Visitors drop anchor in city

ESSENCE: Annapolis has become a recreational waterfront whose economy and lifestyle is largely driven by its location on the Chesapeake Bay. driven by its location on the Chesapeake Bay.


At least three days a week each summer, Annapolis resident Linda Ambrose heads to the water. She's there Wednesday evenings, Saturdays, Sundays and sometimes more often.

Her habit - or obsession - is sailing. Few weeks go by that she is not on the water racing, as are thousands of others on nearly every summer weekend. The racers are joined by fishermen, kayakers, water skiers and week-end cruisers visiting one of the many secluded creeks or beautiful waterfront towns along the Chesapeake Bay.

Annapolis is a city defined by the water and its maritime heritage. It is famous for its history as a port city, a working waterfront, home to the Naval Academy, and now as a recreational waterfront whose economy and life-style is largely driven by its location on the bay.

The maritime scene in this historic community is not an attraction built for visitors, but a way of life that invites and surrounds residents and visitors alike year-round. From City Dock at the center of downtown, telltale signs of this lifestyle can be seen every day all year long.

Ego Alley is lined with boats calling on Annapolis from East Coast journeys, trans-Atlantic passages or on an overnight stay from a nearby homeport on the bay. Midshipmen in uniform brighten the streets. Maryland's official state yacht, the Maryland Independence, is docked here waiting to introduce business leaders, foreign dignitaries and other VIPs to the beauty of the area.

Dinghies crowd docks perched at the end of streets after carrying boaters from anchorages into town for their morning coffee and paper or to buy boating supplles from one of a number of chandleries.

Kayakers paddle, and tanned sailors in deck shoes carry gear bags to racing vessels at docks lining the harbor to begin a day or a week of racing.

Cargo ships anchor off the mouth of the harbor awaiting local pilots to guide them through the bay to their destinations Military vessels invite visitors or await orders. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's historic skip-jack, the Stanley Norman, rests at City Dock when not sharing its history and the ecology of the bay with students from the region's schools.

Several seasonal pulses define the harbor. The first beat is in the spring when cruisers head up from the south to points north on the Intracoastal Waterway. In the fall, cruising vessels call on Annapolis again for out-fitting and to attend the boat shows on their way south.

The peak of local boating is between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when the harbor welcomes a higher number of locals with powerboats and runabouts stopping for dinner or a downtown visit. As winter approaches, the recreational boating population thins and the working waterfront becomes more apparent.

Harbormaster Ric Dahlgren and his capable staff keep a watchful eye on the scene all year from their perch over-looking the harbor. Through the year, Dahlgrenl says he gives receipts to 15,000 transient boaters who pay to use one of the city's 60 moorings and 30 to 40 spaces at City Dock.

"Annapolis is different from many other waterfront towns because of its access to a vibrant downtown and a very capable boating industry," Dahlgren says. We have lots of mechanics, sail makers and places to get supplies as well as attractions like the state Capitol and restaurants."

Even midweek, summer evenings come alive as locals fill the moorings to listen to the free concert series at the Susan C. Campbell Park adjacent to the harbormaster's office.

Observations from City Dock indicate a culture unique to the area. Digging a little deeper by crossing Spa Creek into the Eastport section of the city and a few blocks farther to Back Creek, a world-class maritime industry turns the economic cogs of the city.

Boat builders and designers, varnishers, sail makers, riggers, yacht clubs, boating schools, professional maritime associations, yacht brokers, boating publications, chandleries, charter companies coexist to support or create maritime activities.

Annapolis Economic Development Office reports more than 220 mostly small maritime businesses in the city, which lures boating-related operations to Eastport through local zoning and effective promotions. With the economic downturn of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the city began seriously promoting itself to the marine industry and visitors, doing what it could to keep the industry going.

"The incentive for businesses to locate here is that this is an internationally known maritime community where people want to be. It makes sense for them to locate here," says Ellen O. Moyer, an Eastport alderman and longtime supporter of the maritime industry. "We take our personality from the water and have since the beginning. It's changing but we are changing with it. There is a real appreciation of the value of the industry."

This commitment appears to be paying off.

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