Issue: November 2002
Catchin' Z's

Chased into Solomons by feisty winds and seas, a pair of weary sailors makes a beeline for Zahniser’s-and, of course, a long hot shower.


     The deep, protected waters of Solomons, Md., have been a safe haven to mariners for generations, from the oystermen of the late 1800s to the Navy men of World War II. And the place looked like pure heaven to Johnny and me late last September as we brought our Peterson 34 north from a cruise on the Potomac River. Mother Nature was on a roll; we’d seen headwinds of up to 40 knots and waves rolling down the Bay that would do the ocean proud. After nearly eight hours of slogging, the protected calm of Solomons and a comfy slip for the night at Zahniser’s Yachting Center were singing a siren song. We tacked in mid-Bay to clear the flashing green “1PR” off Cedar Point, cracked sheets and blessedly bore off toward the flashing green “3” above the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which marks the southern end of the channel into the river, and the 22-foot beacon “4”, which marks Drum Point to the north. Rounding the white sandy beach at Drum Point was like throwing a switch; half a dozen fishing boats bobbed placidly in the flat-calm water. I imagine we looked like drowned rats as we flaked the number four jib and peeled off our soaked gear. They just smiled politely and pretended not to notice.

     You have two choices coming into Solomons, the north channel or the south channel. Each is clearly marked and you want to make your choice and stick with it, since the submerged island in between is only a foot or two deep. We came in the north channel and headed up Back Creek, leaving the bulkheaded island in the middle of the harbor-as well as Harbor Island Marina and Town Center Marina-to port. Calvert Marina, chock-a-block with trawlers in town for the West Marine Trawler Fest, was straight ahead on the point that divides Back Creek from Mill Creek, which runs into it from the east. We continued up Back Creek to Zahniser’s Yachting Center, hailed them on channel 9, and found marina manager Jim Sharkey waiting to help us into our slip. We had pulled into Z’s, as we sometimes call it, many times before, always after the Annapolis-to-Solomons Island Race or after a long day of racing at the Screwpile Regatta. Never had we been as happy as we were now to see its neat gray and white buildings.

     Skip Zahniser has owned the marina since 1970, when he bought out his father, who had started the marina in 1960. Since then Zahniser’s has grown right along with Solomons, getting more sophisticated and professional (and yes, it’s fair to say, comparatively expensive, with labor rates as much as $70 an hour) all the time. It has 275 slips, an excellent restaurant on the premises (Dry Dock), a pool and pool bar (which I can confirm from personal experience is a lovely way to peel off the hot summer sun after a long day on the Bay), a 35-ton lift and a 60-ton railway. Z’s has earned a strong reputation as one of the best service yards on the Bay, offering everything from refrigeration to refinishing. There’s a huge building that can handle boats up to 60 feet for indoor work, and the railway is specially rigged to haul catamarans. Also on the premises are the Quantum Sail Loft, Leonard Canvas, Trident Yacht Brokerage and Prevatti Marine Surveyors. The marina has a new bathhouse and office area (with a free phone hookup for computers), a small playground for kids, and a ship’s store that does a good job mixing working gear with trinkets. The store also has a lending library; you can grab a book and wander outside to take a seat in one of the many grassy spots to read beneath a shady tree. Sharkey says transients are a large part of Zahniser’s business, and with 560 feet of T-head space, along with its slips, the marina can accommodate boats of all sizes. You know coming here you will always find clean, brightly lit bathrooms (with lots and lots of hot water), spotless grounds and just about anything your boat could need.