For many people, the charm of living in this region is defined by the infinity horizons of the Chesapeake Bay. The largest estuary in the United States covers over 64,000 square miles of watery work space and pleasurable playgrounds. Anybody who’s ever dipped a paddle, hoisted a sail or turned the key to an outboard will tell you the best way to experience the bay is by boat.
Mary Beth Jones’ home office is on a forty foot Beneteau sailboat docked in Annapolis. “I can do anything on the boat that you can do in a regular office,” she says, but I also get to watch the crabbers heading out at 5:30 a.m., while the water is still nice and calm. It’s like a free show.” Mary Beth and her husband Craig pretty much live on the boat all year long. They own a house in New Hampshire that is currently rented out and maintain storage units to house extra clothes. The undeniable pull of the tides has made them full-time live-aboards.
Tom (TJ) and Donna Morrissey have a house on land in Fairfax county. They met in Florida while they were both serving in the Navy. They sailed Hobie Cats around Escambia Bay together, fell in love and got married. After retiring from the military they went to work as IT consultants and bought a pop-up camper for the weekends. “After awhile we realized that whenever we camped, we camped near the water,” says TJ. The couple switched out the camper for 28’ foot Catalina which they traded for a 36 foot sailboat which was swapped for a forty footer, and the camping trips moved permanently offshore.
The couple took delivery of their current boat at Annapolis Yacht Sales on their twenty eighth wedding anniversary. Getting away from it all is what keeps the Morrissey’s sailing on an even keel. “We work long hours during the week, so it’s nice when every weekend feels like a vacation,” says Donna.
Judy Kuhn is a retired social worker and her husband Bill runs His Place Inc., an auto repair shop in Emmitsburg that specializes in classic car restoration. Bill’s fascination with machines led him towards fishing boats, racing boats and eventually a 33 foot Greenline, a hybrid powered cruiser that runs on a combination of diesel and electricity.
To flatten the learning curve of large boat handling, the Kuhn’s took piloting classes that gave them enough confidence to cruise the “Apollo” all the way to Florida and back. “Docking is always a challenge,” says Judy. “An experienced boater told me that docking is really just a controlled crash.”
The Kuhn’s decided to try cruising for a year to see if they liked the lifestyle. “Every morning on the water is a dolphin convention,” says Judy, “you really do feel like you’re one with nature.” The Kuhns have six children and six grandkids. One of their daughters works as a shipwright, building and restoring boats at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael’s. After only a year as serious cruisers they are now toying with the idea of “selling everything and sailing off into the sunset.”
John and Denise McLinn took a deep plunge when they bought the “Sloop John Dee,” a brand new, forty three foot sailing beauty at the Annapolis Boat Show. The couple work as consultants and own a house in Burke Virginia, but just about every weekend from mid-March to late-October they’re on the boat. Before taking delivery, they crewed on other people’s boats and took courses offered through the American Sailing Association. They joined the local chapter of the Beneteau club and hired a captain for five days of personal instruction. According to Denise the investment pays off, “being on the boat takes you places you wouldn’t be able to go otherwise,” says Denise.
The couple play host to frequent weekend guests and their two border collies tag along for weekend jaunts around the bay. “There’s a shared adventure in the learning process,” says Denise, “and every Friday becomes a little piece of heaven.” The McLinns took to the water after taking a hard look around an empty nest. John says, “After our two children grew up and out of the house, we were subconsciously looking for something that we could enjoy together other than sitting at home in front of the television. I remember us having the discussion of ‘Is this what you want to do?’ And the answer was ‘No.’”
What state has the highest boat ownership per capita? Would you guess a watery place like Florida, or the long stretches of coastline along California? Urban myth tellers will tell you it's Arizona but according to the US Coast Guard, it's Minnesota, the "land of lakes."