Boat show a rest stop on mariners' migratory paths


As Canada geese migrate south for winter, so do some of their human counterparts.

Sailors from the north are among the thousands of visitors who flock to Annapolis for the annual United States Sailboat Show. The crowds transform the quaint capital into a bustling maritime metropolis with congested streets, packed hotels, crowded waterways and overflowing restaurants.

While show organizers estimate that hundreds of Canadians may come by car, RV or airplane, dozens more come by sea while on their way to warmer southern climates.

Among the Canadian sailors to anchor in Spa Creek and other Annapolis waterways for this year's show are a Montreal couple cruising the Chesapeake for the first time and a family of four from a small Ontario town along the Georgian Bay.

Also making their way from the north are a Toronto couple who live on their ship and a former carpenter embarking on the trip of a lifetime.

The sailors say the boat show - billed as the largest in-water sailboat show in the nation - is a convenient stop at the right time of year. It opened yesterday on the City Dock and runs through Monday - just a few weeks before the Erie Canal closes, and just as autumn chills cause many sailors to seek milder climates.

The show's general manager, Jim Barthold, said the event is scheduled so that boat manufacturers can fill orders taken during the show by spring. The timing, though, also coincides with the schedules of sailors he calls "snowbirds."

"The logical migration is from north to south," he said, and a stop in Annapolis allows sailors to pick up equipment.

Besides 270 boats in the water and about as many smaller ones on land, the show also features more than 400 booths peddling marine products and services.

Dan Hurley, 37, a former carpenter and sailing instructor from Toronto, anchored in the Annapolis Harbor Tuesday. Hurley, alone on his 36-foot C&C; frigate, said he wants to attend a few of the show's seminars and pick up a new barometer before embarking on the rest of his two-year journey down the East Coast, through the Panama Canal and through the Pacific Ocean to Alaska.

"It works out that this boat show is the perfect time for anyone heading south," he said. "I've met people that do this yearly."

Raised along the Great Lakes in Burlington, Ontario, Hurley is an experienced sailor, but his trip to Annapolis is already his longest excursion to date.

In June, he sold his house and his car and began planning the trip that might end in two years or might go on indefinitely.

"I sold my old life and bought a new one," Hurley explains. "I got tired of waiting for old age to creep up so I could do this. I thought I might as well do it now when I am young. ... I might be liking this lifestyle and continue to sail around the world - you never know what kind of adventure you are going to find."

For Mark Simpson, his wife, Jo-Anne, and their two children, Caitlin, 17, and Wesley, 15, the adventure they've planned is a winter in the tropics.

The family from Penetanguishene, Ontario, along the Georgian Bay, set out on their journey to the Bahamas on Aug. 10, after Mark quit his job in boat repair and Jo-Anne left a position with a stationery company.

They passed through some 80 locks along the canals that took them to the Hudson River, which in turn took them out to sea. Arriving in Annapolis on Tuesday and now anchored in Spa Creek, the family expects to spend about a year on their Catalina 34 sailboat, the Truant.

Mark Simpson said he has noticed about a dozen sailboats with Canadian flags in the Annapolis waterways.

"I've heard good things about the Chesapeake Bay. And people said, 'If you are in the Chesapeake in October, you have to go see the Annapolis boat show,'" he said. "It's not like we rearranged our whole trip for it, but we went a couple days out of our way to be here."

After the show, the Simpsons, who had never ventured beyond the Great Lakes in their sailboat, plan to explore the Chesapeake and Baltimore before continuing south.

"We're trying to stay just a little bit ahead of the real cold weather," Mark Simpson said. "We'll probably be in the Bahamas by Christmas. Then we are going to reassess and see if we want to go farther or not."

Judi Knight and her husband, Alain Goldfarb, are also anchored in Spa Creek this weekend. The couple has lived aboard their Newporter 40 named Le Bateau Sans Souci (French for "The Boat Without a Care") since June 2000, when they left Toronto.

"We are headed south - we're not sure where, but we're going somewhere warm," Knight said. The couple spent the winter in Halifax and the spring in Nova Scotia.

Though they missed the show last year, they have traveled to it four or five times before - by car.

"We don't have any good boat shows in Toronto," Knight said. "When you come here, you see all the boats you see in the magazines. There is just so much stuff and the atmosphere and the town - everything is just wonderful."

Knight said they know a handful of other Canadians here on their boats this year.

Among them are Suzanne and Pierre Desrosiers, a couple from Saint-Jerome, Quebec, about 25 miles outside of Montreal. They are anchored near Hurley in Annapolis Harbor.

The Desrosiers have taken this trip in several legs. Their journey on their C&C; Landfall 38 named Parbleu! (a toned-down French version of "By God!") began in May 1999. They left Montreal for Massachusetts so Pierre, the couple's two children and three other crewmates could compete in the Marion Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race.

Some 300 miles into their trip, the boat was struck by lightning, damaging the electrical equipment, burning one sail beyond repair and melting the furling gear. They returned to Quebec to repair the boat and set sail again in June 2000.

The 10-week voyage to Massachusetts went without a hitch, and they left the boat there for the winter. The race takes place every two years, and they were ready this year.

Pierre Desrosiers and his crew finished the 645-mile race in seven days to place 41st out of about 80 starters.

Suzanne joined him in Bermuda, and the couple began their trip to the Chesapeake. They left their boat in Oxford for two months and returned home, and then they came back last month to take a vacation before the boat show.

"It's fun and very relaxing," Suzanne Desrosiers said of their Chesapeake adventure so far. "I don't know if it is the sun, the water, the sound ... ."

After a couple more weeks in the Chesapeake, they will leave their boat in Oxford for the winter and head home. Though they'll return in the spring and spend some time on the bay, they don't plan to be on their boat during next year's show - but they are considering driving down for it.

"It's where to be," Suzanne said.

Admission to the United States Sailboat Show is $14 for adults and $7 for children age 12 and younger. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday.

To attend the show, take U.S. 50 to Exit 24, Rowe Boulevard, and follow the signs. Parking is available at Navy-Marine Corps stadium for $5 for cars and $10 for RVs and buses, with free shuttle service downtown. No overnight parking is available there.

Boat show information: 410-268-8828.

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