For 30 years, Donald Zinn Jr. has taken to the waters of Annapolis almost every Wednesday night to sail against dozens of his nautically inclined friends in a popular race that draws 130 avid sailors seeking a respite from the daily grind.
But the races, a tradition in Annapolis that began in the 1950s, could soon be altered by an unfortunate consequence of the city's ever-burgeoning reputation as sailing capital of the region -- a demand for more boat moorings.
Annapolis officials are considering adding 20 moorings to the city's surrounding waters to accommodate boats longer than 45 feet -- which they say are becoming more popular because of the healthy economy. Moorings are small stationary buoys to which sailors tie their boats. They are available to all boaters on a first-come basis.
But many longtime local boaters such as Zinn are concerned about the proposed moorings, which city officials hope to install off Horn Point -- in the middle of the sailing courses of Annapolis Yacht Club's Wednesday Night Races, other local amateur competitions and weekend boating programs for children.
"We have races almost every night in Annapolis. It's going to interrupt them," said Zinn, 36, an Annapolis native who began sailing the Wednesday races with his father. "It's challenging enough to keep from hitting your other competitors, much less the moored boats along the course."
Frank Biba, Annapolis' environmental manager who works with the city's Board of Port Wardens -- which will decide on the moorings -- said local boaters and heads of Annapolis yacht clubs have been protesting the moorings since Harbormaster Ric Dahlgren unveiled his proposal last month. Dahlgren could not be reached for comment.
Biba said the city does not have moorings that can take boats longer than 45 feet. Annapolis has 40 moorings near the city dock for boats up to 45 feet and 20 moorings near St. Mary's Church for boats up to 35 feet. From April to September, the moorings often are filled during the weekends.
"With the good economy, the trend now is toward bigger boats, 45 feet and more, and there's an obvious lack of mooring for such boats," Biba said. "As Annapolis becomes more popular, there's this need to accommodate all visitors that we have, but there's some conflict in there because we are a small town. You want to be able to accommodate everyone without stepping on toes."
Sandy Grosvenor, 41, an Annapolis resident who has sailed on Wednesday nights for 20 years, suggested not installing moorings at all.
She said owners of boats longer than 45 feet visiting Annapolis can drop anchor further out and take a smaller craft into the city -- a common practice.
"Weaving around anchored sailboats is part of the fun of racing," said Grosvenor, a senior associate at a technology consulting firm. "Weaving through moored boats is much more difficult because they're packed in much tighter. Imagine putting a 60-foot sailboat in the middle of the course. It's kind of like putting a gymnasium in the middle of a tennis court. If you've got these huge obstacles in the middle of your course, it can destroy a sailing course."
Zinn, a molecular biologist, suggested asking marina owners to build docks to accommodate the larger boats or dredging Back Creek to allow such craft to anchor there.
Biba said he and Dahlgren are aware of the local boaters' concerns, which is why the harbormaster asked the Board of Port Wardens this week to postpone a decision on the new moorings until June.
Dahlgren plans to meet with the heads of the Annapolis Yacht Club, the Eastport Yacht Club and the Severn Sailing Association within the next few weeks to discuss the proposed moorings and work out a compromise.
Dahlgren "is really operating in good faith," said Scott Burge, 47, commodore of the Eastport Yacht Club who met with the harbormaster last week to discuss the issue.
"I believe he wants to find a solution to not only meet the needs of the city but also respect the races."
Jack Lynch, who is on Annapolis Yacht Club's race committee, which organizes the Wednesday night races, said he believes a compromise between the sailing community and the city can be reached easily.
"We may have to modify the exact race course so the boats won't have to pass through the moorings," Lynch said. "That's not a problem. I'm 70 years old. Things change. The races don't own the harbor. We have to adapt."