Boat people convene by pulling on rubbersoled shoes and going out to trade love stories. Gleam of wood, curve of sail, fantasies of places unexplored - they can sit in the sun with the masts overhead and spin sonnets over a can of beer.
So here was E. Hamilton Niles Jr., owner and captain of the sleek black racing sloop Flicker, gazing absently up at the boat show crowds in Edgewater today and stroking the helm of his boat.
"You're interested in pure sailing, here she is," he said tenderly to a visitor on board. "She's just beautiful. I fell in love with her seeing her ghost through the harbor. You couldn't feel the breeze, and here was this boat moving through the harbor with only the mainsail up. That's the first time I ever say Flicker under sail."
Like most of the other exhibitors at the Second Chesapeake Bay Yacht Bazaar and Used Boat Show, Niles, a Baltimore architect when he is off the water, is selling his boat. He is doing this because another boat has come into his life - the Dam Tootin, a tiny red, white and blue tugboat with a fat little smokestack and a flat bottom that will take him up all the shadow inlets where a keelboat could never go. He looks pained, poised for betrayal.
"The wife was a little teary the other day," he said. "We were both very fond of her."
Not far from the Flicker sat the downcast owner of a long leaf yellow pine ocean-going ketch named The Walden III. "This was his Walden Three, his perfection," explained the boat's owner. Charles McCabe, speaking of the man who named the sailboat before chucking his city job to go off and become a Marine lobsterman. McCabe bought the boat and spent six years sailing her before the love affair bowed to his wife, who is not a sailor.
"She fooled me." McCabe said dejected, referring now to his wife, not his boat. "She went out sailing when we were going out."
The boat show runs through 6 p.m. Sunday (admission $3) on pier seven, near the South River bridge. Aside from used sailboats and the occasionally grief-stricken captains selling them, there are boat accessories for sale, like paint strippers and high visibility slickers. The Maryland National Bank has a marine financing counter for the impulsive. A flea market sort of table is selling such nautical necessities as a brass sextant, whales teeth salt and pepper shakers, a Japanese scabbard and a gold-framed portrait depicting the Death of Admiral Nelson.
There are also powerboats for sale, like a yellow and green-spangled jet boat called Eureka!, which has an Oldsmobile engine with two gleaming exhaust pipes pointing out the back like bazookas, and goes 55 miles an hour. It get 5 miles to a gallon on a good day. "It's not as loud as it looks," said the boat's owner, Scott Imirie. "It just sounds like a car that sounds nice. It sounds like a Corvette."
The old 1931 Tred Avon ferry is docked out here too, having been replaced in recent years on its regular run between Oxford and Bellevue, Md., on the Eastern Shore. It's a flat, wide-decked boat, peeling white with peeling green trim and a sign that says "Ring Bell in Thick Weather for Ferry" (in clear weather one summoned the ferry by running up a red signal - a bright panel visible from the opposite shore - and the little boat lumbered around for one more run). The owner was not around today, but boat show organizers said the ferry is for sale at about $7,000.
A bugeye for charter rocked at the Edgewater dock, a boat built in the wide, shallow-bottomed style of the old Chesapeake oystering boats. This bugeye is called Amazing Grace, and will spend the next six months cruising the Chesapeake and New England waters with charter passengers.
The unboated wandered through all this with hope and a little lust today, fingering mast rigging, eyeing oceangoing boats, running hands over vanished woodwork. Back on the decks of the Flicker, two young men listened attentively to the dreamy voice of E. Hamilton Niles: "I just saw her air . . ."