An Old Salt's Sea Change

Powerboats and sailboats share the water, sometimes grudgingly, off Annapolis. More and more boaters, many of them longtime sailors, are opting for engines over canvas.
Powerboats and sailboats share the water, sometimes grudgingly, off Annapolis. More and more boaters, many of them longtime sailors, are opting for engines over canvas. (Photos By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Ever since he was a boy of 10 and felt the first sharp jerk of wind filling the main, Phil Burgess has sailed.

He has sailed for 55 years, on transatlantic voyages, through storms and high swells, across quiet northern lakes, around Puget Sound islands. He has raced and just drifted. He has taught sailing, and sailing has taught him.

His Annapolis home is the refuge of an old seadog, with five sailboat sculptures in the living room, two brass sloops in the guest bath and nine sailboat pictures in his dining room. He moved to the waterfront in 1993, even though he worked in Denver. Every street sign in his neighborhood is culled from a sailor's glossary -- Mainsail, Bowsprit and Anchorage drives, Landfall Lane. For years, he commuted from the Rockies so he could sail on the Chesapeake Bay.

Yet last fall, Burgess did the unthinkable.

He bought a powerboat.

His wife was aghast. His son threatened mutiny. His fellow sailors branded him a "transvesselite."

Since the dawn of the outboard motor, sailors and powerboaters have regarded each other with withering disdain. In Annapolis, "America's Sailing Capital," boaters segregate themselves: Sailors tend to ply the Severn River, on the north side, while powerboaters rule the South River.

To powerboaters, a sailboat is a "rag-hauler" and sailors are "barnacle backs" and "leathernecks" -- "snobby/shabby" old salts who either don navy blazers and dine at the Yacht Club or live as unwashed vagabonds on stripped-down sloops. They ruin long summer days by broiling under an often windless sun -- hauling lines, working up a sweat and going nowhere.

Powerboaters, meanwhile, flash like peacocks: They dress well and tip better --"Sailors know the wind is free, and they think everything else should be, too," one powerboater griped a few years ago to The Post, just before the sailboat show dropped anchor.

Sailors see themselves as the cowboys of the wind. And they may be cheap, says Jim Stalnaker, a Virginia Beach mariner with 40 years' experience, but powerboaters drive "stink-potters" with a "pneumatic blonde perched on the stern and a couple guys with ball caps turned around."

But don't print that, he jokes, remembering that in May he became a newly minted powerboater himself: "I don't want to be quoted and stoned by a bunch of guys . . . who said that I called 'em a bunch of Bubbas."

"We're the Harley-Davidsons on the water," Mark Willis, president of the Chesapeake Bay Powerboat Association, says with a sigh. He loves the speed and thrumming hum of powerboats, and he resents sailors' self-proclaimed superiority: They're environmentally friendly! They're rugged and hardy! They're harvesting the wind!


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