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A great view of harbor, in any kind of weather

ATRIP TO THE TOP of Federal Hill gives my favorite view of Baltimore. A trip there on a rainy, stormy day shows the moody harbor in a windy temper tantrum.

I slipped away here a couple days this week, during the storm and during Sunday's spell of lazy, late-summer sun. It's hard to say which day I preferred more.

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There's something about the harbor's moods that I find compelling. Thursday's frisky winds made the Patapsco River ripple and turn steel gray. The prediction of foul weather suppressed all the maritime action. Nothing was moving, except the clouds. The setting is a real crow's-nest on a stormy afternoon.

My father, raised in South Baltimore, tells me how he weathered some of the worst hurricanes of the 1930s atop Federal Hill. There he watched the packet boats, bay steamers and ferries toss and turn. Each vessel had its own distinctive whistle. And the Patapsco, not so much hemmed in by seawalls, had its own ideas about overflowing in low points in those days. It was news when Pratt, Light or Caroline streets disappeared under water.

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What we call the Inner Harbor today was then a real, working harbor, encircled by working steam locomotives, rail and box cars. Like the rest of Baltimore, the place labored hard.

As much as I enjoy observing the weather, fair or stormy, I like to watch a show of gracefully moving objects. I still like to slip away, just to watch Amtrak or CSX trains or light-rail cars. On a good day, from Federal Hill, you can see truck traffic move along Interstate 95. Often during visits to Fort McHenry, I can't take my eyes off the busy shipping in the channel.

I guess because good weather was in such short supply most of this summer, I failed to make it to another first-rate harbor-observing station until this week. There, at Tide Point, just off Hull Street in Locust Point, I dropped into a super-comfortable chair on the teak wood deck open free to visitors.

It was Sunday afternoon, full of fluffy clouds and the kind of skies that turn up on postcards. The heavy maritime traffic my father enjoyed in the 1930s is no more, at least here. But there was a delightful parade of recreational traffic, including artfully preserved motor yachts and expensive sailboats, which passed with enough frequency to keep a harbor observer diverted and happy.

And while the bay steamers may have disappeared, I was fascinated by all our crisscrossing water taxis, which seem to be more punctual and numerous than the city's land-bound taxis. The people who spend a Sunday afternoon on the water taxis have the right idea: They get a superb view of the ever-changing, renewing Baltimore.

Buy me a ticket.


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