Boat trip to the bllpark wasn't all smooth sailing, but bay commuters are eager to take another swing at it


August 09, 1992|By Laura Fortenbaugh

Trevor was worried. When the 11-year-old from the Eastern Shore heard we were going to Baltimore, he thought he would have to wear a coat and tie. Fear not, we told him: We're only going to a ballgame, and besides, we're going by boat. Trevor brightened, and the glorious day approached.

What better way to visit Oriole Park at Camden Yards from Kent County than to go by water? Almost a beeline from the mouth of the Patapsco River, we are some 40 miles from the Inner Harbor (and a dreary 70 highway miles).

With the opening of the new ballpark right near Baltimore's revitalized waterfront, we would have the wonderful opportunity to indulge in two of America's summer passions -- boating and big-league baseball -- in a single day. We'd take the speedboat, a 22-foot Mako that heretofore had only towed small skiers around languid Langford Creek. We'd test the Mako, with its twin 70-horsepower outboards, and, in a way, we'd test ourselves.

We decided to travel light. There was no radio, certainly no head; we hadn't an awning, nor a compass we could trust. We did have a nifty, new portable telephone, which would come in handy. We would be in an open boat on the open bay. An unspoken worry of Ralph (our skipper and Trevor's dad) and me was the Chesapeake's propensity to throw up sudden, violent thunderstorms on a summer afternoon.

But we had tickets awaiting us, and the Inner Harbor dockmaster's assurance of space on a weekday (first-come, first-served), at a finger pier, or, better still, on the west sea wall beside the promenade. From there, it would be just a 10-minute walk to the stadium. We'd saunter up Conway Street to Camden Yards for one of the few weekday afternoon games (my favorite time to see a game). And we'd be home by supper. Or so we thought.

We set out at around 8:30 a.m. We wanted to give ourselves plenty of time before the 12:15 game, for the unexpected, or for exploring a little bit of an unfamiliar urban harbor.

The morning broke hazy and hot; at last, a typical bay day. We raced down the east fork of Langford Creek between trot liners and river-edge farms, and shortly joined the Chester River, where we soared along at 25 knots, our tandem engines almost synchronous.

In half an hour, at Love Point, we entered the bay. Not a breeze stirred the heavy haze; the bay was an eerily still millpond. With low visibility, we ran up the Eastern Neck shore. I held the charts on my knees, reading minuscule buoy numbers as we bounced along. Buoys made sudden appearances. I longed for binoculars, another item left behind. Trevor sat quietly on the bow and peered through the haze. Ralph had counted on just following the smudge to Baltimore (a navigational aid that had never before failed him), but today's haze was so thick it even obscured the smog. Our compass was harebrained, erratic. At Tolchester Beach, above Rock Hall (having overshot somewhat our more direct route), we veered to port. The sun fell between our shoulder blades. We headed west.

At 9:50, off North Point, at the mouth of the Patapsco, I smelled Baltimore. We chugged up the Brewerton Channel, an empty Monrovian tanker the only other traffic. We passed Sparrows Point, and lonely, vacant Fort Carroll. Under the Key Bridge, some six miles from the Inner Harbor, we still couldn't see the skyline. But we were there. An Army Corps of Engineers craft plowed the river's surface for litter. By 10:15, we reached Fort McHenry. The haze began to lift, and the sun burned with an ominous intensity.

We refueled upon our arrival, at a marina on the south side of the harbor, then puttered (at 6 knots) in to the West Wall, where, under the watchful eye of Joanne Aiello-Ditch, the dockmaster, we sidled up to the promenade. We paid our $5 fee (for four hours), and learned that we were among a handful of boaters that had come just for the game.

Astern was a powerful 30-footer that had made it from Cambridge in two hours (or so its four-man crew boasted). Two women had trundled up in a tiny speedboat from Gibson Island. We joined the swarm (my assumption about a small weekday crowd was way off) marching up Conway Street. It was just noon, and an oppressive 91 degrees. This was thunderstorm weather, but Trevor wasn't worried. The awesome Camden Yards stood before us.

It was my first look at the new park. Ralph had described it as breathtaking, and he hadn't exaggerated. This monumental structure, nestled in the heart of the city, opened up to a greensward of such intimacy and, well, felicity, that you felt it had always been there, that the city had grown up around this vibrant green heart.

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