Annapolis: Boat City

By Beth McCann

It's the site of two national boat shows every October. The rest of the time any boat is a star.

Photo of boats in Annapolis, Maryland

At 8:30 on a Wednesday morning in Annapolis, Maryland, Ted Levitt has a packed house. Levitt, owner of Chick & Ruth's Delly (that's the way it's been spelled since the place opened in 1965), looks around greeting the usual crowd, including some local policemen, politicians, construction workers, and families. Then he looks at a table over in a corner where four people are having a conversation.

"Those are the cruisers," Levitt says as he begins a quick magic trick for one of the children having breakfast. "Every Wednesday, they come in and some are live-aboards and some are on their boats cruising and exploring and have stopped in Annapolis. Word gets around the boatyards that Wednesday is the day to come here and share stories and information."

Ted checks his watch and announces to everyone inside, "OK, it's time."

With those words, everyone in Chick & Ruth's stands up with their hands over their hearts and recites the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag on a pole coming out of the wall between the coffee machine and soft-drink cooler. In Annapolis, home of the United States Naval Academy just a few blocks from here, tradition is a part of every day. At Chick & Ruth's, the Pledge has been a daily tradition since 1989. So have boats.

Just a five-minute walk from the Delly is the Annapolis City Dock. While the Maryland State House is an equal distance away atop the highest point of land in Annapolis and is the oldest building in the country that's still used for a state legislature (it was built in 1779), City Dock and its well-known Market Slip, more commonly called "Ego Alley" by city residents, are the real center of town.

The Boat Shows

In October, the United States Sailboat Show and the United States Powerboat Show are held in the water and on either side of Ego Alley at City Dock. This year, trailerable sail and power boats are being given special attention at both shows. The popular BoatUS Bridge that crosses Ego Alley is always a point of reference for the thousands of boaters and would-be boaters attending either show.

Photo of the BoatUS Bridge at the Annapolis Boat Show

The shows attract boats from around the world, many of which have crossed the Atlantic to be on display. During these two weeks, Ego Alley becomes the center of everything as boats are maneuvered into position and floating docks are secured. If it sounds like a science to make it all work, that's exactly what it is. When the sailboat show ends on a Monday evening, every boat is moved out to be replaced by powerboats and the show opens the following Thursday. Paul Jacobs, spokesman for United States Yacht Shows, Inc., which runs these events, has it all figured out ahead of time."As soon as the sailboat show closes, the flood gates open and all 200-plus boats leave," he says. "Then, powerboats are on the move-in schedule after Ego Alley is empty of sailboats. That first night we move in only about the first 15 powerboats and then, at 0800 Tuesday morning, the rest of the powerboats are scheduled regularly throughout the day and again on Wednesday. Each boat manufacturer has somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes to bring their boats into position. Once that section is complete, the BoatUS Bridge and a second bridge go in and latecomers have no access after that. In the past two years, the only ones who completely missed their schedule were somehow disabled, but we were able to fit them in elsewhere."

When the boats come to town, boat buyers follow. Levitt sees it when trying to do the Pledge of Allegiance during that time. "The October boat shows are the busiest two weeks for us, and everyone else," he says. "It's not unusual to see buyers come in for breakfast loaded with pamphlets to review what they've seen, and by lunch or dinner there's a buyer and a sales rep having a meal while trying to cut a deal. In Annapolis you don't see the big-city pushing, be it for a boat or for legislation.I look at this city as having a lot of Mayberry in it." Levitt says there was a time when he could tell who owned a sailboat and who owned a powerboat when they'd come in during the summer season. Sailors, he said, were reserved while the powerboaters had a good time and enjoyed their vacation."Today, I can't tell as much and I think that's a good thing."

The Many Annapolis Shows

City Dock has long been the first stop for boats cruising the Chesapeake Bay as well as the country's East Coast. In the summer, it's not unusual to see homeports on transoms ranging from London to the Cayman Islands, to San Francisco and points between. Some come from closer locations.Jeff Holland, originally from Western Pennsylvania, now director of the Annapolis Maritime Museum in a former Chesapeake Bay oyster packing plant just a few blocks from City Dock, is in the latter category.

"I remember my first view of Annapolis," he says, growing reflective. "It was Halloween 1981, and I was sailing with friends on a crisp late autumn day with blue skies. We were at the mouth of the Severn River and I could see the U.S. Navy sailboats coming toward us with blue and gold spinnakers. I never felt so much at home as I did that moment." Holland has been in town since.

A Close "Call"

Walter Cronkite liked to sail his 48-foot Sunward boat in Annapolis during the few years he had a home on the Severn River. Named Wyntje after a Dutch relative, the boat traveled with him to the Carribean as well as to his home on Cape Cod. The former CBS anchor was sailing near shore one afternoon when he saw someone waving at him and yelling what sounded like "Hello, Walter" over and over. He steered Wyntje closer to shore because he wasn't able to understand the person's words and, for that matter, he couldn't determine who the person was with the waving arms. The voice became clearer but still, it was difficult to understand exactly what was being said. After 19 years anchoring the CBS Evening News, it wasn't unusual for people to wave or yell hello while on the water. Now closer to shore, he still couldn't figure out who the person was but now it was all too clear what the person was, saying. It wasn't "Hello, Walter." It was "shallow water." Wyntje's keel did touch bottom, but Mr. Cronkite was able to steer back out into the Chesapeake Bay.

Between the Maritime Museum and City Dock, Annapolis makes the case for calling itself "The Sailing Capital of the United States," a claim often refuted by fellow sailors in Newport, Rhode Island, where more than 50 America's Cup races have taken place. The good-natured though never-ending dispute has now evolved into a series of lists, each advocating the pluses to be found just offshore and questioning how anyone with a pulse could see it otherwise.

Making a case for Annapolis, the National Sailing Hall of Fame set up shop here in 2006, and among the exhibits in the water is the 62-foot Sparkman and Stephens yawl, Manitou, built 30 miles south in Solomons Island in 1937 and used by President John F. Kennedy as his "floating White House." Add the fact that Bruce Farr, who designed eight of the nine boats in the Whitbred Round the World sailboat races, has his offices just steps away. While the race is sponsored by Volvo now, Farr continues to design boats, including one for Chessie Racing that represented the Chesapeake Bay in the 2008 competition. In fact, it's common to see one of his designs sail past on Back Creek just a few feet away from where Farr works. Then there's Gary Jobson, part of the crew aboard Courageous, skippered by Ted Turner in 1977 that won the America's Cup, and in the name of fairness, it must be noted the win took place in Newport. Since that time, Jobson has been part of ESPN for coverage of America's Cup contests and remains an Annapolis resident. Jeff Holland says while Newport boaters may still argue their case, "the fact remains Annapolis is actually a capital and Newport is not." So there.

Things To See

U.S. Naval Academy

Since 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy has occupied 338 acres where the Severn River meets the Chesapeake Bay. With more than 4,000 midshipmen attending attending classes and learning seamanship basics on the water, they are a common sight throughout the city. Naval Academy graduates include more than 4,000 generals and admirals, 19 members of Congress, and a pair of Nobel Prize winners. Tours are available and include artifacts from the USS Monitor and USS Constitution, as well as private papers from Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and the Navy's first admiral, David Farragut. John Paul Jones is buried in the nearby cathedral. Weekends in autumn are filled with football fans watching the Blue and Gold face off against visiting teams in the stadium about two miles north of the harbor. Sometimes, a home Navy game coincides with one of the U.S. Power or Sail Boat Shows in October.

The Maryland State House

If you look closely, there's a 28-foot lightning rod at the top of the building that was designed by Benjamin Franklin. To the founding father's credit, the State House has only been hit by lightning once in the building's 231 years. The Continental Congress met here in 1793 to sign the Treaty of Paris that brought an official end to the Revolutionary War between the United States and Great Britain.

Main Street

Originally named Church Street when it was built in 1695 because St. Anne's Episcopal Church is at one end on the second-highest point of land in the city and the harbor at the other end. A must-see is The Maryland Inn, a hotel with the Treaty of Paris Restaurant. It is believed many of the members of the Annapolis Convention who signed the Treaty of Paris met here for refreshments after business was concluded.

Kunte Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial

Located at the foot of Maine Street in Ego Alley, this statue observes the landing of the renowned author's distant relative, Kunte Kinte, in 1767 where he was sold in a slave trade. The memorial includes Haley reading a story to three children about their history.

Launch And Lunch

While Annapolis is boat friendly, there are limits. Jeff Holland says exploring the 65 historic buildings on Main Street is best done without the boat in tow. "Annapolis was laid out in 1695 with narrow streets radiating out from two main circles, with no thought for modern-day SUVs with trailers. Best to avoid trying to drive through town. Other than that, it's very accommodating."

Map of Annapolis, Maryland

"There are 49 marinas in Annapolis," notes Assistant Harbormaster Flip Walters, "and the slips and moorings we have here at City Dock make it 50. So keep in mind there's a 6-mph speed limit and always know what your wake is doing when passing other boats." Walters says a trip down Ego Alley usually is done without problems but warns it is narrow, especially when larger boats are docked on one side.

Whether you launch from the newly renovated two-lane Truxton Park boat ramp on Spa Creek or from the huge 22-lane Sandy Point ramps just north of the city on the Chesapeake Bay, there are a number of one-day trips for a lunch stop so long as the weather cooperates. To the north, Baltimore is an easy 20-mile run; Rock Hall, Maryland on the Eastern Shore across the bay is a classic waterman's village with a protected harbor and waterfront dining, and historic St. Michaels is 30 miles away. Any trip out of Annapolis will include a view of the 4.3-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge that connects the Eastern Shore with the mainland.

Speaking of lunch, Levitt has asked local politicians (and a few presidents) to tell him the ingredients of their favorite sandwich so he can offer it with their name on the menu. Governor Martin O'Malley, for instance, has a sandwich named in his honor made of roast beef, provolone, and horseradish on rye. While Levitt offers more than 70 "named" sandwiches, he still includes a bologna sandwich and a hotdog as choices, too. For some reason, no politician has asked for those particular ingredients to be included in a sandwich with their name. Still, everyone makes the effort to stop in at 8:30 from time to time to partake in the Pledge of Allegiance. Depending on the particular day, and the time of year, you can count on a collection of boat owners to be there too. 

This article was published in Winter 2010 issue of Trailering Magazine.


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