Getting Access to the Water

At Boston's Community Boating, Inc., members have unlimited use of the club's sailboats, kayaks, and windsurfers. A relatively small membership fee gives area residents access to the water and supports a program that gives youth the opportunity to sail all summer for just a dollar.

In Burlington, Vt., the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center offers a welcoming and accessible place for affordable sailing, kayak and canoe lessons and rentals, as well as boat storage for the community and visitors.

There are publicly accessible boating facilities and programs in New Bedford and Lawrence, Mass., Baltimore, New York City and Philadelphia. Similar operations are cropping up in waterfront communities around the nation.

Why is there no such program here in Annapolis? It is the self-proclaimed sailing capital of the world, where the Chesapeake Bay has been the center of life for centuries but where, today, relatively few people have any access, let alone affordable access, to the water or to boating.

A group of local residents with diverse boating interests and experiences is addressing that question and hoping to fill the void by establishing a community boating center. The group intends to create a center for non-motorized boating that provides public access to the water, boats and boating instruction for all people living in or visiting the Annapolis area. Along the way, they know a stronger appreciation will grow for the body of water that has sustained this city and the region for generations.

The effort began when Sue Buyaskas, a competitive rower, heard friends complain that there was no place to keep and launch their kayaks. Even to launch a mile away on any one of the creeks, one must load up the car, drive to an access point, find legal and neighborhood-friendly parking, unload, and do it all over again next time. "They wished that there was a place to keep and launch a boat locally that didn't cost an arm and a leg," says Buyaskas. She also knew that some members of the Annapolis Rowing Club would like a boat house to call their own.

Buyaskas began inquiring with friends to see if water access was an issue to them, and the momentum began to grow. Sailors, paddlers, rowers, even board sailors shared the same frustration and desire to remedy the situation. "I am passionate about the water and see a huge opportunity to expand access to everyone, not just the privileged," says Julie Winters, an Annapolis resident and sailor.

The group began to take stock of public boating access in the city and the county. They found that while the city does have many public access points for individuals to launch small boats, parking can be difficult, boats cannot be stored, and running any kind of public program would be difficult. Sandy Point State Park has a boat ramp. The county makes kayak rentals available at Quiet Waters Park and is improving Jonas Green Park at the foot of the Naval Academy Bridge to make human- and wind-powered boating more accessible. But, "unless you compete, there is no small boat access with facilities," says Winters. "They are all geared toward racing."

The group concluded that unless one owns waterfront property, has community water privileges, can afford to belong to a yacht club or owns a vessel, there are few ways to get out on the water. Because of these financial and physical barriers, many people living at the edge of the county's 500-plus miles of waterfront have never been exposed to the beauty of the Bay or the fitness benefits and simple pleasures of boating. A community boating facility could "open up a whole new world to a lot of people," says Chris Hughes, a rower with the Annapolis Rowing Club. His wife Sarah remembers growing up in Alexandria where a boat house was available to students through the school system. She would like to see more students have the same opportunity to row as she did.

While there are many models for public boating programs around the nation, the Annapolis group does not know exactly what form the Annapolis Community Boating Center will take. Buyaskas says the center could begin by simply providing access to secure racks or boat storage in a number of locations. Ultimately, the group envisions that the center will be a welcoming community focal point where anyone can learn about boating, go sailing, rowing or paddling and be part of an all-inclusive "water-privileged" community. It would target non-profit boating organizations, underprivileged kids and people who don't otherwise have access to the water.

The center can be home to competitive rowing and sailing teams as well as non-profit boating and maritime education programs. It can be a place for experienced boaters to launch at the same time that it is a place for first-timers to learn. The center will complement and likely be a stepping stone to the many sailing schools, kayaking outfitters and environmental programs offered in the region. But first and foremost, "it is what people make of it," says Buyaskas. "It will become what the community wants and needs."

"There is a real need for public launch sites and boat storage for kayakers," says Brian Blankinship, coordinator of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association. "A boating center like this could address these issues, offer classroom space for safety training and make paddling more accessible in Anne Arundel County."

Anne Harrington, a founder of Box of Rain, a program that teaches sailing, boating, water safety, environmental and cultural studies, and trade skills to area youth, is helping to get the boating center up and running. Her program works to inspire youth to use their experiences on the water to gain self-esteem and develop life skills that lead to positive contributions to the community. "We need a home, and a place like this would be perfect," says Harrington.

Last summer during its first season of operation, 27 kids went through the Box of Rain program, and this year 30 signed up. Harrington says the program was so successful that there is more demand than the program can handle right now. "I can't tell you the satisfaction [we feel] after one year of working with these kids," she says. "We could handle more, but our facilities and equipment are limited."

"The Board of Directors of the Annapolis Maritime Museum strongly believes that a community boating center would bring a lot to the community and are very supportive of the concept," says Buck Buchanan, chairman of the museum's board. "We are great believers in the potential for programs like this. Part of our mission is to educate and inspire people with the values that are found in our maritime heritage. One way to do that is to get them out on the water. We see the connection between community boating and our mission."

Connections with people, with sport and with the water is what it's all about for Joel Sachs, an Annapolis resident who has been involved with community boating programs in Boston and the San Francisco Bay area. "It's not about being in a boat, it's way more than that," says Sachs. "The sense of community is really strong. At community boating everyone within the program teaches people who come along after them so the newer people get to know the older people. Within a season a participant can get a real sense of accomplishment."

The Annapolis Community Boating Center organizers are in the process of developing informational materials, articles of incorporation, a board of directors, and a business plan. The group is spreading the word to generate enthusiasm and support for such a center. At the same time they are looking for a site or sites and boats with which to get started. "It's summer now, and we'd like to get started this season if possible," says Buyaskas. "There is no real reason that we should not be able to do some minimal activities this year and build up over time."

"I am very passionate about what is possible," says Sachs. "One of the biggest lessons I learned is the importance of having a diverse set of programs. It is the combination of programs that gives it vitality and longevity. Within a few short years you can go from nothing to having a national level program, and that experience is shared by all the participants. Community boating is now such an integral part of the skyline, you wouldn't think of Boston without it."

"It's quite a legacy to leave the community," says Julie Winters.

Anyone who is interested learning more, volunteering, donating a boat or knows of potential locations can contact Sue Buyaskas at 410-263-8951.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

Additional comments ?

Last time we asked, "How many past issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine do you have? " Out of all the responses, we found that most of our readers keep at least 3 issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine around the house, but a couple of our readers have over several years of issues! We're glad to hear that so many of you stay with us!

Thanks to all those that voted!

Results Posted Every Issue!!

Backyard Publications, LLC. ©2004. 433 Fourth St, Annapolis, MD 21403 - Phone 410-263-6300 - Fax 410-267-8668