The group made the hour-and-a-half drive to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore to research historic Maryland boat models and decide on a look for the new water taxis that would pay homage to the state's heritage.
On Monday, they unveiled the first result: Key's Anthem — a slick, black 55-foot Hoopers Island draketail boat that can carry 49 passengers, plus a captain and first mate — will make its maiden voyage as a water taxi in the coming weeks.
It was custom-built by Baltimore-based Maritime Applied Physics Corp. and inspired by a 1920s-era crabbing vessel that was popular among Chesapeake Bay watermen.
The draketail (or ducktail) model, distinguished by a long downward curve toward the stern, wasn't quite as practical as more traditional fishing boats, but it became popular mostly because of its unusual look, said Pete Lesher, the maritime museum's chief curator.
That look, he said, is likely what caught the water taxi designers' eyes, too.
"In my estimation, it is totally about aesthetics," Lesher said. "If you're looking to attract passengers … this is the thing to do."
Nathan Baugher, production manager at Maritime Applied Physics in South Baltimore, said the designers "tried to take all consideration of that experience of being on the water, how you maneuvered on the waterways, how they sat, as far as the bow-to-stern ratio and proportions."
"[We] really tailored that so you got the full experience of that boat," he said, "not only from the outside, but from the inside, too."
Key's Anthem is the first of 10 vessels that eventually will replace Harbor Boating's current fleet of water taxis and go to new stops around the city, including Plank's hotel in Fells Point and his Sagamore whiskey distillery now under construction in the planned $5.5 billion Port Covington development.
It still needs a few additional Coast Guard certifications before it can begin ferrying passengers around the harbor, officials said.
The new boat is Baltimore-themed from bow to stern, with a "W" logo — for water taxi — made out of the city's black-and-yellow checkered flag and the longitude and latitude of the Inner Harbor painted on the rear.
The inside ceiling bears the outline of Fort McHenry, and LED lights will shine at night — including in purple or orange for Ravens and Orioles wins. It has USB ports for phone charging and bike racks inside. The boat isn't Wi-Fi-capable yet, but that's in the works, Baugher said.
Marcus Stephens, executive creative director at Plank Industries, said the new water taxi design wasn't only aesthetically motivated.
"It navigates well in shallow water, it has the forward hull for the captain and the crew, with a lot of space for passengers, which was usually used for cargo, crabs, oysters and the sort," Stephens said.
Its twin Beta Marine diesel engines are capable of moving the boat at speeds up to 8 knots. Officials hope to move to hybrid power, then eventually to full electric.
"One of the main targets was to make this thing eco-friendly and cost-effective to operate," Baugher said. "We didn't throw 1,000 horsepower at it, because it's only in a 6-knot zone, so the boat has a top speed of about 8 knots."
Plank's firm Sagamore Ventures purchased Harbor Boating this summer with plans to expand the service as the city agreed to award the firm another long-term contract to operate in the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Canton and other waterfront spots.
Demian Costa, managing partner of Sagamore Ventures, declined to say how much the boats cost to make, but said they fell well within an initial $3 million or $4 million estimate for a custom-built vessel.
"We're not even close to that here," Costa said.
Sagamore brought on Maritime Applied Physics to make the new boats locally. The firm normally builds 40-foot, unmanned vessels for the military, said Mark Rice, the firm's president and founder.
"That has a lot more technology," Rice said. "This has a lot more style."