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A Cult Following

By kismet - Published November 13, 2009 - Viewed 2081 times

Crisfield, Maryland

Before we left Michigan in 2005 to begin our first Great Loop, we joined America’s Great Loop Cruising Association (AGLCA) and our close friends Mike and Lynn Borer quickly started referring to our new affiliation as that “cult” we’d joined. Well, as we headed north up the Intracoastal Waterway last spring we made a decision to become members of another faction of the boating community, the Marine Trawler Owner’s Association (MTOA).

The turtle image shows up everywhere during an MTOA organized event.
MTOA (www.mtoa.net) is a nonprofit, member operated, boating club established in 1990 by two Marine Trader Trawler owners to foster friendship among like-minded boaters while providing a forum for sharing experiences and trading information on a boating lifestyle typical of a trawler owner. The creation of this association has also given its members many opportunities to congregate and experience numerous rendezvous and cruising events. MTOA currently has over 2000 active members, representing over 1000 boats of varying makes and models, not all members have trawlers or even boats for that matter but if a person’s interest lies in this type of cruising they’re more than welcome to become members. Forty states, and several foreign countries, are represented in this membership.

New friends and old include, from left, Brantly and Brenda, Frank Irwin, current President of MTOA, and of course our good friend Louis.
As we learned more about this organization, through the many members we’ve met during our travels, we realized that there might be some real and tangible benefits for us in joining this association of boaters. First, we own a trawler, Kismet, a Fathom 40 Fast Trawler. So right off the bat we have a lot in common with every member of the group, and thought we could learn a lot from their collectively shared experiences. Secondly, there are many discounts associated with being a member of MTOA that appealed to us, such as having reciprocity at yacht clubs that are Yacht Club of America (YCA) members, and because MTOA is a BoatUS partner we’d be eligible for a membership discount with BoatUS (of course we’ve already been members for some time). Last, but not least, this looked like a great opportunity for making new friends all over the country as MTOA is both a regional as well as a national organization who hosts two big national rendezvous and many regional local gatherings and cruises throughout the year.

When we visited our friends Louis and Diane Wade, at their beautiful beach house in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, over the past Labor Day weekend, we made plans to next meet at the national “The Old Bay” Northern Rendezvous in Crisfield, Maryland. The Wades are also new members and we were all looking forward to a fun time in Crisfield learning about MTOA. In the months after we joined we received many emails welcoming us to the organization along with information about the upcoming rendezvous. After we signed up for the rendezvous we were notified about many of the activities such as the volunteer opportunities available during the rendezvous that we could sign up for ahead of time. We were emailed a tentative schedule of events and information on what to bring to the first night’s potluck dinner. Before we left for Crisfield we were given, not only our boat assignment for the duration of the get together, but the names and email address of our chosen “mentors” George and Hilarie Bliss, who in turn emailed us to offer their assistance and guidance the minute we arrived in Crisfield.

When Saturday September 12th came around, we were itching to head out across the Chesapeake Bay towards the Eastern Shore of Maryland not only for a planned reunion with our friends the Wades, who were coming by car, but to visit new boating territory for us. The Bay was fairly calm when we left our dock in Solomons but as we approached the Potomac River, we experienced bigger wave action and until the river was behind us, we rocked and rolled a lot. Our first night was spent peacefully on the hook at Smith Point, on the south side of the Potomac River, up into the Little Wicomico River. The next morning our one-night stop at Tangier Island was only a short hop away. Monday morning we made the last leg of the trip to Crisfield, we arrived mid-day and were greeted at the dock by two volunteer MTOA dockhands and welcoming committee. I have to tell you that our first impression of this organization was very favorable as we were promptly and professionally tied up and had all our immediate questions answered before we even set foot on ground.

We first met Lee and Carol while out dinghying around Back Creek in the Solomons. We shared many dinners with them during the rendezvous and had a private tour of their beautiful Marine Trader trawler Carol Anne.
After we got the boat settled we set off towards the tents to register and pick up our packet, which was filled with rendezvous information, t-shirts, and so on. At registration, we signed up as participants for the Crab Race to be held on Wednesday night during Happy Hour and put our boat on the list to be available for the Boat Visits on Wednesday. We introduced ourselves to other members as we all registered and walked the docks to look at all the different trawler types represented. It was during our dock walk that we ran into a few boaters who we’d previously met during our many trips, among them were Mike and Bobbi Huck, from Sybaris, whom we met during our first Great Loop trip, and Lee and Carol Kirwan, of Carol Anne, who we met only recently in the Solomons. This was a big event with 75 boats at the dock and about 180 people in attendance – either by boat or car.

The MTOA membership runs this organization, so volunteerism is an important element of this group. To promote this activity the organization has an interesting pin system to reward participation. It is amazing how people will work their butts off to obtain one of those pins and more importantly because they enjoy helping out. Jim and I had signed up earlier, by email, to volunteer at this event, Jim with the Facilities Committee and I with the Social Committee. Jim’s job was to help George Kay, the committee chair, to move chairs and tables, empty garbage, and just about anything else that needed to be moved or rearranged. I was assigned a night to help set up and host the beverage booth. I was happy to work with Pat Daniels on the last night pouring wine and meeting many people I had not yet had the chance to talk to. After dinner on Thursday night, all the volunteers received a green turtle pin in recognition of their service. Committee Chair people got a different colored pin in recognition of the added responsibilities of their jobs. These acquired pins are proudly worn on members’ name plackets and we could see how some members volunteered a lot with the many pins they had displayed on the plackets that they wear around their necks. It’s a helpful group of folks.

Hurricane Hazel gave an amazing demonstration first on how we could pick a crab followed by how fast she could pick a crab when she is working.
One of the other benefits of attending an MTOA Rendezvous are the many scheduled events, too many to even mention here, but we attended several that were of interest to us. The first day was mostly just for registering with an elaborate cocktail and member created hors d’oeuvres (really a feast in disguise) reception. Tuesday morning we woke early to attend the breakfast and Welcome Meeting shortly after.

I really tried to sit still during a Basic Engine Room course I attended with Jim but as there was a sale going on in the Ship’s Store, just on the other side of the tent, I was a little distracted to focus completely. I had envisioned the course to be more of an introduction to engines, which in my mind meant showing a basic diesel engine and explaining its fixable parts and what basic maintenance/emergency issues might be encountered, why and what to do and so on. Instead, it was more about the inner workings of the engine with big diagrams, which Jim understood and found helpful. However, I did find some good sale items in the Ship’s Store as they were trying to liquidate their inventory, a stimulus sale of sorts.

The members who volunteered to help with the Crab Race had to wear thick gloves because the crabs just did not want to cooperate and wanted to hang on for dear life.
Jim enjoyed a few educational classes on his own that were of interest to him and they included not only the Basic Engine Room course but the Advanced Engine Room course as well. He also attended Line Handling and Heavy Weather Docking, Boat Insurance and Building Chesapeake Boats. All of these were interesting presentations and discussions for serious boaters.

There were at least four different flavors of this famous Smith Island layer cake served Tuesday night. It is very similar to an English torte and yes, it was as yummy as it looks.
We both attended “The Building of Mosey,” by Ken Chumley, the builder/owner. He had taken an old steel hull and completely rebuilt it to create an interesting one-of-a-kind boat. On Thursday, Jim and I attended events dealing with two different cruising-guide organizations. Jack Dozier didn’t really need to introduce his Waterway Guides and Skipper Bob Publications, as they’ve been almost every cruiser’s Bible to the waterways of the Eastern United States and Bahamas. We were pleased to see Jack again and Jim was honored to have been able to fill a temporary editing position for their current 2010 Southern Edition Cruising Guide book. Later in the day Jeff and Amy Siegel introduced their fairly new Active Captain website to the membership and we learned more about this different approach to an online cruising guide.

I attended Cooking Your Chesapeake Catch event with my friends Diane and Brenda given by Christie Chumley, an experienced fisherwoman and professional chef. Christie started her presentation with many samples of her cooking talent. We left this presentation with tips for fishing and recipes on cooking your catch. Christie also provided us with a batch of Arabian sourdough starter, which she gave to us back at her boat Mosey, where we also got a tour of their unusual boat. Later that day I attended a crab-picking demonstration with Hazel Cropper, aka Hurricane Hazel, who is not only a person of excellent character, but also the current reigning Crab Picking Champion of the World, having just won the annual Crisfield Labor Day crab-picking contest again this year. Hazel picks just over six pounds of clean crabmeat in fifteen minutes. She gave both the slow-mo and the high-speed versions of her craft at this demonstration.

Old Bay was as sponsor for the MTOA crab evening. We were all treated to samples of many of the Old Bay products as we practiced our crab picking skills on trays full of freshly cooked crab.
Besides all of the educational moments we encountered there was a daily Waterman’s Breakfast, a hot-dog lunch and every evening a different sort of dinner was planned after a lengthy Happy Hour. Monday of course was the hors d’oeuvres night, Tuesday was a member-created Pot Luck/Covered Dish immediately followed by a romantic Coffee House setting for music, coffee, and dessert (the infamous, many layered, and delicious, Smith Island Cake). Wednesday night began with the Crab Race that we signed up for on the first day, unfortunately our crabs, Oscar and Spike were not too speedy and we lost our rounds. This race was followed by, naturally, the Crab Pickin’ Party. Big trays of fresh crab to pick and eat along with fried chicken and many side dishes. Thursday night started again with a long Happy Hour, which preceded a delicious banquet dinner followed by the Awards Ceremony and pin-giving.

There was a bounty of food this evening and it was very painstaking, messy, business picking crab but it was well worth the effort and once again we left the table stuffed.





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