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."

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