From hobby to career

Late to sailing, Harford man is now an instructor

July 06, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

David Berry has always been fascinated by the water.

But as a boy, his opportunities to be on the water were scarce.

Then about 22 years ago, Berry learned to sail.

"I made every mistake you can make," said Berry, 54, of Havre de Grace. "I had trouble getting the sails up, and tons of trouble docking and undocking the boat. I don't know if you ever master sailing. But it took me three years to feel comfortable on the water."

Berry has come a long way since then. He now teaches sailing, volunteers on a skipjack as a crew member, owns his own boat and recently published a book, Images of America, Maryland's Skipjacks.

Berry's hobby has taken him to destinations worldwide. Last year, he spent about 180 days sailing in Greece, the British Virgin Islands, the San Juan Islands, Florida and San Diego.

Ten years ago, about the time he retired from his job in the telecommunications industry, he took his sailing passion to the next level.

The BaySail Sailing School in Havre de Grace changed ownership, and there was an opening for an instructor, he said.

"What once was an avocation is now a vocation," said Berry, who is an American Sailing Association certified instructor. "My love of the Chesapeake Bay led to diving into sailing."

Berry said exercise and family time are the top reasons he enjoys sailing. Sailing is a good physical and mental activity, said Berry, whose wife, Chris, and their two children, Jason, 28, and Julie, 25, also sail.

"I love sailing, and I love the bay," said Berry, who earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Muskingum College, and an MBA from Miami University of Ohio. "And sailing is something everyone in the family can do together. When you're sailing, you're away from everything. When you travel by boat, it gives you a different perspective."

Becoming a crew member on a skipjack was a natural progression, he said. He had seen the skipjacks around, crew members were needed and he wanted to help out.

Berry is a welcome crew member, said Greg Shinn, the captain of the Skipjack Martha Lewis, built in 1955 and restored in 1993. The skipjack is based in Havre de Grace.

"Our crew is made up of volunteers, so I'm always happy to see David," said Shinn, who has captained the skipjack for the past two years. "He's a skilled and capable sailor."

After years of writing for sailing publications, Berry took his hobby and volunteerism to the next level when he agreed to write a book on skipjacks for Arcadia Publishing.

The newly released 128-page book contains more than 100 black-and-white photographs; it includes chapters on skipjack history, the boat's design, dredging, oysters, watermen and the demise of the boats. In the book, Berry covers topics such as the slump in the oyster population in the 1800s and how skipjacks got their name.

"David is a great person to write this book because he has a very good way of distilling some heavy topics," Shinn said.

The book was necessary because too many people don't know about skipjacks, he said.

Divided into seven chapters, the book is one of several efforts to help preserve the history of the quickly diminishing presence of skipjacks - a cheaply constructed wooden boat with one mast, and two sails - on the Chesapeake Bay.

In the introduction to the book, Berry wrote about the decline of oysters in the bay.

"Fifteen million bushels were raised in 1884, and the estimated 3,000 oyster fishermen of 1860 had grown to over 21,000 by the end of the 19th century," Berry wrote. "The watermen were aware that the oyster population was being depleted, but felt that it was their role to catch them before they were all gone."

Skipjacks were cheaply built and never meant to last, Berry wrote in the book. And so began their demise.

"As the oysters died, more and more of these classic boats were pulled into shallow waters to rot away," Berry wrote. "Marylanders began to realize what was being lost. Estimates vary, but in 2007, it is believed that between 25 and 37 skipjacks survive."

The book is one of many efforts to preserve skipjack history in Maryland.

"Marylanders have realized an important part of their cultural history was disappearing," Berry wrote in the book. "It took a 'come from,' as outsiders are known on the Eastern Shore, to remind people that these beautiful sailing vessels would soon be gone.

"Maryland designated the skipjack as its official boat in 2000," Berry wrote. "They are part of a living link to a key time in Maryland's history, a time when it seemed oysters would be there forever and skipjacks would always be needed to find them."

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