Baltimore conures up images of a large city steeped in history and modern concerns, a great harbor, crab cakes, baseball and the films of Barry Levinson and John Waters. But for thousands of visitors Baltimore is a calling port for small and large boats, tourist boats and cargo ships. Savvy Traveler correspondent Elisabeth Perez Luna, a long time boater takes us on a ride into the city from the water.
Baltimore -- An Alternate View
Baltimore conjures up images of a large city steeped in history and modern concerns, a great harbor, crab cakes, baseball and the films of Barry Levinson and John Waters. But for thousands of visitors Baltimore is a calling port for small and large boats, tourist boats and cargo ships. Savvy Traveler correspondent Elisabeth Perez Luna, a long time boater takes us on a ride into the city from the water.
Any boater worth his compass will tell you there's something rather magical about cruising the Chesapeake Bay and turning west into the mouth of the Patapsco River which leads to downtown Baltimore. You are immediately immersed in a world of river commerce and leisure boating. Barges and cargo ships glide next to noisy racing boats, imposing yachts, coast guard cutters and all sort of smaller boats like our 28-foot cruiser, the Gabby Lady captained by my husband, Len Perskie.
At our speed of 16 knots it takes about half an hour to get from the Bay to Baltimore's inner harbor, right in the heart of the city. It's a trip that conjures up a rainbow of images, of thriving docks and abandoned factories, revitalized historic neighborhoods, modern skyscrapers, big cranes and marinas. Ken Solaga and his family cruise several times a year to Baltimore from New Jersey. He says a boater sees the city with navigator eyes.
"As we are coming into the harbor there a certain landmarks that people in town kind of take for granted when they're walking around the streets. We are looking at those landmarks to get our bearing so we know were we are going."
The landmarks can be the cannons protecting Fort McHenry, or the high towers of the Lehigh cement factory, the grandiose neon sign of the Domino sugar plant, the triangular roofs of the aquarium or the burned out house that used to hide runaway slaves for the underground railroad.
Hundreds of vessels cross here every day. You don't even need your own boat to do it. There are water taxis, dinner cruises, sailboat rides and guided tours, all there to help you explore the waters that flow into Baltimore.
Ira Black is the editor in chief of the bi-weekly boating publication The Mariner.
"Baltimore is almost in a way like canyons and you've entered this odd world because you're in a boat, but you're in a city, but you're on the water and the water is a street but it's not."
Black prefers the quiet coves and small towns of the Chesapeake, but when he talks about Baltimore by water he can get positively poetic.
"...and at different times of the day, you get this incredible glow from the sunset or the sunrise depending of where you are and it's like you've entered the golden city and you can just float around and be awed by all this giant stuff."
Around the bend in the river we spot Fells Point. It's a weathered neighborhood filled with old houses and narrow streets. Large tug boats are tied in the dock along the building that doubles as the police headquarters for the TV series Homicide. There are restaurants, a few markets, galleries and stores. And Fells Point has more bars, taverns and pubs per square foot than any other place in Baltimore. It's a remnant of its rough seaport days.
We pull over to talk with Ed Kane. He and his wife command a flotilla of water taxis that criss cross the harbor -- day and night.
"In the case of Baltimore so much of our city wasn't built facing the water. We sort of forgot we were a world port for a while you know and they built their buildings inward so to speak. Most of the public visit our street and they get a canyon view of the city. When you get in the water you have a perspective, a depth. For example there's a place right there about half a mile from where we sit right now, if you sit there on a Sunday morning you can identify the bells with 23 separate and distinct bell towers. It took us two years to track them down using radios and people running around saying which church is ringing now."
As we continue to our final destination, the inner harbor marina, the openness of the water allows us to take in the texture of Baltimore. There are the smells of a large commercial bakery , the subtle aroma of the sugar refinery and whiffs of seafood cooking which remind us of another favorite pastime for boaters: eating.
"Welcome to the Rusty Scupper."
The Rusty Scupper red neon sign dominates the harbor like a lighthouse beacon. You can see it from everywhere. Ed Prutzer, the restaurant's general manager stops short of giving us the secret recipe for his crab cakes.
From a table near the window, we see the aquarium's odd shaped buildings across the harbor, and Baltimore's World Trade Center towers over the area. The Science Museum, a few shops and a restored Chesapeake lighthouse are my favorite landmarks.
"And just a stone throws away from the harbor we have the Orioles Park at Camden Yards and they are playing tonight."
I remember a fellow boater telling me that, in season, he and many of his friends come by boat with their families to go to the ball games. They dock, go to cheer their teams and then join the thousands of people strolling along the walkway that surrounds the inner harbor.
People gazing, boat watching and just plain walking are part of the fun. It's also fun to take in the boat's names. There's "Obsession," "Liquid Asset," "Schedule D," "In Conference," "Andiamo Al Mare," "Good Egg." Bob Roose owns a boat called "No Name, Also."
"I have yet to see Titanic. That seems to be a name people shy away from."
Len and I decide to go for a midnight stroll on the walkway to gaze at the lights of the inner harbor. Some tour boats are just returning from their floating parties, other boaters are getting their fishing gear ready. Tomorrow we'll retrace our route towards the Chesapeake Bay and again marvel at the city's landscape from the water, each time discovering something different.
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