Thursday, July 19, 2018

Marina Review – Baltimore Finger Piers

Marina Review – Baltimore Finger Piers

This is another marina review on the Why Knot Great Lakes Grand Tour. Using the N D S, A A, P P marina analysis model, I'll fill you in on what my experience was. The views expressed are strictly my own.

Despite the challenge we faced on only our second day in the Inner Harbor, we would not hesitate to go back there again. I think they are taking steps to make things better. Perhaps you might like to make the trek there yourself. This review is about the actual workings of getting there and how to enjoy your time there.

One captain commented that every captain and crew must make a reasonable risk assessment as to where one travels. He was absolutely correct. My risk assessment is that there is an elevated risk of trouble at the Finger Piers at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. But this elevated risk when weighed against the opportunity to visit Baltimore up close and personal is worth it. There are other considerations against going there that may be more meaningful.

NOTE: These docks are known locally as “The Finger Docks” or “The Finger Piers.”

N: Navigability – Easy. Just above the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, head up towards the busy commercial harbor on the well-marked channel of the Patapsco River. There is a split in the channel just in front of Fort McHenry. Go right, not left. Just keep going until you reach the end. That's the Inner Harbor.

D: Dockage There are three 130 foot fixed piers sticking out from the west seawall, just in front of the two large white excursion boats. As you look at them from the water, the dock furthest to the left has a large old-fashioned looking tour boat tied up to it. The center and right dock are available to tie up to. They are first come, first serve. My advice is to tie up to the left side of the right pier or the right side of the center pier. The left side of the center dock is available too, but we saw sporatic use by tour boats there. There is electricity (iffy) and water. SPECIAL NOTE: This is not a full service marina and does not have pump out itself (nor it's own bathrooms and showers. More about that.) If you need to pump out upon arrival the nearest and easiest marina is Inner Harbor Marina to the left as you enter the Inner Harbor. $5. When you approach the piers to dock, you are on your own. No one is available to help you.

After you arrive and get tied up, call the dockmaster at 410-396-3174. Patricia or someone on the staff will come down, get your registered and take your money. They do take credit cards, but not Discover.

S: Services – None

A: Amenities – No showers of any kind available. No laundry. There are some public bathrooms nearby:
The Baltimore Visitor's Center – 1000 to 1700 hours
Public bathrooms in the building where Bubba Gumps and the Ripley's museum are located.
There is a Starbucks very close at 100 E Pratt St, just off the inner harbor attraction area. Opens at 0530. Buy a cup of coffee and they'll give you the passcode.
Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, up on the fifth floor.

A: Accessibility – This is an area where things are actually in very good shape. There is a free bus service called the Charm City Circulator. The multiple routes actually go places rather than it being a little downtown circular trolley. The two routes you'd be most interested in are the Purple route and the Banner route. The Purple route takes you into downtown, and most helpfully, to Penn Station (more about that later). The Banner route is the bus you take to the Harris Teeter grocery store in the McHenry Row neighborhood, as well as other stores and shops. See the next section about that. But the Purple route is helpful also. Uber and Lyft are everywhere.

P: Provisioning – Harris Teeter, 1.6 miles, is almost directly on the Banner route. Pick up the bus across Light Street from the Inner Harbor area. Go south. Get off at Whetstone Way, walk two short blocks – boom, there you are. When you're going back you walk back to where you got off the bus, cross East Fort Street to the corner at the Woodall Stop. There's also a Whole Foods around the other side of the harbor, but we don't count that as a provisioning resource. There's also a CVS 1,500 feet away from the piers. Baltimore hustles, so there are lots of stores and services of all kinds available.

P: Price – Their published transient rate on Active Captain is $2.00 per foot plus electrical. That's it. No discounts.

One of the great features of Baltimore is access to Washington D.C. Remember the Purple Circulator Route? Hop on the bus north that takes you directly to Penn Station. From there you can take the MARC commuter train that will whisk you off to Washington's Union Station in an hour for only $8 per person each way. Cheap. The aforementioned Visitors Center has all the info you need about it. Then in Washington you can buy a prepaid transit pass card and take the DC Circulator all around the town. It's really easy, and fun. The MARC train also goes to BWI (the Baltimore airport).

Verdict – It is unfortunate that Baltimore's Public Finger Piers have so much baggage. It is a high-energy and exciting destination. Maybe one of the gated marinas are more to your liking. That's perfectly understandable. But the Finger Piers puts you smack dab in the middle of all the action.

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tags: marina, liveaboard boat, liveaboard boating, liveaboard sailboat, boating as a couple, living aboard a trawler, liveaboard cruiser, liveaboard boater, trawler, liveaboard, the on board life, someday's here, boating adventures, boating websites

Friday, July 13, 2018



As I write this we are at Summit North Marina in Bear, DE. We skipped going to Skipjack Cove Marina on the Sassafras River because we needed to pick up a day.

So far this cruising season we have been dead on or slightly ahead of the schedule. (And yes, I know. Boaters are not supposed to keep a schedule. Yeah, yeah. I do. Planning is my jam.) At this moment we are almost a week ahead. That is, to me, awesome as all get out. It gives us an opportunity to call an audible and do something extra special.

And what is this extra special thing? We're going to Philadelphia by boat, again. We made the trek a few years ago at the prodding of our friends on Sareanna. It was a wonderful time. As a matter of fact, it is in our Top Five Boating Destinations along with Boca Chita, Annapolis, Stoney Lake, and Charlevoix. We're really looking forward to going there again.

But, to do so we had to make some changes to the cruise plan. As mentioned, we skipped Skipjack Cove and doubled-up our day from Baltimore to Summit North on the CandD Canal. We downsized our stay in Atlantic City from three days to one. (For some reason I have my mind set on seeing the Boardwalk. We don't need three days to do that.) And then we'll consider going directly from Philly to Cape May in one very, very long day. The tides look favorable for that.

We're excited to go back to Philadelphia. And Lisa is particularly happy about it, and I'll do anything for her.

Let's see – Spend three days in Atlantic city or make Lisa happy? Hmmmm. That's easy.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Trouble In Baltimore – UPON FURTHER REVIEW

Trouble In Baltimore – UPON FURTHER REVIEW

What's fair is fair.

A week ago I published a blog post titled “Trouble In Baltimore”. In it, I described how our boat was boarded by a couple of wannabee thieves in the middle of the night. I told how we heard them climbing around on the deck and how I shooshed them off the boat when I confronted them with a flagpole I brandished as a club. That's all true and is a cautionary story about mooring in urban waterfront environments. Now, though, I believe it is only fair to finish the narrative.

We were on the public finger docks in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore for an entire week, July 5 to July 12, and I am glad to report that we did not have a speck of trouble of any kind since that incident early on. Nothin'. Zero. Nada. Not only that, due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to leave the boat unattended for twenty-four hours and nothing happened.

Let me put it this way: we felt perfectly safe and comfortable on the finger docks in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore after that initial incident. There was no gunfire, no riots, no trouble of any kind at all. We wish we had more time there so we could have really dig deep into the city and everything it had to offer.

Vandalism can happen at any un-gated marina to anybody's boat. It just so happened that it happened to us in Baltimore which had a rap sheet of trouble already. But I observed that Baltimore Police had a very sizable and robust presence all around us the entire time, 24 hours a day. I know for a fact in talking with the downtown dockmaster, they have security cameras that cover 100% of the waterfront, and these cameras are monitored 24 hours a day. There are certainly reasons not to avail oneself of the city docks in Baltimore, such as there not being any shoreside amenities like showers and laundry, but, with a grain of cautionary forethought, security does not necessarily need to be a hindrance to enjoying oneself there.

Now, I know there are a lot of readers that have already voiced their opinion that being down at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore is a bad idea and that the city is doomed to become America's next downtown hellhole. Whatever. Our experience ended up being a positive one.

So, instead of everyone bitching about how horrible the Inner Harbor is, I have a better idea. I want to use this as a forum to talk about boat security in general.

What are your thoughts on how to secure your boat better? I am quite certain we all could do a better job at it. Here are some that I have.
  • Don't leave bicycles exposed on deck. That's an open invitation for someone to scamper on board. And you boaters that just leave them secured to your boat's grab rails with just a bungee cord are asking for trouble no matter where you are. And cover your bikes with a tarp. Don't advertise that you have them on deck. Or, if you can manage, put them on your highest deck.
  • And speaking of bungee cords, if you do have to secure something valuable on your deck and insist on using bungee cords, use a lot of them. Part of your deterrence protocol should be to make theft as difficult and inconvenient as possible.
  • Use eyed cables and padlocks on anything you want to keep. You can buy bike cables at any big-box store, but I make my own that are longer. Every hardware store has rolls of flexible, plastic-covered steel cable of several different gauges that you can have cut to any length you want. Crimps are also available. Padlocks are cheap.
  • Put your covers on your windows so nobody can spy inside your boat. If they can't see something tempting to steal, they may not bother.
  • Most thieves are not familiar with boat interiors and wouldn't know where to look for anything valuable even if they did get inside. If you have to leave your boat, stow valuables in hiding places.
  • Lock your damn doors and hatches when you leave your boat. (I'm guilty of this one. I get sucked into the “safe marina” mindset.)

What are your thoughts on this subject? How do you play it safe with your boat's security?

Let me sum up:
  • By all means, you should make plans to visit the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. Whether you stay at the city docks or one of the nearby marinas is up to you. It's a fantastic place. You just have to be vigilant. And don't buy into the vision that the area is a wrecked, treacherous, unsafe shambles. It's not. It's bright, vibrant, and exciting. It's a downtown area, to be sure, but the city appears to be making a strong effort to lock it down and secure it.
  • On board security is something you should practice everywhere no matter if you're in an urban environment such as Baltimore or at a small dock in Podunk.
One more morsel to think about – are we boaters any more exposed and vulnerable than when we are on the hook at some isolated anchorage? Billy-Bob and Floyd have a jon boat and a shotgun, and they know where all the getaway creeks and channels are. I think I'm more worried about them. The only other time we've had any trouble was when we were boarded at night AT AN ANCHORAGE at Lake Worth in Florida.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Marina Review – Annapolis Harbor Mooring Field (2018) New

Marina Review – Annapolis Harbor Mooring Field (2018) New

Is this really a marina review? It's a mooring field.

The views expressed are strictly my own.

I don't care what anyone says. Annapolis is my #1 favorite destination and the mooring field is the coolest place ever to tie up. So there!

N: Navigability – Annapolis bills itself as the Sailing Capital of America, or the East Coast, or wherever, so it is an extremely well-maintained harbor. Plenty of water everywhere. Well marked channels.

D: Dockage The mooring balls are available first-come-first-serve, but they do attempt to track how many balls are available if you would call them the morning you plan on arriving. We arrived at the mooring field just shy of noon on the Saturday before the 4th of July and found several mooring balls available. We chose #17. We were told that the main mooring field is now set up for boats up to 55 feet long. They are directing smaller boats to a ball in the mooring field past the drawbridge down Spa Creek. 36' max back there. If you are in a smaller boat and tie up to one of the big-boat balls, they will ask you to move to the other field.

As you can guess, there's lots of boat traffic. It can get roll-y.

S: Services – Several of the surrounding marinas have fuel and pump-out available. Annapolis Harbor has two unique features: a pump-out boat and water taxis. When you need a pump-out, call for the boat on channel 17 and get on the schedule. It's better to call right when they come online at 9:00 am. $5 per pump-out. If you have multiple holding tanks, you have to pay the $5 per tank. The water taxis can be hailed on channel 68. They're a little pricey, but very convenient and fun. Note that the pump-out boat and the taxis are operated by different entities and don't speak for each other. After you arrive and get acclimated, you take a taxi or your dinghy and go the harbor master's office and pay up.

BIG NOTE: Fresh water is available on shore down either Ego Alley or a short-use slip off of the field that may have spigots for water. We didn't check that out ourselves. These water sources are not for public use, only for those that have paid for a mooring ball.

BIG NOTE #2: There is a protocol for saving your mooring ball you paid for if you depart to get water or for a day cruise. Tie your dinghy to the ball when you leave. That is the “reserved” symbol. We heard the harbor master himself say so. He also said that any other floating item such as a PFD or paddleboard or some such thing will not be honored and can be untied or cut loose.

A: Amenities – 24 hour locked bathrooms with showers, laundry, AND THE ENTIRETY OF ANNAPOLIS.

A: Accessibility – Once you're on land, you're on your own. Uber, Lyft, a limited free trolley. There is public transportation, but the streets downtown are too narrow. One of the purposes of the trolley is to funnel bus users out to the main lines. BUT YOU'RE IN ANNAPOLIS! If you've prepared ahead of time you don't need to go anywhere else anyway.

P: Provisioning – Very limited. There's a CVS downtown with a few things: eggs, milk, snacks. Otherwise you need to head out into the residential areas. If you're going to spend any amount of time in the field, you need to provision for your stay ahead of your arrival.

P: Price – $35 per night for a mooring ball. 7th night free.

Staying in the Annapolis Mooring Field is a singularly amazing feat. It's fun, exciting, and surprisingly easy. And you're in Annapolis, fer cry-yi-yi. There's the Naval Academy, the State Capital, museums, bars, restaurants, shops, Chick and Ruth's Delly, and so much more. It is an amazing place, and being out in the mooring field is as exciting as anything you can do on your boat. And what is my favorite store? Hats In The Belfry. I buy a new hat every time we're there.

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tags: marina, liveaboard boat, liveaboard boating, liveaboard sailboat, boating as a couple, living aboard a trawler, liveaboard cruiser, liveaboard boater, trawler, liveaboard, the on board life, someday's here, boating adventures, boating websites

Marina Review – Hampton Public Piers, Hampton VA (2018) New

Marina Review – Hampton Public Piers, Hampton VA (2018) New

This is another marina review on the Why Knot Great Lakes Grand Tour. Using the N D S, A A, P P marina analysis model, I'll fill you in on what my experience was. The views expressed are strictly my own.

A very convenient marina before going up into the Chesapeake Bay. Not the fanciest but it will serve you well.

N: Navigability – Pretend you're heading out of Hampton Roads into the Chesapeake Bay then make a sharp turn north before you pass the highway tunnel island and Fort Monroe. Plenty of water. It's all a no wake zone.

D: Dockage One pier on the end of the fuel / pump out dock, 18-ish slips you pull right into, and a few odd shaped slips perfect for wider or longer vessels. The only downside to the docks are that the finger docks are wide enough but short. If your vessel does not have a good stern egress and your side egresses are midships, getting on and off your boat can be tricky. The docks are not secured.

S: Services – All fuels and pump out. Several full-service boatyards on the river.

A: Amenities – 24 hour locked bathrooms with showers. Laundry. Nice office. No lounge. It is situated directly on the Settlers Landing marina area of Hampton with a Crowne Plaza Hotel and Enterprise Rental on the same location. There's a couple of decent restaurants including a new micro-brewery. Overall a nice environment. The actual downtown Hampton area is across the boulevard from the landing. It's struggling, but there are a few attractions.

A: Accessibility – They have several bicycles you can borrow. Uber and Lyft are available. There is public transit.

P: Provisioning – There is a Food Lion 1.8 miles away.
This is our nephew, David. He visited with us during this part of the cruising season.
P: Price – Their published transient rate on Active Captain is $1.50 per foot with all the usual discounts applied. Stay three nights get the fourth night free.

Hampton and Newport News are rich in history and attractions. We especially like the Mariners Museum and Park (12.0 miles away). There you'll find an extensive exhibit of all kinds of boating: recreational, fishing, commercial. But the main attraction is the big exhibit about the Battle of Hampton Roads between the Monitor and the Virginia (aka the Merrimack). They are responsible for the restoration of the Monitor's turret and guns. Fascinating. There's also an Air and Space Museum next to the landing.
Inside a mockup of the Virginia.
I want a moat.
Another huge attraction (no pun intended) is Fort Monroe (3.0 miles). It is the largest constructed fort the US ever built. It has a museum and you have complete access to most of it. And, by the way, they have homes, condos and apartments available inside the walls of the fort … and there's a moat. I have told Lisa many times that I want to buy a home with a moat; here it is.
Interesting neighbors.
NASA's facility at Langley is also nearby. I do not have any information about it to share.

Verdict – Hampton Public Piers is a safe, secure marina in a great location to prepare to head up the bay. Visiting Fort Monroe and the Mariners Museum are musts. Rent a car; it's worth it.
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tags: marina, liveaboard boat, liveaboard boating, liveaboard sailboat, boating as a couple, living aboard a trawler, liveaboard cruiser, liveaboard boater, trawler, liveaboard, the on board life, someday's here, boating adventures, boating websites

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Trouble In Baltimore

We've been at Baltimore's finger docks in the inner harbor two nights and have been hassled twice already.

On the first night, we were accosted by a crazy person. He ranted incoherently and kicked the boat, but he was otherwise harmless. He left on his own, but I did report it to officers on the scene a little later. They reported that the poor guy had been picked up and taken to a hospital for observation. No harm was done. I wish the guy well.

But this last night, just a couple of hours ago, as a matter of fact, we had an incident that was worse by a long shot. We were boarded by two thieves in the middle of the night. Lisa heard it first. There were heavy footsteps on deck all the way up to our flybridge. They were snatch-thieves looking for a quick grab, a crime of opportunity, but there was nothing for them to take. I have anything of any value tied down very securely and concealed. They weren't looking for a project, just some kind of loose change, so to speak, that they could take and go. I grabbed a flagpole as a club and chased them off the boat. They were teenagers and they weren't looking for any trouble, which I would have been happy to give them.

A similar thing happen when we were here in 2014. Honest to God, this is true. We had heard that tourists, especially Asian tourists, had no compunction to boarding boats to have their pictures taken on them. We thought this was a myth and kind of laughed it off.

It was a Friday evening and we were sitting in our galley when we heard the unmistakable sound of hard-soled shows on our starboard deck, right behind me. We looked at each other in amazement. “Someone's on our boat!” we exclaimed together. I dashed up on the main deck and there, standing on the foredeck, was an Asian woman getting her picture taken by her husband who was on the dock.

My reaction was what you'd expect. I yelled, “Get the F### off my boat!” At first, she stood there while her husband finished taking the picture. She then stepped down onto the dock, but not before she looked at me like I was the one who was doing something wrong. It was kind of a “How rude of you!” expression. Rude indeed.

Welcome to Baltimore.