Boat lovers' maneuvering keeps state yacht in state

He's from the British Midlands, and she was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, so when Paul Davies made his mock announcement to a salon full of Marylanders yesterday afternoon, they half-believed him.

"This is a covert foreign operation," quipped the brand new co-owner of the Maryland Independence, the state yacht whose purchase he and his friend, Julie Wood, completed yesterday. "We'll be maneuvering it back to England shortly."


Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. When Davies, a physician who directs the pain-management center at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, and Wood, a longtime friend, first heard that Gov. Robert Ehrlich had decided to put the boat up for sale, the vessel's rich local history appealed to them.

"We're both lifelong boating people," he said, "but we also love history and antiques. We have a passion for Annapolis and for the Chesapeake Bay. This boat offered a perfect combination.


"And we wanted to be sure the Independence stayed right here. And here it's going to stay."

When Davies, 38, a Fells Point resident, and Wood, 37, of Hagerstown, signed the settlement papers in downtown Annapolis yesterday, it was the culmination of a saga that has intrigued Marylanders since shortly after Ehrlich was elected in 2002.

The state purchased the 112-foot pleasure craft in 1986 for more than $600,000, and governors have used it to entertain VIPs since. But Ehrlich deemed the Independence and its $230,000 annual maintenance costs extravagant, vowing to put it up for sale.

The state did - and surprised many by choosing an unusual marketplace: eBay, the online auction service. Though boat brokers were skeptical, Paul Schurick, an Ehrlich spokesman, called it a "novel and fun approach" to peddling a state asset.

Both sides, in fact, proved right. The novelty of making such a purchase online inspired Davies and Wood. "It seemed like such a crazy idea," he said. "We like crazy ideas." Neither had bought on eBay before, but the pair took to the process quickly, deciding up front not to enter the bidding until the very end. "We snuck in with 14 minutes left," said Wood with a victor's smile. "Nobody saw us coming."

Davies calculated that it takes about a minute for a bid to register, so on the auction's last day, Dec. 21, the pair made their final offer with exactly 50 seconds remaining. For good measure, Wood tacked $100 onto the figure she expected her rival - a bidder from California - to enter.

She was correct: Her offer of $275,100 was just enough to land the prize. "Without the $100, it would've been a dead heat," she said. "I don't even know how they go about breaking a tie, but I'm glad I didn't have to learn."

It took 30 seconds for the e-mail confirming their winning bid to arrive. Wood was on the phone with Davies, who was at home in Baltimore. "When the e-mail came in, I told Paul, 'We won!' I had to repeat it about four times before he believed me."


The two are "thrilled" with the purchase, Davies said - "it's a great boat, historic yet in absolutely pristine condition" - and in no small part because both feel they got a great deal. Some have told him buying through a broker might have cost $400,000, he said.

Davies said the pair as yet has no specific plans for the Independence. His work at the medical center and in private practice keeps him hustling, as Wood, who manages his businesses, well knows.

One thing both agree on: The onetime submarine-tracking vessel, built in 1944 but refitted in the 1970s, will remain a local institution. "We both love it here so much," says Wood. "The bay is such a gorgeous place; there's always something new to see. And there's so much history to this boat here. We're happy to be able to keep it where it belongs."