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Joe Duley

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“Thar she blows!”

What was the mariner thinking (or doing) who first bellowed that?

…When I was a kid, that seaman’s proclamation made me titter.

Speaking of which, the word “titter” still makes me titter.

There are many nautical terms, mariners’ cries, and sea shanties that spew forth double entendres, stimulating the senses, continually confounding landlubbers as well as even the most intrepid of sailors, save for the “Man from Nantucket” (whose claim to fame is physically impossible).

Be that as it may, there’s one nautical-themed shout-out that all sailors, mariners, bow-babes/bow-boys, and boating enthusiasts love to hear: “Let’s go to the United States Boat Show in Annapolis!”

It’s the time of year along the Chesapeake when mornings commence briskly and yield to gloriously warm and breezy afternoons; it’s the time of year when Annapolitans straddle the fashion fence, donning a pseudo-hip combination of winter sweatshirts, summer shorts, and Sperry top-siders (without the socks).

Under the beautifully burnt orange and roaring purple hues for which October skies are known, downtown Annapolis transforms into a mercantile and maritime event, with all the splendor and majesty of a world-class regatta, sporting a rich mixture of lively locals and well-heeled tourists.

Merchants of every stripe fill the entire harbor, affectionately known as “Ego Alley.” Bargain-seekers meander through huge white tents under which every known nautical item is for sale – whether seaworthy, needed, or not. And of course there’s the din of the sales pitches; flowing from erstwhile sailors who’ve become account executives shilling their wares, fares, or vessels (with “easy financing”).

Delicious aromas billow from dozens of culinary stalls, igniting the olfactory senses and offering a plethora of splendid treats. And to wash it all down, there is no end to the variety of boat drinks, from Dark & Stormies to Grand Marnier, rum to microbrews. You are likely to find Old Bay seasoning sprinkled onto everything from shrimp to fries to Bloody Marys.

The Boat Show attracts all sorts of characters, whether they are in the market for a new boat or not. For those who swagger or stagger to take a gander at the yachts, they must remember to take-off (and eventually put-back-on) their shoes and gingerly tiptoe across decks of these floating fantasies that only the five richest royal families of Europe (or Oprah Winfrey) could afford.

Every evening, the Annapolis bar scene pulses with boat show-ers and show-ees, regaling anyone who will listen about the events and bargains of the day.

Oh, the energy! The banter! The boats… It’s a brilliant way to experience the last leg of “boating season” as autumn ushers in the beginnings of NFL football, the World Series, and fall sweeps week.

The start of Boat Show: City Dock, Annapolis, Maryland.

A quaint inlet expands upward and outward to majestic proportions – erected pilings, pontoons, and floating docks span “Ego Alley” – where people can literally walk on water to ogle the billion dollars’ worth of buoyant dreams and desires so many of us harbor deep within our souls.

…Fantasizing about “when I can afford it” or “…when I hit the lottery, she’ll be mine.”

 In contrast, the gestation and birth of boat show are quite opposite of depending on the lottery for one’s income (or outcome of dreams.)

Staging such a realistic and spectacular event takes planning, strategy, and precise execution to make this Mammoth come to life…and must be done quickly and concisely.

Producing these events involve a complexity and coordination that rival a Hollywood studio’s multi-million dollar production of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

The show starts off mellowly as planning begins: charting its course over many and varied conversations amongst The Powers That Be as they conduct concise navigation and direction.

The construction: The beginning stages of the shows are orchestrated like a floating symphony.

Docks built, arrangements made.

Slips prepared for specific crafts, and all boat show personnel move in concert to “get it done.”

The Aria: halyards slap against masts, tapping-out tunes as the bows of boats bop up and down to its wet rhythms.

Under the boats’ hulls, gentle waves keep the rhythm going as the City Dock’s waters softly lap-up to add to its backbeat…Seagulls (the garbage disposals of the waterways) chime-in with fading “caws” to add to its chorus.

Vessels gingerly eased in and tethered tightly together creating a waterscape which is akin to a fine piece of Classical Music; and it hits its crescendo when the box office opens for business, permitting throngs of people to pour in, scramble about, and create the busy scene.

Under sail or power, adventurers of the seas converge at Historic Annapolis’s City Dock to haggle with Maritime Merchants to converse, contemplate, and cash-out.

The boat shows are in and out over a couple of weekends and say goodbye quickly as the sun in the western sky sinks more quickly and the nights extend a little longer (to get us ready for the trip from fall to the leap into winter.) 

The final hours of the boat show is a little somber for some of us.

…It’s a Dear John letter to summer’s adventures…like saying good-bye to an ardent seasonal lover. 

As they say, autumn leaves must fall.

Witnessing the precision and practiced breakdown of the vast maritime market place reminds me of when I was a kid, watching the circus fold-up tents, and head out of town.

…There’s a bittersweet air to the entire affair.  

And I remember fondly those images and moments.

Standing at City Dock with friends, silently waving Bon Voyage as the undulated stream of boats got smaller and smaller against the Chesapeake’s horizon.

Never once have I tired of that vista.

There are not too many scenes which transcend moments like this: watching ships that you dream of one day owning sail off into the distance, simultaneously taking away and inspiring dreams.

The thing about sailing the world’s waters: it grants you the opportunity to pursue restless dreams over the sea’s horizons, and keep on goin’ till ya get there.

On the High Seas, there’s always the possibility of finding new ways to experience life’s beauty and breadth.

But the for the moment, we can enjoy the gilded rays of the setting sun smiling on the ripples of City Dock,  Spa Creek, and right on out the Severn River which flows into the Mighty Chesapeake.

So, as we bellow uninhibited recitations of Jimmy Buffett tunes, “It’s been a lovely cruise.”  

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