What's Up Dock?

As soon as the city hauls away one abandoned boat in the harbor off Fells Point, another one shows up

July 09, 2008|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun reporter

The shipwrecked houseboat of Fells Point sleeps with the fishes.

The breached, 30-foot, nameless boat can no longer spoil the waterfront view at the east end of Thames Street at Patapsco's Northwest Harbor. The wheels of maritime justice ground slow, however. It took two years, but the city finally hauled the submerged beast away last month.

"It's our summer season at the harbor, and we finally got tired of looking at it," says Tony Wallnofer, deputy operations director for Baltimore's Department of Transportation. "We expected to remove it sooner, but I guess at some point people weren't working on it."

To be fair, the city does have more pressing civic issues than deserted watercraft that collect rust and ducks. But this particular houseboat was a particular eyesore. Its protruding hull and Gilligan Island's motif mocked residents and businesses overlooking this wedge of waterway. Pinned down by pilings, the white houseboat's death mask was visible from above the waterline for all to see and walk by on the city's Promenade boardwalk. Enough was enough.

Complaints were filed. Newspaper stories were written. Time cruised by.

Then, on June 26, the wreck was hauled off by diver, crane and barge. After navigating through maritime laws and consulting with the city's Marine Police, transportation officials moved ahead. A contractor was paid $16,000 to cart the houseboat - and a boat submerged under the houseboat - to an unnamed graveyard for derelict boats. The city will be reimbursed the money through a state grant, city officials say.

Job over.

"It's a good thing," says Barbara Fisher Steinke of Canton. Her townhouse living room window overlooks the waterway, which has been a dumping ground for abandoned boats before the houseboat appeared and partially sank in 2006. Steinke, along with other interested parties, had been waiting for the city to act. And, like others, she was relieved to see the barge and cranes appear last month.

Steve Thompson, a vice president at Johns Hopkins Medicine, routinely jogs along the Promenade. "The houseboat was offensive a little bit. It bothered me," says Thompson, another Canton resident. "It gave the impression the city was incapable of doing anything about that sort of an eyesore." He, too, was happy to see it go last month. But their relief was short-lived.

Job not over.

A few days before the Wreck of the Fells Point Houseboat was removed, another listing, crippled houseboat was tied off to the submerged pilings.

"It just appeared," Steinke says. "It was very strange, almost as if it knew the other boat was getting towed."

Sure enough, a red, white, blue and busted sailboat virtually replaced the towed houseboat. A stiff harbor breeze might sink the newcomer. Ducks, having lost one home, are checking out the new houseboat. (There's also a derelict sailboat named Melissa tied to the pilings. That's been there for awhile and is another towing project waiting to happen.) At the city's transportation department, Wallnofer was alerted to the presence of the second houseboat.

"We'll look into this new one," he says. "And sure, it's frustrating."

There's just something about squatting watercraft and this nook of the northwest harbor. Multiple boats are buried in the murky, crab-clawed waters here - not to mention the pesky castaways whose ownership is just as murky. But waterways anywhere are potential dumping grounds for boats, just as roadways can be dumping grounds for vehicles.

In the past week, there's been a bit of encouraging news regarding the new eyesore. On a recent jog, Thompson noticed the houseboat had been mysteriously moved from its middle mooring at the pilings to a spot up against the Promenade's bulkhead. Not exactly out of sight, out of mind - but it's something.

Either way, the waterfront saga continues.

"It sure does," Steinke says.

rob.hiaasen@baltsun.com

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