When veteran Annapolis waterman Skippy Parkinson returned from his early morning crab run in the Severn River on Monday, he found he had a big catch -- and it wasn't in his crabpot.
A local lawyer had informed his sister, Bonnie Sheffey, that an anonymous benefactor offered to help the cash-strapped waterman and his father, Charles Meiklejohn, avoid eviction from their prized slip at the City Dock in downtown Annapolis.
The city is seeking to move the two men, the last crab and oyster men working from the downtown dock, to make room on the waterfront for a commercial tour boat that would pay much higher rent.
"If there isn't a way to resolve this, my client wants to make up the difference between what the city wants and they pay," Malik Tuma told Sheffey on Monday. "He wants a working boat in City Dock, and he wants your father to stay there as long as he likes."
Sheffey said that her 68-year-old father, resting after his daily chemotherapy session to treat a cancerous growth on his larynx, could barely talk but had indicated to her that he was delighted by news of the offer and said he would accept it.
"At first, he thought somebody was playing an April Fool's or a Candid Camera trick on him," Sheffey said.
The offer is no trick, Tuma said. He described the anonymous Samaritan as someone interested in maintaining Maryland maritime history who did not live in Annapolis. Tuma said he conveyed the offer to Mayor Dean L. Johnson (R) and City Attorney Paul G. Goetzske by telephone yesterday. If the city is agreeable, Tuma saysthe benefactor will write a check on the spot to enable the men to keep their slip for up to 10 years.
Earlier this year, Harbor Master Ric Dahlgren asked 68-year-old Meiklejohn and his son to move from the dock space they have occupied for the last 20 years to make room for a tour boat operator. Meiklejohn and his son each pay the waterman's rate of $50 a month for the space. The tour boat operator will pay $500 a month for the right to anchor at the hub of the city's tourist throng. Dahlgren said that the city council requires him to accommodate all requests for dock space and to charge tour boat operators full market rate.
Johnson could not be reached for comment.
Dahlgren, meanwhile, said it wouldn't be proper to comment on Tuma's offer, but he noted that the city fees are set by law.
"Unless I got directions otherwise from higher-ups, I couldn't accept more than $50 a month" from the watermen, based on the fee schedule, Dahlgren said. He said that Meiklejohn and Parkinson were current on their fees.
"He's a tourist attraction himself," said Meiklejohn's son-in-law, Larry Sheffey. "When he comes in on his boat, he answers all kinds of questions from people at the dock, no matter how dumb they are."
In a recent interview, Meiklejohn said he was preparing his boat one morning when a couple approached.
"I heard the woman telling her husband to take a picture quick. `He's putting the shrimp on the hook,' " the sunburned waterman recalled.
"I said, `Lady, that ain't no shrimp. That's a chicken neck.' "