At Herrington Harbour North in Deale, Buster Phipps works feverishly these days to strip and refinish "Force Majeure," a 36-foot Dickinson sailboat. At the marina's yacht repair shop, Garry Williams has more than 100 work orders in progress. Next door, Jim Weaver continues his "labor of love" -- building a 65-foot sport fisherman's boat.
As the boating season swings into full gear, Herrington Harbour North in southern Anne Arundel County -- one of the largest marinas on the Chesapeake Bay -- is buzzing with activity. In the next few weeks, it will launch more than 800 boats.
In contrast, life is pretty quiet outside the marina in Deale, where the few restaurants and small businesses aren't well-known or easy to find. Development is planned, but not the large-scale kind that many think would turn Deale into a destination spot, like Solomons Island and the revived Chesapeake Beach.
This small community of about 3,000 sits at a crossroads, struggling to find its identity. Some residents want to capitalize on its proximity to Washington and Annapolis with more commercial development, seeing places such as Herrington Harbour North as the face of the area's future. Others long to preserve the area's rural, close-knit feel.
"It's nice to come here," said the marina's owner, S. Hamilton Chaney."But it's good to have other things to do."
A longtime watermen's community, Deale has become a haven for Washingtonians seeking a rural waterfront setting. Marinas such as Herrington Harbour North have brought money and activity into the area.
The 60-acre marina, the largest of 15 in Deale, has 650 slips and space to store 1,200 boats on land. Its sister marina in Rose Haven, a few miles south, has 650 slips. At the end of last month, Herrington Harbour North was at 97 percent capacity, Chaney said. Most of the business is from Washington and Northern Virginia.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Chaney estimates that 3,500 boats will go through the marina, for everything from storage to service at one of 14 individually owned businesses.
Business is good, he said, but it could be better. To become more of a resort area, the marina has added a swimming pool, bicycle rentals and a hot tub this year. The restaurant, Calypso Bay, is under new management. Chaney has added a larger travel lift, which allows the marina to handle yachts up to 80 feet long and 21 feet wide. Until now, the four old lifts were limited to boats 50 feet long.
"This keeps us competitive," Chaney said. "If you don't keep improving, you will go down."
That's good news for the county. The recreational boating industry brings in a substantial amount of money, said Robert McGlotten, senior vice president of Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corp. In 1998, the industry, which ranges from boating trips to repairs, brought in nearly $200 million to the county, the majority in the Annapolis and Deale area, he said. Statewide, the figure was $843 million.
County Executive Janet S. Owens has pledged her support of the maritime industry in Deale by budgeting $579,000 to help build another rock jetty for Rockhold Creek and improve the existing one. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is funding the rest of the $1.8 million project.
Marina owners along the creek, such as Chaney, say the jetty will prevent silt from settling in the channel, which would keep larger yachts out. The existing jetty isn't high enough, and routine dredging is costly.
Booked for weekends
But for all that the marinas are doing to bring money into the area, the community hasn't kept up. It has no hotels, major shopping centers and one bed and breakfast, which might close soon. The Chaney family operates a hotel at Herrington Harbour South, but it's booked for most weekends this summer.
A preliminary plan of development for the Shady Side/Deale area recommends improved sidewalks and roads, construction of a park and community center, and designation of Deale as a "revitalization area." The plan, developed by a local committee to guide the county in land-use and zoning decisions for the next 20 years, also calls for promotion of a village center in Deale and bed and breakfasts along Rockhold Creek.
"They don't see a lot of need for more commercial growth," said Vivian Marsh, a long-range planner for the county's department of planning and code enforcement, which oversees the draft plan.
When plans for a supermarket and strip mall were proposed a few years ago, residents and small-business owners rallied against them, saying they would destroy their way of life.
"I see the job opportunities and tax base going to Calvert County, Edgewater and Parole," said Claire Mallicote, president of Deale Business Association. "We need to build down here." A shopping center with an anchor store. A motel. More restaurants.
Until then, she said, businesses will continue to struggle. For the 18 years she's owned an office supply store in Deale, Mallicote said she's seen more than 20 businesses leave the area. The latest was Downtown Deale Antiques, which closed last month.
She and a few other business owners got together last year and created Deale Business Association, which has 86 members. They've established an official welcome center at Sentimental Fools, a novelty shop where visitors often wander in and ask for directions. The association placed "Deale" signs with a ship logo throughout the area.
"No one knows where Deale is," Mallicote said. "We need to be playing off the marinas."
Since the Chaneys bought the old Forces of Nature marina in 1983 and Traceys Creek Marina two years later, they've turned them into successful boating facilities -- after a series of major renovations. Herrington Harbour North has been recognized by national publications and was named a Maryland Clean Marina last month after meeting a series of environmental standards.
Swamped with work
For the marina's businesses, the improved image has translated into more work each year. Phipps, who has been there since the Chaneys took over, said he is swamped with work, mostly from repeat customers. He's been working on the 36-foot sailboat for almost a month.
Garry Williams' Osprey Marine Composites is 65 percent to 75 percent booked for the summer. The family-owned company, established in 1988, does fiberglass work.
James P. Montague, who lives on the Eastern Shore, has been taking his 46-foot Matthews powerboat to Herrington Harbour North for four years, since someone recommended Osprey for fiberglass work. "The integrity of the yacht yard and the workmanship kept me coming back," he said.
In a neighboring shop, Jim Weaver and his crew have been building a 65-foot sport fisherman -- his second boat -- since January. The first took 14 months to build and three weeks to sell. The second will be completed early next year. He's declined several offers, saying, "I want to build it to my specifications, not someone else's."
When the work is done, he and his wife will sail to Florida, then Mexico and field offers for the boat along the way. The asking price: probably about $2.2 million.
Chaney takes pride in the success of each business. They feed off each other, he said. But without help from the Deale community, he said, the marina could lose business to Solomons Island, Annapolis, the Eastern Shore and Chesapeake Beach. He and Mallicote say the area can sustain more tourists, if it had more shops, places to stay and better promotion.
Karen S. Crandell, a co-owner of Sentimental Fools, said even people who have lived in Deale all their lives don't know what the area has to offer. Residents and visitors often ask for information about Deale in Crandell's store.
"It's a nice little town, but it's hard to get people to come to it," she said. "There are lot of things people are missing."