The contented mumbling and the occasional splash of feeding ducks awakened us about the same time the bright September sun lit up the starboard side of the Gibson, giving our snug cabin a warm glow. Peering through the slats in the bedside window blind, I spied a lady and her granddaughter sitting on the wharf adjacent to the docks, dropping pieces of bread to the fat mallards circling and chuckling in the water below. The houseboat bobbed gently with the rise and fall of a distant wake created by a craft entering Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, offering a special wakeup sequence that I recall to this day—but was lost on my snoozing bunkmate.
It took the startling whoosh of a marine head flushing mere inches from her to break Maria’s slumber, a sleep deepened by the libations enjoyed the evening before while watching our favorite college team compete on multiple screens broadcast above the Baltimore Buckeye’s Boosters bar, which happened to be within walking distance of our houseboat’s berth.
As was just about every other site we came to enjoy on our extended weekend of fun and football, thanks to a centrally located waterfront accommodation offered by SleepAfloat, a company that manages privately owned boats as vacation rentals.
We occupied a 36-foot Gibson, one of four rental houseboats the company maintains at Chester Cove Marina, in Baltimore’s trendy Fell’s Point historical district. As with SleepAfloat craft offered in a half-dozen ports along the eastern seaboard, the boats don’t leave the dock when occupied by guests, and serve simply as alternative waterfront accommodations for those who prefer—or want to sample—staying aboard a boat.
We chose a floating accommodation, rather than a traditional motel, hotel or B&B on our recent trip to Baltimore for several reasons: Maria and I wanted to experience the city’s famous waterfront from the perspective of boaters, who may want to trailer a boat or visit the area by private boat someday; we were curious about what it would be like staying together aboard a 36-foot houseboat, even for a short, four-day stay; and we wanted to experience the sheer novelty of vacationing aboard a floating efficiency apartment rather than occupying a motel room.
Gaining Boaters’ Perspective
To embrace the desired boaters’ perspective of our SleepAfloat vacation, we resolved to park our car upon arrival and not use four-wheel transportation until it was time to depart. That way, we could experience the local transportation options available for visitors who arrive by boat and have no other alternatives.
As if arriving by sea, we arrived with no groceries in hand and had to find provisions locally. That’s where the materials provided by SleepAfloat came in extremely handy. A detailed, laminated map and tips on where to find what within walking distance, such as the nearby Broadway market for shopping and Miss Shirley’s for a famous breakfast (served all day), were key. So was having a resident manager/dock master who lived aboard a boat in the marina and knew the local ins and outs of staying aboard, and a local maintenance man, on call 24/7, when it came time to tackle technical questions such as how to program Draco’s satellite TV to find an obscure sports channel.
To get around the Inner Harbor area we utilized the popular Waterfront Promenade walking/biking trail that flanks the entire waterfront and goes right past the locked gatehouse entrance to the marina. We also used the Inner Harbor water ferry to shuttle us around, purchasing a ticket good for travel all day aboard the water taxis. We often used a combination of the walking trail and water shuttle to get to our destinations, such as the NFL game we attended featuring our favorite pro team, the Cleveland Browns, pitted against their rival the Baltimore Ravens.
From our houseboat, we walked to the closest water taxi pickup, enjoyed a delightful boat ride across the scenic harbor, and joined the walking route that took us past Camden Yards to M&T Bank Stadium. Despite wearing our visiting Brown’s ‘colors,’ we received minimal flak from the ranks of the home purple-clad fans and thoroughly enjoyed our first away NFL game. The fact that it was a loss was leavened by knowing that, because we weren’t driving, we could stop for refueling and pick-me-up refreshments at popular waterfront waypoints such The Rusty Scupper and Phillips Seafood along the meandering trek back to the floating abode that awaited us.
Netting Houseboat Perspective
When we first unloaded all of our luggage aboard Draco, the 36-footer looked a bit tight, even for our twosome. But once we had gear and no small amount of clothing, thanks to my wife’s fashion-mindedness, properly stowed the houseboat was comfortably roomy.
As with all boats, the Gibson’s design made smart use of space, and the fact that the boat was seaworthy in its owner’s hands was evident by the helm station and nautical necessities maintain in working order. Not all of the SleepAfloat rental houseboat fleet is designed for self-propulsion; we chose the Draco because it was, and would give us an experience closer to what we would have aboard a powered houseboat.
We learned to enjoy the open space and view of the top deck, where there was a second steering station that offered protection from the breeze when needed and SleepAfloat offered a propane grill and shaded table and chairs for al fresco dining and relaxing—which we did often. With views of the Inner Harbor, the Fells Point neighborhood and an ever-changing cast of characters walking and biking along the nearby Promenade trail, the top deck was a favorite place to begin and end each day of our long weekend enjoying being aboard a houseboat located in the thick of things. That said, once the sun set, the waterfront was quiet and peaceful enough to crack a port to catch the breeze off the harbor.
The Novelty Of It All
Perhaps the best part of staying aboard a houseboat was that we were living not only along, but atop, the water. Simply the thought of returning to the marina and the houseboat each day made it special. Yes, it might have been enjoyable to power-up and cruise the waterfront, but frankly we were never really tempted to do so. We had the Promenade to wander to visit the waterfront sights and the water taxi offered us plenty of on-water perspective as we traded back and forth across the harbor. If we had visited for a longer period during the heart of the boating season, we might have appreciated having a tender in the form of a trailerable skiff, PWC or even a pair of SUPs to get out on the water. But as it was, we didn’t miss it a bit during our early autumn visit to Baltimore, a destination offering many more things to do and sights to see along its waterfront than even a couple with their own boat underfoot could hope to enjoy in a season of long weekends. For more information on SleepAfloat, its rental houseboats and locations, visit www.sleepafloat.com or call 855-343-3456.