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Find a Home Port for your Boat

Apr 10, 2012 05:56PM ● By Anonymous
While there is no shortage of available options for boat storage, deciphering the menu of available amenities, locations, and services is like filing your income taxes. At some point you just want to throw the towel in and call for back up.

Under pressure from spouses and community associations to “Move that thing!” many seafarers need to evacuate the boat from the front yard. Others are just responding to the call of the Bay to get the boat in a slip and on the water. Still others seek a long-term, year-round venue to double as a weekend home and adventure platform. Understanding your needs and prioritizing your requirements will help to narrow down the field of marinas and piers.

Like real estate, when shopping for boat storage options, location is everything. For many, this means a marina that is close to home and allows for spontaneous cruising and regular check-ins. Other seafarers choose locations that are further from home but closer to where they want to sail. The majority of boaters choose a marina because it is situated at or near the waterways and activities that are important to their lives. Avid sailor Bob Dymond of Easton, chooses to keep his J29 racer across the Bridge in Eastport. “I race in the Friday night series and all the Annapolis regattas so the boat has to be here.” Dock neighbor Corrine Mikesell Smith appreciates this same marina location for a different reason. “I am fixing up my boat and (this marina) is close to home, West Marine, and a pub for when I get hot and frustrated!”

As you cannonball into your quest for marine storage it is essential that you understand your needs. Perhaps you own a 30-foot trawler? Maybe your boat is a 40-foot racer. Do you have an 18-foot fishing skiff? The type of boat you own will steer you toward your ideal storage arrangement and help to narrow the field substantially. Consider the size of your vessel including its draft, and beam. (for the newly initiated that’s the depth, and width). The length of your boat is another factor to take into consideration. While it is common for boat sterns to dangle out into the channel, excessive overhang could be problematic and hinder the passage of traffic. After all, it won’t matter how intensely you love a marina’s pool and snack bar if your boat won’t fit into any of its slips.

Small boat owners have a small advantage in the fight for storage space because they are not necessarily relegated to floating spaces. Many marinas offer dry storage and launching options for boats on trailers. Using a lift or ramp, your boat can be set into the water for a day’s use and then placed back in its perch at the end of the day. The reduced contact with the water eliminates the need for bottom paint, making this a favored storage option for sailboat racers. Some marinas offer up spaces in waterfront “boatels” where small powerboats are placed on gigantic shelving units. This option capitalizes on minimal space for a marina, making this means of storage quite affordable: as little as $1400 annually. The disadvantage of using boatels is the loss of autonomy. You can’t tinker with your fish finder, or retrieve your misplaced cell phone if your boat is on the shelf.

It is safe to say that, here on the Chesapeake; we do not fear the imminent threat of pirate attack. No, savvy boaters are concerned about a much less conspicuous danger: the water itself, with its characteristic short chop, crashing wake, and subtle tides, inflicting annual damage on docks and residing boats. The orientation of a waterfront, exposure to storms swells, waves, and wind greatly affects boat docking. Many local boaters remember the widespread damage our region sustained in 2003 when Tropical Storm Isabel slammed our shores. Boats residing on shore or behind the fortress of a marina bulkhead will withstand a stormy weather system, while those stored in exposed slips and anchorages, are more vulnerable to damage.

Sailing Captain and Instructor Mike Nelson explains, “Around here we don’t have too much tide so your choice of a floating or fixed dock is a matter of preference. It is good when you are nice and sheltered like here.” He says gesturing to the fortress of jetty’s and seawalls that guard the marinas of Back Creek. “With the land, and breakwaters you are still protected all around from storms and waves.”

While a protected location is desirable, the best “hurricane holes” are usually found up river, where the land elevation and narrowed channels create a natural marine bunker. The flip side of this coin is that these upriver storage facilities sometimes lie an undesirable distance from the open water and steady breeze.

Annapolis sailor Dan Lawrence, who’s Triton 30 sailboat is docked on the Broadneck peninsula agrees. “It can be blowing stink out on the Bay but up the creek where my boat is, there won’t be a ripple.” Dan’s loyalties are also rooted in his appreciation for the service provided by his Bay side boat station. “During Isabel, when I was stuck on the other side of the country, I was sure that I would come home to find a disaster. But when I got home, not a single boat in this marina had any damage. The whole staff had stayed here for over 36 hours and continuously checked the boat lines to make sure everything was ok. The service went above and beyond anything that I could have ever imagined.” Dan brings up another important factor to take into account when shopping for boat storage options: on-site staff. Some marinas have someone available 24/7, when others might have a single person answering phones in an office. Larger, more luxurious venues tend to have a security staff in the evenings, a few even have cameras. The trend within our community seems that the number of staff members is an indication of the onsite amenities available.

The spectrum of boating amenities available on the Chesapeake Bay ranges from bare bones dockage to full-on concierge service in a private luxury resort. The key to navigating this menu, is to understand what you are looking for and what type of boating experience you want. For some the boat is a part of the daily routine and its upkeep is a pleasure. Other mariners are weekend enthusiasts and the boat doubles as a vacation home. Some boaters view the marina as a parking spot for their seafaring Winnebago, and others enjoy relaxing and entertaining on the boat while it a tied at the dock. Take a moment and surrender to the fantasy of a boating experience on the Bay. Do you see yourself cruising to St. Michaels for dinner? Are you trying to get to Kent Island for a raft-up so you can party? Are you fishing with your kids? Maybe you are content to futz with the instruments while your spouse lies out to get a tan! A variety of boat storage options are available to suit the needs of everyone.

One route to consider is a resort marina where you may gain access to a pool, tennis, courts, restaurants, gas dock, or yacht club. These facilities commonly charge up to $20,000 for boat storage, depending on the size of the slip that is needed, but come with a numerous fringe benefits. A few that I’ve encountered have working agreement with local boatyards to do work for their members or a detailing service that can keep your decks sparkling white. The cost of these marinas is directly related to the level of indulgence.

While luxury lifestyles may be the primary selling point for some of us, it is service that attracts the attention of others. Evidently, boat service is a Chesapeake Bay specialty. Few of us have the time, energy, or psychological fortitude to maintain a boat independently. Even the most ardent of do-it-yourselfers will eventually surrender to the wisdom of a professional mechanic.

Fortunately, the amenities available in a common boatyard may include fiberglass repair, bottom refinishing, engine repair, rigging, electrical systems, and woodwork. Some marinas even have sail makers and cabinet builders available. These conveniences are especially helpful to boaters who might break something on a Wednesday and need it repaired for a regatta or fishing trip the following Saturday. Some marinas specialize in repairs and upkeep on a specific make of boat and others cater to the boater’s agenda. For example, there are a number of marina/boatyards that cater to the sailboat racing crowd. These service centers are capable of fine tuning the rigging and resurfacing a keel for speed. Alternately, marinas that may cater to a fishing boat enthusiast are more likely to help an angler in need of a state-of-the-art fish finder. Occasionally, a marina’s level of service might step on the toes of a more industrious boater. Mike Leh

mkule explains, “I used to keep my Pearson at a place that wouldn’t let you do work on your own boat beneath the waterline. They wanted to do the work for you and charge you!”

In the end, people select marinas for a wide range of reasons. For many boaters your marina ends up serving as a second home where you and friends will enjoy the summer. Your slip location may dictate the ambiance of your recreation and thereby determine the quality of your boating experience. Ask yourself “What do I want my leisure time to look like? Why am I doing this?” Are you in search of tranquility or a beach bash? Do you enjoy maintaining your boat or would you rather throw money at it and appreciate someone else’s expert craftsmanship? Do you use your boat to get to the party or is the boat ride the party in and of itself?

Once you have established your own wish list, use it to shop for your marina. Given the diversity in maritime services and locations available on the Bay, everyone should be able to find the perfect venue to suit their needs. Once you and your vessel have settled into a new home, you can get down to what is important; enjoying the sublime pleasure of boat ownership both in the slip and beyond.

Aimee Poisson is an Annapolis-based writer and sailor who splits her time between our city and points north and south along the Atlantic seaboard, when she delivers sailboats.