When 37-year-old Jeff Andrews left home for college nearly two decades ago, he just wanted to get out of the small waterfront town where he grew up.
But after 4 1/2 years of living near Washington, he returned home to Havre de Grace and discovered there is no place he'd rather be. Andrews now manages the marina two doors away from his childhood home - the same marina he worked at when he was 15.
"It's the only job I've had that I never got bored with," he said. As manager of Tidewater Marina, which has 158 slips for powerboats and sailboats, Andrews stays busy. His little waterfront hometown has grown into an active hub for the region's boating community.
At the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay, Havre de Grace forms a point of land that offers everything from prime fishing and ideal sailing to waterfowl watching and hunting at its best.
Central to the cultural and business centers of the mid-Atlantic, Havre de Grace is 35 miles from Baltimore, 70 miles from Washington, and 60 miles from Philadelphia. It is connected to the Northeast corridor by Interstate 95 and U.S. 40, which passes through the north end of town.
With two international airports and an Amtrak station nearby, it's an ideal place for cruisers on their way up or down the coast to stop and change crews. It's also an ideal place for mid-Atlantic boaters to play.
"We get people coming in on their boats to come to a festival, for the weekend, or just to go to lunch," Andrews said. "People seem to be using their boats more to do that kind of stuff."
That's been good for business in a town of 4.2 square miles that boasts four major marinas, five waterfront parks, four waterfront museums and a half-mile-long walkway called The Promenade that winds along the banks of the Susquehanna Flats, offering sweeping views of the water.
Incorporated in 1785, Havre de Grace has always been a town that owes its existence to the water. The fabric of the place is interwoven with a rich maritime history and a modern tourist and recreational marine industry.
On just about any summer day, there's a steady flow of pedestrian traffic along the 2 1/2 miles of shoreline south of U.S. 40 that characterize the town.
On the southern end of town, children chase each other through Tydings Park while parents set up picnics before an expansive view of the bay. Tourists stroll along the promenade, making stops at the Decoy Museum, the Maritime Museum and the restored Concord Point Lighthouse. Built in 1827, the lighthouse once guided merchant mariners into the river through the shallow Susquehanna Flats of the upper bay.
Turning north at the lighthouse, the shoreline heads up the Susquehanna, where restaurants and shops pepper the route to the other end of town. Midway, fishermen dangle lines off the public pier at Frank J. Hutchins Memorial Park, and the skipjack Martha Lewis - the last Chesapeake Bay oyster boat to fish commercially under sail in the United States - boards another load of passengers.
At the north end of town, where the low truss bridges of Interstate 95 and Route 40 cross the river and lend a distinctive look to the city, the Susquehanna Lockhouse Museum offers a glimpse of life in Havre de Grace in the 1800s when the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal connected cargo ships of the bay with the interior.
Today, the canal locks remain as relics of the city's commercial past. Now, the water is plied by scores of recreational boaters. An active sailboat racing fleet converges on the town every Thursday evening from late April through the first week in September.
"We've got about 65 boats registered, and we can get close to 60 on the water on a good Thursday night," said Martin Hoover, the commodore of Havre de Grace Yacht Club. The first start features small day sailers. Then there's a J-24 class start, two spinnaker starts, and two nonspinnaker starts.
The fleet has been active for 24 years, but has grown in recent years.
"Probably, people are discovering Havre de Grace as another St. Michaels or Annapolis," Hoover said, "and for people coming down from the north, it's the first access they have to the Chesapeake Bay."
According to Andrews, the whole marine industry has picked up in the past few years. Tidewater Marina, which is host to the yacht club, also is a dealer in sailboats. "The last few years we've done really well in sales," Andrews said.
For Brad Nelson, owner of Starrk Moon Kayaks, Havre de Grace was an ideal location to open one of his kayak stores in 1998. Look out on the water on any given day and you'll likely see folks paddling along in one of Starrk Moon's rental boats or giving a new boat a test run before deciding on a purchase.
"I've always admired Havre de Grace," said Nelson, who lives in Delta, Pa., and who has stores there and in West Virginia. "It reminds me of Ocean City without the waves. God's not making new waterfront, so you should appreciate what you have. It's so pretty and quaint there."