Harboring maritime trash Retrieve: Some members of the Annapolis marina community, called Dumpster-divers, look through trash bins for discarded items they can use on their boats.

September 21, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

When Mike Collins talks about the fall harvest, he doesn't mean pumpkins.

He is referring to the microwaves and rubber rafts that are Dumpster-bound at marinas with working yards, where boats are repaired, as upscale boat owners clear their vessels for the off season of the usable items they plan to replace next year.

Collins is among a small Annapolis-area community of maritime tradespeople and live-aboards who rescue good merchandise from marina trash bins.

The two best seasons are fall, when boat hibernation begins, and spring, when a new year calls for new furnishings. During spring and summer, appliances, fishing tackle, chairs and even marine toilets appear at the trash heap.

"Sunday night, Monday morning before the trashman comes is like prime," said Collins, whose 60-foot houseboat at Mill Creek Marina in Arnold is home to his family and company, Fiddlehead Boat Works. "There is nothing finer on a Sunday night than a nice cold milkshake and some oldies on the radio, and you're out cruising the Dumpsters."

This somewhat respectable activity -- it's considered far more respectable at marinas that work on pricey yachts than at apartment complexes -- is known as Dumpster-diving, though climbing inside is optional. Marina etiquette calls for setting pristine goods next to, not in, the garbage bin. But the salvage artist with a keen eye can be enticed to hunt.

"If I see something good laying on top, I'm more likely to jump in. There's almost always good stuff if you look," said Denis Whelan, operator of Outboard Engine Repair in the Eastport boat-working neighborhood, who yearns for more time to sort through trash heaps. "It gets in your blood."

Proper attire is dirty pants and sturdy shoes. Mining the mess requires a boat hook, a long grabber or stick, and a watchful eye. This is not for the squeamish because the diver can be standing or poking in a smelly combination of bugs, last night's tomato sauce and unidentified chemicals -- and pull out something covered in the same.

"I've gotten scraped and cut a couple of times, nothing major -- that's why I pay attention," Whelan said.

The adventure is worthwhile for the hardware, machinery and yards of rope. "A man can't have too much rope in the maritime industry," he said.

Collins' family finds include three boxes of books -- novels, "301 Spanish Verbs" and a how-to on job hunting among them -- a vacuum cleaner, Mediterranean-design breakfast service, a set of nautical-motif mugs and a boombox, though one of its two tape players did not work.

Discarded items

The Good Ship Bob is chock-full of marina trash-heap goodies -- 12 Rubbermaid crates, 11 toolboxes, nine boat hooks, five boxes of marine hardware, four ladders, three captain's chairs, two half-full bags of charcoal and one mahogany folding door.

Most of the 30-plus pots of flowers and plants on the stern deck are discards from a boat show.

"At the end of the season, you can get all the charts you need. The yuppies wouldn't think of using the charts next year," says Rudy Seifert, shop foreman of A&B Yachtsmen at Bert Jabin's Yacht Yard in Annapolis. "I have charts of every place from Nova Scotia to Venezuela. Almost all of them I got from Dumpsters."

Because channel markings change little each year, the biggest difference between new and 3-year-old charts is their condition.

Beyond the one-man's-trash-is- another-man's-treasure adage and the philosophy that recycling benefits the community, lies the practical view that this keeps the boats and bank accounts of the Dumpster-divers afloat. Every scavenged tool, boat part or life jacket is one they do not have to buy.

Some throwaways need nothing more than a scrubbing. Others need a little work.

'Make room somewhere'

"Boating is a pleasure industry for the most part. You've got to be able to afford that. A lot of people like the most new, the most current. You've got to make room somewhere. If you want to be seen sporting all the new looks, the old stuff has got to go," Whelan said.

If a boat owner wants a bigger microwave for next year, the 2-year-old model is headed for the blue bin. A dented brass planter, tins of tuna, battered paddles -- same fate. The buyer of a used yacht looking to redecorate in yellow is as likely to toss out every green seat cushion than hassle with reupholstery. When it comes to electronics, it may cost less to buy a new television than get one repaired.

Many marina workers know how to fix such items. While it may not be economical for a boat owner to pay to repair old equipment, repairs cost the workers little more than spare time and change. They've rehabbed radar units, outboards and depth-sounders, costly equipment.

In coming weeks, Dave Woods, who does fiberglass lamination at Port Annapolis Marina, will sand rust and repaint the metal of a small working refrigerator and polish a brass coatrack.

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