There are as many ways to get out on the water in Anne Arundel County as there are places to go -- and as many reasons.
"Going out on the boat is the one time my husband and I can be totally alone without the pressures of the outside world," Jeanette Hartge says of evenings spent aboard their 36-foot sportfishing boat.
"Getting back into sailing was the single factor that made me realize I could have joy in my life once again," says Don Backe, who has used a wheelchair since a car accident 17 years ago.
"Getting out on the water gives you a different perspective on this area," says Helen Johnson, a Baltimorean who moved to Annapolis 26 years ago.
From kayaking to playing pirate, the county's miles of shoreline offer something for everyone who wants to leave the dock.
The simplest way to test the waters in the county is to take a harbor cruise from City Dock aboard Watermark Cruises' Harbor Queen. A price of $7.20 for an adult ($3.20 for kids) buys a ticket for a 40-minute narrated tour of Annapolis harbor, the Naval Academy and the Severn River. Watermark also offers longer cruises on larger boats to the Thomas Point lighthouse, St. Michaels and Rock Hall.
Across the creek from downtown Annapolis, Pirate Adventures! offers a less sedate, 75-minute cruise on the Severn River complete with cannons (water cannons, that is) aboard the Sea Gypsy. Kids arrive a half-hour early and get ready for the trip by getting "tattooed" and dressing like pirates. Once aboard, the young swashbucklers learn a little history of the Chesapeake and some nautical lingo while searching for buried treasure. (www.chesapeakepirates.com)
Annapolis likes to call itself the "Sailing Capital of the World." There are world-class sailors living in every corner of the county and races just about every night of the week. But what about the people that want to try out sailing yet don't know a bowline (a knot, pronounced "bow-lin") and a bow line? There are plenty of ways to try out sailing for everyone in the county.
The 74-foot schooner Woodwind sails from the Marriott on the Annapolis harbor three times daily in the summer for a two-hour cruise. This is a great way to experience the magic of being under sail. If the bug bites, it might be time to go back to school and become a skipper.
Annapolis Sailing School was founded in 1959. "Become a Sailor in One Weekend," introduces students to sailing on the Severn River on the Rainbow 24-foot boats designed for the school. The "Annapolis Way" has taught tens of thousands of people how to sail. The KidShip sailing program offers children as young as 5 "hands-on" sailing instruction.
"Nobody yells" is the motto for Womanship, a sailing school founded by and for women in 1984. (www.womanship.com)
"We capitalize on the skills women already have: They are tenacious, organized and responsible, and we let them jump in with both feet and they become 'big girls' really quickly," says Johnson, the program coordinator. The program is taught on 29- to 44-foot cruising boats in daytime only or sleepover sessions. Womanship also offers sailing trips in destinations such as Greece.
Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating offers people with disabilities a chance to sail with a volunteer skipper or on their own. Based in Sandy Point State Park, CRAB maintains a fleet of boats adapted for wheelchair users and others. The last Sunday of each month is Sail Free Day, when the disabled can try sailing before joining.
To get on the water and go fast, powerboat and personal watercraft rentals are the way to go.
SunTime Rentals, at the foot of the South River Bridge next to the Yellowfin Restaurant, offers hourly, half-day and full-day rental of new 19-foot bowrider boats. Owner Bob McLean says that previous boat driving experience is required for these rentals, but he can teach someone to operate a personal watercraft in only a few minutes.
He has a fleet of Yamaha WaveRunners that can be rented hourly for zipping around on the South River. McLean recommends calling well in advance for a summer weekend boat rental. Information: 410-266-6020.
The quieter creeks and shorelines in Anne Arundel are ideal for kayaking. Amphibious Horizons, based in Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, rents kayaks, teaches kayaking and sponsors trips in the area. (www.amphibioushorizons.com)
If watching the fish jump from a kayak makes you hungry, head to Deale in South County and stroll along the dock on Rockhold Creek. The fishing fleet here takes people out fishing on the bay for half- and full-day charters.
Womanship offers families and individuals a chance to experience sailing aboard a skipjack, the graceful Chesapeake Bay craft historically used by watermen to harvest oysters. The Nathan of Dorchester sails out of Cambridge.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation also offers ecotourism trips in the spring and fall on its historic vessels (www.cbf.org)
"When you are out on the water, you can see the area in much the same way the earliest visitors did," says Johnson.