Annapolis' oldest boatyard passes out of the Sarles family's hands

ON THE WATER

November 09, 2005|By ANNIE LINSKEY

After being passed down in the same family for 98 years, Annapolis' oldest boatyard was sold to an outsider last week.

Debra A. Smith took ownership of Sarles Boat and Engine Shop on Nov. 1. The small marina on Spa Creek was founded in 1907 by Benjamin E. Sarles and had been in that family until this month.

"I'm going to take the best of everything and add my own little spin to it," Smith said. "I'll be blending the old and the new."

The marina sits on 1.5 acres near the mouth of Spa Creek. With the current configuration, it can accommodate boats at 42 wet slips.

It also includes 21 covered slips where boats are protected from the elements. These types of slips are a rarity in the marine industry today.

Benjamin O. Sarles, 73, said he and his wife, Penny, sold the boatyard because they wanted to slow down.

"I've been there for 55 years," he said. "I kind of got tired, and I was made an offer and I decided to take it." He plans to travel with his wife and fish on the Chesapeake.

Neither Smith nor Sarles would disclose the sale price.

Traditionally, the yard specialized in wooden boats -- and it includes a woodworking shop with museum-quality tools. The property also includes a marine railway used to place wooden boats in the water without straining their delicate hulls. Most metal- and fiberglass-hulled boats can be hoisted in and out of the water with a lift, a method too harsh for many older boats.

The yard was founded by Sarles' grandfather, Benjamin E. "Pop" Sarles, a professional fighter. Next in line was Benjamin R. Sarles, who was born in 1907 and grew up at the boatyard. He specialized in engine repair. The current Sarles, Benjamin O., was born in Annapolis in 1932.

"I spent my whole life in the boatyard except four years in the Navy, thanks to Harry Truman," Sarles said.

Sarles said he had hoped to keep the boatyard in the family, but it didn't work out for a number of reasons. He declined to elaborate.

Members of the Arundel seafaring community noted the sale with a touch of nostalgia.

"It's always kind of sad when you see a multigeneration business like that change hands out of the family," said Ric Dahlgren, the Annapolis harbormaster. "It marks a departure for us all."

But, Smith, the new owner, is quick to point out that she is not a multinational conglomerate.

"I'm a family," she said. "I'm not representing a group of investors." She joined the Eastport Yacht Club and plans to become involved with that maritime community.

Smith, born in Camden, N.J., has lived in Annapolis for 10 years. And, for the past two, she has lived in a house overlooking the boatyard. She and her fiance at the time, Don Ogilvie, had approached Sarles about purchasing the property two years ago. But shortly after the initial conversations, Ogilvie had a heart attack and died.

She said she will continue the Sarles tradition -- and use the property to house boats, not people. "I've been approached by several developers for condos. I've walked away from them," she said.

Smith has already started some sprucing up. She has hired Jim Kalve, a former America's Cup sailor, to manage the boatyard. Smith wants to add kayaking tours and storage spots for dinghies. And, she is planning a centennial bash at the boatyard for 2007.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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