Growing up near the harbor led to a fascination with boats

April 24, 2004|By Jacques Kelly

IT'S HARD to grow up in Baltimore and not like watching ships. Well, maybe I should add that I had a little help. My grandmother lived in South Baltimore, not far from Federal Hill. I spent so many Sundays in the 1950s there looking at banana boats and Old Bay steamers. My grandmother's sister lived in a cute little rowhouse on Folsom Street that overlooked the harbor. In the morning, the throaty steam whistles there shook the world.

I still like to visit the boardwalk at Tide Point in Locust Point and just watch what goes up and down our Patapsco.

And in truth, I also like to slip away to the New York harbor (the Jersey City side, please, I think it reminds me more of Baltimore), where on Thursday I booked a room overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the mighty Hudson to watch the new Queen Mary 2 arrive.

I initially felt a little guilty. It seemed like a lot of money to watch something that would be on the morning television news shows. But I do love live spectacle, and this dazzler delivered.

The morning dawned a typical April on the water. The ground and water were still cold. The air was warm, creating a haze. All of a sudden, the enormous ship appeared like a shadow, then a reality. Gorgeous morning light bathed her as she came into complete view. The fireboat cascades were amazing. The graceful procession up the Hudson was truly majestic.

Then I hopped a public water taxi and tailed the Queen Mary 2 to her 52nd Street berth. I was amazed that the seen-it-all New Yorker commuters barely lifted their eyes from their newspapers as I played the enthusiastic tourist.

Trans-Atlantic travel has always fascinated me. I think I got hooked the day my South Baltimore grandmother told me the story of the day she went up to Federal Hill to watch the North German Lloyd ocean liner take her mother back to Germany for a family visit. In tears, she sat on a bench and watched the ship disappear down the harbor. She never told me that her mother returned several months later. What she anxiously recalled was seeing that liner leave Locust Point.

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