Annapolis delighted by donation of Zodiac boat

On the Water

September 17, 2006|By Annie Linskey

It's amazing how much cheer a boat can bring.

Here's the scene: It's a gray day, with steady drizzle. Not the kind of weather that makes you want to grin while standing outside on a slippery dock. Yet, a dozen Annapolis city officials merrily soaked up the weather to pose near their new $42,000 rubber Zodiac.

The 21-foot boat was a gift from J.J. Marie, the gregarious president and CEO of Zodiac North America, based in Stevensville.

Marie, it seems, has been nursing a bit of a grudge for years. During strolls from his home two blocks from City Dock, he's always been irked by the sight of the hard-sided city and Department of Natural Resources police boats.

His company makes rigid-bottomed, rubber-sided boats, which first-responders can use in all manner of water rescues. They are particularly helpful during floods, Marie noted, because the boats can get in and out of shallow waters.

So Marie, the kind of man who takes matters into his own hands, gave one to Annapolis. "Whether the city knew it or not, they needed it," he said at a news conference Thursday.

"Oh, we knew we needed it," Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer replied.

Marie also noted that his boats are ideal for pulling up next to yachts with expensive paint jobs. "You're not going to scratch someone's topside and get a bill for it," he said.

Marie threw in free training for the city police and fire personnel who will be operating the boat. It takes three days (at a cost of $150 a day) to learn how to maneuver them proficiently. Moyer couldn't say how many will be trained.

"I look at this as a great resource," said Edward P. Sherlock Jr., the city's emergency management director. "It is very much appreciated."

The possibilities for the boat had city officials almost giddy. Alderman Samuel E. Shropshire said he's hoping for "a high-speed chase boat" for the police and plans to meet with Chief Joseph S. Johnson soon.

Harbormaster Ulrick Dahlgren IV had already taken the boat for a spin. "It drives really nice." He said he got it going to about 30 knots.

Bob Slaff, who heads up the Navy for the Maritime Republic of Eastport - a farcical faction of the city - felt moved to say: "Annapolis, Maryland, is paradise!"

Marie noted that the funds for the gift came from a Zodiac giveaway program created shortly after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans.

After watching news coverage of residents trapped on the roofs of their homes, some Zodiac employees were moved to action. A group sent a half-million dollars' worth of merchandise south to help with the recovery effort - those boats were purchased by government agencies. Zodiac also set up a $250,000 fund to provide boats and equipment after Katrina.

"We just stretched our program to include Annapolis," Marie said.

In Marie's ideal world, Annapolis Harbor would be full of Zodiacs. He been trying for years to persuade the Maryland Natural Resources Police to buy them.

"I have done everything short of giving them the boat. I can't keep doing that," he said, conceding that his boats might cost more than those the department buys.

Sgt. Ken Turner, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, noted that the department does have a few Zodiacs - including one 21-footer stationed in St. Mary's County. For the most part, though, he said, the agency favors boats with rigid gunnels because its patrol work involves crab pots and hooks that could puncture rubber.

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