On the waterfront, in a Md. winter

Live-aboard boat owners snug despite the season, but subject to cabin fever

The Snowstorm Of 2003

February 19, 2003|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

They sipped cooler-chilled mimosas. They relaxed on leather couches and watched satellite TV with surround sound. And as wind whistled through the rigging, one man dreamt of the high seas, even though he could still make out the sign for Einstein's Bagels across the parking lot from the dock.

The people who winter aboard yachts and sailboats at Annapolis's City Dock weathered the worst winter storm in 81 years in style.

One woman shoveled her deck with a spatula, to avoid nicking the expensive wood. Others amused themselves by peering through cabin windows at the SUVs struggling for traction.

"We had to go all the way up to Chick & Ruth's to get a sandwich," said Roger Langsdale, 57, a retired government official whose sailing ketch, Star Baby, is tied up a block from the Main Street deli.

"That was our one hardship."

From the heated interiors of their teak-paneled cabins, the outside world resembled a child's snow globe.

"There's nothing about this that's scary," Langsdale said, referring to an unforgiving storm that marooned landlubbers in their homes, shut down schools and office buildings, and sent cars spinning on highways.

With a snowy curtain over his small cabin windows, he said, his boat "feels even more like a cocoon than it normally does."

At the height of the storm Sunday, the normally bustling strip of bars and restaurants at the city waterfront was a forlorn field of white that fired imaginations among the 20-some "live-aboard" boaters at City Dock.

"It was almost like we were out in the wilderness in pioneer days," said Larry Boyer, 52, an insurance salesman who lives with his wife, Germaine, aboard their yacht, Sanctuary.

This pioneer life, however, included glasses of Pinot Grigio and Harry Potter on DVD.

The inlet in Annapolis's historic district was a postcard of winter tranquillity yesterday, as the sun peeked out briefly and boaters clambered out of snow-fringed cabins to stretch legs and sweep decks.

The narrow inlet's enclosure on three sides by rows of brick buildings makes for a near-perfect shelter from storm-tossed seas and ship-rolling gales.

"All the hazards that are specifically dangerous to boats - strong winds, strain on lines, wave action - aren't necessarily present during snowstorms," said Rick Dahlgren, the city harbormaster.

"It can be very cozy on a boat. Boaters' energy requirements aren't that high. They're warm. They have their food all stored away in lockers. They don't have to worry about shoveling the driveway out to get to work."

Yet it wasn't all play for the boaters tied up at Ego Alley, as the see-and-be-seen strip of City Dock is called.

They had to nudge snow from bridge decks and biminis so they wouldn't cave in from the weight.

They ran their engines to break up jagged sheets of ice that can scratch and gouge hulls. They kept watch over the yellow electrical cords that bring power from the dock.

And some had to cope with uneven snow buildup that made their boats tilt.

"It was just a little irritating when you're in the shower and it's listing," said Rick Kaufmann, 59, a natural resources police officer for the state and the owner of Patriot Games, a 45-foot motor yacht named after his favorite Tom Clancy novel.

Lee Powers, 36, the ponytail-wearing owner of a dive company, had a scare Monday morning when he woke up to discover the main cabin door of his sailboat, Amnesty, frozen shut.

He hollered to a friend in a neighboring slip.

"Hey, Carl, get me out of here, dude," Powers recalled saying. Carl tapped a shovel against the companionway door until the ice cracked loose.

But worse than being trapped for a few hours, he said, was feeling trapped for three days. There's only so much computer solitaire one man can play before cabin fever nibbles at one's sanity.

"You know all those songs about everybody shooting their TVs?" Powers said yesterday morning, as he stepped out of his boat into the sunlight.

"If I had a TV, there would be a big hole in it."

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