Boyd Tomkies

Boyd Tomkies walks along The Marina on the South River, which he is building on the former Marks Marina. He plans to open by April. Tomkies, a native of New Zealand, will be speaking at the Marine and Maritime Career Fair at Annapolis High Sschool on Feb. 25. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / February 15, 2012)

Robert Tomkies raced yachts in his native New Zealand, with a reputation respectable enough to be hired to work for a fellow named Ted Turner. But as Tomkies' dreams grew, so did his family, until he figured that he had to do something else to take care of his wife and four kids.

Tomkies opened a shop in Wellington selling lighting and electrical parts, and bought a small farm off Moonshine Road. Tomkies never got rid of the racing bug, designed and built a 30-foot yacht he named the "Moonshine Express" and tried to pass his passion for fast boats and the open sea on to his brood.

The second oldest, Boyd, was the only one who was similarly bit.

The younger Tomkies raced and managed yachts through his 20s, once taking part in an around-the-world race from Hong Kong. But a similar thing eventually happened to Boyd Tomkies as happened to his father. He got married, had two children and settled down — thousands of miles away in Annapolis.

But unlike his father, Boyd Tomkies has found a way to combine his childhood passion with a way to support his family — buying what he described as a "failing" inflatables business three years ago and recently becoming the owner of what was once Marks Marina in Annapolis.

Tomkies, now 38, will be one of the exhibitors who will talk about their business and life experiences at this year's Marine and Maritime Career Fair for seventh through 12th graders at Annapolis High School on Feb. 25.

"A lot of people think it's a relaxing industry because of the lifestyle, but you have to work as hard or even harder in this industry," Tomkies said one afternoon last week as he drove from the shop to the marina. "Some people think there's a lot of semiretired people who treat it as a hobby. That's not the case."

Tomkies, who still races competitively when the opportunity presents itself, said he has been helped in his current endeavors by what he calls "a natural entrepreneurial" spirit and said his years managing yachts has helped him as well.

"When you're a professional sailor or managing race boats, you're kind of running a small business," Tomkies said. "When I wake up in the morning and go to work, I love what I do. You have to have a skilled staff to do this; there are not a lot of inflatable shops around anymore. When you're in a business that deals in survival equipment, there's always some challenges. I wouldn't want to do anything else at the moment. It's a fascinating business."

Tomkies received some attention when he sold 10 of his inflatables to be used for judges and other officials in last summer's Pan American Games in Mexico, which eventually led to his selling some more inflatables to the Mexican Navy. His business is a Mid-Atlantic regional representative for the professional and military division of Zodiac, a French-based manufacturer.

Aside from selling to recreational sailors and boaters, Tomkies also has several police and fire agencies as clients, including the New York City Fire Department. He is also selling parts for inflatables for the U.S. government on the crafts used by Navy SEALs and uses part of his showroom to do repairs.

Though the two business will be separate, Tomkies said there will "some synergy" between them, in that he plans to keep some of his demos at the marina.

The marina, located off Route 2 at the mouth of the South River, fell into disrepair after the owners died a few years ago. Tomkies stumbled upon a "For Sale" listing on the Internet six months ago while looking for a larger location for his growing inflatables business.

Gretchen Tomkies said that at first she wasn't "keen" on her husband's idea to buy a marina.

"He has a growing business, we have two small children and I work full time," said Gretchen Tomkies, who is the director of development at Anne Arundel Community College and serves as the treasurer for a member of the Anne Arundel County Council. "This seemed to be one too many things for us to get involved in."

But much like the Matt Damon character in the recent movie "We Bought a Zoo", Gretchen said of her husband of seven years, "His passion has a way of convincing you."

After negotiating the sale of the 1.6-acre property, getting the financing in place and working through the bureaucratic maze that is involved in opening a small business, Tomkies and Gretchen finalized the purchase of the marina, and the house overlooking it, last month.

They plan to move into the house next month and open the marina and start renting out the 40 slips starting in April.

Acknowledging that the income he takes in from the marina will allow his family to afford living in waterfront property in Annapolis, Tomkies said it will bring back memories of a childhood when he spent a lot of time on Marlboro Sound, near Wellington.