Castaways set sail on trip of a lifetime Weighing anchors: Some professionals from the Annapolis area make a break from this town -- leaving jobs, homes and responsibilities behind.

April 08, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Around here, sailing off into the sunset isn't always a fantasy.

Every year, professionals from the Annapolis area prepare to make a break from this waterfront town -- leaving jobs, homes and a lifetime of responsibilities in their wake.

Annapolis attracts many of these adventurers largely because it is a harbor town with an active sailing community. But there's a feeling among some residents here, too, that it's OK to turn from a citizen into a castaway.

Locals care for the lives these travelers leave behind. Neighbors guard their empty houses, friends look after their pets and envious sailing buddies await word on palm-tree-covered postcards. Annapolis entrepreneurs offer a host of escape management services -- filing tax returns, shipping boat parts and even writing relatives on behalf of their far-flung clients.

Even though their numbers are relatively few, the city's personality is shaped by the people who embark on such journeys, said Neil Alperstein, a popular culture professor at Loyola College who sold his house in Columbia last year to live aboard a boat in Annapolis.

"There are some areas that seem to have better connections to pleasure and happiness and escape," said Mr. Alperstein, 48. "That may be more of a symbol than a reality. But clearly, it is a lure for some of us."

It looks as if a sailboat outfitting store exploded inside the Hazeldens' home in Shady Side, south of Annapolis. Winches, engine parts, compasses and books line the living room. A dinghy is parked in the garage. A life raft and an outboard motor sit on the porch. The cans of refried beans, which one day will be eaten on churning seas, now rest neatly in cartons.

Talk of the yearlong trip has been like background music for the Hazeldens, who married five years ago after a courtship of heavy sailing. Barbara, 40, a secretary at a local yacht brokerage, and Mark, 32, an electrical engineer at Fort Meade, have held steady jobs since they were teen-agers. They see this fall's trip to the Bahamas as an experiment in pared-down living and a run at total freedom.

"We know people chasing half-million-dollar houses and cars and so forth. But we just want to explore," Mark said. "We want to find new places."

The reality is a little less carefree. Marriages have split up in boats bigger than Santorini, their 30-foot sloop. Are the Hazeldens prepared? The closest this couple has come to such an intimate arrangement was an eight-day sail on the Chesapeake Bay.

But Mr. and Mrs. Hazelden consider themselves a team, and the trip their greatest shared experience. After all, they say, to focus on the voyage they must focus on each other. They already confer on everything, from the contents of the "Abandon Ship Bag" to the boat's broken toilet.

So far, the Hazeldens have spent $15,000 from their savings to prepare. Mr. Hazelden recently finished a marine electrical repair class, and the two attended 22 boating seminars in Atlantic City, N.J. Each week, they attend an emergency medical assistance class, where they learn survival treatments for heart attacks, internal bleeding, spinal injuries and more.

"They even teach you what to do if your eye gets popped out of the socket," said Mrs. Hazelden. "This is getting down to life at its most basic level."

Stuart "Skip" Buppert gave it all up Nov. 13, 1985. He sold his Severna Park house, closed his thriving law practice in the Annapolis historic district and got rid of everything he owned. He even put his old dog to sleep.

Then he set sail, dumping all of his keys in the water as soon as he hit the Chesapeake Bay. As he floated toward the Bahamas aboard his 32-foot ketch, Water Puppy, he started to shake the tensions of his 16-year legal career.

Soon, the legislative lawyer was answering to the name "Mr. Puppy." He water-skied off motor-powered dinghys, watched dolphins romp alongside his boat and drank cocktail after cocktail by fiery sunsets. "I made two decisions a day," he said. "What shorts to wear, and what to drink."

Life went on like this for two years, until June 19, 1987, when Mr. Buppert ran out of money. "It was over," he said. "Just like that."

It was back to Annapolis. He took a job as an assistant attorney general at the Department of Natural Resources in Annapolis. Last week, he was sitting behind a fake wood desk, surrounded by tall stacks of lawsuits, pondering a document entitled Complaint to Foreclose Rights of Redemption. Married, with a new house in Bay Ridge, he is no longer allowed to tinker with engine parts in the living room.

As a reminder of the old days, he keeps a tattered Bahamian flag that once flapped from his mast in a frame by his bed. He daydreams about one day breaking the frame and flying it again -- but figures that may never happen.

"I got to do it once," said Mr. Buppert, 54. "In a way, that's all you can ever really ask for."

This business of being a rugged individual is tough to pull off alone. To that end, some Annapolis companies have emerged to help.

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