door. So, by the way, is Washington: it's only one turn from Pennsylvania Avenue to Chesapeake Beach.

If that's too much Bay, drop back a stone's throw into Fishing Creek Landings Marina, formerly Kellams Marina, on the narrow, protected creek of that name and you're in another world for all purposes but distance.

Just as big a Bay window can be yours farther south still at Flag Harbor Marina. Here, at one of the few inlets in Calvert County's Bay face, you duck out of the weather into a sweetly protected harbor between the communities of Long and Calvert Beach.

Prefer a river's rhythm? Hide away at Vera's White Sands way up the Patuxent River and into St. Leonard's Creek. The water's still wide here, and there are certain amenities - fuel, refurbished docks and a restaurant so luxuriously out of place that it seems some Oz-like fantasy dropped into Calvert County. But it's remote enough that you can imagine that heart-pumping sunset is yours alone.

If that's not your river, you've plenty more to choose from.

Parrish Creek Marina's 14-acres nestle a straight shot from the Bay in a nook up a creek where the West River wraps around the Shady Side peninsula. Quaint 60-slip London Towne Marina combines a near-town location - it's situated near both Edgewater, with its restaurants and services, and historic Londontown - but gives easy access from Glebe Bay to South River and is only five miles from the Bay.

Whitehall Yacht Yard, up north in Anne Arundel, is up its own creek too, far enough up for its 125 slips to be protected and out of harm's way, far enough away to be quaint and quiet, too, except when someone's running a sander. Yet it's only a mile or so from the Bay by water and by land conveniently close to Route 50 and the Bay Bridge.


Did Somebody Say Party?

Memorial Day to Labor Day is non-stop party season at many marinas in Chesapeake Country. Some marinas might as well be country clubs. That's the picture manager Matt Gambrill draws of Calvert Marina in Solomons: "swimming pool, tennis courts, walking paths, non-boating events and room for kids: it's big and informal and a nice atmosphere where people under stress in Washington can relax."

Similar satisfactions bring powerboaters to Jeff Martini's family-run Gates Marina in Deale. "We've got open space to accommodate people who treat their boat as a second home: big, green fields to walk the dog, swimming pool, volleyball courts. We see the same people every weekend of every season. Even if their boat isn't in the water, they're out here with friends cooking crabs and swimming," says Martini.

But the party doesn't wait on amenities. At many a marina, a picnic table and maybe some shelter from the sun is all a party needs. If you're at Town Point long enough, you'll become part of the old boy network, enjoying cocktails dockside at any time of day while watching the water traffic along Rockhold Creek.

Whatever the flavor, marina life is a culture where boaters enjoy the shared society of people who've come to the Bay to let it all go - for a few days or a few hours.

At some times and places, of course, the letting-go gets down.

Pirate's Cove in Galesville seems a pleasant high-scale destination if you're one kind of boater, perhaps sailing down from Annapolis for a good meal in the country. But if you're another kind of boater, you'll slip next door to Big Mary's Dock Bar, where the summer-fun society swings with hot bands and cool drinks.

Compared to its earlier days as the Bay's Ocean City, Chesapeake Beach offers a pretty quiet type of fun nowadays, focused on bingo, bars, beaches and the town's extravagant water park. But on summer's holidays - Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day - Rod 'n' Reel makes Chesapeake Beach a party town with weekend-long blasts filling days with sunny, sandy fun and nights with loud music and fireworks.

If you prefer your action city style, Annapolis City Marina, atop a pier jutting into Carrol's Creek in Eastport just across from downtown Annapolis, is your ticket.

"We're an in-water marina," said Annapolis City Marina manager Bill O'Gara of the marina he helped refurbish a year and a half ago. "We're in easy walking distance to town, we're a water taxi stop. That's one of the things people enjoy here."

Other boaters retreat to their marina to get away from it all. They're like Washington psychologist Merri Goldberg, who's got too many people in her work-a-day life. "We've had our boat at Herrington Harbour for years, but we hardly know anybody," she says. "We just want to hide out."

Or Howard Sharpe, of Silver Spring, who's commuted for eight years to Calvert Marina in Solomons because "it's quiet, not crowded, it's easy to park and has wide-open spaces and grass for my dog."

At the farthest end of Deale harbor in Town Point Marina, it's so quiet boaters perch on their bows at sundown to watch herons feeding along the wetlands and cattle grazing on a hillside.


Different Drummer

Picnic grounds are just one amenity at Calvert Marina, below.

Neither partier nor hide-aboard would slip at Town Point without liking local color. Here, sailboaters, yachtsmen and fishing boaters tie up alongside crab, oyster and eel boats. You won't find that kind of peaceful coexistence at some of the tonier places along the Bay. And you won't get that same close look at the Bay's working waters as when you hear the workboats leaving at dawn or when you visit Scott Smith's soft-shell shedding tanks. For some boaters, that's their drummer.

Others thrill to the laid-back beat of spending their off-boat hours on a real Chesapeake sand beach. Up north at Podickery Point, you get 800 feet of Bay beach fitted with refurbished cabanas and protected behind a new seawall. Down south at Flag Harbor, once you walk out of the sheltered harbor, there's nothing but sand between you and that big Bay. And mid-Bay at Herrington Harbour South you get a Caribbean spin on a beach in semi-sheltered Herring Bay.

Even more specialized tastes find their beat in Chesapeake Country. Military buffs might find something more to like in Calvert Marina, a 120-acre former naval base. For D-Day this June, the marina, Calvert Marine Museum and Patuxent Air Naval Station are re-enacting a historic landing complete with landing craft.

In addition to boaters, it's turkeys - the wild kind - that congregate at Calvert Marina under the protection of marina manager Matt Gambrill.

"One day I came down to my slip and there they were," recalls Ken Spring of Bethesda, laughing at a specialty that's become more likable as it's moved from reality into legend. "The tom was on top of the cabin and the females - there were lots of them all in my cabin. What a mess they made!"


Who'll Fix It When It Breaks?

Ken Spring might have found it easier to laugh because Calvert Marina has services to help clean up a mess: a marine store and Washburn's boatyard on premises.

Services are a more important part of choosing a good marina choice than any first-time boater would ever dream. Own a boat for long and you'll soon find out that around water, parts rust, break and wear out far more swiftly than on land.

In anticipation, you might want to spend some time in the boatyard to find out what a marina has to offer. Here, too, choices run the gamut. One marina can suggest a mechanic and will let outsiders work on its premises. Another will give you a full yacht yard staffed with pros who'll do it all for you.

That's what Herrington Harbour North has, according to Wilhelm, "with a full yacht yard for sail and power, providing everything from canvas to marine composite service. And this year, we've added a key piece, a ship's store - West Marine."

Port Annapolis, too. "We have a service department with 10 or 12 people doing cosmetic painting and maintenance," said Gohsman. "We have a carpenter on staff. We have marine technicians that can fix a marine toilet. If someone needs electrical work, we have contractors."

Fairwinds Marina on the Magothy River is another full-service marina with a well-stocked supply store. Tucked away in Cape St. Clair, Fairwinds serves its 100 sail- and powerboats with an Evinrude dealer and the Bargain Dock Warehouse. As Jim Pumphrey put it "we offer an extensive parts inventory of many different lines, and we can help you find old parts as far back as 1950."

A handyman's haven is Parrish Creek Marina. With 425 boats on land and 110 slips near the West River, Parrish Creek calls itself a "full-service or do-it-yourself boatyard."

On a spring day we met do-it-yourselfer Tod Mack, newly of Annapolis, painting the bottom of his 43-foot San Remo motoryacht. "I'm a masochist," said Mack. "Like most boaters, I don't want anyone else to have all this fun scrubbing, painting and waxing."

On the other hand, says Parrish Creek partner Tony Scrivener, "If they get to a job they can't handle, then they call us."

In Chesapeake Country, where there's water, odds are there's a marina not too far away. And where there's a marina, you'll find people at work on boats.


Out of the Wind

Are you a racer or a sailor, or both? Most racers berth where they like to compete, but a cruiser may find happiness on any scenic river or region of the Bay.

Annapolis, of course, is the sailing capital of the world, so just about any Annapolis marina sets you up for racing and cruising on the Severn River or the Bay. With Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association, Naval Academy and many yacht clubs, you can hear the starting gun almost daily in the summer months.

Take Whitehall Yacht Yard, for instance. It puts a racer in striking distance to CBYRA, Wednesday night racing on the Severn River and other regatas, which typically start south of the Bay Bridge in the Bay just out from the mouth of the Severn River. With the Bay only a mile or so away, a cruiser can find ample waters to explore no matter which direction the wind takes you.

Move down to the West River, and you'll find more Wednesday night racing out of Galesville, another community built on sailing. Hereabouts, the Bay is very accessible, while farther north in the head waters of the South River, you've got a run to open water.

For the racer, Wednesday night racing (aka the beer can series) happens up and down the Bay, from the Magothy to the Patuxent. For the cruiser, where ever you are, the wind takes you.


Fools for Fishin'

The way some boaters follow the wind, others follow the fish. Most Bay regions, and many marinas, cater to both.

At Annapolis City Marina, manager O'Gara provides everything a fisherman needs - except the fish, which are up to each to catch.

With a bait and tackle shop built onto the pier at Annapolis City Marina, O'Gara says, "we're a one-stop shop. A boat can pull up, get gas, diesel or oil, cigarettes, beer, wine, soda, ice everything you need to spend a day out on the Bay."

Deale - which bills itself as "Fishing Capital of the Chesapeake Bay" - is just as friendly to sailors - to a point. Sailors can't even get to Gates Marina or Harbor Cove: the Rockhold Creek bridge is too low. But fishermen get swift access to one of the most popular rockfish reefs in the Middle Bay. It's the same at Fishing Creek Landings Marina in Chesapeake Beach.

That easy access to the fishing grounds is one of the reasons that Chas Weems happily keeps his boat, Berth Control, at Gates in Deale. "I like Deale for its access to center of the Bay," says Weems, who drives over from Alexandria to fish.

You'll hear it said that the farther south in the Bay you go, the richer the fishing, especially when it comes to bottom-feeding species. If that's so, the fishy waters around Solomons are not too long a run for a fairly fast, reliable boat slipped around Deale or in Chesapeake Beach.

Others who ought to know, like Bill Burton, with his near half-century on the Bay, or Captain Chris Dollar, both of whom you read in New Bay Times, say you can find fish anywhere. Come fishing season, Dollar will give you weekly reports on where in your region fish are biting.


To Play, You Pay

Magothy Marina in Severna Park, at right.

You can spend under $1,000 a year to rent your slip. But you can spend a lot more, too, depending on your choice of amenities, boat length and draw and slip location within a marina. You get a truer picture from a range. At Herrington Harbour, for example, most slips range from $1,200 to $3,600.

Cheaper is not necessarily inferior. Smaller boats can berth at Herrington for $800 and still enjoy its setting, services and amenities. Or, for $900, you can hide away in secluded paradise year-round at Vera's White Sands on St. Leonard's Creek off the Patuxent.

To investment-wise boaters, renting at any price is like throwing their money into that hole in the water. If you're one of those, the answer may be what New Englanders call "dockominiums."

"A condo makes every boat owner an owner of waterfront property," says Victoria Shiroky, manager at Magothy Marina in Severna Park, a gated condo community with key entry.

Slip sizes range from 24 to 50 feet, so depending on the length of your boat, you could buy a Magothy Marina slip from $5,500 to $35,000. But, adds Shiroky, "since they're all privately owned, the price is always negotiable."

Costs, of course, don't end with slippage. You'll pay a fee to have your boat hauled and returned to the water. Storage usually adds another layer of cost, though at Gates Marina, slip rates begin at $875 and include a pool in summer as well as storage in winter.

Of course, you'll pay a bit more to move your boat inside for the winter, as you can next door at Harbour Cove on Rockhold Creek or on the South River at London Towne Marina. At London Towne, a full-service marina with 200 land racks in its "boatel," a year of outdoor-indoor rental costs about $1,500.

All in all, it's hard work choosing a marina, but when you've made the right choice, the rewards pour in. As Chas Weems says of Gates, "I like it because I can kick back, enjoy life and take it easy. They let me do what I need, so I don't complain."

What more could you want from your boating life?


Contributing to this story and providing photos were Jim Gibbons, Carol and Ray Glover, Betsy Kehne, J. Alex Knoll and Bill Lambrecht.

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VolumeVI Number 13
April 2-8 1998
New Bay Times