Once a colonial seaport where English ships sailed in by dead reckoning, Annapolis is now going wireless in measuring the wind on the water for boaters' safety and recreation.
Annapolis deputy harbormaster George E. Ward climbed to one of the city's highest points Monday to install a new second-by-second weather station to track the microclimate conditions.
"The weather station is in a direct line of sight with the harbormaster office," he said, pointing to the two-story brick building with a shingle roof at City Dock, about 700 feet away.
Scanning the skies, he added, "There's a heck of a rainstorm over by Crownsville."
The rooftop of the six-story Annapolis Marriott Waterfront hotel, where the device was installed, has a panoramic view of the State House, the Navy Chapel, St. Anne's Episcopal Church and the Bay Bridge. But Ward and a colleague, Fred Galloway, didn't climb a ladder up there for the architectural grandeur.
They were there to increase systematic knowledge of the city's wind, rain, fog and floods - because weather reporting is something Annapolis takes seriously.
Ever since Tropical Storm Isabel's floods battered Annapolis, including the Naval Academy nearly two years ago, obsession with the weather on the water has intensified in this sailing capital. During the hurricane season, that information becomes critical to the uninitiated and expert sailors alike.
Jan Hardesty, spokeswoman for Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, said from the roof: "Look at the breadth of the boats. No matter how big and strong one looks, so many people depend on the harbormaster to know what's going on, especially sailors not from this area."
Enter the new two-part sensor package. On the hotel roof, a lightweight device reports data, including wind direction and velocity. It's also equipped with a rain gauge and a device that measures the barometric pressure, a good predictor of storms.
At the harbormaster's office is the station's other half: a small screen that displays up-to-the-second readings, set against a windowpane overlooking the harbor's hundreds of boats (thousands on peak weekends).
The cost to the city for the devices was about $700.
Galloway said time, as well as recent building patterns, had impaired the previous weather instrument used by city officials, which was located inside the harbormaster's office. They sought a higher location for the new, more complex device.
"We wanted to get the anemometer up above the other buildings so that we could get a true reading of the breeze, with no interference with the wind," said Galloway. "There are no obstructions here."
Ward, who approached Marriott officials this month, said the hotel is not charging the city for placing the wireless weather station on top of the gravel-covered roof.
"I looked at every possibility by the water's edge," said Ward, 56, a lifelong Annapolis resident and retired state trooper.
The harbormaster is considered part concierge and part policeman for those who venture in vessels onto the waters surrounded by 18 miles of shoreline.
Danger lies in being caught on the water, but also in not securing a boat to hunker down during a storm. Because the harbor's bottom is largely composed of loose silt, dragging anchors becomes a danger for boat owners when an easterly wind and storm moves toward the Naval Academy's seawall, city officials said.
As the summer sun set later, the wireless station was clearly visible from the harbormaster's office windows. Said Galloway: "I'd love to move our office up there."