When it comes to selling luxury homes on the water, it doesn't hurt to have a really big boat.

That's one of the reasons Cliff Meredith, owner of the Meredith Real Estate Co. on the Eastern Shore, decided three years ago to buy the Patriot, a scenic cruise boat and charter vessel that had been offering tours out of St. Michaels since 1969. The boat is authorized to carry 149 passengers at a time on the Miles and Wye Rivers, and is berthed at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, a popular stop for visitors to Talbot County.

Meredith says the opportunity came up when the previous owner "sort of semi-retired."

"We've improved [the boat], we upgraded everything, put in a new pilot house and a new kitchen and repainted everything," he said. In a corner of the lower deck, next to the snack bar, there is a tiny real estate office for the company, with a credenza, a couple of chairs and some listings books. Photos of available properties are occasionally on the walls.

While Meredith said he took on the tour venture mainly because the Patriot offers visitors to the county a chance to get out on the water at a relatively low price -- helping both the tourism industry and the county -- he says the vessel can also bring customers.

One Washington couple who had been frequent passengers during the past decade finally gave in to the allure of the county and recently bought a $2 million property, said agent Paul Meredith, a cousin of the owner. "They'd been on board numerous times. And after a beautiful day last summer, they said, 'We're ready to buy now,' " and called the office in St. Michaels, recalled the agent.

About 35,000 to 50,000 tourists are expected to buy boat tickets this year, Cliff Meredith said.

The agency tries to keep the little office "manned as often as we can," he said, but if no one's in, a note on one of the walls suggests that prospective buyers tell the crew they need assistance.

Meredith thinks that many agents on the Eastern Shore own boats that they use to ferry or entertain clients. He recently bought a yacht at auction in Florida that he can use for that purpose -- the Eleanor, a 71-foot Trumpy motor yacht owned at one time by recluse moviemaker Howard Hughes.

But Meredith said he doesn't know of another company with an on-board office like his on the Patriot. Neither does real estate industry watcher Steve Murray, editor of Real Trends in Colorado, although he said it's possible that anyone in a trendy area could have one.

Meredith said, "Anybody who has a boat would use it, if they were smart."

-- Sandra Fleishman

The Patriot, a scenic cruise boat and charter vessel, had been offering tours out of St. Michaels since 1969.