Jim Jackson, water taxi captain, dies

He helped educate pilots on the tourist waterways of Fells Point and had earlier worked as a journalist

  • Jim Jackson
Jim Jackson
December 30, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Jim Jackson, a retired water taxi captain operator who helped educate pilots on the tourist waterway routes between Harborplace and the foot of Broadway, died of lung cancer Dec. 14 at his Arlington, Va., home. He was 74 and had lived in Fells Point.

Born James Alfred Jackson in Wilmington, Del., and raised in North East in Cecil County, he joined the Army at age 18 and served in Germany.

After military service, he attended the University of Maryland, College Park, where he studied journalism.

He became a reporter for the Cecil Whig and later wrote for the Delaware Coast Press, the Vacationer and the Eastern Shore Times, publications based in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Mr. Jackson then changed careers and began helping deliver yachts from brokers to owners from the Great Lakes to Florida, including along the Mississippi River. He received his Coast Guard captain's license and moved to Baltimore.

In 1982, he became one of the first captains to work for Ed Kane, the paddleboat and harbor tourist boat business owner who was then expanding his water routes from Light Street to Fells Point.

"Jim was the teacher and primary training captain for generations of water taxi people," said Cameron Kane, the widow of Mr. Kane who now owns the business. "He was capable in so many areas. He was smart and enormously well read."

She described him as "demanding and tough," "a born leader" who could be "rigid about what needed to be done right." She said his no-nonsense training helped her husband and his staff set up a professional organization at a time when Baltimore's tourist trade was growing.

She recalled his "droll and dry wit" and his love of practical jokes. She said that one day she made the mistake of pointing a plastic water pistol at him and shooting. He promised, "I'll get you back." A week later, he went into her office and poured a bucket of water over her head as she was doing paperwork.

"He enjoyed the atmosphere of Fells Point during the heyday of moviemaking there. He regularly transported cast members of 'Homicide: Life on the Street,'" said his wife, Rebecca Laws, whom he met on a water taxi. "He was hired for a scene in 'Sleepless in Seattle' in which Meg Ryan was sitting on the Thames Street Pier gazing into the water. The problem was that the movie director did not like the appearance of the still water. So he hired Jim to drive a water taxi to create waves on the water to reflect the light."

Mr. Jackson and his water taxi never appeared in the film.

"But Jim would point out the waves he had made whenever he watched the movie," his wife said.

In October 1998, Mr. Jackson retired as a water taxi captain.

"Jim was a familiar face around Fells Point for more than 20 years. He ate at Jimmy's, hanging out with other captains at the Whistling Oyster, and listening to the blues at the Cat's Eye Pub," his wife said.

He later was a captain for the Baltimore Ducks, a trolley tour guide service, and was a captain on the Bay Lady.

He and his wife kept a sailboat, the Sapphire, at Henderson's Wharf Marina. Later they lived aboard a houseboat there.

His wife said his final trip to Fells Point was Nov. 20, when he attended the 35th birthday party for the Cat's Eye. There he visited with friends and listened to his favorite band, Nothing But Trouble.

A memorial service will be held at noon Jan. 8 at Catonsville United Methodist Church, 6 Melvin Ave.

In addition to his wife of 12 years, survivors include a sister, MaryAnn Dean of Bloomery, W.Va.; a stepson, Jason Kratzer of Savannah, Ga.; a stepdaughter, Jessica Phillips of San Francisco; and two step-grandchildren. A previous marriage ended in divorce.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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