City shaped by the water

Boating: The maritime industry pervades life in Annapolis.

May 16, 2004|By Liz Boch | Liz Boch,SUN STAFF

Chuck and Ginny Hurley owned several sailboats before buying their first fast trawler in August. The Washington-area couple have docked their boats at Mears Marina in Annapolis since 1977 and will continue to keep the new Luck of the Irish at Dock D.

Molly Haley and Ed Freitag, on the other hand, prefer wind power to a roaring engine, although they have called themselves boaters for about as long as the Hurleys. They begin readying the Down Time in March, about the same time as the Hurleys, and race their boat throughout the season.

Boating and its related businesses bring in about $1.5 billion a year to Maryland, said Doug Lipton, director of the Maryland Sea Grant Extension at the University of Maryland.

That number has increased over the years, as have boat sales, he said. In 1998, Maryland ranked 25th in new boat sales and represented 1.6 percent of the national market. By 2002, Maryland had jumped to 10th in new boat sales and represented 2.6 percent of the national market.

But what might be most astonishing, Lipton said, is that while national boat sales increased about 75 percent over that period, Maryland's sales skyrocketed, growing 180 percent.

And Annapolis boaters are feeling the crunch, said Garth Hichens, owner of Annapolis Yacht Sales Inc. His new boat business has steadily increased about 15 percent in the past five years, and about 80 percent of his customers now dock their boats in cities like Baltimore because Annapolis marinas have grown so crowded.

Hichens said the growth proves that new people are taking up a pursuit once thought of as only for the wealthy.

"The joke used to be that if you had to ask how much a boat costs, you can't afford it -- but it's not true," Hichens said. "The image always was the yacht men who go to parties. But if you see the people in the yacht yard, they look nothing like that."

Still, the boating industry can be insular. Susan Zellers, spokeswoman for the Marine Trades Association of Maryland, said that many businesses are family-run, handed down through the generations.

"People don't understand the magnitude of the industry," she said. "It's full of little enclaves. Often jobs are passed down through families. ... That sort of makes it interesting."

One of those families undoubtedly is the Chaneys, whose Herrington Harbour marina chain has been around since E. Steuart Chaney bought waterfront property in the 1970s and entered the business.

"It's harder to see the importance of it from the outside if you're not in it," Chaney said, adding that his four children, who grew up in the maritime town of Galesville, now work in the industry in some form. By the time two of his children were about 10 and 13, they had formed their own boat cleaning and maintenance business, hiring friends from school, he said.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said that boating is an important part of the city's tourist economy.

For example, sailing professionals in Annapolis -- such as the boat and sail designers for Team Kan-Do, the Annapolis-based American team in the 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race -- make the city an ideal spot for international races.

"This is a major industry," Moyer said. "If it went away, we would be -- the whole look and feel of this city would change."

But some say the city's biggest draw for boaters is simply the Chesapeake Bay, whose conditions make it ideal for every boat, be it wind-powered or engine-powered.

"The bay is just a natural place to go boating," said Peter Howard, sales director of Hinckley Yachts in Annapolis, a power- and sail-boating company.

For Howard and others, there is no reason those not involved in boating should hold off.

"If you're on the land and looking out, you're really seeing only half of the view," Howard said. "There's nothing like a day on the water. All your troubles go away."

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