In his chart-lined, second floor office in the Maritime Welcome Center at City Dock, Annapolis Harbormaster Ric Dahlgren looks over the harbor as he oversees the safe and enjoyable use of navigable city waters: Annapolis Harbor, Spa Creek, Back Creek, half of Weems Creek and parts of the Severn River. "All water is federal and state, held in trust; what we do has to do with public trust standards, " Dahlgren explains. Implementing and maintaining these standards require a complicated range of skills: knowledge of boating and weather, business acumen, marine law, and the ability to navigate the complex legal, political, and economic waters of the town. In general, Dahlgren finds Annapolis and the State of Maryland a favorable climate for boating.
Dahlgren's office includes two other full-time staff -- Office Administrator Linda Mowatt and Deputy Harbormaster George Ward -- and 20 part-time summer dock assistants who collect fees and help in the office. With funds from state grants and boaters' fees, the office manages public moorings for transient boaters, private moorings for seasonal boaters, 1500' of bulkhead, 17 slips at City Dock and the use of boats in various park docks and street endings. In addition, they train summer staffers and respond to beach problems that can range from oil spills to dead dogs. They also set agendas for Port Wardens in dealing with construction and mooring applications along approximately eight miles of Annapolis shoreline, and they consult with the Maritime Advisory Board in reporting to the mayor on community issues.
The office operates three boats: a patrol boat used for safety, rescue, navigational, law enforcement, and security-related situations, a pump-out boat operated as a convenience to boaters, and a 17' Boston Whaler used for administering public moorings.
In addition to their regular duties, because they are located in the activity center of Annapolis, the Harbormaster and his staff are responsible for the smooth functioning of regularly held events, including the largest in-the-water boat shows in the U.S., a schedule of concerts sponsored by the Naval Academy and the Annapolis Maritime Museum, First Night Annapolis celebrations, the Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival, and special events such as the Volvo Ocean Race of 2005-2006.
Dahlgren has seen many changes in the boating industry over the past 20 years. Economic changes in the late 80s led to increased boat taxes that initiated seven years of hardship and put many boating people out of business. Legal changes added the enforcement of directives from the Department of Homeland Security. He comments on other changes, "Now boats are bigger and there are more power boats," and anticipates that the more gas prices increase, the more we can expect people to return to sail.
The office of Harbormaster requires an ability to deal well with people and a varied background in the maritime industry. Dahlgren has both. He has a welcoming approach to dealing with people, as a self-proclaimed "people person" who would ". . . rather have an ounce of compliance than a pound of enforcement." And he has a rich background in the maritime industry.
Named Ulric after his great, great, great Swedish grandfather, Dahlgren was born in Fredericksburg, VA. His father, Joseph Francis, a US Naval Academy graduate from the Class of 1924, moved the family to CA where Dahlgren grew up. He began sailing as a teenager, and acquired additional skills that would be put to good use in the office of Harbormaster. These included selling yacht hardware and working as an abalone diver. He spent a year in law school, worked as a harbor policeman in LA and as a Federal Air Traffic Controller at LA Center. He trained in fire prevention, marine law enforcement, and achieved the level of Master Mariner, licensed to command 200-ton, passenger-carrying vessels, both power and sail, a category that includes the Harbor Queen and the Woodwind 60' schooner.
Key to his management of the Office of Harbormaster, Dahlgren has the flexibility to juggle several projects and responsibilities at one time, on an around-the-clock basis. Moreover, he is proud of these flexibility and time management skills he developed during four years as a house husband and stay-at-home Dad when his twin sons were small and their mother was teaching French and Spanish at the Naval Academy. Now grown, his sons Ulric V. and John Singleton work together in the home improvement industry and play rock and blues music together.
Dahlgren is a notable name in the history of the United States Navy. Among notables from the 19th century is the Harbormaster's great, great grandfather, John Alphonsus Dahlgren (John A,), the father of American naval ordnance. In 1825, 16-year-old John A. left Philadelphia to join the US Navy as a midshipman, soon became a naval ordnance expert and made military history as head of the US Navy's gun development department. In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, John A. became the head of the Washington Navy Yard; in 1862 he was named head of the Navy's Ordnance Bureau and promoted to Rear Admiral. He invented the smoothbore cannon that became known as the Dahlgren gun. Also bearing his name are Dahlgren Hall at the Naval Academy and the Dahlgren Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, VA. Dahlgren's family pride is displayed in the small, framed photo on his desk. It shows his father, Joseph Francis, in the 1924 graduating class from the Naval Academy, taken from the balcony of Dahlgren Hall, named after his great great grandfather, John Alphonsus,
Among current notables, Dahlgren is a welcoming Harbormaster whose courteous manner is an integral part of promoting water safety and enforcing federal and state regulations. His manner has had a widespread effect on the boating community. According to one community leader, "Everyone likes dealing with Ric." Another Annapolis resident who has been on the water all his life, says, "He knows his stuff . . . an excellent manager. No one has more knowledge and he uses it with equanimity and to everyone's best interests." Dahlgren and staff regularly receive kudos from boaters. Recently, one who needed 'pump out' service commended them for handling a tough job well: "Your staff has been exemplary and most professional in the manner that they have worked with me."
The Office of Harbormaster is available by phone (410-263-7973) or on VHFZ channel 09 or 17. All who call for assistance or information hear the same courteous message, "We want you to have an enjoyable stay in Annapolis, and we would be glad to answer any further questions you may have during your stay.