Annapolis, MD, on the Chesapeake Bay has long been a favorite stop for cruising sailors, and come early October, you’ll find cruisers arriving in droves. The initial excuse most will give you is the Annapolis Sailboat Show, which has long been recognized as one of the best sailboat exhibitions in the world. The real reason cruisers continue to return here year after year in the fall is to take part in what has become an annual, unofficial start of the cruising year, and a whole lot of fun.
So, how did this all get started? Well, there are a number of reasons. To begin with, the timing of this gathering perfectly coincides with the annual cruisers’ migration south. Whether you live in the Northeastern part of North America and are just heading out, or you’re one of many international cruisers who have been exploring the great cruising grounds, there’s a gravitational pull that Annapolis exerts on the sailing world in early October. Big smiles and waves are evident as each new boat arrives in the harbor. Old cruising friends spend time catching up, sometimes after years of not seeing each other. For example, last year the two of us visited with sailors we’d first met in Bermuda, Nova Scotia, Maine, the Florida Keys, and the Bahamas. Quite a roving group we are!
Of course another great draw Annapolis has is that it’s a sailing industry town offering the convenience of every imaginable boat service. Many cruisers schedule their arrival so they’ll have time to locate hard-to-find parts, get advice on systems and/or get final work done on their boats before setting off to far-flung ports.
There’s always a great place for your boat in Annapolis regardless of your budget. Room to anchor here is plentiful in the numerous creeks if you get there early and just off the world-renowned US Naval Academy if you arrive later on. And for a true front-row seat, city moorings are available on a first-come, first-serve basis in the inner harbor. These are literally located right outside of the boat show. With an abundance of marinas, transient slips are usually available, although you’d be wise to book ahead at this time of year. Mega yachts, both sail and power, line the docks in a stretch known commonly as “Ego Alley” during the show, providing part of the daily harbor entertainment as everyone strains to see just who owns such a humongous craft.
Annapolis also sets itself apart from most other waterfront towns in one very special way. At the end of each street that leads to the water there is a designated free public dinghy dock. The abundance of these dead end streets makes tasks like shopping for groceries, doing laundry, going to the library, etc., very easy to accomplish.
Of course another reason some sailors come here at this time of year is the chance to build up the cruising kitty. Each year, the Annapolis Sailboat Show and Powerboat Show are held back-to-back, meaning a lot of boats and docks must be shuttled about in a short span of time. The show organizers are always looking for people to help out during this frenetically busy time. Many of the set-up and break down crew, as well as the ticket takers, are cruisers whose boats are anchored out in the harbor. And we understand that if you stay around and work both shows, you’re paid a bonus.
|"Whether it’s swapping happy hour invitations or attending pot luck suppers ashore, opportunities to meet and exchange cruising tales abound."|
Cruisers, being on the whole an extremely social group, are always organizing ways to get together. Whether it’s swapping happy hour invitations on each others boats, or attending larger organized pot luck suppers ashore, the opportunities to meet and exchange cruising tales of adventure with others from all over the world is seemingly never-ending. I remember during last year’s boat show that we got quite a kick out of how full our social calendar was. After spending weeks alone with just the two of us, we found it very odd to have some activity or dinner scheduled almost every night.
One morning while listening to the VHF radio, we were alerted to an impromptu “Dinghy Raft-up.” Word quickly spread from boat to boat and at 5:00 p.m. that night, 42 dinghies were all tied together in a giant floating island. Each tiny seven or 10-foot boat was brimming with warmly bundled, smiling sailors. Delicious hot hors d’oeuvres straight from the galley were eagerly passed from boat to boat, a fitting accompaniment to this wonderful moment. The participants liberally exchanged boat cards so that we could all keep track of the many new friends we each met that evening.
With so many cruisers in town, there are a number of organized cruising groups who hold meetings, seminars and/or social functions. The Seven Seas Cruising Association, the Ocean Cruising Club, the Caribbean 1500 Rally, Women Aboard, and similar groups are some of the ones that come to mind, not to mention the boat builders who often stage parties for their owners.
Oh yes, and finally there’s the lure of the boat show itself that brings sailors together. The fall show in Annapolis attracts every player, big and small, in the sailboat and equipment industry. For once wives can watch in amusement as their husbands are the ones who want to “shop till they drop.” And although we’re not all looking to buy new boats, nothing fires up the juices more than being able to finally step aboard and really examine that “dream boat” you’ve only seen before in the magazines.
Between regular boat chores, trips ashore, and catching up with old friends, it’s fascinating to watch this huge show come together. The entire downtown waterfront is dramatically transformed in just a matter of days. Mammoth tents are erected all over, followed by truckloads of display equipment being busily unloaded. A seemingly unending number of docks are towed in and joined together as sparkling new sailboats are intricately woven together with them into a flowing pattern that will accommodate thousands of boat show-goers. Soon each boat is adorned with colorful flags and flashy company logos, and as they all flap in the wind a festive atmosphere unfolds.
After the boat show opens, while shore based visitors are all dealing with finding places to park and traveling back and forth from their hotels, the cruising set enjoys a whole different world out in the harbor. For us, access to the show is easy. A quick dinghy ride ashore puts you right at the show entrance. After a fun day of taking in all the boats and the equipment, it’s a joy to know you’re just a short hop away from your boat and the refuge it provides from so much hustle and bustle.
One traditional highlight of the Annapolis Sailboat Show every year is to watch the breakdown of the show on its last day, Monday. At exactly 6:00 p.m., a shot rings out and crews aboard the outermost boats begin tossing lines and motoring these beauties away. Each boat in the show must be manned, with motor running, and ready to leave the dock immediately as the show organizers somehow manage to unlock the intricate dock pattern in record time. Crowds lining the upper deck of bars overlooking the harbor and cruisers on their decks all cheer as the boats—some piled high with lush plants, large exhibit stands, and exhausted but cheerful sales people—depart in a chaotic parade. Almost as quickly, powerboats for the coming show begin arriving.
Yes, there’s plenty to see and do in the fall in Annapolis. Apart from all the shiny new boats there are some interesting seminars and some demonstrations of the latest equipment for sailors. All of that can certainly factor into your final preparation before heading south. And of course there’s the multitude of social activities. So what’s not to like. We’ll look for you out on the harbor.Eds. Note: This year’s United States Annapolis Sailboat Show runs October 10-14. If you make it to the show this year, be sure to stop by the SailNet booth and say hello to everyone there.
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