Reflections on the water

Region: A longtime boater and Baltimore County marina owner talks about how the area has changed.

May 05, 2002|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Samuel J. Weaver Sr. is an old salt who can fill an afternoon spinning colorful tales. Some of them might even be true.

"I'm old enough that some of my stories can't be checked," said Weaver, winking at his wife, Josephine.

Weaver, 85, is a living scrapbook. He owns Weaver's Marine Service on Back River in Essex, reports to work every day armed with his carpenter's pencil and folding ruler, and is one of the oldest active marina operators in Maryland.

"He's one of a kind," said Jeff Zahner, 39, the marina's business manager who started working for Weaver cutting his lawn when he was a kid. "He's taught me a lot, but right at the top is that there is no replacement for hard work."

To celebrate Weaver's 56 years on the water, family, friends and colleagues threw him a surprise party Friday night at his marina.

Weaver spent his boyhood on east-side creeks and rivers, memorizing the tides and the wind. He recalled towing an old mattress spring behind a motor boat to clear underwater plants, carving a lane out for better navigation and fishing. His first boat-building venture was as a teen-ager and it ended in disappointment: His 17-foot sailboat sank on its maiden voyage in Middle River.

"Darn near drowned," he said.

But it got much better for Weaver, who left school after the eighth grade.

In addition to selling new yachts and running a large maritime repair yard, he designed and built four large cabin cruisers -- Weaver Craft. He handcrafted most of the teak and mahogany furniture in his home, too.

And at age 80, he decided to become an artist.

He took a 1 1/2 -inch-thick block of plywood and sawed, whittled and sanded it into three geese in flight. Then he varnished it to a high gloss. He holds his creation like a newborn when showing it to a visitor.

Weaver remembers when Back and Middle rivers were thick with underwater grasses, when a family could be fed from the crabs and fish plucked from the rivers. Speedboat races and regattas were held on Back River during long-ago summers. Women sat under the trees, watching fashion shows and sipping fresh lemonade.

Now, he laments how polluted the waterways have become.

"When I was growing up, all you saw were tires and bottles in the river, but eventually chemicals really hurt it, especially Back River," Weaver said. "You have to respect nature or you just die -- it's that simple."

Boating remains strong

Baltimore County's east side, a long-neglected rust belt dotted with sparkling waterfront villages, is undergoing an extensive revitalization. Officials have razed two World War II-era apartment complexes, hundreds of affordable, single-family homes are being built, a waterfront destination is planned and the White Marsh Boulevard extension to Eastern Boulevard is expected to be complete in 2006.

And the boating business, with the exception of some older marinas, continues to thrive, despite an economic downturn.

According to a recent survey by the University of Maryland and the Maryland Sea Grant Extension Programs, Maryland recreational boaters spent $2.3 billion in 2000 -- a 127 percent increase over the $1 billion spent in 1993. In Baltimore County, with its 175-mile shoreline, boaters spent $225 million in 2000, second only to Anne Arundel County's $400 million. There are more than 70 marinas in Baltimore County.

"People just love being on the water -- it's in their blood," said Susan Zellers, executive director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland Inc. in Annapolis.

That suits Samuel Weaver.

"I remember as a boy growing up on Middle River when boats were rare; now it's the busiest summer river in the state," said Weaver. "The waterfront has been ignored for a long time here on the east side; now people enjoy it more, are respecting it more."

Weaver and his 79-year-old wife built their business up from a dockside garage that they purchased in 1946. He added other pieces of riverfront property as his business grew, and now owns nearly three acres of prime real estate.

"Got each parcel for $600," he said, turning again to his wife with a smile. During a period beginning in the 1960s, Weaver sold boats and became known on the Chesapeake Bay from Havre de Grace to Tangier Sound.

Weaver figures that during his lifetime he has rescued three people from drowning and, through his boating business, become friends with television personality Johnny Carson, band leader Guy Lombardo, Baltimore Colts end Gino Marchetti, country singer and sausage king Jimmy Dean, a few politicians, an Arab sheik and a Turkish diplomat.

Those stories are documented by newspaper clippings, invitations and black-and-white photographs.

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