Craft of chartering and borrowing boats for pleasure


May 30, 1999|By Jeff Holland | Jeff Holland,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WITH MEMORIAL Day upon us, the boating season on the Chesapeake Bay has officially begun. But the beauty of living in Annapolis and south county is that there are plenty of opportunities to get out on a boat almost year round.

Even if you don't have your own boat, there are vast fleets of charter and rental boats you can take out for a couple of hours or a couple of weeks; sailing schools and powerboat schools, where you can learn the basics in one weekend or a week; and then there is the best boating bargain in town: the water taxis that take you for a ride across Annapolis Harbor for $1.50 a person.

My favorite boats, though are OPBs, also known as "other people's boats." So far this year, I've been lucky enough to get to cruise on a delightful variety of OPBs, beginning with Annapolitan II, which Chesapeake Marine Tours & Charters was kind enough to lend to the Celebrate 350 program at First Night. I had a great view of the midnight fireworks and started the year off right by helping the captain return the charter boat from the Annapolis City Dock to her dock at Annapolis Landing Marina over on Back Creek.

Then I helped Capt. Bill O'Gara deliver his boat from Fell's Point in Baltimore Harbor to Eastport. Half Shell is a new boat to Captain Bill, but it has been working the Chesapeake Bay since it was built in Virginia in 1928. Half Shell was a "buy boat," used to buy oysters from the watermen off their boats so their catch could be delivered straight to market. Now it will be used for charters and excursions from the City Dock. (Charters range from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand -- cheaper than the cost of a week in Walt Disney World with your kids; excursions range from $6 to $25.)

Then there was the USS Annapolis SSN 760, the Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine that cruised from Groton, Conn., for a brief visit to Annapolis in April. The submarine was adopted by her namesake city on behalf of the Navy League.

This month, the schooner Woodwind started its excursions from the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel ($27 for adults, $25 for seniors, $15 for youngsters). My musical partner, Kevin Brooks, and I perform as "Them Eastport Oyster Boys" on the Woodwind Friday evenings for the sunset cruises. As a musician, it's great fun having a regular "gig" aboard a beautiful 74-foot staysail schooner. We sing songs and tell stories about Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay while we're out for a great sail; then we're back at the dock and on our way home just as every other musician in town is setting up to play in smoky bars until 2 a.m.

Last weekend, I rented a couple of kayaks ($45 for the weekend) from Spring River Co. on Third Street in Eastport, lashed them to the roof rack of my Ford LTD station wagon and drove to St. Leonard Creek, off the Patuxent River in Calvert County. We paddled up to the headwaters of the creek, where it snaked through a marsh, and for a while there was no sign of civilization, just marsh grass surrounded by oak-and-holly forest and festooned with swans, kingfishers, great blue heron, osprey and red-wing blackbirds.

But Wednesday, I had one of the biggest OPB thrills of all: a three-hour cruise from Annapolis City Dock, to the middle of the bay and back, aboard the Pride of Baltimore II. I was one of a number of writers who were guests of W. L. Gore & Associates of Elkton, makers of Gore-Tex fabrics.

The Pride is a 157-foot replica of a Baltimore clipper. Hundreds of these ships sped up and down the coast during the War of 1812. I'd been on the Pride at dock before, but this was my first time sailing on her. It was a thrill to help haul the halyards, set the square topsail, and furl the foresail. They even let me steer for a minute or two.

When we got back to the dock, they had to pry my hands from the ratlines to get me off the boat, but there are plenty of OPB opportunities in the year ahead.

As we officially start the boating season, it's crucial to keep safety first. Members of the Annapolis Power Squadron will be staffing boating safety displays at marinas and marine supply stores throughout Annapolis and south county this weekend.

"We want boaters to get down to basics," says Annapolis Power Squadron Commander Ron Aldrecht. "It's as simple as taking a safe boating course and wearing a life jacket." Commander Aldrecht pointed out that anyone born after July 1, 1972, is required by Maryland law to pass an approved boating safety course before they can operate a vessel.

Information on Annapolis Power Squadron courses: 410-263-8777. Or you can check the location of other boating safety courses by logging onto the state Department of Natural Resources web site at

Pub Date: 5/30/99

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