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Where luxury floats Visiting: Giant pleasure boats stop in Annapolis on their way to points south for the winter.

For the rich and famous, Annapolis is just a pit stop on the waterway to paradise.

From September through October, 70 to 100 mega-yachts migrate from tony Newport, R.I., and Nantucket, Mass., to Boca Raton, Fla., and the Caribbean. These giant pleasure boats slip in and out of Annapolis to be refueled, repaired and have the brine washed away before continuing.

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Recently, Ivana Trump's 105-foot Italian Baia drew hundreds of gawkers to Yacht Basin Company, the only marina in town that can accommodate such large vessels. Jimmy Dean, the sausage magnate, and his 112-foot Denison are considered regulars. Then there's Steve Forbes, with the 152-foot Highlander motor yacht and the helicopter that comes with it.

"It's practically a ritual that's been going on here for decades," said Steve Grace, general manager of Yacht Basin Company. "It's always exhilarating to see the big ones come in."

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Beyond the tinted windows lies a world of plush carpeting, fully stocked wet bars, butter-soft leather sofas, 27-inch television sets attached to satellite dishes and deluxe kitchen and dining areas with seating for six. With price tags in the millions, these mega-yachts also boast elegant master suites, guest rooms, crews quarters and their own set of toys -- personal watercraft, hot tubs, dinghys and motor-scooters.

Two weeks ago, a 130-foot motor yacht from New York popped in to gas up and lay over for two nights. At better than a buck a gallon, the bill for 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel was a "pretty penny," Grace says.

Then there's the cost of docking for the night -- $100 to $150 -- not including the cost of electricity for air conditioners, stereos, refrigerators and ovens.

"It means business for our restaurants, our shops and city," said Susan K. Zellers, director of economic development for Annapolis. "The yachts are great for tourism."

Most of the mega-yachts eschew the open sea in favor of the calmer waters of the Intracoastal Waterway, a 1,600-mile system of inland waterways that stretches from Cape Cod to Florida Bay.

Developed during the Depression and used to protect shipping from German U-boats during World War II, the scenic waterway is used by many pleasure boaters, who reverse the migratory route between May and June.

"It's a trip I've made so many times that I've lost track," said Bill Kelley, 62, a boat captain of 44 years who was preparing an 80-foot Burger for the arrival of its Bethesda owners. "Sometimes it's rough, sometimes it's smooth. But every fall and spring we stop in Annapolis because it's either too cold up north or too warm down south. This place is perfect."

So far, several mega-yachts -- usually those running 70 feet and larger -- have been turned away because of crowding and the extended stay of other big boats waiting out tropical storms, Grace said.

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"It's one of my favorite times of the year because it's beautiful to watch those ladies come in," said Ross Rosenberg of Potomac, who keeps Breadwinner, his 31-foot Tiara powerboat at the Basin. "No matter what size you see, you know there's always something out there that's even bigger and better."

Too true, says Barbara and Peter Neuberg of Pittsburgh, who consider their fully loaded yacht -- including a generator and small desalinization plant to make water -- a "baby boat."

The Neubergs recently joined the ranks of the mega-yacht community by upgrading from "a small 54-foot Hatteras" to a 73-foot Burger. The couple lives aboard their yacht all year with two dogs and captain their vessel.

"We don't have a crew so we don't really think of ourselves as being that much different from everyone else," said Mrs. Neuberg, a retired fashion designer, as she descended a staircase to the master cabin. "We just love cruising and enjoy seeing new places."

"It's a hard life, isn't it?" joked her husband, a retired raw materials supplier for steel mills who named his boat 18/8, the generic term for stainless steel. They will head south in a couple weeks.

Darrell Hall, captain of the 104-foot Broward named Diamond Lady, which docks at the Basin all summer, says he can't complain.

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"I get to summer in Annapolis and winter in Boca Raton," Hall said.

Pub Date: 10/15/96



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